Saturday, November 01, 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.


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
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

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

18:26 October 31, 2014


From RFE/RL's News Desk:



European leaders have welcomed a deal under which Russia is to restore natural-gas supplies to Ukraine but told Vladimir Putin that elections held by pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine on November 2 will be illegitimate.

Russian President Putin, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and French President Francois Hollande spoke in a four-way telephone conversation overnight after Ukraine and Russia sealed a deal meant to guarantee Russian gas supplies to Ukraine through March 2015.

All four leaders welcomed the gas deal signed late on October 30 in Brussels, a German government spokesperson said, and a Kremlin statement called the agreement "an important step in the context of the future provision of uninterrupted transit of gas to Europe."

But a statement from Poroshenko's office said "Ukraine, Germany and France expressed (the) clear common position that they would not recognize the elections planned by separatists."

It said the elections on rebel-held territory in eastern Ukraine's Donetsk and Luhansk regions would contradict an agreement reached in Minsk on September 5 and aimed to end the conflict between Kyiv and the pro-Russian rebels, which has killed more than 3,700 people since April and poisoned East-West ties.

It said Poroshenko, Merkel, and Hollande "urged Russia not to recognize those elections as well."

Merkel's spokesman, Georg Streiter, said that "Merkel and Hollande underlined that there can only be a ballot in line with Ukrainian law."

He said the votes would violate the Minsk agreement and further complicate efforts to find a solution to the crisis in eastern Ukraine.

"The German government will not recognize these illegitimate elections," Streiter told a news conference, adding that European leaders were united on this issue and had agreed on this at a summit last week in Brussels.

Moscow has made no formal recognition of the "people's republics" the separatists have proclaimed in Donetsk and Luhansk, and the Kremlin denies involvement in the conflict despite what Kyiv and NATO say is clear evidence that Russia has sent troops and weapons into Ukraine to help the separatists.

But in comments published on October 28, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow would "of course recognize the results" of the separatists' elections.

The Kremlin statement about the telephone conversation made no mention of the elections.

It also said the leaders reaffirmed their commitment to the implementation the September 5 agreement, and underscored the need to observe the cease-fire that was central to the Minsk deal.

The Kremlin said Russia believes the "the establishment of a steady dialogue" between Kyiv and the separatists would "undoubtedly" help stabilize the situation.

Kremlin critics say Russia supported the September 5 agreement because it followed rebel gains that left the separatists in control over large portions of Donetsk and Luhansk, potentially giving Moscow a lever of influence on Ukraine for years to come.

The November 2 balloting in the rebel-held regions comes a week after those areas stayed out of voting in in Ukraine's parliamentary election on October 26, in which pro-Western parties won a sweeping victory.

Poroshenko proposed on October 31 that Arseniy Yatsenyuk stay on as prime minister.

"I have proposed that the Petro Poroshenko Bloc put forward Arseniy Yatsenyuk to the post of prime minister," Poroshenko wrote on Twitter.

Yatsenyuk's People's Front party narrowly beat out the Petro Poroshenko Bloc in voting by party in the October 26 election, according to a nearly complete count.

But Poroshenko's bloc fared better in first-past-the-post voting and was positioned to take more parliament seats than the People's Front, according to election commission data.

Yatsenyuk is a vocal critic of Russia and is popular among Western governments for his support for economic reforms.

He is a target of criticism from Russian officials who say the  government that came to power in Ukraine after former president Viktor Yanukovych fled in February in the face of protests seized control in an illegal coup d'etat supported by the West.

Russia annexed the Crimea region from Ukraine in March, adding to tension that increased still further when the conflict in eastern Ukraine erupted the following month.

The hard-fought gas deal provided what European Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger called "perhaps the first glimmer of a relaxation" between Ukraine and Russia.

Russia had raised the price it was asking Kyiv pay for gas after Yanukovych's ouster and then stopped supplying gas to Ukraine in June, citing what it said was $5.3 billion in debt and demanding advance payment for any future supplies.

Oettinger said that under the accord, Ukraine will pay Russia $1.45 billion in gas arrears within "days" for Moscow to resume gas deliveries.

He said Russia will then "immediately" lower Ukraine's gas price by 100 dollars per 1,000 cubic meters.

Yatsenyuk, in figures later confirmed by Moscow, said Ukraine would pay $378 per 1,000 cubic meters until the end of 2014 and $365 in the first quarter of 2015.

Kyiv will subsequently have access to Russian gas deliveries in exchange for pre-payment, according to Oettinger.

He said Ukraine also agreed to settle another $1.65 billion in arrears by the end of the year.

The deal is expected to include EU funding to help Ukraine pay.

Oettinger said, "we can guarantee a security of supply over the winter," not only for Ukraine but also for the EU nations closest to the region.

Ukraine normally relies on Russia for about the half the gas it uses, and the onset of winter made the need for a deal more urgent.

Russia also provides about one-third of the gas consumed in the European Union, with about half of that pumped via Ukraine.

The EU was seeking to avoid a repeat of 2006 and 2009, when Russia halted supplies to Ukraine amid price disputes, disrupting deliveries to Europe during two cold winters.

News of the agreement appeared to bring relief in Europe, with British wholesale gas prices for November and December falling to their lowest ever levels on October 31.

(With reporting by Reuters, AP, and AFP)


A Moscow court has extended by two months the detention of an Estonian police officer charged with espionage.

Lefortovo Court spokesperson Yulia Sotnikova said on October 31 that a judge had "granted a request from investigators to prolong the period of detention until January 5" of Eston Kohver.

Kohver was detained on September 5 on espionage charges.

Moscow claims Kohver was seized inside Russia, while Estonian officials say he was captured at gunpoint in Estonia near the border.

The case has strained relations between Russia and Estonia.

The European Union and United States have called for the immediate release of the Estonian security official.

(Based on reporting by Interfax and TASS)


The European Union has launched a complaint with the World Trade Organization (WTO) over Russian import duties on some European agricultural and manufactured goods.

The Geneva-based international arbitration body said on October 31 that the EU accuses Russia of levying tariffs on several types of goods that are above the legally binding tariff ceilings that Moscow has agreed to within the WTO mechanism.

Those goods include paper and paperboard, palm oil, and refrigerators.

Under WTO rules, the parties have 60 days to work out a mutually agreed solution. After that, the EU could ask the WTO to adjudicate.

The dispute is the fifth involving Russia and the EU at the WTO.

The European Commission's spokesman for trade issues, Wojtek Talko, said the case was not a complaint against the recent ban on Russian food imports from Europe.

(Based on reporting by Reuters and dpa)


The Russian central bank said it would raise interest rates from 8 percent to 9.5 percent as Western sanctions and falling oil prices have sent the Russian ruble plummeting.

The Bank of Russia's board of directors made the decision to raise interest rates at an October 31 meeting.

The central bank had increased the rate to 8 percent in late July, following increased to 5.5 percent in March and 7.5 percent in April.

The United States, European Union and other nations have imposed successive rounds of sanctions on Russia over its role in the Ukraine crisis.

Russia annexed the Crimea region from Ukraine in March, and Kyiv and NATO accuse Moscow of aiding pro-Russian separatists with troops and arms during a conflict in eastern Ukraine that has killed more than 3,700 people in eastern Ukraine since April.

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



The U.S. Ambassador to Kyrgyzstan says that the Central Asian nation's "growing partnership with Russia" presents a challenge to U.S. efforts to support democracy in Kyrgyzstan.

In an article published on the website of the Council of American Ambassadors, Pamela Spratlen (eds: a woman) said the "strong partnership" that Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambaev has forged with Russian President Vladimir Putin "has had its impact on our efforts."

"It remains an unanswered question how Kyrgyzstan can maintain its democratic trajectory while pursuing this partnership," she said.

Spratlen also said that many in Kyrgyzstan get their news from Russian media, and that in the case of the Ukraine crisis "the strident anti-American tone taken by Russian propaganda has crystallized local public opinion around Moscow's narrative of events there."

Kyrgyzstan has seemed to follow Moscow's lead on several issues recently, including drafting laws that legitimize discrimination against homosexuals and would require foreign-based organizations to register as "foreign agents."

(Based on Spratlen article:


Ukrainian authorities have filed charges and Russia's Union of Journalists is demanding an apology after a prominent Russian actor was filmed firing a machine gun near the Donetsk airport while wearing patches that identified him as a member of the press.

Ukraine's Interior Ministry on October 31 filed criminal charges against Mikhail Porechenkov for the pictures taken with pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said on his Facebook page, "Mikhail Porechenkov, present in Donetsk, personally took part in firing on units of Ukraine's armed forces using an automatic weapon."

Pavel Gutiontov of Russia's Union of Journalists called the incident "irresponsible behavior on the part of the actor" and demanded an apology.

Porechenkov said that it was a staged scene, that he was firing blanks, and that the only bullet-resistant vest and helmet he could find were labelled "press."

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

09:54 October 31, 2014


Writing in Slon, Yakov Mirkin, chairman of the Department of International Capital Markets at the Russian Academy of Sciences Insititute of World Economy and International Relations, argued that the ruble could easily sink to 50 to the dollar.

The reasons? 

1) The ruble is overvalued anyway;

2) The dollar is rising against major currencies and this upward cycle is likely to continue;

3) Oil prices are falling;

4) A combination of Western sanctions and diversification of energy supplies

5) Capital flight from Russia continues apace.

And in light of Mirkin's argument, it is worth noting that he has consistently been arguing that the ruble is overvalued. Here he is speaking back in August 2013:

09:41 October 31, 2014


Russian journalist Ivan Sukhov writing in "The Moscow Times" on working in Ukraine:

"Russian journalists encounter no personal aggression while working in Ukraine. Only the rare local politician refuses to speak to Russian reporters.

And in place of perfectly understandable aggression, Russian journalists encounter only gentle Ukrainian hospitality along with a sizable share of condescending sympathy.

It is as if they want to tell us, 'We will stay here, where we have taken the responsibility for our future into our own hands, whereas you will fly home to Russia's stifling political atmosphere, to a country that futilely reconsiders the outcome of the Cold War and the people are caught up in a mass euphoria over the bloodshed in the Donbass.'"

Read it all here.

08:56 October 31, 2014


From RFE/RL's News Desk:



Moscow and Kyiv have signed a landmark agreement that will guarantee Russian gas deliveries to Ukraine throughout the winter despite tense relations over the fighting in eastern Ukraine.

The EU-brokered deal, which extends until March 2015, was signed at a ceremony in Brussels by the energy ministers of the two countries, Aleksandr Novak and Yuriy Prodan, and European Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger.

Outgoing EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, who oversaw the signing, hailed the agreement, saying, "There is now no reason for people in Europe to stay cold this winter."

The hard-fought deal followed months-long EU-mediated negotiations between Moscow and Kyiv amid a long and bitter dispute over payments.

The agreement was reached after two days of marathon talks that had stalled before dawn on October 30 when Russia demanded that the EU first agree with Ukraine how to pay Kyiv's outstanding bills and finance gas deliveries through to March.

Oettinger said that under the accord, Ukraine will pay Russia $1.45 billion in gas arrears within "days" for Moscow to resume gas deliveries.

He said Russia will then "immediately" lower Ukraine's gas price by 100 dollars to around $385 per 1,000 cubic meters.

Kyiv will subsequently have access to Russian gas deliveries in exchange for pre-payment, according to Oettinger. He said Ukraine also agreed to settle another $1.65 billion in arrears by the end of the year.

The deal is expected to include EU funding to help Ukraine pay off its debts to Russia's state-owned gas giant Gazprom.

Oettinger said, "we can guarantee a security of supply over the winter," not only for Ukraine but also for the EU nations closest to the region.

He added that the deal "is perhaps the first glimmer of a relaxation" between Ukraine and Russia.

Ukraine's Prodan said the "decisions taken today will provide energy security for Ukraine and the EU."

Moscow cut off gas deliveries to Ukraine in mid-June, citing a $5.3-billion debt and demanding that Ukraine settle its outstanding bills and pay up front for any future deliveries.

The dispute occurred amid Russia's conflict with Ukraine and Western sanctions imposed on Moscow for its annexation of Crimea in March and its subseqent military and political support for pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.

With Ukraine relying on Russia for around 50 percent of its gas, the onset of winter made the need for a deal more urgent.

Russia also provides about one-third of the European Union's gas, about half of which is pumped via Ukraine.

The EU was seeking to avoid a repeat of 2006 and 2009 when Russia halted supplies to Ukraine, disrupting deliveries to Europe during two very cold winters.

But Russia's Novak said after the signing that Moscow will remain a "reliable supplier" of energy to Europe and the deal struck with Ukraine will ensure stable gas deliveries over the winter.

In reaction to the deal, the French and German leaders said in a joint statement that the EU will "fully play its role" to implement the gas deal.

Francois Hollande and Angela Merkel said they had spoken with Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart Petro Poroshenko earlier October 30, and all four "have welcomed the conclusion of negotiations on the delivery of Russian gas to Ukraine, achieved thanks to the mediation of the European Union."

(Based on live broadcast, with additional reporting by Reuters, AP, and AFP)


By RFE/RL’s Armenian Service

YEREVAN -- Air Armenia, a passengar and cargo airline based in Yerevan, has suspended all passenger flights until at least December 20 over financial difficulties that the firm is blaming on Russia.

Air Armenia says it is unable continue regular passenger services because of a “panic” among investors and customers over a statement by Russia's federal air navigation service.

Russia's Rosaeronavigatsia announced on September 11 that it would ban Air Armenia from operating flights to Russian cities unless the company paid its outstanding debts by September 21.

Air Armenia said ihe statement damaged its business reputation and that, as a result, its fleet was reduced to one aircraft.

Other than Russian cities, the airline had been flying to Paris, Frankfurt, and Athens.

Air Armenia was founded as a cargo airline in 2003 and began operating commercial passenger flights in 2013 after the bankruptcy of Armavia.


A Moscow court has ordered the nationalization of a stake in an oil company owned by a detained tycoon.

The Moscow Arbitration Court ruled on October 30 the stake in Bashneft held by billionaire Vladimir Yevtushenkov's holding company Sistema would be returned to the state.

Prosecutors claimed the stake was illegally privatized by officials in Russia's Bashkortostan region.

The court said new claims could be filed after the worth of Sistema's stake in Bashneft was ascertained.

Yevtushenkov was arrested last month on charges of money laundering related to the acquisition of Bashneft.

His arrested sparked speculation that Russia's largest oil company, state-run Rosneft, would acquire Sistema's Bashneft shares.

Yevtushenkov is one of Russia's richest businessmen, with assets estimated to be worth some $9 billion.

(Based on reporting by AFP,, and Interfax)


By RFE/RL's Kazakh Service

An online Russian news portal based in Latvia has been blocked in Kazakhstan over an article described by Astana as "inflicting ethnic discord."

Kazakhstan's Ministry of Investments and Development said on October 30 that the website published an article "propagating ethnic discord and threatening the territorial integrity" of Kazakhstan.

The article about ethnic Russians living in Kazakhstan's eastern city of Ust-Kamenogorsk (aka Oskemen) is titled: "Ust-Kamenogorsk People's Republic. Are Locals Ready For Polite Green Men?"

‘Green Men’ refers to the deployment in foreign countries of Russian military forces wearing unmarked green uniforms – as Russia has done in the past in regions of Georgia and Ukraine.

The ministry also has filed a lawsuit against in connection with the article.

It says the website will remain blocked in Kazakhstan until a local court rules in the case.

(With reporting by Interfax)


By RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service

Kyrgyzstan's State Registration Ministry says that as of January 1, 2015, Kyrgyz citizens will no longer be able to enter the Russian Federation using their national identification documents.

Since 2007, Kyrgyz labor migrants have been travelling between the two countries with internal identification documents. Now they will have to obtain travel passports.

The regulation, announced on October 29, will affect hundreds of thousands of Kyrgyz labor migrants who work in Russia and periodically travel between the two countries.

Moscow announced earlier this year that it wants to tighten by 2015 the regulations for entering Russia by nationals of former Soviet republics that are not members of the Russia-led Customs Union and Eurasian Economic Union.

In May, Kyrgyzstan signed a road map under which it is to join the Customs Union, which currently comprises Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan, by the end of 2014.  


NATO said on October 29 that it tracked and intercepted four groups of Russian warplanes “conducting significant military manoeuvers” in international airspace close to the borders of the European Union during the previous 24 hours.

NATO’s SHAPE military headquarters in Mons, Belgium said: “These sizeable Russian flights represent an unusual level of air activity over European airspace.”

It said the planes included strategic bombers, fighters, and tanker aircraft.

They were detected over the Baltic Sea, the North Sea, the Atlantic Ocean, and the Black Sea on October 28 and 29.

Russian bombers flew south all the way to international airspace west of Portugal and Spain.

Norwegian, British, Portuguese, German, Danish, and Turkish fighters were scrambled to intercept and identify the Russian planes.

Planes from the non-NATO nations of Finland and Sweden also responded.

Since Russia’s intervention in Ukraine, tensions between NATO and Russia have risen to the highest level since the Cold War.

(Based on reporting by AP and AFP)

18:33 October 29, 2014


From RFE/RL's News Desk:


Vladimir Putin's spokesman said on October 29 that the Russian president is in good health, seeking to quash rumors of an illness.

Dmitry Peskov told reporters in Moscow that "everything is okay" with Putin's health, Russian news agencies Interfax and TASS reported.

"They will wait in vain. May their tongues wither," Peskov said of those who claim Putin is ill.

Peskov spoke after a spate of Russian media reports referring to an October 24 column in the tabloid "New York Post" whose author, Richard Johnson, cited unidentified sources as saying Putin had pancreatic cancer.

Putin and the Kremlin have strongly discouraged reporting about the 62-year-old president's private life.

(Based on reporting by TASS and Interfax)


Russia's largest oil company, Rosneft, is threatening to sue the Russian daily "Kommersant" for a report alleging Rosneft sent President Vladimir Putin proposals for countersanctions against Western companies and individuals.

"Kommersant" reported on October 29 that state-run Rosneft's proposals include limiting cooperation aboard the International Space Station, prohibiting burial of U.S. and EU nuclear waste in Russia, and possible confiscation of property in Russia owned by Western countries or their citizens.

Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, denied there were any Rosneft proposals for sanctions, but presidential aide Andrei Belousov and Economy Minister Aleksei Ulyukayev seemed to contradict this.

State-run TASS reported Peskov said reports Rosneft had sent such proposals were untrue.

Peskov said decisions on imposing sanctions were made "in line with the relevant departments, and taken on the level of the government and president."

A different TASS report quoted Belousov as saying, "We are closely studying Rosneft's proposals."

Belousov went on to say, "I would say the radicalism of the proposals for now exceeds the current level of tensions."

The Interfax news agency quoted Ulyukayev as saying the proposals were a "very complex document" and adding, "I don’t think it is grounds for making any decisions."

The "Kommersant" report said "Russian government officials" had provided information about the alleged proposals.

A statement from Rosneft said the company was "deeply shocked" by the "Kommersant" article and might sue the newspaper.

Western governments have imposed several rounds of sanctions on Russia over its annexation of Crimea and support for separatists in eastern Ukraine.

The sanctions target key Russian industries and individuals close to Putin, including Rosneft and its head, Igor Sechin, who is a former Kremlin deputy chief of staff.

The sanctions have hurt Rosneft, which has already requested additional funding from the Russian government to make up for losses incurred due to sanctions.

British oil company BP reported on October 28 that its income from its operations with Rosneft dropped from $808 million in the third quarter of 2013 to $110 million in the same period this year.

(Based on reporting by TASS, Interfax, Reuters, and Kommersant)


The White House says it has taken measures to counter suspicious activity detected on its unclassified computer network.

A White House official would not say who might have been responsible for the activity on what was described as an unclassified computer network used by employees of the Executive Office of the President.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the authorities had taken "immediate measures to evaluate and mitigate the activity."

In a report on October 28, the "Washington Post" cited sources as saying hackers believed to be working for the Russian government breached the unclassified computer network in recent weeks.

The White House has declined to comment on the "Washington Post" report.

A U.S. administration official said there were no indications that classified networks had been affected.

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



Activists are gathering near the former KGB headquarters to honor the memory of thousands of men and women executed by Soviet authorities during Josef Stalin's "Great Terror."

Speakers at the daylong ceremony at the Solovetsky Stone memorial on Moscow's Lubyanka Square read out aloud the names, ages, occupations, and dates of executions of some 30,000 people killed by Soviet authorities in 1937-1938.

Muscovites and others brought flowers, pictures of victims and candles to the site of the "Returning the Names" commemoration, which began at 1000 (local time; 0800 Prague time) and was to end at 1000 (local time; 0800 Prague time).

The annual ceremony is organized by Memorial, Russia's oldest and best-known human rights organization, which is under pressure from the government.

On October 10, Russia's Justice Ministry appealed to the Supreme Court to close Memorial.

Memorial has held the ceremony every year since 2006 at the site near the headquarters of the Federal Security Service, the KGB's main successor.

Ceremonies were also being held in other Russian cities.

(Based on live broadcast by


Pro-Russian separatists reportedly shelled the position of Ukrainian government troops in southeastern Ukraine on October 29, despite an almost two-month-old cease-fire agreement.

Authorities in the port city of Mariupol say military positions located near the village of Talakovka were targeted on October 29 by conventional artillery and Grad rockets that were fired from from the separatist-controlled region of Donetsk.

Casualties were reported among troops.

The cease-fire agreement signed in early September ended most fighting between the two sides -- although battles at the Donetsk airport, in Mariupol, and in villages near the city of Luhansk continue on an almost daily basis.

The UN says more than 3,700 people have been killed in six months of fighting between government forces and separatists in eastern Ukraine, with hundreds of thousands fleeing their homes.

(Based on reporting by Interfax and UNIAN)


By RFE/RL's Armenian Service

The Grozny Air civil aviation company, based in the Russia's Chechnya region, is pressing ahead with plans to launch regular flights from Yerevan to Crimea, despite protests from Kyiv.

Timur Shimayev, an executive officer for Grozny Air, told RFE/RL on October 29 that the firm's inaugural flight to Crimea is scheduled for November 17.

But Ukraine's Ambassador to Armenia, Ivan Kukhta, told reporters in Yerevan on October 29 that any commercial flights between Yerevan and Crimea must first be approved by Kyiv.

Kukhta's statement came five days after a spokesman for the Armenian government’s Civil Aviation Department, Ruben Grdzelian, said that a Russian regional airline had not been allowed to launch flights between Armenia and Crimea since the Ukrainian penninsula was annexed by Russia in March.

Moscow's annexation of Crimea has been condemned as illegal by the United States, the European Union, and the United Nations General Assembly.


12:55 October 29, 2014


The Russian daily "Kommersant" reports that the state-run oil giant Rosneft is calling on President Vladimir Putin to impose new sanctions on the West. The new moves reportedly include limiting cooperation aboard the International Space Station, prohibiting burial of U.S. and EU nuclear waste in Russia, and possible confiscation of property in Russia owned by Western countries or their citizens.

12:41 October 29, 2014


Just a few things I've noticed this morning:

Russian-German Trade Down

German exports to Russia have dropped by more than a quarter, "The Moscow Times" reports. In August, exports from Germany to Russia were 2.3 billion euros, a 26.3 percent decrease from a year ago. Moreover, German exports to Russia fell by 16.6 percent from January-August 2014.

Russian Elite More Cohesive -- For Now

According to a report by Reuters, sanctions have had the "opposite effect to the one intended" among the elite. "Far from dividing those closest to President Vladimir Putin, they have forced the main players in the energy sector to rally behind him. This circle has by necessity become more focused, Western and Russian businessmen, diplomats and politicians said," according to the report.

Sweden Is Warming Up To NATO

Foreign Directors Bail On Russian Firms

Since the start of the year, 14 percent of foreigners serving on the boards of Russian firms have left their posts, "The Moscow Times" reports. "Western sanctions have forced some foreign directors to step down or curb their activities on the boards of publicly traded Russian companies, leaving a critical gap that few domestic candidates are equipped to fill," according to the report.

09:17 October 29, 2014


From RFE/RL's News Desk:


Russia and Ukraine are set to resume talks over a gas dispute on October 29 in Brussels.

The new round of negotiations comes after inconclusive talks October 21, when European Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger announced some progress, but said a final deal has yet to be agreed.

Russia cut off gas deliveries to Ukraine in mid-June, citing a $5.3-billion debt.

Oettinger said that, as part of tentative deals, Ukraine planned to purchase some 4 billion cubic meters of Russian gas before the end of this year.

Russia on October 21 said the it would sell gas to Ukraine for $385 per 1,000 cubic meters, much lower than the $485 that Russia's state-controlled Gazprom was demanding just weeks ago.

Moscow said that price would be in force from October 2014 until late March 2015 -- but only if Ukraine pays in advance.

(Based on reporting by AFP and AP)


Ukraine on October 28 condemned as “destructive and provocative” Russia’s support for elections organized by pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine, while the United States said a vote by separatists in eastern Ukraine would be unlawful.

The November 2 vote was scheduled by rebels in defiance of Ukrainian national elections on October 26, which were won by pro-Western parties.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko on October 28 described the vote planned by rebels as "pseudo-elections," saying they "grossly contradict the spirit and letter" of international agreements reached in Minsk in September.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov says Moscow plans to recognize the elections that are being organized by separatists in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine.

Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry warned that the the vote "will be a clear violation of the commitments made by both Russia and the separatists that it backs in the Minsk agreements."

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


Gazprom Neft, the oil arm of Russia's state-controlled natural gas monopoly Gazprom, said on October 28 that it has challenged European Union sanctions against the firm in the EU’s Court of Justice.

The sanctions against Gazprom Neft were imposed as part of wider restrictions against Russia over its illegal annexation of Crimea from Ukraine and its support for pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.

The EU sanctions restrict the ability of Gazprom Neft, Russia's fourth biggest oil producer by output, to raise funds on European markets.

The United States also has imposed sanctions against Gazprom Neft in response to Russia’s role in Ukraine’s crisis.

The West says Moscow is supplying arms and troops to help pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine battle Ukrainian government forces.

Moscow denies that, despite increasing evidence to support the charges.

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

18:54 October 27, 2014


Sam Greene, Director of the Russia Institute at King’s College London and author of "Moscow in Movement: Power & Opposition in Putin’s Russia," has a depressing (and must-read) blog post up about his recent trip to Moscow titled: "Russia's Tomorrow, Today."

It opens like this:

The news and the invitation were waiting for me, both, when I got off the plane from London to Moscow. I saw the invitation first—from a long-time colleague, to attend a workshop on the future of Russian politics later this month at Memorial, the venerable Russian historical society and human rights organization. I saw the news two hours later: 17 days after that workshop, Russia’s High Court will hold a hearing on the government’s demand that Memorial be liquidated.

That is the condition of life in Russia these days: two hours in which an invitation takes on a funerary pallor, 17 days in which the world becomes immeasurably smaller. Rarely has the distance between today and tomorrow been so great and so fraught as it is now.

And it concludes like this:

The tomorrow whose arrival now seems inevitable is one in which the archives of Memorial and the Sakharov Center disappear, to be replaced with a single national history textbook and a single national literature textbook, so that the past may have no bearing on the future. It is one in which policy analysis disappears from the public space, along with honest reporting, so that the present may also have no bearing on the future. Tomorrow, when it arrives, will bring one sole purpose: to preserve and protect the status quo. It is a tomorrow after which there are meant to be, politically speaking, no more tomorrows at all..

What the designers of this new tomorrow may not realize, however, is that, once freed from the paralysis of a pointless today, the despair of disaffection becomes the desperation of dissent. Dissidents, pitted against a regime that can never fall, take risks that are unnecessary in a more fluid system. They speak at all costs to demonstrate that they have no voice, and they go to jail to demonstrate that they are not free. Once today becomes tomorrow, and there are no more tomorrows for which to wait, the imperative of immediate action reemerges. 

Is the Kremlin ready for an opposition that, because everything is already lost, has nothing left to lose?

Read it all here.

And a h/t to Ben Judah for flagging.


15:42 October 27, 2014


The Russian health and consumer watchdog Rospotrebnadzor has issued a dire warning: SEFIES CAUSE HEAD LICE!

No, really. I'm serious! It is actually on their official website:

"One reason for the spread of lice among teenagers, in the opinion of experts, is because selfie photographs have become more common. In these group photos, lice are transfered due to the touching of heads."

And it is causing a lot of laughs on the Twitter:

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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