Sunday, October 26, 2014

The Power Vertical

The Tortoise Revolution

Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny's supporters rally in Moscow on September 9.
Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny's supporters rally in Moscow on September 9.
When Aleksei Navalny addressed thousands of supporters on Moscow's Bolotnaya Square, he surprised many when he urged the crowd to go home peacefully after the rally ended.

Earlier on September 9, the anticorruption blogger-turned-opposition leader appeared to implicitly be threatening mass unrest when he said he would call his supporters out to the streets if the authorities did not agree to a recount in Moscow's disputed mayoral elections.

"I would like to remain honest with you to the end. If we write on our posters 'Don’t Lie and don’t steal,' then I also don’t intend to lead you astray and don't intend to place you in danger," Navalny told the crowd.

"When the time comes, and it may come, when I call on you to take part in an unauthorized action, to turn over cars or to light fires, then I will do so directly and make a clear statement: 'Guys, those of you who are prepared to light torches and sleep on the payment should come. And I will sleep alongside you on the pavement!' But first of all I would like to give you a warning about it...I urge you to trust me because I know what to do next."

Navalny wasn't just speaking to his supporters that night. He was also telling all Russians that while he might be a bit of a firebrand, he had also matured into a responsible and level-headed leader they can trust. 

And he was also speaking to the Kremlin. At any time, he appeared to be telling the regime, "I could cause mass chaos in the capital." And anybody who didn't believe him should remember what happened on that hot summer night in July, after a Kirov court sentenced Navalny to five years in prison on what are widely believed to be trumped up embezzlement charges.

"I think that this ultimatum has achieved its purpose, even if tomorrow we learn that we were deceived," Navalny said.

Victory In Defeat

A day later, the Moscow Election Commission certified the official results of the September 8 mayoral elections, giving Kremlin-backed incumbent Sergei Sobyanin a razor-thin first-round victory and denying Navalny the runoff he and independent election observers say he had earned.

Sobyanin's inauguration was also scheduled for September 12, nearly a week ahead of schedule.

"Faster! Come on, put the stamp on the paper FASTER!" Navalny mockingly wrote on his blog on LiveJournal, adding that he had "logistical and mathematical proof" that the authorities used fraud to get their man over the 50 percent barrier. 

Despite the fact that he has a legitimate claim to a recount -- Sobyanin made it to a second round by a mere 32,000 votes and an independent vote count had him winning less than 50 percent of the vote -- he will not get one. Sobyanin will be inaugurated as mayor and Navalny's next battle will be in court where he will be fighting -- again -- for his freedom.

But guess what? It doesn't matter. Because what happened in Moscow this weekend can only be described as a clear -- and even spectacular -- victory for the man who can now claim to be the undisputed leader of the opposition.

"The result of these elections is very simple: Navalny will not go to jail, and Russia now has an opposition with which the authorities must contend," political commentator Yulia Latynina wrote in "The Moscow Times."

This is not because the 27 percent Navalny won by the official tally far exceeded even the most wildly optimistic projections. That is important, but it is a symptom. And it's not because his outside-the-box campaign has upended the rules of political engagement and energized a generation. This is also important, but it, also, is a symptom.

September 8 was a victory for Navalny because it showed -- loud, clear, and unambiguously -- that he is on the vanguard of a slow, steady, stealthy revolution that has been gathering steam for years and now appears to be approaching critical mass.

The Kremlin has long been obsessed with preventing a "colored revolution" -- Ukrainian Orange or Georgian Rose -- from happening in Russia. They built up a fake political system with faux opposition parties and sham elections; they produced comical media "exposes" of cartoonish Western plots; and they deployed the ever-present riot police, all to prevent one from happening.

But right under their noses another kind of revolution was brewing. Not a rose or an orange one -- but a "tortoise revolution."

Russia was changing. Slowly but surely, it was outgrowing its leaders. And as people became more prosperous, better informed, and more politically sophisticated, as a younger post-Soviet generation came of age, it was only a matter of time before this "other Russia" began to demand something different. 

Navalny is offering them that something and a lot of people like what they see.

The Network Vs. The Machine

Speaking on DozhdTV as the results rolled in on September 8, liberal politician Leonid Gozman cut right to the chase. Navalny's performance in Moscow and opposition figure Yevgeny Roizman's victory in Yekaterinburg's mayoral election have decisively changed the game in Russian politics.

"The old political system is dead. It doesn't exist anymore. What's happening now is completely new," Gozman said.

"What happened in Moscow and Yekaterinburg isn't connected to existing structures, parties, organizations, or former political leaders. It is connected to the activities of absolutely new people. Neither Navalny nor Roizman have a party. They don't need them. We can tell all our political parties and political leaders who have been telling us how to live: 'Thanks guys. You can leave now.' A new era has come."

Gozman was driving at something that is at the heart of what is going on right now. Over the past decade, Putin's Kremlin built up a formidable political machine. Like all political machines, it is based on a combination of patronage and coercion. It's success is predicated on people being dependent upon and fearful of the state.

But the fledgling civil society that emerged below the decks of that machine is beginning to produce something else: a growing cadre of people in the big cities who see themselves not as subjects but as citizens. And they disdain the imitation of politics the Kremlin has been serving them. They yearn for the real article. They're tired of the fake. They want the authentic.

And now, the most active and engaged among them are forming something to challenge the Kremlin's machine -- a network.

Networks are voluntary associations. They rely not on patronage, compulsion, and coercion, but on shared values, commitment, enthusiasm -- and hope. The old Power Vertical is meeting a quickly maturing Power Horizontal -- and has no idea how to deal with it.

The network's power was visible in things like the Popular Election Commission, a civic body that had observers in nearly all of Moscow's polling places and reported results -- that were amplified by media outlets like Dozhd TV throughout the day. 

Their results, showing Sobyanin under 50 percent, provided strong legitimacy to Navalny's claims that the election had been stolen. "Imagine, even if Sobyanin really won 52 percent, nobody will believe it now," Gozman told Dozhd TV.

And it was also visible not just in Navalny's formidable army of young volunteers, but also in his unprecedented online fundraising, where he raised an impressive $3 million in small donations.

This weekend's election was never really about Navalny becoming mayor of Moscow, even though he came closer than anybody imagined he would.

It was about building and strengthening the fledgling -- but maturing -- network that is giving the Kremlin machine the scare of its life. And it was about taking another step toward eroding, wearing down, and ultimately replacing the existing regime by patiently and efficiently chipping away at the monolith.

This slow-burning revolution won't happen overnight. But its happening.

Navalny is playing for keeps. He has his eye on a prize bigger than the Moscow mayor's office. And believe it or not, he's winning.

-- Brian Whitmore

NOTE TO READERS: Be sure to tune in to the Power Vertical podcast on September 13, where my co-hosts and I will discuss the issues raised in this blog post.

Tags: Aleksei Navalny

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: La Russophobe from: USA
September 11, 2013 19:41
"Because what happened in Moscow this weekend can only be described as a clear -- and even spectacular -- victory for the man who can now claim to be the undisputed leader of the opposition."

You sound amazingly (and inappropriately) like you are working for the Navalny campaign. It was clear and even spectacular, all right. And it was a decisive defeat.

Navalny could not even get ten percent - 10%!! -- of the citizens of Moscow to go to the polls and vote for him. Among the tiny fraction of those who could manage to bestir themselves, twice as many voted against Navalny as voted for him. For the third time, he failed in promising to alter the course of a Russian election. The ONLY REASON he did slightly better than polls had indicated was that overconfident Sobyanin supporters didn't go to the polls, artificially inflating the significance of Navalny's vote tally. More than 30,000 votes separated Navalny from the second round, nearly 600,000 from the mayor's office. Ouch.

A new Levada poll clearly shows that Putin and United Russia have gotten STRONGER during the Navalny campaign, not weaker.

The Kremlin WANTED him to run for mayor, and he obliged them. That was a huge tactical error, and now this "victor" heads to jail for five years (or much longer, given that not one but TWO more prosecutions are in the works against him).
In Response

by: Asehpe from: Amsterdam
September 12, 2013 18:50
You were wrong once, Russophobe, when you said Navalny wouldn't get 15%, perhaps even 10%, of the vote. He got 27%. Now you're talking about absolute number of votes, but that is not what you were talking about before.

I get it -- you think Russia can never, and will never, change. But, since you were wrong before, you may be wrong on this, too. Let's all hope you are.
In Response

by: La Russophobe from: USA
September 13, 2013 21:16
Actually, what I'm talking about is the content of the PV article that I am commenting on.

You're definitely correct to point out that I was wrong about the mayoral election, but you're completely wrong about the nature of the error. I grossly overestimated the level of citizenship held by Moscow voters, I never dreamed so many of them didn't care about the election and wouldn't vote. It's only because the overwhelming majority stayed home that Navalny's percentage was artificially inflated. If you think that Navalny's total failure to get Muscovites to the polls, and his attempt to trade on that apathy to win power, is a sign of progress, you are deeply confused. On election day, NOT EVEN TEN PERCENT of Moscow voters went to polls to support Navalny. That is not a mandate, not by any stretch of the imagination.

There is no polling that shows Navalny has made any inroads against Putin or as a national candidate. He lost the election. He failed to force a runoff despite his promise to do so, just as he failed to force a runoff in the presidential election and a re-vote for Duma. He has broken every promise he's ever made, and your attempt to spin this is toxic. The opposition ought to be looking for a new, better leader, not chaining itself to the anchor that is Navalny, an anchor about to sink to the bottom of the Russian prison system.

by: Andrey from: Russia
September 12, 2013 04:43
The question to La Russophobe from USA. How much you receives for such comments in English? It well known that such anti-Navalny comments in Russian costs about 30 cents. In English it should be much more. Good business for some Russians.
In Response

by: La Russophobe from: USA
September 13, 2013 21:10
The question to Andrey from Russia. How much you receives for such comments in English? It well known that such pro-Navalny comments in Russian costs about 30 cents. In English it should be much more. Good business for some Russians.

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
September 12, 2013 07:08
VIDEO: Disarming Putin -

by: Bohdan from: Canada
September 12, 2013 15:49
The next attempt by the authorities to discredit Navalny may well be to focus on his surprisingly high vote count. The percentage of votes he received surpasses some exit polls.

How better can the state undermine Navalny than by having funds donated to his campaign from abroad, or by falsely adding to his electoral count, even if by a little bit?
In Response

by: La Russophobe from: USA
September 14, 2013 11:50
While it's true that the percentage of votes Navalny received surpassed Levada's prediction of 18%, it's perfectly clear what explains this. It's not that a lot more people than predicted voted for Navalny, it's that a lot fewer people than predicted voted for Sobyanin. There's no evidence that these voters changed their minds and decided to support Navalny. Instead, the evidence clearly shows that they stayed at home because they believed Sobyanin had the election in the bag and their voting would have been pointless.

For this reason, any attempt by the Kremlin to claim that Navalny committed election fraud and inflated his vote tally beyond the support he had in the poll would be bogus on its face. Just as bogus, however, is Navalny's simply crazy claim that he was a serious contender for mayor. He wasn't. Navalny is attempting to spin the election results in his favor when he lost in a landslide just as predicted, and he is trying to use the extremely low level of voter turnout to achieve this. You can't say Navalny is defending democracy in doing this. He claimed that the city of Moscow stood behind him and in a fair election would throw the rascals out. That was proved conclusively and decisively to be totally false. The vast majority of Moscow's citizens have no problem with the status quo and that's why they stayed home on election day.

by: tdon from: moscow
September 18, 2013 04:03
I live in Moscow. Each day for the past two days I have heard someone speaking up against wrongdoing. Yesterday it was an elderly lady carrying flowers down Noviy Arbat who chased away some scammers taking parking fees from ignorant drivers, screaming to everyone to who could hear that parking was free and they were criminals. The day before in the grocery store someone came through yelling at the top of his lungs about an improperly parked car. I've never seen anything like this. Is this how revolution starts?

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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