Sunday, July 31, 2016

Audio Podcast: The Invisible War

The conflict in eastern Ukraine has become invisible to everybody -- except, of course, those on its front lines. (file photo)

Brian Whitmore

The reports of the slow drip of death have been coming in daily.

Three killed and three wounded one day. Three killed and 16 wounded on another. One killed and five wounded on another. Seven killed and 13 wounded on yet another.

It becomes a blur. But when you add it all up, you need to go back nearly a year to find a month as deadly as July has been in the Donbas.

But the conflict in eastern Ukraine has become invisible to everybody -- except, of course, those on its front lines.

And despite an alleged cease-fire, Ukraine's forgotten war is escalating. 

On this week's Power Vertical Podcast, we look at the causes and consequences of the escalation of hostilities between Ukraine and Moscow-backed separatists in the Donbas.

Joining me is co-host Mark Galeotti, a senior policy fellow at the Czech Institute of International Relations in Prague, a visiting fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, and author of the blog In Moscow's Shadows; and RFE/RL's Ukraine correspondent Christopher Miller, who is on the front lines in the Donbas.


Power Vertical Podcast: The Invisible War
Power Vertical Podcast: The Invisible Wari
|| 0:00:00

Listen to or download the podcast above or subscribe to The Power Vertical Podcast on iTunes.

Video The Daily Vertical: Putin's Day Of The Long Knives

The Daily Vertical: Putin's Day Of The Long Knivesi
July 29, 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 29, 2016

Brian Whitmore


July has been the deadliest month in the conflict in Ukraine's Donbas region in nearly a year. But what is driving the escalation? Is it a sign that Moscow is intent on reigniting a full-scale conflict? Or are the Kremlin's proxies in eastern Ukraine going rogue? To what extent do the agendas of the Kremlin and the armed separatist forces it conjured, nurtured, and assisted converge at this point? This week's Power Vertical Podcast will explore these issues. Joining me will be co-host 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, and Christopher Miller, RFE/RL's Ukraine correspondent who is on the front lines in the Donbas. Be sure to tune in later today!


In a massive reshuffle, Vladimir Putin has replaced four governors, four federal district chiefs, the disgraced head of the Federal Customs Service, and the ambassador to Ukraine.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov called the shakeup an "ordinary rotation."

Peskov also said appointing a large number of security-service veterans to key posts was Putin's "personal decision."

U.S. tech giant Google has come under fire in Russia for using Ukraine's "decommunized" names of streets in parts of Crimea, which Moscow annexed illegally from Ukraine in 2014. Google Maps has adopted new names for some 900 places in Crimea in line with a "decommunization" law Kyiv passed last year.

Some Russian media, meanwhile, are reporting that Google has agreed to restore the old Soviet-era names.

Russian media is reporting that the Moscow offices of PriceWaterhouseCoopers have been searched by police.

China and Russia will hold naval exercises in the South China Sea in September, China's Defense Ministry announced.

A depleted Russian team has departed for the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro without more than 100 athletes who have been banned in connection with the country's scandal over the use of performance-enhancing drugs.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) says that it has not yet decided to resume a bailout of Ukraine, which was halted over corruption concerns last year.


The Putin Shuffle

With all the moving parts, the minutiae of yesterday's massive reshuffle of regional and federal elites can make your head spin. Fortunately, some Russian media have weighed in with useful pieces unpacking Vladimir Putin's day of the long knives. has an explainer, complete with useful infographics, that unpacks exactly what happened, who were the winners, and who were the losers.

Kommersant argues that the reshuffle is seeking a new management model for government.

RBK has a piece, that also includes infographics, claiming that Putin is seeking to eliminate troublesome regional conflicts and promote mid-level functionaries

And writing in, political analyst Tatiana Stanovaya argues the reshuffle is part of a partial purge of the elite as Putin dumps some longtime allies. 

That Cold War Trick

Writing in The National Interest, Olya Oliker argues that Russian foreign policy aims to make Russia the main focus of U.S. attention.

"The Russians are messing with the United States," Oliker writes. 

"Russia’s actions are meant to center U.S. policy on itself, to recreate a bipolar global structure reminiscent of that during the Cold War. Such a relationship, however, runs counter to U.S. interests, which are much broader than Russia."

Putin's Global Reality Show

Bloomberg's Henry Meyer has a piece on how global turmoil is playing into Putin's hands.

"If Vladimir Putin were scripting ways to weaken NATO, he couldn’t do much better than what’s happening right now," Meyer writes. 

Suddenly, with little effort, the KGB veteran is reaping a surprise windfall from the internal politics of two pillars of Europe’s collective defense structure.

The Pros And Cons Of Crony Capitalism

Writing in Foreign Affairs. George Washington University professor David Szakony explains how the system of crony capitalism Vladimir Putin created keeps him in power.

"The real threat to Putin's hold on power does not arise from societal discontent, whether it's from Moscow's and St. Petersburg's so-called creative class or the lower class, which has been further impoverished by the economic downturn. Instead, the current Russian government survives because it has successfully placated the elites who have become fabulously rich and powerful thanks to Putin’s crony capitalism," Szakony writes. 

"This transfer of wealth into the hands of such a small group of elites has created a system of mutual dependence with Putin: he orchestrated their rise but cannot rule the country or sustain economic growth without their backing." 

You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet

Bruce Schneier, a lecturer at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and author of the book Data And Goliath: The Hidden Battles To Collect Your Data And Control Your World, has a disturbing op-ed in The Washington Post claiming that by November, Russia could be hacking U.S. voting machines.

"Russia was behind the hacks into the Democratic National Committee’s computer network that led to the release of thousands of internal emails just before the party’s convention began, U.S. intelligence agencies have reportedly concluded," Schneier writes.

"The FBI is investigating. WikiLeaks promises there is more data to come. The political nature of this cyberattack means that Democrats and Republicans are trying to spin this as much as possible. Even so, we have to accept that someone is attacking our nation's computer systems in an apparent attempt to influence a presidential election. This kind of cyberattack targets the very core of our democratic process. And it points to the possibility of an even worse problem in November -- that our election systems and our voting machines could be vulnerable to a similar attack."

Podcast: Ukraine Calling

And be sure to tune into Hromadske Radio's excellent new podcast, Ukraine Calling, hosted by Marta Dyczok, a professor at the University of Western Ontario. The last episode looked at the killing of journalist Pavel Sheramet. A new podcast is due to be posted later today.

Video The Daily Vertical: The Kremlin's War On Women

The Daily Vertical: The Kremlin's War On Womeni
July 28, 2016
The Daily Vertical is a video primer for Russia-watchers that appears Monday through Friday.
The Daily Vertical: The Kremlin's War On Women
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 28, 2016

Brian Whitmore


To put it mildly, Vladimir Putin's regime doesn't like progressive ideas that emanate from Ukraine's civil society. And it certainly doesn't like it when those ideas spread to Russia. The Kremlin famously called Euromaidan, a genuine middle class uprising that overthrew a corrupt autocrat, a coup by a fascist junta. 

And now Putin's gang is at it again. The online #IAmNotAfraidToSay movement, started by Ukrainian social activist Anastasia Melnychenko to raise awareness of sexual violence, took off in both Ukraine and Russia. It sparked an much-needed discussion of this important issue that has been neglected in both countries. It broke taboos and empowered women who until now had been intimidated or shamed into silence. 

So how has the Kremlin responded? With a bill to decriminalize domestic violence. And with a warning from Kremlin officials that women who use excessive force in resisting rape attempts could face criminal charges. 

Speaks volumes.

I discuss the #IAmNotAfraidToSay campaign and Russia's response to it on today's Daily Vertical, which is featured below.


Andrei Belyaninov, the head of the Russian Customs Service, has been fired according to a decree posted on the Russian government's official website. 

The Kremlin has denied allegations that Moscow hacked U.S. Democratic Party e-mails, saying Russia never interfered in other countries' election campaigns.

Russia has announced that more than 250 athletes have been cleared to compete in the Rio Olympics next month even as President Vladimir Putin claimed that Russia's some 100 doping-related suspensions amounted to "discrimination."

Three Russian Olympic medalists are among 11 weightlifters, mostly from ex-Soviet states, who tested positive for banned drugs in retests of samples from the 2012 London Games.

The Russian lawmaker responsible for the country's notorious "gay propaganda" law has proposed new legislation that would decriminalize domestic violence.

A Russian Civic Chamber official has warned women against "exceeding the limits of self-defense" when fighting off rapists.

The Lebanese newspaper Al Joumhouria is reporting that Syrian leader Bashar Al-Assad secretly visited Moscow.

The Kremlin has announced that it will no longer release Vladimir Putin's schedule in advance.

A museum honoring slain human rights activist and State Duma deputy Galina Starovoitova in her native St. Petersburg has been burglarized


Putin's Men

Mikhail Zygar, former editor in chief of Dozhd TV and author of the book All The Kremlin's Men, has a piece in Politico looking at the kind of foreign leaders Vladimir Putin seeks to cultivate.

"From the very beginning of his presidency, Putin has bet on personal relationships with world leaders as the basis for his foreign policy. It is almost as if he has tried to recruit all of them, trying to find each one’s personal key," Zygar writes. 

"He realized very quickly that all foreign leaders can be divided up into two important categories: those who believe in certain values (usually, democratic ones) and those who are totally cynical, concerned with self-advancement and power for its own sake. Sooner or later, attempts to build a relationship with leaders of the first category run aground on the rocks of mutual incomprehension. With leaders of the latter category, everything is on the table."

Europe's Success In Ukraine

Andrew Moravcsik has a new report out for the German Marshall Fund on "why a Europe-led geo-economic strategy is succeeding" in Ukraine."

"Over the past three years, the United States, Europe, and other Western allies have been unexpectedly successful at maintaining a unified, coherent, and effective policy to block Russian assertiveness," Moravcsik writes. 

"The West can sustain this success by heeding three policy lessons drawn from it. First, the major Russian threats in the region are economic and political, not military...Second, Western policy should continue to rely on non-military policy instruments aimed not at Russia, but at supporting third countries like Ukraine, as its successful policy has so far….Third, the 'indispensable' power in this effort remains Europe, led by Germany." 

A Deadly Month For Journalists 

Melinda Haring, editor of the UkraineAlert at the Atlantic Council, has a piece about the recent spate of attacks on journalists in Ukraine.

Power Is Relative

Writing in Vox, Ali Wyne, a nonresident fellow with the Atlantic Council’s Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security and a security fellow with the Truman National Security Project, assesses the relative strength of the United States, China, and Russia.

The Return Of Geopolitics

Charles Clover, author of the book White Wind, Black Snow: The Rise of Russia's New Nationalism, has a piece in Foreign Policy on "the unlikely origins of Russia's Manifest Destiny."

The Resurgent FSB

RBK has an interesting piece profiling FSB General Sergei Korelyov, who has spearheaded the recent high-profile cases targeting regional governors as well as officials in the Investigative Committee and Federal Customs Service.

The Russia Card

Writing on his blog, Maxim Trudolyubov looks at how Russia has returned as an issue in U.S. politics.


Mikhail Khodorkovsky's Open Wall web portal weighs in with an editorial on the Russian doping scandal.

Olympic Lawsuits?

The Guardian reports that some sports federations fear lawsuits for banning Russian athletes from the Summer Olympics in Rio.

Soviet Nostalgia
The latest installment of the SRB Podcast, hosted by Sean Guillory of the University of Pittsburgh's Center for Russian and Eastern European Studies, looks at Soviet nostalgia in the Caucasus. Sean's guest is Maxim Edwards, commissioning editor at Open Democracy Russia. 

Video The Daily Vertical: Kremlin Hack -- Should We Be Surprised?

The Daily Vertical: Kremlin Hack -- Should We Be Surprised?i
July 27, 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.

The Morning Vertical, July 27, 2016

Morning vertical 308x173

Brian Whitmore


Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdogan are the odd couple.

In many obvious ways they are similar. Both the Russian and Turkish presidents are alpha males who seem to enjoy basking in their manliness. Both have cracked down on civil society, suppressed civil liberties, and used the threat of terrorism and foreign intervention to boost their power. Both have creatively manipulated constitutional norms to prolong their rule. And both have appealed to traditional religious and non-European values to consolidate support.

So it should not be surprising that the two have decided to bury the hatchet and it is not surprising that Erdogan will visit Russia to cement their rapprochement next month.

But there is one other similarity between Putin and Erdogan that suggests this renewed friendship could be short lived.

Both Putin and Erdogan also seek to revive their respective countries' imperial greatness. And due to this similarity, their interests clash in several important geopolitical arenas: Syria, the Caucasus, and the Black Sea area. They're bound to clash again sooner or later.

It's worth recalling that the friendly relations Moscow and Ankara enjoyed under Putin and Erdogan (prior to Turkey's shooting down of a Russian warplane in November) were the exception, not the rule.


U.S. President Barack Obama said it is possible that Russia was behind a major leak of Democratic party e-mails last week and had the goal of influencing the U.S. presidential election.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has dismissed allegations that Russia was behind a hack of the Democratic National Committee's e-mails as "absurd."

AP reports that at least 105 Russian athletes have been banned from the Summer Olympics in Rio so far.

Canoeing's world governing body has banned five Russians, including an Olympic champion, from competing at the Summer Games in Rio.

Bulgaria has insisted that Russian aircraft violated international rules while flying over the Black Sea although it conceded they had not flown into Bulgarian airspace.

A Turkish deputy prime minister says President Erdogan will visit Russia next month for talks with Putin.

FSB Director Aleksandr Bortnikov says Russian intelligence has 220 potential suicide bombers under surveillance.

The de facto prime minister of Georgia's pro-Moscow, breakaway region of Abkhazia has resigned.

According to a study by the Higher School of Economics, the number of Russians who say they cannot afford to buy food or clothing reached 41 percent in June.


The Hack Heard Around The World

Russia's alleged hack of the Democratic National Committee's e-mail servers continues to generate column inches. 

Writing in Slate, Franklin Foer argues that the DNC hack is worse than Watergate.

In The Daily Beast, MIchael Weiss puts it in the context of Russian and Soviet active measures.

A report in Foreign Policy claims the hack represents an effort by Russia to bring its propaganda war to the United States.

Also in Foreign Policy, 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, makes the case that the DNC hack will backfire on Putin.

Why Do You Think They Call It Dope?

The Russian doping scandal also continues to provide fodder for Kremlin watchers.

In his column for Bloomberg, political commentator Leonid Bershidsky argues that as a result of many of its athletes being banned -- and the intense scrutiny of those allowed to compete -- Russia will now be the cleanest team in Rio.

Writing in The Guardian, the ever-prolific Mark Galeotti explains what the Olympic doping scandal says about Putin's Russia.

Meduza, meanwhile, breaks down who among Russia's athletes will -- and will not -- be in Rio.

Death Of A Historian

The renowned Ukrainian-Canadian historian Orest Subtelny died on July 24 at the age of 75.
Subtelny's landmark 1988 book, Ukraine: A History, is credited with influencing the growth of Ukrainian national and historical consciousness. Ukrainian journalist and political commentator Vitaly Portnikov has published a tribute to Subtelny in Euromaidan Press.

The Separatists Are Coming! (To Moscow!)

Writing in The Diplomat, Casey Michel looks at a gathering of [some] of the world's separatists in Moscow next month.

Casey notes that the gathering "will feature guests from Catalonia and Texas, but no Chechens or Uyghurs."

Spain, Russia, and Europe

Francisco de Borja Lasheras, a policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, has a commentary looking at Spain's delicate balancing act with Russia.

"Spain’s existing policy towards eastern partners and Russia necessitates that it perform a balancing act between de-escalation and detente with Moscow, on the one hand, and adherence to EU sanctions and allied reassurance in NATO, on the other," he writes. 

Video The Daily Vertical: Ukraine's Forgotten War

The Daily Vertical: Ukraine's Forgotten Wari
July 26, 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 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.

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