Monday, November 24, 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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In this space, I will regularly comment on events in Russia, repost content and tweets I find interesting and informative, and shamelessly promote myself (and others, whose work I like). The traditional Power Vertical Blog remains for larger and more developed items. The Podcast, of course, will continue to appear every Friday. I hope you find the new Power Vertical Feed to be a useful resource and welcome your feedback. More

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.

09:14 November 21, 2014
09:11 November 21, 2014


09:09 November 21, 2014


From RFE/RL's News Desk:

Ukrainians are marking a new national holiday on November 21 -- the anniversary of the start of Kyiv’s Euromaidan protests that led to the ouster of the country’s former pro-Kremlin regime.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko signed decree on November 13 that declared the holiday for annual “Day of Dignity and Freedom” celebrations.
The protests began with a few hundred people who met spontaneously on a vast square in central Kyiv of November 21, 2013 – disappointed by then-President Viktor Yanukovych’s rejection of a landmark deal with the European Union in favor of closer ties with Russia.
After that first night, as the protests quickly swelled to tens of thousands of demonstrators, brutal police efforts to disperse the crowds with batons and teargas backfired.
As the crowds got bigger, the protesters began to call for Yanukovych’s ouster – which came in February 2014 after more than 100 people were killed in clashes with police that failed to end the demonstrations.

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden was expected to announce an increase in nonlethal U.S. military assistance to Ukraine on November 21 as he meets in Kyiv with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk.
The talks come on the first anniversary of the start of the Euromaidan protests in Kyiv that toppled Ukraine's former pro-Kremlin regime.
As Biden arrived in Kyiv on the evening of November 20, U.S. officials told reporters that he will announce the delivery of Humvee transport vehicles that are now in the Pentagon’s inventory of excess supplies.
They said Biden also would announce the delivery of previously promised radar units that can detect the location of enemy mortars.
The U.S. officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, did not specify a dollar value for the assistance. 
Russia on November 20 warned the United States not to supply weapons to Ukrainian forces.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Lukashevich cautioned against "a major change in policy of the (U.S.) administration in regard to the conflict" in Ukraine. 
He was commenting on remarks by U.S. President Barack Obama's choice to fill the number two spot at the State Department, Anthony Blinken, who told a congressional hearing on November 19 that lethal assistance "remains on the table. It's something that we're looking at."
The U.S. State Department's Director of Press Relations Jeffrey Rathke on November 20 told reporters that "our position on lethal aid hasn't changed. Nothing is off the table and we continue to believe there's no military solution."
He added, "But, in light of Russia's actions as the nominee mentioned [on November 19] in his testimony, as he indicated, this is something that we should be looking at."
The aid expected to be announced by Biden on November 20 falls short of what the Ukrainian president requested during a visit to Washington in September when he appealed for lethal aid - a request echoed by some U.S. lawmakers in response to what NATO allies say is Russia's movement of tanks and troops into eastern Ukraine.
In September, Washington promised Ukraine $53 million in aid for military gear that includes the mortar detection units, body armor, binoculars, small boats, and other nonlethal equipment for Ukrainian security forces and border guards in the east.
The United States and its European allies have imposed several rounds of economic sanctions on Russia for its seizure of Crimea and incursion into eastern Ukraine.
(With reporting by Reuters, AP, AFP, dpa, and TASS)

Russian Olympian hockey player Slava Voynov – who plays with the Los Angeles Kings NHL hockey team – has been charged with felony domestic violence against his wife.
Voynov faces one felony count of spouse abuse with a maximum penalty of nine years in prison. If convicted, he also could be deported.
Prosecutors say Voynov “caused his wife to suffer injuries to her eyebrow, check, and neck” during an argument at their home in October.
Voynov has been suspended from the NHL since his arrest early on October 20 at a California hospital where he took his wife for treatment.
Voynov’s attorney, Craig Renetzky, says his client didn’t hit his wife.
Renetzky blames the charges on a misunderstanding between police and Voynov’s wife, who speaks very little English.
Voynov – who played on Russia’s team at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics -- faces arraignment on December 1.
(Based on reporting by AP and Reuters)

NATO says Russia's growing military presence in the skies above the Baltic region is unjustified and poses a risk to civil aviation.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said in Tallinn on November 20 that the aircraft regularly fail to file flight plans or communicate with air controllers and also fly with their transponders off.
Speaking at the Amari air base, he said alliance fighters have intercepted planes more than 100 times in the Baltic region alone so far this year, a threefold increase over 2013. 
He did not say how many of the intercepted aircraft were Russian.
Stoltenberg also said that, overall, NATO aircraft have conducted 400 intercepts to protect the airspace of its European alliance members in 2014 -- an increase of 50 percent over last year.
(Based on reporting by AP and AFP)


16:55 November 19, 2014


Konstantin Eggert has a commentary in "Kommersant" on Russia's anti-Americanism. He opens like this:

"Sometimes I have this feeling that there are only two countries in the world - Russia and the United States. Of course, there is Ukraine, but it either to join us or the Americas. Russian politicians and state television are constantly in search of the 'American hand' in all spheres of our life. In Soviet times, the United States was formally considered to be our number one military and ideological enemy. But even then it didn't occupy such a large space in the minds of the political leadership and citizens. And the paradox is that, on one hand, officials and the media regularly talk about the decline of America as a great power, and on the other declare it to be the source of all evil in the world. This contradiction does not seem to disturb anybody."

And closes like this:

We still have not been able to use the opportunity that we were given with the collapse of the communist regime - to arrange our lives based on liberty and civic virtue. And today, we, as a people, want to go back to the starting point, to beat everyone. And the Soviet Union, with its absence of sausage and freedom, again suddenly seems sweet and dear. But it won't happen. I will put it banally: you can't go into the same river twice.

Read the whole thing here (in Russian, with audio)

15:53 November 19, 2014


MIchael Weiss, editor-in-chief of The Interpreter magazine, appearing on Hromadske TV to talk about Russia's information war.

Michael and Peter Pomarantsev recently co-authored an excellent report "The Menace of Unreality: How the Kremlin Weaponizes Information, Culture, and Money." Both also appeared recently on The Power Vertical Podcast to discuss the report.

15:42 November 19, 2014


Oleg Kosyrev has a snarky and clever blog post on the subject up on the Ekho Moskvy website. 

1) The United States is the ideal opponent. "It is big and strong and your self-esteem increases when you fight somebody really influential."

2) The United States is not fighting with Russia. "They aren't really interested. They have enough of their own problems and dreams. It's nice to fight somebody who is not fighting you."

3) It is a substitute for the authorities' inability to benefit Russians. "How convenient. Who is to blame for rising food and gas prices? The U.S.A.. Who is to blame for the fact that Russian has political prisoners? The U.S.A. Who is to blame for people demonstrating on the streets? The U.S.A. Who is to blame for the fact that independent international courts denounce the Russian court system? The U.S.A. You can even blame the U.S. for the fact that the light doesn't work in the entrance to your apartment building."

Read it all (in Russian) here.

15:23 November 19, 2014


14:47 November 19, 2014


From RFE/RL's News Desk:


Ukraine says it will not tolerate pressure from any other country over whether or not it seeks to join NATO.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Yevhen Perebyynis spoke made the remark to reporters in Kyiv on November 19, after the BBC quoted Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov as saying in an interview that Moscow wants "a 100 percent guarantee that no-one would think about Ukraine joining NATO."

Hitting back with a reference to Russia's annexation of Crimea and support for pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine, Perebyynis said Kyiv would like guarantees that Moscow will not interfere in Ukraine's internal affairs, send in troops, or annex Ukrainian territories. 

The U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt, told journalists on November 19 that any decision on seeking to join NATO could be made only by the Ukrainian people, not by Russia, Europe, ar the United States.

The Canadian Ambassador to Ukraine, Roman Waschuk, made a similar statement on November 19.

(Based on reporting by UNIAN and Interfax)


President Vladimir Putin says that Russia is ready for cooperation with the United States as long as Washington treats Moscow as an equal, respect its interests, and refrains from interfering in its affairs.

Putin spoke November 19 at a Kremlin ceremony during which he received the credentials of foreign envoys including John Tefft, the new U.S. Ambassador to Moscow.

Putin said, "We are ready for practical cooperation with our American partners in various fields, based on the principles of respect for each other's interests, equal rights and non-interference in internal matters." 

The remark echoed a formula Putin set out in a foreign policy decree at the start of his third term in 2012.

Tefft, 64, is a career diplomat who previously served as U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Georgia and Lithuania. 

His posting starts at a time when ties are badly strained over the Ukraine crisis. 

Tefft replaces Michael McFaul, who was ambassador from January 2012 until February 2014. 

(Based on reporting by Reuters and TASS)



Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has signaled that a landmark nuclear arms treaty with the United States is not in jeopardy despite severe tension over Ukraine.

Speaking to Russian lawmakers on November 19, Lavrov said the 2010 New START treaty "meets our basic strategic interests and, on condition of its observance by the United States, we are interested in its full implementation."

The treaty, one of the main products of President Barack Obama's first-term "reset" of ties with Russia, requires Russia and the United States to have their long-range nuclear arsenals under specific ceilings by 2018.

But Lavrov said the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) treaty, which President Vladimir Putin suspended in 2007, is "dead" for Moscow. 

NATO has refused to ratify a revised version of the CFE treaty without a full withdrawal of Russian troops from Moldova and Georgia.

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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