Saturday, October 25, 2014


The Power Vertical

Looking For A Scapegoat

Will the State Duma soon get new occupants?
Will the State Duma soon get new occupants?
When massive anti-Kremlin protests broke out in late 2011 and early 2012, one of the opposition's key demands was for new elections to the State Duma.
 
They may be about to get their wish.
 
A report made public in Moscow this week supports widespread claims that the December 2011 parliamentary elections were falsified to hand the ruling United Russia party a slim majority of seats in the Duma.

The report, authored by a mathematician named Stepan Sulakshin, has garnered an unusual amount of attention because it was presented at a seminar overseen by Kremlin insider Vladimir Yakunin, the powerful chief of Russian Railways and a close confidant of President Vladimir Putin.
 
It also comes amid widespread chatter in the ruling elite that the Kremlin may seek early Duma elections as way to appease a restive public and to distance Putin from the increasingly unpopular United Russia party.

According to the report, the Communist Party came in first place in the elections with 30 percent of the vote, followed by United Russia with 22 percent. The center-left A Just Russia came in third with between 16-17 percent.
 
Official results had United Russia winning the elections with 49 percent, the Communists coming in second with 19 percent, and A Just Russia third with 13 percent.
 
Both the Kremlin and United Russia's leadership have dismissed the report -- at least publicly. But political analyst Mikhail Vinogradov told the daily "Kommersant" that there are some "zealous comrades" in Russia's ruling class who "believe it's necessary to quickly distance Putin from United Russia, so all the taint sticks to the party." 
 
Likewise, "Kommersant," reported, citing unidentified Kremlin sources, that Putin's inner circle is considering the possibility of early Duma elections, which they hope will boost the president's ratings.
 
The appearance of the report -- and its association with Yakunin -- does strongly suggest that the issue of early Duma elections is being considered seriously.
 
"Yakunin is one of the pillars of the regime. He is particularly close to Putin and a member of the informal politburo," Valery Fedotov, a maverick member of United Russia from St. Petersburg who has a history of strained relations with the party leadership, wrote on the blogging platform Live Journal.

"Such a person would never go into opposition. It appears the authorities are launching a trial balloon and testing public opinion."
 
Fedotov added that if the Kremlin decided on new elections, it could lead to the absorption of United Russia into the All-Russian Popular Front -- an effective rebranding of the ruling party.
 
Another possibility, he said, was that the Kremlin would seek to heal the split in society by allowing a housebroken center-right party into the Duma.
 
Talk of new Duma elections, of course, comes at a time when Putin is clearly trying to reset the country's political arrangements, both formal and informal.
 
The on-again-off-again anticorruption campaign, the resignations from both houses of parliament, the "new deal" compelling officials to repatriate foreign assets, and now rumors of early elections suggest that less than a year after his inauguration, Putin feels the need to shake up and reorder a system that is no longer working for him.

"The young progressive section of society is demanding that Russia become a normal European country...Vladimir Vladimirovich is forced to maneuver constantly between these demands and the conservative masses who are demanding ever more blood," political analyst Igor Bunin told the daily "Moskovsky komsomolets."

"Putin has been behaving in an ad hoc manner, reacting to immediate challenges. He has been unable to construct a systematic pattern of behavior. He will have to offer something new."

In such a restive political climate, with a divided society and fractious elite, such a move is risky and could easily spin out of the Kremlin's control.
 
Elements of the elite with assets abroad, unhappy with the new rules Putin is imposing on them, could go off the reservation. The technocratic wing of the ruling class, which wants a thaw and is appalled with the hard line the president has adopted in his third term, could try to game elections to gain the upper hand.
 
And if the Kremlin wants to control the election results, that inevitably means shenanigans and falsification -- which could lead to more mass protests and greater unrest.
 
If Putin decides to go ahead with his reset, a new raucous political season could be about begin.
 
-- Brian Whitmore
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Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Ben
March 13, 2013 21:09
Verbosity-the father of the confusion.The pseudo-analisis show that Putin`s victory was honest,while the United Russia`s-false.The aims and the authorship is evident.Mr Whitmore should better not cover my previous comment(there was everything).

by: La Russophobe from: USA
March 14, 2013 09:13
It's pretty amazing (and disappointing) that there is no analysis of the fact that the report indicates the Communist Party won a resounding victory, which would have meant a KGB president and a communist legislature, full-blown return of the USSR. Hard to imagine a more absolute indictment of the people of Russia.

Meanwhile, the notion that there will be Duma elections in less than five years is hysterical nonsense. This post has the slightest whiff of the National Enquirer. Remember the predictions that Khodorkovsky was soon to be released? That Putin II would be kinder, gentler? So much hot air.

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17:49 October 24, 2014

EVENING NEWS ROUNDUP

From RFE/RL's News Desk:

PUTIN ACCUSES UNITED STATES OF 'UNILATERAL DIKTAT'

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)

MERKEL URGES PUTIN TO SOLVE UKRAINIAN GAS DISPUTE

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)

UNHCR SAYS MORE THAN 800,000 DISPLACED IN UKRAINE CONFLICT

By RFE/RL

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 KILLED IN NORTH CAUCASUS

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)

MOSCOW LAWYER IN HIGH PROFILE ORGANIZED CRIME CASE KILLED

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

LITTLE GREES VOTERS, ANYONE?

17:26 October 24, 2014

SPY VS. SPY

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

MORNING NEWS ROUNDUP

From RFE/RL's News Desk:

UKRAINIAN PM WARNS OF RUSSIAN DESTABILIZATION OF ELECTIONS

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)

RUSSIA DENIES ESTONIAN AIRSPACE VIOLATIONS

By RFE/RL

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)

RUSSIAN COURT POSTPONES RULING ON OIL FIRM BASHNEFT

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

THERE IS NO RUSSIA WITHOUT PUTIN?

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