Sunday, November 23, 2014

The Power Vertical

The Tandem In Winter

A campaign poster of Russian President Dmitry Medvedev (right) and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin appeals to people to vote for their political party, United Russia, in parliamentary elections in December.
A campaign poster of Russian President Dmitry Medvedev (right) and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin appeals to people to vote for their political party, United Russia, in parliamentary elections in December.
A funny thing happened when President Dmitry Medvedev nominated former Astrakhan Mayor Sergei Bozhenov this week as Volgograd's new governor -- allies of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in the region rebelled and tried to derail the appointment.
Ivan Novakov, a member of Putin's campaign team in Volgograd, told the daily "Kommersant" that Bozhenov was an unacceptable candidate to many in the local elite because when he served as mayor of Astrakhan he was involved in vote rigging (I'll refrain from commenting on the inherent irony here). A better candidate, Novokov said, would be Sergei Kokorin, a close Putin ally who is the head of the regional branch of Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB).
In the end, the Volgograd legislature confirmed Bozhenov and he was inaugurated on February 2. But the miniscandal over his appointment speaks volumes about the state of affairs at the pinnacle of Russia's power vertical. 
"It is remarkable that the objections against Sergei Bozhenov originated from members of Putin's local staff. The ambiguity of this situation does not add to the stability of the regional elites," political analyst Andrei Rogozhin told "Kommersant."
The unexpected struggle over Bozhenov's appointment illustrates that Medvedev has not only become the lamest of lame ducks, but that his political partnership with Putin appears to have outlived its sell-by date. This isn't one of those "The Tandem Is Feuding, Oh My" moments that we have seen so much of over the past few years. This time, amid the ongoing political uncertainty in Russia, the tandem finally appears to be dead in the water.
The weekly "Argumenty nedeli" wrote last week, citing Kremlin sources, that Medvedev is "not sure at all that Putin will keep his promise and make [him] the premier" after the March 4 presidential election.
According to the weekly, Medvedev is so concerned about this that he and his wife, Svetlana, visited Patriarch Kirill in early January to seek his support:
The Medvedevs reputedly visited Patriarch Kirill I in early January, asking His Holiness for counsel and support. It is rumored that this was precisely why the patriarch mentioned the necessity of a dialogue between the powers-that-be and society in his sermon. The point was that Medvedev was promoting this dialogue and that he was therefore perfect for the role of the premier.
It does not take a genius to figure out that Putin was informed of the visit. And he reportedly was less than pleased. Putin responded by reactivating contacts with the so-called Christian Chekists -- St. Petersburg Governor Georgy Poltavchenko and Russian Railways President Vladimir Yakunin. It was Putin's way of reminding the patriarch that he has his own faction within the Russian Orthodox Church.
There have been other signs that the Putin-Medvedev divorce is all but sealed. In an article in the daily "Vedomosti" last week, for example, Putin took a swipe at Medvedev's efforts to reform and modernize the economy.

"On the initiative of President Medvedev in the last years we embarked on a number of reforms aimed at improving the business climate. There has been no noticeable breakthrough so far," Putin wrote. 
Putin has also suggested that the political reforms that Medvedev is trying to shepherd through the State Duma -- restoring the election of governors and easing the rules for the registration of parties and presidential candidates -- were far from a done deal and could be halted.
And in a recent interview with the daily "Izvestiya," the filmmaker Stanislav Govorukhin, who heads up Putin's campaign team, sharply criticized Medvedev  for not working harder to secure his patron's election in March. 
"I have a feeling that he is keeping silent," Govorukhin told the staunchly pro-Putin daily, adding that it would be "more appropriate if [Medvedev] took an active part in the campaign of the man whom he himself forwarded as a presidential candidate" at the September 24 United Russia party congress.
But as Maksim Glikin wrote in "Vedomosti" on January 30, it was on that fateful day last autumn that Medvedev essentially wrote his own political obituary:
He has already accomplished his mission and made room for Putin.... The moment Medvedev did this he became expendable. The people who are interested in Medvedev's future know better than to wonder if he is going to return to the Kremlin one fine day. They wonder how long he will last as the prime minister. Even that, however, is a question for Medvedev's master and not for Medvedev himself.
The death of the tandem, however, has political consequences for Putin. 
The constituencies that once placed their hopes in Medvedev, the technocratic wing of the elite and the urban professional class in society, are deeply uncomfortable or outright hostile to Putin's return to the Kremlin. And this will make it much harder for him to govern, regardless of what happens on March 4.
-- Brian Whitmore

Tags: Vladimir Putin,Putin-Medvedev tandem,Dmitry Medvedev

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: Vakhtang from: Moscow
February 03, 2012 02:25
Mr. Whitmore continues to discuss the topic with which everything is clear for a long timе and аll answers received.

It would be interesting to know where Putin asked Medvedev to be a clown president for 4 years
in the bath,
What do you think about it, Mr.Whitmore?

On the other hand it is still better than Yeltsin's style- when decisions are taken after a glass of vodka or because of a severe headache from a hangover..
Next, begin to explore why in Russia is not so as in the West?
What actually affects the "mysterious Russian soul" ?
the area,
Tunguska meteorite..
seen that all factors together.

I wonder where Mr.Whitmore decide to write a certain article?
He enjoys the style of Yeltsin or Putin?

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
February 03, 2012 20:23
Fresh figures from opinion polls taken in Russia on the eve of the upcoming pres. elections:
Putin: 52 %
Zyuganov (Communist Party) - 8 %
Zhirinovsky ("Lib. Dem.") - 8%
Mironov (pro-Kremlin moderate "left") - 4%
Prokhorov (an oligarkh promoted by the Western media) - 4 %
In Response

by: Anonymous from: USA
February 04, 2012 19:48
Who cares? Some were not even allowed to participate (Yavlinsky), thanks to a corrupt political system.
In Response

by: La Russophobe from: USA
February 07, 2012 13:00
Well, Putin cares. If he massages that 52% up to just over 60% and waltzes back into power in a landslide with no serious opposition and no elections for another five years, he'll likely be quite satisfied. As much as he was looking at this:
In Response

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
February 07, 2012 15:07
Well, as far as Yavlinsky is concerned, his score has remained pretty stable over the last decade - 2% and congratulations! As far as your "who cares" comment is concerned, well, obviously, the info is posted only for those who are interested in it. If someone doesn't care, he/she does not need to feel obliged to react :-)).

by: La Russophobe from: USA
February 07, 2012 12:58
Brian, do you have ANY evidence that "the constituencies that once placed their hopes in Medvedev, the technocratic wing of the elite and the urban professional class in society" are capable of ANY serious action to block Putin's power once he is swept back into office and will not face another election for FIVE YEARS? They have no political party, no presidential candidate, no fundraising, no platform, and no national reach. Navalny said he was taking off the WHOLE MONTH OF JANUARY to put forth a much bigger protest in February, and he totally failed. The showing was smaller and less political than last time, not more. In a nation of 60 million Internet users, Navalny has less than 200K Twitter followers, and for all the world appears to be stuck in place. I see NO indication that the "constituency" you refer to is capable of laying it all on the line to block Putin from consolidating a neo-Soviet dictatorship and passing power to a hand-picked successor who will do the same.

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


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