Sunday, May 01, 2016


Video The Daily Vertical: Shamelessly Exploiting A Tragedy

The Daily Vertical: Shamelessly Exploiting A Tragedyi
X
March 23, 2016
The Daily Vertical is a video primer for Russia-watchers that appears Monday through Friday. Viewers can suggest topics via Twitter @PowerVertical or on the Power Vertical Facebook page.
Brian Whitmore

The Daily Vertical is a video primer for Russia-watchers that appears Monday through Friday. Viewers can suggest topics via Twitter @PowerVertical or on the Power Vertical Facebook page. 

A transcript of today's Daily Vertical can be found here.


The Morning Vertical, March 23, 2016

Brian Whitmore

IN THE NEWS

In the wake of the terrorist attacks in Brussels, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier will visit Moscow today for talks on the Syria crisis.

Russia and Finland have reached an agreement to close their common border to migrants.

Russian Federation Council Speaker Valentina Matviyenko says lawmakers from the unrecognized parliaments in separatist-held areas of eastern Ukraine are visiting the Russian upper house to gain experience.

After a court in the southern Russian region of Rostov sentenced Ukrainian military pilot Nadia Savchenko to 22 years in prison, Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko has reportedly offered a prisoner swap.

According to a report in Ukrainskaya Pravda, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon plans to raise the Savchenko case in talks with Russian officials.

Ukraine, meanwhile, has called up 10,000 soldiers in a new mobilization drive.

Speculation is again heating up that Ukrainian Finance Minister Natalie Jaresko could be named prime minister. But Ukrainian media is also reporting that parliamentary speaker Volodymyr Groysman, a close ally of Poroshenko, is the leading candidate to replace Arseniy Yatsenyuk.

WHAT I'M READING

Trading Militants For Oligarchs?

Will Renat Akhmetov and Yury Boiko be put in charge of Ukraine's Donetsk and Luhansk regions as part of a compromise between Kyiv and Moscow? The idea seems to be getting some traction, as The Jamestown Foundation's Oleg Varfolomeyev reports.

More On The Pullback That Wasn't

Analysts continue to argue that Russia's "pullback" in Syria is largely a fiction. The latest to weigh in are Chatham House's Nikolai Kozhanov and Pavel Baev of The Jamestown Foundation

Using Marx To Explain Putin

Longtime Kremlin-watcher (and Power Vertical Podcast co-host) Mark Galeotti takes the unusual step of using Karl Marx to explain Vladimir Putin -- and, in my opinion, pulls it off brilliantly. His little essay, "The Eighteenth Brumaire of Vladimir Putin," is well worth a read.

Putin's Other Hostages

Nadia Savchenko may be the best known Ukrainian citizen who has been forced to face a show trial in Russian courts. A new report by Crimea's QHA news agency digs into the cases of 28 Ukrainian citizens who it says are victims of fabricated criminal cases.

Thunder On The Right

Alina Polyakova and Anton Shekhovtsov, two of the sharper observers of the European far right, have teamed up on a paper for the Atlantic Council's Dinu Patriciu Eurasia Center: "What's Left of Europe If the Far Right Has Its Way?" The paper looks at what led to the rise of far-right parties, how Russia is exploiting the trend, and offers recommendations to counter it.


The Morning Vertical, March 22, 2016

Brian Whitmore

ON MY MIND

After Russia forcefully annexed Crimea, the slogan and hashtag #крымнаш -- Crimea is Ours -- became a popular patriotic rallying cry. Two years later, Crimea has become a showcase for Russian rule: It is poorer, more corrupt, more authoritarian, less free, and more isolated from the world. And that's saying something since Crimea wasn't exactly a model of good governance under Ukrainian rule. Like Georgia's breakaway pro-Moscow regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia and Moldova's separatist Transdniester region, its people are less well-off and have fewer prospects for the future than those in the country it split from. This should be Exhibit A in any comparison of what Moscow and the West are offering in terms of models of governance.

IN THE NEWS

Russia has warned that it is prepared to unilaterally bomb groups that it believes are violating the cease-fire in Syria.

Patriarch Kirill has denounced as "heresy" those human rights that contradict the Bible.

A court in Russia's Rostov region continued reading the verdict in the case of Ukrainian military pilot Nadia Savchenko.

Oligarch Oleg Deripaska will sit on the General Council of Right Cause, a Kremlin-controlled pro-business party.

And in the "class act" department, Aleksei Pushkov, chairman of the State Duma's Foreign Affairs Committee, tweeted a snarky comment in reaction to the attacks in Brussels: “While [NATO Secretary-General Jens] Stoltenberg is busy fighting the imaginary ‘Russian threat’ and putting troops in Latvia, under his nose in Brussels people are blown up.”

Likewise, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said in reaction to the Brussels attacks: "You can’t support terrorists in one part of the globe and not expect them to appear in others."

WHAT I'M READING

Russian Forces In Syria

In a piece in the War on the Rocks blog, Mark Galeotti takes a close look at Russia's special forces, or Spetsnaz, in Syria.

Debate: How To Talk To Russia?

Back in December, Kadri Liik of the European Council on Foreign Relations wrote a thoughtful and much-discussed piece, "How to Talk to Russia." Liik argued that Russia and the West "have fundamentally different understandings not only of what constitutes acceptable international behavior, but also of the goals and 'natural' drivers that underpin it. And we are unable to have a direct conversation about our differences."

Last week, Andrei Kortunov, director of the Russian International Affairs Council, offered an equally thoughtful rebuttal. Kortunov, who is one of the more thoughtful Russian commentators, concluded that "For centuries, educated Russians looked to the West in search of modernization patterns, best social practices, and intellectual inspiration. Today many critics of EU in Russia argue that the European project is doomed, that Europe is losing its competitive edge, and that the future belongs to other regions and continents. I hope that Europeans can prove these critics wrong."

More On The Information War

Over the past couple years, the Ukrainian website Stop Fake has earned a reputation as one of the leading debunkers of Kremlin propaganda. But that's not all they do. In its "Context" section, Stop Fake also puts out original analytical pieces.

One of their latest, "Kremlin Propaganda: Soviet Active Measures by Other Means," is worth a read.

My old colleague, and good friend Marta Dyczok, a professor at the University of Western Ontario, has a new book out (free download here): "Ukraine’s Euromaidan: Broadcasting through Information Wars with Hromadske Radio."

Ukraine's War At Home

Is the glass half empty or half full in Ukraine? Is Kyiv doing the best it can under the circumstances as it tries to reform in the middle of a war? Or is corruption and oligarchic rule undermining Ukraine's best chance to join the West. 

Andre Hartel, a professor at Kyiv Mohyla University, and Andreas Umland, senior research fellow at the Institute for Euro-Atlantic Cooperation in Kyiv, provide a cautiously optimistic take in their latest paper, "Challenges and Implications of Ukraine’s Current Transformation."

Crimea In Russia's Strategy

It's always a pleasure to listen to the cool-headed analysis of Chatham House's James Sherr. In an 11-minute interview with Ukraine Today, Sherr outlines the place Crimea occupies in the Kremlin's strategic thinking two years after the annexation.


Video The Daily Vertical: Another Freedom At Risk

The Daily Vertical: Another Freedom At Riski
X
March 22, 2016
The Daily Vertical is a video primer for Russia-watchers that appears Monday through Friday. Viewers can suggest topics via Twitter @PowerVertical or on the Power Vertical Facebook page.
The Daily Vertical: Another Freedom At Risk
Brian Whitmore

The Daily Vertical is a video primer for Russia-watchers that appears Monday through Friday. Viewers can suggest topics via Twitter @PowerVertical or on the Power Vertical Facebook page. 

A transcript of today's Daily Vertical can be found here.


Video The Daily Vertical: Weaponization By Any Other Name

The Daily Vertical: Weaponization By Any Other Namei
X
March 21, 2016
The Daily Vertical is a video primer for Russia-watchers that appears Monday through Friday. Viewers can suggest topics via Twitter @PowerVertical or on the Power Vertical Facebook page.
Brian Whitmore

The Daily Vertical is a video primer for Russia-watchers that appears Monday through Friday. Viewers can suggest topics via Twitter @PowerVertical or on the Power Vertical Facebook page. 

A transcript of today's Daily Vertical can be found here.


Audio The Briefing: A Show Trial Concludes.

The show isn't quite over yet.

Brian Whitmore

The verdict and sentence in the case of Ukrainian military pilot Nadia Savchenko comes down on March 21-22. So what happens next?

On this week's Power Vertical Briefing, we look at the fallout from the Savchenko case as it is expected to play out this week.

Joining me are Senior RFE/RL editor Steve Gutterman and Pavel Butorin, managing editor of RFE/RL's Russian language television program Current Time.

Also on The Briefing, we look ahead to visits to Moscow by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier.

Enjoy... 

The Briefing: A Show Trial Concludes
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NOTE: The Power Vertical Briefing is a short look ahead to the stories expected to make news in Russia in the coming week. It is hosted by Brian Whitmore, author of The Power Vertical blog, and appears every Monday.


Morning Vertical, March 21, 2016

Brian Whitmore

ON MY MIND

Since you're a Russia-watcher, I thought you might be interested in the latest product of The Power Vertical franchise. The Morning Vertical is a daily newsletter that provides short commentary (in this space), a quick rundown of the news, and a digest of analytical pieces about Russia that are sparking debate. It will also include a link to the Power Vertical's daily video primer, The Daily Vertical.

The Morning Vertical is delivered to your inbox every Monday-Friday (except public holidays, when I am on vacation, or on work-related travel) at 7:30 AM, East Coast time in the UNited States. If you don't want to receive it, just click unsubscribe -- andmy apologies.

If you want to continue receiving The Morning Vertical, I hope you enjoy it.

IN THE NEWS

Initial indications are that a court in the southern region of Rostov will find Ukrainian military pilot Nadia Savchenko guilty of the killing of two Russian journalists in eastern Ukraine in 2014, Russian news agencies are reporting. The verdict is scheduled to be read out on March 21-22. Prosecutors are asking for a 23-year prison sentence.

Four more Russian athletes have tested positive for meldonium.

A group of local lawmakers in St. Petersburg are calling on Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev to fire Russia's controversial Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky.

It's also a big week diplomatically in Moscow with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry visiting the Russian capital on March 23-24 for talks on Syria and German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier arriving for talks on implementing the Minsk cease-fire in eastern Ukraine.

WHAT I'M READING

Moscow's Divide-And-Rule Tactics

Chatham House releases a new report today, "Russia’s ‘New’ Tools for Confronting the West - Continuity and Innovation in Moscow’s Exercise of Power." The author, Keir Giles, argues that Russia's allegedly new "hybrid-war" strategy is actually a revival of traditional Soviet doctrine. "Today, as in the past, Western planners and policy-makers must consider and plan not only for the potential threat of military attack by Russia, but also for the actual threat of Moscow’s ongoing subversion, destabilization and ‘active measures,'" Giles writes.

In the same vein, Sijbren de Jong of the Institute for European Studies published a policy brief last week, "Confuse, Divide, And Rule - How Russia Drives Europe Apart." 

Columnist Natalie Nougayrède has an strong piece in The Guardian on Vladimir Putin's long game against the West. "Putin calculates that the ultimate geopolitical prize will come not in the Middle East but in Europe. That is where Russia’s historical obsessions truly lie. Reacting to that reality may well be the next struggle for the continent," she wrote.

Russia's Game In Syria

Is Russia really withdrawing from Syria? A growing number of analysts are saying no. Dmitry Gorenburg and MIchael Koffman have a post on the excellent blog, War On The Rocks, that argues that the alleged pullout "constitutes a political reframing of Russia’s intervention in order to normalize Moscow’s military presence in Syria, and make it permanent, while convincing Russians at home that the campaign is over." They add that "'the 'withdrawal' announcement is not about how Russia leaves, but about how it stays in Syria." 

Kommersant Vlast has an in-depth reconstruction on Russia's Syria operation. The report claims that Russia found Bashar al-Assad's forces in Syria inadequate and mostly coordinated with Hezbollah against anti-Assad forces.

Elves Vs. Trolls

Michael Weiss has an report out of Lithuania in The Daily Beast about the country's cyber warriors, who battle Russia's Internet trolls. And yes, they really do call themselves "elves."


Audio Podcast: Putin's New World Order

Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Vladimir Putin's Syria gambit was always about more than Syria. And it was about more than breaking Moscow's isolation.

It was about establishing a new paradigm for global politics based on balance of power and spheres of influence.

It was about reviving a bipolar order reminiscent of the Cold War.

Putin appears to have won the upper hand in the tactical battle for Damascus.

But can he ride that to a new Yalta?

On this week's Power Vertical Podcast, we discuss Putin's quest for a new world order and its prospects for success.

Joining me are co-host Mark Galeotti, a professor at New York University, an expert on Russia's security services, and author of the blog In Moscow's Shadows -- and foreign affairs analyst Vladimir Frolov, president of the LEFF Group and a columnist for Slon.ru.

Enjoy...

Power Vertical Podcast: Putin's New World Order
Power Vertical Podcast: Putin's New World Orderi
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Listen to or download the podcast above or subscribe to The Power Vertical Podcast on iTunes.​


Video The Daily Vertical: A Spoiler Not A Superpower

The Daily Vertical: A Spoiler Not A Superpoweri
X
March 18, 2016
The Daily Vertical is a video primer for Russia-watchers that appears Monday through Friday.
Brian Whitmore

The Daily Vertical is a video primer for Russia-watchers that appears Monday through Friday. Viewers can suggest topics via Twitter @PowerVertical or on the Power Vertical Facebook page. 

A transcript of today's Daily Vertical can be found here.


Video The Daily Vertical: A Coincidence? I Think Not!

The Daily Vertical: A Coincidence? I Think Not!i
X
March 17, 2016
The Daily Vertical is a video primer for Russia-watchers that appears Monday through Friday. Viewers can suggest topics via Twitter @PowerVertical or on the Power Vertical Facebook page.
Brian Whitmore

The Daily Vertical is a video primer for Russia-watchers that appears Monday through Friday. Viewers can suggest topics via Twitter @PowerVertical or on the Power Vertical Facebook page. 

A transcript of today's Daily Vertical can be found here.


Video The Daily Vertical: Back To The Ukraine Front

The Daily Vertical: Back To The Ukraine Fronti
X
March 16, 2016
The Daily Vertical is a video primer for Russia-watchers that appears Monday through Friday. Viewers can suggest topics via Twitter @PowerVertical or on the Power Vertical Facebook page.
Brian Whitmore

The Daily Vertical is a video primer for Russia-watchers that appears Monday through Friday. Viewers can suggest topics via Twitter @PowerVertical or on the Power Vertical Facebook page. 

A transcript of today's Daily Vertical can be found here.


The Road From Damascus To Yalta

(Cartoon by Sergey Elkin, RFE/RL)

Brian Whitmore

Vladimir Putin has learned that being a global troublemaker pays dividends.

He's discovered that being a big part of the problem assures that you are treated as a big part of the solution.

He understands that the politics of blackmail and geopolitical extortion can work wonders.

Before Putin intervened in Syria's civil war nearly six months ago, Russia was internationally isolated, bogged down in a quagmire in Ukraine, and reeling from Western sanctions.

It was a regional rabble-rouser that was -- justifiably -- being treated like an international pariah.

And now, amid an apparent pullout after 167 days of air strikes?

Well, now it has a seat at the big table, alongside the United States, as co-sponsor of the Syrian cease-fire.

Syria wasn't an end -- it was a means to an end.

And Moscow is seeking to leverage its success there into more global clout, the lifting of sanctions, a free hand in the former Soviet space, and a revision of the post-Cold War international order.

For Putin, Damascus is just a stop on the road to Yalta.

In addition to killing 1,700 civilians, bombing hospitals, exacerbating Europe's refugee crisis, and keeping Bashar al-Assad's brutal regime afloat, the Kremlin clearly thinks it has established a template in Syria to get what it has always craved: status as a global power presiding over a bipolar world.

Writing in Slon.ru, Moscow-based foreign-affairs analyst Vladimir Frolov noted that the intervention "resurrected Russian-American cooperation from the dead" and created the illusion that only the two "superpowers" can solve major international crises.

"The strategic goal of the Syrian gambit, to revive the bipolar format of Russian-American cooperation and rivalry for influence in the Middle East and the world that existed during the Cold War, has almost been reached," Frolov wrote

"It is obvious that the Kremlin would like to make Syria a template not only for bilateral relations with the United States, but also to develop new rules of the game in a broader sense, and in other regions, for example with respect of Ukraine."

In fact, Ukraine will no doubt be the first place where the Kremlin will try to test what it believes to be its new-found leverage. 

In a televised interview on March 13, one day before Putin announced the Syria withdrawal, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov appealed to Washington to team up with Moscow to resolve the conflict in the Donbas -- presumably on Moscow's terms.

"We know that Kyiv is heavily influenced by the United States, which actually controls everyday life in Ukraine," Lavrov said. 

"I hope that the Americans are aware of the need to search for compromise solutions to ensure the full implementation of the Minsk agreements."

Leaving aside the fact that Lavrov's comment is delusional in that it pretends that Russia is a mediator in Ukraine and not the aggressor, it appears to telegraph where the Kremlin is going next.

Russia will try to leverage the momentum from its Syrian gambit to get a final settlement in Ukraine that preserves Moscow's influence in the Donbas and gives it a virtual veto over Kyiv's political direction. 

It will try to force the West to forget about Crimea and get on with business as usual.

That, of course, is how things work in the Kremlin's preferred world order. Might makes right; rules don't matter; great powers rule their spheres of influence and decide the fates of smaller nations.

Fyodor Lukyanov, editor in chief of the journal Russia In Global Affairs and chairman of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy, all but declared the post-Cold War order dead in a gloating March 8 commentary in the official government newspaper, Rossiiskaya Gazeta. 

"Twenty-five years of trying to build a new world order have vanished into thin air," Lukyanov wrote

"Once again, just like in the previous era, the real bosses remain Moscow and Washington, with no one else having the power or capacity to make important decisions and to start to implement them." 

This is, no doubt, premature. But the Kremlin is moving closer to making it a reality.


Video The Daily Vertical: Mission Accomplished

The Daily Vertical: Mission Accomplishedi
X
March 15, 2016
The Daily Vertical is a video primer for Russia-watchers that appears Monday through Friday. Viewers can suggest topics via Twitter @PowerVertical or on the Power Vertical Facebook page.
Brian Whitmore

The Daily Vertical is a video primer for Russia-watchers that appears Monday through Friday. Viewers can suggest topics via Twitter @PowerVertical or on the Power Vertical Facebook page. 

A transcript of today's Daily Vertical can be found here.


Video The Daily Vertical: Not Quite A Russian Spring

The Daily Vertical: Not Quite A Russian Springi
X
March 14, 2016
The Daily Vertical is a video primer for Russia-watchers that appears Monday through Friday. Viewers can suggest topics via Twitter @PowerVertical or on the Power Vertical Facebook page.
Brian Whitmore

The Daily Vertical is a video primer for Russia-watchers that appears Monday through Friday. Viewers can suggest topics via Twitter @PowerVertical or on the Power Vertical Facebook page. 

A transcript of today's Daily Vertical can be found here.


Audio The Briefing: The Battle Of Geneva

The diplomatic chess match

Brian Whitmore

Over the past six months, Russia has managed to reset and reshape the civil war in Syria. They've saved Bashar al-Assad, frustrating Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and the West in the process.

And with peace talks beginning this week in Geneva, Moscow is seeking to secure its gains in the postwar settlement. 

On this week's Power Vertical Briefing, we look at the diplomatic battle ahead.

Joining me are RFE/RL senior editor Steve Gutterman and Pavel Butorin, managing editor of RFE/RL's Russian-language television program Current Time.

Also on The Briefing, we discuss this week's meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels, which will debate Russia policy. 

The Briefing: The Battle Of Geneva
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NOTE: The Power Vertical Briefing is a short look ahead to the stories expected to make news in Russia in the coming week. It is hosted by Brian Whitmore, author of The Power Vertical blog, and appears every Monday.


Audio Podcast: That '70s Show

Brian Whitmore

Military assertiveness abroad and economic stagnation at home.

A leader in power for a decade and a half -- and bolstered by an often cartoonish personality cult.

A political system reduced to a series of empty rituals. 

Russia in 2016? Well, sure. But this could also describe the Soviet Union of the late 1970s.

History doesn't repeat itself, but as Mark Twain famously said, it sure does rhyme.

So what, if anything, do the 1970s really teach us about where Russia is going today?

On this week's Power Vertical Podcast, we address this question. Joining me are Mark Galeotti, a professor at New York University, an expert on Russia's security services, and author of the blog In Moscow's Shadows, and Moscow-based journalist Anna Arutunyan, author of the book The Putin Mystique: Inside Russia's Personality Cult.

Enjoy...

The Power Vertical Podcast: That '70s Show
The Power Vertical Podcast: That '70s Showi
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Listen to or download the podcast above or subscribe to The Power Vertical Podcast on iTunes.​


Video The Daily Vertical: The Masters Of Nothing

The Daily Vertical: The Masters Of Nothingi
X
March 11, 2016
The Daily Vertical is a video primer for Russia-watchers that appears Monday through Friday. Viewers can suggest topics via Twitter @PowerVertical or on the Power Vertical Facebook page.
Brian Whitmore

The Daily Vertical is a video primer for Russia-watchers that appears Monday through Friday. Viewers can suggest topics via Twitter @PowerVertical or on the Power Vertical Facebook page. 

A transcript of today's Daily Vertical can be found here.

Clarification: In a press conference on March 9, the head of the Russian Skating Union, Aleksei Krastev, said the banned drug meldonium had been planted on Russian skaters "by other athletes" not other teams as stated in the video. The transcript has been revised to reflect this.


The Show Trial Must Go On

Flipping the bird at a kangaroo court

Brian Whitmore

The actors change, but the stage always looks the same.

The wood-paneled courtroom. The officious judge robed in black. The stern prosecutor. That creepy cage for the accused and the stone-faced cops guarding it. And the defendant in the dock -- sometimes somber, sometimes defiant.

The script changes, but it always follows the same template: Patently ridiculous charges are presented and debated as if they were actually plausible, followed by the faux suspense of a verdict that everybody knows is a foregone conclusion.

It's a game of pretend that has long been a legitimation ritual for Vladimir Putin's regime -- and it has disrupted and ruined many lives in the process. 

In fact, the spectacle of the show trial has been an ongoing set piece, a trademark of Putin's rule, virtually from day one.

It's ensnared earnest academics like Igor Sutyagin, wealthy oil barons like Mikhail Khodorkovsky, youthful dissidents like the women of Pussy Riot, and anticorruption crusaders like Aleksei Navalny.

Foreign citizens like U.S. businessman Edmond Pope, Estonian law-enforcement officer Eston Kohver, Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov, and, of course, Ukrainian military pilot Nadia Savchenko have found themselves trapped in this weird and cruel hall of mirrors.

And in 2013, whistleblower Sergei Magnitsky became -- to my knowledge -- the first dead man subjected to a Russian show trial.

And in this peculiarly Russian form of performance art, courts aren't bound by the normal rules of reality and logic.

Russian show trials have convicted Khodorkovsky of stealing oil from himself, Navalny of embezzling money without making a profit, and found Sutyagin guilty of espionage for passing "state secrets" to foreign colleagues that came from newspapers. 

And later this month, a court in the Rostov Oblast is widely expected to convict Savchenko of killing two Russian journalists in the Donbas -- even though they were killed after she had already been abducted by pro-Moscow separatists.

Each show trial has had its own unique purpose.

The prosecution of Sutyagin, who was Putin's first show-trial victim, appeared to be a signal that the security services were back in charge, as well as a message to academics to be careful about contacts with foreigners.

The Khodorkovsky case was designed to establish Putin's bona fides as a leader who was not afraid of the oligarchs and to send a message to leading tycoons to stay out of politics.

It also had the added benefit of allowing Putin crony Igor Sechin to seize the assets of Khodorkovsky's Yukos oil company.

The Pussy Riot case established the zeitgeist of Putin's third term, an anticosmopolitan conservatism that played to Russia's working classes and rural poor. 

And the prosecutions of Navalny and the Bolotnaya Square protesters showed that the Kremlin was prepared to get rough with the opposition.

But while show-trial victims are invariably convicted, the carefully calibrated sentences vary.

The fact that Navalny has avoided prison despite two convictions shows that the Kremlin metes out only as much punishment as it believes it can get away with -- no more and no less. 

But as Peter Pomerantsev, author of the book Nothing Is True And Everything Is Possible: Inside The Surreal Heart Of The New Russia, notes, the overarching purpose of the whole exercise -- from Sutyagin to Savchenko -- is the same: to show that the Kremlin "has full control of the script" and is the master of reality.

"This absurdity appears to be deliberate," Pomerantsev wrote in a 2013 report for the Legatum Institute. "It proves to the public that the Kremlin can re-imagine reality at will, can say ‘black is white' and ‘white is black' with no one able to contradict."

And given this, Savchenko's defiant gesture -- giving the judge and the court the middle finger during her closing statement -- was such an appropriate response to the whole outrageous show. 

In fact, it may be the only appropriate response.

(Thanks to RFE/RL editor Steve Gutterman for his helpful input and contribution to this post.) 


Video The Daily Vertical: How Low Can You Go?

The Daily Vertical: How Low Can You Go?i
X
March 10, 2016
The Daily Vertical is a video primer for Russia-watchers that appears Monday through Friday. Viewers can suggest topics via Twitter @PowerVertical or on the Power Vertical Facebook page.
Brian Whitmore

The Daily Vertical is a video primer for Russia-watchers that appears Monday through Friday. Viewers can suggest topics via Twitter @PowerVertical or on the Power Vertical Facebook page. 

A transcript of today's Daily Vertical can be found here.


Video The Daily Vertical: A Travesty Of A Mockery Of A Sham

The Daily Vertical: A Travesty Of A Mockery Of A Shami
X
March 09, 2016
The Daily Vertical is a video primer for Russia-watchers that appears Monday through Friday. Viewers can suggest topics via Twitter @PowerVertical or on the Power Vertical Facebook page.
Brian Whitmore

The Daily Vertical is a video primer for Russia-watchers that appears Monday through Friday. Viewers can suggest topics via Twitter @PowerVertical or on the Power Vertical Facebook page. 

A transcript of today's Daily Vertical can be found here.

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About This Blog

The Power Vertical is a blog written especially for Russia wonks and obsessive Kremlin watchers by Brian Whitmore. It covers 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