Sunday, October 26, 2014

The Power Vertical

The Looking-Glass War

A journalist looks at the Twitter page of opposition activist Aleksei Navalny on August 7.
A journalist looks at the Twitter page of opposition activist Aleksei Navalny on August 7.
Whatever you think about Aleksei Navalny's politics, it's hard not to be impressed by his ingenuity.
This week, he was at it again, releasing an application called a "Truth Browser" on Google Chrome that translates Russian-language web pages into Navalny-speak.  
With a simple mouse click, United Russia magically changes -- of course -- into "партия жуликов и воров" or, "The Party of Swindlers and Thieves."
And Navalny's nemesis, Investigative Committee chief Aleksandr Bastrykin? That of course morphs into "Иностранный агент Бастрыкин" (Foreign Agent Bastrykin).
Detractors may dismiss it as a childish prank, except for the fact that Navalny's antics have a tendency to seep into Russia's political bloodstream and affect the zeitgeist. This is, after all, the guy who coined the phrase "Swindlers and Thieves" that has become part of the country's lexicon. He clearly understands the PR value of monotonous repetition and has clearly gotten under the ruling elite's collective skin.
Which is why Bastrykin is now trying to silence, sideline, or at least discredit Navalny with the criminal charges which were announced last week.
The writer Anna Fedorova opined in "Izvestia" recently that the way the charges were formulated suggests that Bastrykin's goal is to damage Navalny's brand -- just as he has successfully damaged the brand of the ruling elite with his "swindlers and thieves" campaign.
The battle between Navalny and Bastrykin, she wrote, increasingly resembles "a war in looking-glass land [where] we see two crooked mirrors directed toward each other. The authorities and the opposition are doing one and the same thing: trying to use the other side's own arguments against them."
And she suggested that the effort to taint Navalny as corrupt could prove effective.
The majority of people do not want to ferret around in the details. For every one who reads the long blog post, with its diagrams and explanations, right through to the end, there will be nine who simply think: Well, yes, so he is just the same as his enemies. They are crooks and thieves -- and he himself is a crook and a thief, it is just that he is lower down the scale and does not belong to United Russia. 

When they 'create a martyr' of somebody, the way in which the charge is formulated is of fundamental importance. For a shining model of a revolutionary and campaigner against corruption, it is good to go to jail 'for the truth' or 'for an exploit,' but not very good, to put it mildly, to go to jail for theft (of money, timber, fish, copper, or other national assets).
In an interview on Dozhd TV on the day he was charged with organizing a criminal conspiracy to steal 16 million rubles ($506, 448) worth of timber products from the state-owned KirovLes company, Navalny made a similar point.

"They just want people to hear over and over on television that Navalny stole 16 million," he said.

Mindful of this, Navalny has made it clear that he doesn't plan to allow Bastrykin to define him as a crook in the public consciousness. In remarks reported by RIA-Novosti, he said he will soon release specific documents proving his innocence and that the case against him has been fabricated.
The case, which dates back to 2009 when Navalny was an unpaid adviser to Kirov Governor Nikita Belykh, has been indeed gone through so many bizarre twists and turns that it is easy even for somebody unfavorably disposed toward Navalny to have suspicions about the allegations' veracity.
Since the investigation was first launched in December 2011, it has been closed for lack of evidence and then reopened and closed so many times that it is easy to lose track.
It was reopened most recently in April at Bastrykin's very public insistence, with the charges changed and with individuals who previously testified against Navalny suddenly being named as his coconspirators. (A detailed analysis of the charges themselves is the subject of a separate post. But for now I would recommend this piece in "Novoye vremya" which does a good job of chronicling the case.)

But before the case ever gets to court -- if it ever gets to court -- this odd little "looking-glass war" over public perceptions is bound to continue. As are incidents like Navalny's claim to have found a sophisticated listening device in his office this week. 
And the case could have implications far beyond Navalny's fate. As I have blogged in the past, Bastrykin clearly wants to play hardball with the opposition and wants to put Navalny away badly. But as Kremlin-watcher and siloviki expert Mark Galeotti pointed out in the latest Power Vertical podcast, his enthusiasm is not shared by many in the ruling elite -- or even in the law-enforcement community.
How this case winds up, therefore, could end up being one barometer of Russia's future political direction.
-- Brian Whitmore

Tags: Aleksei Navalny,Aleksandr Bastrykin

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: La Russophobe from: USA
August 08, 2012 01:14
It's pretty hard to find even one example in human history where zeitgeist brought down a dictator. And maybe that's why Navalny has failed utterly at everything he's ever tried, and is now heading for prison where he'll keep an ice cube warm next to Khodorkovsky. Navalny told us there would be a re-vote for Duma. Not. He told us there would be a runoff for president. Not. He said his demonstration marches would grow. They shrank. He said he'd take down Bastrykin, but it's Navalny who's on his way to prison. Instead of asking what Navalny will do next (play with which Internet toy in a new and even more foolish way), you ought to be asking who should replace him, and whether in fact there is any movement left for a replacement to lead.
In Response

by: Mark from: Victoria
August 08, 2012 18:26
If the Russian government is smart, it will encourage Navalny's longevity and the continuation of the love affair between him and sites like this one, perhaps by pretending to be afraid of his developing into a real political heavyweight. Because there is just as much chance of his developing into a starfish or an aircraft carrier. But the longer the western regime-changers go yapping down the trail of the latest Alexey Navalny techno-treat, the further they will find themselves from the goal when reality eventually presents itself.

Don't worry about there being a movement left to lead. If you believe the western demographers who say all the smart, hip Russians are involved in a rush for the exits - and have been for at least the last 15 years - the entire "movement" will have emigrated by the time Navalny gets out of jail. Maybe they'll be your neighbours!!
In Response

by: Andrew from: Auckland
August 09, 2012 10:07
Just the sort of asinine comment one would expect from a Victorian.
Tell me Mark, where would you rather live, Australia or Putin's Russia?
Regime change is required in Russia to remove a criminal, repressive, and in the Caucasus, mass murdering regime from power.
The demographics are correct, look at the large numbers of young Russians leaving for Europe, USA/Canada, for New Zealand and Australia, and even for Georgia (where their kids can have a similar cultural & religious upbringing without the repressive regime).

I notice you seem to have a lot of time for Putin, why don't you try living in Russia Mark?

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17:49 October 24, 2014


From RFE/RL's News Desk:


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)


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)



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 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)


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 October 24, 2014


17:26 October 24, 2014


17:00 October 24, 2014
08:29 October 24, 2014


From RFE/RL's News Desk:


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)



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)


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


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