Tuesday, November 25, 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.

The Power Vertical Feed

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

19:16 November 21, 2014

POWER VERTICAL PODCAST: A YEAR OF LIVING DANGEROUSLY

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.

09:14 November 21, 2014
09:11 November 21, 2014

AND AS TENSIONS RISE IN THE BALTICS...

09:09 November 21, 2014

MORNING NEWS ROUNDUP

From RFE/RL's News Desk:

UKRAINE MARKS START OF EUROMAIDAN PROTESTS WITH NEW HOLIDAY
By RFE/RL
Ukrainians are marking a new national holiday on November 21 -- the anniversary of the start of Kyiv’s Euromaidan protests that led to the ouster of the country’s former pro-Kremlin regime.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko signed decree on November 13 that declared the holiday for annual “Day of Dignity and Freedom” celebrations.
The protests began with a few hundred people who met spontaneously on a vast square in central Kyiv of November 21, 2013 – disappointed by then-President Viktor Yanukovych’s rejection of a landmark deal with the European Union in favor of closer ties with Russia.
After that first night, as the protests quickly swelled to tens of thousands of demonstrators, brutal police efforts to disperse the crowds with batons and teargas backfired.
As the crowds got bigger, the protesters began to call for Yanukovych’s ouster – which came in February 2014 after more than 100 people were killed in clashes with police that failed to end the demonstrations.

BIDEN TO MEET UKRAINIAN LEADERS, ANNOUNCE NONLETHAL U.S. AID
By RFE/RL
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden was expected to announce an increase in nonlethal U.S. military assistance to Ukraine on November 21 as he meets in Kyiv with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk.
The talks come on the first anniversary of the start of the Euromaidan protests in Kyiv that toppled Ukraine's former pro-Kremlin regime.
As Biden arrived in Kyiv on the evening of November 20, U.S. officials told reporters that he will announce the delivery of Humvee transport vehicles that are now in the Pentagon’s inventory of excess supplies.
They said Biden also would announce the delivery of previously promised radar units that can detect the location of enemy mortars.
The U.S. officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, did not specify a dollar value for the assistance. 
Russia on November 20 warned the United States not to supply weapons to Ukrainian forces.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Lukashevich cautioned against "a major change in policy of the (U.S.) administration in regard to the conflict" in Ukraine. 
He was commenting on remarks by U.S. President Barack Obama's choice to fill the number two spot at the State Department, Anthony Blinken, who told a congressional hearing on November 19 that lethal assistance "remains on the table. It's something that we're looking at."
The U.S. State Department's Director of Press Relations Jeffrey Rathke on November 20 told reporters that "our position on lethal aid hasn't changed. Nothing is off the table and we continue to believe there's no military solution."
He added, "But, in light of Russia's actions as the nominee mentioned [on November 19] in his testimony, as he indicated, this is something that we should be looking at."
The aid expected to be announced by Biden on November 20 falls short of what the Ukrainian president requested during a visit to Washington in September when he appealed for lethal aid - a request echoed by some U.S. lawmakers in response to what NATO allies say is Russia's movement of tanks and troops into eastern Ukraine.
In September, Washington promised Ukraine $53 million in aid for military gear that includes the mortar detection units, body armor, binoculars, small boats, and other nonlethal equipment for Ukrainian security forces and border guards in the east.
The United States and its European allies have imposed several rounds of economic sanctions on Russia for its seizure of Crimea and incursion into eastern Ukraine.
(With reporting by Reuters, AP, AFP, dpa, and TASS)

RUSSIAN OLYMPIAN CHARGED WITH SPOUSAL ABUSE IN UNITED STATES
Russian Olympian hockey player Slava Voynov – who plays with the Los Angeles Kings NHL hockey team – has been charged with felony domestic violence against his wife.
Voynov faces one felony count of spouse abuse with a maximum penalty of nine years in prison. If convicted, he also could be deported.
Prosecutors say Voynov “caused his wife to suffer injuries to her eyebrow, check, and neck” during an argument at their home in October.
Voynov has been suspended from the NHL since his arrest early on October 20 at a California hospital where he took his wife for treatment.
Voynov’s attorney, Craig Renetzky, says his client didn’t hit his wife.
Renetzky blames the charges on a misunderstanding between police and Voynov’s wife, who speaks very little English.
Voynov – who played on Russia’s team at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics -- faces arraignment on December 1.
(Based on reporting by AP and Reuters)

NATO: RUSSIAN ACTIVITY IN BALTICS POSES RISK
NATO says Russia's growing military presence in the skies above the Baltic region is unjustified and poses a risk to civil aviation.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said in Tallinn on November 20 that the aircraft regularly fail to file flight plans or communicate with air controllers and also fly with their transponders off.
Speaking at the Amari air base, he said alliance fighters have intercepted planes more than 100 times in the Baltic region alone so far this year, a threefold increase over 2013. 
He did not say how many of the intercepted aircraft were Russian.
Stoltenberg also said that, overall, NATO aircraft have conducted 400 intercepts to protect the airspace of its European alliance members in 2014 -- an increase of 50 percent over last year.
(Based on reporting by AP and AFP)

 

16:55 November 19, 2014

MORE ON THE SOURCES OF RUSSIAN ANTI-AMERICANISM

Konstantin Eggert has a commentary in "Kommersant" on Russia's anti-Americanism. He opens like this:

"Sometimes I have this feeling that there are only two countries in the world - Russia and the United States. Of course, there is Ukraine, but it either to join us or the Americas. Russian politicians and state television are constantly in search of the 'American hand' in all spheres of our life. In Soviet times, the United States was formally considered to be our number one military and ideological enemy. But even then it didn't occupy such a large space in the minds of the political leadership and citizens. And the paradox is that, on one hand, officials and the media regularly talk about the decline of America as a great power, and on the other declare it to be the source of all evil in the world. This contradiction does not seem to disturb anybody."

And closes like this:

We still have not been able to use the opportunity that we were given with the collapse of the communist regime - to arrange our lives based on liberty and civic virtue. And today, we, as a people, want to go back to the starting point, to beat everyone. And the Soviet Union, with its absence of sausage and freedom, again suddenly seems sweet and dear. But it won't happen. I will put it banally: you can't go into the same river twice.

Read the whole thing here (in Russian, with audio)

15:53 November 19, 2014

UNDERSTANDING THE INFORMATION WAR

MIchael Weiss, editor-in-chief of The Interpreter magazine, appearing on Hromadske TV to talk about Russia's information war.

Michael and Peter Pomarantsev recently co-authored an excellent report "The Menace of Unreality: How the Kremlin Weaponizes Information, Culture, and Money." Both also appeared recently on The Power Vertical Podcast to discuss the report.

15:42 November 19, 2014

WHY IS PUTIN PICKING A FIGHT WITH THE U.S.?

Oleg Kosyrev has a snarky and clever blog post on the subject up on the Ekho Moskvy website. 

1) The United States is the ideal opponent. "It is big and strong and your self-esteem increases when you fight somebody really influential."

2) The United States is not fighting with Russia. "They aren't really interested. They have enough of their own problems and dreams. It's nice to fight somebody who is not fighting you."

3) It is a substitute for the authorities' inability to benefit Russians. "How convenient. Who is to blame for rising food and gas prices? The U.S.A.. Who is to blame for the fact that Russian has political prisoners? The U.S.A. Who is to blame for people demonstrating on the streets? The U.S.A. Who is to blame for the fact that independent international courts denounce the Russian court system? The U.S.A. You can even blame the U.S. for the fact that the light doesn't work in the entrance to your apartment building."

Read it all (in Russian) here.

15:23 November 19, 2014

UKRAINE SAYS MHI7 SHOT DOWN BY RUSSIAN CREW

14:47 November 19, 2014

AFTERNOON NEWS ROUNDUP: THE SEQUEL

From RFE/RL's News Desk:

KYIV, WEST SAY RUSSIA CANNOT BAR UKRAINE FROM NATO

Ukraine says it will not tolerate pressure from any other country over whether or not it seeks to join NATO.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Yevhen Perebyynis spoke made the remark to reporters in Kyiv on November 19, after the BBC quoted Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov as saying in an interview that Moscow wants "a 100 percent guarantee that no-one would think about Ukraine joining NATO."

Hitting back with a reference to Russia's annexation of Crimea and support for pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine, Perebyynis said Kyiv would like guarantees that Moscow will not interfere in Ukraine's internal affairs, send in troops, or annex Ukrainian territories. 

The U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt, told journalists on November 19 that any decision on seeking to join NATO could be made only by the Ukrainian people, not by Russia, Europe, ar the United States.

The Canadian Ambassador to Ukraine, Roman Waschuk, made a similar statement on November 19.

(Based on reporting by UNIAN and Interfax)

PUTIN TELLS U.S. ENVOY TIES MUST BE BASED ON EQUALITY

President Vladimir Putin says that Russia is ready for cooperation with the United States as long as Washington treats Moscow as an equal, respect its interests, and refrains from interfering in its affairs.

Putin spoke November 19 at a Kremlin ceremony during which he received the credentials of foreign envoys including John Tefft, the new U.S. Ambassador to Moscow.

Putin said, "We are ready for practical cooperation with our American partners in various fields, based on the principles of respect for each other's interests, equal rights and non-interference in internal matters." 

The remark echoed a formula Putin set out in a foreign policy decree at the start of his third term in 2012.

Tefft, 64, is a career diplomat who previously served as U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Georgia and Lithuania. 

His posting starts at a time when ties are badly strained over the Ukraine crisis. 

Tefft replaces Michael McFaul, who was ambassador from January 2012 until February 2014. 

(Based on reporting by Reuters and TASS)

RUSSIA SAYS 2010 NUCLEAR ARMS PACT STILL IN RUSSIA'S INTERESTS

By RFE/RL

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has signaled that a landmark nuclear arms treaty with the United States is not in jeopardy despite severe tension over Ukraine.

Speaking to Russian lawmakers on November 19, Lavrov said the 2010 New START treaty "meets our basic strategic interests and, on condition of its observance by the United States, we are interested in its full implementation."

The treaty, one of the main products of President Barack Obama's first-term "reset" of ties with Russia, requires Russia and the United States to have their long-range nuclear arsenals under specific ceilings by 2018.

But Lavrov said the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) treaty, which President Vladimir Putin suspended in 2007, is "dead" for Moscow. 

NATO has refused to ratify a revised version of the CFE treaty without a full withdrawal of Russian troops from Moldova and Georgia.

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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