Monday, November 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

The Power Vertical Feed

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

POWER VERTICAL PODCAST: A YEAR OF LIVING DANGEROUSLY

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

AND AS TENSIONS RISE IN THE BALTICS...

09:09 November 21, 2014

MORNING NEWS ROUNDUP

From RFE/RL's News Desk:

UKRAINE MARKS START OF EUROMAIDAN PROTESTS WITH NEW HOLIDAY
By RFE/RL
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.

BIDEN TO MEET UKRAINIAN LEADERS, ANNOUNCE NONLETHAL U.S. AID
By RFE/RL
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 CHARGED WITH SPOUSAL ABUSE IN UNITED STATES
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: RUSSIAN ACTIVITY IN BALTICS POSES RISK
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

MORE ON THE SOURCES OF RUSSIAN ANTI-AMERICANISM

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

UNDERSTANDING THE INFORMATION WAR

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

WHY IS PUTIN PICKING A FIGHT WITH THE U.S.?

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

UKRAINE SAYS MHI7 SHOT DOWN BY RUSSIAN CREW

14:47 November 19, 2014

AFTERNOON NEWS ROUNDUP: THE SEQUEL

From RFE/RL's News Desk:

KYIV, WEST SAY RUSSIA CANNOT BAR UKRAINE FROM NATO

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)

PUTIN TELLS U.S. ENVOY TIES MUST BE BASED ON EQUALITY

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)

RUSSIA SAYS 2010 NUCLEAR ARMS PACT STILL IN RUSSIA'S INTERESTS

By RFE/RL

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