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The Morning Vertical, May 26, 2016

  • Brian Whitmore

Morning vertical 308x173

Morning vertical 308x173

ON MY MIND

As I noted in today's Daily Vertical, and as several commentators noted in pieces highlighted below, the contrasting images of Nadia Savchenko's triumphant return to Ukraine and the deafening silence surrounding the repatriation of GRU officers Yevgeny Yerofeyev and Aleksander Aleksandrov couldn't be sharper.

In fact, they are something of a metaphor for Ukraine and Russia's respective approaches to the conflict. Ukraine openly says it is fighting a war to defend its independence, and is therefore proud of Savchenko -- who is a hero and a symbol of resistance in that war.

Russia is also fighting a war, one to destroy Ukraine's independence -- but they are pretending that they are not. They are relying on covert operatives like Yerofeyev and Aleksandrov to foment an armed rebellion in the Donbas.

And now, Russia cannot acknowledge Yerofeyev and Aleksandrov as heroes because that would be a tacit admission of what they are doing.

LATEST FROM THE POWER VERTICAL BLOG

In my latest Power Vertical blog post, "Ukraine's New Hope," I argue that Savchenko could become something Ukraine "has long lacked -- and badly needs: a political figure with clear and unambiguous moral authority."

IN THE NEWS

Sweden's parliament has approved a host nation agreement with NATO that would give the alliance more access to the country for training exercises and in the event of war.

Oil prices have topped $50 a barrel for the first time in 2016.

EU Council President Donald Tusk has said he is "quite sure" sanctions against Russia will be extended.

The United States has sentenced a Russian banker to 30 months in prison for conspiracy to spy.

A court in Yaroslavl has overturned a fine levied against a local lawmaker for installing a plaque honoring slain Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov.

WHAT I'M READING

Some Savchenko Reax

Leonid Bershidsky argues that Ukraine is the moral victor in the prisoner swap that freed Nadia Savchenko.

"Savchenko's colorful defiance and her country's spirited defense of her were more pure, more human than Russia's official rejection and reluctant rescue of Alexandrov and Yerofeyev," Bershidsky writes. "Besides, Savchenko has a much better explanation of how she ended up in captivity than the Russian servicemen: She was defending her country. The GRU men had been following orders they didn't question, fighting against a neighboring country that had not attacked Russia. In that sense, the exchange was not equivalent. Ukraine got the moral victory."

Writing in Slon.ru, Oleg Kashin notes "Russia's awkward silence" about the two military intelligence operatives, Yevgeny Yerofeyev and Aleksander Aleksandrov, who were exchanged for Savchenko.

In contrast to Savchenko, who was publicly honored by President Petro Poroshenko and appears to be headed for a bright political career, Yerofeyev and Aleksandrov "will not be publicly rewarded because it would mean a public recognition by Russia of its war in Ukraine" and they will not enter politics because that could set a dangerous precedent. The best they can hope for, Kashin writes "is an interview on Vesti Nedeli."

In Euromaidan Press, Ukrainian journalist and political commentator Vitaliy Portnikov also contrasts Savcehnko's welcome to that of Yerofeyev and Aleksandrov.

On The Atlantic Council's website, Ukrainian analyst Kateryna Kruk argues that Savchenko's return could set off a "political earthquake" in Ukraine. One thing worth watching will be her relationship with Yulia Tymoshenko.

"In fact, there can hardly be a suitable political role for Savchenko," Kruk wrotes. "She is a living legend, a symbol, and a national hero. She has immense support from society and international leaders. At the same time, she is not a politician. She is straightforward and honest in telling exactly what she thinks -- a rare quality in politics unlikely to bring her more political friends."

Atlantic Council fellow Irena Chalupa also takes a look at Savchenko's political future.

"Even before her release, she was the subject of much speculation; many opined that perhaps having someone as principled and honest as Savchenko would not be convenient for the cynical and corrupt Ukrainian political milieu," Chalupa writes. "What would she do in the political circus that is Ukraine’s parliament, they asked? One weekly magazine featured a serious Savchenko on its cover with the headline “The next president of Ukraine?”

And Russian analysts are speculating that there was more behind the Savchenko exchange than meets the eye.

Ukraine's Other Savchenkos

The website of the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group has a rundown of the Ukrainian citizens who remain incarcerated in Russia on questionable charges.

"There is little or no progress on freeing the other Ukrainians unlawfully held in Russia, with the 'extradition procedure' in the case of filmmaker Oleg Sentsov, civic activist Oleksandr Kolchenko and others looking increasingly like a delaying tactic.There is also a large, and increasing number of Ukrainians, most of them Crimean Tatars, imprisoned in Russian-occupied Crimea."

The F-Word

Mikhail Khodorkovsky's Open Wall has a post, "If It's Not Fascism, Then What Is It?" that looks at the role of the F-Word in Russian discourse.

Here's a teaser: "In Russia, everyone compares everything to Hitler. Not only on the Internet, mind you, but offline as well: on TV, in newspapers, during rallies, and simply in everyday situations. It would appear that the Nazis have come to occupy a crucial mythological niche in the worldview of contemporary Russians: epitomising absolute evil, and representing the strongest possible term of abuse, “Fascism” is effectively the zero-point of Russia’s new moral coordinates system.

Indeed, a world without Fascism – and without "permanent victory" over the same (à la Trotsky's "permanent revolution") -- has become well-nigh inconceivable. This Fascism, furthermore, is constantly manifesting itself in ever-new guises: for Putin, "Fascism" means Ukraine, for the opposition it means Putin, for the federal channels it means the opposition, and so on and so forth."

Syria Strategies

Vedomosti has a piece titled "How To Fight After The Armistice," that looks at the respective Russian and U.S. strategies in Syria going forward.

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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