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ON MY MIND

Thanks to Russia, the International Olympic Committee is damned if it does and damned if it doesn't.

If the Russian team is banned from the Summer Games in Rio, it would be an unprecedented move and the 2016 Olympics will forever have an asterisk attached to them due to the absence of a traditional sports powerhouse. But if the Russian team is not banned after such a massive and brazen state-sponsored cheating program was exposed, this year's games -- and the Olympic movement in general -- will be forever tainted.

And in this sense, sports is just another aspect of foreign affairs for the Kremlin.

It's just another international arena where Moscow is breaking all the rules, smirking, and daring the world to do something about it.

IN THE NEWS

Civilians have been subjected to extended arbitrary detention, disappearances, and even torture by both sides in the conflict in eastern Ukraine, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch say in a joint report.

The Court of Arbitration for Sport has rejected an appeal by 68 Russian track-and-field athletes to overturn a ban imposed by the sport's governing body on them taking part in the Summer Olympics in Rio.

U.S. authorities have charged a Ukrainian who founded the world's biggest online piracy site with distributing over $1 billion worth of illegally copied films, music, and other content.

A court in Russia's Far East has cleared five imprisoned men who were originally convicted of a notorious 2009 quadruple murder.

Prosecutors are asking for a two-year suspended sentence for Leonid Volkov, an associate of opposition leader Aleksei Navalny.

WHAT I'M READING

Economic Union Or Political Tool?

The Eurasian Economic Union treaty was signed just over two years ago and it went into effect on January 1, 2015. The International Crisis Group has just released a new report, The Eurasian Union: Power, Politics, And Trade, examining its effectiveness.

"The Eurasian Economic Union (EEU), created in 2015 by Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Belarus, and Armenia, claims to be the first successful post-Soviet initiative to overcome trade barriers and promote integration in a fragmented, underdeveloped region. Supporters argue that it could be a mechanism for dialogue with the European Union (EU) and other international partners. Critics portray a destabilizing project that increases Russia’s domination of the region and limits its other members’ relations with the West," the report opens.

Moldova, Europe, And Russia

Clingendael has released a report -- The Europeanization Of Moldova: Is The EU On The Right Track? -- that examines the jockeying between the European Union and Russia for influence in Moldova.

"If properly handled, Moldova could serve as the bridgehead of a stronger European impact in the volatile Eastern neighborhood. Given the window of opportunity currently offered by Russia, Moldova also offers a chance for the EU to test Russia’s willingness to cooperate in a pragmatic way in the so-called ‘shared neighborhood,'" the report claims.

Lessons Of The Winter War

Writing on the War On The Rocks blog, Iskander Rehman, a postdoctoral fellow at the Brookings Institution, looks at the lessons of Finland's 105-day war with the Soviet Union in 1939-40.

"Finland’s Winter War with the Soviet Union, waged over the course of 105 days from November 1939 to March 1940, should be an object of study for all students of military strategy. Finland, a weak, sparsely populated, and diplomatically isolated nation, succeeded in imposing staggering costs on a far more potent aggressor," Rehman writes.

"Finland eventually buckled under the weight of Stalin’s onslaught and found itself obliged to part with large tracts of territory. Its citizen army had so severely gored the Soviet bear, however, that the Nordic nation preserved its independence and was spared the grim fate of the Baltic states."

Remembering Pavel Sheremet

Meduza correspondent Katerina Gordeeva has a moving retrospective on the career of slain journalist Pavel Sheremet (in English and Russian).

"Pavel Sheremet's biography is undoubtedly the story of a whole generation of Russian journalists who lost their jobs because of their convictions and circumstances outside their control," Gordeeva writes.

"Unlike many others, after every painful layoff, Pasha was able to reinvent himself and get involved in new projects with redoubled energy. He managed to do his job like only a person infinitely committed to their profession can."

The FSB Vs. The Investigative Committee

Meduza also has an informative little explainer (in English and Russian) looking at the different interpretations of this week's FSB raid on the Investigative Committee and the subsequent criminal cases.

Can Ukraine Win The Information War?

Peter Dickinson, the publisher of Business Ukraine and Lviv Today, and editor at large at The Odessa Review, has a piece on the Atlantic Council's website titled: How Ukraine Can Win The Information War In A Fact-Free World.

"For Ukraine, the answer may be to focus more attention on emotional engagement rather than relying on mere facts. That is, if you can’t beat them, join them," Dickinson writes.

"This does not mean resorting to deliberate disinformation or countering propaganda with propaganda. It means interacting with international audiences in strategic ways that will produce the desired responses. Modern Ukraine’s story is fundamentally engaging: It is the tale of a country struggling to make a historic transition from authoritarianism to democracy, a survivor nation that miraculously rose from the ashes of both Hitler and Stalin’s worst crimes against humanity."

Meanwhile, Globsec has just released the latest edition of its Information War Monitor For Central Europe.

Life After Facts

And speaking of a "fact-free world," Peter Pomerantsev has a wonderful essay in Granta, Why We're Post-Fact, that -- while not exclusively about Russia -- provides an intelligent take on how we got here.

"It’s clear we are living in a ‘post-fact’ or ‘post-truth’ world. Not merely a world where politicians and media lie -- they have always lied -- but one where they don’t care whether they tell the truth or not," Pomerantsev writes.

"How did we get here? Is it due to technology? Economic globalization? The culmination of the history of philosophy? There is some sort of teenage joy in throwing off the weight of facts -- those heavy symbols of education and authority, reminders of our place and limitations -- but why is this rebellion happening right now?"

The Victims Of Doping

Journalist Semyon Novoprudsky has a commentary on the doping scandal in Gazeta.ru that's worth a read.

"You can, of course, shout loudly that 'everybody does it.' You can reassure yourselves that it's revenge for the Crimea and Donbas," Novoprudsky writes.

"Or you can just play by the rules -- not just in sports. You can criticize the rules and try to change them -- but not violate them unilaterally. You cannot try to buy a win at any cost, where this victory is not exactly a matter of life and death. It is especially important to learn to accept defeat."

Russia's YouTube Politicians

Andrei Pertsev has a piece up on the Moscow Carnegie Center's website on Russia's new YouTube political stars.

"Russian politics has some unlikely new heroes in the form of stars of YouTube and social networks," Pertsev writes.

"Several candidates running in September’s elections for Russia’s lower house of parliament, the State Duma, launched their political careers by speaking at public events or posting speeches on YouTube, after which their criticism of the government attracted tens of thousands of shares."

About This Blog

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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