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The Morning Vertical, April 29, 2016


From buzzing warplanes to trolling submarines to persistent nuclear posturing, Russia's provocative behavior presents a dilemma for the West. Responding in kind to the Kremlin's provocations risks inflating Moscow's importance and giving Vladimir Putin the status he craves. But not responding, and not attaching a cost to these actions, could just encourage more bad (and dangerous) behavior. As I wrote on The Power Vertical blog this week, Russia is not strong enough for a real superpower showdown. So it is trying to create the illusion of one. It is fighting a Fake Cold War. So how do you fight back in a Fake Cold War? On today's Power Vertical Podcast, I'll discuss this issue with Mark Galeotti of New York University, Kadri Liik of the European Council on Foreign Relations, and Agnia Grigas of the Atlantic Council. So be sure to tune in!


Russia has warned it will take "measures" if Sweden joins NATO.

Nationalists attacked a high-school history-awards ceremony organized by the human rights group Memorial.

Also yesterday, opposition leader Aleksei Navalny was attacked and splashed with a blue chemical liquid.

The rector of Saratov State University has instructed faculty to keep students away from visiting US officials.

The French parliament has passed a resolution calling for the end of Western sanctions against Russia.

Russia's and China's foreign ministers have denounced U.S. "interference" in the South China Sea.

In an apparent effort to set prices, Russia plans to open its own oil exchange.


In case you missed this week's Power Vertical blog post, That Cold War Movie, here it is.

"Putin's Russia is far too weak to fight a real Cold War with the West, so the Kremlin has decided to do the next best thing: make a reality show about a Cold War.
Send some jets to buzz a Western ship, wait for the inevitable diplomatic dust-up, and voila! Everybody's partying like it's 1979!"


The Bodyguard and the Economist

On his blog for the Wilson Center, Maksim Trudolyubov, editor-at-large of the business daily Vedomosti, looks at the larger meaning of two recent developments: the creation of a National Guard and the appointment of Aleksei Kudrin to head the Kremlin's Center for Strategic Research.

"Putin is addressing issues that have not become apparent yet, and is trying to anticipate problems emanating from previously loyal quarters," Trudolyubov writes.
"He has just created a super-strongman to deal with all security strongmen who might go rogue. He has just appointed a reformer-designate to make sure no one would be able to team up with Aleksei Kudrin for policy projects alternative to those of the Kremlin."

The Politics of Intimidation

Stephen Blank has a piece in Intersection magazine looking at the logic of Russia's air and sea provocations.

"It is quite clear that the hallmark of Putin’s regime at home and abroad has become, if was not always, intimidation.These tactics highlight the fact that the regime’s psychology and character are essentially those of an intimidation culture," Blank writes.

The Panama Papers Motherlode

On May 9, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists will release a searchable online database of more than 200,000 offshore entities that are part of the Panama Papers investigation.

Database of Victims of Repression

The NGO Reach Out has launched the Open List project, an online database of victims of political repressions carried out in the Soviet Union.

The View of Moscow from Berlin

Judy Dempsey has a piece on the Carnegie Center Europe's website on why German perceptions of Russia are important.

"How Germany perceives Russia matters," Dempsey writes. "Germany’s perception affects Europe. It affects the transatlantic relationship. It affects Germany’s reputation with its eastern neighbors. And it affects stability and security."

Ukraine and NATO

In a piece for UNIAN, Kostyantyn Honcharov looks at moves toward greater cooperation between Kyiv and NATO in the Black Sea and asks whether they point to Ukraine's creeping "entry" into NATO.

Melinda Haring of the Atlantic Council asks, meanwhile, whether Ukraine's reforms have passed the tipping point yet.

What Does Porn Teach Us About Russia

Writing on Open Democracy, the always insightful journalist and playwright Natalia Antonova takes a look at the exploitation of Russia's online porn stars.

"In its own bizarre, disheartening way, porn in Russia represents an intersection of societal ills: a predatory criminal justice system, lack of adequate protection for businesses, lack of sexual education (because of that, Russians regularly turn to porn for advice -- which is not always a great idea), repression in the guise of moral panic, class-based contempt for people who are seen as performing 'dirty jobs,' and, of course, misogyny," Antonova writes.

Trends To Watch

Ekho Moskvy has an interview with political analyst Yekaterina Schulmann on trends to watch in Russian politics.

China, Europe -- and Russia

Journalist and political analyst Emanuele Scimia has a piece in EUObserver on how China is playing European politics -- and weakening Russia.

The Putin Myth

NPR has an interview with New York University professor (and Power Vertical Podcat co-host) Mark Galeotti on the "myth of Vladimir Putin."

Event: Ukraine and Russia in a Fracturing Europe

Brown University's Watson Institute of International and Public Affairs will host a seminar on Ukraine And Russia In A Fracturing Europe with Yale University Professor Timothy Snyder today at 4 p.m. U.S. EDT. You can watch the event live here.

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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