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The Morning Vertical, August 14, 2017


Last week, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov announced a proposal to reduce tensions with North Korea.

Under what Lavrov billed as a Chinese-Russian proposal, North Korea would freeze missile tests and the United States and South Korea would impose a moratorium on large-scale military exercises.

As we discuss on this week's Power Vertical Briefing, the plan isn't very different from Moscow's rhetoric every time North Korea acts up.

After every missile test, Moscow oh so mildly criticizes Pyongyang -- but the criticism always comes with a twist, a hedge, and a yeah-but.

After a North Korean missile launch back in May, for example, Vladimir Putin said we need to "stop intimidating" Kim Jong Un's regime and find "peaceful ways of resolving these issues."

A little context here is useful, because the Kremlin is far from an honest broker regarding North Korea. In fact, Moscow has been quite busy courting Pyongyang for some time now.

Shortly after Russia's annexation of Crimea in 2014, Putin wrote off most of North Korea's $11 billion debt to Russia.

Moreover, about 50,000 North Koreans are working on construction projects in the Russian Far East.

And a new ferry route was recently opened between Vladivostok and the North Korean port of Rason.

If Russia chose to, it could use its leverage to curb North Korea's dangerous behavior. But, instead, it appears to be more interested in courting and protecting a client.


Five Crimean Tatar activists have been detained while protesting the jailing of Server Karametov, a 76-year-old man who has Parkinson's disease, by the Russian-imposed authorities.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu has said Syrian government troops backed by Russian forces have recaptured huge swathes of territory from opposition forces in the previous two months.

Russia’s government has nominated Germany's former chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder, to join the board of the Russian state-owned energy giant Rosneft.

Residents of St. Petersburg have paid homage to sailors from the Kursk nuclear submarine, which sank in the Barents Sea exactly 17 years earlier.

Former world chess champion and Kremlin critic Garry Kasparov is briefly coming out of retirement after 12 years.

Snapchat's parent company says the U.S. messaging app has been registered with Russia's media regulator without its knowledge.


On this week's Power Vertical Briefing, we look at a Russian-Chinese proposal to de-escalate tensions with North Korea.


Russia's Hi-Tech Tool Kit

Wired looks at what it calls "Russia's high-tech toolbox" for subverting Western democracy.

Hacking Skeptics

In his column for Bloomberg, political commentator Leonid Bershidsky looks at why some U.S. intelligence officials remain skeptical of the allegations of Russian hacking.

Five Years Of Foreign Agents

In OpenDemocracy, Daria Skibo looks at Russia's "foreign agent" law five years after its passage.

Eighteen Years Of Putin

Vladimir Putin was unexpectedly named prime minister 18 years ago this week. In, Giorgi Golosov, a professor at the European University of St. Petersburg, looks at the meaning of Putin's long rule.

A Leftist Walks Free

In his column for, Oleg Kashin looks at what we can expect from leftist opposition figure Sergei Udaltsov following his release from prison.

Ukraine And North Korea's Missiles

The New York Times has a piece by William Broad and David Sanger linking North Korea's missile success to possible black market purchases from a Ukrainian plant with long-standing ties to Russia's defense industry.

Slouching Toward A Systemic Crisis?

Philip Zelikow, a history professor at the University of Virginia and a former executive director of the 9/11 Commission, has a piece in The Atlantic asking: Is The World Slouching Toward A Grave Systemic Crisis? The piece is based on the text of Zelikow's keynote address at the annual meeting of the Aspen Strategy Group.

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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