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The Morning Vertical, April 18, 2017


According to a report by the Moscow Higher School of Economics (featured below), some 16 percent of Russians are now living below the poverty line and 41 percent say they are struggling to afford basic necessities like food and clothing.

Less than one year before an election, this should be devastating news. And it would be in a country where elections are actually elections. But in Russia, elections are not elections. They are coronations. And next March, President Vladimir Putin is expected to easily win a fourth term.

Meanwhile, opposition leader Aleksei Navalny is acting as if he is running for president. He's travelling around Russia and setting up regional campaign offices, even though it is abundantly clear that he won't be allowed on the ballot.

As Marc Bennetts notes in another piece featured below, Navalny is successfully tapping into a growing groundswell of discontent with the authorities.

Recent polls show that 38 percent supported nationwide anticorruption protests that Navalny organized and two-thirds hold Putin responsible for official graft.

Will this matter? Despite growing deprivation, the television still appears to be beating the refrigerator in the battle for Russian hearts and minds. And despite growing anger over corruption, Russians are still willing to give their support to Putin.

But in authoritarian regimes like Russia, leaders don't just need to win fixed elections by large margins. They need to fight for and win their legitimacy every day. Any sign of weakness or vulnerability could be lethal.

Navalny appears to understand this. He seems to grasp that sooner or later, the Putin bubble will burst. He says he is planning to run in the March 2018 presidential election. But he is actually trying to win a much broader election by chipping away at the Putin regime's legitimacy bit by bit.


The International Court of Justice says it will issue a ruling on April 19 on Kyiv's bid to block Russia from sending money, weapons, and troops to eastern Ukraine.

The United States has voiced concern over the reported persecution of gay men in Chechnya and urged officials in the Russian region to investigate, while a senior lawmaker called on President Vladimir Putin to make clear that violence based on sexual orientation is unacceptable.

The U.S.-based Committee to Protect Journalists has called on Russian authorities to do more to investigate threats against a newspaper for its reporting about gay men allegedly being rounded up in Chechnya.

Russian Foreign minister Sergei Lavrov has said he hopes the United States will not take what he called "very risky" unilateral military action against North Korea as it did recently in Syria.

A Kremlin spokesman is distancing Moscow from an incendiary commentary on Russian state TV that alleged U.S. President Donald Trump is more dangerous and unpredictable than North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Russian security agents have detained a ninth person in connection with the St. Petersburg subway train bombing that killed 15 people and injured 45 people on April 3.

A delegation from Russia's upper house of parliament, the Federal Council, have met in Riyadh with Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud for talks about the war in Syria.

U.K. Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has called Syrian President Bashar al-Assad an "arch-terrorist" and said Russia still has "time to be on the right side of the argument."


The LGBT Community In The Donbas

In, Mikhail Tishchenko looks at the plight of the LGBT community in the Russian-held areas of the Donbas.

Russia's Eurovision Ploy

Anton Shekhovtsov explains how Eurovision became the Kremlin's mousetrap for Ukraine.

The Navalny Threat

In Newsweek, Marc Bennetts, author of the book I'm Going To Ruin Their Lives: Inside Putin's War On Russia's Opposition, asks: Is Aleksei Navalny the Kremlin's kryptonite?

Russia's Standard Of Living

The Moscow Higher School of Economics has issued a report on the socioeconomic conditions of the Russian population.

Report On Russian-European Relations

The Rand Corporation's new report, "European Relations With Russia
Threat Perceptions, Responses, And Strategies In The Wake Of The Ukrainian Crisis."

The Shrinking Russophone Zone

The Financial Times examines the decline of the Russian language in the former Soviet space.

Bannon And The Russians

In Newsweek, Owen Matthews looks at White House strategist Steve Bannon's ideological ties to Russia.

The Love Lives Of Bolsheviks

In the New York Times' Red Century series, Yuri Slezkine, a history professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and the author of the forthcoming book The House Of Government: A Saga Of The Russian Revolution, looks at The Love Lives Of Bolsheviks.

What Ukrainians Think

The International Republican Institute has released its annual municipal survey tracking the views of more than 19,000 Ukrainians in twenty-four cities. The poll shows that Ukrainians are still hungry for change, but are seeking it at the local level.

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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