Friday, August 26, 2016

The Morning Vertical, July 26, 2016

Brian Whitmore


If, as the circumstantial and forensic evidence available seems to suggest, Russia was indeed behind the hacking of the Democratic National Committee's e-mail servers, it should come as no surprise.

In recent years, state-backed Russian hackers have attacked targets including a French television station, a German steelmaker, the Polish stock exchange, Estonian banks and government offices, the U.S. House of Representatives, the State Department, and the White House. Why not the DNC too?

And if, as many suspect, the hack was part of an effort to intervene in a U.S. election, it would be very disturbing (and this would be true regardless of which party or candidate they were attempting to help or harm).

But what this would not be -- despite suggestions to the contrary -- is unprecedented. 

Russia has been using various tools of intervene in Western countries for some time. It uses media stealthily backed by the Kremlin to poison public discourse in various European countries. It gave moral support to the Brexit campaign in the United Kingdom. If has provided loans to Marine Le Pen's National Front in France and backed extremists across the continent. It has manufactured scandals, like the infamous Lisa case in Germany, to turn the public opinion against governments the Kremlin finds inconvenient.

As Max Fischer notes in a piece in The New York Times featured below, this is all part of Russia's hybrid war on the West. And as Miriam Elder argues in a piece in BuzzFeed (also featured below), it means that the Kremlin is taking the black PR tactics it has long used to smear opposition figures into the international arena.

It's not unprecedented. It's been happening for years. And we shouldn't be surprised.


U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry says he hopes to announce in early August details of a U.S. plan for closer military cooperation and intelligence sharing with Russia on Syria.

Kerry also said that he raised the issue of the hacking of Democratic Party e-mails in a July 26 meeting with Lavrov.

Lavrov, meanwhile, brushed aside allegations that Russia was involved in hacking the Democratic National Committee's emails.

A United Nations council overturned a move by Russia, China, Pakistan, Azerbaijan, and other countries to block accreditation for media freedom watchdog, the Committee to Protect Journalists.

The FSB has conducted a search on the office of the head of Russia's Federal Customs Service.

Three Russian rowers and seven swimmers have been banned from next month's Summer Olympics in Rio for doping. 

The Telegraph is reporting that the Russian Olympic team in Rio could be reduced to just 40 athletes. 

Patriarch Kirill is scheduled to lead prayers for the Russian Olympic team today.

Unpacking The Hacking

There is no dearth of material out there looking at the allegations that Russia was behind the hacking of the Democratic National Committee's e-mail server.

Motherboard has a highly technical -- but extremely informative and very disturbing -- piece arguing that "all signs point to Russia being behind the DNC hack."

And Bloomberg reports that other cyberexperts agree.

Writing in The Atlantic, Patrick Tucker, technology editor of Defense One, evaluates the evidence pointing at Russia.

In The Washington Post, Andrew Roth looks at five more hacks Western officials have linked to Russia.

Writing in Politico, Nahal Toosi looks at how suspicions that Russia hacked the DNC are harming U.S. efforts to work with Russia in Syria.

In BuzzFeed, Miriam Elder puts the DNC hack in the context of traditional Russian black PR.

In The New York Times, Max Fischer puts it in the context of hybrid warfare.

In The Guardian, Trevor Timm claims it is still premature to blame Russia for the DNC hack.

And Meduza takes a look at how the Russian state media covered the allegations.

Theft And Incompetence

Writing in bne Intellinews, Mark Galeotti, a senior research fellow at the Institute of International Relations in Prague and a visiting fellow with the European Council on Foreign Relations, argues that Russia’s new rules dictate "steal a bit less, do your job a bit better."

"There is emerging a gradual awareness that the Kremlin, if not changing the social contract with the elites, is at least 'editing' it," Galeotti writes. 

"Put at its most basic, the new line is that you can be corrupt (within certain bounds) and you can be incompetent (but not so much so as to embarrass the Kremlin). However, the acceptable levels of corruption and incompetence have been gently and quietly reduced. More to the point, it is impermissible to be both."

Gangsters In The Spotlight

And, in a commentary for the European Council on Foreign Relations, Galeotti says security concerns are putting Russian organized crime back on the agenda.

"Russia is engaged in a geopolitical struggle with the West but lacks the economic and soft power of its adversary. As such, it must take advantage of covert and unconventional tactics to make up this deficit. From this perspective, criminal networks are an obvious asset," Galeotti writes.

Ukraine At 25

Writing in the World Affairs Journal, Alexander Motyl, a professor at Rutgers University-Newark, looks at a quarter century of Ukrainian independence.

"Ukraine’s biggest achievement since independence in 1991 is to have confounded its critics, ill-wishers, and the Kremlin by surviving as a democratic state," Motyl writes. 

Why Novorossiya Failed

Andre Hartel, a professor at Kyiv Mohyla University, has a new report out for the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung (KAS) titled: Where Putin’s Russia Ends
'Novorossiya' and the Development of National Consciousness in Ukraine.

"In early 2014 the existence of an independent Ukraine hung by a thread. Russia had annexed the Crimean Peninsula, and with the 'Russian Spring' a 'hybrid' war in eastern Ukraine was initiated. At this moment the watchwords of 'Novorossiya' and Moscow’s 'reconquering' of South-Eastern Ukraine gained popularity," Hartel writes. 

"Ultimately, the failure of the idea of a 'Novorossiya' is attributable mainly to developments within Ukraine that involved a renegotiation not only of ethno-national allegiances, but also of national and political loyalties since 1991."

The Morning Vertical, July 25, 2016

Brian Whitmore


So yeah, Moscow dodged a bullet when the International Olympic Committee (IOC) decided against a blanket ban of Russian athletes at next month's Summer Games in Rio.

Russia escaped the ignominy of being the first country ever banned from the Olympics for doping.

The World Anti-Doping Agency is disappointed and Russian authorities are breathing a big sigh of relief.

But before considering this some kind of victory for Moscow, consider the following.

According to the IOC decision, each individual sports federation will now rule on whether to allow Russian athletes to compete in Rio.

Track-and-field athletes are, of course, banned. And between now and when the games begin, there will be a steady drip-drip-drip of decisions.

And when the Olympics begin, what's left of the Russian team will be diminished, they will be competing under a cloud of suspicion, and their medal haul will be low.

So sure, the Russian team escaped the "death penalty" for doping. But they are still paying a heavy price.


The World Anti-Doping Agency has expressed disappointment over the International Olympic Committee's decision not to ban the Russian team from next month's Summer Games in Rio.

Six Ukrainian soldiers have been killed fighting Russia-backed separatists in the Donbas in one 24-hour period over the weekend.

Aleksandr Rutskoi, Russia's only vice president who later led an attempt to seize power from then Russian President Boris Yeltsin, has been registered as a candidate in September's elections for the State Duma.

FSB officers searched the Moscow apartment of Andrei Piontkovsky, a Kremlin critic who left Russia earlier this year for fear of persecution over an article he wrote. The FSB also searched the apartments of Piontkovsky's daughter and grandchildren.

Vyacheslav Istomin, the mayor of Kopeysk in the Chelyabinsk region, has been arrested.

Security forces have put down an attempted rebellion at a penal colony in Khakassia.

Vedomosti reports that Vladimir Putin has asked aides to draft an alternative economic plan to one drafted by former Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin, who heads the Kremlin's main economics think tank.


The latest Power Vertical Podcast looked at tensions in Russia's security services in the wake of the FSB's raid of the Investigative Committee last week.

Joining me were Mark Galeotti, a senior research fellow at the Czech Institute of International Relations, an expert on Russian organized crime and its security services, and author of the blog In Moscow's Shadows and Karina Orlova, a correspondent for Ekho Moskvy and columnist for The American Interest.


On this week's Power Vertical Briefing, we look at two issues in the news: The International Olympic Committee's decision not to ban the Russian team from next month's Summer Games in Rio and the accelerating Russian-Turkish rapprochement. 


Is Sechin On The Outs?

Writing in the American Interest, Karina Orlova suggests that Rosneft CEO Igor Sechin, a longtime crony of Vladimir Putin, appears to be falling out of Kremlin favor, speculating that he may share the fate of former Russian Railways chief Vladimir Yakunin.

"Putin's personal intervention, preventing the sale of Bashneft to Rosneft, might indicate that Igor Sechin has recently started to fall out of favor with the Russian President, and thus that his [Sechin's] personal influence and power are waning," Orlova writes.

"Igor Sechin’s trajectory as a state-owned company’s CEO most resembles that of the former Russian Railways CEO Vladimir Yakunin."

The Fall of the House of BRICS

Writing in Foreign Policy, former U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Suzanne Nossel looks at why the BRICS group has turned out to be less than advertised, and what may happen next.

"There will be no bloc of "emerging economies" rising up to challenge the Western order. But what comes next may be more chaotic and dangerous," Nossel writes.

An Oligarch Looks West

Bloomberg has an interesting piece on how Russian oil billionaire Mikhail Fridman is looking to invest in U.S. health care.

The Defense Minister's Daughter

Yulia Shoigu, the daughter of Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, has given an extensive interview to Kommersant Vlast on how to cope with the psychological stress of terrorist attacks. Yulia Shoigu works in the Department for Psychological Assistance in Russia's Emergency Ministry.


Video The Daily Vertical: Separatists Of The World Unite!

The Daily Vertical: Separatists Of the World Unite!i
July 25, 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.

Audio The Briefing: Russia Dodges A Bullet

Brian Whitmore

So the big news this weekend is something that didn't happen. The International Olympic Committee decided not to ban the entire Russian team from the upcoming Summer Games in Rio.

On this week's Power Vertical Briefing, we discuss the fallout from the decision and what comes next.

Joining me is Senior RFE/RL Editor Steve Gutterman.

Also on The Briefing, Steve and I discuss the rapprochement between Russia and Turkey as a delegation from Ankara visits Moscow.


The Briefing: Russia Dodges A Bullet
The Briefing: Russia Dodges A Bulleti
|| 0:00:00

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 on Mondays. 

Audio Podcast: Cops, Spooks, And Wiseguys

Spy vs. Spy

Brian Whitmore

Russia's main intelligence service raids its main law-enforcement agency and arrests some of its top officials for links to organized crime.

But it was pretty clear from the get-go that there was more than meets the eye in the FSB's dramatic assault on the Investigative Committee earlier this week.

With Russia enduring an economic crisis, with an election just months away, and with Russian President Vladimir Putin shaking up the security services by creating his own personal Praetorian Guard, these are tense times for Russian cops and spooks.

So is yet another battle of the siloviki on the horizon?

On this week's Power Vertical Podcast, we look at why tensions among Russia's siloviki may be boiling over. Joining me are co-host Mark Galeotti, a senior research fellow at the Czech Institute of International Relations, an expert on Russian organized crime and its security services, and author of the blog In Moscow's Shadows and Karina Orlova, a correspondent for Ekho Moskvy and columnist for The American Interest who has reported extensively on Russia's security services.


Power Vertical Podcast: Cops, Spooks, And Wiseguys
Power Vertical Podcast: Cops, Spooks, And Wiseguysi
|| 0:00:00


Video The Daily Vertical: Damned If You Do, Damned If You Don't

The Daily Vertical: Damned If You Do, Damned If You Don'ti
July 22, 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.

The Morning Vertical, July 22, 2016

Brian Whitmore


What to make of this week's raid by the FSB on the Moscow branch of the Investigative Committee, which resulted in the arrests of three top law-enforcement officials? Is it the manifestation of a struggle between Russia's security services? A struggle within them? Is it an assault on Investigative Committee head Aleksandr Bastrykin? And given the fact that the case is connected to the mafia kingpin Zakharia Kalashov, what does it say about the changing relationship between the Russian state and organized crime?

On this week's Power Vertical Podcast, I'll try to unpack all this with co-host Mark Galeotti, an expert on Russia's security services, and Karina Orlova, a journalist with Ekho Moskvy. It will be up online later in the day, so be sure to tune in.


A Texas executive who acted as an agent for the Russian government and illegally exported cutting-edge military technology to Russia has been sentenced to 10 years in prison.

According to a report in Vedomosti, the Chinese share of the Russian smartphone market has doubled over the last year.

A delegation from Turkey is scheduled to visit Moscow on July 26-27.

Moscow authorities have denied permission for a demonstration against Russia's "antiterrorism" law. 


Doping Denial

In his column for Bloomberg, political commentator Leonid Bershidsky explains "why Putin won't tell the truth about doping."

"Russian President Vladimir Putin is changing his tune about the doping scandal that has engulfed Russian Olympic and Paralympic athletes. As proof mounts that the use of performance-enhancing drugs is a state-sponsored system in Russia, Putin appears less and less willing to cooperate with international sports organizations and increasingly inclined to complain about political conspiracies against his country," Bershidsky writes.

A Partnership Renewed

Writing in Foreign Affairs, Jeffrey Mankoff, deputy director of the Russia and Eurasia Program at CSIS, looks at the rapprochement between Moscow and Ankara.

"In the years to come, Russia's growing clout in Turkey’s backyard will continue to limit the opportunities for genuine partnership between Ankara and Moscow," Mankoff writes. 

"And although the failed coup attempt against Erdogan has created the opportunity for increased Russian-Turkish cooperation in the short term by straining Ankara’s relations with the United States and Europe, it has also made Turkey weaker and therefore more vulnerable to Russian coercion. These developments will further limit the long-term prospects for anything but a highly unequal partnership between the two countries."

More On The FSB Vs. The Investigative Committee

Writing in The American Interest, Karina Orlova, a correspondent for Ekho Moskvy (who will appear on this week's Power Vertical Podcast), unpacks the FSB raid on the Investigative Committee and provides useful context. 

Arms And Influence

Nikolai Kozhanov of Chatham House has a commentary out about how Russia is using arms exports to gain influence in the Middle East.

"Moscow has long been the world’s second-largest arms exporter after the U.S., with average annual income in 2012-15 reaching $14.5 billion. But over the past decade, it has particularly increased its arms exports to the Middle East, part of a broader Russian strategy of reestablishing Moscow as a key player in the region," Kozhanov writes.

Paper Tiger

Writing in The National Interest, Kremlin-watcher and security expert Mark Galeotti, a senior research fellow at the Czech Institute of International Relations in Prague, makes the argument that "Russia is only a threat if we let it be one."

"Russia is a declining power, a part-reformed, part-stagnant fragment of a shattered and spent empire," Galeotti writes. 

"Vladimir Putin, though, has perfected a foreign policy built on equal parts chutzpah, gamesmanship, and bluff. His aim, after all, is not to rebuild a Soviet Union 2.0, nor to spread any ideological message abroad. It is, rather, to force or persuade the outside world to conform to his will, to allow him to claim a sphere of influence and exempt Russia from those influences of the global order he finds constraining, from international law to human rights."

Russia And Europe

Maxim Trudolyubov, a senior fellow at the Kennan Institute, explains on The Russia Files blog how Russia is often a mirror image of Europe.

"In weakness or strength, Western Europe and Russia have, in fact, always mirrored each other," Trudolyubov writes. 

"The last time antidemocratic forces were rising throughout Europe (during the late 1920s and 1930s), Russia was turning into a full-fledged totalitarian dictatorship. Communism and Fascism, the terrible regimes that defined 20th century, were mirror images of one another. When Europe was building a common market and learned to prioritize human rights irrespective of national borders, the Soviet regime, a distant reflection, was gradually, in its own way, becoming more benign and respectful of the rights of the individual. The values of common market and human rights seem to be on the retreat now, and both Europe and Russia are entering a cycle that, some fear, might be a repetition of the 1930s. Let’s just hope that both sides of the mirror have learned something from the past."

Sheramet As Visionary

Writing in Vedomosti, where he serves as editor at large, Trudolyubov explains why the experiences of slain journalist Pavel Sheremet in Belarus under Alyaksandr Lukashenka made him uniquely qualified to understand what was happening in Russia under Putin and to appreciate the potential of Ukraine.

"Sheramet ruthlessly felt the insane political dynamics of our part of the world," Trudolyubov wrote. "He looked at all three of these societies with no illusions, but always with hope." 

New Podcast: Ukraine Calling

There's a new podcast on the market that's worth checking out. Ukraine Calling is a weekly roundup of news and views on Hromadske Radio hosted by Marta Dyczok, a professor at the University of Western Ontario (and, full disclosure, a longtime friend of mine). It comes out every Friday, so be sure to tune in.

Unpacking Russia's "Antiterror" Laws

The most recent installment of the SRB Podcast, hosted by Sean Guillory of the University of Pittsburgh's Center for Russian and Eastern European Studies, looks at Russia's controversial new legislation. Sean's guest is Gleb Bogush, an associate professor in the Law Faculty at Moscow State University.

Video The Daily Vertical: Two Good Men

The Daily Vertical: Two Good Meni
July 21, 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.

The Morning Vertical, July 21, 2016

Brian Whitmore


Thanks to Russia, the International Olympic Committee is damned if it does and damned if it doesn't. 

If the Russian team is banned from the Summer Games in Rio, it would be an unprecedented move and the 2016 Olympics will forever have an asterisk attached to them due to the absence of a traditional sports powerhouse. But if the Russian team is not banned after such a massive and brazen state-sponsored cheating program was exposed, this year's games -- and the Olympic movement in general -- will be forever tainted.

And in this sense, sports is just another aspect of foreign affairs for the Kremlin.

It's just another international arena where Moscow is breaking all the rules, smirking, and daring the world to do something about it.


Civilians have been subjected to extended arbitrary detention, disappearances, and even torture by both sides in the conflict in eastern Ukraine, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch say in a joint report.

The Court of Arbitration for Sport has rejected an appeal by 68 Russian track-and-field athletes to overturn a ban imposed by the sport's governing body on them taking part in the Summer Olympics in Rio.

U.S. authorities have charged a Ukrainian who founded the world's biggest online piracy site with distributing over $1 billion worth of illegally copied films, music, and other content.

A court in Russia's Far East has cleared five imprisoned men who were originally convicted of a notorious 2009 quadruple murder.

Prosecutors are asking for a two-year suspended sentence for Leonid Volkov, an associate of opposition leader Aleksei Navalny.


Economic Union Or Political Tool?

The Eurasian Economic Union treaty was signed just over two years ago and it went into effect on January 1, 2015. The International Crisis Group has just released a new report, The Eurasian Union: Power, Politics, And Trade, examining its effectiveness.

"The Eurasian Economic Union (EEU), created in 2015 by Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Belarus, and Armenia, claims to be the first successful post-Soviet initiative to overcome trade barriers and promote integration in a fragmented, underdeveloped region. Supporters argue that it could be a mechanism for dialogue with the European Union (EU) and other international partners. Critics portray a destabilizing project that increases Russia’s domination of the region and limits its other members’ relations with the West," the report opens.

Moldova, Europe, And Russia

Clingendael has released a report -- The Europeanization Of Moldova: Is The EU On The Right Track? -- that examines the jockeying between the European Union and Russia for influence in Moldova.

"If properly handled, Moldova could serve as the bridgehead of a stronger European impact in the volatile Eastern neighborhood. Given the window of opportunity currently offered by Russia, Moldova also offers a chance for the EU to test Russia’s willingness to cooperate in a pragmatic way in the so-called ‘shared neighborhood,'" the report claims.

Lessons Of The Winter War

Writing on the War On The Rocks blog, Iskander Rehman, a postdoctoral fellow at the Brookings Institution, looks at the lessons of Finland's 105-day war with the Soviet Union in 1939-40.

"Finland’s Winter War with the Soviet Union, waged over the course of 105 days from November 1939 to March 1940, should be an object of study for all students of military strategy. Finland, a weak, sparsely populated, and diplomatically isolated nation, succeeded in imposing staggering costs on a far more potent aggressor," Rehman writes.

"Finland eventually buckled under the weight of Stalin’s onslaught and found itself obliged to part with large tracts of territory. Its citizen army had so severely gored the Soviet bear, however, that the Nordic nation preserved its independence and was spared the grim fate of the Baltic states."

Remembering Pavel Sheremet

Meduza correspondent Katerina Gordeeva has a moving retrospective on the career of slain journalist Pavel Sheremet (in English and Russian).

"Pavel Sheremet's biography is undoubtedly the story of a whole generation of Russian journalists who lost their jobs because of their convictions and circumstances outside their control," Gordeeva writes. 

"Unlike many others, after every painful layoff, Pasha was able to reinvent himself and get involved in new projects with redoubled energy. He managed to do his job like only a person infinitely committed to their profession can."

The FSB Vs. The Investigative Committee

Meduza also has an informative little explainer (in English and Russian) looking at the different interpretations of this week's FSB raid on the Investigative Committee and the subsequent criminal cases.

Can Ukraine Win The Information War?

Peter Dickinson, the publisher of Business Ukraine and Lviv Today, and editor at large at The Odessa Review, has a piece on the Atlantic Council's website titled: How Ukraine Can Win The Information War In A Fact-Free World.

"For Ukraine, the answer may be to focus more attention on emotional engagement rather than relying on mere facts. That is, if you can’t beat them, join them," Dickinson writes. 

"This does not mean resorting to deliberate disinformation or countering propaganda with propaganda. It means interacting with international audiences in strategic ways that will produce the desired responses. Modern Ukraine’s story is fundamentally engaging: It is the tale of a country struggling to make a historic transition from authoritarianism to democracy, a survivor nation that miraculously rose from the ashes of both Hitler and Stalin’s worst crimes against humanity."

Meanwhile, Globsec has just released the latest edition of its Information War Monitor For Central Europe.

Life After Facts

And speaking of a "fact-free world," Peter Pomerantsev has a wonderful essay in Granta, Why We're Post-Fact, that -- while not exclusively about Russia -- provides an intelligent take on how we got here.

"It’s clear we are living in a ‘post-fact’ or ‘post-truth’ world. Not merely a world where politicians and media lie -- they have always lied -- but one where they don’t care whether they tell the truth or not," Pomerantsev writes.

"How did we get here? Is it due to technology? Economic globalization? The culmination of the history of philosophy? There is some sort of teenage joy in throwing off the weight of facts -- those heavy symbols of education and authority, reminders of our place and limitations -- but why is this rebellion happening right now?"

The Victims Of Doping
Journalist Semyon Novoprudsky has a commentary on the doping scandal in that's worth a read.

"You can, of course, shout loudly that 'everybody does it.' You can reassure yourselves that it's revenge for the Crimea and Donbas," Novoprudsky writes.

"Or you can just play by the rules -- not just in sports. You can criticize the rules and try to change them -- but not violate them unilaterally. You cannot try to buy a win at any cost, where this victory is not exactly a matter of life and death. It is especially important to learn to accept defeat."

Russia's YouTube Politicians

Andrei Pertsev has a piece up on the Moscow Carnegie Center's website on Russia's new YouTube political stars.

"Russian politics has some unlikely new heroes in the form of stars of YouTube and social networks," Pertsev writes.

"Several candidates running in September’s elections for Russia’s lower house of parliament, the State Duma, launched their political careers by speaking at public events or posting speeches on YouTube, after which their criticism of the government attracted tens of thousands of shares." 

The Morning Vertical, July 20, 2016

Brian Whitmore


So Russia's draconian "antiterrorism" legislation is scheduled to go into effect today. But we are now learning that the country will simply be unable to implement key parts of the legislation. As I note in the news roundup below, lawmaker Anton Belyakov says there is not enough storage space for all Russian telecoms and ISPs to store all messages and e-mails for six months. And Russia's postal service says it lacks the funds to inspect parcels as required by the law.

But the thing is, it doesn't really matter. The main effect of the law -- which among other things, increases the penalties for "extremism," criminalizes incitement and justifying "terrorism" on line, and reduces the age of criminal liability for some crimes to 14 -- is supposed to be psychological. Vladimir Putin's sprawling police and security apparatus can't possibly monitor all online activity -- but it can monitor enough. Enforcement will be random and arbitrary -- but that should be enough to scare almost everybody.

And that's the point.


Prominent Belarusian-born journalist Pavel Sheremet was killed today when the car he was driving exploded in Kyiv.

Russia's controversial "antiterrorism" law goes into effect today, but one Federation Council deputy is calling for a delay in implementing part of the legislation. Anton Belyakov says Russia does not have the storage capacity for Internet Service Providers to store the content of messages for six months.

Meanwhile, the Russian postal service says it lacks the funds to implement its requirements to inspect parcels under the legislation.
Ukraine said seven government soldiers have been killed in 24 hours in clashes with pro-Russia separatists in the country's east, making July the deadliest month for the Ukrainian military in nearly a year.

The FSB has opened a criminal probe into officials with Russia's Investigative Committee over allegations that they received bribes from a crime syndicate and committed other official misconduct.

A State Duma deputy has called for the game Pokemon Go to be banned in Russia.

Kirov Governor Nikita Belykh, who has been arrested on corruption charges widely seen as political, has ended his hunger strike, according to his attorney.

Putin And Erdogan

In his column for Bloomberg, political commentator Leonid Bershidsky takes a look at the lessons Turkey's failed coup hold for Putin.

"The projection of the Turkish events onto Russia is only natural," Bershidsky writes. 

Like Erdogan, Putin has appealed to Russians' conservative, non-European values. Like Erdogan, he has consolidated personal power over a long rule unconstrained by constitutional term limits. Like Erdogan, he has moved to suppress the freedoms of speech and assembly and initiated tough "antiterrorism" laws that make it hard to oppose him. And like Erdogan, he has struck at nonprofit organizations as "foreign agents" working against his regime. Besides, Russia, like Turkey, is a country where military and palace coups have taken place in recent memory."

There Goes The Neighborhood has a new report -- A European Dream Deferred -- on the impact of Brexit on the EU's Eastern Partnership.

"As difficult to accept as the United Kingdom's recent vote to leave the European Union is for many people around the world, for some citizens of Moldova, Georgia and Ukraine, it is just baffling," according to the report.

"For Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova, the stakes of a Brexit are high. Already, politicians from all three countries are expressing concerns that the move will distract the European Union from the problems in Ukraine and Georgia -- and from Russia's military presence there."

Meanwhile, Giorgi Badridze, Georgia's former ambassador in London, has a piece on the winners and losers of Brexit as seen from Tbilisi.

The Far Right And The Third Rome

Casey Michel has a piece up on on how some far-right groups in the United States are forging ties with the Kremlin.

Why Are Ukraine's Leaders Always Unpopular?

In a piece on The Atlantic Council's website, economist Mykhailo Kukhar and political analyst Alexei Sobchenko explain: "How to Avoid Becoming Ukraine’s Most Unpopular Politician." The piece looks at the respective rise and fall of former Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko and former Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk.

"The higher the expectations associated with a new leader, the more painful his or her downfall," Kukhar and Sobchenko write.

"A classic example is the case of President Viktor Yushchenko, who was the symbol of the Orange Revolution. In December 2004, he took 52 percent of the vote in the third round of the presidential election; by 2012, his party barely managed to capture 1 percent. Recently, Yushchenko’s pattern was repeated by former Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, who came to power on the wave of the Revolution of Dignity, and together with President Petro Poroshenko gathered more than 40 percent of the votes in the 2014 parliamentary elections. A year later, Yatsenyuk’s 1.2 percent popularity rating led him to seriously compete with Yushchenko for the title of Most Unpopular Ukrainian Politician."

Making Peace And Waging War

There are a couple of good pieces up on the Kennan Institute's blog, The Russia File, parsing Moscow's current approach to the West. 

Jill Dougherty has a post titled War Fever in which the former CNN correspondent and Kennan Institute scholar writes: "In the past two months, I’ve traveled to the Baltic region, to Georgia, and to Russia. Talk of war is everywhere."

Meanwhile, Maxim Trudolyubov, a senior fellow at the Kennan Institute, writes that Russia is attempting to make "peace with the West, country by country."

"Russia is economically weak and there is no sign of any new sources of growth emerging. Russia is militarily weak in relation to NATO and there is no way this disparity will be bridged any time soon. But Russia has clear strengths on each of the bilateral vectors it emphasizes," Trudolyubov writes.

Video The Daily Vertical: I Know What You Are, But What Am I?!

The Daily Vertical: I Know What You Are, But What Am I?!i
July 20, 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.

The Morning Vertical, July 19, 2016

Brian Whitmore


The recent protests in Horlivka, a city in Donetsk Oblast controlled by Moscow-backed separatists, illustrate how time is not on Russia's side in Ukraine. The militants and their Kremlin backers are incapable of providing anything resembling prosperity in the areas they control, and sooner or later they will lose public support.

The demonstrations in Horlivka, in which about 1,000 small business owners protested confiscatory taxes and said they wished to return to the system under Kyiv's control, could be the shape of things to come. 


British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson is calling on Russia to pressure Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down.

FIFA has promised "appropriate steps" after a report on July 18 found that a dozen doping cases in Russian football were among hundreds covered up by Moscow.

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev suspended Deputy Sports Minister Yury Nagornykh, who was named in a report on the doping of Russian athletes at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

The Federal Security Service says it has detained an interpreter for the Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and accused him of spying for Ukraine.

A poll by the Levada Center shows that one-quarter of Russians are thinking about emigrating.


Promises, Promises

James Goldgeier, dean of the School of International Service at American University and author of the book Not Whether But When: The U.S. Decision To Enlarge NATO, weighs in on the ongoing debate about what the United States did and did not promise Russia in the 1990s regarding NATO enlargement.

"As someone who supported enlargement as a vehicle for helping to ensure the security of a historically insecure region, I tell this story not as part of what has been a quarter-century 'gotcha' game and certainly not to feed into Russian justifications of their 2014 invasion of a sovereign country," Goldgeier writes. 

"Rather, I hope to remind us of the key contours of the immediate post-Cold War world: The United States believed it had won the Cold War and sought to ensure the terms of settlement were favorable to American interests. Yeltsin believed he and the Russian people had overthrown communism and wanted the terms of settlement to recognize their interests in being major players in Europe. Given the power disparities, the differences would be hard to reconcile." 

The piece is well worth a read, as it puts useful context around how the decision to enlarge NATO evolved.

Goldgeier's piece, which appeared in the War On The Rocks blog, links to a declassified memo of an October 1993 conversation between Warren Christopher, then the U.S. secretary of state, and Boris Yeltsin.

The Funk Of The West

Veteran Kremlin-watcher Edward Lucas, author of The New Cold War, has a short, smart, and sobering piece up on the Center for European Policy Analysis website that looks at the current funk engulfing the West and how Russia is taking advantage of it.

"The best argument against the bombastic, disruptive approach epitomized by Putin’s rule is that normality is actually fine," Lucas writes. 

"The West’s values of rule of law, democracy, and capitalism form the best combination of political and economic arrangements the world has ever seen. So we don’t need 'sovereign democracy' because our own system works fine. Nor do we need a 'new European security architecture' (code for giving Russia the right to meddle in its neighbors’ affairs) because the existing setup -- based on the Paris Charter and the OSCE -- works perfectly well."

New Troll Tactics

The Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project has a new report out on how organized Russian trolls are using new methods in an effort to influence U.S. policy toward Moscow.

"Reporters for OCCRP have found evidence that pro-Kremlin agents are using an online petition tool on, a U.S. presidential website, in an attempt to covertly influence U.S. policy," the report claims.

On Ukraine's Front Line

The International Crisis Group has released a report about conditions along the separation line between the separatist-controlled areas in eastern Ukraine and the rest of the country.

Here's a teaser: "The 500-km line of separation between Russian-supported separatist districts of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts and the rest of Ukraine is not fit for purpose. The cease-fire negotiated at the February 2015 Minsk talks is being violated daily and heavily. Tens of thousands of well-armed troops confront each other in densely populated civilian areas. The sides are so close that even light infantry weapons can cause substantial damage, let alone the heavy weapons they regularly use. This presents major risks to civilians who still live there -- about 100,000 on the Ukrainian side alone, according to an unofficial estimate -- often next door to troops who have taken over unoccupied houses."

Read it all here.

The Horlivka Protests

The Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group has a report on demonstrations against pro-Moscow authorities in separatist-controlled Horlivka.

"Attempts by Kremlin-backed militants in Horlivka, a city in the so-called ‘Donetsk People’s Republic’ to milk small business owners has prompted the first mass demonstration in the city since 2014," the report claims.

"Over a thousand people, mainly traders from the local market, are reported to have gathered outside the city administration protesting against the militants’ methods for extracting money and demanding a system like what they had under Ukrainian government control."

Stay In Your Lane!

MIkhail Khodorkovsky's Open Wall web portal has a piece looking at the changing nature of censorship in Russia. 

Here's the money graph: "As long as the federal TV channels continued to stultify the country with their propaganda (so the theory went), the so-called 'minnows' of independent media could carry on being as nonconformist as they wished. But the economic crisis -- and the concomitant increase in paranoia -- has changed all that. In the eyes of the regime, 'media minnows' no longer exist -- anyone and everyone is now seen to be dangerous and influential. It’s only a matter of time, then, until a new wave of repression is unleashed against individual journalists and entire editorial teams are pulled over for crossing that shifting double white line."

Playing The Terror Card

The always insightful foreign affairs analyst Vladimir Frolov has a piece in The Moscow Times on the Kremlin's (not so) hidden agenda in the war on terrorism 

"The war on terror is instrumental in advancing Russia's other foreign policy goals," Frolov writes. 

"By enticement and, if necessary, by force, the West is made to accept Russia as a valuable ally in defeating an existential threat, while tacitly accepting Moscow’s 'legitimate interests' in the former Soviet space and the Middle East. It is a deft move to create a situation where the maintenance of Western sanctions imposed on Russia for its shenanigans in Ukraine would be politically and morally untenable -- one does not sanction a valuable war ally."

It's A Strange World

Andrei Kortunov, president of the Russian Foreign Affairs Council, has a smart, funny, and irreverent piece looking at Russian foreign policy and the Kremlin's worldview.

Video The Daily Vertical: The Doping Of Russia

The Daily Vertical: The Doping Of Russiai
July 19, 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.

The Morning Vertical, July 18, 2016

Brian Whitmore


Vladimir Putin must have breathed a sigh of relief when this weekend's coup in Turkey failed. Moscow and Ankara had just reconciled their differences after months of tension and Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan appeared ready to become best buddies again. But the coup attempt had to be disturbing for Putin for another reason as well. Given the degree to which his and Erdogan's regimes have been compared to each other, it had to show the Kremlin leader how vulnerable he too could be to such an attempt. Putin has, of course, taken steps to deter any attempt to pull off a palace coup. Most notably, by forming a National Guard -- 400,000 troops under the command of Putin's former bodyguard that answer to him alone. But nevertheless, this weekend's events in Turkey should only serve to make the Kremlin leader even more paranoid. 


The scheduled release of a report on allegations of state-sponsored doping in Russian sports could affect the participation of the country's athletes in the Rio Summer Olympics.

Meanwhile, several anti-doping agencies and athletes' groups are calling for the entire Russian Olympic team to be banned from Rio.

Turkish state media says President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will meet Vladimir Putin in August, their first face-to-face meeting since a rapprochement in late June.

According to a new poll from the Levada Center, Russians are losing interest in September's State Duma elections.

A rally of minibus drivers in Smolensk is calling for the resignation of the city's mayor.


Today's Power Vertical Briefing looks at the latest World Anti-Doping Agency report on Russia. 


And in case you missed it, The Power Vertical Podcast went on the road last week to Tartu, Estonia to take the temperature in the Baltic states in the aftermath of the NATO summit.


Russia's Military Machine

Writing in The National Interest, Nikolas Gvosdev asks: "How Dangerous is Russia's Military?"

"In absolute comparison to the U.S. military, Russia’s military has only a fraction of the capabilities and equipment. However, what the Russians possess is still far more than any other post-Soviet state and even poses a challenge to European militaries if they were to face Russia alone, without U.S. support," Gvosdev writes.

The Moscow-Athens Axis

Also in The National Interest, Henry Stanek looks at Russia's close ties with Greece, and the extent to which they constitute a threat to the West.

"Part of the concern over amicable Greco-Russian relations lies in the strong ties between their leaders, ever since Syriza rose to power," Stanek writes. 

"Greek officials have been effusive in their embrace of Vladimir Putin, striking a decidedly different tone from the rest of Europe. The two countries have deep historic and Orthodox religious ties, while relationships between members of Syriza party and political and business elites in Russia are worryingly close. Indeed, the first foreign official that Tsipras invited to the prime minister’s mansion was Russian ambassador Andrey Maslov.

The Complicated Russo-German Relationship

Gustav Gressel, a senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, has a new piece titled: Managing the Unmanageable: Germany and a Resurgent Russia.

"While the Russian challenge to Germany and the European order has been acknowledged by the mainstream parties in Germany, German foreign policy is ill-equipped to deal with the dangers Russia poses. There is simply no strategy to deal with Russia beyond sanctions," Gressel writes.

Propaganda and Psychology

The RAND Corporation has released a new report by Christopher Paul and Miriam Matthews: The Russian "Firehose of Falsehood" Propaganda Model: Why It Might Work and Options to Counter It

"The Russian propaganda model is high-volume and multichannel, and it disseminates messages without regard for the truth. It is also rapid, continuous, and repetitive, and it lacks commitment to consistency. Although these techniques would seem to run counter to the received wisdom for successful information campaigns, research in psychology supports many of the most successful aspects of the model," Paul and Matthews write.

After Warsaw

Newsweek has a couple of good postmortems on the NATO summit in Warsaw. 

Igor Sutyagin, a senior research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, looks at why Russia is a threat to Poland and the Baltic states.

And John Herbst, director of the Dinu Patriciu Eurasia Center at the Atlantic Council and a former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, looks at NATO's moves to counter the threat.

Censorship and Self-Censorship

Writing in The New York Times, journalist and author Masha Gessen uses the recent shake-up at RBC as a point of departure to look at the nature of censorship in Russia.

"This is how self-censorship works: It requires of journalists a kind of hypersensitivity to signals that cannot be articulated as rules," Gessen writes.

Sweden, Finland, and NATO

In the War On The Rocks blog, Swedish air force major Carl Bergqvist explains why Sweden and Finland probably won't join NATO.

Ukraine and the West

Jana Kobzova, an associate fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, has a commentary explaining why Western solidarity on keeping sanctions on Russia does not translate into solidarity in support of Ukraine.

Putin Plays the Terrorism Card -- Again

In a piece in Foreign Policy, Julia Ioffe looks at the real motivation behind Putin's public condolences to France in the wake of the Nice attacks.

Video The Daily Vertical: Nothing To Fear

The Daily Vertical: Nothing To Feari
|| 0:00:00
July 18, 2016
The Daily Vertical is a video primer for Russia-watchers that appears Monday through Friday.

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: This Is Your Olympic Team On Drugs

A technician holds a test tube with a blood sample at the Russian anti-doping laboratory in Moscow

Brian Whitmore

Russia faces a potential complete Olympic ban as the World Anti-Doping Agency prepares to issue yet another critical report.

On this week's Power Vertical Briefing, we discuss the upcoming WADA report on massive doping at the 2014 Sochi Olympics and the likely fallout.

Joining me is RFE/RL Senior Editor Steve Gutterman.


The Briefing: This Is Your Olympic On Drugs
The Briefing: This Is Your Olympic On Drugsi
|| 0:00:00


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 on Mondays. 

Audio Podcast: The Eastern Front

Boots on the ground.

Brian Whitmore

The Baltic states and Poland are finally getting what they have long wanted: NATO boots on the ground to deter a revanchist Russia.

In the wake of the Atlantic alliance's landmark summit in Warsaw, The Power Vertical Podcast traveled to Tartu, Estonia to take the temperature and explore the view from the Baltics.

Joining me are three professors from the University of Tartu: Vello Pettai, a professor of comparative politics at the Johan Skytte Institute of Political Studies and co-author of the book Transitional and Retrospective Justice in the Baltic StatesPiret Ehin, director of the Center for EU-Russia Studies; and Vyacheslav Morozov, an expert on Russian foreign policy and author of the book Russia's Postcolonial Identity.


Power Vertical Podcast: The Eastern Front
Power Vertical Podcast: The Eastern Fronti
|| 0:00:00



PROGRAMMING NOTE: The regular schedule for all Power Vertical products (Daily Vertical, Morning Vertical, Briefing, and Podcast) will resume on Monday July 18. Thank you for your patience while I was traveling.


Warsaw: A Very Big Deal

U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter, British Defense Secretary Michael Fallon, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg in Warsaw

Brian Whitmore

So it's a whole new NATO.

Despite Brexit and despite lingering divisions over whether to confront or engage Russia, the transatlantic alliance took some big steps forward at a landmark summit this week in Warsaw.

"We face a serious problem in a revanchist Kremlin and this summit has done an excellent job of addressing it," John Herbst, director of the Dinu Patriciu Eurasia Center at the Atlantic Council and a former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, said during a panel discussion at the Warsaw Summit Experts' Forum.

By agreeing to deploy multinational military forces to the Baltic states and eastern Poland, NATO has moved from the reassurance of its allies to the deterrence of its adversaries.

Boots on the ground -- particularly American, Canadian, British, and German boots -- should put to rest any lingering doubts that the alliance is prepared to defend its most vulnerable members against a potential attack by Russia.

And even as the buildup in the east addressed the kinetic threat from Moscow, the agreement NATO signed in Warsaw with the European Union was a significant step in addressing the nonkinetic aspects of Moscow's hybrid war on the West.

As effective a military alliance as NATO is, it is ill-equipped to counter threats stemming from the Kremlin's weaponization of globalization: its use of things like corruption, transnational organized crime, international finance, and disinformation to undermine the foundations of Western societies.

Countering these hybrid tactics -- which form a significant part of Russia's threat to the West and are integrated with the Kremlin's military strategy -- requires a coordinated effort not only by NATO, but from the nondefense arms of Western governments as well.

"The EU and NATO cannot afford to go their own ways in dealing with the multitude of challenges they face," Judy Dempsey, a senior associate at Carnegie Europe, wrote.

"They both have expertise that complements the other’s. NATO has hard power, the EU has soft power."

The Gray Zone

So what just went on in the Polish capital was a Very Big (expletive deleted) Deal.

Antoni Macierewicz, Poland's defense minister, went as far as to call the summit "a turning point in the history of the alliance."

But at the same time, it was also just the start of a process. The question now is, how does NATO move beyond Warsaw?

With the eastern buildup, it's now clear to anybody paying attention that Article 5, the alliance's collective-defense provision, will be upheld. But can NATO now move beyond Article 5 and find a way to address security issues in its neighborhood?

With U.S. troops set to deploy to eastern Poland, strategically vital Suwalki Gap is being plugged. Can NATO now plug the other security gaps lingering on its periphery?

Specifically, with membership off the table for the foreseeable future for Ukraine and Georgia -- not to mention Moldova -- what happens in the gray zone between NATO and Russia?

"What is NATO's role in relation to those countries? How can NATO project stability beyond its borders?" Herbst asked.

This is far from an academic question as it is in this gray zone, in the lands beyond the Article 5 umbrella, where conflict and instability are most likely to occur.

And any instability on NATO's frontier can easily turn into a security threat for the alliance itself.

"Not giving a membership perspective harms the security environment. And this is true not just for Ukraine and Georgia, but for the wider area," Ivana Klympush-Tsintsadze, Ukraine's deputy prime minister for European and Euro-Atlantic integration, said at the Warsaw Summit Experts' Forum.

So if membership is off the table in the gray zone, and the West isn't prepared to acquiesce to a de facto Yalta and cede these countries to Russia, coming up with a workable alternative is going to be one of NATO's biggest challenges going forward.

Hybrid Defense

Likewise, the agreement between NATO and the EU, which the alliance's Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg called "a historic deal," is just the start of a process.

NATO and the EU pledged to coordinate their actions and cooperate on a series of security issues, including cyberdefense, terrorism, and countering "hybrid threats" and disinformation campaigns from Russia.

Dempsey of Carnegie Europe noted that the pact could provide "a boost for the Atlanticist wing in the EU" and "make it more difficult for Russia to divide Europe and weaken the transatlantic relationship."

It would also facilitate coordination between European law-enforcement and regulatory bodies -- which would be on the front lines in countering Moscow's hybrid tactics -- and NATO's traditional defense capabilities.

If implemented fully, it would make it easier to form a comprehensive strategy against kinetic and nonkinetic threats.

The operative phrase, of course, is "if implemented fully."

Despite having headquarters in the same city and having mostly overlapping member states, NATO and the EU have scant experience in cooperating.

Both have a consensus-based form of decision making that can be slow, quarrelsome, and unwieldy.

Turf wars and squabbles are probably inevitable, and were already evident even before the document was signed.

But if the deal can work, its impact in enhancing security in the transatlantic area could be at least as significant as placing thousands of troops on NATO's eastern frontier.

“Our security is interconnected,” Stoltenberg said. “Together we are a formidable team.”


NATO In The Shadow Of Brexit

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg (center) with officials and military personnel in front of a NATO drone outside the venue of the Warsaw Summit.

Brian Whitmore

WARSAW -- The dominant vibe in Warsaw is all about unity. The results are mostly pre-cooked. And there should be few surprises.

With little dissent to speak of, in the next couple days NATO is expected to beef up its forces in its vulnerable front-line states in the east; forge closer ties with traditionally neutral Finland and Sweden; and upgrade the importance of cyberdefense.

"I hope that we are going to prove that the transatlantic alliance is in better shape than ever before," Polish President Andrzej Duda said.

But lingering tensions lurk below the surface at a summit NATO officials describe as the most consequential since the end of the Cold War.

The centrifugal forces tugging at the European Union are also threatening to strain the transatlantic alliance.

The traditional differences among member states about how forcefully to confront Moscow, however latent at the moment, can easily become manifest again.

A split is emerging between NATO members who see the greatest threat to the alliance coming from the east, from a revanchist Russia, and those who would prioritize the danger from the south, from radical Islam.

And with populism on the rise across the West, NATO faces "stiff political headwinds," former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright noted in her keynote address to the Warsaw Summit Experts' Forum, a conference on the sidelines of the summit.

"On both sides of the Atlantic, there are myopic voices questioning NATO's purpose," Albright said.

So, what are these stiff headwinds? And what are some of the underlying issues dividing the alliance?

The Specter Of Brexit

The elephant in the room, of course, is the United Kingdom's vote last month to leave the European Union and fears that this could have a knock-on effect with NATO.

The official line is that it won't.

"Brexit will change the U.K.'s relationship with the European Union, but it will not change the U.K.'s leading role in NATO," alliance Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told the Warsaw Summit Experts' Forum.

But not everybody was convinced.

James Sherr of Chatham House noted that the Brexit vote "could weaken the transatlantic impulse" in the EU.

Polish President Duda suggested the effect Brexit could have on the U.K. itself, including the possible fracturing of the country, could automatically change Britain's role in NATO and weaken the alliance.

And others stressed that the populist and nativist forces that drove the Brexit debate -- and were cheered on by the Kremlin -- could also work to undermine NATO.

Underlying all this is a fear that Brexit wasn't a localized British phenomenon but a global trend against multilateralism.

"We need to return to a transatlantic conversation about the health of our democracies," Heather Conley of the Center for Strategic and International Studies said.

Likewise, Albright said bluntly that "NATO leaders have no choice. They must do a better job of building domestic support."

The Language Of Bucharest

Meanwhile, 11 words in an eight-year-old declaration continue to haunt and divide NATO.

A pledge made at one of NATO's most contentious summits, in Bucharest in April 2008, caused something of a minor dust-up in the run-up to this week's landmark gathering in Warsaw.

Point 23 of the alliance's 2008 Bucharest Declaration began as follows: "NATO welcomes Ukraine’s and Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic aspirations for membership in NATO."

And then came those 11 words: "We agreed today that these countries will become members of NATO."

That pledge was the result of a frantically negotiated political compromise.

The 2008 NATO summit in the Romanian capital was hopelessly divided over whether to give Georgia and Ukraine Membership Action Plans, final blueprints for joining the alliance, which Russia hotly opposed.

The United States, United Kingdom, Poland, and the Baltic states were in favor. Germany, France, and Italy were against.

Unable to achieve unanimity, the alliance was forced to hand Georgia and Ukraine a consolation prize -- and the "Bucharest language" has been reaffirmed at every summit since.

But in the weeks preceding the Warsaw summit, the same divisions that caused the schism in Bucharest reemerged with some members pushing for the language not to be reaffirmed.

In the end, NATO officials say a decision was reached to reaffirm the Bucharest language explicitly for Georgia and implicitly for Ukraine.

But the very existence of such a debate illustrates that the issue of how closely to engage aspirants like Georgia and Ukraine continues to be deeply divisive.

Permanent And Substantial

Likewise, there are divisions among member states -- and within member states -- about how forcefully to confront Russia.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier recently called NATO exercises in Eastern Europe "saber rattling" -- appearing to oppose the policy of Chancellor Angela Merkel's government.

And some southern European states, like Italy and Greece, would prefer to see NATO focus less on Russia and more on the threat emerging from instability in the Middle East and North Africa.

"We don't have the luxury of a choice," Albright told the Warsaw Summit Experts' Forum, stressing that the alliance must focus on both threats.

Additionally, in a decision that is proving controversial, the NATO-Russia Council -- which was suspended following the annexation of Crimea -- is scheduled to meet following the Warsaw summit.

Stoltenberg defended the decision in Warsaw, saying that the council was designed to be an "all-weather forum for dialogue."

And despite the buildup on its eastern flank, the alliance is still trying to adhere to the NATO Founding Act, a 1997 agreement with Moscow to assuage the Kremlin's fears about former Warsaw Pact members Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic joining NATO.

In the Founding Act, NATO pledged that it would not station “permanent” or “substantial” forces on the territory of its new eastern members.

Permanent and substantial, however, were never defined in the Founding Act, which alliance officials say is a "political" and not a "legal" document.

The Baltic states, Poland, and Romania have long argued that Russia has breached its obligations under the Founding Act. They sought at the alliance's last summit in Wales to deemphasize -- and possibly revoke -- the pledge.

But the alliance opted instead to take advantage of the elasticity in the terms "permanent" and "substantial."

As a result, the troops in the Baltics, Poland, and Romania will technically be a mobile force on rotation, using warehoused equipment, and backed by NATO's 40,000-strong rapid reaction unit.

But the debate over "permanent and substantial" is far from over.

In a speech in May, Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves noted that in the Founding Act, the pledge was explicitly predicated on the security environment in 1997 -- with a relatively benevolent Russia -- remaining the same.

But that environment, Ilves said, "has changed beyond recognition."

In a recent interview with Deutsche Welle, Estonian Prime MInister Taavi Roivas said regardless of whether the troops are called permanent or not, "they must be constantly present. There cannot be any gaps. Deterrence has to be the new normal."

The lingering divisions in NATO should not be surprising.

"Everything we do is defensive, transparent, and consistent with our international obligations," Stoltenberg said.

And getting 28 democratically elected leaders to agree on anything -- let alone the thorny issues facing NATO -- is going to be a challenge.

Tags:NATO, Russia

Warsaw, Son Of Wales

Polish troops land with parachutes at the military compound near Torun as part of the NATO Anaconda-16 military exercise in June.

Brian Whitmore

In many ways, Warsaw will be a sequel to Wales.

Two years ago, NATO was in emergency mode. Today it is planning for a long and tense conflict.

Two years ago, the Atlantic alliance went back to basics, refocusing on its core mission of defending its members. Today it is methodically putting the pieces in place to contain and deter an increasingly revanchist Russia.

The last time NATO heads of state gathered, in Newport, Wales, back in September 2014, the annexation of Crimea and the conflict in eastern Ukraine were only months old, and Russia's aggressive stance toward the West was just taking shape. 

"Hybrid war" was still a fresh term that everybody was scrambling to understand. 

If Wales 2014 was about an immediate response to a crisis, the alliance's summit this week in Warsaw will be about building the stable and sturdy security architecture for a long-term standoff with Moscow.

Decisions made in the Polish capital on July 8-9, alliance officials say, will resonate for decades to come.

"It will be a sign of the new times, when we will redefine Western security to deal more appropriately with the sea-change we have witnessed in this realm," Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves said in a speech in May.

The summit is also unfolding in the shadow of "Brexit," in the emotionally charged environment following the United Kingdom's vote to leave the European Union.

So what should we expect in Warsaw? 

The Eastern Front

Deterring Russia and reassuring the NATO's frontline states that border it will, of course, be the dominant theme at the summit.

"Transatlantic leaders must confront a jarring reality: the peace, security, and democratic stability of Europe can no longer be taken for granted," former U.S. Ambassador to NATO Nicholas Burns and former NATO commander James Jones wrote in a recent report for the Atlantic Council.

Two years ago in Wales, NATO decided to set up new military facilities in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Romania, and established a new rapid-response force that could assist endangered members within two days.

In Warsaw, the alliance is expected to further reinforce its eastern flank with four combat battalions of up to 1,000 soldiers each in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland.

The United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, and Canada have agreed to command one battalion each.

The U.S.-led battalion is likely to deploy to Poland, probably in or near the Suwalki Gap, a roughly 100-kilometer stretch of the Polish-Lithuanian border wedged between Belarus and Russia's Kaliningrad region. 

Military planners fear that in the event of a conflict, Russia could capture the gap, effectively cutting off the Baltics from the rest of the alliance.

The German-led battalion is expected to deploy to Lithuania, the British-led one to Estonia, and the fourth to Latvia.

Washington has also agreed to station a heavy brigade of 3,500 U.S. troops that will work in both the Baltic region and in Bulgaria and Romania, where a key base is being expanded for U.S. use as a training center.

Additionally, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said in June that the alliance will consider an offer from Romania to host and command a multinational brigade of between 3,000 and 5,000 troops that would coordinate training and also play a deterrent role.

"These are not war-fighting formations," Mark Galeotti, a senior research fellow at the Czech Institute of International Relations, said on The Power Vertical Podcast.

"A thousand troops here or there, no matter how good they may be and no matter how well-equipped, are not going to turn the tide in the case of an apocalyptic war with Russia. They are political markers. They say: 'if you want to go into these countries you are not just going to be killing Estonians and Latvians, but Americans and Germans.' This is very significant."

Northern Exposure

But what if deterrence fails?

Due to the geography of Northern Europe, military analysts say the Baltic states are vulnerable to a determined Russian advance even with significant NATO troops on the ground. 

A recent war game by the RAND Corporation concluded that NATO would need seven brigades, including three with heavy armor, "adequately supported by air power...and other enablers on the ground" in order "to prevent the rapid overrun of the Baltic states."

But even that would not be "sufficient to mount a sustained defense of the region or to achieve NATO's ultimate end state of restoring its members' territorial integrity."

And this, analysts say, is one of the reasons NATO is increasingly looking to two nonmembers, Finland and Sweden, as increasingly close partners and allies.

"Without Finnish and Swedish help, NATO will be hard-pressed to defend the Baltic states against a determined Russian attack," Edward Lucas, author of The New Cold War, wrote recently.

And with Finland and Sweden on NATO's side, the equation changes substantially.

Neither of the two historically neutral countries are ready to join the alliance yet, but support for that is on the rise in both, particularly in Sweden. Both also commissioned studies this year to explore the effects of membership.

Sweden and Finland are clearly moving closer to NATO, a trend that will likely be very visible in Warsaw.

In May, Sweden's parliament approved a host-nation support agreement with NATO, allowing the alliance to more easily operate on Swedish territory during training or in the event of a conflict or other crisis. 

This summer, Swedish and Finnish foreign and defense ministers participated in meetings in Brussels with their 28 NATO counterparts, the first time such a format was used.

Alliance officials say the formula, known as "28 plus two," is likely to be continued in the future.

Southern Discomfort

Russia's annexation of Crimea and its militarization of the peninsula is also forcing NATO to look south, with a renewed focus on the Black Sea, which Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said risks becoming a "Russian lake."

"By invading Ukraine and annexing Crimea, Russian President Vladimir Putin has transformed the security situation in the Black Sea," Stephen Blank, a senior fellow at the American Foreign Policy Council, wrote recently.

In an effort to push back, Romania plans to offer a proposal in Warsaw calling for a permanent multinational naval patrol in the Black Sea. 

Speaking at a press conference in June, Stoltenberg said the issue will be "on the table" at the summit due to the "substantial Russian buildup in Crimea."

But creating a so-called NATO Black Sea fleet is proving controversial. 

Bulgarian Prime Minister Boiko Borisov has made it clear that his country is opposed to, and would not participate in, such an initiative.

At a press conference in June, Borisov said such a move would "turn the Black Sea into a territory of war" and that he "wants to see cruising yachts, and tourists, rather than warships."

Bulgaria's opposition means the issue will probably be one of the most hotly debated issues in Warsaw.

The Cyber-Battlefield

NATO will also be turning its attention to cyberwarfare in Warsaw, alliance officials say, continuing a trend that began in Wales.

"At our previous summit, we made clear that cyberdefense is part of NATO’s core task of collective defense, and confirmed that international law applies in cyberspace," a senior NATO official said. 

"At Warsaw, we will take another step ahead: recognizing cyberspace as an operational domain, in addition to air, sea, and land."

Classifying cyberspace as a domain, the official added, will enable NATO to better manage its resources and integrate cyberdefense into its exercises, training, and responses to crises.

A French television network, a German steelmaker, the Polish stock market, the White House, the U.S. House of Representatives, the U.S. State Department, and The New York Times are among those who have been on the receiving end of Russian cyberattacks in recent years.

Additionally, NATO is also expected to formally approve a "comprehensive assistance package" for Ukraine that was approved in June. 

Enlargement, however, appears to be off the table for the foreseeable future, with the exception of Montenegro, which signed as "accession protocol" with NATO in May, will participate in the Warsaw summit as an observer, and is expected to join the alliance some time next year.

On the eve of the summit, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry visited Georgia and Ukraine to reassure those two countries that the alliance's door remains open.

"The official NATO 'open doors policy' for alliance enlargement remains in place but it is difficult to see how potential candidates such as Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine can move forward," John McColl, a former deputy NATO commander, wrote recently.

Tags:NATO, Russia, baltics, Black Sea

Latest Podcasts

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