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Podcast: The Invisible Railroad

As Russians wondered about Nadezhda Tolokonnikova's location, performance artist Pyotr Pavlensky staged a provocative protest.
Stealthy trains with secret destinations. A clandestine network of transit prisons. Inmates held in subhuman conditions and kept incommunicado from relatives and lawyers for weeks and sometimes months.

These are just some of the features of a process known in Russian as "etapirovanie," the shadowy process by which prison inmates are transferred from one penal facility to another.

This Gulag-era institution was in the spotlight in recent weeks due the prison-train odyssey of jailed Pussy Riot member Nadezhda Tolokonnikova -- who was out of sight, but very much in the headlines, for three weeks as she was moved from one prison colony to another while her family and supporters puzzled over her whereabouts.

Just months ago, Tolokonnikova drew attention to conditions in Russian prisons with a hunger strike and open letter that sparked international headlines. And without even saying a word, she seems to have done it again.

In the latest "Power Vertical Podcast," we take a look at the murky world of etapirovanie with special guest Merhat Sharipzhan, a journalist in RFE/RL's Central Newsroom who was a Soviet-era political prisoner.

Also joining me on the podcast are co-host Kirill Kobrin, editor of the Moscow-based history and sociology journal "Neprikosnovenny zapas," and Sean Guillory of the University of Pittsburgh's Center for Russian and Eastern European Studies and author of "Sean's Russia Blog."

Also on the podcast, we take a look at artist Pyotr Pavlensky's provocative performance art protest that shook up Red Square this week.


Power Vertical Podcast -- November 15, 2013
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About This Blog

The Power Vertical
The Power Vertical

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


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