Thursday, November 27, 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
This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
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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15:34 November 26, 2014


So by now, we've all seen how passengers in Krasnoyarsk had to get out and push their flight out of the snow...

...and we've all seen the snarky Twitter memes this has inspired...

...but have you heard about onboard drunken onboard brawl that grounded a flight in Novosibirsk?

12:41 November 26, 2014


12:33 November 26, 2014


Via The Moscow Times:

A lawmaker on the State Duma's Defense Committee has proposed banning the import of French wines in response to Paris' decision to suspend delivery of the first of two helicopter carriers to Russia.

"Let's ban the sale of French wine in Russia," Deputy Vladimir Bessonov told Russian News Service radio on Tuesday. "Even talking about this can bring about desired results," he said, without specifying what these would be.

France, under pressure from its Western allies to cancel a 1.2 billion euro contract ($1.58 billion) with Russia for Mistral-class warships, said earlier Tuesday that it was suspending delivery of the first of two carriers because of Russia's meddling in eastern Ukraine.


12:21 November 26, 2014
12:20 November 26, 2014


12:18 November 26, 2014


From RFE/RL's News Desk:


By RFE/RL's Russian Service

The editor-in-chief of an independent Russian news website says he will seek political asylum in the United States.

Oleg Potapenko told RFE/RL on November 26 that he has arrived in the United States despite efforts by Russian authorities to prevent him from leaving the country.

Potapenko is editor of, a news site in the Far Eastern city of Khabarovsk that has reported about the presence of Russian troops in eastern Ukraine.

On November 12, the openly gay Potapenko and his partner were prevented from boarding a flight from Khabarovsk to Hong Kong after border guards said a page was missing from Potapenko's passport.

Potapenko says the page was cut out by a police officer who requested his passport for a check earlier that day.

He told RFE/RL that he had managed to leave Russia from another city, Vladivostok, on November 16.


German Chancellor Angela Merkel says Russia's actions in Ukraine are a violation of international law and a threat to peace in Europe.

Speaking bluntly in an address to Germany's parliament on November 26, Merkel said, "Nothing justifies the direct or indirect participation of Russia in the fighting in Donetsk and Luhansk."

She told the Bundestag that Russia's actions have "called the peaceful order in Europe into question and are a violation of international law."

But she suggested there was no swift solution, saying, "Our efforts to overcome this crisis will require patience and staying power."

Germany has become increasingly frustrated over Moscow's refusal to heed Western calls to stop supporting pro-Russian separatists who have seized control of large parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk provinces in eastern Ukraine.

Close ties between Russia and Germany have been strained by the Ukraine crisis.

(Based on reporting by Reuters)


Ukraine has leveled fresh charges that Russia is sending military support to pro-Russian separatists in the east.

A foreign ministry spokesman said five columns of heavy equipment were spotted crossing into Ukrainian territory on November 24.

Evhen Perebyinis told journalists on November 25 that a total of 85 vehicles had been detected in the five columns that entered at the Izvaryne border crossing point from Russia.

"The Russian side is continuing to provide the terrorist organizations of the Donetsk and Luhansk people's republics with heavy armaments," said Perebynisis.

Separately, the Ukrainian military said one soldier had been killed and five others wounded in the past 24 hours as a shaky cease-fire declared on September 5 continued to come under pressure.

The six-month conflict in the east of Ukraine has left more than 4,300 people dead, according to the United Nations.

(Based on reporting by AFP and Reuters)



Russia has rejected accusations that it is planning to annex Georgia’s breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin told RFE/RL’s Current Time program on November 25: “There can be no question about any annexations.”

Georgia and the West have criticized a "strategic partnership" agreement between Russia and Abkhazia signed on November 24.

Tbilisi condemned the pact as an attempt by Moscow to annex the region.

Karasin also said Russia will “continue sparing no effort, nerves, financial expenses” to make sure its neighbors “do not feel endangered.”

"As a large state and a powerful country, Russia is constantly responsible for stability on its borders and everything that is under way along its borders," he added.

Under the "strategic partnership," Russian and Abkhaz forces in the territory will turn into a joint force led by a Russian commander.


19:16 November 21, 2014


On this week's Power Vertical Podcast, we use the one-year anniversary of the Euromaidan uprising to look at how it changed both Ukraine and Russia. My guests are Sean Guillory and Alexander Motyl.

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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