Saturday, October 25, 2014

The Power Vertical

Vladimir Ilyich Putin, Conservative Icon

Leader of the "Conservative International"?
Leader of the "Conservative International"?
Vladimir Putin is calling on the conservatives of the world to unite -- behind him.

The Kremlin leader's full-throated defense of Russia's "traditional values" and his derision of the West's "genderless and infertile" liberalism in his annual state-of-the-nation address last week was just the latest example of Putin attempting to place himself at the vanguard of a new "Conservative International."

The speech came on the heels of the appointment of Dmitry Kiselyov -- the television anchor who has said the hearts of gays and lesbians who die should be buried or burned -- as head of the new Kremlin-run media conglomerate Rossia Segodnya.

And just days before Putin's address, the Center for Strategic Communications, an influential Kremlin-connected think tank, held a press conference in Moscow to announce its latest report. The title: "Putin: World Conservatism's New Leader." 

According to excerpts from the report cited in the media, most people yearn for stability and security, favor traditional family values over feminism and gay rights, and prefer nation-based states rather than multicultural melting pots. Putin, the report says, stands for these values while "ideological populism of the left" in the West "is dividing society." 

"Against the backdrop of a difficult economic situation, people are becoming more prudent," Dmitry Abzalov of the Center for Strategic Communications said at the news conference. "It is important for most people to preserve their way of life, their lifestyle, their traditions. So they tend toward conservatism. This is normal." 

This, Abzalov added, represented "a global trend."

The Kremlin apparently believes it has found the ultimate wedge issue to unite its supporters and divide its opponents, both in Russia and the West, and garner support in the developing world. They seem to believe they have found the ideology that will return Russia to its rightful place as a great power with a messianic mission and the ability to win hearts and minds globally.

As the West becomes increasingly multicultural, less patriarchal and traditional, and more open to gay rights, Russia will be a lodestone for the multitudes who oppose this trajectory. Just as the Communist International, or Comintern, and what Soviet ideologists called the "correlation of forces" sought to unite progressive elements around the globe behind Moscow, the world's traditionalists will now line up behind Putin.

And there is some evidence that this message may be resonating.

"While his stance as a defender of traditional values has drawn the mockery of Western media and cultural elites, Putin is not wrong in saying that he can speak for much of mankind," conservative American commentator Patrick Buchanan wrote. "Putin may be seeing the future with more clarity than Americans still caught in a Cold War paradigm."

The 21st century, Buchanan adds, may be marked by a struggle pitting "conservatives and traditionalists in every country arrayed against the militant secularism of a multicultural and transnational elite."

Others on the American right, like Rod Dreher, a senior editor of the "American Conservative," also wrote favorably -- albeit in a more nuanced manner -- of Putin's speech. "Putin may be a cold-eyed cynic, but he’s also onto something," he wrote. 

And the Kremlin, according to political analyst Aleksandr Morozov, has been spending considerable resources laying the groundwork to Putin's transformation into a global conservative icon.

They have used forums like the Dialogue of Civilizations and the Valdai Discussion Group to influence elite opinion, Morozov writes. They have co-opted Western pundits on the RT (formerly Russia Today) English-language television station. And they have subsidized the research of Western academics at Russian universities.

"It is a mistake to believe that Putin wants to lower a new Iron Curtain, build a new Berlin Wall and pursue a policy of isolationism," Morozov wrote in "On the contrary, Putin is creating a new Comintern. This is not isolationism, but rather the maximum Putinization of the world. The Comintern was a complex system that worked with ideologically sympathetic intellectuals and politicians. What we are seeing now is not an attempt to restore the past, but the creation of an entirely new hegemony."

The Kremlin test-drove the approach in Ukraine this fall. When Kyiv seemed close to signing an Association Agreement with the European Union, billboards appeared warning citizens that moving closer to Europe would mean same-sex marriage would come to Ukraine. The advertising campaign, according to media reports, was linked to Viktor Medvedchuk, a politician and businessman with close ties to Putin. 

The notion of Russia as a defender of traditional values has deep historical roots: the 15th- and 16th-century claim that Moscow is the "Third Rome," the heart of Christian civilization, and Tsarist ideological doctrine of "autocracy, Orthodoxy, and nationality" from the reign of Nicholas I.

Even communism, wrote the early 20th-century Russian philosopher Nikolai Berdydyev, was "more traditional than is commonly thought" in that it is "a transformation and deformation of the old Russian messianic idea." 

The ground for Putin's conservative turn has also been prepared at home. And in the past couple months, in particular, Kremlin surrogates have been relentlessly on-message.

In October, filmmaker Nikita Mikhalkov called the revival of a state ideology in Russia "an issue of national security." That same month, Kremlin chief of staff Sergei Ivanov derided "political correctness carried to the point of absurdity" and "multiculturalism of the Western kind." 

On November 21, State Duma Deputy Yelena Mizulina proposed, and a key committee approved, a proposal to insert a clause in the preamble of the Russian Constitution calling Orthodox Christianity the foundation of the country's national identity. On the same day, Putin himself called for turning the Russian language and literature into "powerful factors of Russia's global ideological influence." 

Whether this will all go anyplace or be relegated to the dustbin of abandoned Kremlin projects is an open question. (Does anybody remember "sovereign democracy"?) But for Putin, the year that witnessed him announcing his divorce to the world on television is now ending with him trying to grab the mantle of global defender of family values. 

-- Brian Whitmore

NOTE TO READERS: Be sure to tune in to the Power Vertical Podcast on December 20 when I will discuss the issues raised in this post with co-hosts Kirill Kobrin and Mark Galeotti.

Tags: conservatism,Vladimir Putin

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: Eugenio from: Vienna
December 19, 2013 19:28
Well, icon or not, but this year he has had you, guys, three times already: (a) first in July when he offered political asylum to Edward Snowden; (b) then in September, when he prevented you from attacking Syria, and (c) now in December as he did not allow the Germans convert Ukraine into another German colony similar to Greece or Portugal.
Happy New Year, guys :-)!
In Response

by: Jorjo from: Florida
December 20, 2013 17:35
Fully in agreement with Eugenio. Would have used a bit spicier language to describe the same A...B...C. Happy holidays!
In Response

by: Anonymous
December 20, 2013 21:01
He's in good company. Hitler, Attila... they've also had them. But don't worry, long after Putin is gone, there will still be a Power Vertical podcast! :-)

Happy holidays! Read some new books!
In Response

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
December 21, 2013 13:03
I know, Anonymous, your day "will come" :-)).
What new books do you recommend that I read? The memories of Senator McCain "How I won the war in Vietnam" :-))??
In Response

by: La Russophobe from: USA
December 21, 2013 13:26
It seems you get your news from the Kremlin's wholly owned and operated TV. As such, you are of course rather confused.

(a) Putin's giving asylum to Snowden ended the Obama "reset" and created a new cold war Russia can't even compete in, much less win; (b) Putin allowed arms inspectors to walk all over Syria, something he'd been fighting for years; (c) Putin pushed hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian citizens into the streets to denounce Russia, and they are still doing it.

Meanwhile, international pressure forced Putin to release not just Khodorkovsky but also Pussy Riot, Bolotnaya and Greenpeace, and the Olympics haven't even started yet. How many more capitulations will we see by the time they end?
In Response

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
December 21, 2013 15:08
:-)))) You got it, La Russ., if it goes on like it is now - namely, people escaping from the US to Russia, Bashar al-Assad killing all the US-sponsored terrorists and Ukraine getting ever more dependent on Russia economically - all of that will obviously constitute a series of impressive victories for the US :-))).
You forgot to mention a few more victories of the US this year: the city or Detroit went bankrupt, the US sovereign debt increasing yet further, Saudi Arabia realizing that being in an alliance with the US is a bad deal for anyone and implementing a policy line of its own etc, etc, etc.
I wish you, guys, many victories of this kind :-))!

by: La Russophobe from: USA
December 19, 2013 19:42
Just out of curiosity, if there are three co-hosts then who is the guest? Can there be a host if there is no guest?

by: American Troll
December 20, 2013 07:59
This is a brilliant idea that progressives should support wholeheartedly. Racists, homophobes, misogynists, child-beaters, and all other reactionaries should pack up their liquor cabinets, their scriptures, and their favorite krokodil syringes and emigrate to God's Country™, Putin's Fourth Reich.

In exchange, they can export all of their deviants who shamelessly practice homosexuality, secularism, mixed marriage, sobriety, and improper pigmentation, all of which are personal choices driven by godless Western pop culture.

Granted, it's evident from the comments here that Russians live their short little lives reveling in the sheer primal joy of venting their rage on various categories of untermenschen, one drunken Slav/Orthodox/hetero-supremacist booted kick-to-the-head at a time. But they would still have each other to fight, and that probably fits into that Nietzschean "weed out the weak" worldview that all reactionaries adore. So even there, everyone wins.

Let's do this. Let's make this happen. Operation House-Swap, GO.

by: Ray Finch from: Lawrence, KS
December 20, 2013 15:25
Nice report. I’m currently reading a biography of Ronald Reagan, and while I’m aware that all historical comparisons are fraught with problems, Putin, like Reagan before him, appears to be successful in appealing to traditional values to score political points. Was Reagan, is Putin sincere in their beliefs? Tough to tell, but just like Reagan, Putin has made rebuilding the country’s military to defend these conservative, divinely-inspired values a corner-stone of his policy. They both believe that their country's greatness is best expressed in raw military power.

Alas, just like the ‘true-believers’ in other parts of the world, soldiers and defenders of the faith (whether Christian, Islam or other) want to believe that God is on their side. Only the dead will see the end of war. Merry Christmas!

by: PermReader
December 20, 2013 16:56
The author has some problems with the conservatism when he citates "paleo-conservative" Buchanan who is generally against the capitalism! Obama`s leftist politics creates wast Western conservatives` opposition.Putin`s imperial "paleoconservatism" to the contrary is combined with capitalism`s support and makes him the Obama`s contrast and creates his "conservative" image.Americans are so tired of Obama that look at Putin.

by: Jake Turk from: Wisconsin
December 21, 2013 01:48
In Response

by: bill o'rights
December 21, 2013 15:11
Shocking to see CIA now jumping on the single-party bandwagon, isn't it?

by: bill o'rights
December 21, 2013 06:36
So now the CIA is actively trying to marginalize Conservatism?

What better proof than this is required, in order to demonstrate that the U.S. government has become thoroughly infiltrated by Brennan's beloved master, Qatar?

by: Irene from: Ukraine
December 21, 2013 10:36
Putin is going to build up new Empire which is not wanted by any one of his neighbours. On this way, he will loose current country. Because Russia has more promlems inside than outside. Comparing with Ukraine, it is far less uniform ethnically, economically and parts are not really good connected. For instance, Syberian provinces are highly independent and hard managed from Center even now. They are economicall well connected with Cineese provinces. Caucas, South-Asian part, North - all are very different and have little in common.

by: Andrew Balog from: Ontario
January 08, 2014 09:58
Putin is allied with the Assad regime in Syria, and he holds anti-Israel views. Not much of a conservative if you ask me. I'm not sure what Putin's on about exactly...

The Power Vertical Feed

In this space, I will regularly comment on events in Russia, repost content and tweets I find interesting and informative, and shamelessly promote myself (and others, whose work I like). The traditional Power Vertical Blog remains for larger and more developed items. The Podcast, of course, will continue to appear every Friday. I hope you find the new Power Vertical Feed to be a useful resource and welcome your feedback. More

17:49 October 24, 2014


From RFE/RL's News Desk:


Russian President Vladimir Putin has accused the United States of escalating conflicts around the world by imposing what he called a "unilateral diktat."

Putin made the remarks in a combative speech to political experts at the Valdai International Discussion Club, in Russia's Black Sea resort of Sochi.

Putin said the United States has been "fighting against the results of its own policy" in Iraq, Libya and Syria.

He said risks of serious conflicts involving major countries have risen, as well as risks of arms treaties being violated.

He also dismissed international sanctions over Russia's actions in Ukraine as a "mistake," saying they aimed at pushing Russia into isolation and would end up "hurting everyone."

We did not start this," he added, referring to rising tensions between Russia and the West.

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


German Chancellor Angela Merkel has urged Russian President Vladimir Putin in a telephone call to push for a quick resolution of the ongoing gas dispute with Ukraine as winter looms.

The call by Merkel to Putin on October 24 comes as representatives of the EU, Russia, and Ukraine are due to meet again next week in EU brokered talks aimed at solving the gas dispute between Kyiv and Moscow.

Merkel also underlined that upcoming elections in areas of eastern Ukraine controlled by Russian-backed separatists must respect Ukrainian national law.

Pro-Russian insurgent leaders are boycotting a parliamentary snap poll on October 26 in Ukraine and are holding their own election in the Lugansk and Donetsk regions, home to nearly three million people, on the same day instead.

(Based on reporting by AFP and Reuters)



The United Nations says the conflict in Ukraine has forced more than 800,000 people from their homes.

Around 95 percent of displaced people come from eastern Ukraine, where government troops have been battling pro-Russian separatists.

UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, told a briefing in Geneva that an estimated 430,000 people were currently displaced within Ukraine -- 170,000 more than at the start of September.

It said at least 387,000 other people have asked for refugee status, temporary asylum, or other forms of residency permits in Russia.

Another 6,600 have applied for asylum in the European Union and 581 in Belarus.

The agency said it was "racing to help some of the most vulnerable displaced people" as winter approaches.

It also said the number of displaced people is expected to rise further due to ongoing fighting in eastern Ukraine.


Three alleged militants have been killed by security forces in Russia's volatile North Caucasus region.

Russia's National Antiterrorism Committee says that two suspects were killed in the village of Charoda in Daghestan on October 24 after they refused to leave an apartment and opened fire at police and security troops.

One police officer was wounded.

Also on October 24, police in another North Caucasus region, Kabardino-Balkaria, killed a suspected militant after he refused to identify himself, threw a grenade towards police, and opened fire with a pistol.

A police officer was wounded in that incident.

Violence is common in Russia's North Caucasus region, which includes the restive republics of Daghestan, Kabardino-Balkaria, Ingushetia, and Chechnya.

Islamic militants and criminal groups routinely target Russian military personnel and local officials.

(Based on reporting by Interfax and TASS)


A lawyer, who represented an alleged victim of the notorious Orekhovo criminal group in Moscow, has been assassinated.

Police in the Russian capital say that Vitaly Moiseyev and his wife were found dead with gunshot wounds in a car near Moscow on October 24.

Moiseyev was representing Sergei Zhurba, an alleged victim of the Orekhovo gang and a key witness in a case against one of the gang's leaders Dmitry Belkin.

Belkin was sentenced to life in prison on October 23 for multiple murders and extortion.

Last month, another of Zhurba's lawyers, Tatyana Akimtseva (eds: a woman), was shot dead by unknown individuals.

The Orekhovo group was one of the most powerful crime gangs of the Moscow region and in Russia in the 1990s. Its members are believed to be responsible for dozens of murders.

(Based on reporting by TASS and Interfax)

17:27 October 24, 2014


17:26 October 24, 2014


17:00 October 24, 2014
08:29 October 24, 2014


From RFE/RL's News Desk:


Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk is warning that Russia could attempt to disrupt Ukraine's parliamentary elections scheduled for October 26.

Yatsenyuk told a meeting of top security officials and election monitors on October 23 that "It is absolutely clear that attempts to destabilize the situation will continue and will be provoked by Russia."

Yatsenyuk said "we are in a state of Russian aggression and we have before us one more challenge -- to hold parliamentary elections."

The prime minister said Ukraine needs the "full mobilization of the entire law-enforcement system to prevent violations of the election process and attempts at terrorist acts during the elections."

Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said authorities have ordered some 82,000 policemen on duty for election day.

He said 4,000 members of a special reaction force would be among those maintaining order during polling hours and would be concentrated in "those precincts where there is a risk of some terrorist acts or aggressive actions by some...candidates."

The warning by Yatsenyuk comes on the heels of three violent attacks on parliamentary candidates in the past week.

The latest, against Volodymyr Borysenko, a member of Yatsenyuk's People's Front Party, occurred on October 20 when Borysenko was shot at and had an explosive thrown at him.

He allegedly survived the attack only because he was wearing body armor due to numerous death threats he had recently received.

Elections to the Verkhovna Rada, the parliament, will be held despite continued fighting in the eastern part of the country between Ukrainian government forces and pro-Russian separatists.

Voting will not take place in 14 districts of eastern Ukraine currently under the control of the separatists.

Those separatist-held areas -- in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions -- are planning on holding their own elections in November.

Additionally, Russia's illegal annexation of Crimea in March means the loss of 12 seats from the 450-seat parliament.

Polls show President Petro Poroshenko's party leading with some 30 percent of respondents saying they would cast their vote for the Petro Poroshenko Bloc.

It that percentage holds on election day it would mean Poroshenko's bloc would have to form a coalition government, likely with nationalist groups who oppose conducting peace talks over fighting in the east.

(Based on reporting by Reuters and Interfax)



Moscow has denied claims of an incursion by a Russian military plane into Estonia's airspace.

A Russian Defense Ministry spokesman told Interfax news agency on October 23 that the Ilyushin-20 took off from Khrabrovo airfield in the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad on October 21.

The spokesman said the reconnaissance plane flew "over neutral waters of the Baltic Sea" while on a training flight.

On October 22, Estonia’s Foreign Ministry summoned the Russian ambassador in Tallinn, Yury Merzlakov, after the Estonian military said the Russian plane had entered its air space.

In a statement, NATO said the Ilyushin-20 was first intercepted by Danish jets when it approached Denmark, before flying toward non-NATO member Sweden.

Intercepted by Swedish planes, the alliance said the Ilyushin entered Estonian airspace for “less than one minute” and was escorted out by Portuguese jets.

NATO has stepped up its Baltic air patrols and Moscow has been accused of several recent border violations in the region amid heightened tensions between Russia and the West over the Ukraine conflict.

Last month, Estonia accused Russia of abducting one of its police officers on the border.

Russia claims Eston Kohver was seized inside Russia on September 5, while Estonian officials say he was captured at gunpoint in Estonia near the border and taken to Russia.

The European Union and United States have called for the immediate release of the Estonian security official, who is facing espionage charges in Russia.

Meanwhile, the Swedish Navy has been searching for a suspected submarine sighted six days ago some 50 kilometers from the capital, Stockholm, although it said on October 22 it was pulling back some of its ships.

Swedish officials have not linked any particular country to the suspected intrusion and Moscow has denied involvement.

(With reporting by Interfax, TASS, and the BBC)


A Moscow court postponed to next week a ruling on a move to take control of Bashneft, an oil company from tycoon Vladimir Yevtushenkov.

The judge said on October 23 that the next hearing will take place on October 30 after the prosecution requested more time to prepare its case.

Prosecutors filed the suit in September to regain state ownership of Bashneft, citing alleged violations in the privatization and subsequent sale of the company to AFK Sistema investment group.

Yevtushenkov, the main shareholder of the conglomerate, is under house arrest on suspicion of money laundering during the firm's acquisition in 2009.

Yevtushenkov, 66, was arrested on September 16.

He is ranked Russia's 15th richest man by U.S. magazine Forbes, with an estimated fortune of $9 billion.

(Based on reporting by Reuters and TASS)

11:11 October 23, 2014


According to a report in the pro-Kremlin daily "Izvestia," deputy Kremlin chief of staff Vyacheslav Volodin told a meeting of the Valdai Discussion Club in Sochi that Western politicians "do not understand the essence of Russia."

"Volodin stated the key thesis about the current state of our country: As long as there is Putin there is Russia. If there is no Putin, there is no Russia," Konstantin Kostin, head of the Foundation for the Development of Civil Society, told "Izvestia."

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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