Friday, October 24, 2014

The Power Vertical

Vladimir The Weak

Vladimir Putin clearly likes to keep an eye on his enemies. Perhaps he should be taking a closer look at his friends.
Consider, for example, Kremlin chief of staff Sergei Ivanov.
The KGB veteran was widely considered the odds-on favorite to be Putin's successor back in 2007 until he was passed over for the more pliant Dmitry Medvedev. Now Kremlin-watchers say he is gearing up for another round.
"Ivanov wants the throne," Moscow-based political analyst Vladimir Pribylovsky wrote on his blog recently.
And the first step of "Project President Ivanov" is to get Medvedev sacked as prime minister and Ivanov appointed to that post. And toward this end, Pribylovsky writes, Ivanov and Rosneft CEO Igor Sechin have launched a stealth campaign against Medvedev and his close allies.

The main targets have included Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich, Medvedev press secretary Natalya Timakova and her husband, Aleksandr Budberg, and others.
The main medium has been a series of online films released on YouTube, Live Journal, Twitter, and Facebook under the label "politmovies," accusing Medvedev's allies of corruption and of collusion with opposition figures like Aleksei Navalny.
According to the daily "Nezavisimaya gazeta," the campaign, which is aimed more at elite opinion than the general public, has already cost Budberg his job as an adviser to the president of the state-owned bank VTB.

"According to legend, in the spring of 2007 Vladimir Putin promised Ivanov that he would be his successor and the next head of state. But it did not work out," political analyst Stanislav Belkovsky wrote recently in "Sobesednik."  "Since becoming Putin's chief of staff, Ivanov has now decided to fight back."

It's not clear how successful Ivanov's campaign will be. But such succession maneuverings, which have been going on for months, are a signal that people in the elite's upper echelons are already thinking about -- and planning for -- life after Putin.
If this continues, and it is showing no signs of abating, it could quickly turn Putin into a lame duck. At the very least, it makes him look weak by comparison to the figure who towered over Russian politics from 2000-08.

The campaign to sack Medvedev is just one area where the siloviki wing of the elite is attempting to push the advantage it gained when Putin -- spooked by the protests that accompanied his return to the Kremlin -- threw his lot in with them and shunned technocrats seeking political reforms.

In essence, when Putin abandoned his traditional role as arbiter among Kremlin clans and sided with the most hard-line elements, he also became their prisoner.

Another area where the siloviki seem to be pushing Putin where he doesn't want to go is in the corruption case against former Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov.

In this case, according to analysts, it is an alliance joining Ivanov together with Sergei Chemezov, head of the state-controlled, defense-procurement conglomerate Russian Technologies, and Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin.

In the eyes of this cabal, Serdyukov's sins are many. As defense minister, he sought to purchase foreign armaments, angering Chemezov and Rogozin, who have an institutional (if not financial) interest in domestic arms procurements. His proposed reforms of the armed forces would have reduced the size of the officer corps.

And perhaps most significantly, he appeared to favor Medvedev staying in the Kremlin for a second term.

The 3 billion ruble ($95 million) defense-procurement scandal that cost him his job was, no doubt, easy for his enemies to dig up. Any Russian official at his level is bound to have plenty of skeletons in his closet.

In a recent interview with RFE/RL's Russian Service, military analyst Aleksandr Golts noted that Serdyukov "led the life of any of Putin's high-ranking nobles and his sins can also be attributed to anybody else in the president's entourage."

Golts added, however, that Putin does not appear to favor prosecuting Serdyukov.
"I don't have the impression that Putin is behind this case," Golts said. "Several times he has given signals to the effect that the case against Serdyukov should be stopped. But the way things are at this stage, the warring bureaucratic clans don't feel the need to listen to the supreme leader."

How the case turns out, Golts adds, will be a barometer of how much control Putin has over his courtiers.

"The Serdyukov story shows how dramatically the rules of the game have changed in the upper echelons of the state," he said.

And the new rules seem to indicate that Putin is losing the mojo that came with being the elite's indispensable arbiter.

-- Brian Whitmore

Tags: Vladimir Putin,Dmitry Medvedev,Anatoly Serdyukov,Sergei Ivanov

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: Babeouf from: Ireland
March 18, 2013 20:45
Well I'm amazed because I thought Putin a dead cert for a fourth term as President. After he finished the third. Now I discover that his end is nigh ,according to the latest reports from the world of wishful thinking. In the real world people are considering whether he will be President when he's seventy one.

by: Konstantin from: Los Angeles
March 19, 2013 02:42
Article testing-provoking the trivial - place of the military.
Since late USSR, when army turned on people and nations,
Budapest and Tbilisi in 1956, it isn't trivial anymore.
Article doesn't question secret pact of 1954-56, when ethnic Russians usurped army and unleashed influx, imperial expansion and genocide - from Hungary and Checks through Afghanistan
and from Chechnya through Abkhazia.
Article questions, beside intrigues and rumors, the triviality of
Army of one of two superpowers being geo-strategically conservative.
Is it conservative geo-strategically?
That is the problem - army supports despotic Varaga-Prussaka
To breed-out instead of other nations in former USSR space and
Eastern Europe, also being corrupted in their nazi GRU games,
while being beyond approach geo-strategically.
So, Russia and its army have it both ways:
"rybku s'est' i na penechek sest..."

In Response

by: Konstantin from: Los Angeles
March 20, 2013 05:22

The same one might say about "NATO" defense measures,
installed in Poland and some other Eastern Europe countries.

I would wish Russia wouldn't threaten its neighbors with
invasions, genocides, influx, enslavement and, in long run,
repopulation by ethnic Russian Varaga-Prussaka and alike,
Just as they did during Russian Empire and former USSR
and still occupying and squeezing their neighbors,
waiting for more, "D" day - the day of the devil.

It would be easier for everybody if Russia would repent, return everything, pay for its deeds fairly, sign international treaties
with neighbors, UN and international community, to make it legal and obligatory.
Than neighbors wouldn't Ask for help and "NATO" wouldn't have to help.

However, the only things we still hear from Russia is expansion,
at least to ever maximum borders of their "Empire" and beyond.
However, it is what Russia hungers for - to breed to 50 billions -
starting with enslaving neighboring nations, kill third, die another
third in slave camps, plagiarize-exploit the best third in Ghettoes,
gasing at them with nerve gas "Cheremushka" smaller doses
and breed Russians in their land and property.

by: Robert from: Prague
March 19, 2013 08:10
Isn't it way too early to be jockeying to replace Putin, even if he doesn't go for a fourth term? Russia's recent past shows that anyone seen as a front-runner this early in the process is sure to be shot down by the time the choice needs to be made. Seems to me very dangerous to become prime minister now.

by: Mamuka
March 19, 2013 11:18
Reports of the demise of Vladimir Vladimirovich may be greatly exaggerated. He is still The Big Dog and controls most of the levers of power, at least more than anyone else. Certainly people are thinking about life after Putin but he is not going anywhere in the immediate future.

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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)







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