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ON MY MIND

Protesting farmers and striking auto workers are not what Vladimir Putin's regime wants to see just weeks before elections. But that is what it is getting.

A report accusing the ruling United Russia party of being infested with mobsters and criminals also isn't what the Kremlin wants to see just weeks before elections. But that is what just happened.

And so it is not surprising that United Russia's ratings are falling precipitously, according to the latest poll by the independent Levada Center.

State Duma elections have always been legitimization rituals for the Putin regime. When they can put on a good show, deploy their media dominance, and get the result they want without crude falsification on election day, the ritual is successful -- as it was in 2003 and 2007. But when things go off-script, and the regime is forced to transparently falsify -- as was the case in 2011 -- the result is a disaster.

In just over two weeks, we'll see which will be the case this time.

IN THE NEWS

According to a poll by the Levada Center, the rating of the ruling United Russia party has fallen sharply ahead of this month's State Duma elections.

European Union ambassadors appear set to prolong asset freezes and visa bans against 146 individuals and 37 entities that, according to the EU, are responsible for actions against Ukraine's territorial integrity, EU officials say.

Frustrated relatives of people killed when Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down over eastern Ukraine have appealed to the European Union’s top diplomat to put pressure on Russia, Ukraine, and the United States to provide investigators with intelligence and radar data about the tragedy.

The U.S. state of Florida has unveiled a memorial plaque to honor Ukrainian soldiers killed in the Donbas.

A new report by Human Rights Watch alleges that Russia is tolerating tyranny in Chechnya.

Izvestia is reporting that Russia plans to form a rights watchdog group to act as an alternative to Human Rights Watch.

Ukraine is today scheduled to officially launch an online system that monitors the incomes and assets of government officials.

Russia is planning to hold a two-day competition next week for its Paralympic squad banned from Rio, the country's Paralympic Committee head has said.

WHAT I'M READING

Russia's Long Game In Ukraine

In a piece in Foreign Policy, MIchael Kofman, a fellow at the Kennan Institute, looks at the strategic goals behind Russia's troop buildup on Ukraine's borders.

"Moscow isn’t looking to escalate the war in the Donbas. But it is laying the groundwork to dominate its neighbor for years to come," Kofman writes.

Russian Troop Levels In The Donbas

Bellingcat has a new report using open-source data on the awarding of combat medals to estimate that tens of thousands of Russian troops were active in the war in eastern Ukraine.

Russia's Growing 'Fifth Column'

An editorial in Gazeta.ru notes that as social protests rise, the Russian authorities are seeing more and more people as potential "fifth columnists."

"The distinction between the so-called fifth column and the other four has blurred," Gazeta.ru writes.

"Nowadays, the fifth column can be a woman who asks a governor about back wages. Someone who defends a city park. Farmers. Coal miners. Even the workers of Uralvagonzavod, which in recent years has been on the verge of bankruptcy. The contracts the state had been throwing the company’s way have not helped, apparently. If the authorities, especially local authorities simply afraid to show federal authorities they are incapable of coping with problems, continue to operate only through a policy of intimidation, they might soon be the fifth column themselves, if only because, sooner or later, they will find themselves in the minority."

'The Tin God Behind The Ice Curtain'

David Ramseur, visiting scholar at the Institute of Social and Economic Research at the University of Alaska Anchorage, has a post in the Kennan Institute's Russia File blog chronicling a recent visit to Russia's Far East.

"Eleven time zones and nearly 4,000 miles east of Moscow, Lavrentiya is barely 100 miles as the seagull flies from Alaska. For two weeks starting in late June of this year, I joined a handful of other adventure travelers for a hands-on look at the Russian indigenous villages across the International Dateline from my home state," Ramseur writes.

"We racked up nearly 350 miles bouncing through the frigid sea named after Vitus Bering in 18-foot aluminum boats, surrounded by spouting grey whales and once thriving villages forced to be consolidated or abandoned during the Cold War."

Russian-American Relations After November

Moscow-based foreign affairs analyst Vladimir Frolov has a piece in Slon.ru on what the Kremlin is expecting from a potential Hillary Clinton presidency.

A September Reshuffle?

In a piece in Znak, journalist and political analyst Yekaterina Vinokurova argues that more high-profile personnel changes are on the way in Russia in September.

Russia's Controversial Education Minister

Writing in The Daily Beast, Anna Nemtsova calls the appointment of Olga Vasilyeva as education minister "Putin's neo-Stalinist tipping point."

"Putin’s appointment of a Stalin-apologist ideologue as education minister is, for many intellectuals, the last straw," Nemtsova writes.

An unsigned blog post on Mikhail Khodorkovsky's Open Wall web portal also takes a look at Vasilyeva's appointment and what it portends.

"Under Vasilyeva, then, Russian academia can expect Stalinist reprisals -- updated. Whereas in the 1930s, university staff could be shown the door (or worse) for inadequate knowledge of Marxism-Leninism, today they will be 'purged' for posting a liberal comment on Facebook , for unpatriotic comments in the media, or a publication in a Western scientific journal," the Open Wall writes.

"Pity the academics…but pity the children even more."

Required Reading

Want to know what some leading Kremlin-watchers are reading? Check out this survey from Global Interest.

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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