Friday, October 24, 2014


The Power Vertical

The Power Vertical Vs. The Power Horizontal

A Russian looks at Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's election campaign website.
A Russian looks at Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's election campaign website.
Shortly after Russia's election results were announced on March 4, veteran Kremlin-watcher and longtime correspondent for "The Economist" Edward Lucas told me the authorities and the opposition were likely to remain locked in a protracted and indecisive struggle for some time to come.

"The opposition is too weak to win. I don't think [the authorities] have the capabilities to do a real crackdown. I don't think the authorities can put them down," Lucas, author of the book "Deception: Spies, Lies, and How Russia Dupes The West," said. "So I think we'll have a long and inconclusive tug-of-war."
 
On the night of March 5 on Pushkin Square we witnessed the first hint of tug and a little bit of the war.
 
For the first time in the three-month period of sanctioned mass anti-Kremlin rallies, opposition demonstrators refused to disperse at the allotted time -- and for the first time since December 5, the authorities used force.
 
So what happens now? Will the show of force galvanize the Kremlin's opponents' outrage at the regime and reenergize the protest movement? Or will it frighten the previously apolitical middle-class -- who made up the demonstration's backbone -- and keep them off the streets in the future?
 
The opposition abandoned plans to hold rallies on March 8 and 9 -- but has been granted permission to hold a rally on March 10.

Nevertheless, the vibe in Moscow, at least among people I am speaking to, appears to be that the protest movement is becoming dispirited and is running out of steam.
 
So game over, right? We're in for (at least) six more years of Putinism on steroids?

Well, not so fast.
 
What is happening in Russia right now is a lot bigger -- and a lot more interesting -- than attendance at anti-Kremlin demonstrations.
 
We shouldn't be expecting an abrupt change or a social explosion. And the authorities' attempts to scare voters notwithstanding, there is scant threat of an Orange-style Revolution.
 
As the always astute Mark Galeotti points out on his blog "In Moscow's Shadows" this week, the dynamic is more akin to the sociological equivalent of a tectonic shift -- and tectonic shifts take time:
 
It’s the start of something big. But I’m reminded about one of the common images (or cliches), of tectonic changes. The shifts of continental plates are indeed fundamental in how they reshape the world, but trying to watch them move is rarely dramatic. I suspect much the same can be said about this election. Big Stuff is happening, but that doesn’t always mean gratifyingly quick or dramatic.
 
So what Big Stuff is happening?
 
Part of it is something I have noted often on this blog. Over the past decade of political stability and high oil prices, a fledgling Russian middle class has begun to come of age. And when middle classes develop in authoritarian political systems they almost invariably begin to demand political rights.
 
And since the formation of such a class represents one of the regime's most visible success stories, and since they are the most productive part of society, their demands are very difficult to dismiss. Sooner of later they tend to win. It's a pattern we have seen over the years in Chile, South Korea, Taiwan, and elsewhere.
 
Just as importantly, thanks to deeper and broader Internet penetration, Russia now has its first horizontally integrated generation.
 
Previous generations have been vertically integrated, whether through the Orthodox Church, the Komsomol, or, more recently, youth groups like Nashi.

But with Twitter, Facebook, Vkontakte, LiveJournal, YouTube, etc., like-minded Russians are now able to connect with each other -- and organize -- from Kaliningrad to Vladivostok. And they can do so independent of -- and most often in often in opposition to -- the regime.
 
The process is still in its infancy, but this Power Horizontal will, over the long haul, make it very difficult for Vladimir Putin's "Power Vertical" to go on with business as usual.
 
The effects of this nascent tectonic shift were even visible in the election results on March 4. (And yes, I do think Putin likely won a very slight majority -- but not the 63 percent or so he took in the official count.)
 
The daily "Kommersant" reported on March 6 that, even according to the clearly inflated official results, Putin won 4 million votes less than he won in 2004 and 7 million votes less than President Dmitry Medvedev took in 2008.
 
"A general downward trend is natural for a morally worn-out regime," Leontiy Byzov of the Russian Academy of Sciences Institute of Sociology told the daily.
 
In reality, Putin is faced with approximately half of society that is opposed to him -- and it is the rising half. He ignores them at his own peril.
 
"Political and economic transformation is inevitable," Yelena Shestopal, head of the Moscow State University's Political Psychology Department, told "Kommersant." The only question, she added, is "what path the transformation will take."
 
Whatever path it takes, it probably won't be quick.
 
-- Brian Whitmore

NOTE: This post was updated on March 7

Tags: social media,2012 presidential election,Power Horizontal,social change

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Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Marko from: USA
March 06, 2012 21:59
There is some wisdom here (as with much Brian Whitmore writes), but there are also a lot of obvious things that are ignored. One, if Russians are ever going to shift, even partially away from "Putinism" (my guess is that he'll serve one more term and retire after picking a successor [for real this time:)!], they have to have something else worthy to vote for (and I definitely include the "non-systemic" opposition in that indictment). The Communists and nationalists can't be it-- just inherently can't. Russian liberals must learn to be patriots and protectors of Russian national interests while staying liberals. This is a trick (balancing act) that they so far haven't even come close to mastering-- they come across as tools of the West infected with 1990s nostalgia (and are thus relegated to the electoral margins). The West will also have to show the maturity to let them do that... not confident about either of those things.
In Response

by: rick from: milan
March 07, 2012 16:46
Well said

Putin will be really great

if he will be abble to give russia

a great heritage

by: Ray F. from: Lawrence, KS
March 06, 2012 22:00
Agree mostly, but not sure about the ‘tectonic’ metaphor, with its images or earthquakes or tsunamis. Real change, if is to last, must come from the ground up. Genuine change is organic, taking its own sweet time to develop, and probably not conducive to the 24/7 demand for new results/information.

I’m not convinced that greater access to information makes a person/country more democratic. The new communication devices of the past few decades have mostly distracted people from what is truly important. Russians could organize a political protest using computers, but if they are anything like Americans, will probably opt for a more entertaining option. Despite its weak democratic credentials, the Kremlin leadership has made real gains in providing for plentiful bread and circuses.

by: Anonymous from: USA
March 06, 2012 23:26
I have one problem with this article. It fails to account for the uncanny ability of the authorities to censor and propagandize. In order for the "power horizontal" to succeed, the Internet must remain free and not be censored by the FSB. Also, misleading propaganda about the West will make it difficult for Russians to compare their lives and what they have to put up with, to people living abroad. The Soviets accomplished that goal very successfully. The people of the USSR knew very little about the West because they were constantly fed a stream of lies by their government. There is still the problem of Russians traveling abroad, but I believe the Putin regime will find a way to deal with it by limiting foreign travel to the elite. Ordinary Russians (without a lot of money) will have to be denied passports if they plan to travel to non-allied states (such as a NATO country). Putin has shown, that he will use whatever methods necessary to keep himself in power for as long as he wants.

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
March 07, 2012 08:27
VIDEO - 'Putin to challenge world order that Washington wants': http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Mvcts_dfxI&feature=autoplay&list=UUpwvZwUam-URkxB7g4USKpg&lf=plcp&playnext=2
In Response

by: Anonymous from: USA
March 07, 2012 17:46
They very fact that it's an RT video negates its legitimacy. RT is entirely funded by the Kremlin.
In Response

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
March 08, 2012 11:48
Thank you anyways for having taken time to have a look at it! Guys, do not hesitate you too to have a look at this entertaining video that the Anonymous from the US has so efficiently negated the legitimacy of :-))!

by: Ben
March 08, 2012 14:37
Besides Putin`s victory the polls show the parade of righ parties in ganeral: Ziyganov`s communists are the party of imperial order and nation;the same with "liberal democrats"; of course Prochorov is the right liberal.The "social-democrat" Mironov-the only left party candidate is the main loser! The lack of civilized left movement is the brake and the danger of Russia`s social dewelopment.

by: russia insights from: UK
March 16, 2012 13:28
While it is agreed there has been a noticeable shift in the opposition, no social media tool will help the fact that there is no viable opposition candidate. While protesting is one thing, organization of a non communist strong political party that could act as a contender to Putin is another. Russian's will not shift from Putin unless the other option is worth more than what he has to offer. More comment on www.russia-insights.com

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17:49

EVENING NEWS ROUNDUP

From RFE/RL's News Desk:

PUTIN ACCUSES UNITED STATES OF 'UNILATERAL DIKTAT'

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)

MERKEL URGES PUTIN TO SOLVE UKRAINIAN GAS DISPUTE

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)

UNHCR SAYS MORE THAN 800,000 DISPLACED IN UKRAINE CONFLICT

By RFE/RL

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 KILLED IN NORTH CAUCASUS

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)

MOSCOW LAWYER IN HIGH PROFILE ORGANIZED CRIME CASE KILLED

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

LITTLE GREES VOTERS, ANYONE?

17:26

SPY VS. SPY

08:29

MORNING NEWS ROUNDUP

From RFE/RL's News Desk:

UKRAINIAN PM WARNS OF RUSSIAN DESTABILIZATION OF ELECTIONS

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)

RUSSIA DENIES ESTONIAN AIRSPACE VIOLATIONS

By RFE/RL

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)

RUSSIAN COURT POSTPONES RULING ON OIL FIRM BASHNEFT

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

THERE IS NO RUSSIA WITHOUT PUTIN?

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