Saturday, October 25, 2014

The Power Vertical

The Pavlovsky Affair

Gleb Pavlovsky
Gleb Pavlovsky
What to make of Gleb Pavlovsky's departure from the Kremlin as an advisor to the presidential administration?

According to a report in "Vedomosti" on Wednesday, Deputy Kremlin Chief of Staff Vladislav Surkov, the ruling elite's informal ideologist, personally made the decision to sever ties with Pavlovsky, the head of the Foundation for Effective Politics, a Moscow-based think tank that advised the Kremlin in an unofficial capacity for more than a decade. Pavlovsky's open support for President Dmitry Medvedev's reelection in 2012, the officials say, was the reason for the decision.

"Vedomosti" also quoted Yuri Shuvalov, Assistant Secretary of the Presidium of United
Russia's General Council, as saying that Pavlovsky's recent criticism of the ruling party also played a role.

Mikhail Vinogradov, a political analyst told the daily that positioning oneself on "one side of the fence" between Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and Medvedev "is risky at this point."

Pavlovsky has been a fixture in the cloistered universe of Russia's elite political strategists since the mid-1990s. After establishing the Foundation for Effective Politics in 1995, he worked on Boris Yeltsin's 1996 reelection campaign and has been a key player with close Kremlin ties ever since.

He was a key strategist for Putin's 2000 and 2004 presidential campaigns, as well as Medvedev's in 2008. He was also the driving force behind an Internet media empire that includes "Russky zhurnal,",, and the Public Opinion Foundation polling organization.

Since the news broke, Pavlovsky has been making the media rounds giving his side of the story.

In interviews with RFE/RL's Russian Service,, and "Nezavisimaya gazeta," Pavlovsky stressed that he was not fired and the decision for him to leave the Kremlin administration was mutual.

Here he is, speaking to "Nezavisimaya gazeta":

My evaluations of the presidential campaign and my comments about who is the preferred candidate created problems. This has been the case for some time, but recently these problems became bigger. I violated the tandem's silent discipline: say nothing about a candidate until everything is decided -- which has been delayed from day to day and from month to month. I thought it was ridiculous and impossible. I could not be silent in this situation, which caused a problem for the Kremlin. My comments in the media were often interpreted as being inspired by the presidential administration. This led to overexcitement among people in the White House [the Russian government's headquarters]. But on the other hand, I can not refrain from commenting on the political process. I've been doing this for 15 years while working in presidential administration and do not understand why I should stop. On the other hand, there are no hard feelings. I am a supporter of the team that has been in power since 2000, the Putin team, in the broadest sense. I just think Medvedev is the leader who can consolidate that team now. He has a program upgrade the economy and the state and to restore the legal atmosphere that has eroded over the past decade. I have discussed this with responsible members of the administration.

In various interviews, Pavlovsky strongly implied that the tandem and key members of the elite were very close to deciding that Medvedev would stand for reelection.

But as he told, many in the elite -- including Putin himself -- are getting cold feet:

There is no split [in the tandem] and rumors about this are inappropriate. But the issue of the candidate for 2012 is being delayed and prolonged, which is painful for both parties. I think that, of course, that first and foremost, this debate is painful for Putin. Not easy for him to step aside. Also, he rightly fears that there could be instability in the bureaucracy after the nomination of a candidate.

Pavlovsky added that "The tandem will remain a political alliance, but its design will change," implying that if Medvedev stays for a second term Putin will not going be anywhere and will continue to play a large role in Russian politics.

In his interview with, Pavlovsky also insisted that his relationship with Surkov -- who has also been a Kremlin fixture since the 1990s -- was on solid footing, despite reports that it was the regime's chief ideologist who showed him the door:

There is no doubt that Surkov is one of the most loyal members of Medvedev's team and there is no reason to think otherwise," Pavlovsky said. "I've been interacting with him a lot and we did discuss the issue of my resignation. Unfortunately, I can not reveal details.

Speaking to Vladimir Kara-Murza of RFE/RL's Russian Service, Pavlovsky said that with March 2012 approaching rapidly, it was high time the elite got over its jitters (you can listen to the whole broadcast in Russian here):

While I understand that everyone wants to maintain maximum stability and, ideally, to hold on to that stability before election day. But this is unrealistic. Elections are conflicts, procedural conflicts. We must discuss the next president's program, what it actually offers. Not to have a name attached to this is dangerous for the ruling team....

On the eve of such an important election, I think we need to be consolidated. And the question arises: around whom it easier to consolidate? Because in any case, the next president will need to deal with conflicting goals. He will simultaneously need to modernize the economy, strengthen the country's relationship with the world and with the global market, and to introduce a legal regime. At the same time, he will need to reassure social groups, calm down the population and provide guarantees to the elites and key groups in the ruling class, which have increased in recent years and who fear they will lose out in this process.

Pavlovsky is the third official to suffer for expressing public support for one member of the tandem over the other. Konstantin Zatulin was replaced as Senior Assistant Chairman of the State Duma's Committee for CIS Affairs and Aleksei Chadayev was removed from United Russia's Central Executive Committee. Both criticized Medvedev over his failure to oppose the international military campaign in Libya.

At this point, I have more questions than answers about what all this means. Can we take Pavlovsky at his word? Or, despite his protestations to the contrary, did he lose a power struggle with Surkov (who has long been seen as a close Putin ally)? Can we surmise anything about 2012 from this incident?

I have long thought that Plan A was for Medvedev to serve a second term as president while Putin remained on the scene as the real power behind the throne. And I must admit that this assessment was in no small part (although not exclusively) influenced by Pavlovsky's public stance on the issue.

There will no doubt be many more twists and turns before this is all finally decided. Medvedev has scheduled a press conference for May 18, an event that will no doubt be scrutinized closely for any fresh signals.

Meanwhile, as Pavlovsky was departing the Kremlin this week, Putin baffled journalists in Stockholm with a typically cryptic response when asked about 2012. “You will like the decision, you will be pleased,” he said.

-- Brian Whitmore

Tags: 2012 elections,Gleb Pavlovsky,Putin-Medvedev tandem

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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