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ON MY MIND

The recent report from the Journal of Strategic Studies on Russian active measures in Sweden and the 1981 U.S. State Department report on Soviet active measures against the United States (both featured below) illustrate how much has changed and how little has changed in 35 years.

Each report describes how Moscow uses tactics like disinformation, forgeries, front organizations, and media manipulation to influence politics in target countries. But the key difference is that in 1981, the conflict between the Soviet bloc and the West took place with each system hermetically sealed from the other. As a result, Soviet active measures, although they enjoyed some success, were much easier to detect and often ineffective.

Today, with Russia integrated into the global economy and information space, the opportunity for stealthy mischief is greater. In Moscow's second-generation active-measures campaign, business, finance, information, and cyberspace have all been weaponized and effectively targeted at the West's most vulnerable points. And the challenge for the West in the coming years is to find a new form of containment to defend against this assault.

IN THE NEWS

Republican U.S. Senator John McCain says he will join with Democrats in pushing for "comprehensive" sanctions on Russia because of its alleged attempts to influence the 2016 presidential election.

U.S. Congressional Democrats are calling for the creation of an independent commission to investigate Russia's attempts to intervene in the 2016 election.

A Kremlin spokesman has dismissed a U.S. intelligence report that claims Russian President Vladimir Putin personally ordered a hacking and disinformation campaign to help U.S. President-elect Donald Trump win the November U.S. presidential election.

The United States has slapped sanctions on five additional Russians for alleged human rights violations, including powerful senior law enforcement official Aleksandr Bastrykin and lawmaker Andrei Lugovoi, who has been accused in Britain in the poisoning of Kremlin critic Aleksandr Litvinenko.

World oil prices have plummeted over concerns that a deal to curb production reached between OPEC, Russia, and other producers will not hold for much longer.

The death toll resulting from dozens of people drinking poisonous bath lotion in Siberia's Irkutsk region since December 17 has risen to at least 76.

A top Russian diplomat who was found dead in his apartment in Athens died of natural causes, Russian and Greek officials say.

Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has signed a decree allowing citizens of 80 countries to stay in the country for up to five days without a visa.

Ukraine's pro-Russia former Prime Minister Mykola Azarov has said he may form a Ukrainian "government-in-exile" after a December Moscow court ruling claimed that the collapse of his government in early 2014 was the result of an illegal coup.

WHAT I'M READING

The Case Against A Grand Bargain

In a piece in Foreign Affairs, Jeffrey Mankoff, deputy director of the Russia and Eurasia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, explains why rapprochement with Russia won't work.

"During previous periods of U.S.-Russian cooperation, Russia made an effort to participate in the U.S.-led international system. This time around, Russia wants improved ties to be based on the United States' deferral to Russia's interests in the areas the Kremlin considers priorities," Mankoff writes.

Northern Exposure

The Journal of Strategic Studies has a new report out on Moscow's active measures in Sweden.

From the abstract: "An increasing amount of disinformation, forged telegrams and fake news items have surfaced in the Swedish information landscape. These developments have taken place in the context of a deteriorated security situation in the wider Baltic region, following Russia’s annexation of Crimea in February 2014. Russian politicians and diplomats have proactively intervened in Sweden’s domestic political affairs; and a number of pro-Kremlin NGOs and GONGOs have become operational in Sweden. In social media, troll armies are targeting journalists and academics, including the ‘hijacking’ of Twitter accounts. Disinformation on NATO and suspected intrusions by foreign submarines have appeared in Swedish media, themes which were picked up by Sputnik, RT, and other sources of Russian public diplomacy and broadcast to an international audience. Lastly, there exist examples of important target groups in Sweden, such as political actors, NGOs and newspapers, who wittingly or unwittingly have performed a role as interlocutors of disinformation."

The More Things Change…

Just for a bit of historical perspective, here's a U.S. State Department report from October 1981 on Soviet Active Measures: Forgery, Disinformation, Political Operations.

"The approaches used by Moscow include control of the press in foreign countries; outright and partial forgery of documents; use of rumors, insinuation, altered facts, and lies; use of international and local front organizations; clandestine operation of radio stations; exploitation of a nations academic, political, economic, and media figures as collaborators to influence policies of the nation," the report says.

Sound familiar?

Kasparov Speaks Out

Yahoo News' chief investigative reporter Michael Isikoff has a good video interview with self-exiled Russian opposition leader and former world chess champion Garry Kasparov

Trump, Russia, And The Republicans

James Kirchick, author of the forthcoming book The End Of Europe: Dictators, Demagogues, And The Coming Dark Age, has an op-ed in The Washington Post on how Donald Trump convinced some Republicans "to love Russia."

Vox, meanwhile, has a useful explainer on Trump's ties to Russia

And Reuters looks at how Trump is increasingly "caught between his desire to improve relations with Russia and fellow Republicans," like Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, "who are pushing for a harsher response."

Putin's Motives

Writing in The Washington Post, Fareed Zakaria argues: "We know what Russia did. But what we really need to understand is why."

And in Politico, Molly McKew, a former adviser to the Georgian and Moldovan governments, explains Putin's Long Game.

More On The U.S. Intel Report

Vox has a concise summary of the recently declassified intelligence report alleging Russian interference in the U.S. election.

In his column for Bloomberg, political commentator Leonid Bershidsky identifies six problems with the declassified version of the report.

And in The New York Review of Books, Masha Gessen, author of The Man Without A Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin, offers her take on the report.

2017 Forecast

It's the season for crystal-ball forecasts. Here's one from Mikhail Khodorkovsky's Open Wall web portal.

SRB Podcast

The latest SRB Podcast, hosted by Sean Guillory of the University of Pittsburgh's Center for Russian and Eastern European Studies, looks at corruption in the Stalin era. Sean's guest is James Heinzen, a professor of history at Rowan University and author of the book The Art Of The Bribe: Corruption Under Stalin, 1943-1953.

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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