Saturday, October 25, 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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17:49 October 24, 2014


From RFE/RL's News Desk:


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)


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)



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 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)


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


17:26 October 24, 2014


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


From RFE/RL's News Desk:


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)



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)


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


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