Friday, November 28, 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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15:34 November 26, 2014


So by now, we've all seen how passengers in Krasnoyarsk had to get out and push their flight out of the snow...

...and we've all seen the snarky Twitter memes this has inspired...

...but have you heard about onboard drunken onboard brawl that grounded a flight in Novosibirsk?

12:41 November 26, 2014


12:33 November 26, 2014


Via The Moscow Times:

A lawmaker on the State Duma's Defense Committee has proposed banning the import of French wines in response to Paris' decision to suspend delivery of the first of two helicopter carriers to Russia.

"Let's ban the sale of French wine in Russia," Deputy Vladimir Bessonov told Russian News Service radio on Tuesday. "Even talking about this can bring about desired results," he said, without specifying what these would be.

France, under pressure from its Western allies to cancel a 1.2 billion euro contract ($1.58 billion) with Russia for Mistral-class warships, said earlier Tuesday that it was suspending delivery of the first of two carriers because of Russia's meddling in eastern Ukraine.


12:21 November 26, 2014
12:20 November 26, 2014


12:18 November 26, 2014


From RFE/RL's News Desk:


By RFE/RL's Russian Service

The editor-in-chief of an independent Russian news website says he will seek political asylum in the United States.

Oleg Potapenko told RFE/RL on November 26 that he has arrived in the United States despite efforts by Russian authorities to prevent him from leaving the country.

Potapenko is editor of, a news site in the Far Eastern city of Khabarovsk that has reported about the presence of Russian troops in eastern Ukraine.

On November 12, the openly gay Potapenko and his partner were prevented from boarding a flight from Khabarovsk to Hong Kong after border guards said a page was missing from Potapenko's passport.

Potapenko says the page was cut out by a police officer who requested his passport for a check earlier that day.

He told RFE/RL that he had managed to leave Russia from another city, Vladivostok, on November 16.


German Chancellor Angela Merkel says Russia's actions in Ukraine are a violation of international law and a threat to peace in Europe.

Speaking bluntly in an address to Germany's parliament on November 26, Merkel said, "Nothing justifies the direct or indirect participation of Russia in the fighting in Donetsk and Luhansk."

She told the Bundestag that Russia's actions have "called the peaceful order in Europe into question and are a violation of international law."

But she suggested there was no swift solution, saying, "Our efforts to overcome this crisis will require patience and staying power."

Germany has become increasingly frustrated over Moscow's refusal to heed Western calls to stop supporting pro-Russian separatists who have seized control of large parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk provinces in eastern Ukraine.

Close ties between Russia and Germany have been strained by the Ukraine crisis.

(Based on reporting by Reuters)


Ukraine has leveled fresh charges that Russia is sending military support to pro-Russian separatists in the east.

A foreign ministry spokesman said five columns of heavy equipment were spotted crossing into Ukrainian territory on November 24.

Evhen Perebyinis told journalists on November 25 that a total of 85 vehicles had been detected in the five columns that entered at the Izvaryne border crossing point from Russia.

"The Russian side is continuing to provide the terrorist organizations of the Donetsk and Luhansk people's republics with heavy armaments," said Perebynisis.

Separately, the Ukrainian military said one soldier had been killed and five others wounded in the past 24 hours as a shaky cease-fire declared on September 5 continued to come under pressure.

The six-month conflict in the east of Ukraine has left more than 4,300 people dead, according to the United Nations.

(Based on reporting by AFP and Reuters)



Russia has rejected accusations that it is planning to annex Georgia’s breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin told RFE/RL’s Current Time program on November 25: “There can be no question about any annexations.”

Georgia and the West have criticized a "strategic partnership" agreement between Russia and Abkhazia signed on November 24.

Tbilisi condemned the pact as an attempt by Moscow to annex the region.

Karasin also said Russia will “continue sparing no effort, nerves, financial expenses” to make sure its neighbors “do not feel endangered.”

"As a large state and a powerful country, Russia is constantly responsible for stability on its borders and everything that is under way along its borders," he added.

Under the "strategic partnership," Russian and Abkhaz forces in the territory will turn into a joint force led by a Russian commander.


19:16 November 21, 2014


On this week's Power Vertical Podcast, we use the one-year anniversary of the Euromaidan uprising to look at how it changed both Ukraine and Russia. My guests are Sean Guillory and Alexander Motyl.

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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