Posts Tagged ‘Vladimir Putin’
Things are moving quickly in Ukraine, and it seems that everyone has an opinion. Many of the long-time Russia watchers have been saying “I told you so”, but as usual, that is annoying and unhelpful.
At this point, the question must be asked, “What if Putin is not a rational actor?” And if he is not a rational actor, what happens then? Does Russia’s Defense Minister, Sergei Shoigu, follow through anyway? My gut says yes. And after the heights of pandering that were reached at the Federation Council on Saturday night [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mlc4-VMDlOM&feature=youtu.be], it is safe to say that there are no checks on Putin’s power. And who can or will challenge Putin at this point? It is becoming clear that the West will not or cannot act in a meaningful way. There were rumours floating around last night about Germany dragging their feet on revoking Russia’s membership in the G8. And NATO’s statement last night echoed support for Ukraine’s sovereignty [http://www.nato.int/cps/en/natolive/official_texts_107681.htm], but gave no consequences for what would happen if Russia did not honor it.
Lithuania and Poland reportedly called for consultations according to NATO’s Article 4 [http://www.lithuaniatribune.com/64476/lithuanian-polish-presidents-call-for-nato-treaty-article-4-consultations-201464476/], but the Rasmussen denied this at a press conference last night.
Even the option where Tymoshenko goes to Moscow and hands over Crimea to Putin, but heroically averts World War 3, is off the table. But I would not exactly discount that at this point. Maybe it would not be Tymoshenko, but another Ukrainian politician.
So the answer lies with Dmitry Medvedev’s government. But it has been declawed and defanged. The final humiliation in September 2011 was… well, it was final. Former Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin threatened dire economic costs for taking Russia to the brink of war [https://twitter.com/Aleksei_Kudrin/status/439774457453092864], but he is not even in the Government anymore. The current Finance Minister, Anton Siluanov, is probably also unhappy, but he doesn’t have much clout either.
The Ministry of Defence is probably eating this up. I imagine that they have dreamed of this for years.
And who else is there? There isn’t anybody. There is no respected voice of reason in the Russian establishment who is willing to speak up and call this a massive miscalculation.
Even if there were a group large enough or powerful enough to oust Putin, who would or could they replace him with? How do you reconstitute Putinism without Putin [https://twitter.com/MarkGaleotti/status/440015534533660672]? You cannot. It is impossible. The whole system (and all that lovely money) would collapse. But it may do so anyway.
In the end, Putin has fractured his own elites to such an extent that a coup is nearly impossible. They could not coordinate an overthrow because they’d be too busy bickering over who got what and how much. And forget an agreement on a replacement. They had a compromise figure in Medvedev, and that completely failed.
So where does this leave us?
Putin sits down for talks, pushes the Western powers as far as he can (everything east of the Dnipro?), and declares himself “satisfied”. Then whatever is left of Ukraine becomes a kind of buffer state with Polish and Lithuanian troops protecting it. And this becomes the status quo until something else goes wrong.
Dmitry Medvedev’s Government got a new ministry last week. The former Federal Agency for Construction and Housing and Utilities was elevated to the Ministry of Construction and Housing and Utilities by President Vladimir Putin.
Utilities and housing have been a problem in Russia throughout Putin’s rule, and something that people feel strongly about since it effects their daily lives and routines. A rate freeze on domestic utilities has been proposed for next year due to concerns about inflation [http://www.themoscowtimes.com/business/article/sechin-backs-tariff-freeze-and-boasts-40-increase-in-capitalization/486573.html]. By elevating construction, housing and utilities to a ministerial position, Putin seems to be indicating that he understands that this subject is important. This was emphasized during his first meeting with the new Minister, Mikhail Men [http://www.kremlin.ru/news/19529].
So Putin has just placed the problem of construction, housing, utilities directly in Prime Minister Medvedev’s lap. So when the newly formed ministry fails to enact real reform (and it will fail), the blame will fall on Medvedev and his government.
Newly appointed Minister Mikhail Men’s career is filled with holes, but his main claim to fame seems to be his father, the famous Soviet priest Alexander Men, who was assassinated in 1990 [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexander_Men]. Mikhail Men was a deputy mayor in Moscow, and then Governor of the Ivanovno region (I am still trying to track down dates on those). In addition to his political activity, Men [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_Men_Project] is also a professional musician who released a hard-rock album in 2004. Like Dmitry Medvedev, he is also a fan of Deep Purple. So the Putin team’s bench is a little longer than we thought, but if all they’re looking for is someone to play seat warmer, they could pick any fan of Deep Purple on the streets of Moscow or any city in Russia.
Vladimir Putin’s fishing expedition in Tyva lit up the Russian blogosphere over the weekend. There were lots of bromance jokes about Putin and Medvedev, and debates about the size of the fish Putin caught (conclusion: much smaller than the claimed 21kg).
But there was also an interesting post by Andrei Malgin on his LJ blog with the conspiracy theory that the fishing trip did not take place at all. And that the photos released were actually from a previous trip to Tyva in 2007. He notes that the Kremlin never noted Putin’s visit to Tyva on the dates he was allegedly there. Furthermore, the Kremlin press pool was not informed of the trip, nor were they present. Finally, the cutter Shoigu and Putin are in has an MChS (Emergencies Ministry) tag on it. This is important because Shoigu was the long-time Minister of the Emergencies Ministry until last year.
The evidence does not look good, but… here is the thing: we know Peskov lies. It is an open secret in Moscow. Someone once joked, “When Peskov lies, you know he is lying, and he knows that you know he is lying.” Frankly, I don’t think he can help himself. But there is a difference between lying in an interview about how much Putin’s pike weighed (and who really cares anyway?), and posting photos that are 6 years old and trying to pass them off as being only a week old. Why would you lie about something like that? What does it get you?
One commenter joked: “Maybe Putin has already died, and we don’t know it.”
Putin’s Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov denied on Sunday that the photos were from the 2007 trip.
As previously noted, on Friday April 13th, Kavkaz Center posted what they claimed to be a new video of Dokku Umarov, self-proclaimed leader of the Caucasus Emirate. The video was titled “Dokku Umarov Answers Questions”. And for 20 minutes that is exactly what Umarov does. He reads a question, and then he answers it. He reads another question, and he answers it. Umarov gives no indication of where he got the questions he claims are from “Caucasian journalists”, but they have been written out on a piece of paper that he reads from.
The video itself is reminiscent of previous videos submitted by the Caucasus Emirate. Umarov is shown sitting on a rug in a room with no natural light. On the wall behind him is black flag of the Caucasus Emirate, and a green wall peaking out from behind that. Umarov himself is wearing all black. However, unlike previous videos, the distracting background noise in this one was kept to a minimum, with only one other person coughing in the background a few times throughout the video that lasts 20 minutes.
Umarov again denies that there is a split in the leadership of the Caucasus Emirate, saying that it is all just rumours and gossip. However, he does not present Gakayev and Vadalov as proof, so it is difficult to determine if there is actually any truth in his claims.
The most emotion that Umarov shows in the video is when he is discussing the price the Americans have placed on his head under the Rewards for Justice program. In fact, he appears very smug about the fact that he is worth $5 million to the Americans, and mentions it repeatedly. While this is not a lot of money (for comparison, Ayman al-Zawahiri is worth $25 million, and Mullah Omar is worth $10 million under the same program), it is enough to make Umarov self-satisfied about his position as a leader in the worldwide Islamic jihad.
I am not convinced that the video is entirely legitimate. While the man in the video is almost certainly Dokku Umarov, I have a hard time believing that the video was taken last month. There are several odd choppy cuts at the end, and Umarov never mentions the alleged assassination attempt on Russia’s President-elect Vladimir Putin, or gives any proof that the video was taken in March 2012. In addition, the topics that he chooses to discuss are somewhat dated. The Americans placed Umarov on the Rewards For Justice list in May 2011. The split with Gakayev & Vadalov was allegedly resolved last July. That being said, Umarov does not say anything that would indicate the opposite either.
In the end, there was very little new information offered in the video. The video is called “Umarov answers questions” but, quite frankly, I still have questions. Why does he not mention Gakayev & Vadalov by name? Why doesn’t he mention Vladimir Putin’s reelection? Why doesn’t he mention the Russian opposition? Is the moratorium on civilian targets over now that Vladimir Putin has been reelected? These are just some of the questions I would like Dokku Umarov to answer. Maybe he will take the time to answer them in his next video.
I am veering away from my usual topics (the elite in Moscow) to talk about the latest Dokku Umarov video. I am doing so because while Umarov is physically far away from Moscow and its elites, he seems to be more aware of what is taking place there politically than the elites are. And he is taking advantage of the weakness that the Putin regime has portrayed (and is continuing to portray) in its moment of political crisis.
The latest video was posted two days ago on the rebel website Kavkaz Center, with the headline: “Dokku Umarov has changed the status of the population of Russia, and gave the order to avoid attacks on civilian targets.” Umarov’s stated reason was that in protesting the falsified elections, the civilian population is currently in direct conflict with the regime, and therefore deserving of this moratorium.
While the man in the video was almost certainly Umarov, the sudden and remarkable change in tactics shows that Umarov may not be the one making all of the decisions anymore. In bringing Vadalov & Gakaev back into the fold last summer, some concessions were probably made about how decisions are reached within the Caucasus Emirate. Neither Vadalov nor Gakaev were in this most recent video, and Umarov made no mention of them. However, I find it very doubtful that they are not participating in discussions on tactics, and strategies, and targets. In fact, I would be willing to posit that the two are very much involved in the larger tactical plans.
Umarov and the Caucasus Emirate leadership seek to portray the Putin regime as weak, but they are weak too. Umarov may have been trying to project strength here, but everything about this video (except for the great graphics in the first 35 seconds) screamed weakness. He’s sitting out in the cold snow, and he is obviously in pain. A terrorist attack in Moscow, or anywhere outside the North Caucasus, has not been staged for a little over a year (since Domodedovo). We have not really heard anything from Riyadus-Salikhin since then. They tried to claim responsibility for the assassination of Yuri Budanov last June, but no one really took them seriously. And as for Khamzat, the supposed leader of Riyadus-Salikhin, we saw him the last time we saw Umarov (back in October) when Umarov declared that Khamzat had not been killed in Istanbul.
As a political strategy, this moratorium is a good one, but in practical terms, it is highly doubtful that the Caucasus Emirate is currently capable of attacking even a soft target in Russia’s heartland.
In my last post, I laid out the three options that Putin’s campaign had to win the presidential election on 4 March. As we get down to the last month before the election it is important to see how things are progressing, and if any decisions have been made by Putin, and his campaign committee. As I noted before, Vyacheslav Volodin is leading the campaign this time around. There are, however, still competing ideas for a strategy to win.
On the one hand, there is a group that is advocating a second round win. Remember, in this scenario, Putin gets between 45-50% of the vote. High enough to look good compared to Zyuganov’s second place 11%, but low enough that a second round is required. Promoted by Stanislav Belkovsky, the group is arguing that a “clean” second round would lend legitimacy to Putin’s next administration. While this is most likely true, and would be the smartest way to go, it does not appear that Volodin is willing to go this route.
Moskovsky Komsomolets is reporting that a message has been sent to the regions that certain results are expected. This is what happened in the Duma elections last fall, where the governors were told that a certain threshold was required percentage-wise. We all saw what has happened to those governors who failed to meet that standard: they were fired (e.g. Volgograd, Arkhangelsk, and Vologda).
Nevertheless, the numbers posted last week by FOM, & Levada make it seem like a second round is practically inevitable. Levada conducted an “open survey”, and did not give the respondents a list to choose from. Only 37% of those polled said that they would vote for Putin if the election were held on Sunday. FOM questioned 3000 potential voters, and got a result of 45%. Both of these numbers, if accurate, would automatically mean a second round of voting. However, VTsIOM came up with a much higher number of 52% for Putin.
While the statistics of these organisations have been called into question, the numbers themselves do not really matter. The way in which they are reported, however, do. This campaign is all about perceptions. Putin understands this important fact. This is why we are not seeing him as much, and why he is meeting with small groups of university students, and judo pupils, rather than large groups (as seen in this video from Sky News).
As far as the articles that Putin has been publishing laying out his alleged agenda for his next term, I am not sure that they have much value as a campaign strategy. They appear to be more valuable as a starting point for dialogue within society about such subjects. This may be the best thing Putin will do for society this year.
Note: I would highly recommend viewing Amanda Walker’s Sky News piece (not only for the gem clip of Putin speaking English).
The head of Russia’s Central Elections Commission Vladimir Churov came out to talk to Ekho Moskvy (Echo of Moscow) on Thursday. He once again defended his role as Commissioner by claiming very little fraud occurred in the December Duma elections.
Churov also repeated his claim that they are preparing to install transparent ballot boxes in 30,000 polling stations across Russia for the March Presidential Elections. This is only about 1/3 of all polling stations. The Commission is also working on setting up webcams in “nearly all polling stations”, though Churov gave no indication of what “nearly all” actually equals to as a concrete number.
While Ekho Moskvy, and its audience, got nothing really new from the interview, it was interesting to witness the effort that the Kremlin is making to explain themselves. Ekho Moskvy appeals to a very specific audience, the educated, liberal, middle class. Many of its listeners are the same people who attended the mass meetings on Bolotnaya, and Sakharova in December.
But what does Churov’s interview mean for the coming Presidential election? I am still not convinced that the Kremlin has decided on a strategy, but I have some ideas.
According to the most recent poll from VTsIOM, if the election had been held on 25 December 2011, Vladimir Putin would have gotten 45% of the vote. Even though Putin’s next closest rival, Communist Party Leader Gennady Zyuganov, received only 10% of the vote, Putin would still be 6 percentage points under the required amount to prevent a run-off.
At this point, Putin, and his campaign team, have a few options. They can stick with their current strategy, campaign mildly, and get the approximate amount the VTsIOM poll shows (give or take a couple points). They would then be forced into a run-off with Zyuganov, where Putin would probably win in a landslide.
Another option would be to take a small win in the first round. This would be something over 51%, but under 60%. However, this is risky because of the amount of perceived fraud that took place in the Parliamentary elections last month. A small win could be within an arguable margin of error, and lead to more protests.
The last option would be to take a large win in the first round (say 65%, for a round number). This is also a risk because the larger win could be indicative of massive fraud, and could also force more protests.
As far as I can tell, these are the choices that are open. Do you have other ideas? What would you choose?