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The Morning Vertical, August 15, 2016


A year ago, Vladimir Putin dismissed longtime associate Vladimir Yakunin as head of Russian Railways.

Last week, he removed his old crony Sergei Ivanov as Kremlin chief of staff.

And in between, Putin set up a powerful National Guard, a 400,000-strong force that is run by the Kremlin-leader's former bodyguard and answers to him alone.

Putin's move away from a leadership style based on consensus and balance among elite clans not only breaks with how he has governed Russia for most of his long stint in the Kremlin -- it also breaks with how every Russian or Soviet leader has governed since Stalin.

But in order to make one-man rule work, Stalin needed to resort to terror and repression.

Which makes one wonder exactly what Putin has in mind.


On this week's Power Vertical Briefing, RFE/RL Senior Editor Steve Gutterman and I discuss Sergei Ivanov's dismissal as Kremlin chief of staff and Russia's unraveling story about an alleged Ukrainian terror plot in Crimea.


And in case you missed it, on the latest Power Vertical Podcast, Putin's Strongman Club, I discussed Vladimir Putin's efforts to unite the world's autocrats with veteran Kremlin watcher James Sherr 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.


Russia's Paralympic Committee has filed an appeal against a decision by the International Paralympic Committee to ban Russian athletes from participating in the September 7-18 games in Rio de Janeiro.

The Court of Arbitration for Sport has upheld an appeal by Russian long jumper Darya Klishina against her ban from the Olympic Games in Brazil.

The World Anti-Doping Agency says the electronic account that shows whistle-blower Yulia Stepanova's location has been hacked.

A Russian lawmaker's son who U.S. prosecutors say orchestrated a hacking scheme that resulted in about $170 million in fraudulent credit-card purchases goes on trial this week in the state of Washington.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said there is no "standoff" in relations between Russia and the West, predicting improved relations between Moscow and Berlin in the coming years.


Ivanov's Fall

Political analyst Konstanti Gaaze argues in that Sergei Ivanov's dismissal as Kremlin chief of staff is part of preparations for early presidential elections.

In a blog for the BBC's Russian Service, Vladimir Pastukhov, a political analyst and professor at Oxford University, puts Ivanov's fall in the context of broader changes in Russia's leadership in recent years.

"Instead of a 'Prince' who rules with his entourage, 'the King' has ascended, a manager and his slaves," Pastukhov writes.

Unraveling The 'Crimean Incident'

Paul Quinn-Judge of the International Crisis Group attempts to shed some light on what Russia is trying to accomplish with its allegations of a Ukrainian terror plot in Crimea.

Euromaidan Press, meanwhile, alleges that Moscow is playing "terror games" and has a useful timeline that casts doubt on Russia's official narrative.

The Season Of Menace

In Politico, veteran Russia correspondent Owen Matthews writes about how August is Russia's traditional "season of menace" -- and this year is no exception.

"August in Moscow is a season of brooding heat broken by sudden rainstorms, of bathing in chilly rivers and experiencing pangs of regret for a summer that never quite happened," Matthews writes.

"Also, it’s Russia’s traditional season of disaster."

The Putin Question

In a piece for Project Syndicate, Anders Aslund looks at what is motivating Putin.

"As war fever returns in Ukraine, the question of why Russian President Vladimir Putin went from would-be modernizer to aggressive autocrat is being revived. Whatever the reason – fear for his safety, a sense of historical grievance, or both – Putin’s inability to reform Russia’s economy seems certain to be his downfall," Aslund writes.

European Leaders Through Russian Eyes

The European Values think tank has a new report out on how the Russian media portrays European leaders.

"The Kremlin disinformation campaign works very hard to portray the European leaders accordingly to their inclination to support Russia. The more favourable those personalities are to Vladimir Putin's regime, the stronger voice in the international community they have according to the Russian-speaking outlets," the report says.

"This phenomenon leads to a large overrepresentation of Central European leaders like Milos Zeman, Viktor Orban or Robert Fico in the Russian media space. Together with Matteo Renzi, those politicians are Russian-speaking media favourites, some of them disproportionately to the weight backed by their population or even to the competencies and powers they have on their domestic scene."

Ossified Putinism?

The latest edition of the SRB Podcast, hosted by Sean Guillory of the University of Pittsburgh's Center for Russian and Eastern European Studies asks whether Putinism is ossifying. Sean's guest is Mark Galeotti, a senior research fellow at the Czech Institute of International Relations and a visiting fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations.

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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