Monday, May 30, 2016


That Cold War Movie

Digging up the Cold War from the grave. (Cartoon by Sergey Elkin)

Brian Whitmore

Life has imitated Top Gun with Russian warplanes buzzing a U.S. Naval vessel and barrel rolling an American reconnaissance aircraft.

Reality has mimicked The Hunt for Red October with the Kremlin's submarines trolling the British and Scandinavian coastlines.

We've had a European twist on The Manchurian Candidate, with Moscow backing xenophobic politicians like French National Front leader Marine Le Pen.

And we've even had a little Missiles of October redux, with two Communist Party lawmakers appealing to Vladimir Putin to place missiles in Cuba.

If it all seems like a grainy decades-old movie about the Cold War, that's because in many ways it is.

Putin's regime is in a big hurry to restore Russia's Soviet-era global clout. But with a third-rate economy and little soft power to speak of, the best the Kremlin can do is use its media empire and newly beefed-up military might to create the illusion of superpower competition.

Putin's Russia is far too weak to fight a real Cold War with the West, so the Kremlin has decided to do the next best thing: make a reality show about a Cold War.

Send some jets to buzz a Western ship, wait for the inevitable diplomatic dust up, and voila! Everybody's partying like it's 1979!

The Power Of Perception 

Putin's Cold War movie is important at home because he has staked so much of his legitimacy on reviving Russia's lost glory. He needs this show to have a good long run.

But the Kremlin is also aiming at foreign audiences.

"The Kremlin has clearly concluded that in order to defend its interests close to Russia’s borders, it must play globally," Russian foreign affairs analyst Fyodor Lukyanov wrote in the latest issue of Foreign Affairs.

Put another way, in order to get what he really wants -- a free hand in Ukraine and a privileged sphere of influence in the former Soviet space -- Putin needs to prove that he is ready and able to be a global menace.

"Perceptions matter," Mark Galeotti, a visiting fellow with the European Council on Foreign Relations, wrote recently.

"Arguably being thought to be dangerous is actually a more powerful geopolitical asset than actually being it. So long as the West believes Russia could surge into Ukraine, escalate in Syria, or even roll into the Baltic states, it inevitably feels a greater pressure to make concessions and invite Vladimir Putin to the table."

Corruption Is Not An Ideology

The one big ingredient that has been missing from Putin's Cold War thriller has been the ideological element. 

In a lengthy article in the Kremlin mouthpiece Izvestia, political scientist Sergei Karaganov tried -- not very convincingly -- to fill the void. 

According to Karaganov, the root of the current conflict is a struggle between the West's laissez faire capitalism and permissive social norms against Russia's authoritarian state capitalism and defense of traditional Christian values.

"What makes the Russian challenge so strong for European elites is offering an attractive model of behavior and set of values to the rest of the world," Karaganov wrote.

Moscow has certainly tried to use these issues to gain advantage, like with its financing of xenophobic far right parties in Europe, for example. 

But to suggest that Russia's conflict with the West is ideological, a la the Cold War, is pure nonsense. 

There is a normative aspect, but it essentially pits the West's relatively transparent system, with it's quaint notions of the rule of law, the sanctity of contracts, and individual rights against Russia's opaque authoritarian kleptocracy. 

If Russia has an ideology, it is corruption. Everything else the Kremlin passes off as values is just tactics, active measures, and window dressing.

The Kremlin's Cold War movie has succeeded to a degree in easing Moscow's international isolation and convincing the public that Russia is back as a global player.

But it hasn't given Putin what he wants in Ukraine, it hasn't gained Russia its coveted sphere of influence, and it hasn't ended Western sanctions. 

If the Kremlin escalates and makes this little reality show a little more real, the results could be devastating. 

And this is not just because of things like the United States deploying advanced F-22 fighters to Lithuania and Romania and NATO rotating troops through the Baltic states.

In the real Cold War, after all, the Soviet Union was cut off from Western financial markets and was effectively under permanent sanctions in the form of CoCom export restrictions.

And that's a place the Russian elite -- which has grown fond of the goodies Western economies offer even as they flout Western rules -- does not want to go. 

NOTE TO READERS: Be sure to tune in to The Power Vertical Podcast on April 29, where I will discuss the themes raised in this post with Mark Galeotti of New York University, Kadri Liik of the European Council on Foreign Relations, and Agnia Grigas of the Atlantic Council. 


The Morning Vertical, April 27, 2016

Brian Whitmore

Your daily roundup:

ON MY MIND

I don't imagine there is much chance that the Kremlin will abide by the European Court of Human Rights' ruling this week that Russia pay compensation to five opposition protesters jailed between 2006 and 2012. And State Duma speaker Sergei Naryshkin has already said that observers from the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly will not be allowed to monitor this year's parliamentary elections.

It's pretty clear that Moscow is no longer interested in abiding by any of the Council of Europe's rules or adhering to any of the decisions of its court. So one has to wonder: How long will the charade of Russia being a member of the council continue?

IN THE NEWS

Russia's prosecutor-general is accusing the Ukrainian nationalist group Right Sector of plotting a coup -- in Russia.

A Russian-run court in the annexed Crimean Peninsula has branded the executive council for the region's Tatar minority an extremist organization and ordered it banned

The United States is sending F-22 warplanes to Romania.

The incoming NATO commander will review rules of engagement in light of a series of encounters with Russian warplanes.

The OSCE secretary-general and Iran's defense minister are in Moscow to take part in a security conference.

The first launch from Russia's new cosmodrome has been delayed.

The youth leader of the Russian opposition party Parnas has reportedly been kidnapped.

State Duma speaker Sergei Naryshkin says observers from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe will not be allowed to observe Russia's parliamentary elections in September.

The European Court of Human Rights has ordered Russia to pay $40,000 to arrested protesters.

WHAT I'M READING

Donbas Maneuvers

In a piece in Apostrophe, Artyem Dekhtyarenko argues that an OSCE police force in Donbas may actually work to Russia's advantage by helping Moscow to freeze the conflict on its terms.

Also in Apostrophe, Moscow-based political analyst Dmitry Oreshkin argues that Russia is preparing to wash its hands of the Donbas conflict.

The Militarization Of Crimea

Defense Express takes a close look at the degree to which Russia has militarized Crimea since annexing it in 2014.

The Panama Papers Meets The Magnitsky Case

The Organized Crime and Corruption Report Project links cellist Sergei Roldugin with the Magnitsky case.

"Banking records obtained by OCCRP show that cellist Sergei Roldugin, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s old friend, received money from an offshore company at about the same time it was being used to steal money from the Russian government in the notorious Sergei Magnitsky case."

Council On Foreign Relations Event: What To Expect From Putin

The U.S. Council on Foreign Relations held a symposium yesterday featuring Agnia Grigas, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council and author of the book Beyond Crimea: The New Russian Empire; Stephen Sestanovich, a senior fellow at CFR; Julianne Smith of the Center for a New American Security; and Nadia Diuk of the National Endowment for Democracy.

You can watch a video of the event here.

The Tatars Under Siege

Writing in The Huffington Post, Rory Finnin of Cambridge University's Committee for Russian and Eastern European Studies looks at the plight of the Crimean Tatars.

Russia, China, And Sanctions

In a recent post on the University of Nottingham's China Policy Institute Blog, Aleksandr Gabuev of the Moscow Carnegie Center asks, Did Western Sanctions Affect Sino-Russian Economic Ties? 

The Life And Death Of An Old Bolshevik

Sean Guillory's SRB Podcast this week looks at the life and legacy of Aleksandr Shlyapnikov, a Bolshevik revolutionary who was executed in Josef Stalin's great terror. Sean's guest is LaSalle University historian and Shlyapnikov biographer Barbara Allen.


Video The Daily Vertical: Eye On Odesa

The Daily Vertical: Eye On Odesai
X
April 27, 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: The Financial Nuclear Option

The Daily Vertical: The Financial Nuclear Optioni
X
April 26, 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, April 26, 2016

Brian Whitmore

ON MY MIND

It's nice to see that despite what appears to be a campaign of pressure from the Kremlin, the journalists at RBK aren't easing up a bit. Yesterday they published an investigative piece about the meteoric rise of businessman Dmitry Mazurov in Russia's oil business. A rise that got a big assist, according to the report, from friends of Vladimir Putin and Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin. Of course, if the Kremlin wants to tame or shut down RBK, they'll find a way. But the fact that one of Russia's last outposts of independent journalism is prepared to be so defiant is cause for some guarded optimism. 

IN THE NEWS

Ukraine marks the 30th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster

U.S. President Barack Obama Says Vladimir Putin is trying to undermine European unity

Investigators are saying that robbery was the motive in the mass killing of a police officer and five members of his family in Samara Oblast.

The BBC is disputing Russian claims that a documentary the broadcaster is due to air in May will show that Ukraine is responsible for shooting down Malaysia Airlines flight MH17.

WHAT I'M READING

Humanitarian Enemies of the People

Katerina Gordeeva at Meduza has a nice piece on the Kremlin's assault on NGOs: From Charity To Treason: How Russia’s Philanthropists Went From Heroes To Traitors.

Unpacking The Attack on RBK

Kevin Rothrock at Global Voices gives a comprehensive rundown of the Kremlin's attack on Mikhail Prokhorov and RBK.

RBK, meanwhile, has just published an investigative report about how cronies of Vladimir Putin and Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin turned businessman Dmitry Mazurov into an oil mogul.

Rumors in the Corridors

In case you're wondering what's making the rounds on the Russian rumor mill, here's a quick rundown. (Teaser: Dmitry Medvedev was angry about Aleksandr Bastrykin's controversial article in Kommersant Vlast and Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin's relations with United Russia aren't great, just to name a couple.)

How Russia stopped loving the West

Denis Volkov of the Levada Center has a piece in Vedomosti looking at Russia's deteriorating attitudes toward the West and the United States. (Meduza has just posted a translation in English)

Steinmeier's Ostpolitik

It appears that German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier wants to end the standoff with Russia.

The Spy Who Went Out In The Cold

In The Daily Beast, Michael Weiss looks into Andrew Fulton, a former high-ranking spy with Britain's MI-6, who now works for Team Putin.

The Eurasian Disunion

Anton Barbashin of the Center for Polish-Russian Dialogue and Understanding has a piece in Foreign Affairs, The Eurasian Illusion: The Myth Of The Myth Of Russia's Economic Union

How to Guerilla-Market a Stereotype

Euromaidan Press takes a granular look at how Russia's myths about Ukraine seep into Western media coverage.

Meanwhile, in a piece for the Moscow Carnegie Center's website, Kommersant columnist Andrei Arkangelsky deconstructs Russian propaganda.

Kremlin propaganda, he writes, is "the result of a backlog of unresolved ethical and philosophical problems in the post-totalitarian consciousness. Its phobias and fears are now shared with us." Arkangelsky adds that "the propagandists are not telling us about the other -- America and the West -- but about themselves and their own dark cellars." 

The Forest Brothers

I just came across this trailer for a new documentary film by Latvian filmmaker and politician Edvins Snore. The Unknown War: Baltic Resistance looks at the "Forest Brothers," who carried out a partisan campaign against the Soviet occupation of the Baltic states after World War II.

Putin and the Impotence of Omnipotence

In an interview with Online.ua,  LIlia Shevtsova says Putin is suffering from the "impotence of omnipotence."

"The Russian elite has become European at the level of consumption, but in order to preserve their incomes and consequently their power. They must isolate ordinary Russians from Europe and from European values," Shevtsova says. "The Kremlin will thus struggle with Western values inside Russia even as it tries to achieve compromises with European business and elites."

The Death of Russia's Civil Society

Jens Siegert has an essay in Intersection magazine asking: Does a Civil Society exist in Russia?

"Independent civil society in Russia scarcely even exists any more. Small and weak fragments remain, but they do not have any significant support from Russian society. They are marginalized, and their values seems not to be shared by the vast majority of the Russian people.
Must we though assume this attempt to ingrain democratic values into Russian society in the last 25 years a failure? Are we back at point zero or even below of it? Or is there something left, maybe even under the surface, which may give us hope?"

The New Russian Empire

Robert Legvold reviews Agnia Grigas' book, Beyond Crimea: The New Russian Empire, in Foreign Affairs.

Run Silent, Run Deep

The Wilson Center's MIchael Kofman has a piece on CNN's website looking at Russia's revived submarine program. How big of a military threat does it really pose?

Russia, China, and TTIP

On Carnegie Europe's website, Judy Dempsey looks at U.S. President Barack Obama's push for a new transatlantic relationship. Dempsey argues that the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) is vital to thwart Russia and China's efforts to undermine the existing global order.

"TTIP is not only about establishing a trade deal that would set crucial standards for how business is conducted. It is also about underpinning if not reviving the West’s liberal economic order, which is coming under massive pressure from Russia and particularly China," Dempsey writes.

Calling Things By Their Correct Names

Daniel Baer, the U.S. ambassador to the OSCE, responds to Russian objections to the use of the term "Russia-backed separatists."

"The other element I wanted to comment on was the question about wording, in terms of use of the word 'separatists'. I'd just like to clarify, we use 'Russia-backed separatists' to indicate the accurate relationship -- or sometimes we use the term 'Russian-led separatist fighters' to, again, express accurately the connection between Russia and the fighters on the ground. And that is not a political term; it is meant to be a statement, an accurate statement, reflecting the situation and why we are so deeply engaged with the Russian Federation, as are Ukraine and others, to try to find a peaceful solution to this. Because we have to acknowledge that the Russian Federation is the key driver of the conflict, and has been the key driver of the conflict from the outset."

Ukraine's Prospects

Steven Pifer, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, has a couple pieces up on the Brookings Institution's website. One looks at what Ukraine's new government is (and isn't) likely to achieve. And another asks whether Kyiv will squander its Western support.

Atlantic Council Event On Russo-Turkish Relations

In Washington today, the Atlantic Council will hold an event, "The Future of the Russo-Turkish Relationship with Congressman Gerry Connolly," at 12:00 EDT


Audio The Briefing: The War On The Media

Prokhorov and RBK are in the Kremlin's crosshairs. (Cartoon by RFE/RL's Sergei Elkin)

Brian Whitmore

One of the last independent media voices comes under pressure. And Russia gets a new human rights commissioner with a rather creative view on human rights.

On this week's Power Vertical Briefing, we look at the apparent assault on RBK, one of the last independent media outlets in Russia, owned by billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov.

Also on The Briefing, we discuss Russia's new human rights commissioner, Tatyana Moskalkova. 

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

Enjoy...

The Briefing: The War On The Media
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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.


The Morning Vertical, April 25, 2016

Brian Whitmore

ON MY MIND

Russia's media landscape is probably about to get a lot more barren. If the Kremlin manages to wrestle RBK from Mikhail Prokhorov -- and let's face it, is there anything that can stop it? -- then Russia will lose one of its last solid, independent media outlets.

We've seen this movie before. We saw it with NTV during Vladimir Putin's first months in the Kremlin. We've seen it more recently with Lenta.ru and with RIA-Novosti. And we've seen constant pressure on Dozhd-TV and Ekho Moskvy. And now, we're apparently about to see it with RBK.

The Kremlin used to allow independent media outlets to exist as something of a safety valve. But now, the regime apparently doesn't even want them around for that.

IN THE NEWS

Six members of a single family were killed in the village of Ivashevka in the Samara region.

Uzbek President Islam Karimov arrives in Moscow for a two-day visit today.

U.S. President Barack Obama says he and German Chancellor Angela Merkel agree that Western sanctions against Russia should remain in place until Moscow fulfills the Minsk cease-fire agreement.

Nationalist politician Vladimir Zhirinovsky marks his 70th birthday today.

WHAT I'M READING

Russia's New Human Rights Commissioner

Russia's new human rights commissioner, Tatiana Moskalkova, has a rather creative take on human rights.

In her first interview after being confirmed by the State Duma, Moskalkova said one of her main priorities would be defending the rights of Russians abroad.

Dmitry Rogozin's Money

In a new report, The Offshore Patriot, Transparency International shines the light on Dmitry Rogozin's business dealings.

U.S. Lawmakers Want To Get Tough With Russia

The U.S. House of Representatives' Armed Services Committee meets this week to mark up the defense budget. According to a report in The Hill, lawmakers look to get tough on Russia.

"At the top of lawmakers' measures against Russia in the National Defense Authorization Act is the European Reassurance Initiative, which is designed to provide aid to the militaries of European allies worried about Moscow's moves.

The bill would authorize $3.4 billion for the initiative, the same amount the administration requested and quadruple what the initiative got this year.

The bill also supports the National Commission on the Future of the Army’s recommendation to permanently station an armored brigade combat team in Europe, staffers said this week.

The Army already plans to send one brigade, but on a continuous rotation. A permanently stationed brigade, supporters say, would be a stronger deterrence.
The bill would also authorize $150 million for the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, which would help train and equip that country's military.

Prokhorov In The Crosshairs?

As Vladimir Putin was holding his live call-in program on April 14, the FSB raided the offices of the Oneksim Group, a holding company owned by billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov. The move was widely interpreted as an effort to pressure one of Russia's last remaining independent media outlets, RBK, which is owned by Prokhorov.

Last week, RBK's Editor in Chief Elizaveta Osetinskaya left her post to go on "study leave." And over the past weekend, reports appeared in the media that Prokhorov was preparing to sell RBK.

Prokhorov is denying those reports, but the story is developing.

The Khodorkovsky Case

According to Russian media reports, Interpol is asking Moscow for information on allegations that exiled oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky was involved in the assassination of the mayor of Nefteyugansk in the 1990s.

Western Journalists Deported

Two Western journalists have reportedly been deported or denied entry into Russia in the past week. According to Kommersant, Nizhny Novgorod's migration service deported a British journalist who they said violated the terms of his visa. 

An Austrian journalist who was helping train Russian reporters wrote on Twitter that he was denied entry into Russia last week.

Sean Guillory's Letter To The Russian elite. 

After appearing on The Power Vertical Podcast last week, Sean Guillory of the University of Pittsburgh's Center for Russian and Eastern European Studies posted a "letter to the Russian elite" on his blog.


Video The Daily Vertical: A Creative Approach To Rights

The Daily Vertical: A Creative Approach To Rightsi
X
April 25, 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 Podcast: Putin's Shaky Status Quo

(Cartoon by Sergey Elkin, RFE/RL)

Brian Whitmore

A national ideology. Political indoctrination. Ramped up repression. Broader censorship. And more surveillance.

That's one vision for Russia's future we saw earlier this week in a controversial and widely discussed article in Kommersant Vlast by Investigative Committee head Aleksandr Bastrykin.

It's been called everything from a clear call for a restoration of the Soviet system to a manifesto for the North Koreanization of Russia. 

Later in the week, we got another vision from former Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin, who accepted an offer to head the Kremlin's top economics think tank.

Kudrin called for a fundamental modernization and restructuring of Russia's economy, but added that such a restructuring would be contingent on establishing a more pluralistic and accountable political system.

It's not unusual for the Kremlin to send mixed signals. But what this week's contradictory messaging seems to suggest is that Vladimir Putin's regime has concluded that the status quo is unsustainable. 

And if that is so, then what comes next?

On this week's Power Vertical Podcast, we discuss the Putin system's shaky status quo. 

Joining me are Donald Jensen, a former U.S. State Department official and currently a fellow at the Center for Transatlantic Relations in the Nitze School of International Studies at Johns Hopkins University; and Sean Guillory, of the University of Pittsburgh's Center for Russian and Eastern European Studies, author of Sean's Russia Blog, and host of the SRB Podcast.

Enjoy...

Power Vertical Podcast: Putin's Shaky Status Quo
Power Vertical Podcast: Putin's Shaky Status Quoi
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The Morning Vertical, April 22, 2016

Brian Whitmore

ON MY MIND

How bad does Russia want a Cold War? Pretty bad, apparently. Up until now, the Kremlin had presented its conflict with the West as a great power struggle. But in an article in the Kremlin mouthpiece Izvestia today, foreign affairs analyst Sergei Karaganov argues that the root of the conflict is actually ideological. It's the West's laissez faire capitalism and permissive social norms versus Russia's authoritarian state capitalism and defense of traditional values.

Now, Moscow has certainly tried to use these issues to gain advantage, like with its financing of xenophobic far-right parties in Europe, for example. But to suggest that Russia's conflict with the West is ideological, a la the Cold War, is nonsense. There is a normative aspect, but it essentially pits the West's relatively transparent system against Russia's opaque authoritarian kleptocracy.

If Russia has an ideology, it is corruption. 

IN THE NEWS

The State Duma has confirmed retired police officer Tatyana Moskalkova as the Kremlin's new human rights ombudswoman.

The Duma is also due to vote on a bill that would punish lawmakers who miss more than 30 days of parliamentary sessions.

The United States has called on Russia to reverse its ban on the Crimean Tatar Mejlis. 

The incoming NATO commander, U.S. General Curtis Scaparrotti, is calling for a permanent U.S. combat brigade in Europe.

Talks reportedly continue on exchanging Ukrainian military pilot Nadia Savchenko for two Russian soldiers.

WHAT I'M READING

The Economists Vs. The Siloviki

On his blog on The Wilson Center's website, Maxim Trudolyubov, editor at large of Vedoosti, argues that the debate about how Russia should deal with its current crisis boils down to "Hard Work Vs. Magic."

Here's the money graf: "Technocrats see reasons for domestic failures originating in domestic issues and seek to find internal cures for the economy’s ailments. They live in the world of global economic processes and would like to see a competitive and developed Russia. Heavyweights stress the importance of external factors and seem to believe that once the designs of foreign evildoers are revealed and rebuffed, the economy will fix itself. They operate under a war mentality and would like to stay in power at all costs.
Whereas economic technocrats speak of the investment climate and taxes, the Kremlin policymakers speak of international deals that would push oil prices back to their former highs. Whereas technocrats are trying to promote business-friendly policies and international integration, heavyweights see every economic problem as a manifestation of the United States’ 'hybrid war' against Russia and seek retaliation." 

Talkin' 'Bout A Revolution

In a piece in Intersection magazine looking at the formation of a new National Guard and Putin's reorganization of the security services, Tatiana Stanovaya asks: "Are the Russian authorities ready for revolution?"

"The Kremlin is devising a new tool kit based on the fact that revolutionary attempts in Russia are not only possible, but probable. The line between the systemic and nonsystemic fields becomes much more pronounced and the attitude of the authorities to these two political sectors, highly polarized. One can manage the former, but only fight the latter," Stanovaya writes.

The Countdown To Warsaw

NATO's summit in Warsaw is more than two months away, but a picture is already emerging about what will be decided at what is shaping up to be a historic event.

Veteran Kremlin-watcher Edward Lucas, senior vice president of the Center for European Policy Analysis, writes that the notion of "persistent rotation is all but agreed upon," which means "quite large numbers of U.S. and other foreign troops regularly moving in and out of the front-line states.

On the War On The Rocks blog, David A. Shlapak and Michael W. Johnson of the RAND Corporation argue that NATO is "outnumbered, outranged, and outgunned" in Europe.

Kudrin's Perestroika Dreams

Slon.ru has published a transcript of former Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin's speech this week at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow, where he called for a new perestroika.

Political analyst Kirill Rogov explains why Kudrin's new job as chair of the Kremlin's top economics think tank, the Center for Strategic Reform, is nothing but window dressing.

Optimism Vs. Pessimism On Ukraine

Should we be optimistic or pessimistic about the new Ukrainian government led by Prime Minister Volodymyr Hroysman? The Atlantic Council's website has another one of its point-counterpoint packages that is worth reading.

John Herbst, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine and the current director of the Atlantic Council's Dinu Patriciu Eurasia Center, explains why he is upbeat.

And Sergii Leshchenko, a member of the Ukrainian parliament and former deputy editor of the newspaper Ukrayinska Pravda, makes the case for pessimism.

The Ideological War

Writing in the Kremlin mouthpiece Izvestia, Sergei Karaganov argues -- not very convincingly -- that Russia and the West are engaged primarily in an ideological battle.

U.S.-Russia Relations After Obama

The Brookings Institution's Michael O'Hanlon looks at U.S.-Russia relations after Barack Obama leaves office in January 2017.

More On The Dutch Yukos Ruling

Foreign Policy's energy correspondent Keith Johnson has a piece on the aftermath of the Dutch ruling in the Yukos shareholders' case

Russia's IT Deficit

Writing in the official government newspaper Rossiiskaya Gazeta, Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin says Russia must develop its own IT sector. 

"It's time for Russia programmers to move away from the humble imitation of foreign counterparts to creating original software that is the best in the world," Rogozin wrote.

E-stonia As The Anti-Russia

The Guardian's Andrew Keen has a piece on how Estonia is using technology to rebrand itself as the anti-Russia.

A Kinder and Gentler Bastrykin?

Apparently, Investigative Committee chief Aleksandr Bastrykin isn't only about repression. According to this report from Novaya Gazeta, he met with musician Boris Grebenshikov to discuss charity.

Russia's Military Staying Power

According to this piece in Foreign Policy, the Pentagon estimates that Russia can continue fighting in Ukraine and Syria for two more years.

And Finally, I Promote Some Of My Friends' Work...

If you like The Morning Vertical, you'd also probably like a new newsletter from my good friend Sean Guillory, author of Sean's Russia Blog and host of the SRB Podcast. Subscribe here!

Meanwhile, the Hudson Institute’s Kleptocracy Initiative will host the English-language premiere of the film Who Is Mr. Putin? on April 27 in Washington, D.C. 


Video The Daily Vertical: Putin's Personal Army

The Daily Vertical: Putin's Personal Armyi
X
April 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.
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: Bastrykin Versus Kudrin

The Daily Vertical: Bastrykin Versus Kudrini
X
April 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.


The Morning Vertical, April 21, 2016

Brian Whitmore

ON MY MIND

You have to wonder what drives people like Aleksei Kudrin and Ella Pamfilova. Both were in the news this week. Kudrin accepted an offer to chair the Kremlin's top economics think tank, the Center for Strategic Reform, and called for a fundamental restructuring of Russia's economy and political system. And Pamfilova, who was recently appointed head of the Election Commission, raised eyebrows by canceling elections in the Moscow suburb of Barvikha after four opposition candidates complained of fraud. Pamfilova says she will resign if there is fraud in September's elections to the State Duma. Call me cynical (although I don't think I am), but I just don't think the kind of economic reforms Kudrin is proposing are possible under the current regime. At best, he'll be allowed to tinker on the margins. And call me cynical again (and again, I don't think I am), but I don't expect September's election to be clean. Regime liberals like Kudrin and Pamfilova remain convinced that the Putin regime can be reformed and changed from within. It can't. Because reforming this regime would mean undermining its corrupt foundations, which would lead to its fall. And this is not what Putin has in mind.

IN THE NEWS

Former Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin has agreed to head the Kremlin-affiliated Center for Strategic Reform.

Russia has announced anti-doping reforms in bid to avoid Rio Olympics ban

Vladimir Putin meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Moscow today.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov visits Armenia today amid tensions over Nagorno-Karabakh.

The Central Election Commission has ordered the cancelation of an April 24 local election in a Moscow suburb election after four candidates affiliated with opposition leader Aleksei Navalny filed protests about vote fraud.

Election Commission head Ella Pamfilova has proposed returning video cameras to voting booths and has vowed to resign in the event of vote fraud in September's parliamentary elections.

The United States and Russia sparred at yesterday's NATO-Russia Council meeting over an encounter between a U.S. Navy vessel and Russian warplanes in the Baltic Sea.

The European Commission has formally proposed visa-free travel for Ukrainians.

WHAT I'M READING

The Fall of the House of Putin?

NIkolai Petrov has a new report for the European Council on Foreign Relations, Putin's Downfall: The Coming Crisis Of The Russian Regime.

"Russia's current regime will not last long. The tumultuous events in Ukraine in 2014 reduced the country's possible trajectories to a single one -- a path that will quickly lead to the collapse of the Putin government if there is no radical change in its course," Petrov writes

The Battle of the Narratives

The European Leadership Network has a new report, Competing Western And Russian Narratives On The European Order: Is There Common Ground?

Kudrinism vs. Putinism

In an editorial, the Russian daily Nezavisimaya Gazeta argues that the reforms former Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin is proposing are the antithesis of Putinism.

The Perils of a Multipolar World

In a compelling piece in Slon.ru, Dangerous Equality: Why Multipolar Worlds Lead to World Wars, economist and political commentator Vladislav Inozemtsev argues that Russia's desire for a divided Europe and a multipolar world are misguided.

The Moscow-Belgrade Axis

Serbia's pro-Moscow far right is resurgent in advance of Sunday's election.

The Yukos Saga Continues

Time Magazine's veteran Russia hand, Simon Shuster, explains why a Dutch court's ruling has made Putin very happy.

Tough Love For Ukraine

Writing in Foreign Policy, former U.S. State Department official Josh Cohen argues that it is time to give Ukraine a dose of "tough love."

Ukraine's Privatization Paradox

Writing on his blog, Eric Hontz of the Center for International Private Enterprise notes that "Ukraine needs to privatize its state-owned companies -- but rushing it would repeat the mistakes of the past."

A Bridge Too Far?

In his column for Bloomberg View, political commentator Leonid Bershidsky looks at Russia's efforts to build a bridge over the Kerch Strait, linking the annexed Crimean Peninsula to the Russian mainland.

Russia's Hip-Hop Generation

Meduza takes a look at the viral websites popular with Russia's youth.

And in a sign the Kremlin is going after the hip-hop generation, Gazprom Media has acquired the popular music channel A-One


Video The Daily Vertical: The Kremlin's Spin, NATO's Reality

The Daily Vertical: The Kremlin's Spin, NATO's Realityi
X
April 20, 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, April 20, 2016

Brian Whitmore

ON MY MIND

If you believe Investigative Committee chief Aleksandr Bastrykin, Russia must be a really, really weak country. How else can you explain a country that is so fragile that the mere presence of foreign media on the Internet can cause it to collapse?

If you believe Bastrykin, Russia's security services and law enforcement must be really really incompetent. How else could you explain the country being so infiltrated with enemies, fifth columnists, and foreign agents bent on its destruction?

If Russia is as vulnerable as Bastrykin suggested in his controversial manifesto published by Kommersant Vlast this week -- an article in which he calls for a wave of new repressive measures -- then the 16-year reign of Vladimir Putin's regime has been a complete and utter failure. 

IN THE NEWS

The NATO-Russia Council meets today for the first time in nearly two years amid rising tensions.

A Dutch court has quashed a $50 billion award for Yukos shareholders.

The Dutch parliament has voted to uphold the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement and free-trade pact.
 
According to a new poll by the Levada Center, 40 percent of Russians say the state is not fulfilling its obligations to citizens.

Legislation to tighten controls on online news aggregators has been introduced into the Russian State Duma.

WHAT I'M READING

Ukraine's Oligarchs

These are few better commentators on Ukraine than Andrew Wilson of the European Council on Foreign Relations. In his latest piece, Survival Of The Richest, Andrew looks at how oligarchs are blocking real reform in Ukraine.

"Ukraine suffers from many types of corruption, but the inter-penetration of the corrupt political class and super-rich oligarchy is the main obstacle to reform," Wilson writes. "The oligarchy’s power comes first of all from the sheer concentration of wealth in its hands. Just before the Euromaidan protests began, in November 2013, it was calculated that the assets of Ukraine’s 50 richest individuals made up over 45 percent of GDP, compared to less than 20 percent in Russia and less than 10 percent in the U.S."

Moscow-based foreign affairs analyst Vladimir Frolov, meanwhile, takes a look the state of play in Ukraine -- and between Ukraine and Russia -- in the wake of its government shake-up.

More Reactions To Bastrykin

The commentary on Aleksandr Bastrykin's controversial article in Kommersant Vlast calling for a national ideology, political indoctrination, and tougher censorship continues to generate comments. In his column for Bloomberg, political commentator Leonid Bershidsky writes that Bastrykin makes Putin look tame. Maybe that's the point.

And in an op-ed for Vedomosti, The Apocalypse From Bastrykin, political analyst Fyodor Krashennikov lampoons the Investigative Committee head's characterization of Russia as "a permanent victim and helpless puppet in U.S. hands."
 
The Siloviki Shuffle

Moscow-based political analyst NIkolai Petrov takes a look at how Putin has changed the balance of power among the security services with the creation of a National Guard.

Spooks, Crooks, And Money

Slon.ru interviews New York University professor and Power Vertical Podcast co-host Mark Galeotti on his favorite topics: spooks and crooks.

Putin's War On Europe

German journalist Boris Reitschuster is making waves with a new book, Putin's Hidden War, in which he argues that Russia is using a network of martial arts clubs in Europe to form a network of pro-Moscow paramilitaries. Deutsche Welle interviewed Reitschuster about his allegations about Putin's secret sleepers.

Bloomberg, meanwhile has a story outlining Russia's various efforts to destabilize Europe.

Europe, Meet Geopolitics...

Andrew Michta of the U.S. Naval War College and the Center for Strategic and International Studies has a piece in The American Interest about how geopolitics has returned to Europe.

"With the next NATO summit in Warsaw just three months away, an increasingly militarized fault line dividing Russia from the West is in place, running along the eastern frontier of the Baltic states, Poland’s border along the Bug River boundary, and farther south along the frontier of the Black Sea NATO allies. And there are reasons to believe that the process of a further geostrategic readjustment in Europe has barely begun," Michta writes.

Sanctions Fallout

Russia is abandoning plans to issue Eurobonds this year in the face of Western sanctions and pressure on top banks not to participate, according to this report by Bloomberg.

In Vedomosti, meanwhile, political commentator Vladislav Inozemtsev evaluates the effectiveness of Western sanctions.

Navalny Walks The Walk

Practicing what he preaches, opposition leader Aleksei Navanly has published his Anti-Corruption Foundation's financial accounts on his blog.


The Morning Vertical, April 19, 2016

Brian Whitmore

ON MY MIND

In a landmark ruling today, the Constitutional Court decided for the first time that Russia can ignore parts of decisions by the European Court of Human Rights in contradiction of Moscow's treaty obligations. Speaking at a conference of parliamentary chairs in Moscow today, State Duma speaker Sergei Naryshkin called for Eurasianism to become an alternative to what he called the Western-dominated international order. And in a widely discussed article yesterday, Investigative Committee head Aleksandr Bastrykin suggested cutting the Russian Internet off from the rest of the world with Chinese-style censorship and tightening controls on financial flows across Russia's borders. It appears that Russia is in the process of declaring its independence from the world. Vladimir Putin's regime wants the benefits of globalization, without its costs -- and without its rules. Let's see how that works out.

IN THE NEWS

Vladimir Putin and Petro Poroshenko have spoken by telephone about the case of Ukrainian military pilot Nadia Savchenko. The call came after a Ukrainian court sentenced two Russian soldiers to 14 years in prison, and has heightened speculation that a prisoner exchange might be in the works.

The Russian Constitutional Court has decided for the first time that Russia can choose not to implement parts of rulings by the European Court of Human Rights.

Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev is scheduled to address the State Duma today on the work of the Russian government.

A poll by the independent Levada Center shows that 56 percent of Russians would like the restoration of the Soviet Union

Russia is planning to double its list of "undesirable" organizations.

The Moscow subway will have a new face-scanning system in place by the end of the year.

The construction worker who was arrested on the eve of Vladimir Putin's live call-in program -- and who last year asked him a question about unpaid wages -- has gone on a hunger strike

WHAT I'M READING

Corruption and National Security

I've been arguing that corruption is a national security issue for years. So it's nice to see the idea gaining some traction, like in this Foreign Affairs piece, The Geopolitics Of Corruption.

In a new piece for the Carnegie Center, Thomas de Waal argues that Ukraine's problem isn't so much corruption in the classical sense, but "state capture."

"'Corruption' is an inadequate word to describe the condition of Ukraine," de Waal writes. "Since the country achieved independence in 1991, the problem is not that a well-functioning state has been corrupted by certain illegal practices; rather, those corrupt practices have constituted the rules by which the state has been run."

Dispatches from the Information Wars

Stefan Meister has a new report for The Transatlantic Academy, Isolation And Propaganda: The Roots And Instruments Of Russia’s Disinformation Campaign.

"The possibilities for directly influencing developments in Russia from outside are limited. Europeans, on the other hand, are vulnerable to Russian influence with their open societies, and Russian efforts can help fuel self-doubt in increasingly fragile and fragmented Western societies. The EU can protect itself by reinforcing its own soft power and improving governance within Europe, standing firm on sanctions, improving its knowledge base on Russia and the other post-Soviet states, and taking steps to improve pluralism in the Russian-language media space. It should also come up with a serious offer for its eastern neighbors including an EU membership prospect."

The Center for European Policy Initiatives, meanwhile, has launched a spiffy new portal tracking Russian information warfare in the Baltic states and Poland.

Hybrid Government

Writing in Intersection magazine, Stephen Blank of the American Foreign Policy Council, picks apart one of the most overused phrases of our time: hybrid warfare.

"What we have come to call Russian hybrid war is not a military strategy," Blank writes."Rather, to use a Western term, it is a whole of government strategy that includes the armed forces as one major component of the Russian state’s overall national security strategy."

Russia's Oil-Deal Disaster

The Open Wall on why the failure of the Doha oil talks is "nothing short of a disaster" for Russia.

"Russia needed a deal in Doha as much as anybody there, because, after 16 years in power, the Putin government is not only still dependent on the price of a barrel of oil for its survival, but is facing elections to the State Duma in September. With an economy in recession, a tight budget, and now no hope of rescue from a rebound in oil prices, for the first time, the Kremlin has very little scope for its usual pre-election maneuvers – repairing the roads, doling out money left, right and center."

Bastrykin Fallout

Investigative Committee head Aleksandr Bastrykin's article yesterday calling for more repressive measures to combat what he calls "extremism" and the West's "hybrid war against Russia" is making a lot of waves.

An editorial in Gazeta.ru critiques Bastrykin's proposals, claiming they would effectively place the entire country under investigation.

Writing in Slon.ru, meanwhile, political scientist Yekaterina Shulman calls Bastrykin's article "a sign of weakness."

A Security Architecture for Eastern Europe

It's pretty much a given that Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova won't be joining NATO anytime soon. So how to provide for their security? Writing on the European Council on Foreign Relations website, Andreas Umland of the Kyiv-based Institute for Euro-Atlantic Cooperation floats the novel idea of reviving the interwar concept of the "Intermarium."

"A modern day Intermarium...could take the form of a limited and single-purpose defense treaty signed by a group of countries that agree to assist each other in combating hybrid warfare activities conducted by foreign powers against them," Umland writes. "It would be a mutual aid pact among those Council of Europe member countries who are ready to commit to some degree of military and other cooperation in confronting Moscow."

Foreign Affairs 'Putin's Russia'

The latest issue of Foreign Affairs has a package titled Putin's Russia: Down But Not Out.

It features a forum of experts responding to the question: Will Putin still be in power in five years?

It also includes articles by Stephen Kotkinon Russia's Perpetual Geopolitics; Gleb Pavlovsky on Russian Politics Under Putin; Sergei Guriev Russia's Constrained Economy; Dmitry Trenin on The Revival Of Russia's Military; Fyodor Lukyanov on Putin's Foreign Policy; Masha LIpman on How Putin Silences Dissent; and Daniel Treisman on Why Putin Took Crimea.

Germany's Putinophiles

Ivan Samolovov has a piece in Intersection magazine "explaining the German left's love for Putin."

Poland's Putin

In a piece in Vedomosti, political analyst Ivan Preobrazhensky compares Poland's Jaroslaw Kaczynski to Vladimir Putin.

The Future of Russian Foreign Policy

The latest installment of Sean Guillory's SRB Podcast features Andrei Tsygankov of San Francisco State University talking about Russia's Foreign Policy Trajectories.


Video The Daily Vertical: Bastrykin's Repression Manifesto

The Daily Vertical: Bastrykin's Repression Manifestoi
X
April 19, 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: Savchenko On The Brink

A banner with a portrait of Ukrainian military pilot Nadia Savchenko is reflected in a restaurant window in Tbilisi, Georgia.

Brian Whitmore

Ukrainian military pilot Nadia Savchenko reportedly slips into critical condition. And Ukraine prepares to sentence two Russian soldiers to long prison terms.

Is a long-awaited prisoner exchange finally on the horizon?

On this week's Power Vertical Briefing, I discuss the issue with Pavel Butorin, managing editor of RFE/RL's Russian-language television program Current Time.

Also on The Briefing, Pavel and I discuss new proposals from Investigative Committee head Aleksandr Bastrykin on combating extremism and what he calls the West's "hybrid war" against Russia.

Enjoy...

The Briefing: Savchenko On The Brink
The Briefing: Savchenko On The Brinki
|| 0:00:00
...    
 
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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.


The Morning Vertical, April 18, 2016

Brian Whitmore

ON MY MIND

At first glance, the things Investigative Committee head Aleksandr Bastrykin calls for in an article in today's issue of Kommersant Vlast look a bit crazy. He wants Chinese-style Internet censorship. He's calling for political education for the youth. He's calling for intrusive inspections of religious organizations. And he wants it to be a crime to call into question Crimea's 2014 referendum on joining Russia.

But here's the thing. Bastrykin has a strong track record of proposing things that seem outlandish -- but which later happen. Like, for example, when he proposed that the Investigative Committee be removed from the jurisdiction of the Prosecutor-General's Office. Bastrykin got that, and now the Investigative Committee is arguably Russia's most powerful law-enforcement body. It is Vladimir Putin's personal politics police.

Which means the things Bastrykin is proposing now could be a blueprint for the future.

IN THE NEWS

Ukraine is due to sentence two Russian soldiers captured in the Donbas. Prosecutors are asking for 15-year sentences.

Ukrainian military pilot Nadia Savchenko's dry hunger strike is entering its 12th day. Savchenko has reportedly slipped into critical condition

The United States is reporting another close call with a Russian warplane over the Baltic Sea.

Oil prices tumble, ruble falls, as oil talks fail.

WHAT I'M READING

Rhetoric And Policy

Did the toned-down rhetoric of Vladimir Putin's call-in program reflect a change in foreign policy? The always insightful Vladimir Frolov offers his take in a piece for Slon.ru.

Ukraine's New Government

In his column for Bloomberg, political commentator Leonid Bershidsky takes a skeptical look at Ukraine's new cabinet.

Putin's Plans For Belarus

Writing in Newsweek, Chatham House scholar Kier Giles looks at relations between Moscow and Minsk.

All Power To The Investigative Committee!

Censorship and ideology and political education -- oh my! Writing in Kommersant, Investigative Committee Chairman Aleksandr Bastrykin lays out his proposals to fight "extremism and what he calls the West's "information war" against Russia.

Writing in BNE Intelinews, security analyst Mark Galeotti unpacks what he calls "Bastrykin’s manifesto for the 'North Koreanization' of Russia."

"Put together, this represents one of the sharpest recent expressions of a perspective that would lead Russia to deliberately withdraw itself from its connections with the outside world, in political, social, cultural and economic terms," Galeotti writes. "Yes, this is nothing like a real 'North Koreanization,' with its slave labor and starvation. But if one puts all the aspects of Bastrykin’s manifesto together -- demonizing opposition as acting as agents of the West, blocking information not scripted by the state, developing and enforcing a 'national ideology,' controlling financial flows -- then this would be a dramatic and unwelcome reversal of the integrative processes since 1991."

More On Russian Brinkmanship

Chatham House's Kier Giles has a piece on Russian brinkmanship on the high seas.

The Kremlin And Europe's Far Left

Russia's outreach to Europe's xenophobic far right has been well documented. A new paper by Peter Kreko, the director of the Budapest Political Capital Research and Consulting Institute, and Lorant Gyori, a social sciences graduate student at Hungary's Eotvos Lorand University, takes a close look at the Kremlin's efforts to court Europe's far left.

War Profiteering

Hackers in Ukraine have uncovered how Russia is pillaging coal from the separatist-controlled parts of the Donbas.


Video The Daily Vertical: Watch What He Does, Not What He Says

The Daily Vertical: Watch What He Does, Not What He Saysi
X
April 18, 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 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