Wednesday, October 01, 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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LIVE 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

Karen Dawisha, who appeared on the Power Vertical Podcast back in April, dscusses her new book "Putin's Kleptocracy: Who Owns Russia"

From RFE/RL's News Desk:


The head of the European Commission says an EU-Ukraine trade deal can only be changed by Brussels and Kyiv – not Moscow.

Jose Manuel Barroso made the remarks in a letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin released on October 1.

Ukraine's parliament ratified its agreement with the EU last month. 

However, the implementation of the trade part of the deal has been delayed until January 2016 to appease Russia, which says the pact will hurt its markets.

Moscow has called for more three-way negotiations to amend the deal and threatened to curtail Ukraine's access to Russian markets if Kyiv implements it.

In his letter, Barroso warned Putin not to impose new trade measures, saying it would threaten the agreement with Russia to delay the EU-Ukraine pact.

(With reporting by Reuters)

And for anybody interested, here's the full text of Barroso's letter:

"Mr. President,

Following your letter of 17 September, I would like to welcome the constructive engagement from all sides in the trilateral ministerial meeting on the implementation of the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement, including a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area on 12 September.

The conclusions reached at that meeting were endorsed by all participants and set out in a joint ministerial statement.

On the EU side, we have informed our Member States of the outcome of the trilateral process, and we have now obtained their approval for the necessary legislative steps.

I should emphasize that the proposal to delay the provisional application of the DCFTA is linked to continuation of the CIS-FTA preferential regime, as agreed in the joint ministerial statement. In this context, we have strong concerns about the recent adoption of a decree by the Russian government proposing new trade barriers between Russia and Ukraine. We consider that the application of this decree would contravene the agreed joint conclusions and the decision to delay the provisional application of the trade related part of the Association Agreement.

The joint ministerial statement also foresees further consultations on how to address concerns raised by Russia. We are ready to continue engaging on how to tackle the perceived negative impacts to the Russian economy resulting from the implementation of the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area.

I take however this opportunity to underline that the Association Agreement remains a bilateral agreement and that, in line with international law, any adaptations to it can only be made at the request of one of the parties and with the agreement of the other, according to the mechanisms foreseen in the text and the respective internal procedures of the parties.

I wish to recall that the joint conclusions reached at the Ministerial meeting state clearly that all these steps are part and parcel of a comprehensive peace process in Ukraine, respecting the territorial integrity of Ukraine as well as its right to decide on its destiny.

Consequently, while all parties should implement the conclusions as laid down in the joint ministerial statement in good faith, the statement does not and cannot limit in any way the sovereign prerogatives of Ukraine.

The European Commission remains fully committed to contribute to a peaceful solution. In this respect we hope that the recent positive steps embodied in the Minsk Protocol of 5 September and the ensuing memorandum from 19 September will be fully implemented, including the monitoring of the Ukrainian-Russian state border and its verification by the OSCE, and the withdrawal of all foreign armed formations and military equipment from the Ukrainian territory.

We also expect that rapid and decisive progress can be achieved in the trilateral gas talks towards a mutually acceptable interim solution for the upcoming winter period, on the basis of the compromise elements set out by the European Commission. It is key that the resumption of energy deliveries to the citizens of Ukraine is ensured and that the fulfilment of all contractual obligations with customers in the EU is secured.

Yours faithfully,

José Manuel BARROSO"


And just when you though it couldn't get any weirder, Valery Zorkin destroys your illusions.

That's Valery Zorkin, the chairman of Russia's Constitutional Court. Zorkin penned an article last week in "Rossiiskaya gazeta" (that's the official Russian government newspaper, by the way), calling for -- wait for it -- a return to serfdom. A big h/t to Elena Holodny at Business Insider for flagging this.

Here's the money quote:

"Even with all of its shortcomings, serfdom was exactly the main staple holding the inner unity of the nation. It was no accident that the peasants, according to historians, told their former masters after the reforms: 'We were yours, and you — ours.'"

Zorkin also took a shot at Pyotr Stolypin, the 19th century reformist prime minister (and a hero of Vladimir Putin's), and his judicial reforms.

"Stolypin's reform took away communal justice from the peasants in exchange for individual freedom, which almost none of them knew how to live and which was depriving their community guarantees of survival."

I wonder what that portends. Zorking also compared the abolotion of serfdom to the post-Soviet reforms of the 1990s.


Meanwhile, oil prices are dropping fast, according to Business Insider:


Oil just totally crashed. One possible culprit is this Reuters story, showing that OPEC production is surging.

There are a host of other factors that might be driving down oil as well.

What are they? Read the whole piece here.

The Russian media is making a lot of hay about the alleged discovery of "mass graves" in Donetsk. 

But Tom Parfitt of "The Daily Telegraph" is checking out the details and raising some doubts:

As Russia switches to a war economy, social programs continue to take a hit.

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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