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The Morning Vertical, May 11, 2016

  • Brian Whitmore


One of the questions I've been grappling with recently is whether or not Vladimir Putin is truly an ideologue. Does he really believe in his "great Russia" project? Or is this smoke and mirrors to mask the cynical machinations of a kleptocratic regime?

In a recent lecture at Brown University's Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs (featured below), historian Timothy Snyder makes a convincing case that the early 20th century Slavophile philosopher Ivan Ilyin has had a profound influence on Putin's worldview. But the regime Putin has created, while serving to enrich Putin's inner circle, has proven to be a major stumbling block to achieving the great Slavic state that Ilyin advocated.

The tension between the two Putins: Putin the ideologue and Putin the kleptocrat will be one of the more interesting and consequential dynamics to watch going forward.


Russian sports ministry official is "concerned" by Sochi doping allegations.

A Russian activist detained for supporting Nadia Savchenko is seeking political asylum in Ukraine.

A Russian attempt to add two Syrian rebel groups to a United Nations terror blacklist was rejected by Britain, France, the United States, and Ukraine.

Moldova's government has protested the participation of Russian troops in a Victory Day parade in breakaway Transdniester.

According to a new report, Russia has deported half a million foreigners over the past four years.


Timothy Snyder: Ukraine And Russia In a Fracturing Europe

Or in this case, what I'm watching: Yale University historian Timothy Snyder gave a lecture at Brown University's Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs on "Ukraine And Russia In A Fracturing Europe." In the lecture, Snyder, the author of the highly acclaimed books Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler And Stalin and Black Earth: The Holocaust As History And Warning, looked at the influence of the Russian philosopher Ivan Ilyin on Vladimir Putin's thinking.

You can watch the lecture in its entirety here.

And for background on Ilyin, check out this piece in Foreign Affairs by Anton Barbashin and Hannah Thoburn that was published back in September.

Conditional Neutrality

Journalist Elisabeth Braw has a piece in Politico looking at the politics of traditionally neutral Sweden's recent moves toward NATO.

"For months, pressure has mounted on Sweden’s government to think about NATO membership," Braw writes. "After many years of cutbacks, pushed particularly hard by the center-right coalition that governed between 2006 and 2014 and oversaw the end of conscription, Sweden is now increasing military spending."

Is Unpredictability An Asset Or Liability?

On his blog for The Wilson Center, Maxim Trudolyubov also looks at Finland and Sweden's flirtations with NATO and argues that "Russian policymakers turned unpredictability into a strategic virtue."But this just masks Moscow's inherent weakness.

"Moscow should not be surprised to find that it has created a lot of anxiety among its neighbors," Trudolyubov writes.

"If Russia wants to be seen as strategically unpredictable and politically agile, everyone around it, including Finland and Sweden, should be excused for seeking to increase their sense of security."

Confessions Of A Prosecutor

The website Mediazone, which focuses on legal issues in Russia, has a lengthy "confession" of an employee in the St. Petersburg Prosecutor's Office about how law-enforcement and the courts really work in Russia.

It's a long piece and it contains nothing anybody familiar with Russian law enforcement will find particularly surprising -- prosecutors dictate sentences to judges, police do prosecutors' bidding, prosecutors take orders from Moscow, and everybody is watching their own back -- but it is pretty jarring to have it all spelled out.

The Fog Of Falsehood

The Finnish Institute of International Affairs has a new report, Fog Of Falsehood: Russian Strategy Of Deception And the Conflict In Ukraine."

Russia-NATO Council Post-Mortem

Foreign Affairs analyst Maksim Starchak has a post-mortem in Intersection magazine on last month's NATO-Russia Council meeting.

"Russia is not interested in cooperation with NATO, and the convening of the Council did not serve to increase its proneness to negotiate. Russia is interested in strengthening its power and influence whereas potential cooperation with the Alliance is considered solely from the standpoint of resolving "its own security issues," which again gives it a sense of "superiority."

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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