Wednesday, August 31, 2016


Video The Daily Vertical: Putin's Politics Of Extortion

The Daily Vertical: Putin's Politics Of Extortioni
X
August 30, 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, August 30, 2016

Brian Whitmore

ON MY MIND

For Vladimir Putin, next week's G20 summit in China will be a sequel to last year's UN General Assembly in New York.

He'll get another chance to make his pitch to Western leaders to see things his way -- and let him have his way.

In September 2015, Putin used his speech at the General Assembly and a meeting on the sidelines with U.S. President Barack Obama to end Russia's international isolation, shift the West's attention away from Ukraine and toward Syria, and to push for a grand alliance against Islamic State.

The subtext was, we'll be helpful in the Middle East if you let us have our way in Ukraine.

Next week, when Putin meets with Obama, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and French President Francois Hollande on the sidelines of the G20 summit, he will probably try more of the same.

But this time, with a massive troop buildup on Ukraine's borders and an escalating conflict in the Donbas, it will also come with an implicit "or else."

IN THE NEWS

U.S. President Barack Obama is likely to have an informal talk with Russian President Vladimir Putin during the G20 summit in China next week, the White House said.

The FBI has found that two U.S. states' online voting systems were hacked and is urging all states to increase computer security ahead of the November presidential election.

Russia has conducted large-scale unannounced military exercises "with increasing frequency," straining its relationship with NATO, the alliance's No. 2 official has said.

Russia, already suspended from next month's Rio Paralympics, has been banned from the 2018 Winter Paralympics in South Korea as well, the Russian Paralympic Committee announced.

A group of Russian Olympians has visited a Russian air base in Syria that has been used by Moscow for nearly a year to launch air strikes in the war-torn country.

Scores of Roma have fled from a southern Ukrainian village after residents torched one Romany home and demanded authorities evict all Romany families from the area following the killing of a 9-year-old girl.

The OSCE's media freedom advocate has called on Ukrainian authorities to carry out a thorough investigation into the death of journalist Aleksandr Shchetinin.

WHAT I'M READING

Hackers, Hackers, Everywhere!

Don't look now but cyberattacks are back in the news again. 

Yahoo News's chief investigative correspondent Michael Isikoff has a widely circulated and highly detailed piece reporting that "the FBI has uncovered evidence that foreign hackers penetrated two state election databases in recent weeks, prompting the bureau to warn election officials across the country to take new steps to enhance the security of their computer systems." Cyberexperts suspect that Kremlin-backed Russian hackers were behind the attacks.

Defense News, meanwhile, has a report claiming that several Washington D.C.-based think tanks that focus heavily on Russian affairs were recently hacked

Zeynep Tufekci, an associate professor at the University of North Carolina School of Information and Library Science, has an op-ed in The New York Times warning that the U.S. election could be hacked.

And The Atlantic, meanwhile, has a piece laying out the available evidence pointing to Russia in the recent hack of the Democratic National Committee's email servers.

Vanguard Of The Revolution

Joshuah Jaffa has a widely circulated piece in The New Yorker profiling two muckraking journalists, Serhiy Leshchenko and Mustafa Nayyem, who were catapulted into politics by the Euromaidan revolution.

The Costs Of Escalation

Bloomberg has a revealing piece adding up what Moscow's recent escalation in Ukraine is costing the Russian economy.

Ground Zero

Anna Nemtsova has a report in The Daily Beast from the Russian-Lithuanian border, "Ground Zero In The New Cold War."

Russia's New History Textbooks

As the teaching of history becomes increasingly politicized, Znak has a piece looking at how Russia's new textbooks are different from the old ones.

Children Of The Kremlin Court

NIkolai Petrov has a piece in Slon.ru that asks: what happens to the elite's children when the regime changes?

Russian Soft Power In Georgia

According to prominent Georgian activist Temur Kobalia, Russia is stepping up anti-EU and pro-Eurasian Union efforts in Georgia.

Oil Games

Bloomberg has a report on the latest efforts by Igor Sechin, CEO of the state-controlled oil giant Rosneft, to acquire a controlling stake in Bashneft.

Khodorkovsky Talks Elections

Slon.ru has an interview with Mikhail Khodorkovsky on how the exiled former oil magnate's Open Russia movement is approaching next month's elections to the State Duma. 

Monitoring The Vote

On Khodorkovsky's Open Wall web portal, meanwhile, Sergei Orlov takes a look at how independent monitors are approaching the elections 


The Morning Vertical, August 29, 2016

Brian Whitmore

ON MY MIND

There are facts. And then there are facts on the ground.

Form recently released telephone intercepts, we learned the extent to which Russia orchestrated and manufactured the social unrest that preceded the armed conflict in eastern Ukraine.

Almost everybody figured out pretty quickly that Moscow's claims that Ukraine had sent agents to Crimea to carry out terrorist acts were pure fiction.

We've known for a long time that Russia is deeply involved in the fighting in the Donbas, despite Moscow's denials.

In short, we know a lot about how the war in eastern Ukraine happened and why it happened. And when the historians sort this all out, the record should be pretty clear.

But then there are the facts on the ground.

And the most important fact on the ground is that Russia is intent on destabilizing Ukraine until it wears everybody down.

It is intent on keeping the war in the Donbas simmering with implicit threats of escalation. 

And it is working.

In some Western capitals, despite everything we know, there is a renewed push to accommodate the Kremlin in order to make this war go away and get back to business as usual with Moscow.

We know the facts.

But in terms of policy here and now, they don't really matter because of the facts on the ground.

IN THE NEWS

The foreign ministers of Germany, France, and Poland have called for a fresh international effort to end fighting in eastern Ukraine.

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has signed a directive lifting a nine-month ban on charter flights to Turkey.

Aleksandr Shchetinin, a Kyiv-based Russian journalist who founded the Novy Region news agency, has been found dead at his apartment. Ukrainian police said they suspect Shchetinin's death was a suicide.

Russia's emergency services said a fire broke out at a warehouse in Moscow on August 27, killing 14 migrant workers from Kyrgyzstan and three others.

Vladimir Putin has fired two top generals from the Investigative Committee

The ruling United Russia party has launched a telephone campaign in advance of the September 18 elections.

LATEST POWER VERTICAL PODCAST

On the latest Power Vertical Podcast, The Tale of the Tape, we discuss the recent telephone intercepts released by Ukrainian prosecutors depicting Kremlin aide Sergei Glazyev orchestrating unrest in eastern Ukraine.

WHAT I'M READING

Drugs, Guns, And Identities

Meduza has a piece looking at the Russian "dark web," where it is possible to buy drugs, weapons, and stolen identities. 

"The usual search engines don’t index a considerable part of the Internet. But it’s not hard to get to the shadowy area: just install the Tor browser, which allows users to remain anonymous, and know a few important addresses," the author, Daniil Turovsky, writes. 

"With this, you can solve a variety of 'problems' -- from obtaining forged documents to buying an anti-tank missile system. For some people, using the so-called "Deep Web" is a matter of ideological principle. For others, it’s a technical necessity when breaking the law to avoid publicity." 

The False Story Weapon

Neil MacFarquhar of The New York Times has a strong piece on how Russia uses false news stories spread on social media to advance its interests.

"With a vigorous national debate underway on whether Sweden should enter a military partnership with NATO, officials in Stockholm suddenly encountered an unsettling problem: a flood of distorted and outright false information on social media, confusing public perceptions of the issue," MacFarquhar writes.

"The claims were alarming: If Sweden, a non-NATO member, signed the deal, the alliance would stockpile secret nuclear weapons on Swedish soil; NATO could attack Russia from Sweden without government approval; NATO soldiers, immune from prosecution, could rape Swedish women without fear of criminal charges.They were all false, but the disinformation had begun spilling into the traditional news media."

How Putin Decides

Moscow-based political analyst Nikolai Petrov has a new piece in Vedomosti looking at how personnel decisions are now made in the Kremlin.

"The personal participation of the president in personnel decisions doesn’t mean one-man rule and his absolute independence in making these decisions," Petrov writes, adding that decisions are "the result of a struggle in the apparatus and competition of various groups within the elite."

Petrov adds that Putin spends a lot of time thinking about major personnel changes in advance and "tests the reaction to possible appointments on various people from his entourage."

With Friends Like There...

Bloomberg has an interesting report on how China is stepping up its cyberattacks against Russia.

An Average Joe Spy?

The Daily Beast tells the story of Gregory Allen Justice, a Boeing employee accused of trying to sell U.S. secrets to Russia.

Putin And The Ayatollah

David Patrikarakos, author of Nuclear Iran: The Birth Of An Atomic State, has an op-ed in The Moscow Times on the growing "bromance" between Putin and Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Putin Through An Old Colleague's Eyes

Ukraine's Gordon News Agency has an interview with Yury Shvets, a former KGB colleague of Vladimir Putin. Shvets describes Putin as a man of average competence who has skilfully used television to boost his image, but who may end up destroying Russia.

Russia And The West

Defense News has a piece arguing that a new Russian partnership with the West is not in the cards.


Video The Daily Vertical: Playing The Kremlin's Game

The Daily Vertical: Playing The Kremlin's Gamei
X
August 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.


Audio Podcast: The Tale Of The Tape

The man on the phone and the people in the streets

Brian Whitmore

Sometimes it takes awhile for the historical record to become clear.

Sometimes it takes time for the things we have long suspected -- and even assumed -- to be confirmed.

Sometimes it takes years to fill in the blanks.

That's exactly what happened this week when Ukrainian prosecutors released recordings of intercepted telephone conversations between Kremlin aide Sergei Glazyev and proxies in Ukraine.

In the intercepts, Glazyev gives detailed instructions about instigating unrest in Donetsk, Kharkiv, Zaporizhia, and Odesa as early as February 2014.

So what did we learn from the Glazyev tapes? And what are the implications?

On this week's Power Vertical Podcast, I discuss these revelations with co-host Mark Galeotti, a senior research 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 guests Andreas Umland of the Institute for Euro-Atlantic Cooperation in Kyiv and Anton Shekhovtsov, a visiting fellow at the Institute for Human Sciences in Vienna.

Enjoy ...

The Power Vertical Podcast: The Tale Of The Tape
The Power Vertical Podcast: The Tale Of The Tapei
|| 0:00:00
...    
 
X

 

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


Video The Daily Vertical: Glazyev's Novorossia Fail

The Daily Vertical: Glazyev's Novorossia Faili
X
August 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, August 26, 2016

Brian Whitmore

ON MY MIND

I've tackled the issue of the telephone intercepts Ukrainian prosecutors released this week depicting Kremlin aide Sergei Glazyev giving detailed instructions on organizing unrest in eastern and southern Ukraine in a blog post and in today's Daily Vertical (both featured below).

And today's Power Vertical Podcast, which will be out later today, will also focus on the intercepts. 

I'm giving this issue so much attention because I obviously think it is important.

Any data point that clarifies the origins of the war in the Donbas -- even if it confirms things we already suspect -- is worthy of our attention.

Any data point that explicates the Kremlin's designs is important to understand in full.

And the Glazyev intercepts do both of these things. 

The intercepts are also provide vital context as a new round of diplomacy over the Donbas conflict kicks off with Vladimir Putin due to meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande on the sidelines of the G20 summit in China next month.

Putin is trying to exclude Ukraine and convince the Western powers to pressure Kyiv to accepting Moscow's terms in the Donbas.

As he does this, everybody should bear in mind that this war was manufactured by Moscow.

So please tune in to the Power Vertical Podcast later today when I discuss all these issues with co-host Mark Galeotti, a senior research fellow at the Czech Institute of International Relations in Prague and a visiting fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations; Andreas Umland of the Institute for Euro-Atlantic Cooperation in Kyiv; and Anton Shekhovtsov, a visiting fellow at the Institute for Human Sciences in Vienna.

And have a nice weekend!

IN THE NEWS

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov will try to reach agreement on cooperating in the fight against Islamic State in Syria during talks in Geneva on August 26, officials said.

The United Nations said Russia has agreed to a 48-hour humanitarian cease-fire in the divided Syrian city of Aleppo to allow aid deliveries, but security guarantees are needed from other parties in the conflict.

Russia says it will work with the United States on a response after a UN investigation concluded that the Syrian regime had carried out chemical weapons attacks.

Germany's foreign minister is calling for a new arms control deal with Moscow as intensified military exercises by Russia and NATO have raised concerns that a war could inadvertently be triggered.

Russian President Vladimir Putin announced large-scale snap military exercises on land and in the Black and Caspian seas, increasing worries in Ukraine and other Western neighbors about Moscow's intentions.

The Russian Anti-Doping Agency said race-walking coach Viktor Chegin, who was linked to more than 20 doping cases, has lost his appeal against a lifetime ban from athletics.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has sharply criticized a decision barring the country's Paralympic team from competing in Brazil, part of the fallout from a doping scandal that kept many of its athletes out of the Rio Olympics.

A U.S. jury has convicted the son of a Russian lawmaker on charges related to a massive computer hack into American businesses to steal credit-card information.

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden has said the United States believes the Nord Stream 2 natural-gas pipeline project involving Russia is a "fundamentally bad deal for Europe."

Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has signed a decree forbidding Russian state agencies from buying foreign fish and meat.

Vladimir Putin held a late night meeting with Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov on August 25, the Kremlin's press service announced.

Kadyrov, meanwhile, has teamed up with Investigative Committee chief Aleksandr Bastrykin to promote "patriotic education."

LATEST FROM THE POWER VERTICAL BLOG

On the latest Power Vertical blog post, How to Manufacture A War, I take a look at what we have learned from the recordings of telephone intercepts, which Ukrainian prosecutors released this week depicting Kremlin aide Sergei Glazyev orchestrating unrest in eastern Ukraine.

WHAT I'M READING

Russia's Expendable Elites

Maxim Trudolyubov, a senior fellow at the Kennan Institute and editor at large of the Russian daily newspaper Vedomosti, has a post on the Kennan Institute's Russia Files blog on what he calls "the education of Kremlin elites."

"The Kremlin elites are learning a lesson: they are expendable," Trudolyubov writes.

"The effect that Vladimir Putin is aiming for is that of a purge -- a process that helps to get rid of former partners and make those who stay onboard dependent, filling them with fear and showing them their place."

Channeling George Kennan

Writing in The National Interest, Thomas Graham, the former U.S. ambassador to Russia, channels George Kennan in a piece titled: The Sources Of Russian Conduct.

"The character of the Russian state has been central in shaping Russian strategic thinking," Graham writes. 

"Despite superficial similarities, that state, of which the Soviet Union was an extreme version, differs in essence from its Western counterparts. It has never been conceived as an emanation of society, instituted to protect the rights of citizens, temper the consequences of conflicts among them and advance the public weal. Rather, it emerged as an alien force invited to establish order over an unruly people."

The Kremlin's 'Soft Power'

StopFake has a piece in its "context" section (which, rather than debunking fake stories, provides analytical articles) looking at the Kremlin's conception of soft power and how it is deployed.

"The Kremlin is aware of its lack of attractiveness and therefore its version "soft power" is simply anything short of military action. It works not by way of Russian attractiveness or its appeal, but by way of bribery and coercion, the goals of which may range from control, to influence, to disruption, to the dismantling of institutions, or polluting the public consciousness within whichever State it targets – including within Russia itself."

Changing The Game In Syria

An editorial in Vedomosti looks at how Turkey's latest incursion in Syria changes the picture for Russia and other powers involved in the conflict.

Bloomberg also takes a look at whether Ankara's move is a game changer.

Turkey And Ukraine

In an interview with the Kyiv Post, Turkey's ambassador to Ukraine Yonet C. Tezel stressed that, despite Ankara's rapprochement with Moscow, it will continue to support Ukraine.

SRB Podcast

And finally (while you're waiting -- hopefully with bated breath -- for this week's Power Vertical Podcast to come online), be sure to catch the latest edition of the SRB Podcast, hosted by Sean Guillory of the University of Pittsburgh's Center for Russian and Eastern European Studies.

The podcast is on "Soviet Power And The Destruction of Nature." Sean's guest is Andy Bruno, an assistant professor of history at Northern Illinois University where he specializes in the environmental history of modern Russia. He is also the author of The Nature Of Soviet Power: An Arctic Environmental History.

 


How To Manufacture A War

Stirring the pot.

Brian Whitmore

Before the guns of April, came the protests of February and March.

Before the armed conflict, came the unarmed uprisings.

Before there was a war in the Donbas, there was the so-called Russian Spring.

There has long been scant doubt about the Kremlin's deep involvement in -- and instigation of -- the war in Ukraine's Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts that began in April 2014.

But the mass antigovernment demonstrations that erupted in Russophone cities in eastern and southern Ukraine in the months prior -- dubbed the Russian Spring by the pro-Kremlin media -- were always much more ambiguous.

In the hypercharged and chaotic environment after pro-Moscow President Viktor Yanukovych was ousted by the Euromaidan uprising in Kyiv, it was entirely plausible that the Russian Spring was an organic local grassroots phenomenon that the Kremlin merely exploited and piggybacked on.

But that seems a lot less plausible now.

Ukraine's Prosecutor General's Office this week released what it says are recordings of intercepted telephone conversations between Kremlin aide Sergei Glazyev and proxies in Ukraine, in which he gives them specific instructions about instigating unrest in Donetsk, Kharkiv, Zaporizhzhya, and Odesa as early as February 2014 -- before Russia had even annexed Crimea.

The intercepts suggest not only that the Russian Spring was instigated, organized, and financed by Moscow, but also that the Kremlin planned to annex large swaths of eastern Ukraine if the uprisings proved successful.

But in order to do this, they needed a "massive local insurgency,  Anton Shekhovtsov of the Vienna-based Institute of Human Studies noted.

It didn't matter "whether those locals would be ideologically mobilized or bought, Moscow needed them to present a picture of a native uprising and justify the military invasion "in defence of the people," Shekhovtsov wrote on Facebook.

As it turned out, Russia only managed to stir up sufficient unrest to intervene militarily in Donetsk and Luhansk. They failed in Kharkiv, Odesa, Zaporizhzhya, and elsewhere.

But it apparently wasn't for a lack of trying.

In one intercept, dated February 28, 2014, Glazyev discussed financing uprisings in Kharkiv and Odesa with Konstantin Zatulin, a former State Duma deputy and now an official in Russian-annexed Crimea.

In another, dated March 1, he berates a man identified only as Anatoly Petrovich, about the lack of crowds on the streets of Zaporizhzhya and instructing him to organize people to take over the Oblast Council building.

“Why is Zaporizhzhya silent?" Glazyev said, adding that he has "direct orders from the top to get people on the streets in Ukraine."

Glazyev stressed that there could only be Russian armed support if the antigovernment protests were sufficiently large and there was the impression of local support. "If there's no people, what kind of help can there be?" he says, adding that if enough people get on the streets Russia can intervene, as in Crimea.

Glazyev also instructed a man from Odesa, identified as Denis, that demonstrators must take over the Oblast Council, declare the authorities in Kyiv illegitimate, and make an appeal to Putin for help. He also appeared to suggest that Russia was prepared to intervene militarily.

Both Glazyev and Zatulin have denied the authenticity of the recordings. But they are consistent with a Kremlin strategy memo that was leaked last year to the liberal newspaper Novaya Gazeta.

The memo was reportedly drafted under the supervision of Kremlin-connected oligarch Konstantin Malofeyev and discussed by top officials in February 2014 -- at the height of the Euromaidan uprising and before Yanukovych was toppled.

The document advocated the incorporation of Crimea and large parts of eastern Ukraine, particularly Kharkiv Oblast, into Russia.

"Russia's participation in the highly likely disintegration of the Ukrainian state will not only give new impetus to the Kremlin's integration projects but will also enable our country to preserve, as mentioned earlier, control over the gas-transport system of Ukraine," according to the document.

"At the same time, it will fundamentally change the geopolitical layout of central and eastern Europe, returning to Russia one of its main roles."

On one hand, this all just reinforces what many have suspected from the start.

But nevertheless, taken together, the Malofeyev strategy memo and the Glazyev telephone intercepts have gone a long way toward filling in the blanks in the historical record about the origins of the war in the Donbas.

"They imply that not only the so-called 'civil war' in Ukraine was triggered by Russia," writes Andreas Umland of the Institute for Euro-Atlantic Сooperation in Kyiv.

"The social conflict that preceded the use of guns had also already been secretly orchestrated, guided and financed from Moscow."

NOTE: Be sure to tune in to today's Power Vertical Podcast when I will discuss the issues raised in this post with co-host Mark Galeotti and guests Andreas Umland and Anton Shekhovtsov.

 


The Morning Vertical, August 25, 2016

Brian Whitmore

ON MY MIND

At first glance, the recordings Ukrainian prosecutors released this week apparently depicting Kremlin aide Sergei Glazyev giving instructions on organizing unrest in eastern and southern Ukraine don't appear to tell us anything we don't already know.

It's no shocker that the Kremlin was behind the unrest that led to the conflict in the Donbas. But, as Andreas Umland of the Institute for Euro-Atlantic Сooperation in Kyiv has noted in comments featured earlier this week, the recordings actually do much more.

While few doubted that the armed conflict in the Donbas, which began in April 2014, was instigated by the Kremlin, it was unclear the extent to which the hand of Moscow was present in the so-called "Russian Spring" -- the unarmed uprisings in February and March that preceded the war.

What the Glazyev recordings clearly show is that the Kremlin clearly orchestrated that as well, stirring up -- or attempting to stir up -- unrest, not only in Donetsk and Luhansk, but in Odesa and Kharkiv as well.

Prior to the Glazyev recordings, it was perfectly reasonable to assume that the so-called Russian Spring was a grassroots movement that Moscow simply piggybacked on.

Now we know (assuming the recordings are authentic -- and their authenticity hasn't been seriously challenged) that the Russian Spring was orchestrated and financed by the Kremlin.

IN THE NEWS

Vladimir Putin has ordered the largest inspection of the Russian armed forces' combat readiness in 18 months.

A court in Moscow has seized the assets of Grigory Rodchenkov, the former director of Russia's anti-doping laboratory, after he publicly detailed a vast state-sponsored system to help Russian athletes improve their performance.

Recessions in Russia, Brazil, Kazakhstan, and other emerging markets hit by low commodity prices is helping to push the world's youth unemployment rate up, the International Labor Organization reported.

Russia and Ukraine traded salvos this week with dueling criminal investigations against each other's top military brass, a new front in the ongoing conflict between the two countries.

A man who took four people hostage inside a Citibank branch in downtown Moscow surrendered peacefully a few hours later.

Russia has expressed deep concern at Turkey's military operation in northern Syria, hours after Turkish tanks advanced into an area held by the Islamic State group.

A Moscow court has sentenced Aleksandr Potkin, the leader of the banned "Russians" nationalist movement, to 7 1/2 years in prison on extremism and money laundering charges.

WHAT I'M READING

Russia's Iran Gambit

Writing in Slon.ru, Moscow-based foreign affairs analyst Vladimir Frolov unpacks the controversy surrounding Russia's use of an Iranian air base in the conflict in Syria. 

"The strange story of how Russia rapidly deployed its bombers to an Iranian Air Force base to increase the intensity of its airstrikes in Syria, and then abandoned the mission a week later at the request of Moscow's 'Iranian partners,' raises serious questions about Russia's foreign policy-making process, inter-agency coordination, and the role of propaganda support," Frolov writes.

"What was conceived as a geopolitical gambit to restore Russia's position in the Middle East and benefit for the military operation in Syria turned into a diplomatic embarrassment that raised tensions with Iran and the United States and failed in its military goals. The reason for this was a counterproductive pursuit of geopolitical status and the primitive use of propaganda."

Fighting The Wrong Enemy

Political commentator Fyodor Krasheninnikov has a piece in Vedomosti arguing that, while Russian liberals and the West were focused on a resurgent Communist Party in the 1990s, it is now clear that the real threat came from ex-KGB officers embedded in the bureaucracy. 

"Who would then have believed that the true restorers of everything bad that was in the Soviet political and economic system would come to power not from below, from some kind of 'left-wing' party or movement but from behind the scenes of the 'democratic' powers that be themselves?" Krasheninnikov writes. 

The New Kremlinologists

Anders Aslund, a senior fellow at The Atlantic Council, has a piece in The American Interest arguing that we need Kremlinology to make a serious comeback.

"The increasing opacity of Russian politics has opened a window of opportunity for Kremlinology to make a comeback. Many people ridicule the field of study as little more than reading tea leaves, but it can be a helpful analytical tool when done properly," Aslund writes.

Ukraine's Media 

Marta Dyczok, a history professor at Western Ontario University, has a piece on the website E-International Relations on Ukraine's media after 25 years of independence.

"If one steps back and looks at things from a quarter century perspective, one would see that despite the problems, so much has changed that the place is hardly recognizable from what it was like in 1991. This is very noticeable in the media sector," Dyczok writes.

Long Live Administrative Resources

Sergei Orlov has a piece up on Mikhail Khodorkovsky's Open Wall web portal on how the Kremlin plans to use its administrative resources to the fullest to get the results it wants in next month's parliamentary elections.

"In search of additional legitimacy, and fearful of a new Bolotnaya, the regime is promoting its latest Duma campaign under the banner of honesty and openness. It sounds voter-friendly enough. But on closer inspection, the changes are cosmetic. No one is seriously thinking of scrapping administrative resources just yet," Orlov writes.

Private Armies In Syria

RBK has a lengthy report on how Russia is using private armies in the Syrian conflict. According to the report, the cost of Russian mercenaries in Syria is roughly 10 billion rubles (approximately $154 million).

And Some Quick-Hit Analysis

The Financial Times has a video on its YouTube channel featuring it's commentary editor Frederick Studemann discussing the recent Kremlin shake-up and the rising tensions in Ukraine with Andrew Monaghan, a senior research fellow at Chatham House, and Neil Buckley the FT's Eastern Europe editor


Video The Daily Vertical: The Road From Abkhazia To The Donbas

The Daily Vertical: The Road From Abkhazia To Donbasi
X
August 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.


The Morning Vertical, August 24, 2016

Brian Whitmore

ON MY MIND

The anniversaries have been coming fast and furious in recent weeks. There's been the failed Soviet coup on August 19-21, the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia on August 20, the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact on August 23, and Ukrainian independence (featured in today's Daily Vertical) today.

And a pretty important one is coming tomorrow, although it probably won't garner the attention of the others. On August 25, 2008, weeks after it invaded Georgia, Russia crossed an ominous line when it recognized breakaway Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states. Only a handful of countries (Nicaragua, Venezuela, and Nauru) followed Moscow's lead, and the two separatist territories remain largely isolated. But formally recognizing Abkhazia and South Ossetia was nevertheless a clear escalation of Russia's bullying of its neighbors.

It was a prelude to the annexation of Ukraine's Crimean peninsula and its intervention in the Donbas. It was a signal that Vladimir Putin's regime planned to treat the sovereignty of its neighbors as conditional.

IN THE NEWS

U.S. officials say reporters at The New York Times and other U.S. news organizations have been targeted by hackers suspected of working on behalf of Russian intelligence.

The Kremlin has announced that the leaders of Russia, Germany, and France will meet on the sidelines of an upcoming G20 summit to discuss the situation in eastern Ukraine.

Russia has charged that U.S. reluctance to do more to combat Syria's Al-Qaeda affiliate remains an obstacle to reaching agreement to cooperate in Syria.

Ukrainian filmmaker Oleh Sentsov, who is behind bars in Russia, has called on Ukrainians not to fight for his release "at any price, as it would not bring the victory nearer."

During a televised debate, Vyacheslav Maltsev, a State Duma candidate from the opposition PARNAS party, called for Vladimir Putin's impeachment.

Russia's Investigative Committee has opened a criminal case against Ukraine's defense minister.

Two Russian weightlifters who won bronze medals in the 2008 Summer Olympics have failed doping retests.

WHAT I'M READING

Troops On The Border

On his blog Russian Military Analysis, Michael Kofman examines the goals of Russia's military buildup on Ukraine's borders.

"Russian staff likely fears a ‘Croatia scenario’ whereby Ukraine cordons off the separatist republics and then builds up an army large enough to wipe them out in a few years," Kofman writes.

"With three divisions, plus several brigades, organized under two combined arms armies (CAA) headquartered nearby, they figure it will deter future Ukrainian leaders from such adventurism. It also places Ukraine in a geographic vice, running from Yelnya to Crimea." 

Putin's Lost Decade

Writing in Slon.ru, economist and political analyst Vladislav Inozemtsev evaluates what he calls "Russia's lost decade."

"The first 10 years of the Putin regime were modern Russia's lost decade," Inozemtsev writes.

"The country entered them after ending the crisis and industrial downturn of the 1990s. There was very cheap labor and raw materials, which could have led to a 'new industrialization' similar to that of the Asian tigers. But those 10 years were spent consolidating a Soviet-style economy."

Revisiting A War Scare

Thomas Frear of the European Leadership Network has a piece looking at the 1983 war scare that followed NATO's Able Archer exercises.

"In November 1983, the Soviet Union began to increase the combat readiness of its forces in Eastern Europe, including the air force forward-deployed in East Germany, in preparation to meet an expected preemptive strike by the United States and its allies," Frear writes.
 
"The cause of this anxiety was the 1983 Able Archer NATO military exercise, an unusually large affair that focused on concentrating major formations of allied units in Western Europe in order to fight a combined arms operation, inclusive of tactical nuclear weapons, against the Warsaw Pact. The series of events leading up to and including this exercise highlight multiple, highly serious intelligence failures by both sides."

David Hoffman's piece in The Washington Post on the same topic last year is also worth a read -- or a reread.

Livable Moscow

Maria Antonova in Foreign Policy on how Moscow is becoming more livable as it becomes less democratic.

Winning At Doping

In an article in Vox, Mark Galeotti, a senior research fellow at the Czech Institute of International Relations in Prague, argues that Putin has turned Russia's doping scandal into a win-win.

Hacker Fail

Well, you knew this was going to happen sooner or later. As Elias Groll writes in Foreign Policy, Kremlin-backed hackers falsified documents stolen from George Soros to smear Aleksei Navalny -- and got caught out.

Stress Test

In The American Interest, former U.S. State Department official Kirk Bennett looks at the state of the Russian economy and asks: "Is Putin’s Russia Headed For A Systemic Collapse?"

The Best Medicine

Oliver Bullough has an interesting piece in The Guardian on how Ukraine is reforming its medicine procurement system with the help of some U.K. firms

The Russia Card

In a piece for Meduza, former U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul explains how Russia became a theme in the U.S. presidential election.

The Glazyev Tapes

Andreas Umland comments on the recently released recordings of telephone conversations allegedly depicting Kremlin aide Sergei Glazyev helping orchestrate the annexation of Crimea and unrest in the Donbas.


Video The Daily Vertical: Ukraine At 25

The Daily Vertical: Ukraine At 25i
X
August 24, 2016
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, August 23, 2016

Brian Whitmore

ON MY MIND

During Vladimir Putin's tenure, some form of political upheaval has always seemed to precede elections to the State Duma.

The December 1999 elections came in the wake of the suspicious apartment bombings in Moscow, Buinaksk, and Volgodonsk and at the start of the second Chechen war -- events that propelled Putin to power. 

The 2003 elections came just months after the arrest of oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, which signaled that Putin was consolidating the elite and making an authoritarian turn. 

The 2007 elections came amid the uncertainty surrounding the imminent end of Putin's second term and the ascent of Dmitry Medvedev to the presidency. 

And the 2011 elections came as the political elite split over the controversial "castling" -- in which Putin and Medvedev swapped jobs.

This year's elections are no exception. They will come in the wake of a massive reshuffling of the elite and a clear culling of Putin's inner circle.

State Duma elections in Putin's Russia have also been watersheds that herald the birth of a new political reality. And if this holds true, Putin's rule is about to enter a new phase. 

IN THE NEWS

A court in the Armenian city of Gyumri has sentenced Russian Army Private Valery Permyakov to life in prison for killing seven members of an Armenian family in January 2015.

Iran’s parliament speaker Ali Larijani says Russian warplanes are still using an Iranian military base to strike targets in Syria. Larijani made the comment a day after an Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman said Russia’s use of an air base in Hamadan had ended "for now."

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said talks between the United States and Russia on military cooperation in the fight against the Islamic State terrorist group in Syria are nearing an end.

A court in Russia has ordered that Nikita Belykh, the former governor of the Kirov region who has spent two months in custody on a charge of accepting a bribe, should be kept there until December 24.

Finland’s defense minister says the Nordic country is negotiating a defense collaboration agreement with the United States and aims to sign it this autumn.

The Court of Arbitration for Sport has rejected Russia's appeal of a blanket ban from the Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro for doping.

Vedomosti is reporting that Dzhakhan Pollyeva, the State Duma's chief of staff, is stepping down.

WHAT I'M READING

Russia, Islamic State, And Civilian Deaths

According to a highly detailed and documented report by the Syrian Network for Human Rights, Russia has now killed more civilians in Syria than Islamic State.

Putin's New Generation

William E. Pomeranz, deputy director of the Kennan Institute, has a commentary for Reuters on how Putin's shrinking inner circle means a return to Soviet politics.

"Reading the Russian tea leaves is a growth industry. But even among all the comings and goings, certain trends have become apparent. Most notably, the people who built Putin’s system are on their way out, replaced by people of the system," Pomerantz writes.

"This may be a subtle distinction, yet it is a crucial one. The older generation brought a combination of intelligence, street smarts, and toughness that was essential for surviving in the highly competitive, often chaotic, post-Soviet environment. In contrast, their replacements have only known the relative stability of the Putin years and remain largely untested in times of crisis. Their inexperience may yet come to the forefront."

Nuclear Disinformation

Jeffrey Lewis of the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute has a piece in Foreign Policy looking at what might have been behind all those murky and unsubstantiated reports that the United States was moving nuclear weapons from Turkey to Romania. 

"The whole thing reads like a pretty classic Russian disinformation operation. A few anonymous sources make a claim in an obscure foreign newspaper. That allows Russia’s state media to 'cover' the allegations without quite taking responsibility for them," Lewis writes. 

The Disturbing Case Of Ilmi Umerov

The Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group has a write-up on the plight of Ilmi Umerov, the deputy head of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis, who has been forcibly confined to a psychiatric hospital for opposing Russia's annexation of Crimea.

Back To The Future

MIkhail Khodorkovsky's Open Wall web portal has a piece asking what Russia would look like today if the August 1991 coup succeeded. The answer: a lot like Russia today.

The End Of Ideology

Writing in Snob, Moscow-based economist and political analyst Vladislav Inozemtsev explains why ideological labels like liberal and conservative are irrelevant in Putin's Russia.

Reshuffle Rumors And Speculation

Kommersant is reporting that more reshuffles of Russian officials are coming after the State Duma elections in September. According to the report, which cites unidentified officials, Deputy Kremlin Chief of Staff Vyacheslav Volodin will become speaker of the State Duma. The outgoing speaker, Sergei Naryshkin, will be named head of Russia's Foreign Intelligence Service. It could be a trial balloon. It could be speculation. We'll know soon enough. 

Incriminating Evidence

The Ukrainian Prosecutor-General's Office has released what it claims are recordings of telephone conversations involving Kremlin adviser Sergei Glazyev discussing preparations for the secessionist referendum in Crimea two years ago. The recordings also depict him helping organize unrest in Donetsk, Odesa, and Kharkiv.

The recordings were initially posted on YouTube but have since been removed. They are still available on censor.net.ua.


Video The Daily Vertical: Putin's Syrian Victims

The Daily Vertical: Putin's Syrian Victimsi
X
August 23, 2016
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, August 22, 2016

Brian Whitmore

ON MY MIND

This week, on August 24, Ukraine celebrates a milestone -- a quarter-century of independence. And this week, fears of a fresh Russian offensive against Ukraine are at their highest levels in years.

This is probably not an accident. As I note on today's Power Vertical Briefing (featured below), the very idea of an independent Ukraine is offensive to Vladimir Putin.

Ukraine is Russia's road not taken. It has truly competitive elections, a pluralistic elite, and a vibrant civil society. And since the Euromaidan revolution, it has been trying with mixed results to take the next crucial step -- moving from oligarchic pluralism to the real thing. It's an alternative model of governance that is threatening to Putin, and he feels compelled to crush it.

And for that reason, Ukraine's independence celebrations this week will be tense indeed.

TODAY'S POWER VERTICAL BRIEFING

On today's Power Vertical Briefing, we discuss the rising tensions between Moscow and Kyiv, which come as Ukraine prepares to mark 25 years of independence.

LATEST POWER VERTICAL PODCAST

In case you missed it, the latest Power Vertical Podcast, All The President's Men, looks at Vladimir Putin's culling of his inner circle and what it portends. Joining me are co-host Mark Galeotti, a senior research fellow at the Czech Institute of International Relations in Prague and a visiting fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, and Andrei Soldatov, editor in chief of the investigative website Agentura.ru and co-author of the books Red Web: The Struggle Between Russia's Digital Dictators And The New Online Revolutionaries and The New Nobility: The Restoration Of Russia's Security State And The Enduring Legacy Of The KGB.

IN THE NEWS

Iran’s Foreign Ministry says Russia’s use of a military base in Hamadan for striking targets in Syria has ended for now.

Russian authorities are investigating an attack on journalist Yulia Latynina in which the prominent critic of President Vladimir Putin was doused with fecal matter by an unidentified assailant.

The Ukrainian military and Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine continue to accuse each other of violating a cease-fire agreement.

Austria's Constitutional Court has refused to consider an appeal by Ukrainian businessman Dmytro Firtash in an attempt to fight his extradition to the United States, where he is wanted on corruption charges.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has reassured his Ukrainian counterpart, Petro Poroshenko, that Ankara will continue to recognize the Crimean Peninsula, which was illegally annexed by Russia, as Ukrainian territory.

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden urged both Russia and Ukraine to show restraint one day after Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko warned he could not rule out "a full-scale Russian invasion."

According to a poll by the Levada Center, nearly a quarter of Russians would be prepared to sell their votes in next month's State Duma elections.

Russian media is reporting that opposition figure Aleksei Navalny is seeking ways to run for president in 2018.

WHAT I'M READING

Remembering August 1991

Prominent Russian journalist Sergey Parkhomenko has a piece up on the Kennan Institute's Russia Files blog recalling the events of August 19-21, 1991.

And in Vedomosti, Oleg Ozherlyev, who served as an aide to former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, speculates about what Russia might look like today if the August 1991 coup attempt never happened.

The Kremlin's Election Dilemma

Sergei Orlov has a piece on Mikhail Khodorkovsky's Open Wall web portal on the dilemma facing the Kremlin in next month's elections.

"The Kremlin loudly trumpets its wish to see free and fair elections this September, but it needs to come up with a public strategy, which ensures that the desired result keeps the courtiers in place while at the same time observing all the external proprieties," Orlov writes.

The Crimea Incident

Writing in Slon.ru, Moscow-based foreign affairs analyst Vladimir Frolov unpacks the so-called "Crimea incident" and Russia's recent saber-rattling with Ukraine.

"Russia wants to solve the 'Ukrainian issue' through negotiations, not on the battlefield. But it wants to resolve it directly with the West, without Ukraine's participation," Frolov writes.

"Moscow is presenting the West with an ultimatum -- either you provide a 'Minsk-2' right now and over Poroshenko's head, or Russia has a free hand -- and everything is possible."

Death Of A Mobster

Writing on his blog, Mark Galeotti examines the recent killing of Azerbaijani-born mob boss Rovshan Janiev, also known as Rovshan Lenkoransky.

"What made Janiev interesting is that around him cohered a loose coalition of hungry young and youngish gangsters, who felt the relative stability of the post-'90s status quo -- and the end of the rapid social mobility caused by periodic turf wars and gangland killings -- was locking them out of the big time," Galeotti writes.

The 1999 Apartment Bombings

Writing in The National Review, veteran Kremlin-watcher David Satter -- a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, a fellow at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies, and author of the recently published book The Less You Know, The Better You Sleep: Russia’s Road To Terror And Dictatorship Under Yeltsin and Putin -- looks back at the 1999 apartment bombings that helped bring Putin to power.

"I believe that Vladimir Putin came to power as the result of an act of terror committed against his own people," Satter writes. 

"The evidence is overwhelming that the apartment-house bombings in 1999 in Moscow, Buinaksk, and Volgodonsk, which provided a pretext for the second Chechen war and catapulted Putin into the presidency, were carried out by the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB). Yet, to this day, an indifferent world has made little attempt to grasp the significance of what was the greatest political provocation since the burning of the Reichstag."

Russia's Opposition Is Dying -- Literally

Moscow-based journalist Andrew Kramer has a piece in The New York Times on how many of the Kremlin's opponents keep winding up dead.

Ukraine And August 1991

Don't miss the latest edition of Hromadske Radio's Ukraine Calling Podcast. Host Marta Dyczok and her guests look at the failed hard-line coup of August 1991 from Ukraine's perspective.


Video The Daily Vertical: Putin Unbound

The Daily Vertical: Putin Unboundi
X
August 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.


Audio The Briefing: War And Independence

A jittery Independence Day looms in Ukraine.

Brian Whitmore

Ukraine marks a quarter-century of independence this week amid war jitters, as Russia turns up the heat.

President Petro Poroshenko has warned that an all-out invasion could be imminent. The OSCE says the number of Russian heavy weapons on the border has doubled in the past week and multiple-rocket systems are being used against Ukrainian positions in Donetsk Oblast.

On the latest Power Vertical Briefing, we discuss the rising tensions as Ukrainians mark a milestone.

Joining me is RFE/RL senior editor Steve Gutterman.

Also on The Briefing, Steve and I look at how the Kremlin is spinning Russia's performance at the Summer Olympics.

Enjoy...

The Briefing: War And Independence
The Briefing: War And Independencei
|| 0:00:00
...    
 
X

 

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: All The President's Men

Viktor Zolotov (top, center) is up. Vladimir Yakunin (bottom, left), Viktor Ivanov (bottom, center) and Sergei Ivanov (bottom, right) are down.

Brian Whitmore

Another shoe drops. Another Kremlin insider takes a fall. Another sign that these are far from normal times for Russia's ruling class.

The dismissal of Sergei Ivanov as Kremlin chief of staff was indeed a bombshell. Few Russian officials were closer to Vladimir Putin and few wielded as much influence.

But Ivanov's downfall didn't happen in isolation. He was the third member of Putin's innermost circle to go down in the past year.

And it came on the heels of high-profile corruption investigations targeting the Investigative Committee and Federal Customs Service, the establishment of a new National Guard, and a shakeup in the Federal Security Service (FSB).

So what are we witnessing? Normal cadre rotation? A shakeup ahead of the elections? Or a purge and the birth of a new elite?

On this week's Power Vertical Podcast, we take a deep dive into what is going on with the Russian elite.

Joining me are co-host Mark Galeotti, a senior research fellow at the Czech Institute of International Relations, a visiting fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, and author of the blog In Moscow's Shadows; and Andrei Soldatov, editor in chief of the investigative website Agentura.ru and co-author of the books Red Web: The Struggle Between Russia's Digital Dictators And The New Online Revolutionaries and The New Nobility: The Restoration Of Russia's Security State And The Enduring Legacy Of The KGB.

Also on the podcast, Mark, Andrei and I will discuss the meteoric rise of Viktor Zolotov, the chief of the new National Guard.

Enjoy... 

Power Vertical Podcast: All The President's Men
Power Vertical Podcast: All The President's Meni
|| 0:00:00
...    
 
X

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


Video The Daily Vertical: The Spirit Of 1991

The Daily Vertical: The Spirit Of 1991i
X
August 19, 2016
The Daily Vertical is a video primer for Russia-watchers that appears Monday through Friday.
Brian Whitmore

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

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


The Morning Vertical, August 19, 2016

Brian Whitmore

ON MY MIND

The dismissal of Sergei Ivanov as Kremlin chief of staff last week was indeed a bombshell.

Few Russian officials were closer to Vladimir Putin and few wielded as much influence. But Ivanov's downfall didn't happen in isolation. He was the third member of Putin's innermost circle to go down in the past year.

And it came on the heels of high-profile corruption investigations targeting the Investigative Committee and Federal Customs Service, the establishment of a new National Guard, and a shakeup in the FSB.

On this week's Power Vertical Podcast, we take a deep dive into what is going on with the Russian elite.

What are we witnessing? Normal cadre rotation? A shakeup ahead of the elections? Or a purge and the birth of a new elite?

Joining me are co-host Mark Galeotti, a senior research fellow at the Czech Institute of International Relations, a visiting fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, and author of the blog In Moscow's Shadows; and Andrei Soldatov, editor in chief of the investigative website Agentura.ru and co-author of the books Red Web: The Struggle Between Russia's Digital Dictators And The New Online Revolutionaries and The New Nobility: The Restoration Of Russia's Security State And The Enduring Legacy Of The KGB.

Also on the podcast, Mark, Andrei and I will discuss the meteoric rise of Viktor Zolotov, the chief of the new National Guard.

Be sure to tune in.

IN THE NEWS

Russian military forces are carrying out "logistical exercises" in and around the occupied Crimean Peninsula.

Russia agreed to a 48-hour cease-fire in the besieged Syrian city of Aleppo after a haunting video of a young boy injured by an air strike there went viral on the Internet on August 18.

Prominent Russian human rights lawyer Mark Feygin has been barred from leaving Russia in a move he says is aimed at preventing him from defending Crimean Tatars at an Organization for Security and Cooperation event in Warsaw.

Ukraine’s president has said the likelihood of an escalation of the conflict with Russia and Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine "remains significant" and said he cannot rule out "a full-scale Russian invasion."

A court in Russia's St. Petersburg has convicted Vladimir Barsukov, aka Vladimir Kumarin -- a high-profile reputed mafia kingpin who led the notorious Tambov Organized Crime Group, of murder and attempted murder and has sentenced him to 23 years in prison.

Russian pole vaulter Yelena Isinbayeva, who was barred from the Rio Olympics under a blanket doping ban, was elected as an athletes' representative on the International Olympic Committee on August 18.

Ukraine has protested to the Commonwealth of Independent States over the organization's plans to send monitors to the Russian State Duma elections in the region of Crimea, which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014.

Oleg Gazmanov, a prominent Russian singer known for his nationalist songs such as "Made In The U.S.S.R." has been denied entry to Lithuania.

The Russian Prosecutor-General's Office has deemed two U.S.-based NGOs -- the International Republican Institute and the Media Development Investment Fund -- as being "undesirable" in Russia and of threatening the country's national security.

Russia's Central Election Commission has already registered nearly 1,000 complaints of alleged irregularities in the preparations for the country's December legislative and local elections, chairwoman Ella Pamfilova told journalists.

The Moldovan Foreign Ministry has complained to Russian diplomats over a recent military exercise involving Russian troops on the territory of Transdniester, a region of Moldova that is de facto controlled by Russia-backed separatists.

According to a poll by the Kremlin-connected VTsIOM agency, nearly half of all Russians would wear clothes featuring the Russian flag.

The German airline Eurowings will stop flights to Russia.

WHAT I'M READING

Dealing With Moscow

Angela Stent, director of the Center for Eurasian, Russian and East European Studies at Georgetown University and author of the book The Limits of Partnership: US-Russian Relations in the Twenty-First Century, argues in The Washington Post that there will be no reset with Russia.

"It’s been a quarter-century since the Soviet Union collapsed. In the aftermath, the United States had two main goals: The first was integrating the new Russia into Euro-Atlantic and global institutions; the second, if that did not work out, was ensuring that Russia not thwart America’s commitment to create a peaceful, rules-based post-Cold War order. A quarter-century later, it is clear that the first goal was not achieved. That means the next occupant of the White House will have to redouble efforts to achieve the second," Stent writes.

Also in The Washington Post, David Kramer, director for human rights and democracy at the McCain Institute for International Leadership and a former U.S. assistant secretary of state, argues that Russia is a threat and should be treated as one. 

"The next U.S. administration should recognize that the nature of the Putin regime precludes real partnership between the United States and Russia and vastly limits areas of cooperation. Increasing engagement will not change that -- both George W. Bush and Barack Obama tried and failed -- and even risks appearing desperate, which Putin would exploit as weakness on our part," Kramer writes.

The Russian Economy

Vladislav Inozemtsev has a piece in Intersection magazine laying out what needs to be done to rescue the Russian economy.

"Despite the hopes of the authorities, the economic crisis in Russia is not coming to an end -- on the contrary, a growing number of Russians are still experiencing it," Inozemtsev writes. 

"According to recent data, 41 percent of citizens cannot afford basic food and clothes, while real disposable income has already decreased nearly one fifth since the beginning of the crisis. At the same time, those "at the top" do practically nothing about the economy, whereas the groups of experts who are developing absolutely different programs (as they believe), are now, in fact, offering similar recipes for recovery: both strategies focus on the need to support producers (one through cheaper loans in larger volumes; the other through the reduction of institutional obstacles to business).

It seems to me that the “mainstream Russian economists” are wrong."

The Kremlin And Khodorkovsky

Oleg Kashin has a piece in Slon.ru exploring why the Kremlin is allowing candidates from Mikhail Khodorkovsky's Open Russia to participate in next month's State Duma elections.

"The most obvious conclusion is that the authorities are not afraid of Khodorkovsky, or are pretending that they are not afraid of him," Kashin writes. "The electoral prospects of these candidates are slim and none of them are likely to get into the Duma. Why not allow them to participate, divide the protest vote, and give the impression of a fair election?" 

He goes on to speculate that perhaps "the Kremlin is hedging its bets" and "building a new system of relations with Khodorkovsky."

The Coup Plotters' Advocates

Shon.ru editor Yulia Taratuta has a piece looking at the lawyers who defended Russia's August 1991 coup plotters.

The Coup In Photos

To mark this week's anniversary, Slon.ru also has a nice photo gallery of the coup.

Belarus In The Middle

The Minsk-based Center for Strategic and Foreign Policy Studies has a new report titled: Belarus In The Context Of The Russia-NATO Confrontation.

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