Wednesday, October 22, 2014


The Power Vertical

Waiting For Vladimir The Wise

Russian President Vladimir Putin in Istanbul on December 3
Russian President Vladimir Putin in Istanbul on December 3
Vladimir Putin may be about to undergo an extreme image makeover.
 
Putin the chest-thumping and siloviki-loving tough guy could be on his way out. And a kinder and gentler Vladimir the Wise might be on the way in.
 
"Putin's political advisers have decided to abandon the macho image in favor of that of a wise patriarch," the daily "Nezavisimaya gazeta" writes, citing a Kremlin strategy paper.

According to the report, Putin will also seek to "reassure the population" that has become increasingly less confident in his rule by moving closer to the liberal faction of the elite and beginning to curb the powers of the siloviki. But given the amount of power Putin has granted the security services over the years, "it will be difficult to do so without damage."
 
The impending image makeover and policy shift, along with the ongoing anticorruption campaign, were sparked by a measurable "decline of trust in the country's senior management and the almost revolutionary sentiments in the minds of Russians," the daily wrote, citing unidentified Kremlin officials.
 
The rebooted Putin, the officials say, will be launched when the president gives his annual address to parliament later this month.
 
Or maybe not.
 
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov quickly and curtly denied the report, saying it was "from the realm of falsification." But "Nezavisimaya gazeta" stood firmly by the story. Speaking to Vladimir Kara-Murza of RFE/RL's Russian Service, the paper's political editor, Aleksandra Samarina, insisted that the Kremlin report existed and that the paper's reporting was accurate.

WATCH THE INTERVIEW HERE:



So what's going on? Did "Nezavisimaya gazeta" overplay what it had? The paper has a solid track record of strong political reporting and is known to have good Kremlin sources. It identified the document in question as a report prepared by Putin's political strategists for an unidentified regional governor.
 
So is Peskov just stonewalling? Possibly. As Samarina pointed out, it would have been strange for him to come out and just verify a story based on a leaked Kremlin strategy paper and anonymous officials.
 
But documents like this don't just leak without a reason. Such instances are almost always part of a larger game in which one Kremlin faction or another is attempting to advance its agenda. Rarely do they reflect settled policy.
 
As has been widely reported, the Russian elite has long been locked in a bitter "cold war" between its siloviki and technocratic factions over how to deal with the country's rapidly changing political dynamic.

Likewise, the ranks of Kremlin political strategists are also split between those loyal to the regime's current chief ideologist, Vyacheslav Volodin, and holdovers from the team of his predecessor, Vladislav Surkov.
 
The hard-liners in this constellation -- the siloviki and Volodin -- have had the upper hand since Putin returned to power in May, as evidenced by the regime's harsh suppression of dissent. The technocrats and Surkov's people have been waiting for the crackdown to fail, which would give them a chance to push for, if not a full-fledged thaw then at least a softer and subtler alternative.
 
"As with so many strategy documents over the years, this is probably an attempt to try to influence a process, but it likely isn't a blueprint," Nikolas Gvosdev, a Russia expert and professor at the U.S. Naval War College, told me.
 
Nevertheless, there are also signs that the time might be right for the authorities to switch paradigms.
 
The leaks about Putin's impending image makeover and policy shift come amid persistent reports about the president's poor health that the Kremlin has been unable to squelch.
 
Whatever is or isn't going on with Putin's health, the unrelenting speculation about it has severely damaged the image the regime would like to project. Kremlin strategists have long used Putin's virility and vigor as a metaphor to illustrate Russia's revival during his rule. This was easy when he was in his 40s and 50s. It will only get more difficult as the now 60-year-old president continues to age.
 
"He needs to be able to construct a public narrative of success and competent authority and leadership, which is where his own physical fitness and Russia's return to economic health are in many ways overlapping," Edward Lucas, international editor of the British weekly "The Economist" and author of the book "Deception: Spies, Lies, and How Russia Dupes the West," said in a recent interview.
 
"It's very hard for him to do that now, when people laugh at you and when you seem visibly uncomfortable appearing in public. He's a fast-decaying asset, both in terms of being able to project the regime as a success and in being an internal arbiter in its many disputes."
 
Moreover, on the same day the "Nezavisimaya gazeta" story appeared, the Moscow Carnegie Center released a report titled "The Russian Awakening" that painted a bleak picture of the health of Russia's political system.

Among the report's conclusions are that the political system Putin created "has lost legitimacy in the eyes of the more dynamic, modernizing, and now politically active segments of society."
 
Moreover, Russia's economy, based on the collection and distribution of natural resource rents, "is cracking" and volatile energy prices have "put the Russian economy at risk" as "the government struggles to meet its massive social obligations."
 
And Putin's vaunted "power vertical," in which officials offer "fealty toward the Kremlin in exchange for a license to grow super rich, is crumbling as Russia’s leaders are seeking to discipline the elite in order to save the system."
 
Whether Putin's image is Vlad the Tough Guy or Vladimir the Wise -- and whether he is in good health or ill -- this is the dire reality he needs to address.
 
"There is no overlap between the image [the Kremlin is creating] and what is actually going on in the country," Samarina said.

The first hint about what, if anything, will change should come with Putin's much-awaited address to parliament in a few weeks.

 -- Brian Whitmore

Tags: Vladimir Putin,Russian politics

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments page of 2
    Next 
by: Camel Anaturk from: Kurdistan
December 04, 2012 19:44
Well,the left cheek hurts a bit after that slap in the face by Mad dog an,but the pain in the head from the Kabayeva upper cut is almost gone.But you can wait forever and a day for Vlad the wise,my friends,cant you??? Eugenio,Jack and Vakhtang will get wise sooner than The Man.And dont ask about Andrew from Auckland!!!

by: Anonymous from: USA
December 04, 2012 21:17
There is no doubt in my mind that Putin is leading the Russian Federation into oblivion. It will collapse just like the USSR and be replaced by something else, quite possibly a Russian Republic. I predict that Russia will lose the Caucasus and Kaliningrad by 2050. Siberia is harder to predict because it is so underpopulated. China would be a major factor in that case. What people seem to forget is that Russia has a long history of imperial conquest that still haunts it to this day, hence the desire by some to eliminate minority languages from schools throughout the Federation, redraw the geographic borders of the Federation, and rename regions in order to eliminate ethnic identities. It will FAIL completely. Russia is changing, but Putin and his Soviet-era inner circle are desperately trying to keep the Federation together and keep it subservient to Moscow.
In Response

by: Marko from: USA
December 05, 2012 12:08
Russian economy is growing, Islamist separatist movements have been effectively suppressed everywhere except Dagestan and even that one is a low intensity conflict, brief protest movement vs. Putin has died away, government coffers are full of cash. Don't see any real evidence to back this constant stream of assertions that Putin's regime is on the verge of collapse, or in this case, liberal transformation. Besides that why would Russia want to become a liberal Western-style society (and one whose interests are subordinanted to the West)? Why? The liberal 90s in Russia were an unmitigated disaster. Besides current Western political and social models are completely unsustainable in their current forms. The EU is largely bankrupt, and we here in the US just print and spend. Big changes are coming , and they will be painful.
In Response

by: Anonymous from: USA
December 06, 2012 01:43
1. Russian economy has slowed considerably in the last year, this after contracting a few years ago--thanks to a lack of diversity and modernization, combined with capital flight. Oil and gas will only generation so much revenue...

2. Islamic separatist movements were "suppressed" as you said (along with a lot of other movements), which has driven them underground waiting to the right opportunity to come back.

3. Government coffers are only full of cash because they haven't been paying down the debt leftover from the USSR. Russia has ENORMOUS debt, thanks to Soviet Era bonds issued in the 1980's that Russia has pledged to pay back to pensioners---and still hasn't. That combined with a growing number of people retiring at age 55 and increases in defense spending. PriceWaterhouseCoopers issued a report a few years ago predicting that Russian debt would exceed 600 percent GDP by 2030. Your assertion that Russia is doing better than the West is laughably incorrect. In fact, Russia is guilty of the same spending sprees that has bankrupted Southern Europe. Literally billions of dollars are stolen each year by corrupt bureaucrats which costs the Russian government even more money. Many of those bureaucrats are Putin's personal friends.
In Response

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
December 06, 2012 08:42
Marko is saying: "The EU is largely bankrupt, and we here in the US just print and spend. Big changes are coming, and they will be painful." A very good point, Marko, you just put your fingure on it. And it's more than that: the painful changes are ALREADY affecting the population of a (growing) number of EU member states: unemployment in such EU and NATO members as Greece and Spain has reached 25 % (the youth unemployment is close to 50 % in both cases); Greece has lost about 1/5 (!!!) of its GDP in the last 4 years; traditional systems of political parties are collapsing in Greece, Spain, Italy, France etc.
If the "painful changes" continue at the same paste, a year or two from now these (and other) EU and NATO member states will end exactly where EGYPT is today: on the brink of a civil war. What we are witnessing is the coming END of a number of central states and societies of the global capitalist system.
Ah, ok, and in the meantime the RFE/RL will entertain us all with a few more stories about the Pussy Riot ...
In Response

by: American Troll
December 06, 2012 09:30
"Islamist separatist movements have been effectively suppressed everywhere except Dagestan"

Kazbek Gekkiyev should do a special on that.
In Response

by: marko from: USA
December 06, 2012 12:15
The Soviet era bond issue is bogus. External Soviet era was paid off by Putin-- the situation that you are describing is far more analogous with Japan-- the debt is domestically held (and not nearly as big a problem). Those "obligations" were also from a now defunct government and haven't been paid and won't be. Social benefits can and will be cut slowly or not paid at all. Currency reseves are currently massive. Comparing Russia's situation to Italy or France is not accurate. That debt is externally owed-- big difference; it won't just go away. I haven't seen the latest figures, but Russia's debt is somewhere around 12-13% of GDP where in the West, even the US and UK are heading toward 100%. Now, the US has unique advantages in terms of the dollar being the world's reserve currency so that situation isn't analogous either. Besides all this rather arcane financial stuff, I'd love to see you or Brian W. make the case that liberalism would help whatever Russia's problems are... rather the liberal Yeltsin era CAUSED the problems that Putin has partially cleaned up...

by: Mamuka
December 05, 2012 01:47
Vladimir Mudriy. And the False (reformer) Dmitriy.

by: Gordon Ball from: Ottawa Canada
December 05, 2012 02:01
So Vladimir Putin has handlers. Guess Russia really is becoming a democracy.

by: Vakhtang from: Moscow
December 05, 2012 02:02
Here we can see only one obvious thing-Putin and his entourage wants to stay in power until the end.
Already there is talk in Russia, that in USA was President Roosevelt, who was respected and loved, especially when he was rolling on the White House in his wheelchair.
Next phase of the FSB propaganda,will be story a la Gogol "Vij", when Putin will fly in the coffin to the church with candles in his hand.
We see that Putin and his loyal gangs, ready to keep the power not only with change of the image of Putin, as a consequence of a natural biological process,they ready also to more radical things. If, for example, one day Mr. Whitmore will fall out of favor with Putin or one of Putin's sixes,because of his way of dressing or appearance, Mr. Whitmore will disappear from our dark world without a trace.
It is possible that the appearance on Radio Liberty, a camel from the cave of Kurdistan,has to all this a direct bearing...

by: ChristisKing from: Louisiana
December 05, 2012 06:54
Pray for everyone to follow Jesus Christ for life eternal. Amen. It's not to late for Muslims to find the truth and life. Sorry it's too late for those who lived and died without believing that Christ is Lord.

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
December 05, 2012 11:14
Should the speculations currently circulating in some Western media - according to which the US and their friends are preparing to invade Syria - turn out to be true, we might very soon see the very same Vladimir the Wise that we saw in August 2008, when the US lackey called Mischa attacked the Russian troops stating in S. Ossetia.
Only this time around the game will be much more dangerous: a number of NATO and EU member states are STUCK in a never-ending recession since 2008 already and are rapidly loosing ground in the Middle East (IRAQ kicked out the US troop out of it soil and is now governed by a pro-Iranian Shia govt, while Russia has become the second biggest arms supplier for this Arab country; the situation is EGYPT is getting completely out of the Beavuses' hands: they wanted to continue controling the country though the military and the judiciary, and now it looks like the military signed some kind of non-interference deal with the Muslim Brotherhood, whereas the judiciary is getting sidelined; the HAMAS-led govt in GAZA that the US have for years been going out of their way to sideline is slowely getting international recognition and is forcing Israel into sensible concessions).
So, one thing NATO needs RIGHT NOW in order to somehow divert the attention of their own electorates from all those problems is a "fast and victorious war" and I bet they are crazy enough to think that a military adventure in Syria might offer them an occasion to have one.
Thus, should such an intervention happen, one can be damn sure that we will see Vladimir the Wise and even Mahmud the Wise who will make the Trurks and other NATO members REGRET about their excessive strategic ambitions FOR A VERY LONG TIME. So, just bring it on, guys, et que le meilleur gagne!!!

by: Ray F. from: Lawrence, KS
December 05, 2012 13:03
Nice post and the beginning of wisdom might be the realization that the current strategy is no longer adequate. Alas, I’m not sure that Putin and his coterie have reached this conclusion. From what I can tell, they still believe that the tsar can sit at the head of the conference table and read out orders from his set of note cards in the hope that the adoring nobles and gullible serfs will carry out faithfully. This image is not very convincing if you are stuck in endless traffic, without hot water, or forever waiting to get your child enrolled in kindergarten.
In Response

by: La Russophobe from: USA
December 05, 2012 23:54
Good lord. What DIFFERENCE does it make how "convincing" the image is when the people of Russia are slack-jawed sheep who will not demand any better no matter how wretched their lives become? Have you read Russian history AT ALL? Have you followed current events, and seen Putin anointed ruler for life while the protest movements evaporates? There is absolutely NO REASON WHATSOEVER to believe that Putin is in any kind of jeopardy regardless of his policies.

by: La Russophobe from: USA
December 05, 2012 13:20
"As has been widely reported, the Russian elite has long been locked in a bitter 'cold war' between its siloviki and technocratic factions over how to deal with the country's rapidly changing political dynamic."

Umm, what planet are we on here? Rapidly changing political dynamic? HUH???

Here on this planet, Putin was just given power for life by a landslide, and United Russia crushed all rivals. Just Russia was liquidated in parliament. Navalny is facing multiple indictments. Street demonstrations have dwindled to a silly trickle.

The political dynamic is the same. Only more so. Rapidly.


by: Jalmer Osmth from: USA
December 06, 2012 18:22
Much can be said about Vladimir Putin. Some can be rejected , but his rise to recognition is one only he could have achieved by pulling himself up by his own boots. If he meets with his contemporaries one on one, and is a good listener, Russia will determine the best middle ground to guide a prosperous future.
State craft fails when it is based on clandestined desires, and refuses to believe that commerce is just as important to all people no matter whom, when or where it comes from.
Comments page of 2
    Next 

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

16:08 October 17, 2014

NEW POWER VERTICAL BLOG

I just posted a new piece on the Power Vertical blog: Putin's Class of 2014.

The iPhone-toting hipsters hanging out in their trendy downtown Moscow office are just the high-profile part of the Kremlin's new youth strategy.

Founded in November 2013, the youth group Set -- which means "Network" in Russian -- has organized patriotic fashion shows and film festivals, created an alphabet for schoolchildren that highlights the regime's accomplishments, and painted murals in seven cities on October 7 to mark Russian President Vladimir Putin's 62nd birthday....

But the rise of Set is just one side of the story. The other aspect of the Kremlin's youth strategy is stealthier -- and much more consequential.

Over the past 18 months, Putin has been quietly bringing a new cadre of officials to Moscow, reshaping the rank-and-file bureaucracy in his own image.

You can read it all here.

AND A NEW POWER VERTICAL PODCAST COMING SOON

We're in post-production for the new Power Vertical Podcast: Ukraine's Loyal Russians

A country divided between a Ukrainian-speaking west and a Russian-speaking east. An irreconcilable schism forged in history and set in stone. Lviv vs. Luhansk; Orange vs. Blue.

It's long been a truism that Ukraine was hopelessly split. It's a truism repeated endlessly by the Kremlin's propaganda machine -- and one used by Vladimir Putin to justify his Novorossiya project.

But it's a truism that the majority of Ukraine's ethnic Russians -- in cities like Odesa and Mariupol in the south to Dnipropetrovsk and Zaporizhia in the east to Kharkiv in the north  -- are proving false. Most of Ukraine's ethnic Russians, it turns out, are loyal Ukrainian citizens.

Joining me are Andreas Umland, a professor of Russian and Ukrainian history at Kyiv Mohyla University and Natalya Churikova, Senior Editor of RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service. It's in post-production now and will be up soon.

 

13:25 October 17, 2014

AFTERNOON NEWS ROUNDUP

Some items from RFE/RL's News Desk:

RUSSIA-WEST RIFT PERSIST AFTER DIFFICULT UKRAINE CRISIS TALKS

By RFE/RL

Italy's prime minister said he was "really positive" about the prospects for a solution to the Ukraine conflict after a meeting attended by Russian President Vladimir Putin, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and European leaders, but the Kremlin suggested deep rifts remained after the "difficult" talks and accused Western officials of inflexibility.

"In general, I am really positive after this meeting," Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said after the talks over breakfast during a Europe-Asia summit that was overshadowed by the crisis in Ukraine, where deadly fighting persists in the east despite a cease-fire between government forces and pro-Russian separatists.

Putin, in the spotlight and under pressure from the West to do more to bring peace to Ukraine, said the meeting -- attended by Putin and Poroshenko as well as German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Francois Hollande, British Prime Minister David Cameron, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, and outgoing EU leaders Herman Van Rompuy and Jose Manuel Barroso -- was "good, positive".

But his spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, gave a grimmer account.

"The talks are indeed difficult, full of misunderstandings, disagreements, but they are nevertheless ongoing, an exchange of opinion is in progress," Peskov told reporters.

He said some participants displayed "a complete lack of desire to take an objective approach" to the Ukraine crisis, which Russia blames on the European Union, the United States, and the pro-Western government that gained power in Ukraine after the ouster of a president sympathetic to Russia, Viktor Yanukovych, In February.

Kyiv, NATO, and Western governments say Russia has supported the rebels with troops, weaponry, and propaganda after illegally annexing the Black Sea peninsula from Ukraine in March.

The conflict in eastern Ukraine has killed more than 3,660 combatants and civilians since April and driven Moscow's ties with the West to post-Cold War lows, prompting punitive sanctions against Moscow and a Russian ban on many foods from the EU, its biggest trading partner for years.

The breakfast-table talks came hours after lengthy Putin-Merkel meeting that stretched past midnight and failed to resolve what the Kremlin said were "serious differences of opinion about the genesis of the internal Ukrainian conflict as well as about the causes of what is happening there now."

Western leaders have rejected Russia's denials of involvement and said Moscow must see to it that a cease-fire and steps toward peace agreed on September 5 in Minsk, the capital of Belarus, are implemented.

"It is obviously above all Russia's task to make clear that the Minsk plan is adhered to," Merkel told reporters on October 16. "Unfortunately, there are still a lot of shortcomings but it will be important to look for a dialogue here."

British Prime Minister David Cameron said Putin assured the other leaders at the breakfast that Russia does not want a divided Ukraine or a frozen crisis.

Kremlin critics say Russia has supported the cease-fire and plans for peace because the September 5 agreement followed rebel gains that left the separatists in control over large portions of Ukraine's Donetsk and Luhansk regions, giving Moscow a lever to influence its France-sized neighbor and keep it destabilized - and out of NATO - for years to come.

Putin and Poroshenko were to meet with Merkel and Hollande later on October 17.

Putin, who basked in attention at a military parade in mostly Slavic, Orthodox Christian Serbia on October 16, set the stage for tense talks in Milan by warning in Belgrade that a dispute with Kyiv over natural gas could jeopardize Russian supplies to Europe via transit nation Ukraine this winter.

He said Europe faces "major transit risks" to gas supplies from Russia.

Blaming Kyiv in advance for any possible cuts in supplies to Europe, Putin said that if Ukraine siphons gas from transit pipelines to the European Union, Russia will reduce supplies in the amount of the "stolen" gas.

Russia raised the price it charges Kyiv for natural gas after Yanukovych was ousted by street protests he had touched off last November by scrapping plans for a deal tightening ties with the EU and turning toward Russia instead.

In June, Russia halted gas supplies meant for domestic consumption in Ukraine when Kyiv failed to pay the higher price.

Russia is the EU's biggest external gas supplier, providing about one-third of the gas consumed there, and previous price disputes between Moscow and Kyiv have led to supply cuts that have chilled Europeans in wintertime.

Some government officials said the Western leaders would ask Putin to explain the threat of gas supply cuts.

Merkel and Poroshenko held talks earlier on October 16, and Poroshenko said he received "a great demonstration of support for Ukraine" from the German leader.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Putin also met with former Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi, whom he referred to as Putin's "old friend."

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said he spoke briefly to Putin and asked him for "maximum cooperation" over the downing of a Malaysian Airlines passenger jet in the conflict zone in eastern Ukraine in July.

More than half of the 298 people killed were Dutch citizens, and many in the West suspect the plane was shot down by the separatists with a missile system provided by Russia.

Hundreds of people have been killed since the cease-fire, with fierce fighting focusing on the devastated Donetsk international airport and shelling reported in the city of Donetsk and elsewhere almost daily.

Ukrainian military officials said three soldiers were killed and nine wounded on October 16.

NATO said it has not yet detected "significant" movements of Russian troops in a region near the border with Ukraine back to their home bases, as the Kremlin said Putin ordered last week.

A NATO spokesperson said "there is still a large and capable force sitting on the border of Ukraine, and heavy equipment still has to be pulled back [from the border]."

(With reporting by Reuters, AP, TASS, Interfax, and AFP)

GEORGIAN PM SAYS NO PROGRESS NORMALIZING RELATIONS WITH MOSCOW

Georgian Prime Minister Irakly Garibashvili says attempts by Tbilisi to normalize political relations with Russia have thus far been unsuccessful.

Garibashvili said in Tbilisi on October 16 that the Georgian government had done "all it could" to improve bilateral relations with Moscow has only achieved progress in the economic sector.

The premier's Georgian Dream party took power two years ago pledging to engage with Moscow.

Garibashvili made his comments one day after Russia announced it would sign an "alliance and integration" treaty with the breakaway Georgian region of Abkhazia.

The treaty would create a "common defense infrastructure" between Abkhazia and Russia while forming joint law-enforcement structures and a more integrated economic space.

Georgian President Giorgi Margvelashvili issued an "emergency statement" on the treaty on October 15.

Moscow recognized Abkhazia as an independent state after a brief war between Russia and Georgia in 2008.

(Based on reporting by Interfax, AFP, and TASS)

RUSSIA DETAINS TWO JOURNALISTS OVER WORKSHOP

Russian officials temporarily detained and then banned two American journalists from conducting an investigative-journalism workshop in St. Petersburg.

The men were found by a court on October 16 of violating Russian visa regulations and released after several hours.

Randy Covington, a professor at the University of South Carolina, and Joe Bergantino of the New England Center for Investigative Reporting were detained by immigration authorities while conducting the first of a two-day workshop for 14 Russian journalists.

St. Petersburg's branch of the Federal Migration Service said the men's activities "did not correspond" to the purpose of their trip to Russia.

Officials said they could no longer teach the workshop but were free to leave Russia as scheduled.

The New England Center for Investigative Journalism said the men had tourist visas and had already held a workshop in Moscow.

(Based on reporting by AP and "The Boston Globe")

18:00 October 16, 2014

EVENING NEWS ROUNDUP

Some items from RFE/RL's Newes Desk:

PUTIN WARNS EUROPE OF GAS CRISIS THIS WINTER

President Vladimir Putin has warned that Europe faces "major transit risks" to natural gas supplies from Russia this winter.

Putin told reporters in Belgrade on October 16 that if Ukraine siphons off natural gas without permission from transit pipelines to the European Union, Russia “will consecutively reduce the stolen volume at the cost of supplies."

Putin made the remarks ahead of talks in Milan on October 16 and 17 with EU leaders and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko.

Russia raised the price it charges Kyiv for natural gas after Ukraine's pro-Russia Preident Viktor Yanukovych was ousted in February, then halted gas supplies to Ukraine in June when Kyiv failed to pay the higher price.

The price standoff is the third between Moscow and Kyiv since 2006.

Russia is the EU's biggest gas supplier, providing about a third of the gas consumed there.

(Based on reporting by Reuters, AP, and AFP)

U.S. HELSINKI COMMITTEE DECRIES RUSSIAN ATTEMPT TO CLOSE MEMORIAL RIGHTS GROUP

By RFE/RL

The U.S. Helsinki Commission says Russia’s attempt to liquidate Memorial, the country's oldest and best-known human rights organization, is “an obvious attempt to silence the voice of its own conscience.”

“It is very troubling that an organization founded by [Soviet dissident] Andrei Sakharov to address the crimes of the Stalinist era now has become the target of a new wave of repression,” the commission’s chairman, U.S. Senator Ben Cardin, said in an October 16 statement.

Russia's Justice Ministry on October 10 appealed to the country’s Supreme Court to close Memorial, which comprises more than 50 bodies nationwide. The reasons for the request were not made public.

Created in the 1980s by Soviet-era dissidents, Memorial has served as a tireless rights watchdog and important source of Soviet-era records for a quarter century.

PUTIN VOWS TO SUPPORT SERBS ON KOSOVO

Russian President Vladimir Putin pledged continued support for Serbia on the divisive issue of Kosovo during a state visit that mixed meetings with officials with attendance at a military parade.

Putin is the guest of honor at Serbia's first military parade in some 30 years as Belgrade marks the anniversary of its liberation from the Nazis by partisans and Soviet Army troops in 1944, a celebration Serbia moved forward four days to accommodate Putin's schedule.

The visit highlights Serbia's delicate balance between the European Union, which it is seeking to join, and relations with Russia that are rooted in history and religion but encompass economic and geopolitical interests.

Russia angrily criticized the NATO bombing of the rump Yugoslavia in 1999 and has backed Belgrade's opposition to independence for mostly ethnic Albanian Kosovo, defying the United States and preventing Kosovo from getting a seat at the United Nations.

Putin promised Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic that Russia would stand firm over Kosovo, saying the Kremlin's stance was "a position of principle that is not to be subjected to any adjustments."

"We supported Serbia in the past and we intend to continue supporting it in the future. In Russia friendship is not an object of trade-offs," Putin said.

Nikolic said Serbia "sees in Russia a great ally and a partner and Serbia won't compromise its morals with any kind of bad behavior towards Russia."

Despite Serbia's desire to become a member of the European Union, ties between Belgrade and Moscow have become stronger since the EU started imposing sanctions on Russia for the Kremlin's annexation of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula and support for separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Criticizing sanctions the United States and European Union have imposed on Moscow over its actions in Ukraine in an interview on the eve of his visit, Putin told the Serbian daily "Politika" that isolating Russia was an "absurd, illusory goal" and attempts to do so would hurt Europe's economy.

In a pointed reminder of Russia's nuclear might, Putin said: "We hope our partners will realize the futility of attempts to blackmail Russia and remember what consequences discord between major nuclear powers could bring for strategic stability."

Putin used the visit to promote South Stream, a Russian gas pipeline project that that the EU has suspended in member states.

Serbia has recently indicated it will not start building South Stream. Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic said last week "it makes no sense" to start without an agreement on the pipeline's legality between the EU and Moscow.

"It is necessary to unblock the situation with South Stream," Putin said. "I am convinced that this project will make a palpable contribution to Europe's overall energy security. Everyone wins from this: Both Russia and European consumers, including Serbia."

The European Commission released a report on candidate countries earlier this month that warned Belgrade's plans to build a portion of the pipeline and its refusal to follow the EU's lead on sanctions against Russia could jeopardize Serbia's bid for EU membership.

Serbia has recently indicated it will not start building South Stream. Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic said last week "it makes no sense" to start without an agreement on the pipeline's legality between the EU and Moscow.Serbia has recently indicated it will not start building South Stream.

Putin told "Politika" the pipeline project would bring Serbia more than 2 million euros in new investment and "substantially strengthen the country's energy security."

Putin's warm Serbian welcome may contrast with greeting he faces hours later at an October 16-17 Europe-Asia summit in Milan, where he will meet Western leaders angry over Russia's role in the Ukraine crisis.

NATO says Russian has sent troops and weapons to help pro-Russian separatists fighting government forces in a conflict that has killed more than 3,660 people in eastern Ukraine since April, including 298 passengers and crew abroad a Malaysian jet shot down there in July.

Putin said the importance of the liberation anniversary events could not be overestimated.

"Seventy years ago, our peoples together crushed the criminal ideology of misanthropy that threatened civilization," he said in the interview.

In a veiled swipe at the United States, he said "it is important today that people in various countries, on various continents remember what terrible consequences certainty in one's own exceptionalism can bring."

Putin said he hopes for peace in Ukraine but suggested Ukrainians whose protests toppled a president sympathetic to Moscow in February presented a Nazi-like threat.

"Unfortunately the vaccine against the Nazi virus ... is losing its potency in some European states.," he told "Politika," adding: "particular concern on this score is prompted by the situation in Ukraine, where there was an anticonstitutional coup d'etat in February whose driving forces were nationalists and other radical groups."

In comments to RFE/RL's Balkan Service, Vucic pointed to the complications his country is facing as it balances its foreign policy between the EU and Russia.

"We are not part of the EU and nobody asked us about sanctions against Russia so why should we have to accept them now?" Vucic asked.

Vucic said Serbia respects what EU stands for and what EU membership offers but rejects Brussels' recent habit of telling Belgrade about changes it must make to be admitted.

However, he told reporters last week that Serbia's "strategic goal is not in question – Serbia is on the EU path."

That may not always be evident to the naked eye.

In anticipation of Putin's visit, shops around Belgrade have been selling T-shirts with Putin's face printed on them.

"Nothing better could happen to us," Belgrade resident Vukan Baricanin, a retired economist, said of Putin's visit. "Putin is a famous personality. He turned a country that was on the verge of bankruptcy into a world power."

But Dragan Sutanovac, Serbia’s defense minister between 2007 and 2012, denounced “a desire for idolatry in regard to Putin.”

(With reporting by TASS, Reuters, AFP, AP, and Interfax)

RUSSIAN AMBASSADOR AGAINST 'PUTIN PUB' IN BISHKEK

By RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service

Russian Ambassador to Kyrgyzstan, Andrei Krutko, has protested the new "Putin Pub" restaurant in Bishkek.

Krutko said late October 15 that naming "a dubious drinking site" after "our president" is "unethical" and therefore he asked Bishkek authorities to remove the commercial banners and billboards advertising the pub.

Krutko added that he would do everything possible "either to shut down the place or to make it change its name."

Last month, Bishkek authorities removed all billboards and banners in the city that advertised the "Putin Pub."  

The billboards carried a black screen with white and black silhouetted portrait of the Russian President Vladimir Putin in a circle with the name of the restaurant -- "Putin Pub," below.  

(With reporting by "Vecherny Bishkek")

17:35 October 16, 2014

UKRAINE CALLS ON ITS CITIZENS TO DITCH VKONTAKTE

VIa slon.ru:

Ukraine's Security Service has urged Ukrainians not to use Russian social networks.

Markiian Lubkovsky, an adviser to the Interior Minister told the television channel "112 Ukraine" that the site "VKontakte" is an "element of pressure and influence." 

"We urge all Ukrainians, all of our citizens to be careful not to use these networks, because they are now part of the information war against Ukraine," he said.

Read it all here. And a big h/t to Kevin Rothrock for flagging.

 

17:25 October 16, 2014

TARGET: VEDOMOSTI

According to a report in Bloomberg, Kremlin-connected oligarchs are plotting to take over "Vedomosti," one of Russia's few remaining independent newspapers -- one that has been a pathbreaker in the field of economic journalism and data-driven investigative reporting.

Businessmen close to President Vladimir Putin are preparing to acquire Vedomosti, the largest Russian newspaper outside the Kremlin’s control, three people familiar with the matter said.

Putin signed a law yesterday capping foreign holdings in media at 20 percent, meaning the owners of the Wall Street Journal and Financial Times, co-founders of the newspaper, must cut or sell their 33 percent stakes by the end of 2016. The third owner, Sanoma Oyj (SAA1V), is in talks to sell its Russian assets.

Under a plan backed by the presidential administration, an intermediary may be used to acquire all three stakes to make the deal more palatable politically before a group loyal to Putin buys the whole newspaper, the people said, asking not to be identified because the information is private. The eventual owner will probably be either Gazprom-Media, an affiliate of the state-run gas exporter, or companies linked to longtime Putin ally Yury Kovalchuk, they said.

“The Kremlin sees Vedomosti’s shareholders as foreign governments,” the newspaper’s editor-in-chief, Tatiana Lysova, said in an interview. “The WSJ equals the U.S. and the FT the U.K. They want a Russian owner so they have someone to call.”

Read the whole piece here.

 

11:17 October 16, 2014

CRIMEA'S LGBT COMMUNITY FLEES IN FEAR

Simon Shuster has a dispatch in Time Magazine about the plight of the gay and lesbian community in Crimea after the Russian annexation.

For the gay community in Crimea, the most worrying piece of legislation was the Russian ban on “homosexual propaganda,” which Putin signed in 2012. Although the law is billed as an effort to protect Russian children from learning about “non-traditional sexual relationships,” its critics say the law encourages homophobia, signaling to Russians that gays are somehow inferior and should not be allowed to insist on their equality in public.

Since March, the new leaders of Crimea have embraced these principles with gusto. 

Read it all here.

11:12 October 16, 2014

MORNING NEWS ROUNDUP

Some items from RFE/RL's News Desk:

CRIMEA'S MOSCOW-BACKED LEADER ADMITS SOME TATARS MISSING

Crimea’s Moscow-backed leader Sergei Aksyonov has admitted that four Crimean Tatars are missing on the annexed peninsula.

Aksyonov said on October 16 that the missing Crimean Tatars had not been abducted, adding that some of them "had fought in Syria."

Aksyonov's statement comes amid media reports saying that several Crimean Tatars disappeared in recent days, some of them allegedly kidnapped by unknown men in military uniform.

At least three Crimean Tatar men have been found dead since Moscow's annexation of the peninsula from Ukraine in March.

Pressure on Crimean Tatars, the Turkic-speaking Muslim minority group that largely opposed the annexation, has increased in recent weeks.

In mid-September, Russian authorities seized the Crimean Tatar assembly, the Mejlis, and searched homes of leading members of the Tatar community.

(Based on reporting by TASS and Interfax)

IN PERM, RUSSIA TRIES MEMBER OF BANNED ISLAMIC GROUP

Six suspected members of a banned Islamic movement went on trial in the Russian city of Perm on October 16.

Local authorities say the defendants are members of an organization called Nurcular. The seventh member of the group has received a suspended one-year term in June.

In May last year several alleged members of Nurcular were arrested in Perm, near the Ural mountains east of Moscow; St. Petersburg; and the southern city of Rostov-on-Don.

Nurcular was founded by Turkish Islamic cleric Said Nursi, who died in 1960.

It has been banned in Russia since 2008.

Authorities say it propagates the idea of creating an Islamic state on lands where indigenous peoples speak Turkic languages.

(Based on reporting by rapsinews.ru and Interfax)

RUSSIA TO SPEND RECORD AMOUNT ON DEFENSE IN 2015

Russia will allot some 3.3 trillion rubles (about $80 billion) from the state budget for defense spending in 2015, according to the chairman of the defense committee in the State Duma, the lower house of parliament.

Vladimir Komoyedov told Russian news agency Interfax on October 16 defense spending for next year would be some $20 billion more than this year, but he added that his committee foresees slight reductions in spending for 2016 and 2017.

Komoyedov said the amount to be spent on defense in 2015 was some 4.2% of Russia's GDP.

Finance Minister Anton Siluanov said on October 7 that Russia's defense spending plans needed to be "more realistic" in light of international sanctions imposed on Russia over its actions in Ukraine.

A three-year draft budget reportedly calls for a 5.3 percent cut in defence spending in 2016, the first reduction since 1998.

(Based on reporting by Interfax and FT)

PUTIN PRAISES SERBIA, LAMBASTES WEST AHEAD OF BELGRADE VISIT

By RFE/RL

Russian President Vladimir Putin has praised Moscow's "Serbian friends" and lashed out at the West in remarks published ahead of a state visit to Belgrade on October 16.

Criticizing sanctions the United States and European Union have imposed on Moscow over its actions in Ukraine, Putin told the Serbian daily "Politika" that isolating Russia was an "absurd, illusory goal" and that attempts to do so could severely damage Europe's economy.

In a pointed reminder of Russia's nuclear might, Putin said: "We hope our partners will realize the futility of attempts to blackmail Russia and remember what consequences discord between major nuclear powers could bring for strategic stability."

Putin is to attend Serbia's first military parade in some 30 years as Belgrade marks the anniversary of its liberation from the Nazis in 1944, a celebration Serbia moved forward four days to accommodate Putin's schedule.

"Seventy years ago, our peoples together crushed the criminal ideology of misanthropy that threatened civilization," said Putin.

In a veiled swipe at the United States, he said "it is important today that people in various countries, on various continents remember what terrible consequences certainty in one's own exceptionalism can bring."

Putin did not mention the United States, but a speech in May in which President Barack Obama said he believes in "American exceptionalism" raised hackles in Russia.

The Belgrade visit is likely to shower Putin with positive attention before he faces Western leaders angry over Russia's role in the Ukraine crisis at an October 16-17 Europe-Asia summit in Milan.

Soviet Army troops helped Yugoslav partisans liberate Belgrade and Serbian officials have welcomed Putin's decision to attend the parade.

More recently, Russia gave Serbia moral support by angrily criticizing the NATO bombing of the rump Yugoslavia in 1999 and backed Belgrade's  opposition to independence for mostly ethnic Albanian Kosovo, which has been recognized by the United States but not by Moscow and has been unable to get a seat at the United Nations.

The two mostly Slavic nations are linked by the Orthodox Christian faith and Russia has championed the rights of Serbs in ethnically mixed Bosnia.

"We have joint roots, language, faith, customs and culture," Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic told Russian television before the visit. "In all wars we were always on the same side."

Despite Serbia's desire to become a member of the European Union, ties between Belgrade and Moscow have become stronger since the EU started imposing sanctions on Russia for the Kremlin's annexation of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula and support for separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Putin is due to meet with Nikolic and Prime Minister Aleksandr Vucic for talks on military cooperation and economic ties, including Serbia's participation in Russia's South Stream gas pipeline project, which the EU has suspended in member states.

The European Commission released a report on candidate countries earlier this month that warned Belgrade's plans to build a portion of the South Stream pipeline and its refusal to follow the EU's lead on sanctions against Russia could jeopardize Serbia's bid for EU membership.

In the "Politika" interview, Putin promoted the South Stream project, saying its implementation would bring Serbia more than 2 million euros in new investment and "substantially strengthen the country's energy security."

"It is necessary to unblock the situation with South Stream," Putin said. "I am convinced that this project will make a palpable contribution to Europe's overall energy security. Everyone wins from this: Both Russia and European consumers, including Serbia."

Putin said the volume of trade between Russia and Serbia had risen by 15 percent last year, to nearly $2 billion, and that he expects it to reach that mark this year.

In comments to RFE/RL's Balkan Service, Vucic pointed to the complications his country is facing as it balances its foreign policy between the EU and Russia.

"We are not part of the EU and nobody asked us about sanctions against Russia so why should we have to accept them now?" Vucic asked.

Vucic said Serbia respects what EU stands for and what EU membership offers but rejects Brussels' recent habit of telling Belgrade about changes it must make to be admitted.

Vucic pointed out that within the EU there are five countries that have not recognized the independence of Serbia's former republic of Kosovo.

However, he told reporters last week that "Putin will hear that Serbia is on the European path. We have other relations we are developing with the Russian Federation, but the strategic goal is not in question – Serbia is on the EU path."

That may not always be evident to the naked eye.

In anticipation of the Russian leader's visit, shops around Belgrade have been selling T-shirts with Putin's face printed on them.

People around the city pointed to the long friendship between Serbs and Russians as reason to welcome Russia's leader.

Belgrade resident Vukan Baricanin, a retired economist, welcomed Putin's visit.

"Nothing better could happen to us. Putin is a famous personality. He turned a country that was on the verge of bankruptcy into a world power."

But Dragan Sutanovac, who was Serbia’s defense minister between 2007 and 2012, denounced “a desire for idolatry in regard to Putin.”

Construction engineer Predrag Markovic saw it as natural that Putin would attend a celebration marking the liberation of Belgrade.

"We wouldn't mind if other leaders came too, but I think that Russia and the former Soviet Union were the most important in the liberation of Belgrade."

Slobodan Knezevic said Putin's attendance at the anniversary was appropriate.

"It is really a good that they invited the Russians and Putin. Serbia should thank them for many things. They were always helping us, but it doesn’t mean that we have to stand only by their side. But it is great that they invited them."

(With reporting by TASS, Reuters, AFP, and AP)

NATO COMMANDER SEES NO 'MAJOR' RUSSIAN WITHDRAWAL NEAR UKRAINE

NATO's top military commander says the alliance has not seen "major movement" so far of Russian troops from a region bordering eastern Ukraine.

On October 11, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered about 17,600 Russian troops to return to their bases after what Moscow described as training drills in the southern Rostov region.

U.S. Air Force General Philip Breedlove, the Supreme Allied Commander Europe, told AP news agency on October 15, “Now we will watch to see if there is delivery on the promise."

NATO has refuted previous Russian claims of troop withdrawals from the regions bordering eastern Ukraine, where separatists have been battling government troops since April.

Moscow has consistently denied Ukrainian and Western allegations that it has deployed Russian troops and heavy military equipment in eastern Ukraine to support pro-Russian separatists there.

(Based on reporting by AP and Reuters)

NAVALNY ASSOCIATE'S HOUSE ARREST EXTENDED

By RFE/RL's Russian Service

The house arrest of an associate of outspoken Kremlin critic Aleksei Navalny has been extended.

A court in Moscow ruled on October 15 that Konstantin Yankauskas's house arrest must be prolonged until December 10.

Yankauskas was placed under house arrest on June 11.  The previous term was to expire on October 17.

Yankauskas and two other Navalny associates, Nikolai Lyaskin and Vladimir Ashurkov, are accused of election-law violations and fraud related to  funding of Navalny's campaign for Moscow mayor last year.

Yankauskas calls the case politically motivated.

Navalny and his brother Oleg have been accused of stealing and laundering $756,500 from the French cosmetics company Yves Rocher.

Navalny, a leader of anti-government protests in 2011-2012, is also serving a five-year suspended sentence on a $500,000 theft conviction.

He calls all the cases against him politically motivated.

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