Thursday, October 02, 2014


The Power Vertical

Twelve Days That Shook The Kremlin

President Dmitry Medvedev (ight) and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin at a congress of the United Russia ruling party in Moscow on September 24
President Dmitry Medvedev (ight) and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin at a congress of the United Russia ruling party in Moscow on September 24
It took less than two weeks for the long-standing debate in Russia's ruling elite to come to a screeching halt.

On September 15, Mikhail Prokhorov abruptly resigned as chairman of Right Cause, casting a cloud over plans for a regime-friendly center-right party to enter the State Duma.

Ten days later, on September 24, United Russia nominated Vladimir Putin as its candidate for president in 2012, dashing the hopes of those who hoped to see Dmitry Medvedev remain in the Kremlin for a second term.

And two days later, on September 26, Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin resigned following a public dustup ostensibly over military spending, removing one of the most strident advocates of fiscal probity and political reform from the government.

The managed-democracy project, if not dead, appears to be on life support at best (Grigory Yavlinsky's Yabloko may still yet get into the State Duma as a token liberal party). And with Putin set to occupy the Kremlin until 2024, any hopes for economic modernization and a gradual transition to more democratic governance have been buried.

But was this really preordained? In his speech at the United Russia congress, Medvedev provoked cries of betrayal from his supporters when he suggested as much, saying the decision for Putin to return was made "years ago."

The past four years could conceivably have been a big ruse, with only Putin and Medvedev in on the con -- but color me skeptical on that score. The evidence overwhelmingly points to a debate over how to proceed post-2012 among the inner core of the ruling elite. And one side won and one side lost -- decisively.

The result was the mirror image of the decision back in 2007-08, when Putin resisted the appeals of Igor Sechin, Viktor Ivanov, and others urging him to change the constitution and serve a third consecutive term.

This time, those seeking Putin's return to the Kremlin won the argument. And there was an argument, not just about the Putin-Medvedev question, but also the composition of the State Duma and whether United Russia would be allowed a continued constitutional majority.

The lines were often blurred and it wasn't always easy to determine who was on which side (with the exception of obvious advocates of a Putin return like Sechin and supporters of political reform like Kudrin). Some, like Deputy Kremlin Chief of Staff Vladislav Surkov, the regime's unofficial ideologist, appeared to be playing both sides of the fence.

Back in June 2009, for example, Surkov appeared to telegraph the doomed Right Cause project when he argued that United Russia needed to share power in the Duma with other parties.

"We believe that once a system has settled, there should be more degrees of freedom inside it. One should be flexible, one should learn to enter into coalitions. Democracy is a compromise. Democracy is a procedure. It's a tedious one, but it's a procedure," Surkov said at the time.

Surkov's comments drew a harsh response from Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov, who said: "Our parliament of the majority based on one party is a necessity for Russia.... The parliamentary majority allows us to adopt laws that determine political and economic stability."

Looks like Gryzlov won that argument. Or Surkov had second thoughts.

Another sign of conflict inside the elite was the abrupt departure from the Kremlin in April of onetime uber-spinmeister Gleb Pavlovsky, one of the key architects of Putin's first presidential campaign in 2000.

Pavlovsky was a vocal proponent of a second term for Medvedev, with Putin keeping a dominant role in Russian politics and was becoming increasingly critical of United Russia. And it was for these sins that he was reportedly pushed out into the wilderness.

In interviews after his firing, Pavlovsky said the elite was close to endorsing a second term for Medvedev but was getting cold feet.

"I think that, of course, that first and foremost, this debate is painful for Putin. Not easy for him to step aside. Also, he rightly fears that there could be instability in the bureaucracy after the nomination of a candidate," he told Gazeta.ru.

Moreover, on several occasions, Kudrin spoke out in favor of greater democracy -- at the Krasnoyarsk Economic Forum in February, in an interview with "The Wall Street Journal" in April, and in an interview with "The New York Times" in June.

Kudrin's basic argument was that effective economic reform was not possible without political reform because the authorities will need a "mandate of trust" from the people.

So the argument came down to this: one side argued that modernizing Russia's economy requires at least limited reforms of the political system while another argued that loosening things up politically could lead to instability and chaos.

Putin was going to be the key player in either scenario -- he could be the formal leader as president or an informal national leader and head of the deep state. Putin is indispensible because he is the power broker among the Kremlin clans and without him, open warfare among them would likely break out.

I expected, wrongly, Putin to choose the informal leader route. In a recent interview, longtime Russia-watcher Edward Lucas, the international editor of "The Economist" and author of "The New Cold War," offered interesting insight into why Putin and a critical mass of the elite decided he had to return to the Kremlin:

The way the Russian system works, these formal channels of power are important. It isn't like China where you can have Deng Xiaoping behind the scenes or Singapore where you have Lee Kuan Yew behind the scenes. The paper flow matters, the signature matters, the pechat [stamp] matters. I think that it was a source of some awkwardness and instability for them that Medvedev was theoretically in the top job and so Putin had to have a guy in Medvedev's office managing the paper flow so people didn't run around behind him.

-- Brian Whitmore

Tags: Mikhail Prokhorov,Gleb Pavlovsky,2011 State Duma elections,Putin-Medvedev tandem,2012 presidential election,Aleksei Kudrin

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Comments
     
by: Aurora from: Boston
October 05, 2011 22:02
There is a great confusion in the Kremlin on who is in charge... is it president Medvedev, Putin or perhaps puppetmaster himself Mr.Surkov. Wake up and do something usefull for the Motherland... or perhaps now that there are no brains left it's a hopless proposition?

by: Tangier Soto from: Germany
October 05, 2011 22:11
Kudrin's basic argument was that effective economic reform was not possible without political reform because the authorities will need a "mandate of trust" from the people.

Surkov has made all possible to the political parties loose a mandate of trust. Democracy, managed by Surkov, which he calls “democracy compromise”, is not a democracy at all: one ingredient is absent – a choice. Democracy, managed by Surkov in Russia will work bad. According to the polls, absolutely most people in Russia have basic liberal-democratic values. The matter of fact is that lot of people in Russia support Prokhorov, and would follow him, if he stays in politics. These people are young generation, middle class (40 of population of Moscow and 30% of the other cities), business class, intellectuals, they prefer liberal reforms, business support, modernization of economy and liberalization of politics. All this was presented by Prokhorov, which shows that he is the only strong candidate in politics, was courageous enough to manage deals, not to stay controlled by Surkov and and to to call things by their proper names.

Kudrin is right, effective economic reform are not possible without political reforms.

by: Pavel
October 07, 2011 13:53
This article is absolutely correct. These 12 days have demonstrated without doubt that democracy in Russia is moving backwards toward autocracy, not forward. Any educated Russian would tell you that if the parties would consolidate and support a charismatic and popular, articulate leader, this would bring real opposition to Putin and real change to Russia. This is why real political activity is so restricted. United Russia knows very well that the new generation is rising and will eventually demand a voice in their future. Either that, or they will flee the country, leaving United Russia with nothing in which to invest.,

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MORNING NEWS ROUNDUP FOR OCTOBER 2, 2014

Good morning. Here are a few items from RFE/RL's News Desk:

MERKEL URGES PUTIN TO PRESS SEPARATISTS IN UKRAINE

German Chancellor Angela Merkel says Russia has a duty to exert influence on pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Merkel made the remark during a phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin on October 1.

According to a German government spokesman, the two leaders expressed concerned that violence was still being used in Ukraine every day.

Merkel said the border between Ukraine and Russia needed to be monitored and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation had a big role to play in that. 

She said Germany would continue to support the OSCE mission in Ukraine, adding it could play an important role in planned local elections in the regions around Donetsk and Luhansk. 

Earlier, NATO's new Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the cease-fire in Ukraine offers an opportunity but Russia still has the power to destabilize the country.

(Based on reporting by TASS and Reuters)

MOSCOW LINKS SUSPENSION OF STUDENT EXCHANGES TO GAY U.S. COUPLE

Russia's child-protection ombudsman has linked Moscow's decision to suspend participation in the Future Leaders Exchange Program (FLEX)  to a gay American couple that established guardianship over a Russian high school student who was in the United States for the program.

Pavel Astakhov said on Twitter (https://twitter.com/RFdeti) on October 1 that Washington had violated its obligation to return Russian students to their country when  "a Russian teen stayed behind in the United States."

Astakohov said a homosexual couple established illegal "guardianship" over the boy.

But the U.S. administrator of the program says the events described by Astakhov occurred after the child had completed the exchange program and that the student's host family was not a same-sex couple as Russian officials have implied.

U.S. Ambassador John Tefft expressed regret over Russia's decision to withdraw from next year's FLEX program.

(With reporting by TASS and Interfax)

NATO'S NEW CHIEF SAYS RUSSIA STILL ABLE TO DESTABILIZE UKRAINE

NATO's new Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has said that the cease-fire in Ukraine "offers an opportunity" but says Russia still has the power to destabilize the country. 

Stoltenberg, speaking on October 1 in Brussels at his first news conference as NATO leader, said Russia must comply with international law and demonstrate it is respecting its international obligations.

He said: "We see violations of the cease-fire" in Ukraine.

But the new NATO chief said he saw no contradiction between aspiring for a constructive relationship with Russia and being in favor of a strong NATO.

Stoltenberg, a former two-term Norwegian Prime Minister, is NATO's 13th secretary-general in the trans-Atlantic organization's 65-year existence.

He replaced Danish former Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen. 

(With additional reporting by Reuters and AP)

LAVROV SEES CHANCE TO RESUME TALKS WITH NORTH KOREA

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said after meeting in Moscow with North Korea’s Foreign Minister Ri Su Yong on October 1 that he sees a possibility for six-party talks to resume on Pyongyang’s nuclear program.

But Lavrov said the resumption of the talks "will take a certain amount of time – not immediately."

He said the main conditions are "to achieve from all sides a calm, balanced approach" and to avoid "any abrupt steps that would only polarize positions."

North Korea, South Korea, Japan, China, Russia, and the United States began talks in 2003 with the aim of ridding the Korean peninsula of nuclear weapons.

But Pyongyang withdrew in 2009 and indicated it would not abide by a 2005 pledge to abandon its nuclear programs.

Ri, who is on a 10-day visit to Russia, said a "long tradition of relations" between Moscow and Pyongyang is "bonded with blood."

(Based on reporting by TASS and Interfax)

And this, via Reuters:

RUSSIA GAS DUEL DEEPENS WITH SLOVAKIA SUPPLY CUT

By Michael Kahn and Jan Lopatka

PRAGUE, Oct 1 (Reuters) - The cat and mouse game between Europe and Russia on gas intensified on Wednesday with Slovakia saying its supply from Russia was down by a half and its prime minister calling the move part of a political fight.

Since September, Russia's state-controlled Gazprom has sent less-than-requested deliveries to Poland, Slovakia, Austria and Hungary - after the European Union began sending gas to Ukraine - in a clear warning from Moscow ahead of the winter heating season which officially starts today, when the industry switches to higher pricing.

The 50 percent cut reported by Slovakia, a major transit point for Russian gas exports to Europe, was by far the deepest yet, and Prime Minister Robert Fico said he would call a crisis meeting of his government if the problems persisted.

Fico, who normally has warm relations with Russia and has criticised EU sanctions against it, said he saw political factors behind the cuts.

"The Russian side talks about technical problems, about the necessity of filling up storage for the winter season," Fico said. "I have used this expression and I will use it again: gas has become a tool in a political fight."

There was no immediate comment from Russian gas exporter Gazprom

Slovakia's western neighbour the Czech Republic became the latest former Soviet-bloc nation to experience reductions. RWE Czech Republic, its main gas importer, said it saw unspecified reductions on several days over the past week, although the flow seemed normal on Wednesday.

It was unlikely there will be any impact for now on consumers of gas in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, or the countries further West that receive it via there, because gas storage reservoirs throughout Europe are close to full.

As well as shipping Russian gas west, Slovakia also sends it east into Ukraine. That has irked Russia, which switched off gas deliveries to Ukraine to persuade Kiev to pay its arrears.

"Nobody should be surprised by what Russia does. They want to keep pressure on Ukraine... at the start of the heating season," said Michael LaBelle, a gas expert at the Central European University in Budapest.

Central European spot gas markets rose to over 25 euros ($31.52) per megawatt-hours (MWh), their highest levels since the Ukraine crisis broke out in February/March.

Russia is Europe's biggest supplier of natural gas, meeting almost a third of annual demand and in return, Gazprom receives around $80 billion in annual revenues from its European customers, making up the majority of its income.

Moscow halted gas flows to Ukraine three times in the past decade, in 2006, 2009 and since June this year, although this year gas for the EU via Ukraine has so far continued to flow.

Opening up gas flows eastward was part of the EU's response to Gazprom's decision to cut supplies to Kiev in June. Slovakia, Poland and Hungary can also send gas to Ukraine but so far deliveries have not been without incident.

Poland temporarily stopped deliveries to Ukraine last month after Warsaw said it was getting less gas from Russia than requested. Hungary stopped eastward supplies last week in order to fill its own storage tanks ahead of winter.

Slovakia, with the largest EU capacity to Ukraine, had maintained deliveries.

Analysts agree the moves are a warning to Europe that Russia is ready to retaliate should Brussels impose further sanctions on Moscow over its intervention in Ukraine.

"It (the Russian export reductions) could actually be in the end quite harmless. But the fact that they did not tell anyone in advance, (shows) that nobody should trust any explanation he or she gets, and that in itself is damning," Czech energy security ambassador Vaclav Bartuska told Reuters this week.

He added it would be foolish to expect gas to flow as usual through Ukraine this winter.

DEAL?

Traders have, however, pointed out that Russia's recent reductions to Europe, at least before the latest cuts to Slovakia, were within contractual allowances and came during times that EU gas storage tanks are well filled.

Gas Infrastructure Europe data show that the EU's gas storage sites are filled to an average of over 90 percent, compared to just 68 percent this time last year.

"Most of the EU has its gas tanks filled to the rims, so they don't need more gas at the moment, while Gazprom needs to still fill its domestic reserves ahead of the Russian winter, so I'm not surprised by its flow reductions to the EU, which were all within contractual allowances," one EU utility trader said.

While gas deliveries to Germany, Gazprom's biggest customer, should continue through the Nord Stream pipeline which bypasses Ukraine, the outlook is far less certain for central and southeastern European nations which receive most or all of their imports from Russia and via Ukraine.

To deal with a potential shortfall this winter, the European Union has prepared emergency plans and has also sought a compromise to safeguard winter supplies in a potential deal that would guarantee Kiev at least 5 billion cubic metres of Russian gas for the next six months if Ukraine made pre-payments.

The Russian energy ministry said on Wednesday that there would be not further gas talks with Ukraine and the European Commission this week. (1 US dollar = 0.7933 euro) (Additional reporting by Vera Eckert in Berlin; Writing by Henning Gloystein and Christian Lowe; Editing by William Hardy)

 

WHY COMPROMISE IN UKRAINE MIGHT BE IMPOSSIBLE

The always insightful -- and often provocative -- Alexander Motyl has a piece up at Huffington Post suggesting the Western and Russian positions on Ukraine are irreconcilable.

"Should the West therefore try to understand Russian perceptions even if it knows that they are completely wrong? Obviously, understanding Russian delusions can help the West and Ukraine craft a better response to Putin's expansionism. But it makes little sense to say that the West and Ukraine should try to accommodate these delusions in their search for peace in eastern Ukraine and the Crimea.

Should the democratic world have accommodated Hitler's perceptions of Jews? Or of Germany's need for Lebensraum? Or of the innate superiority of the Aryan race? The questions are rhetorical, but they are exactly the ones we should be asking about Russian perceptions.

The implications for policy are clear. Finding a compromise under such conditions may be impossible. And agreeing to disagree may be the best one can possibly achieve. Russia currently controls the Crimea and one third of the Donbas region in eastern Ukraine. Let it continue to do so. The West has imposed sanctions on the Russian economy and supports Ukraine. Let it also continue to do so. Finally, Ukraine has adopted a defensive position and appears intent on preventing further Russian incursions into its territory. It, too, should continue to do so.

There is no practical solution to the Russo-Ukrainian war. The most one can hope for is to "freeze" it and thereby transform hot war into cold war between Russia and Ukraine and between Russia and the West. That cold war will continue as long as Putin remains in power and continues to promote his delusional views of the world." 

Read the whole piece here.

Semyon Guzman, a prominent Ukrainian psychiatrist, says Vladimir Putin hasn't gone crazy -- he's just evil.

"Many really consider that he suffers from definite psychological illnesses,” Guzman wrote in a September 30 article (a big h/t to thei ndispensable Paul Goble for flagging this).  

"This is only a convenient explanation in the existing situation. Unfortunately, it is not correct.”

Putin's character traits, "ike those of a murderer, thief or other good for nothing, are not psychiatric phenomena but rather objects of the subjects of moral philosophy.” Guzman wrote. He added that Putin was "absolutely responsible" for his actions.

Karen Dawisha, who appeared on the Power Vertical Podcast back in April, dscusses her new book "Putin's Kleptocracy: Who Owns Russia"

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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