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Russia's August Lull Ends; A Hot Autumn Looms

The sun sets on Red Square near the Kremlin.
The sun sets on Red Square near the Kremlin.
It's been a busy week here at RFE and I haven't had as much time to blog as I would like. And as luck would have it, there was plenty of action in Russia that was blogable, from the mini-scandals that erupted over the Popular Front's "primaries," to pending legislation overhauling the Federation Council, to a new acting governor in St. Petersburg, just to name a few.

And since any of these stories could get interesting in the coming weeks, I decided to get them all out there today in short form. So below, for your perusal, are five things I wish I had blogged this past week -- written up as mini-blogs.

The August lull is just about over and the fall political season is upon us.


Primary Colors

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin suggested that the Popular Front's "primaries" were so successful that all political parties should be required to hold them.

But by the end of the week, he backtracked, citing "requests from the opposition." And we all know how anxious Putin has always been to please the opposition.

So what happened between Tuesday and Friday? Could it be a mushrooming scandal about widespread falsifications in the Popular Front primaries in Pyatigorsk and Vladivostok?

Overhaul In The Upper House?

A report in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" notes that legislation is pending that would significantly change who can be elected to the Federation Council.

Under the current system, candidates for the upper house must be either municipal or regional legislators. Under a new bill that is expected to easily pass in the fall, former State Duma deputies would also be eligible.

The report notes that this would significantly increase the ruling United Russia party's clout in the Federation Council -- as well as that of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. It would also provide a dignified "golden parachute" for United Russia lawmakers who fail to make it into the next Duma.

Perhaps the changes were inspired by the fiasco in St. Petersburg that accompanied the Kremlin's ultimately successful attempt to get Valentina Matviyenko elected to a local council so she could eventually become Federation Council speaker.

Meet The New Boss

And speaking of St. Petersburg, I had fully expected Deputy Prime Minister -- and Putin loyalist -- Dmitry Kozak to become Matviyenko's successor as governor. So I was as blindsided as anybody when Georgi Poltavchenko, the Kremlin's prefect to the Central Federal District, got the nod instead.

But Poltavchenko is just as logical a choice -- at least from the Kremlin's logic. He's a KGB veteran, a Putin loyalist (he's the only prefect to serve continuously in the same post since Putin created the system in 2000); and he has the reputation of a low-key problem solver, similar to Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin.

Reds To The Left Of Me, Liberals To The Right

Ever since Sergei Mironov's fall from the Kremlin's grace -- and the Federation Council speakership -- A Just Russia has been casting about for a place at the table.

Early this week, there were reports that the party was seeking to form some kind of alliance with Gennady Zyuganov's Communists -- an "alliance of left forces."

But by Friday, reports were appearing in the Russian media suggesting the party was also looking for friends to its right. Apparently the party is trying to conclude a "non-aggression pact" with Mikhail Prokhorov's Right Cause so as to better compete with their common enemy -- United Russia.

Changing The Subject

And finally, speaking of Prokhorov and Right Cause, the party has just endured a string of negative publicity, most notably regarding its alleged drift toward nationalism, after the high-profile rollout of its campaign. But now the party hopes to change the conversation to its platform, which it released today. (You can read "Vedomosti's" write-up here or, if your in the mood for some light weekend reading, the full platform here)

The platform calls for a "new industrialization," including infrastructure projects like a renovated Trans-Siberian railroad and a North-South transport corridor. It also envisions Russia becoming part of a "greater Europe" and strive for "maximum economic integration" without joining the EU or NATO. The platform also calls for greater controls on state companies. Politically, it advocates a prohibition of a political monopoly by one party -- a clear swipe at United Russia.

We'll soon see if this will be enough for Prokhorov to get his mojo back.

President Dmitry Medvedev is scheduled to sign a decree officially opening the State Duma election campaign on Monday, so the political season is about to begin in earnest. And as the Russians are fond of saying, it promises to he a very hot autumn.

Have a nice weekend everybody!

-- Brian Whitmore

About This Blog

The Power Vertical
The Power Vertical

The Power Vertical is a blog written especially for Russia wonks and obsessive Kremlin watchers by Brian Whitmore. It offers Brian's personal take on 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


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