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The Morning Vertical, August 12, 2016


Vladimir Putin's summits this week with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Iranian President Hassan Rohani were the latest illustrations of how the Kremlin leader is working overtime to build alliances with the illiberal regimes of the world.

This week's Power Vertical Podcast will look at Putin's efforts to build an Authoritarian International. Is it a true challenge to the West? Or an act of desperation?

Joining me will be veteran Kremlin-watcher James Sherr, an associate fellow with Chatham House's Russia and Eurasia program and Daniel Drezner, a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, and a columnist for The Washington Post.

Also on the podcast, James, Daniel, and I will discuss the tensions this week in Crimea and what they may portend.

So be sure to tune in.


Russian media are reporting that Vladimir Putin has dismissed Sergei Ivanov as Kremlin chief-of-staff and appointed Anton Vaino in his place.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko says he has instructed all military units near Russian-occupied Crimea and in the easterly Donbas region to be at the highest level of combat readiness, following Russian allegations of a Ukrainian incursion into Crimea.

Ukraine says it has opened a criminal investigation into the kidnapping of Yevhen Panov, a Ukrainian citizen from Zaporizhzhya whom Russia says it apprehended trying to infiltrate Crimea.

Ukraine's military intelligence chief says an armed skirmish near the boundary separating Russian-occupied Crimea and the Ukrainian mainland involved only Russian forces.

Vedomosti is reporting that amendments are being prepared that would ban electoral campaigning on the Internet.

Russian officials said long-range bombers hit Islamic State targets in the group's de facto capital of Raqqa, as fierce fighting continued in the besieged city of Aleppo.

A court in Russia-annexed Crimea has ruled that a noted Crimean Tatar activist, Ilmi Umerov, must be placed in a psychiatric clinic for examination.

Ukrainian authorities say they have blocked "several channels" being used by militants traveling to fight with Islamic State.

Russia’s antimonopoly watchdog has fined Google 438 million rubles ($6.8 million) for violating antitrust rules on tablets and mobile phones.

A court in Russia has refused to grant early release on parole to Darya Polyudova, a Russian activist in Krasnodar who was jailed on charges of propagating extremism after criticizing Moscow's intervention in eastern Ukraine.


In case you missed it, the latest Power Vertical blog post -- The Kremlin's Game Of Thrones -- puts last month's massive shake-up of federal and regional elites into the context of a broader trend in which Vladimir Putin is moving toward personalized rule.

As Vladimir Putin changes his governing model, more purges of Russia's ruling class are likely. And longtime cronies of the Kremlin leader are not immune. And with the sacking of Sergei Ivanov as Kremlin chief-of-staff today, it just got a little more timely.


More On The Crimea Incident

The analysis and speculation continues to come in on this week's Crimea incident, which has escalated tensions between Ukraine and Russia and threatened the Minsk peace process.

Adrian Karatnycky, a Senior Fellow with the Atlantic Council and co-director of its Ukraine in Europe program, has a piece in Politico suggesting that the incident was a Russian provocation and speculating about what Moscow's motives might be.

Luke Harding writes in The Guardian that Putin may well believe that the time is ripe for another invasion.

On, Valery Solovei, a professor at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations, argues that the Crimea incident is actually all about Russian domestic politics.

Meduza has a piece comparing the Russian and Ukrainian versions of what happened in Ukraine and scenarios about what might happen next.

In his column for Bloomberg, political commentator Leonid Bershidsky weighs in with a piece arguing that "this is a perfect moment for the crisis in Ukraine to heat up."

And in a piece for RFE/RL's Krim Reali website, political analyst Ksenia Kirillova lays out evidence that the alleged shootout on the boundary between Russian-occupied Crimea and mainland Ukraine only involved Russian troops.

More Hacker Attacks

Bloomberg's Michael Riley has a story reporting that the Russian hackers who broke into the Democratic National Committee's e-mail servers also managed to hack NATO and billionaire philanthropist George Soros.

"Weeks before the Democratic convention was upended by 20,000 leaked e-mails released through WikiLeaks, another little-known website began posting the secrets of a top NATO general, billionaire George Soros' philanthropy and a Chicago-based Clinton campaign volunteer," Riley writes.

"Security experts now say that site,, with its spiffy capitol-dome logo, shows the marks of the same Russian intelligence outfit that targeted the Democratic political organizations."

The Stakes In Ukraine

Andrew Michta, a professor of International Studies at Rhodes College and an adjunct fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, has a piece in The American Interest on why the outcome of the Ukraine conflict matters to the West.

"The consequence of an easy Russian victory in the east will be either an immediate or a creeping partition of Ukraine. It will not matter much what we call it, be it 'federalization,' a 'frozen conflict,' or an 'interim agreement pending a referendum,'" Michta writes.

"The fact that Putin will have achieved a major revision of the borders in Europe, at little to no cost to his own military forces, will confirm every assumption he has made about the West’s inability to think outside the box of its postmodern concepts of security. This will only serve to encourage Putin to move again, this time targeting his real arch-enemy: NATO."

The North Stream Problem

Sijbren de Jong of The Hague Center for Strategic Studies has a piece on the Atlantic Council's website arguing that Russia's Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline project is a problem for more than just Eastern Europe.

A Turkey-Russia Alliance? Not So Fast!

Bloomberg also has a story arguing that Turkey simply cannot afford an "abrupt pivot" away from the West and "into Putin's embrace."

Russian Propaganda In The Czech Republic

Stop Fake has a new research report out exploring how Russia is portrayed on Czech websites and the "manipulation techniques" deployed.

SRB Podcast Unpacks Eurasianism

The most recent installment of the SRB Podcast, hosted by Sean Guillory of the University of Pittsburgh's Center for Russian and Eastern European Studies, looks at the Eurasianism of the late Russian historian and ethnographer Lev Gumilev. Sean's guest is Mark Bassin is a professor in the School of Historical and Contemporary Studies at Sodertorn University in Stockholm and author of the book The Gumilev Mystique: Biopolitics, Eurasiansism, And The Construction Of Community In Modern Russia.

Ukraine Calling

And be sure to check out the latest installment of Ukraine Calling, a Hromadske Radio podcast hosted by Marta Dyczok, a professor of history at the University of Western Ontario. This week's podcast will be up later today, so follow this link.

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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