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ON MY MIND

In a resolution passed today, the State Duma compared the ban of Russia's track-and-field athletes from the Summer Olympics to "the Spanish Inquisition." Over the top? Sure. But it's also par for the course for Vladimir Putin's regime.

Back in early 2000, shortly after Putin came to power, a Foreign Ministry official in Moscow told me with a straight face that the Baltic state's treatment of ethnic Russians constituted "apartheid." During Russia's war with Georgia in 2008, Russian state media persistently accused Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili of committing "genocide." And of course, when a popular uprising in Ukraine overthrew the corrupt pro-Moscow regime of Viktor Yanukovych, the Kremlin described it as a "putsch" by a "fascist junta."

By using the most odious terms available to describe its adversaries, the Putin regime is speaking volumes about itself.

IN THE NEWS

European Union ambassadors have agreed to a six-month extension of sanctions against Russia.

The Kremlin has rejected an offer from Germany to hold a meeting on the Ukraine crisis before the NATO summit.

Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko says he doesn't rule out a ban on the whole Russian Olympic team for the 2016 Summer Games.

The Russian Defense Ministry says it has successfully tested components of a missile-defense system.

Russian President Vladimir Putin will visit China at the invitation of Chinese President Xi Jinping on June 25.

NATO’s top civilian leader brushed aside comments from Germany’s foreign minister that accused the alliance of “warmongering,” saying the 28-nation bloc needed both a military response and a political dialogue in dealing with Russia.

The Russian State Duma has passed the second reading of a bill imposing tougher penalties for "extremism."

Russia’s state-run RT network has broadcast footage appearing to show Russian jets in Syria armed with cluster bombs.

WHAT I'M READING

Hipster Communists

Lenin with a laptop. Marx in a leather jacket. Stalin puffing an e-cigarette. Russia's Communist Party's advertising campaign for September's State Duma elections has a hipster vibe.

When Navalny Wrote Putin

Writing on his blog in Slon.ru, Oleg Kashin explores why opposition leader Aleksei Navalny wrote a letter asking Vladimir Putin for his party to be allowed to compete in the Duma elections.

"Given the existing relationship between Putin and Navalny, the request seems a bit strange: 'You are a tyrant, a thief, and a killer. Now please allow me to participate in your elections,'" Kashin writes. "But we should be accustomed to the fact that 'strange' is not a category in Russian politics, because everything is strange."

Election Preview

Vedomosti, meanwhile, has an overview of what to expect in the Duma elections.

The Strelkov Factor

Journalist and author Anna Arutunyan has a commentary on the European Council on Foreign Relations that looks at efforts by Igor Girkin, aka Strelkov, to form a nationalist movement to challenge the Kremlin.

"This is an extremely important development to watch," Arutunyan writes.

"As I wrote last year, the real threat to the regime, if it is going to emerge, will come from nationalists co-opted, groomed, and then set loose by the Kremlin, and not from the liberals. To that extent, Strelkov’s increasingly aggressive posturing as a critic of Vladimir Putin raised real questions about whether he, indeed, could become that formidable opponent.

The FSB Shuffle

In a piece for Meduza, Andrei Soldatov -- editor in chief of Agentura.ru and co-author of the books The New Nobility: The Restoration Of Russia's Security State And The Enduring Legacy Of The KGB and The Red Web: The Struggle Between Russia's Digital Dictators And The New Online Revolutionaries -- looks at the recent personnel changes in the FSB.

Life During Stagnation

On his blog for RosBalt, political analyst Dmitry Gubin offers Russians five rules for surviving the coming Putin stagnation.

Little Green Fans?

Writing on his blog, Kremlin-watcher and security expert Mark Galeotti looks at Russia's "Little Green Fan" problem at Euro 2016.

"The open enthusiasm of some Russian politicians about the thuggish behavior of their football fans in France speaks volumes about the boorish nationalism and crude us-versus-the-world mentality that has been liberated by Putin in recent years," Galeotti writes.

"And yet for all that, there is also a dangerous Western narrative that the Kremlin is the malign grandmaster behind everything that goes wrong, from Brexit to migration. The hooligan crisis has likewise been inserted into this unfolding narrative."

Russia's Spunky Regional Press

A post on Mikhail Khodorkovsky's Open Wall portal looks at Russia's surprisingly feisty regional newspapers.

Here's a teaser: "In the capital, people have been going on forever about it being time for 'regime change,' and doing very little to make it happen; whereas, in the rest of Russia something has been quietly gathering pace. And this something is a provincial intelligentsia. The description might seem archaic, but what else can you call a newspaper publisher in the regional center of Siberia’s back-of-beyond. The provinces dragged Russia out of medieval barbarism once before, under the Romanovs, when the district councils, or zemstva, built national schools and hospitals. They laid the foundation for the political system that emerged with the first State Duma in 1906."

Ukraine's Unlikely Reformers

John Herbst, director of the Dinu Patriciu Eurasia Center at the Atlantic Council and the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, has a piece explaining why the West was wrong about Ukrainian Prime Minister Volodymyr Groisman’s government.

"It is too early to draw firm conclusions, but Prime Minister Volodymyr Groisman’s and Prosecutor-General Yuriy Lutsenko’s early moves indicate that Ukraine is still on the reform path," Herbst writes.

Putin's German Enablers

Also on The Atlantic Council's website, Rutgers University-Newark professor Alexander Motyl looks at how Germany's Social Democratic Party is enabling Vladimir Putin, and the cost of this for Ukraine.

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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