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The Morning Vertical, August 17, 2016


The Kremlin's unexpected decision to postpone the privatization of Bashneft led to a sharp decline in the oil company's share prices. It also is an indication of the declining political capital of one of Vladimir Putin's longtime cronies, Rosneft CEO Igor Sechin.

Long one of the Kremlin's wiliest and most powerful insiders, Sechin has been losing more than his share of political battles of late and has come under criticism for his management of Rosneft.

He had been seeking to acquire a controlling stake in Bashneft, but was reportedly rebuffed by Putin himself.

Together with former Russian Railways CEO Vladimir Yakunin, former Kremlin chief of staff Sergei Ivanov, and Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev, Sechin was long seen as a member of the so-called "collective Putin" -- the security service veterans who formed the Kremlin leader's innermost circle.

Yakunin and Ivanov have been banished from that privileged island. And one can only wonder if Sechin will be the next member of the collective Putin to take a fall.


The FSB has launched an operation in St. Petersburg to round up suspected North Caucasus militants.

Oil prices got another lift as Russia hinted at efforts to relieve the global glut in crude by working with the OPEC oil cartel.

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has postponed the privatization of oil producer Bashneft, in a surprise move his spokeswoman said was approved by President Vladimir Putin.

And Bashneft shares fell 12 percent on the news.

Vladimir Ionov, a 76-year-old Russian opposition activist who was the first person charged under a strict new law restricting protests has received political asylum in Ukraine.

The mufti of Russia's North Caucasus region of Karachayevo-Cherkessia, Ismail Berdiyev, has said the genital mutilation of girls does not contradict Islam and is necessary in order "to limit the unnecessary energy" of future brides.

The United States says Russia's use of an Iranian air base to carry out airstrikes in Syria is "unfortunate but not surprising."

Estonia has reportedly detained Aleksandr Kornilov, the publisher of pro-Russian websites, on charges of forging documents and providing false information to tax authorities.


The New Elite

Commentary and analysis continues to pour in on the dismissal of Kremlin chief of staff Sergei Ivanov and the makeover of Russia's ruling elite.

Fabian Burkhardt, for example, has a detailed and really informative piece in Intersection magazine on generational change in the Kremlin bureaucracy

"By all means, we are apparently witnessing a gradual rejuvenation and therefore reproduction of Russia's electoral, bureaucratic authoritarianism.

The million dollar question is whether the regime will continue to have an aging personalist leader, or whether Russia's highest office will eventually see a power transition, too," Burkhardt writes.

Andrew Monaghan of Chatham House, meanwhile, sees more continuity than change.

Anton Vaino's Strange Prose

Author and journalist Masha Gessen has a widely circulated piece in The New Yorker on the very strange writings of Anton Vaino, the new Kremlin chief of staff.

"Back in 2012, [Vaino] published an article in a Russian academic journal, and in the past few days hundreds if not thousands of Russians have struggled to deduce meaning from its twenty-nine pages. The article is called 'The Capitalization of the Future'; the pages that follow do little to shed light on the meaning of the title or, really, much else," Gessen writes.

But don't take her word for it. Just try reading the article for yourself.

New Generation Warfare

David Ignatius has a piece in The Washington Post on how the Pentagon is seeking to develop a new generation of high-tech weapons to deter Russia and China.

What Happened -- Or Didn't Happen -- In Crimea

Hromadske Television's English-language Sunday Show does a nice job of unpacking Russia's largely discredited claims that Ukraine sent a team of agent-saboteurs to Crimes to carry out terrorist attacks.

Crimean Tatars In The Crosshairs

The Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group has a piece by Halya Coynash up on its website suggesting that the real target of the Crimea incident may be the Crimean Tatars.

"Although Russia’s claims that Ukraine had tried to 'attack' its own territory in Crimea have failed to convince anybody outside Russia, the arrests are continuing. Videos have been shown of three men and nine in all were recently reported to be in custody, with that number likely to rise," Coynash writes.

"In a potentially menacing new slant, a top official in the occupation government has claimed that Ukraine is planning “new sabotage” under the guise of acts of resistance by Crimean Tatars."

Memoir Of A Diplomat

On the Center for European Policy Analysis website, veteran Kremlin-watcher Edward Lucas, author of The New Cold War, has a short review of the book "From Washington to Moscow," a memoir of U.S. diplomat Louis Sell.

Crunch Time

Economist Sergei Aleksashenko of the Brookings Institution has a piece in arguing that Russia's currency reserves might fall to critical levels just in time for the 2018 presidential election.

Weak Ruble? What Weak Ruble?

Meanwhile, also has a piece up looking at why Russians are not so worried anymore about the weak ruble.

Say What?!

Samara Oblast Governor Nikolai Merkushkin says Russia is unable to pay pensions because of a plot by the U.S. State Department and the CIA.

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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