Saturday, October 25, 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

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
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.,

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

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."

Latest Podcasts

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