Wednesday, October 01, 2014

The Power Vertical

When Aleksei Meets Aleksei

Will Kudrin (left) and Navalny have a meeting of the minds?
Will Kudrin (left) and Navalny have a meeting of the minds?
At first glance, former Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin and opposition leader Aleksei Navalny make for odd allies.
The cerebral, urbane, and pro-Western Kudrin has long been a close friend of President Vladimir Putin. He spent most of his career in the halls of power overseeing and facilitating Russia's macroeconomic stability -- and tolerating a mindboggling amount of graft in the process.

The firebrand Navalny made his name as an anticorruption blogger with a nationalist bent who made it his mission to expose that graft. He has spent the past year as one of the Kremlin's fiercest opponents, and wears the numerous nights he has spent in police detention as a badge of honor.

But despite these differences, there have been signs in recent weeks that these two very different Alekseis may be moving toward working together to forge a link between the opposition and the technocratic wing of the elite, which is uncomfortable with the Kremlin's current hard-line posture.

This week, on the first anniversary of the disputed parliamentary elections that set off a wave of protests that made Navalny a household name, Kudrin called on the Kremlin to stop using "confrontational rhetoric" toward its opponents.

In a report posted on the website of his think tank, the Civic Initiatives Committee, Kudrin and his co-authors wrote that such actions "only increase the antigovernment attitude of the middle class, without which the country’s development isn’t possible."

The report, titled "2012: The Authorities and Our Common Risks," also criticizes Russia's rulers for engaging in what it calls "imitation politics" and says only a real dialogue between the Kremlin and the emerging civil society can prevent the country from sliding into economic and political stagnation -- or worse.

For the past year, Kudrin, who resigned as finance minister in September 2011, has been trying to position himself as the man in the middle of Russia's intractable political standoff -- the honest broker who could foster a true dialogue among the authorities, the opposition, and newly politically active segments of society.

Having seen the system work from the inside, he understands that Russia is dangerously dependent on oil and gas, that current levels of corruption are unsustainable, and that in order for the economy to diversify and modernize, the political system will need to become more pluralistic. But he has also stressed that change needs to be evolutionary.

And recently, Kudrin appears to be getting a major assist from Navalny.

The anticorruption blogger has been using his influence on the opposition's Coordinating Council to strengthen the hand of moderates who seek to negotiate with the authorities and reform the political system and weaken radical elements who want nothing short of regime change.

Navalny's chief ally in this effort has been socialite-turned-social-activist Ksenia Sobchak, with whom he has teamed up to form a powerful super faction on the council.

The Navalny-Sobchak alliance was instrumental in providing a critical link between Kudrin and the Coordinating Council. The two successfully backed a controversial move to get Dmitry Nekrasov, a close ally of the former finance minister, named the committee's executive secretary.

Nekrasov, a former Kremlin aide who unsuccessfully ran for a seat on the same council, is the coordinator of Kudrin's think tank. Navalny praised him as "sincere, sensible," and "capable." He also lauded the work of Kudrin's Civic Initiatives Committee.

After Nekrasov's appointment was approved, opposition journalist and council member Oleg Kashin fiercely criticized Navalny on Twitter.

Despite their obvious differences, Kudrin and Navalny also complement each other. Kudrin has cache with the authorities that Navalny lacks. Navalny has street cred with the opposition that Kudrin, despite his apparent democratic epiphany, will probably never have.
It's not clear where -- if anywhere -- this is going. But a true meeting of the minds between Aleksei and Aleksei could be a vital step toward a development that I've been watching for: an overt alliance between the technocratic wing of the elite that understands that Russia's political system needs to open up to accommodate a changing society, on the one hand, and the moderate wing of the opposition that is seeking evolutionary change on the other.
-- Brian Whitmore

Tags: Aleksei Navalny,Aleksei Kudrin,Russian opposition,Opposition Coordinating Council

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: Idrian from: Surrey, BC
December 06, 2012 01:54
This doesn't seem to be a good sign. Yes, such technocrat-"moderate" opposition collaboration would be good for political evolutionists who want change without bloodshed, but all you've be left is half-baked change in a post-Putin regime where incompleteness of change offers the possibility of rollback of any change created. This leaves a question mark on Udaltsov.

by: Ben
December 06, 2012 10:33
Brian`s microscope: Brownian movement of the opposition "leaders".

by: sergey_luzan from: Moscow
December 08, 2012 19:37
I wouldn't overestimate their mutual approximation. From what I saw personally during Moscow Financial week Kudrin remains kind of observing insider RWA any moment to accept a decent appointment within the power vertical system.

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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

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