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The Morning Vertical, September 15, 2016

  • Brian Whitmore

ON MY MIND

So what should we make of the report in RBK claiming that Aleksandr Bastrykin, the longtime head of Russia's Investigative Committee, will resign following this weekend's State Duma elections?

The report is still unconfirmed and it came hours after another unconfirmed report claiming that Vladimir Markin, the Investigative Committee's colorful spokesman, was also stepping down. And it came just months after top Investigative Committee officials were arrested for allegedly taking bribes from an organized crime kingpin.

At this point, there are more questions than answers. Bastrykin could well be on the way out. It could be, as political analyst Stanislav Belkovsky suggests in an interview featured below, part of a Kremlin housecleaning that has seen other longtime members of Vladimir Putin's team lose their jobs. Or it could be just intrigue. It could a power play against Bastrykin, who has made his fair share of enemies among the security services.

Whatever it is, it merits watching.

IN THE NEWS

The German and French foreign ministers have made their first visit to eastern Ukraine since the start of the conflict between government forces and Russia-backed separatists in 2014.

The United Nations says the death toll from the conflict in eastern Ukraine has reached more than 9,600 as the situation in the region deteriorates.

Ukrainian media reports say police are searching the residence of Hennadiy Kernes, the mayor of the northeastern city of Kharkiv.

The World Anti-Doping Agency said another batch of athletes' data has been leaked by the same Russian cyberespionage group that published confidential data earlier this week.

Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko says there is no proof that a recent cyberattack on a database of the world's main anti-doping regulator originated in Russia.

U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton will meet with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, her campaign said on September 14, in an effort to contrast her pro-Kyiv stance with her Republican opponent Donald Trump's public comments in support of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The International Monetary Fund has approved a loan disbursement for Ukraine of $1 billion after a delay of more than a year that reflected concern about corruption and stability in the war-torn nation.

WHAT I'M READING

Election Previews

With elections to the State Duma coming up this weekend, there is no shortage of previews and set-up pieces out there.

Max Bader of Leiden University has a piece in New Eastern Europe looking at how the Kremlin is seeking to use the elections to be "viewed as broadly legitimate while keeping political pluralism highly constrained."

Moscow-based political analyst Nikolai Petrov, meanwhile, weighs in on the European Council on Foreign Relations website:

"Putin has sought to improve the apparent transparency of the electoral process while simultaneously strengthening the chance of a United Russia win. But pulling the election date forward delivers a short-term benefit at the expense of longer-term risk," Petrov writes.

And longtime Kremlin-watcher Mark Galeotti, a senior research fellow at the Institute of International Relations in Prague and a visiting fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, has a piece in BNEIntellinews arguing that the best way Russian voters can make their voices heard is to stay home on election day.

Bastrykin Out?

RBK is reporting that Investigative Committee head Aleksandr Bastrykin will resign following this weekend's State Duma elections. The report, based on unidentified sources, is unconfirmed. It also comes on the heels of unconfirmed reports that the Investigative Committee's colorful spokesman, Vladimir Markin, was also stepping down.

In an interview with Open Russia, political analyst Stanislav Belkovsky suggests that Bastrykin looks like the next member of Putin's team to be thrown under the bus, following Vladimir Yakunin, Viktor Ivanov, and Sergei Ivanov.

Ukraine's Prospects

Judy Dempsey of the Carnegie Center Europe asks the experts: Can Ukraine turn the corner?

Russia's Invisible Wars

Andrew Kornbluth has a piece on the Atlantic Council's website asking why Russia's wars don't spark more outrage among Western publics.

"While hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets in major cities across Western Europe and the United States to protest the American invasion of Iraq and, more recently, the invasion by America’s ally Israel of the Gaza Strip in 2014, Russia’s wars of choice in Syria and Ukraine have failed to excite a single public demonstration of any significance anywhere in the Western world," Kornbluth writes.

The Teenage Terrorist Plot

Halya Coynash of the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group continues to follow the case of the seven teenagers that pro-Moscow separatists in Donetsk have accused of carrying out terrorist acts on behalf of the Kyiv authorities. Russia's Investigative Committee has now become involved, opening up a criminal case against the youths' alleged handlers in Ukraine's Security Service.

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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