Friday, October 31, 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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18:26

EVENING NEWS ROUNDUP

From RFE/RL's News Desk:

EUROPE PRAISES GAS DEAL, PRESSES RUSSIA ON REBEL VOTES

By RFE/RL

European leaders have welcomed a deal under which Russia is to restore natural-gas supplies to Ukraine but told Vladimir Putin that elections held by pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine on November 2 will be illegitimate.

Russian President Putin, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and French President Francois Hollande spoke in a four-way telephone conversation overnight after Ukraine and Russia sealed a deal meant to guarantee Russian gas supplies to Ukraine through March 2015.

All four leaders welcomed the gas deal signed late on October 30 in Brussels, a German government spokesperson said, and a Kremlin statement called the agreement "an important step in the context of the future provision of uninterrupted transit of gas to Europe."

But a statement from Poroshenko's office said "Ukraine, Germany and France expressed (the) clear common position that they would not recognize the elections planned by separatists."

It said the elections on rebel-held territory in eastern Ukraine's Donetsk and Luhansk regions would contradict an agreement reached in Minsk on September 5 and aimed to end the conflict between Kyiv and the pro-Russian rebels, which has killed more than 3,700 people since April and poisoned East-West ties.

It said Poroshenko, Merkel, and Hollande "urged Russia not to recognize those elections as well."

Merkel's spokesman, Georg Streiter, said that "Merkel and Hollande underlined that there can only be a ballot in line with Ukrainian law."

He said the votes would violate the Minsk agreement and further complicate efforts to find a solution to the crisis in eastern Ukraine.

"The German government will not recognize these illegitimate elections," Streiter told a news conference, adding that European leaders were united on this issue and had agreed on this at a summit last week in Brussels.

Moscow has made no formal recognition of the "people's republics" the separatists have proclaimed in Donetsk and Luhansk, and the Kremlin denies involvement in the conflict despite what Kyiv and NATO say is clear evidence that Russia has sent troops and weapons into Ukraine to help the separatists.

But in comments published on October 28, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow would "of course recognize the results" of the separatists' elections.

The Kremlin statement about the telephone conversation made no mention of the elections.

It also said the leaders reaffirmed their commitment to the implementation the September 5 agreement, and underscored the need to observe the cease-fire that was central to the Minsk deal.

The Kremlin said Russia believes the "the establishment of a steady dialogue" between Kyiv and the separatists would "undoubtedly" help stabilize the situation.

Kremlin critics say Russia supported the September 5 agreement because it followed rebel gains that left the separatists in control over large portions of Donetsk and Luhansk, potentially giving Moscow a lever of influence on Ukraine for years to come.

The November 2 balloting in the rebel-held regions comes a week after those areas stayed out of voting in in Ukraine's parliamentary election on October 26, in which pro-Western parties won a sweeping victory.

Poroshenko proposed on October 31 that Arseniy Yatsenyuk stay on as prime minister.

"I have proposed that the Petro Poroshenko Bloc put forward Arseniy Yatsenyuk to the post of prime minister," Poroshenko wrote on Twitter.

Yatsenyuk's People's Front party narrowly beat out the Petro Poroshenko Bloc in voting by party in the October 26 election, according to a nearly complete count.

But Poroshenko's bloc fared better in first-past-the-post voting and was positioned to take more parliament seats than the People's Front, according to election commission data.

Yatsenyuk is a vocal critic of Russia and is popular among Western governments for his support for economic reforms.

He is a target of criticism from Russian officials who say the  government that came to power in Ukraine after former president Viktor Yanukovych fled in February in the face of protests seized control in an illegal coup d'etat supported by the West.

Russia annexed the Crimea region from Ukraine in March, adding to tension that increased still further when the conflict in eastern Ukraine erupted the following month.

The hard-fought gas deal provided what European Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger called "perhaps the first glimmer of a relaxation" between Ukraine and Russia.

Russia had raised the price it was asking Kyiv pay for gas after Yanukovych's ouster and then stopped supplying gas to Ukraine in June, citing what it said was $5.3 billion in debt and demanding advance payment for any future supplies.

Oettinger said that under the accord, Ukraine will pay Russia $1.45 billion in gas arrears within "days" for Moscow to resume gas deliveries.

He said Russia will then "immediately" lower Ukraine's gas price by 100 dollars per 1,000 cubic meters.

Yatsenyuk, in figures later confirmed by Moscow, said Ukraine would pay $378 per 1,000 cubic meters until the end of 2014 and $365 in the first quarter of 2015.

Kyiv will subsequently have access to Russian gas deliveries in exchange for pre-payment, according to Oettinger.

He said Ukraine also agreed to settle another $1.65 billion in arrears by the end of the year.

The deal is expected to include EU funding to help Ukraine pay.

Oettinger said, "we can guarantee a security of supply over the winter," not only for Ukraine but also for the EU nations closest to the region.

Ukraine normally relies on Russia for about the half the gas it uses, and the onset of winter made the need for a deal more urgent.

Russia also provides about one-third of the gas consumed in the European Union, with about half of that pumped via Ukraine.

The EU was seeking to avoid a repeat of 2006 and 2009, when Russia halted supplies to Ukraine amid price disputes, disrupting deliveries to Europe during two cold winters.

News of the agreement appeared to bring relief in Europe, with British wholesale gas prices for November and December falling to their lowest ever levels on October 31.

(With reporting by Reuters, AP, and AFP)

RUSSIA EXTENDS DETENTION OF ESTONIAN POLICE OFFICER

A Moscow court has extended by two months the detention of an Estonian police officer charged with espionage.

Lefortovo Court spokesperson Yulia Sotnikova said on October 31 that a judge had "granted a request from investigators to prolong the period of detention until January 5" of Eston Kohver.

Kohver was detained on September 5 on espionage charges.

Moscow claims Kohver was seized inside Russia, while Estonian officials say he was captured at gunpoint in Estonia near the border.

The case has strained relations between Russia and Estonia.

The European Union and United States have called for the immediate release of the Estonian security official.

(Based on reporting by Interfax and TASS)

EU FILES WTO TRADE COMPLAINT AGAINST RUSSIA

The European Union has launched a complaint with the World Trade Organization (WTO) over Russian import duties on some European agricultural and manufactured goods.

The Geneva-based international arbitration body said on October 31 that the EU accuses Russia of levying tariffs on several types of goods that are above the legally binding tariff ceilings that Moscow has agreed to within the WTO mechanism.

Those goods include paper and paperboard, palm oil, and refrigerators.

Under WTO rules, the parties have 60 days to work out a mutually agreed solution. After that, the EU could ask the WTO to adjudicate.

The dispute is the fifth involving Russia and the EU at the WTO.

The European Commission's spokesman for trade issues, Wojtek Talko, said the case was not a complaint against the recent ban on Russian food imports from Europe.

(Based on reporting by Reuters and dpa)

RUSSIAN CENTRAL BANK RAISES INTEREST RATES

The Russian central bank said it would raise interest rates from 8 percent to 9.5 percent as Western sanctions and falling oil prices have sent the Russian ruble plummeting.

The Bank of Russia's board of directors made the decision to raise interest rates at an October 31 meeting.

The central bank had increased the rate to 8 percent in late July, following increased to 5.5 percent in March and 7.5 percent in April.

The United States, European Union and other nations have imposed successive rounds of sanctions on Russia over its role in the Ukraine crisis.

Russia annexed the Crimea region from Ukraine in March, and Kyiv and NATO accuse Moscow of aiding pro-Russian separatists with troops and arms during a conflict in eastern Ukraine that has killed more than 3,700 people in eastern Ukraine since April.

(Based on reporting by TASS, Interfax, and AFP)

U.S AMBASSADOR TO KYRGYZSTAN WARNS OF RUSSIAN INFLUENCE

By RFE/RL

The U.S. Ambassador to Kyrgyzstan says that the Central Asian nation's "growing partnership with Russia" presents a challenge to U.S. efforts to support democracy in Kyrgyzstan.

In an article published on the website of the Council of American Ambassadors, Pamela Spratlen (eds: a woman) said the "strong partnership" that Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambaev has forged with Russian President Vladimir Putin "has had its impact on our efforts."

"It remains an unanswered question how Kyrgyzstan can maintain its democratic trajectory while pursuing this partnership," she said.

Spratlen also said that many in Kyrgyzstan get their news from Russian media, and that in the case of the Ukraine crisis "the strident anti-American tone taken by Russian propaganda has crystallized local public opinion around Moscow's narrative of events there."

Kyrgyzstan has seemed to follow Moscow's lead on several issues recently, including drafting laws that legitimize discrimination against homosexuals and would require foreign-based organizations to register as "foreign agents."

(Based on Spratlen article: https://www.americanambassadors.org/publications/ambassadors-review/fall-2014/democracy-in-central-asia-supporting-kyrgyzstan-s-island-of-democracy)

RUSSIAN ACTOR FIRES MACHINE GUN IN DONETSK

Ukrainian authorities have filed charges and Russia's Union of Journalists is demanding an apology after a prominent Russian actor was filmed firing a machine gun near the Donetsk airport while wearing patches that identified him as a member of the press.

Ukraine's Interior Ministry on October 31 filed criminal charges against Mikhail Porechenkov for the pictures taken with pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said on his Facebook page, "Mikhail Porechenkov, present in Donetsk, personally took part in firing on units of Ukraine's armed forces using an automatic weapon."

Pavel Gutiontov of Russia's Union of Journalists called the incident "irresponsible behavior on the part of the actor" and demanded an apology.

Porechenkov said that it was a staged scene, that he was firing blanks, and that the only bullet-resistant vest and helmet he could find were labelled "press."

(Based on reporting by UNIAN, TASS, and Interfax)

09:54

50 RUBLES TO THE DOLLAR?!?

Writing in Slon, Yakov Mirkin, chairman of the Department of International Capital Markets at the Russian Academy of Sciences Insititute of World Economy and International Relations, argued that the ruble could easily sink to 50 to the dollar.

The reasons? 

1) The ruble is overvalued anyway;

2) The dollar is rising against major currencies and this upward cycle is likely to continue;

3) Oil prices are falling;

4) A combination of Western sanctions and diversification of energy supplies

5) Capital flight from Russia continues apace.

And in light of Mirkin's argument, it is worth noting that he has consistently been arguing that the ruble is overvalued. Here he is speaking back in August 2013:

09:41

UKRAINIAN HOSPITALITY

Russian journalist Ivan Sukhov writing in "The Moscow Times" on working in Ukraine:

"Russian journalists encounter no personal aggression while working in Ukraine. Only the rare local politician refuses to speak to Russian reporters.

And in place of perfectly understandable aggression, Russian journalists encounter only gentle Ukrainian hospitality along with a sizable share of condescending sympathy.

It is as if they want to tell us, 'We will stay here, where we have taken the responsibility for our future into our own hands, whereas you will fly home to Russia's stifling political atmosphere, to a country that futilely reconsiders the outcome of the Cold War and the people are caught up in a mass euphoria over the bloodshed in the Donbass.'"

Read it all here.

08:56

MORNING NEWS ROUNDUP

From RFE/RL's News Desk:

RUSSIA, UKRAINE SIGN EU-BROKERED GAS DEAL

By RFE/RL

Moscow and Kyiv have signed a landmark agreement that will guarantee Russian gas deliveries to Ukraine throughout the winter despite tense relations over the fighting in eastern Ukraine.

The EU-brokered deal, which extends until March 2015, was signed at a ceremony in Brussels by the energy ministers of the two countries, Aleksandr Novak and Yuriy Prodan, and European Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger.

Outgoing EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, who oversaw the signing, hailed the agreement, saying, "There is now no reason for people in Europe to stay cold this winter."

The hard-fought deal followed months-long EU-mediated negotiations between Moscow and Kyiv amid a long and bitter dispute over payments.

The agreement was reached after two days of marathon talks that had stalled before dawn on October 30 when Russia demanded that the EU first agree with Ukraine how to pay Kyiv's outstanding bills and finance gas deliveries through to March.

Oettinger said that under the accord, Ukraine will pay Russia $1.45 billion in gas arrears within "days" for Moscow to resume gas deliveries.

He said Russia will then "immediately" lower Ukraine's gas price by 100 dollars to around $385 per 1,000 cubic meters.

Kyiv will subsequently have access to Russian gas deliveries in exchange for pre-payment, according to Oettinger. He said Ukraine also agreed to settle another $1.65 billion in arrears by the end of the year.

The deal is expected to include EU funding to help Ukraine pay off its debts to Russia's state-owned gas giant Gazprom.

Oettinger said, "we can guarantee a security of supply over the winter," not only for Ukraine but also for the EU nations closest to the region.

He added that the deal "is perhaps the first glimmer of a relaxation" between Ukraine and Russia.

Ukraine's Prodan said the "decisions taken today will provide energy security for Ukraine and the EU."

Moscow cut off gas deliveries to Ukraine in mid-June, citing a $5.3-billion debt and demanding that Ukraine settle its outstanding bills and pay up front for any future deliveries.

The dispute occurred amid Russia's conflict with Ukraine and Western sanctions imposed on Moscow for its annexation of Crimea in March and its subseqent military and political support for pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.

With Ukraine relying on Russia for around 50 percent of its gas, the onset of winter made the need for a deal more urgent.

Russia also provides about one-third of the European Union's gas, about half of which is pumped via Ukraine.

The EU was seeking to avoid a repeat of 2006 and 2009 when Russia halted supplies to Ukraine, disrupting deliveries to Europe during two very cold winters.

But Russia's Novak said after the signing that Moscow will remain a "reliable supplier" of energy to Europe and the deal struck with Ukraine will ensure stable gas deliveries over the winter.

In reaction to the deal, the French and German leaders said in a joint statement that the EU will "fully play its role" to implement the gas deal.

Francois Hollande and Angela Merkel said they had spoken with Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart Petro Poroshenko earlier October 30, and all four "have welcomed the conclusion of negotiations on the delivery of Russian gas to Ukraine, achieved thanks to the mediation of the European Union."

(Based on live broadcast, with additional reporting by Reuters, AP, and AFP)

AIR ARMENIA BLAMES RUSSIA FOR FLIGHT SUSPENSIONS

By RFE/RL’s Armenian Service

YEREVAN -- Air Armenia, a passengar and cargo airline based in Yerevan, has suspended all passenger flights until at least December 20 over financial difficulties that the firm is blaming on Russia.

Air Armenia says it is unable continue regular passenger services because of a “panic” among investors and customers over a statement by Russia's federal air navigation service.

Russia's Rosaeronavigatsia announced on September 11 that it would ban Air Armenia from operating flights to Russian cities unless the company paid its outstanding debts by September 21.

Air Armenia said ihe statement damaged its business reputation and that, as a result, its fleet was reduced to one aircraft.

Other than Russian cities, the airline had been flying to Paris, Frankfurt, and Athens.

Air Armenia was founded as a cargo airline in 2003 and began operating commercial passenger flights in 2013 after the bankruptcy of Armavia.

COURT ORDERS NATIONALIZATION OF OLIGARCH'S BASHNEFT SHARES

A Moscow court has ordered the nationalization of a stake in an oil company owned by a detained tycoon.

The Moscow Arbitration Court ruled on October 30 the stake in Bashneft held by billionaire Vladimir Yevtushenkov's holding company Sistema would be returned to the state.

Prosecutors claimed the stake was illegally privatized by officials in Russia's Bashkortostan region.

The court said new claims could be filed after the worth of Sistema's stake in Bashneft was ascertained.

Yevtushenkov was arrested last month on charges of money laundering related to the acquisition of Bashneft.

His arrested sparked speculation that Russia's largest oil company, state-run Rosneft, would acquire Sistema's Bashneft shares.

Yevtushenkov is one of Russia's richest businessmen, with assets estimated to be worth some $9 billion.

(Based on reporting by AFP, rapsinews.ru, and Interfax)

LATVIA-BASED RUSSIAN NEWS PORTAL BLOCKED IN KAZAKHSTAN

By RFE/RL's Kazakh Service

An online Russian news portal based in Latvia has been blocked in Kazakhstan over an article described by Astana as "inflicting ethnic discord."

Kazakhstan's Ministry of Investments and Development said on October 30 that the Meduza.io website published an article "propagating ethnic discord and threatening the territorial integrity" of Kazakhstan.

The article about ethnic Russians living in Kazakhstan's eastern city of Ust-Kamenogorsk (aka Oskemen) is titled: "Ust-Kamenogorsk People's Republic. Are Locals Ready For Polite Green Men?"

‘Green Men’ refers to the deployment in foreign countries of Russian military forces wearing unmarked green uniforms – as Russia has done in the past in regions of Georgia and Ukraine.

The ministry also has filed a lawsuit against Meduza.io in connection with the article.

It says the website will remain blocked in Kazakhstan until a local court rules in the case.

(With reporting by Interfax)

KYRGYZ WILL NEED PASSPORTS TO ENTER RUSSIA

By RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service

Kyrgyzstan's State Registration Ministry says that as of January 1, 2015, Kyrgyz citizens will no longer be able to enter the Russian Federation using their national identification documents.

Since 2007, Kyrgyz labor migrants have been travelling between the two countries with internal identification documents. Now they will have to obtain travel passports.

The regulation, announced on October 29, will affect hundreds of thousands of Kyrgyz labor migrants who work in Russia and periodically travel between the two countries.

Moscow announced earlier this year that it wants to tighten by 2015 the regulations for entering Russia by nationals of former Soviet republics that are not members of the Russia-led Customs Union and Eurasian Economic Union.

In May, Kyrgyzstan signed a road map under which it is to join the Customs Union, which currently comprises Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan, by the end of 2014.  

NATO REPORTS UNUSUAL RUSSIAN WARPLANE ACTIVITY AROUND EUROPE

NATO said on October 29 that it tracked and intercepted four groups of Russian warplanes “conducting significant military manoeuvers” in international airspace close to the borders of the European Union during the previous 24 hours.

NATO’s SHAPE military headquarters in Mons, Belgium said: “These sizeable Russian flights represent an unusual level of air activity over European airspace.”

It said the planes included strategic bombers, fighters, and tanker aircraft.

They were detected over the Baltic Sea, the North Sea, the Atlantic Ocean, and the Black Sea on October 28 and 29.

Russian bombers flew south all the way to international airspace west of Portugal and Spain.

Norwegian, British, Portuguese, German, Danish, and Turkish fighters were scrambled to intercept and identify the Russian planes.

Planes from the non-NATO nations of Finland and Sweden also responded.

Since Russia’s intervention in Ukraine, tensions between NATO and Russia have risen to the highest level since the Cold War.

(Based on reporting by AP and AFP)

18:33 October 29, 2014

EVENING NEWS ROUNDUP

From RFE/RL's News Desk:

KREMLIN MOVES TO QUASH PUTIN HEALTH RUMORS

Vladimir Putin's spokesman said on October 29 that the Russian president is in good health, seeking to quash rumors of an illness.

Dmitry Peskov told reporters in Moscow that "everything is okay" with Putin's health, Russian news agencies Interfax and TASS reported.

"They will wait in vain. May their tongues wither," Peskov said of those who claim Putin is ill.

Peskov spoke after a spate of Russian media reports referring to an October 24 column in the tabloid "New York Post" whose author, Richard Johnson, cited unidentified sources as saying Putin had pancreatic cancer.

Putin and the Kremlin have strongly discouraged reporting about the 62-year-old president's private life.

(Based on reporting by TASS and Interfax)

ROSNEFT THREATENS TO SUE NEWSPAPER OVER SANCTIONS REPORT

Russia's largest oil company, Rosneft, is threatening to sue the Russian daily "Kommersant" for a report alleging Rosneft sent President Vladimir Putin proposals for countersanctions against Western companies and individuals.

"Kommersant" reported on October 29 that state-run Rosneft's proposals include limiting cooperation aboard the International Space Station, prohibiting burial of U.S. and EU nuclear waste in Russia, and possible confiscation of property in Russia owned by Western countries or their citizens.

Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, denied there were any Rosneft proposals for sanctions, but presidential aide Andrei Belousov and Economy Minister Aleksei Ulyukayev seemed to contradict this.

State-run TASS reported Peskov said reports Rosneft had sent such proposals were untrue.

Peskov said decisions on imposing sanctions were made "in line with the relevant departments, and taken on the level of the government and president."

A different TASS report quoted Belousov as saying, "We are closely studying Rosneft's proposals."

Belousov went on to say, "I would say the radicalism of the proposals for now exceeds the current level of tensions."

The Interfax news agency quoted Ulyukayev as saying the proposals were a "very complex document" and adding, "I don’t think it is grounds for making any decisions."

The "Kommersant" report said "Russian government officials" had provided information about the alleged proposals.

A statement from Rosneft said the company was "deeply shocked" by the "Kommersant" article and might sue the newspaper.

Western governments have imposed several rounds of sanctions on Russia over its annexation of Crimea and support for separatists in eastern Ukraine.

The sanctions target key Russian industries and individuals close to Putin, including Rosneft and its head, Igor Sechin, who is a former Kremlin deputy chief of staff.

The sanctions have hurt Rosneft, which has already requested additional funding from the Russian government to make up for losses incurred due to sanctions.

British oil company BP reported on October 28 that its income from its operations with Rosneft dropped from $808 million in the third quarter of 2013 to $110 million in the same period this year.

(Based on reporting by TASS, Interfax, Reuters, and Kommersant)

WHITE HOUSE DETECTS SUSPICIOUS CYBER ACTIVITY, REPORT BLAMES RUSSIA

The White House says it has taken measures to counter suspicious activity detected on its unclassified computer network.

A White House official would not say who might have been responsible for the activity on what was described as an unclassified computer network used by employees of the Executive Office of the President.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the authorities had taken "immediate measures to evaluate and mitigate the activity."

In a report on October 28, the "Washington Post" cited sources as saying hackers believed to be working for the Russian government breached the unclassified computer network in recent weeks.

The White House has declined to comment on the "Washington Post" report.

A U.S. administration official said there were no indications that classified networks had been affected.

(Based on reporting by Reuters, AP, and dpa)

VICTIMS OF STALIN TERROR REMEMBERED IN MOSCOW CEREMONY

By RFE/RL

Activists are gathering near the former KGB headquarters to honor the memory of thousands of men and women executed by Soviet authorities during Josef Stalin's "Great Terror."

Speakers at the daylong ceremony at the Solovetsky Stone memorial on Moscow's Lubyanka Square read out aloud the names, ages, occupations, and dates of executions of some 30,000 people killed by Soviet authorities in 1937-1938.

Muscovites and others brought flowers, pictures of victims and candles to the site of the "Returning the Names" commemoration, which began at 1000 (local time; 0800 Prague time) and was to end at 1000 (local time; 0800 Prague time).

The annual ceremony is organized by Memorial, Russia's oldest and best-known human rights organization, which is under pressure from the government.

On October 10, Russia's Justice Ministry appealed to the Supreme Court to close Memorial.

Memorial has held the ceremony every year since 2006 at the site near the headquarters of the Federal Security Service, the KGB's main successor.

Ceremonies were also being held in other Russian cities.

(Based on live broadcast by october29.ru)

SEPARATISTS SHELL UKRAINIAN TROOPS

Pro-Russian separatists reportedly shelled the position of Ukrainian government troops in southeastern Ukraine on October 29, despite an almost two-month-old cease-fire agreement.

Authorities in the port city of Mariupol say military positions located near the village of Talakovka were targeted on October 29 by conventional artillery and Grad rockets that were fired from from the separatist-controlled region of Donetsk.

Casualties were reported among troops.

The cease-fire agreement signed in early September ended most fighting between the two sides -- although battles at the Donetsk airport, in Mariupol, and in villages near the city of Luhansk continue on an almost daily basis.

The UN says more than 3,700 people have been killed in six months of fighting between government forces and separatists in eastern Ukraine, with hundreds of thousands fleeing their homes.

(Based on reporting by Interfax and UNIAN)

RUSSIAN AIRLINE PLANS YEREVAN-CRIMEA FLIGHTS OVER kYIV'S OBJECTIONS

By RFE/RL's Armenian Service

The Grozny Air civil aviation company, based in the Russia's Chechnya region, is pressing ahead with plans to launch regular flights from Yerevan to Crimea, despite protests from Kyiv.

Timur Shimayev, an executive officer for Grozny Air, told RFE/RL on October 29 that the firm's inaugural flight to Crimea is scheduled for November 17.

But Ukraine's Ambassador to Armenia, Ivan Kukhta, told reporters in Yerevan on October 29 that any commercial flights between Yerevan and Crimea must first be approved by Kyiv.

Kukhta's statement came five days after a spokesman for the Armenian government’s Civil Aviation Department, Ruben Grdzelian, said that a Russian regional airline had not been allowed to launch flights between Armenia and Crimea since the Ukrainian penninsula was annexed by Russia in March.

Moscow's annexation of Crimea has been condemned as illegal by the United States, the European Union, and the United Nations General Assembly.

 

12:55 October 29, 2014

SANCTION THIS!

The Russian daily "Kommersant" reports that the state-run oil giant Rosneft is calling on President Vladimir Putin to impose new sanctions on the West. The new moves reportedly include limiting cooperation aboard the International Space Station, prohibiting burial of U.S. and EU nuclear waste in Russia, and possible confiscation of property in Russia owned by Western countries or their citizens.

12:41 October 29, 2014

AND IN THE FALLOUT DEPARTMENT...

Just a few things I've noticed this morning:

Russian-German Trade Down

German exports to Russia have dropped by more than a quarter, "The Moscow Times" reports. In August, exports from Germany to Russia were 2.3 billion euros, a 26.3 percent decrease from a year ago. Moreover, German exports to Russia fell by 16.6 percent from January-August 2014.

Russian Elite More Cohesive -- For Now

According to a report by Reuters, sanctions have had the "opposite effect to the one intended" among the elite. "Far from dividing those closest to President Vladimir Putin, they have forced the main players in the energy sector to rally behind him. This circle has by necessity become more focused, Western and Russian businessmen, diplomats and politicians said," according to the report.

Sweden Is Warming Up To NATO

Foreign Directors Bail On Russian Firms

Since the start of the year, 14 percent of foreigners serving on the boards of Russian firms have left their posts, "The Moscow Times" reports. "Western sanctions have forced some foreign directors to step down or curb their activities on the boards of publicly traded Russian companies, leaving a critical gap that few domestic candidates are equipped to fill," according to the report.

09:17 October 29, 2014

MORNING NEWS ROUNDUP

From RFE/RL's News Desk:

RUSSIA AND UKRAINE TO RESUME GAS TALKS

Russia and Ukraine are set to resume talks over a gas dispute on October 29 in Brussels.

The new round of negotiations comes after inconclusive talks October 21, when European Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger announced some progress, but said a final deal has yet to be agreed.

Russia cut off gas deliveries to Ukraine in mid-June, citing a $5.3-billion debt.

Oettinger said that, as part of tentative deals, Ukraine planned to purchase some 4 billion cubic meters of Russian gas before the end of this year.

Russia on October 21 said the it would sell gas to Ukraine for $385 per 1,000 cubic meters, much lower than the $485 that Russia's state-controlled Gazprom was demanding just weeks ago.

Moscow said that price would be in force from October 2014 until late March 2015 -- but only if Ukraine pays in advance.

(Based on reporting by AFP and AP)

KYIV CONDEMNS MOSCOW'S SUPPORT FOR SEPARATIST ELECTIONS

Ukraine on October 28 condemned as “destructive and provocative” Russia’s support for elections organized by pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine, while the United States said a vote by separatists in eastern Ukraine would be unlawful.

The November 2 vote was scheduled by rebels in defiance of Ukrainian national elections on October 26, which were won by pro-Western parties.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko on October 28 described the vote planned by rebels as "pseudo-elections," saying they "grossly contradict the spirit and letter" of international agreements reached in Minsk in September.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov says Moscow plans to recognize the elections that are being organized by separatists in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine.

Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry warned that the the vote "will be a clear violation of the commitments made by both Russia and the separatists that it backs in the Minsk agreements."

(Based on reporting by Reuters, AP, AFP, and TASS)

GAZPROM NEFT CHALLENGES EU SANCTIONS IN EUROPEAN COURT

Gazprom Neft, the oil arm of Russia's state-controlled natural gas monopoly Gazprom, said on October 28 that it has challenged European Union sanctions against the firm in the EU’s Court of Justice.

The sanctions against Gazprom Neft were imposed as part of wider restrictions against Russia over its illegal annexation of Crimea from Ukraine and its support for pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.

The EU sanctions restrict the ability of Gazprom Neft, Russia's fourth biggest oil producer by output, to raise funds on European markets.

The United States also has imposed sanctions against Gazprom Neft in response to Russia’s role in Ukraine’s crisis.

The West says Moscow is supplying arms and troops to help pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine battle Ukrainian government forces.

Moscow denies that, despite increasing evidence to support the charges.

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

18:54 October 27, 2014

THE BIG CHILL

Sam Greene, Director of the Russia Institute at King’s College London and author of "Moscow in Movement: Power & Opposition in Putin’s Russia," has a depressing (and must-read) blog post up about his recent trip to Moscow titled: "Russia's Tomorrow, Today."

It opens like this:

The news and the invitation were waiting for me, both, when I got off the plane from London to Moscow. I saw the invitation first—from a long-time colleague, to attend a workshop on the future of Russian politics later this month at Memorial, the venerable Russian historical society and human rights organization. I saw the news two hours later: 17 days after that workshop, Russia’s High Court will hold a hearing on the government’s demand that Memorial be liquidated.

That is the condition of life in Russia these days: two hours in which an invitation takes on a funerary pallor, 17 days in which the world becomes immeasurably smaller. Rarely has the distance between today and tomorrow been so great and so fraught as it is now.

And it concludes like this:

The tomorrow whose arrival now seems inevitable is one in which the archives of Memorial and the Sakharov Center disappear, to be replaced with a single national history textbook and a single national literature textbook, so that the past may have no bearing on the future. It is one in which policy analysis disappears from the public space, along with honest reporting, so that the present may also have no bearing on the future. Tomorrow, when it arrives, will bring one sole purpose: to preserve and protect the status quo. It is a tomorrow after which there are meant to be, politically speaking, no more tomorrows at all..

What the designers of this new tomorrow may not realize, however, is that, once freed from the paralysis of a pointless today, the despair of disaffection becomes the desperation of dissent. Dissidents, pitted against a regime that can never fall, take risks that are unnecessary in a more fluid system. They speak at all costs to demonstrate that they have no voice, and they go to jail to demonstrate that they are not free. Once today becomes tomorrow, and there are no more tomorrows for which to wait, the imperative of immediate action reemerges. 

Is the Kremlin ready for an opposition that, because everything is already lost, has nothing left to lose?

Read it all here.

And a h/t to Ben Judah for flagging.

 

15:42 October 27, 2014

FROM THE YOU-CAN'T-MAKE-THIS-STUFF-UP DEPARTMENT

The Russian health and consumer watchdog Rospotrebnadzor has issued a dire warning: SEFIES CAUSE HEAD LICE!

No, really. I'm serious! It is actually on their official website:

"One reason for the spread of lice among teenagers, in the opinion of experts, is because selfie photographs have become more common. In these group photos, lice are transfered due to the touching of heads."

And it is causing a lot of laughs on the Twitter:

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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