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The Morning Vertical, April 21, 2017


They generate black cash for black ops. They carry out assassinations. They smuggle weapons. They carry out cyberattacks.

And they run all sorts of errands the Kremlin wants to keep its fingerprints off.

Meet Russia's nationalized and weaponized organized crime syndicates -- a deadly tool of statecraft for a highly criminalized state.

Spanish prosecutor Jose Grinda has famously said the Kremlin uses "organized crime groups to do whatever the government of Russia cannot acceptably do as a government," and that it is often impossible to distinguish between the the state's activities and those of mafia groups.

On this week's Power Vertical Podcast, we'll discuss a new report from the European Council on Foreign Relations, Crimintern: How The Kremlin Uses Russia's Criminal Networks In Europe. The report was authored by Power Vertical Podcast co-host Mark Galeotti, who will, of course, be joining me on the program.

So be sure to tune in later today!


The Kremlin says it will not comment on media reports that say Russia has been moving heavy military equipment toward its border with North Korea amid tension between Pyongyang and the United States.

German authorities say they have arrested a dual German-Russian citizen on suspicion of carrying out last week's bomb attack against a bus carrying players from a top soccer team.

Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius says the recent NATO deployments to the Baltic region and elsewhere in Eastern Europe are a sign that the Western alliance “will do anything” to defend the security of member nations.

Russia’s Supreme Court ruled that the Jehovah’s Witnesses is an extremist organization, a decision that effectively bans the denomination from the country.

Russia's Foreign Ministry has hailed a ruling of the International Court of Justice in The Hague rejecting Ukraine's request to order Moscow to stop supporting separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Georgian Foreign Minister Mikheil Janelidze said that his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov's trip visit to Georgia's breakaway Abkhazia region this week was an attempt to shore up the "illusion" of legitimacy.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov sought to downplay evidence of a campaign of abuse targeting gay men in Chechnya, saying the Kremlin has "heard no confirmation" of reports that have prompted outrage in the West.

A Soyuz spacecraft carrying a Russian and an American reached the International Space Station on April 20, completing the first two-man flight to the ISS in more than a decade.

Russian authorities say a woman who was injured in the April 3 bombing on a St. Petersburg subway train has died, bringing the toll to 16.


What Is RISI?

In his column for Bloomberg, political analyst Leonid Bershidsky takes a closer look at the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies, or RISI, the Kremlin-backed think tank alleged to have drawn up plans to interfere in the U.S. presidential election.

Matthew Bodner and Aleksei Kovalev also have a piece in The Moscow Times looking at RISI, which they call "a crackpot outfit, not a trusted institution."

Hunting The Hackers

In a piece for BuzzFeed, Sheera Frenkel looks inside the hunt for Russia's hackers. "Russia’s cyberwarfare operations are built on the back of their cybercriminal networks," Frenkel writes. "Can the U.S. and its allies take them down?"

Hunting The Moles

The Daily Beast's Kevin Poulsen has a piece looking at a recent leak of U.S. classified information and asks: "Is there a Russian mole inside the NSA? The CIA? Both?"

Going Rogue

In a commentary for Novaya Gazeta, political analyst Yulia Latynina argues that the Kremlin is losing control over the security services.

The French Election And The Kremlin's Media

The Digital Forensic Research Lab has a new story out looking at how the Kremlin's French-language media outlets are covering -- and distorting -- France's presidential election campaign.

Rising Discontent In The Donbas

The Digital Forensic Research Lab also has a piece about how Russia's economic woes "will lead to continued unemployment and growing discontent" in the separatist-controlled areas of the Donbas.

Lenin At Finland Station

In a piece in The New Yorker, Ted Widmer, director of the John W. Kluge Center at the U.S. Library of Congress, looks at the events leading to Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin's return to Russia from exile 100 years ago this week.

U.S. Democrats And The Russian Threat

According to a poll by the Pew Research Center, the number of Democrats calling Russia the "greatest danger" to the United States is now 39 percent, the highest level since the Cold War.

The Plot Against Parnas

The Independent Barents Observer has an interesting yarn about how the FSB infiltrated and attempted to discredit the opposition party Parnas in Murmansk.

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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