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ON MY MIND

Seventeen years ago this week, the course of Russian history changed. From September 4-16, a series of apartment bombings in Moscow, Buynaksk, and Volgodonsk terrified the nation, shocked the world, sparked the second Chechen war, and catapulted Vladimir Putin into the Kremlin.

On this week's Power Vertical Podcast, we take a look back at the 1999 apartment bombings and their relevance for Russia today. Joining me will be co-host 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; veteran Kremlin-watcher Donald Jensen, a former U.S. State Department official and currently a fellow at the Center for Transatlantic Relations in the Nitze School of International Studies at Johns Hopkins University; and David Satter, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, a fellow of the Foreign Policy Institute of Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies, and author of two books about the 1999 apartment bombings, Darkness At Dawn and the recently published The Less You Know, The Better You Sleep.

Be sure to tune in later today!

IN THE NEWS

Russian President Vladimir Putin has dismissed his longtime children's rights commissioner, Pavel Astakhov, who was under fire for what many saw as a callous comment following a boating accident that killed several children in June.

Lev Gudkov, the director of the Levada Center, has said that Russia's law on "foreign agents" has led to the country's "moral, social, and intellectual degradation."

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Geneva to discuss a political agreement that could help bring an end to the conflict in Syria, Washington and Moscow have said.

Ruslan Sokolovsky, the Russian blogger who is under criminal investigation for posting a video of himself playing Pokemon Go in a Russian Orthodox church, has been transferred to house arrest.

The United States and Ukraine have agreed to deepen defense cooperation, with a retired U.S. Army general being appointed special adviser to Ukraine's defense minister.

An official with the Belarusian Sports Ministry has been kicked out of the Paralympics Games in Brazil after he marched in the opening ceremonies carrying a Russian flag.

The Russian Health Ministry says life expectancy in Russia has increased to 72 years.

The Russian Finance Ministry has proposed reducing defense spending by 6 percent.

WHAT I'M READING

Putin's Pals

Prominent Russian opposition journalist and political commentator Oleg Kashin has an op-ed in The New York Times on How Do You Get To Be A Governor In Vladimir Putin’s Russia?

"A sequence of bodyguards turning, one after another, into government officials seems like a setup for a joke, but this is the logic of authoritarianism at work," Kashin writes.

"When all power in the country coalesces in one man, he becomes more isolated with time until ultimately he finds himself completely alone, convinced of his own uniqueness and suspicious of comrades in arms who still recall his first steps in politics."

The Perils Of Misbehaving In Church

Commentators continue to weigh in on the case of Ruslan Sokolovsky, the Yekaterinburg-based blogger who faces up to five years in prison for playing Pokemon Go in church.

Kevin Rothrock at Global Voices takes a look at the how law enforcement officials and pro-Kremlin bloggers in Yekaterinburg have launched a campaign of character assassination against Sokolovsky.

And Maxim Trudolyubov, a senior fellow at the Kennan Institute, looks at how cases like Sokolovsky's are teachable moments for society.

"In Russian, we call cases like this 'resonance cases,'" Trudolyubov writes.

"This is an apt way of putting it: they create waves. Every publicized court case is intended as a lesson. Whether they are taken and accepted as such is society’s call. So far society has been a fast learner and the Kremlin a successful professor. My explanation for the success of this teaching method is that most of the actual learning took place earlier, between the 1930s and the 1970s."

Saakashvili's Two Fronts

Peter Zalmayev, director of the New York-based Eurasia Democracy Initiative, has a piece in Eurasianet on how Mikheil Saakashvili is trying to maximize his influence in Ukraine and Georgia at the same time.

"There is an old Ukrainian saying -- if you chase two rabbits, you will not catch either one. This adage can apply to politics, and it has particular relevance these days for Mikheil Saakashvili, the erstwhile president of Georgia who managed to morph into the governor of the Ukrainian region of Odessa," Zalmayev writes.

The Western Far Right Goes To Donbas

The Brussels-based monthly magazine Mondiaal Nieuws has a piece about the "radicalized Westerners who want to take up arms against NATO or the U.S. fight with the pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine."

How To Destroy An Election

Anne Applebaum has a disturbing piece in The Washington Post on how Russia could spark a U.S. electoral disaster.

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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