Friday, October 24, 2014


The Power Vertical

The Loneliness Of The Autocratic Ruler

President Vladimir Putin at a reception at the Kremlin on June 28 in honor of military-academy and university graduates.
President Vladimir Putin at a reception at the Kremlin on June 28 in honor of military-academy and university graduates.
If President Vladimir Putin's legislative intentions toward Russia's fledgling civil society are not clear by now, it's not for lack of trying on his part.

New legislation is reportedly in the works that would create a register of websites with illegal content -- and require providers to block such sites. The legislation's original stated purpose was to combat child pornography and pedophilia. But as Gazeta.ru reports, quoting members of the ruling United Russia party, it will also be used to battle "extremism" -- the Kremlin's favorite euphemism for any opposition activity.

The legislation, currently being considered by the State Duma, comes as lawmakers are also set to debate a bill requiring any NGO receiving funding from abroad to register as a "foreign agent." And, of course, it comes on the heels of a recently passed law imposing draconian fines on participants in unsanctioned demonstrations.

Likewise, it is also becoming clear that Putin doesn't plan to show much mercy for disloyal former friends and allies.

Just ask Federation Council deputy Lyudmila Narusova, the mother of socialite-turned-social activist Ksenia Sobchak and widow of the man who launched Putin's political career -- the late former St. Petersburg Mayor Anatoly Sobchak.

Prosecutors are reportedly poring over a television interview Narusova gave, looking for evidence of extremism. Additionally, the ruling United Russia party is seeking to expel Narusova from the upper chamber of parliament.

Part of the assault on Narusova can surely be traced to the Kremlin's increased irritation with her daughter's opposition activities. And part of it was likely sparked by her vocal opposition to the law imposing harsh penalties on anti-regime demonstrations.

Narusova would not be the first Putin ally to fall from grace. Sergei Mironov lost his perch as Federation Council speaker when he was too vocal in his support for a second term for Dmitry Medvedev and too critical of United Russia. State Duma deputy Gennady Gudkov saw his taxes investigated and his security company eviscerated when he became a vocal critic of the regime.

The ramping up of the pressure on civil society and the retribution against perceived turncoats suggest that the ruling elite -- or at least the part of the elite that currently has Putin's ear -- is spooked by the longevity and intensity of the opposition to the Kremlin since December.

In a thoughtful piece published on opendemocracy.net, Maxim Trudolyubov, the opinion-page editor at the daily "Vedomosti" wrote that ever since popular uprisings in Georgia in 2003 and Ukraine in 2004, "Putin's main concern has been to avoid revolution," but his actions might paradoxically lead to one:

Despite all their efforts, it is the country's current rulers that have created the conditions for revolution. By rewriting Russia's electoral legislation (the last few years have seen amendments to 55 laws relating to electoral processes), the Kremlin's political managers have made elections controllable. Businesses have been intimidated by expropriation, their owners prevented from financing undesirable political activity. The development of a civil society has been strangled by restrictions on the not-for-profit sector. The entire thrust of Putin's policies has been to eliminate everything natural and unpredictable.

The result has been that all genuine, not imitation, political activity has been excluded from the political arena. The Kremlin's apparatchiks spent years working out how to restrict the opposition's legal room to maneuver, and they succeeded: they destroyed the conditions necessary for the development of a political mainstream. And by doing so, they created a powder keg.
 
Trudolyubov isn't the first respectable commentator to suggest that Russia is on the brink of serious upheaval. Olga Kryshtanovskaya, one of the country's leading sociologists; the Center for Strategic Research, a top think tank; and former Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin have come to the same conclusion.

It is not just that Putin is creating a powder keg. With his pressure on civil society and his moves against former supporters, he is also isolating himself and his increasingly shrinking inner circle.

And with potential economic storm clouds on the horizon -- either from volatile commodities prices, or contagion from Europe, or both -- isolated is not where he needs to be. If the crisis comes, Putin will own it -- and he'll be mostly all alone.

-- Brian Whitmore

NOTE TO READERS: The Power Vertical blog and podcast will take a small break due to the extended July 4 holiday weekend. The blog will be back on July 9 and the next podcast will come out on July 13
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Comments
     
by: Eugenio from: Vienna
July 03, 2012 19:48
Another one of those "interesting negative" stories on Russia that just galvanize the readership and provoke a tsunami of begeistert comments :-).
Ah, now I see that this extremely interesting blog will take a "small break" for a few days :-(. Let's hope that the author will take this time to figure out why it is that no one really cares to comment on his "interesting" stories :-)).
In Response

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
July 03, 2012 21:45
I dont understand Eugenio. You read these articles and then say that no one reads them. It reminds me of an old Yogi Berra quote, "Nobody goes there anymore; it's too crowded."
In Response

by: Matvei from: USA
July 04, 2012 14:36
We read and absorb the articles here, Eugenio. We try not to waste too much time answering the likes of you. By the way, did you get the paycheck from Putin in the mail this week?
In Response

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
July 04, 2012 18:10
You are asking: "did you get the paycheck from Putin in the mail this week?" Of course, Matvei, I did: Putin is not one of those bankrupt NATO losers like George W Obama or Frau Merkel; unlike them, he (a) has money and (b) pays on time.
Cheers from Vienna, "Matvei" :-)!
In Response

by: Anonymous
July 06, 2012 15:41
Well, I give you credit. At least you are an honest man, Eugenio. :)

by: nirvichara from: Irving , US
July 03, 2012 22:48
There is no "condition for revolution" in Russia whatsoever. Most of the so called anti-Putin opposition live in the imaginary la-la land that has nothing to do with reality. Putin continue to enjoy overwhelming support of about 90% of Russian population. On the contrary, the Moscow spoiled and corrupt anti-Putin herds are below 0.1% .
They are loud but weak, silly, disorganized, aimless and useless.
I don't see any serious political figure their who could be even remotely close to be a leader (except maybe Kudrin, but Kudrin will never become a truly anti-Putin and will never join the anti-Putin brainless hamsters)
So an article is much ado about nothing, as usual...
In Response

by: Marko from: USA
July 04, 2012 17:51
I have now totally lost count of how many times the Western Commentariat, and RFE/RL's editors and bloggers in particular, have predicted Putin's doom. There are a number of comments one can make (both good and bad) about this:

1. So far, anti-Putin predictors have a 100% track record of being wrong; this suggests that their wishes are clouding their analyses..
2. Give that though, they only have to be right once.
3. Personally, though I don't think that they are going to be right this time either-- there appears to be little evidence that any of the following fundamentals have changed-- Putin is still Russia's most popular politician. His economic record is still comparatively quite good good and the Russian economy is still growing despite some pretty strong global headwinds. The opposition protests have become smaller and less frequent. The coming NGO and other measures will deprive Putin's opponents of US funding that they rely on or further discredit them. No sign that the security forces don't fully back Putin. The opposition itself is localized (no real presence outside of Moscow), divided, and itself unpopular. There is no real alternative to Putin that makes sense-- past failures of Westernizing (and Western-dominated) liberals and communists discredit them both, extreme nationalists simply aren't a practical option...and finally, Russia is a significant regional power with some elements of being a world power. Overthrowing a governement there isn't the same as overthrowing a government in a place like Libya. Remember that Yeltsin, for all his buffoonery, deep unpopularity and catastrophiic failures was NOT over thrown. To believe that the far more successful and popular Putin will be doesn't make much sense...
In Response

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
July 06, 2012 18:22
One can only agree with you, Marko, when you say that "anti-Putin predictors have a 100% track record of being wrong", but it's hard to agree that "their wishes are clouding their analyses". It's not about wishes: it's just that the guys from the RFE/RL (just as those from all the other Western "media") are getting paid by their employers to present this picture of the world in which everything outside of the West is just so horrible and is in a state of a permanent crisis.
The purpose of this propagandistic line is quite clear: to divert the attention of the Western public from the fact that NATO/US/EU are being militarily defeated in Afghanistan and are standing on the verge of an imminent economic collapse that results from the fact that the capitalist economic model is unsustainable. That's the only reason for which they need to brainwash their readers with the stories of how Putin, Ahmadinejad or Assad "are doomed" - while getting stuck reading this crap, the readers do not make it to the economic sections of serious newspapers.

by: Sey from: World
July 04, 2012 01:05
I would like to see a revolution in Russia happening without costing an estimated 100,000 to 500,000 lives. It is apparent, judging from the last century, that Russians are quite prone to die by the hundreds in any outbreak of violence.

Putin will make sure he gets you in the bathroom before you can tweet it. So I hope the activists are capable of becoming soldiers quickly.

by: American Troll
July 04, 2012 10:12
So much botox, yet too miserly to fix that proboscis.

by: Mark from: Victoria
July 04, 2012 19:22
"The legislation, currently being considered by the State Duma, comes as lawmakers are also set to debate a bill requiring any NGO receiving funding from abroad to register as a "foreign agent", as has been the law in the USA under the Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA) since 1938 and upon which the proposed Russian law is modeled."

There. That looks a little more balanced. In fact, FARA was specifically modified in 1966 to focus on agents actually working with foreign powers who sought economic or political advantage by influencing governmental decision-making. The USA seemed to think failure to register as a foreign agent was serious enough to kick Anna Chapman out of the country and to speak excitedly of her and others also deported as a "ring of spies", although that is the only charge actually brought against her. Western NGO's can legitimately start to worry about persecution when they are being denounced as spies and ejected from the country as persona non grata.

Russia has let NGO's operating in the country get away with murder to the point that they actively and boldly aid and enable the opposition, and it is high time the Russian government took steps to rein them in and regulate their activities, just as the United States - beacon of democracy and freedom - has done since 1938. If it truly infringed unduly upon freedom or limited the charitable activities of legitimate NGO's that do no harm, the United States presumably would not allow such a law to remain on the books, and I'm sure you will agree that Russia could do worse than to borrow from the USA for its laws and regulations.

It is worth remembering that both the Orange Revolution in Ukraine and the Rose Revolution in Georgia were spearheaded by western NGO's. Pretending they are only in the country to do legitimate charitable work and are apolitical is disingenuous, and is not fooling anyone except those who are happy to be fooled.
In Response

by: Andrew from: Auckland
July 06, 2012 11:37
A little disingenuous there Mark, given that FARA is aimed at members of foreign intelligence services .

You do know that Ana Chapman was an SVR agent (an actual spy) don't you, she even got state awards such as a medal on return from her mission, while Putin's neo-fascist bill will attack anyone working for an NGO, regardless of its work.

All in all the sort of poorly informed argument I would expect from a Victorian.
In Response

by: Mark from: Victoria
July 06, 2012 21:58
"Disingenuous". My, that's a lot of syllables, Andrew; your medication appears to be helping, not to mention that follow-the-bouncing-ball therapy.

Actually, if you took the trouble to look it up, FARA requires "every agent of a foreign principal, not otherwise exempt, to register with the Department of Justice and file forms outlining its agreements with, income from, and expenditures on behalf of the foreign principal. These forms are public records and must be supplemented every six months."

Additionally, "The Act also requires that informational materials (formerly propaganda) be labeled with a conspicuous statement that the information is disseminated by the agents on behalf of the foreign principal. The agent must provide copies of such materials to the Attorney General. "

As far as it being applicable only to agents of foreign intelligence services - which I presume is what you mean when you say that is who the provisions of the Act are "aimed at" - that is unsurprisingly not so. If you refer to "Does everyone who acts as an agent of a foreign principal have to register?" in the link provided, you will learn that even lobbyists must register as Foreign Agents if they are lobbying "on behalf of a foreign government or foreign political party. "

http://www.fara.gov/fara-faq.html#3

Anna Chapman was awarded, coincidentally, the Order of the Holy Apostle Andrew the First-Called. This originated as a religious medal, but is also presented as recognition of merit and service to the state. It is not a spy medal, and Anna Chapman was not charged with spying for Russia. She was given a medal more to spite the USA for making such a big spy flap than for any other reason. Despite lurid speculation of all the government officials she came close to seducing, there was no evidence she did anything of the sort or she would have been charged with something more than failing to register as a Foreign Agent. Somebody has been staying up after sleepy-time watching Bond films.

http://the.heraldry.ru/text/rpcorders.html

In fact, Putin's neo-fascist bill will be just like the USA's neo-fascist law in that those "whose activities are of a purely commercial nature or solely of a religious, scholastic, academic, scientific or fine arts nature... Certain soliciting or collecting of funds to be used for medical aid, or for food and clothing to relieve human suffering" will be exempt. That pretty much covers the NGO waterfront, at least so far as legitimate apolitical activities are concerned.

I'm not going to stoop to disparaging your intelligence based on the city you live in, although I'm not surprised to see such a childish performance from you.





In Response

by: William from: Aragon
July 07, 2012 10:57
Hello Andrew, please refer to my final comment on: http://www.rferl.org/content/hrw-says-syria-tortures-civilians/24633199.html
In Response

by: William from: Aragon
July 09, 2012 22:46
Hello Andrew, please refer to my final comment on: http://www.rferl.org/content/hrw-says-syria-tortures-civilians/24633199.html

by: American Troll
July 04, 2012 21:25
On a more topical note, yes, the best reason to ignore Russia's liberals is that everyone in Russia does. That said, Putin's public approval rating is about as relevant as his horoscope. When the end comes, he will "hand the briefcase over" to someone acceptable to the army and the siloviki, not the electorate. If he hangs on for another couple of years, it may be someone we've never heard of before. If it's sooner, then my money's on that tubby little goosestepper, Rogozin. But first he needs to either hit the gym or quit stitching himself into those Cossack costumes that make him look even more like an angry sausage than he already does. God but I miss Alexander Lebed.
In Response

by: Marko from: USA
July 08, 2012 19:34
IF Putin were to retire before the end of his term this indeed might be the scenario. Don't see that happening though. I'm also always confused about whom the Russian electorate might "prefer" either over Putin or as his successor. I have yet to hear a single credible name either from the RFE blogs or from the commentary section-- the tired retreads Zyuganov or Zhirinovsky-- no; Navalny-- widely and credibly suspected of being a CIA agent in Russia-- get real! Udaltsov, Prokhorov, etc-- uh, no. Too many people in the center and one or the other end of the Russian political spectrum just wouldn't vote for either one under any circumstances. Zyuganov is easily the most credible of that bunch, and he couldn't clear 35% even under the most favorable conditions-- I think that the "angry sausage" (an accurate and funny description) or someone else from Putin's entourage or some random general with some successes in Georgia or Chechnya to his credit would beat all of these candidates easily. Election or just appoint the guy-- doesn't make much difference.

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17:49

EVENING NEWS ROUNDUP

From RFE/RL's News Desk:

PUTIN ACCUSES UNITED STATES OF 'UNILATERAL DIKTAT'

Russian President Vladimir Putin has accused the United States of escalating conflicts around the world by imposing what he called a "unilateral diktat."

Putin made the remarks in a combative speech to political experts at the Valdai International Discussion Club, in Russia's Black Sea resort of Sochi.

Putin said the United States has been "fighting against the results of its own policy" in Iraq, Libya and Syria.

He said risks of serious conflicts involving major countries have risen, as well as risks of arms treaties being violated.

He also dismissed international sanctions over Russia's actions in Ukraine as a "mistake," saying they aimed at pushing Russia into isolation and would end up "hurting everyone."

We did not start this," he added, referring to rising tensions between Russia and the West.

(Based on reporting by Reuters, AP, Interfax, TASS)

MERKEL URGES PUTIN TO SOLVE UKRAINIAN GAS DISPUTE

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has urged Russian President Vladimir Putin in a telephone call to push for a quick resolution of the ongoing gas dispute with Ukraine as winter looms.

The call by Merkel to Putin on October 24 comes as representatives of the EU, Russia, and Ukraine are due to meet again next week in EU brokered talks aimed at solving the gas dispute between Kyiv and Moscow.

Merkel also underlined that upcoming elections in areas of eastern Ukraine controlled by Russian-backed separatists must respect Ukrainian national law.

Pro-Russian insurgent leaders are boycotting a parliamentary snap poll on October 26 in Ukraine and are holding their own election in the Lugansk and Donetsk regions, home to nearly three million people, on the same day instead.

(Based on reporting by AFP and Reuters)

UNHCR SAYS MORE THAN 800,000 DISPLACED IN UKRAINE CONFLICT

By RFE/RL

The United Nations says the conflict in Ukraine has forced more than 800,000 people from their homes.

Around 95 percent of displaced people come from eastern Ukraine, where government troops have been battling pro-Russian separatists.

UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, told a briefing in Geneva that an estimated 430,000 people were currently displaced within Ukraine -- 170,000 more than at the start of September.

It said at least 387,000 other people have asked for refugee status, temporary asylum, or other forms of residency permits in Russia.

Another 6,600 have applied for asylum in the European Union and 581 in Belarus.

The agency said it was "racing to help some of the most vulnerable displaced people" as winter approaches.

It also said the number of displaced people is expected to rise further due to ongoing fighting in eastern Ukraine.

THREE ALLEGED MILITANTS KILLED IN NORTH CAUCASUS

Three alleged militants have been killed by security forces in Russia's volatile North Caucasus region.

Russia's National Antiterrorism Committee says that two suspects were killed in the village of Charoda in Daghestan on October 24 after they refused to leave an apartment and opened fire at police and security troops.

One police officer was wounded.

Also on October 24, police in another North Caucasus region, Kabardino-Balkaria, killed a suspected militant after he refused to identify himself, threw a grenade towards police, and opened fire with a pistol.

A police officer was wounded in that incident.

Violence is common in Russia's North Caucasus region, which includes the restive republics of Daghestan, Kabardino-Balkaria, Ingushetia, and Chechnya.

Islamic militants and criminal groups routinely target Russian military personnel and local officials.

(Based on reporting by Interfax and TASS)

MOSCOW LAWYER IN HIGH PROFILE ORGANIZED CRIME CASE KILLED

A lawyer, who represented an alleged victim of the notorious Orekhovo criminal group in Moscow, has been assassinated.

Police in the Russian capital say that Vitaly Moiseyev and his wife were found dead with gunshot wounds in a car near Moscow on October 24.

Moiseyev was representing Sergei Zhurba, an alleged victim of the Orekhovo gang and a key witness in a case against one of the gang's leaders Dmitry Belkin.

Belkin was sentenced to life in prison on October 23 for multiple murders and extortion.

Last month, another of Zhurba's lawyers, Tatyana Akimtseva (eds: a woman), was shot dead by unknown individuals.

The Orekhovo group was one of the most powerful crime gangs of the Moscow region and in Russia in the 1990s. Its members are believed to be responsible for dozens of murders.

(Based on reporting by TASS and Interfax)

17:27

LITTLE GREES VOTERS, ANYONE?

17:26

SPY VS. SPY

08:29

MORNING NEWS ROUNDUP

From RFE/RL's News Desk:

UKRAINIAN PM WARNS OF RUSSIAN DESTABILIZATION OF ELECTIONS

Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk is warning that Russia could attempt to disrupt Ukraine's parliamentary elections scheduled for October 26.

Yatsenyuk told a meeting of top security officials and election monitors on October 23 that "It is absolutely clear that attempts to destabilize the situation will continue and will be provoked by Russia."

Yatsenyuk said "we are in a state of Russian aggression and we have before us one more challenge -- to hold parliamentary elections."

The prime minister said Ukraine needs the "full mobilization of the entire law-enforcement system to prevent violations of the election process and attempts at terrorist acts during the elections."

Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said authorities have ordered some 82,000 policemen on duty for election day.

He said 4,000 members of a special reaction force would be among those maintaining order during polling hours and would be concentrated in "those precincts where there is a risk of some terrorist acts or aggressive actions by some...candidates."

The warning by Yatsenyuk comes on the heels of three violent attacks on parliamentary candidates in the past week.

The latest, against Volodymyr Borysenko, a member of Yatsenyuk's People's Front Party, occurred on October 20 when Borysenko was shot at and had an explosive thrown at him.

He allegedly survived the attack only because he was wearing body armor due to numerous death threats he had recently received.

Elections to the Verkhovna Rada, the parliament, will be held despite continued fighting in the eastern part of the country between Ukrainian government forces and pro-Russian separatists.

Voting will not take place in 14 districts of eastern Ukraine currently under the control of the separatists.

Those separatist-held areas -- in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions -- are planning on holding their own elections in November.

Additionally, Russia's illegal annexation of Crimea in March means the loss of 12 seats from the 450-seat parliament.

Polls show President Petro Poroshenko's party leading with some 30 percent of respondents saying they would cast their vote for the Petro Poroshenko Bloc.

It that percentage holds on election day it would mean Poroshenko's bloc would have to form a coalition government, likely with nationalist groups who oppose conducting peace talks over fighting in the east.

(Based on reporting by Reuters and Interfax)

RUSSIA DENIES ESTONIAN AIRSPACE VIOLATIONS

By RFE/RL

Moscow has denied claims of an incursion by a Russian military plane into Estonia's airspace.

A Russian Defense Ministry spokesman told Interfax news agency on October 23 that the Ilyushin-20 took off from Khrabrovo airfield in the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad on October 21.

The spokesman said the reconnaissance plane flew "over neutral waters of the Baltic Sea" while on a training flight.

On October 22, Estonia’s Foreign Ministry summoned the Russian ambassador in Tallinn, Yury Merzlakov, after the Estonian military said the Russian plane had entered its air space.

In a statement, NATO said the Ilyushin-20 was first intercepted by Danish jets when it approached Denmark, before flying toward non-NATO member Sweden.

Intercepted by Swedish planes, the alliance said the Ilyushin entered Estonian airspace for “less than one minute” and was escorted out by Portuguese jets.

NATO has stepped up its Baltic air patrols and Moscow has been accused of several recent border violations in the region amid heightened tensions between Russia and the West over the Ukraine conflict.

Last month, Estonia accused Russia of abducting one of its police officers on the border.

Russia claims Eston Kohver was seized inside Russia on September 5, while Estonian officials say he was captured at gunpoint in Estonia near the border and taken to Russia.

The European Union and United States have called for the immediate release of the Estonian security official, who is facing espionage charges in Russia.

Meanwhile, the Swedish Navy has been searching for a suspected submarine sighted six days ago some 50 kilometers from the capital, Stockholm, although it said on October 22 it was pulling back some of its ships.

Swedish officials have not linked any particular country to the suspected intrusion and Moscow has denied involvement.

(With reporting by Interfax, TASS, and the BBC)

RUSSIAN COURT POSTPONES RULING ON OIL FIRM BASHNEFT

A Moscow court postponed to next week a ruling on a move to take control of Bashneft, an oil company from tycoon Vladimir Yevtushenkov.

The judge said on October 23 that the next hearing will take place on October 30 after the prosecution requested more time to prepare its case.

Prosecutors filed the suit in September to regain state ownership of Bashneft, citing alleged violations in the privatization and subsequent sale of the company to AFK Sistema investment group.

Yevtushenkov, the main shareholder of the conglomerate, is under house arrest on suspicion of money laundering during the firm's acquisition in 2009.

Yevtushenkov, 66, was arrested on September 16.

He is ranked Russia's 15th richest man by U.S. magazine Forbes, with an estimated fortune of $9 billion.

(Based on reporting by Reuters and TASS)

11:11 October 23, 2014

THERE IS NO RUSSIA WITHOUT PUTIN?

According to a report in the pro-Kremlin daily "Izvestia," deputy Kremlin chief of staff Vyacheslav Volodin told a meeting of the Valdai Discussion Club in Sochi that Western politicians "do not understand the essence of Russia."

"Volodin stated the key thesis about the current state of our country: As long as there is Putin there is Russia. If there is no Putin, there is no Russia," Konstantin Kostin, head of the Foundation for the Development of Civil Society, told "Izvestia."

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The Power Vertical is a blog written especially for Russia wonks and obsessive Kremlin watchers by Brian Whitmore. It covers emerging and developing trends in Russian politics, shining a spotlight on the high-stakes power struggles, machinations, and clashing interests that shape Kremlin policy today. Check out The Power Vertical Facebook page or