Wednesday, October 01, 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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Semyon Guzman, a prominent Ukrainian psychiatrist, says Vladimir Putin hasn't gone crazy -- he's just evil.

"Many really consider that he suffers from definite psychological illnesses,” Guzman wrote in a September 30 article (a big h/t to thei ndispensable Paul Goble for flagging this).  

"This is only a convenient explanation in the existing situation. Unfortunately, it is not correct.”

Putin's character traits, "ike those of a murderer, thief or other good for nothing, are not psychiatric phenomena but rather objects of the subjects of moral philosophy.” Guzman wrote. He added that Putin was "absolutely responsible" for his actions.

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.


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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