Thursday, November 27, 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

This forum has been closed.
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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15:34 November 26, 2014

SIBERIAN AVIATION FOLLIES

So by now, we've all seen how passengers in Krasnoyarsk had to get out and push their flight out of the snow...

...and we've all seen the snarky Twitter memes this has inspired...

...but have you heard about onboard drunken onboard brawl that grounded a flight in Novosibirsk?

12:41 November 26, 2014

MIKHAIL ZYGAR OF DOZHD-TV HONORED

12:33 November 26, 2014

NO MISTRAL, NO FRENCH WINE!

Via The Moscow Times:

A lawmaker on the State Duma's Defense Committee has proposed banning the import of French wines in response to Paris' decision to suspend delivery of the first of two helicopter carriers to Russia.

"Let's ban the sale of French wine in Russia," Deputy Vladimir Bessonov told Russian News Service radio on Tuesday. "Even talking about this can bring about desired results," he said, without specifying what these would be.

France, under pressure from its Western allies to cancel a 1.2 billion euro contract ($1.58 billion) with Russia for Mistral-class warships, said earlier Tuesday that it was suspending delivery of the first of two carriers because of Russia's meddling in eastern Ukraine.

MEANWHILE, IN UKRAINE...

12:21 November 26, 2014
12:20 November 26, 2014

BAD NEWS AT SBERBANK

12:18 November 26, 2014

MORNING NEWS ROUNDUP

From RFE/RL's News Desk:

INDEPENDENT JOURNALIST ESCAPES RUSSIA, SEEKS ASYLUM IN U.S.

By RFE/RL's Russian Service

The editor-in-chief of an independent Russian news website says he will seek political asylum in the United States.

Oleg Potapenko told RFE/RL on November 26 that he has arrived in the United States despite efforts by Russian authorities to prevent him from leaving the country.

Potapenko is editor of Amurburg.ru, a news site in the Far Eastern city of Khabarovsk that has reported about the presence of Russian troops in eastern Ukraine.

On November 12, the openly gay Potapenko and his partner were prevented from boarding a flight from Khabarovsk to Hong Kong after border guards said a page was missing from Potapenko's passport.

Potapenko says the page was cut out by a police officer who requested his passport for a check earlier that day.

He told RFE/RL that he had managed to leave Russia from another city, Vladivostok, on November 16.

MERKEL SAYS RUSSIA TRAMPLING ON INTERNATIONAL LAW

German Chancellor Angela Merkel says Russia's actions in Ukraine are a violation of international law and a threat to peace in Europe.

Speaking bluntly in an address to Germany's parliament on November 26, Merkel said, "Nothing justifies the direct or indirect participation of Russia in the fighting in Donetsk and Luhansk."

She told the Bundestag that Russia's actions have "called the peaceful order in Europe into question and are a violation of international law."

But she suggested there was no swift solution, saying, "Our efforts to overcome this crisis will require patience and staying power."

Germany has become increasingly frustrated over Moscow's refusal to heed Western calls to stop supporting pro-Russian separatists who have seized control of large parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk provinces in eastern Ukraine.

Close ties between Russia and Germany have been strained by the Ukraine crisis.

(Based on reporting by Reuters)

UKRAINE SAYS MORE RUSSIAN MILITARY IN EAST

Ukraine has leveled fresh charges that Russia is sending military support to pro-Russian separatists in the east.

A foreign ministry spokesman said five columns of heavy equipment were spotted crossing into Ukrainian territory on November 24.

Evhen Perebyinis told journalists on November 25 that a total of 85 vehicles had been detected in the five columns that entered at the Izvaryne border crossing point from Russia.

"The Russian side is continuing to provide the terrorist organizations of the Donetsk and Luhansk people's republics with heavy armaments," said Perebynisis.

Separately, the Ukrainian military said one soldier had been killed and five others wounded in the past 24 hours as a shaky cease-fire declared on September 5 continued to come under pressure.

The six-month conflict in the east of Ukraine has left more than 4,300 people dead, according to the United Nations.

(Based on reporting by AFP and Reuters)

RUSSIA SAYS IT WON'T ANNEX ABKHAZIA, SOUTH OSSETIA

By RFE/RL

Russia has rejected accusations that it is planning to annex Georgia’s breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin told RFE/RL’s Current Time program on November 25: “There can be no question about any annexations.”

Georgia and the West have criticized a "strategic partnership" agreement between Russia and Abkhazia signed on November 24.

Tbilisi condemned the pact as an attempt by Moscow to annex the region.

Karasin also said Russia will “continue sparing no effort, nerves, financial expenses” to make sure its neighbors “do not feel endangered.”

"As a large state and a powerful country, Russia is constantly responsible for stability on its borders and everything that is under way along its borders," he added.

Under the "strategic partnership," Russian and Abkhaz forces in the territory will turn into a joint force led by a Russian commander.

 

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.

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About This Blog

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