Sunday, October 26, 2014


The Power Vertical

Now That The Thaw Is Over

Time's up for Medvedev's 'thaw'
Time's up for Medvedev's 'thaw'
Does anybody remember Skolkovo? What seems like eons ago, back when iPads were still must-have gadgets for the Russian elite, the scientific and technological center was the showcase project in Dmitry Medvedev's efforts to modernize the country's economy to make it less dependent on oil and gas.
 
Well Skolkovo is back in the news, but probably not for reasons Medvedev welcomes.  The Investigative Committee announced this week that it was launching a probe into the alleged embezzlement of nearly 24 million rubles ($797,000) at the center.
 
How about Nikita Belykh? Does that name ring a bell? Back in 2008, months after assuming the presidency, Medvedev caused a minor sensation when he appointed the onetime opposition figure as governor of Kirov Oblast. The surprise move was part of a Kremlin strategy at the time to bring some elements of the opposition in from the cold and establish at least the appearance of a more pluralistic system.
 
Belykh's term is up this year and he has indicated he would like to stay on. But don't bet the house on that happening. President Vladimir Putin won't even meet with him.
 
And late last month, Investigative Committee agents searched his offices and interrogated him over alleged improprieties in the privatization of a local distillery -- a case tied to the Kremlin's ongoing efforts to prosecute anticorruption blogger and opposition figure Aleksei Navalny.
 
The back-to-back assaults on Belykh and Skolkovo represent hits on two key pillars of "Medvedevism," a short-lived and ultimately half-hearted effort to diversify the Russian economy and introduce a degree of managed pluralism into the political system.
 
The attacks are the strongest indication yet that President Vladimir Putin is determined to not only eradicate any traces of Medvedevism, but to utterly humiliate Medvedev himself and discredit the legacy of his entire interim presidency.
 
"Putin was not very pleased with his experiment involving his successor, who overtly started playing games, building his own political coalition, and criticizing the national leader himself," political analyst Tatyana Stanovaya wrote recently in Politcom.ru.
 
"By initiating a political thaw Medvedev created the social basis for the protests that erupted in December 2011...Medvedev's presidency smashed the inertia of the Putin regime and against this backdrop the current president is reinstating [repressive] mechanisms and eradicating Medvedev's 'green shoots.' The overturning of Medvedev's decisions, the stalling of his projects, the criticism in the media, and the discrediting films are all links in the same chain -- the process of politically destroying Medvedev."
 
It may be just a matter of time before the pro-Kremlin media accuses Medvedev of "hare-brained schemes, half-baked conclusions, and hasty decisions and actions divorced from reality," as Soviet Communist Party mouthpiece "Pravda" wrote of Nikita Khrushchev  following his ouster in 1964.
 
The steady dismantling of Medvedev's thaw, of course, has been building since Putin returned to the Kremlin last spring. Since then, we've had the Pussy Riot trial, the so-called "Bolotnaya case" against demonstrators who took to the streets on the eve of Putin's inauguration, the ramped up efforts to prosecute Navalny and Left Front leader Sergei Udaltsov, the rolling back of tepid political reforms on the election of governors, and the taming of the "systemic opposition" in the State Duma.
 
"The revision of Medvedev's legacy began virtually from the moment of the announcement of Vladimir Putin's future return to the presidency," Stanovaya wrote.  
 
"Now it already seems that Medvedev's presidency was a different era. The atmosphere in the country has changed so rapidly and fundamentally. The regime has become tougher. Political power has reverted to the 'Putinites.' The siloviki have acquired a second wind. Traditionalists and conservatives have started to win moral and political victories over the remnants of the liberals in the regime."
 
The powerful security service veterans in the Kremlin, many of whom are closely linked to the energy industry, staunchly opposed Medvedev's modernization efforts as well as the liberal experiment to allow for some managed pluralism in the political system. And now they are getting their revenge.
 
But as Gazeta.ru  wrote in a recent editorial, "When people get involved in vengeance, they do not weigh up the political costs very well."

The trap here is that in dismantling Medvedevism and all its remnants, Putin and his political managers are dealing with symptoms and not even coming close to addressing the underlying cause of the systemic crisis gripping the elite.
 
The Medvedev thaw, tepid as it was, didn't appear out of thin air. And it had very little to do with Medvedev himself -- he was just its iPod-toting front man, and a clumsy one at that.
 
It happened because the more savvy minds in the Kremlin grasped -- correctly -- that Russia was changing and the way it was governed needed to evolve as well.
 
They understood that the economy was, and remains, dangerously dependent on commodities, dooming it to an endless cycle of boom and bust as energy prices fluctuate. They understood that diversifying and decentralizing the economy would inevitably lead to new centers of political power and the need for some semblance of greater pluralism.
 
And they understood that Russian society was developing rapidly and becoming more differentiated and sophisticated as the prosperity of Putin's first term trickled down and spread. Such a society cannot be governed effectively in the paternalistic fashion that characterized Putin's 2000-08 rule.

But those pushing for this path -- Arkady Dvorkovich, Vladislav Surkov, Igor Yurgens, and Gleb Pavlovsky -- to name a few, lost the argument and are no longer in the Kremlin (although some have migrated over to the government with Medvedev).
 
Putin's political strategy is now dominated by people like Deputy Kremlin Chief of Staff Vyacheslav Volodin, who believe the mounting restlessness in society and disquiet in the elite can be pounded into submission. Perhaps it can in the short term. But the underlying causes of the current political crisis aren't going away.
 
"Discontent is going to grow everywhere, either rapidly or more slowly. The forward-leaning section of Muscovites were only the first people to express it," Gazeta.ru opined in its editorial.

"Defending a system that has run out of steam is a hopeless cause. And senseless repressions that compromise the regime only deepen the systemic crisis." 
 
-- Brian Whitmore

NOTE TO READERS:  Be sure to tune in to the new "Power Vertical" podcast here, where I will discuss the strange death of Medvedevism with my co-host, New York University's Mark Galeotti, author of the blog "In Moscow's Shadows."

Tags: Vladimir Putin,Skolkovo,Dmitry Medvedev,Medvedevism,Nikita Belykh

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Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: La Russophobe from: USA
February 15, 2013 10:40
"It happened because the more savvy minds in the Kremlin grasped -- correctly -- that Russia was changing and the way it was governed needed to evolve as well."

I for one don't agree with this at all, and I don't believe there is any evidence to support such a thesis. In my view, it happened simply because Putin knew he needed to undercut criticism, especially Western criticism, upon his return to power as "president" for life. He needed to get the West and the domestic opposition to drop its guard until he had fully secured formal power, and seeming to give power to Medvedev accomplished this. His crowning glory was when he had Medvedev munching burgers with Obama. At no time did Medvedev ever have any real power nor was there any real chance of any kind of reform.

It was a Potemkin presidency.
In Response

by: marko from: USA
February 15, 2013 12:39
I guess that I would disagree with the assertion that diverse economies require more pluralism. China's economy is pretty diverse, and it has zero political pluralism. Russia's economy is also a bit more diverse than Western analysts give it credit for-- military industries, agriculture, metals, chemical sectors are all in pretty good shape under Putin. Yeah, growth rates aren't what they were (and how realistically could they be with the world economy the way that it is) and some middle-class people in Moscow aren't happy, but could things be much better really then the are-- probably not. Russian liberalism is too associated with Western hegemony over Russia. Russia doesn''t develop well with someone else's imported ill-fitting political and economic system or as someone else's semi-colony-- the 90s proved that.
In Response

by: Alex from: Baltimore
February 15, 2013 16:31
Ridiculous comment by Marko. Russia was never under "Western hegemony" or a "semi-colony," nor did "the West" ever aspire to hegemony over Russia. That is just uninformed left-wing claptrap. As a US government employee working in Russia in the 1990s, I can tell you that the mission back then was to help Russia overcome its Soviet legacy and transition to free politics, free markets, and the rule of law, which are universally valid concepts in demand everywhere (see East Timor, Syria, etc., etc.). There was tremendous good will towards Yeltsin's Russia in the US Government and in other Western nations. People were excited to help the Russians to make a better life for themselves and to help make Russia into a partner of the West instead of its enemy, which was incredibly refreshing after decades of the Cold War. Stop repeating Putinist propaganda; Russia in the 1990s, despite its many challenges, was a far freer and much more optimistic country than it is today, after 13 years of misrule and increasing repression by Putin and his band of spooks and crooks.
In Response

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
February 15, 2013 19:42
To Alex from Baltimor: You are saying that Marco's comment "is just uninformed left-wing claptrap", and then yourself come up with perls like this one: "free markets, and the rule of law... are universally valid concepts in demand in... Syria" :-)). Beavus, who exactly is demanding "free market and the rule of law" in Syria? Is it those US-Saudi funded al-Qaeda terrorists that have been terrorizing the people of Syria with the help of Hillary Clinton and your disgusting "country" the last two years? Or is it maybe Bashar - when he kills those US-Saudi backed losers in thousands? Is he maybe the one looking for "free market and the rule of law" there :-))?
Beavus, in general, you appear to watch too much CNN and other bankrupt US-made crap. Try to make an effort, wake up and face the reality, instead of calling other people "ridiculous".
Cheers from Vienna :-)!
In Response

by: Jack from: US
February 15, 2013 21:07
Eugenio, be aware that "Alex from Baltimor" is my friend Moisha, disguising himself again, this time as "Alex". He works for CIA. He does not lie when he says he was happy with Russia under Yeltsin's gang of moishas like Berezovsky and Khodorkovsky stealing billions from Russian people in 90-ies
In Response

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
February 16, 2013 15:36
Ah, ok, Jack, it was your friend Moischa who made this posting, I understand :-))). Very frankly, I was about to think that it was Hillary Clinton herself, as long I one can hardly imagine anyone else post this kind of cheap US propaganda and want people to take it seriously :_)).

by: Laura
February 15, 2013 17:43
Yes, some people remember Skolkovo. Top scientists from my country are going there to work on nanotechnology for pharmaceutical use. Why don't you post on that instead of petty theft?

by: Ben
February 16, 2013 16:13
The most laughable figure in Soviet-Russian history was A.Kerensky.The same with Medvedev, and the protests initiated by different influences of his ended thaw.Despite the journalist`s impatience ,Russia`s changes will follow the Kremlin ones.

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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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