Saturday, October 25, 2014


The Power Vertical

The Winds Of Slow Change

Oleg Shein, the hunger-striking former candidate for Astrakhan mayor, files a lawsuit to overturn the election results.
Oleg Shein, the hunger-striking former candidate for Astrakhan mayor, files a lawsuit to overturn the election results.
Everything is changing and nothing is changing.
 
Gubernatorial elections are set to return to Russia after an eight-year hiatus. But the pending legislation preserving them is riddled with provisions allowing the Kremlin and regional elites to maintain a vicelike grip on the process and keep unwanted candidates on the sidelines.
 
The registration of political parties has also been eased. But the law passed by the State Duma and signed by President Dmitry Medvedev -- which allows parties with just 500 members to compete in elections -- is widely seen as a vehicle for the Kremlin to flood the zone with fake "clone" opposition parties to confuse and divide the electorate.  
 
Public television is coming to Russia. But its editor in chief will be appointed by the president.
 
Critics have pointed out that the political reforms were initiated in the white-hot atmosphere following the disputed parliamentary elections on December 4, when tens of thousands of anti-Kremlin protesters took to the streets.
 
But now, with Vladimir Putin safely returning to the Kremlin and street protests fading, the authorities are backtracking.
 
Moscow-based political analyst Dmitry Oreshkin made this point in remarks to the daily "Novye izvestia":
 
Street protests in December and March stipulated a certain respect for the powers that be. It was hope for a deal or something: Here we are protesting and the authorities ought to respond to it. And yet the authorities never did. It finally occurred to people that the authorities are not interested at all, that the authorities do not care. Society was as good as told the following: We do not heed you. You may protest all you want with white ribbons or whatever; you might be standing there with condoms for all we care. You may call hunger strikes and die of malnutrition. It's a free country.... This is approximately the message society is getting.
 
But as the "Novye izvestia" article, written by journalist Vera Moslakova, goes on to point out, the fact that street protests have faded doesn't necessarily mean that civil society has gone back to sleep -- it's just switching to different tactics.
 
Local elections, like those the opposition just won in Tolyatti and Yaroslavl, are one part of that change, Moslakova writes. Oleg Shein's hunger strike in Astrakhan -- and the support and media attention it generated -- is another:
 
Three or four years ago it would never occur to anyone that a mayoral election somewhere in Russia's regions could attract the whole country's attention. Sochi's 2009 mayoral election, in which Boris Nemtsov was running, was of interest only to Solidarity activists. But now, more than 1,000 (!) observers from Moscow alone went to Yaroslavl to observe the election there (most of them absolutely uninterested in politics only six months ago). Nearly 3,000 Astrakhan residents protested last Saturday (April 14), participating in street actions in support of former mayoral candidate Oleg Shein.
 
Civic volunteerism is also on the rise. "Society is learning to live despite the powers that be. Independent vote-counting structures are being set up -- the League of Voters, Citizen Observer, St. Petersburg Voter, Russian Elections," Moslakova wrote. "Other socially aware Russians have established alternative firefighting teams and alternative mechanisms to assist the sick."
 
Ilya Ponomaryov from the center-left A Just Russia party called the shift to the regions and to grassroots politics "the main trend" today, adding that the key players are "people who say that it is time to abandon words in favor of conclusions and abandon conclusions in favor of actions."
 
Speaking to "The Wall Street Journal," State Duma Deputy Dmitry Gudkov, also of A Just Russia, suggested that the ruling elite's sense of security is unfounded.
 
"The fear has passed and they think the situation is under control," he said. "But they're wrong. The wave of protest will just take different forms."

Which brings us back to the reforms-with-an-asterisk noted at the beginning of this post. These seem to be part of the Kremlin strategy of "managed chaos" I blogged about earlier this week -- efforts to create the illusion of democratic reform and greater pluralism that, in fact, strengthen the Kremlin's hand.
 
But the thing about such initiatives is that they often have unintended consequences.

Witness Ponomaryov, Gudkov, and Shein's political party, A Just Russia. Established in 2006 as a pro-Kremlin project, it was supposed to be a housebroken center-left party that would siphon votes from the Communists, do the Kremlin's bidding, and not make any trouble.
 
It has clearly gone off the reservation.

Likewise, in the current political environment, it is not difficult to imagine the Kremlin losing a degree of control over the electoral process under the emerging system -- despite the elite's best efforts to manage it.
 
Everything may not be changing, and yet something certainly is. But the change will come slowly.
 
-- Brian Whitmore

Tags: Russian opposition,political reform,gubernatorial elections,public television

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Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: La Russophobe from: USA
April 20, 2012 09:48
The position of the protesters is simply ludicrous. A few months ago, they were telling us it didn't matter that they had no support for demonstrations in the regions because "only Moscow matters." Now that support for demonstrations in Moscow has vanished, suddenly it's Moscow that doesn't matter, and local office that means everything? Please! This kind of childish gibberish is why the opposition isn't getting anywhere.

The "opposition" has never created a political party with an agenda, so the tiny number of so-called opposition "winners" in local elections are no such thing. These are just a few ragtag figures unconnected to any national movement or ideology whose victories to powerless offices speak only to the degeneration of Russia as a society. The only hope Russians have in regard to the Putin dictatorship is that Russia is so broken economically that it's really hard for Putin to fully implement any anti-democratic policy, and some power always slips through his fingers. But not one of this tiny group of electoral victors is remotely close to being sharp or charismatic enough to challenge Putin in any way, shape or form.

This mistake of believing progress was happening when it was not has already been made once. The disastrous result was that the opposition was not forced to confront its own failure and weakness (a theme through Russian history), and things only got worse. Are we going to repeat that mistake again?!

by: Ray F. from: Lawrence, KS
April 20, 2012 14:16
You are probably right, real, organic change to the Russian political system will probably take a long time. Still, I’m wary of any who make predictions about when changes will happen in Russia. The tinder is drying out and new social media could fan the flames the next time a gross injustice occurs. Should fossil fuel prices drastically decline (not likely), the Kremlin leadership will have fewer rubles to prevent a social explosion.

by: rkka from: USA
April 21, 2012 01:18
“A Just Russia has developed its own momentum, as a potentially ‘real’ opposition party: ”

They always have been a real opposition party. Far more of one than various whiny liberasts have ever been able to form.

Just because their platform is more developed than “PUTIN OUT YESTERDAY!” is no reason not to call A Just Russia an opposition party.

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17:49 October 24, 2014

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 October 24, 2014

LITTLE GREES VOTERS, ANYONE?

17:26 October 24, 2014

SPY VS. SPY

17:00 October 24, 2014
08:29 October 24, 2014

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