Friday, October 31, 2014


The Power Vertical

The Legitimacy Crisis

President Dmitry Medvedev (back) and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin wave to delegates at the United Russia congress on November 27.
President Dmitry Medvedev (back) and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin wave to delegates at the United Russia congress on November 27.
So the coronation has begun in earnest.

Amid deafening chants and thunderous applause, United Russia this weekend formally -- and unanimously -- nominated Vladimir Putin for a third term as president. The once-and-future national leader was, of course, in rare form, taunting the opposition, warning the West against trying to influence the elections, and announcing some populist initiatives.

But as several commentators have pointed out, this time the bluster carried a whiff of desperation. The ruling party's numbers are clearly falling precipitously, as are the tandem's -- albeit less so. Civil society is waking up from its long slumber and the opposition is getting increasingly surly.

That said, the Kremlin has more than sufficient resources -- administrative and otherwise -- to assure a victory for United Russia in the December 4 State Duma elections and for Putin in the presidential vote in March. (For anybody interested, "Vedomosti" had a fascinating piece recently about the mechanics of fixing elections in Russia.)

But then what? True, the authorities will have secured the formal legal basis to keep Putin and the current elite in power at least through 2018 -- if not 2024. But will they truly have a mandate?

An recent editorial in Gazeta.ru says no:  

There is no unanimity regarding Putin's return to the throne in any audience other than one of specially selected zombies from United Russia. And the decline in United Russia's approval rating following the announcement of the shuffle at part one of the congress on September 24 and the drain of capital from the country, which accelerated after this, and the business of the booing at the Olympic Stadium are vivid confirmation of the citizenry's weariness with the new old regime.

Moreover, in the coming year, Russia's rulers will need to make some very unpopular moves -- most notably, reforming the country's social services, pension fund, and health-care system. Money will need to be found to upgrade Russia's creaking infrastructure. A way to diversify the economy away from its perilous dependence on commodities will need to be found.

Tough decisions will need to be made, but, as Gazeta.ru points out, there is thus far no indication that Putin or anybody else is ready to talk to the electorate about these things:

It is indicative that although the regional leaders and pro-power politicians evaluated Putin's speech at the congress as a program speech, not a single fresh idea was heard in it. General talk about justice, promises to raise taxes on the wealthy and ease the tax burden for small business (the regime has for 10 years done the exact opposite), and empty propaganda cliches as far as the traditional charge against some foreign states of attempts to influence the outcome of elections in the Russian Federation. The problem is that even these abstract promises are being made by a politician who has been ruling the country for more than 10 years now, has practically wiped out any opposition, and, in addition, spent his first two presidential terms under uniquely favorable conditions for Russia of the constant growth of the world prices of energy sources. Putin's speech not at the congress but shortly before it--at the final full sitting of the outgoing Duma--sounded particularly amusing in this respect. This speech contained two main propositions: first, United Russia handled the crisis splendidly, second, a new crisis, which none but the present regime can handle, is impending. The second proposition is directly refuted by the first.

The one person who was willing to talk about the difficult choices facing Russia's rulers, former Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin, is now out of government.

So while the Kremlin tends to use elections as a legitimizing ritual, this time around elections -- regardless of the results -- are unlikely to provide the authorities with the legitimacy to govern effectively in the current economic and political climate.

In an insightful piece in Gazeta.ru last week, Grigory Golosov, a professor at the European University in St. Petersburg, asks a useful question. Where Russia's current rulers derive their legitimacy to govern?

What is the prevailing form of legitimacy in today's Russia?  It certainly is not electoral legitimacy, of course.  In the first place, the majority of citizens do not believe the elections are fair.  In the second place, even the ones who do believe elections are fair do not regard elections as the actual way people rise to the top.  This is confirmed by every public opinion poll.  The decade of the current regime is to blame for this, of course, but so is the extremely unsuccessful 'democratic' experiment of the 1990s.  In particular, Russian citizens remember one incident in 1996, when a politician with a 3-percent rating stayed in office after the election.  To hell with these elections, the citizens concluded.

So, if it's not elections, what then is the source of Putin's legitimacy?

Putin's claim to be uniquely effective has always been the main source of the legitimacy of his regime.  This claim has become less convincing in the last year or two, of course.  Things kept moving along smoothly for a while, but then they suddenly stopped, and this is difficult to ignore.

The term 'unique effectiveness,' however, presupposes not only the ability to handle problems, but also the assumption that someone else would handle them less successfully than the current regime.  That claim has not been refuted yet.  The majority of our citizens believe there is no alternative because they do not see any alternatives.

And the only alternative people have to compare the current elite is the erratic presidency of Boris Yeltsin and the chaotic 1990s. And as Golosov points out, the regime has made the narrative that Putin and his team rescued Russia from this modern "time of troubles" -- when the Kremlin was the plaything of scheming oligarchs who pillaged Russia's wealth -- part of its legitimizing myth:

The Russian regime also has ideological legitimacy.  It is far from totalitarian, of course.  It has no binding ideology, but it does not need one.  It does, however, have a set of theses the media constantly communicate to citizens:  Russia is getting up off its knees, Putin is a tough guy and that is why Russia is respected, Putin will stand up for the people of Russia, and so forth.  This is a moderate form of imperial nationalism, which strikes a chord in the hearts of our fellow countrymen, we must admit.  This is especially true in view of the fact that the opposition leaders, as Putin himself once pointed out, only want power and money and are hanging around foreign embassies like jackals.  Putin is protecting our national hydrocarbon resources from Western predators, is selling them at a good price, and is using the money from these sales to raise pensions.  Two sources of the regime's legitimacy are combined at this point, forming a fairly convincing pattern.

But what will happen to this veneer of "unique effectiveness" when the Kremlin is faced with the budget crunch Kudrin says will come next year and lacks the popular mandate to address it? Running against the bad old '90s, the oligarchs, and the chaos worked fine for the past decade. But for many Russians, particularly the younger generation, the wild Yeltsin years are a distant -- and fading -- memory.

-- Brian Whitmore

Tags: Vladimir Putin,United Russia,2011 State Duma elections,2012 presidential election

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Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Jack from: Hibbing, MN
November 29, 2011 16:29
This reminds me of a nice legitimacy piece you all did a few years back: http://www.rferl.org/content/Managing_The_Kremlins_Legitimacy_Problem/1198064.html
In Response

by: Marko from: USA
November 30, 2011 12:40
As I would expect from RFE, an anti-Putin piece, but a fairly reasoned one (unlike some of the other more propaganda-like stuff one reads here at times). I think that a Putin return to the Presidency is still the best alternative at this point-- as long as he can make progress and quit after one term. He has done a lot of good for Russia, but the limitations in the system that he created have become more apparent since 2008. As is admitted above, however, there are no attractive alternatives to his return.
In Response

by: Jack from: Hibbing, MN
December 01, 2011 10:26
The old "there are no attractive alternatives" line is pretty tired, Marko. Of course, Russia is a closed political system where everything is managed, the media are controlled, elections are nothing but political theater and all legitimate avenues for expressing alternative political programs are closed. So, of course, there are no attractive alternatives. This isn't an accident or a misfortune or a shortcoming on Russia's part. It is the design of any authoritarian system and one of the biggest arguments that Putinism is a fundamental failure. And 12 more years of Putinism is only going to increase that failure.

by: Paleo from: England
December 01, 2011 09:21
Why doesn't Putin be honest and declare himself Autocrat of All the Russias? It's not as though he doesn't act like one...
In Response

by: Marko from: USA
December 01, 2011 12:25
OK Jack, enlighten me. As I see it, there are three main alternatives to the current regime. Nationalists who would set off a plethora of ethnic wars within Russia, communists who are passe and out of touch with 21st-century realities, and liberals who are in the pay of foreign governments and almost destroyed the country in their last go round in power (and who have no other plan but to repeat that failure). Great alternatives there-- sheesh... Besides , one can also look at the world currently and determine that Putin's system (for all its flaws) works better than many. Who is in better shape now-- the West with its unsustainable debts, "tails we win heads the taxpayers lose" out of control financial elites and dysfunctional politics? India with its chaos, caste system, and starving underclass. China, with its inflexible, truly authoritarian system (Russia is far freer hybrid)? Globalization has produced a troubled world...it is all about finding that narrow path to negotiate the difficulties. Simple, one size fits all approaches do not work in such circumstances-- read the stuff this morning on Egypt's elections and learn.
In Response

by: Anonymous from: USA
December 01, 2011 22:42
Yes, the West has unsustainable debts, but Russia's debts are only just beginning. Russian debt is expected to increase dramatically by 2015. Firing Kudrin was the worst mistake the Kremlin could have made because he was one of the few pushing Putin to avoid unsustainable debts. Russia also cannot guarantee foreign investments will be safe in the country and it is having trouble diversifying away from commodities. I'm supposed to believe this is a better system of government? No way! Russia continues to bleed people and capital to other parts of the world.
In Response

by: Jack from: Hibbing, MN
December 02, 2011 09:54
OK, Marko, I'll enlighten you. There are no "main alternatives" to Putin in Russia. The nationalist/communist/liberal pseudo-choice that you outline is a script written by the Kremlin to give the appearance of unattractive choices. Of course, you know that. If Putin allowed an open political system and fair elections, real alternative programs would emerge. Russians are perfectly capable of forming rational parties and promoting sensible politicians, as they showed in the only relatively free elections they have ever had, both following the 1905 revolution and in the late 1980s, early 1990s. Saying that Putin or nationalism or communism is the best thing that Russia can produce is simply a demonstration of gross contempt for Russia. Saying that Russia must choose only between authoritarianism and chaos, to my mind, is a sign of someone who really hates Russia. Keep trying, Marko.
In Response

by: Mark from: Victoria
December 04, 2011 23:50
Sing it loud, Marko. When Russia gets as expert at rigging elections as the political operatives in the United States - the world's model democracy - are, let me know. One of them - Allen Raymond, well-known for having masterminded the phone-jamming scheme that took out the Democrats' phone lines on election day in 2002 - even wrote a book about it. "How to Rig an Election: Confessions of a Republican Operative". Hmmmm.. not a lot of grey area there.

http://www.amazon.com/How-Rig-Election-Confessions-Republican/dp/1416552227

It would seem to me that the GOP in America would have suffered from a "Legitimacy Crisis", but apparently not; they're still campaigning, and their candidate-designate appears to think he's qualified to lead the country despite his business experience in the private sector having consisted of buying companies, breaking them up and selling them off, putting Americans out of work. He seems to believe he has the legitimacy to govern, and God knows he's paid enough from his personal fortune for his crack at the presidency, not to mention campaigned for 6 years.

I give Gazeta.ru full marks for their deafness to irony; "General talk about justice, promises to raise taxes on the wealthy and ease the tax burden for small business (the regime has for 10 years done the exact opposite)..." What audience is that complaint destined to move? Certainly not the United States, where income inequality between rich and poor has ballooned since the mid-1980's and now stands at an all-time high.

http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/08/13/even-more-gilded/

Gazeta.ru is owned by Alisher Usmanov. Alisher Usmanov is the 18th-richest man in Russia, and 35th-richest in the world. This is his modest country place in England.

http://virtualglobetrotting.com/map/john-paul-getty-sutton-place-uk-estate/

England must be bigger than I remember, if they can afford to sell 300 acres of it to Usmanov. Anyway, just between you and me, I find arguments from Usmanov's newspaper that Russia is going easy on the rich while putting the screws to the little guy kind of comical.

And now, Putin has no new ideas. Well, I suppose there's something to that. Well, Europe and the west are full of leaders who had all kinds of new ideas. You might want to try their formula. Doesn't seem to be working for them very well, but you never know.
In Response

by: Myself from: The world
December 02, 2011 13:09
Whats the differance between David Cameren
& Putin?
Both are loaded, Both can invade anywhere in particular.
I guess you could claim the same of both sides
The world isn't free
Russia is no more demcratic then the Uk
both have their ways of bending the rules
to suit themseleves.
The world would be a safer place if
Russia & the Uk were allies in it together
WoW well people can only dream.
David Cameren will probly ruin the Uk.
The mistake the The Conservite party made in Uk
made was giving up it's industry & selling it off in the 1980's
for a more profitable commerse banking system
which looked great in the 80's but now the commese banking system has come to a stop
things don't look great for the Uk in debt of
994 billion hitting the Trillion mark next year.
In Response

by: foma from: moscow
December 02, 2011 21:27
I suppose much of the backlash could have been avoided if Medvedev had held on to power. What anyways was the "logic" behind Putin's return to the Presidency? The Tandem was a very stable system and gave the regime and air of legitimacy. Now it's been compromised. Suffice it to say that the next six years don't look promising…

Then again, who are we to question the political skill of Putin & Co. of whom the Tandem was their brainchild? I'm sure they've got something up their sleeve. Whether it is capable of effectively managing the country remains to be seen. Unless, that is, people (including Putin) think that the Tandem has NOT been compromised and is still a viable political framework? I have my doubts though.
In Response

by: La Russophobe from: USA
December 04, 2011 13:18
Are you really so ignorant that you are unaware that Britain has seen power change hands between rival ideologies many times? Tony Blair was a socialist and Margaret Thatcher was a capitalist. Britain has a real court system with judges who act without regard to what the nation's ruler wants. And MANY people in other countries criticize Britain for having state-controlled media. Meanwhile, the per capital GDP of Britain is FAR higher than that of Russia, and it's people live far longer. Your comments make you look like a neo-Soviet gorilla, the same type we laughed at before the USSR collapsed, repeating propaganda lines fed to him by his government like an ignorant animal rather than thinking on his own. Is that really who you are?

by: Mark from: Victoria
December 06, 2011 03:57
"But what will happen to this veneer of "unique effectiveness" when the Kremlin is faced with the budget crunch Kudrin says will come next year and lacks the popular mandate to address it?"

Kudrin, Kudrin, Kudrin. Kudrin the amazing psychic, whose every word - now that he's on the outs with the Kremlin - takes on the significance of prophesy. You mean the Kudrin who dug in his heels and said throwing more money into benefits and salaries would wreck the economy? That Kudrin? Oddly enough, he thought throwing money at benefits was a great idea in 2005, when it was his idea.

http://www.rferl.org/content/article/1143423.html

The Kudrin that Zyuganov - now a darling of western interests himself as he looks like the most solid opposition to Putin - demanded be fired back in 2008 for his supposed poor response to the financial crisis? That Kudrin?

http://www.rferl.org/content/Putin_Dismisses_Call_To_Fire_Finance_Minister/1328445.html

I'll make you a friendly wager, Brian - a drink of choice from the loser to the winner, to be decided by agreement - that there will not be any "budget crunch" for Russia next year. With oil already up over $100.00 a barrel again, the U.S. recovery beginning to pick up steam in spite of Republican obstructionism, the crisis with Iran (world's third-biggest producer, if I remember correctly) ratcheting up daily and the unsustainability of Saudi Arabia's unilateral pumping increases, I feel pretty good that there's still growth for Russia in energy revenues. What do you say; are you in?

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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:

15:24 October 27, 2014

UKRAINIAN ECHOES: RUSSIA AND THE NEIGHBORS

The Russian newspaper "Novaya gazeta" has launched a new video series on its YouTube channel called Украинское эхо, or The Ukrainian Echo, that looks at Moscow's relations with former-Soviet states in the aftermath of the Ukraine crisis.

The first installment, which was out on October 20, focused on Georgia:

And the latest, which went online today, looks at Kazakhstan:

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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