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The Morning Vertical, September 23, 2016

  • Brian Whitmore

ON MY MIND

The sword and shield of the regime are coming back, or so it seems. But what does the potential return of the KGB, in the form of a new Ministry of State Security mean in practice?

Why is Vladimir Putin apparently abandoning his longstanding policy of playing Russia's security services off against each other and opting for a monolithic structure? And what dangers does this pose for him?

I tackled these issues in a blog post (featured below) and on this week's Power Vertical Podcast,

I will explore it further on the Power Vertical Podcast today with co-host Mark Galeotti, an expert on Russia's security services and a senior fellow at the Institute of International Relations in Prague, and Andrei Soldatov, co-author of the book The New Nobility: The Resurrection Of Russia's Security State And The Enduring Legacy Of The KGB.

The podcast will be posted later in the day, so be sure to tune in...

IN THE NEWS

Russian President Vladimir Putin has proposed the first deputy chief of the presidential administration, Vyacheslav Volodin, as the State Duma's new speaker.

The move follows Putin's appointment of the previous speaker Sergei Naryshkin as head of Russia’s foreign intelligence agency, the latest in a series of personnel firings, appointments, and shuffles at the Kremlin and top security agencies.

Moscow's police chief Anton Yakunin has resigned, Russian news agencies reported..

The top U.S. general, General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told lawmakers yesterday that he does not believe it would be wise to share intelligence with Russia in Syria should Washington and Moscow work together to fight Islamist extremists in the war-torn country.

Russia and the United States failed to reach an agreement on the Syria crisis at a high-level meeting in New York yesterday, as a new government offensive was reportedly launched against rebel-held areas of Aleppo.

Leading Democrats on the congressional intelligence committees have accused Russia of trying to influence the November 8 U.S. election via computer hacking and called on Russian President Vladimir Putin to "order a halt to this activity."

Estonia says it has declined an offer from Russia to hold talks on Baltic Sea security.

Prominent Russian opposition figure Aleksei Navalny has called for the resignation of Central Election Commission chief Ella Pamfilova over alleged falsifications in the September 18 parliamentary elections.

Pamfilova, meanwhile, said that reports that more than 100 polling stations in the Saratov Oblast reported the exact same result -- 62.2 percent -- were "taken out of context."

Putin held talks in Moscow yesterday with Milorad Dodik, president of Bosnia-Herzegovina's Republika Srpska.

Pro-Stalin activists in the Siberian city of Surgut plan to erect a bust of notorious Soviet security chief Lavrenty Beria next to a recently unveiled bust of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin.

The U.S. House of Representatives has backed legislation that calls for supplying Ukraine with lethal weaponry in its fight against Russia and separatists in the eastern Donbas region.

LATEST POWER VERTICAL BLOG

In case you missed it, my latest Power Vertical blog post, The Ministry of Putin Protection, looks at recent developments and argues that Russia is about to enter a new and more sinister political season.

WHAT I'M READING

Another Reshuffle

Slon.ru has a couple of good pieces looking at Putin's latest reshuffle that saw Sergei Naryshkin resign as State Duma speaker to make room for Kremlin chief of staff Vyacheslav Volodin, and take a new job as head of Russia's Foreign Intelligence Service.

In an editorial, Slon looks at the reasons for Naryshkin's appointment as foreign intelligence chief.

And political analyst Tatyana Stanovaya unpacks the appointment of deputy Kremlin chief of staff Vyacheslav Volodin as speaker of the State Duma.

Volodin's Struggle To Stay In The Kremlin

Vedomosti meanwhile has a piece citing Kremlin sources as saying that Volodin didn't want to become Duma speaker and put up a fight to remain in his previous post.

The End Of The Russian Spring

Also in Slon, opposition journalist Oleg Kashin examines the deeper meaning behind the assassination of pro-Moscow Ukrainian separatist leader Yevhen Zhylin.

Russia's China Problem

Veerle Nouwens, a research analyst at the International Security Studies Department of the Royal United Services Institute, has a piece looking at what is behind the joint Sino-Russian exercises in the South China Sea.

"Recent Sino–Russian naval drills in the South China Sea were touted by both states as an example of an alignment in each side’s interests. But the reality is more modest, as the two powers carefully balance the strategic advantages and liabilities of their relationship," Nouwens writes.

Ian Bremmer, meanwhile, has a piece in Time Magazine on how China is limiting Russia's international ambitions.

"Russia has an important long-term problem, and it isn’t just its slowing economy," Bremmer writes.

"China is an increasingly serious challenger in regions that Russians consider part of their sphere of influence. It is not the West that will limit the expansion of Russian influence and prestige. It is China."

Fifth Columnists

Meduza has a good piece on how Russia has used legislation criminalizing the propagation of separatism to suppress dissent. The story is based on interviews with Pavel Chikov, head of the human rights group, and the group's lawyer, Ramil Akhmetgaliev.

Vote Fraud Here And There

In his column for Bloomberg, political commentator Leonid Bershidsky argues that "Russia proves that vote fraud can happen anywhere."

"One reason the U.S. might be better than Russia at preventing ballot-stuffing is that it has a more independent judiciary, better able to handle fraud complaints, and a far more pluralistic media environment. A big conspiracy to subvert election officials would probably be next to impossible to conceal from reporters," Bershidsky writes.

"The electoral system itself, however, is vulnerable; I imagine if someone with Putin's dictatorial leanings ever were to ascend to the White House, the danger that fraud would return to U.S. politics after a long absence could become real again. The vote-counting system would certainly be vulnerable to this threat."

NOTE TO READERS: The Morning Vertical, and all other Power Vertical products, will not appear next week as I will be attending a conference in Tbilisi, Georgia. All Power Vertical products will return to their regular schedule on Monday, October 3.

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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