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ON MY MIND

In a provocative and insightful essay featured below, author and journalist Peter Savodnik argues that the roots of Vladimir Putin's behavior can be found not in his KGB past but in his belief in the Slavophile tradition and a desire to undo Peter the Great's opening to the West.

"Putin’s goal is not just a little more turf. Russia has a lot of that. His telos --his endgame -- is the destabilization, the overcoming, of the whole Western order," he writes.

In this sense, Savodnik argues that Putin's goals are not limited to securing a sphere of influence in the former Soviet space. They are civilizational. He wants total victory over -- and the destruction of -- the West.

I'm not sure if I buy this completely, but it is compelling given Putin's behavior since returning to the Kremlin in 2012. And there is some recent evidence to support that Putin has maximalist aspirations.

In an excellent reconstruction of Russian efforts to influence the U.S. election (featured in yesterday's Morning Vertical), Newsweek journalist Kurt Eichenwald reported that Putin was advised against such a move by key members of his inner circle -- including Sergei Ivanov (who was sacked in August) and Dmitry Medvedev -- who argued that it would be destabilizing.

But, according to the report, Putin was pleased as punch with the chaos the operation was generating.

If Savodnik is right about what is driving Putin -- and again, I'm not sure he is but I think his thesis merits consideration -- then there are some truly dark days ahead.

IN THE NEWS

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump has acknowledged that Russian hackers intruded on servers of U.S. institutions, and again dismissed a classified document that purportedly details compromising information gathered on him by Russia.

Trump's nominee for secretary of state Rex Tillerson has portrayed Russia as a dangerous and destabilizing global actor that disregards U.S. interests, but said Moscow is "not unpredictable" and that Washington must improve its understanding of the Kremlin's thinking.

A top U.S. intelligence official has told President-elect Donald Trump that U.S. intelligence agencies did not write or leak a document alleging that Russian operatives have "compromising information" on him.

Newly appointed Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland has rejected an offer from Russia to lift a travel ban against her if Canada removes economic sanctions and visa bans imposed over Moscow’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula.

Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov has said dozens of suspected militants were detained and four of them killed in a special security operation in Chechnya on January 11.

Activists in St. Petersburg have protested the decision of the Russian city's government to hand over the landmark St. Isaac's Cathedral to the Russian Orthodox Church.

Georgia's president and government have condemned the demolition by Russian troops of a 19th-century church and Polish cemetery in the breakaway Abkhazia region.

2015 Nobel Literature Prize winner Svetlana Alexievich has quit the Russian PEN Center as part of a widening split within the rights organization.

The European Parliament's civil liberties committee voted overwhelmingly for visa liberalization for Georgia to the EU's Schengen zone.

WHAT I'M READING

More On The Trump-Russia Dossier

The Wall Street Journal has identified Christopher Steele, a former British MI-6 officer, as the author of the Trump dossier.

Reuters, meanwhile, takes a look at Steele's career.

And at Newsweek, veteran Russia correspondent Owen Matthews weighs in with "thirteen things that don't add up" in the dossier.

The Guardian has a nice little reconstruction of the backstory behind the dossier.

The New York Times explains what we know, what we don't know, and why different media are handling it the way they are.

Russia's Republic.ru offers its take.

In an editorial, Gazeta.ru speculates whether Trump might face impeachment over his ties to Russia.

In a column for Novaya Gazeta, political commentator Yulia Latynina speculates whether Trump will face his own "Watergate."

And in Vox, Matthew Yglesias argues that "beyond wild allegations, what’s clearly true about Trump and Russia is disturbing."

Russia Reacts To Trump's Presser

Kevin Rothrock has a nice piece in The Moscow Times reviewing Russian reactions to Trump's press conference on Twitter.

And the Russian opposition newspaper Novaya Gazeta looks at Trump's press conference and his claim that Russia will have more respect for the United States during his presidency.

The Dark Art Of Kompromat And Honey Traps

In The Daily Beast, Michael Weiss looks at the Kremlin's historical use of honey traps.

And in The Atlantic, Julia Ioffe takes a look at the dark art of "kompromat"

The Tillerson Hearings

In The Washington Post, Josh Rogin weighs in on Rex Tillerson's Senate confirmation hearings.

As does Russia's Gazeta.ru.

Russia And The Crisis Of The West

Maxim Trudolyubov, a senior fellow at the Kennan Institute, has a post on the Russia Files blog looking at the crisis in the West and Russia's role in it.

In The Globe and Mail, Mark MacKinnon argues that by intervening in the U.S. election, "Moscow wanted payback, not a President Trump."

Bolotnaya Five Years On

Sean Guillory of the University of Pittsburgh's Center for Russian and Eastern European Studies looks at the Russian protest movement five years after Bolotnaya

The Dostoyevskian Sources Of Putin's Conduct

Peter Savodnik has an insightful essay in Vanity Fair viewing the roots of Putin's behavior through the works of Fyodor Dostoyevsky.

Gas Games

Agnia Grigas, a fellow at the Atlantic Council and author of books The New Geopolitics of Natural Gas and Beyond Crimea: The New Russian Empire, has a commentary in Reuters arguing that "as Russia's gas market gets weaker, Europe gets stronger."

Homeless On New Year's

Novaya Gazeta has a feature on how Moscow's homeless spent New Year's Eve.

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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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