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The Morning Vertical, August 18, 2017


August is half over and so far it has been relatively quiet. There have been no disasters, coup attempts, invasions, or other dramatic events that have caused annual speculation about Russia's "August curse."

Vladimir Putin has been keeping a low profile, and even disappeared from public view for a week.

But this also has the feeling of a calm before the storm.

Russia is entering a potentially volatile political season with Putin set to seek a fourth term in elections in March, amid rising discontent over corruption and falling living standards.

Aleksei Navalny will probably not be allowed on the ballot to run against Putin, but nevertheless he will be a major factor in the elections.

Moscow's war in eastern Ukraine simmers on with periodic and sinister hints that it could escalate at any time.

And tensions with the West remain high as Russia prepares to hold the Zapad 2017 joint military exercises with Belarus -- the largest war games since the end of the Cold War -- near NATO's borders in September.

On this week's Power Vertical Podcast, we'll take advantage of the (so far) quiet "cucumber season" to take stock and look at potential tempests below the surface in Russian domestic politics and foreign affairs.

Joining me will be two veteran Kremlin-watchers: Donald Jensen, a former U.S. State Department official, a fellow at the Center for Transatlantic Relations in the Nitze School of International Studies at Johns Hopkins University and a senior fellow at the Center for European Policy Analysis; and James Sherr, an associate fellow with Chatham House's Russia and Eurasia program, a senior fellow at the Institute of Statecraft, and author of the book Hard Diplomacy And Soft Coercion: Russia's Influence Abroad.

So be sure to tune in later today!​


Aleksei Navalny, the Russian anticorruption crusader and foe of President Vladimir Putin, says the alleged son of Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov is living a life of luxury well beyond his apparent means.

Putin is scheduled to visit Sevastopol in Russian-annexed Crimea today.

Both the director and chief engineer of a Moscow printing house where 17 people were killed in a fire last year have been convicted and sentenced.

Russia joined with China in urging the United States not to take military action against North Korea, saying the escalating threats of war being traded between Washington and Pyongyang could reach the "point of no return."

A Russian court has postponed a preliminary hearing in a lawsuit against the Federal Security Service by relatives of Raoul Wallenberg, a Swedish diplomat who saved thousands of Jews from the Holocaust and died in a Soviet KGB jail.

Russian cosmonauts have released a satellite made almost entirely with a 3-D printer, a first for the space program.

Vladimir Putin has awarded Russian citizenship to former cycling world champion Shane Perkins of Australia, according to a decree published by the Kremlin.

The state-appointed lawyer defending former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych in his in-absentia treason trial has quit.


Navalny Strikes Again

In his latest exposé, opposition leader and anticorruption crusader Aleksei Navalny takes aim at the lavish lifestyle of Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov's son.

And in his column for, Oleg Kashin comments on how Navalny's revelations are changing the game in Russia. "Public perceptions about corruption are changing," Kashin writes. "Morality is becoming more important than politics."

Siloviki Games

Ilya Rozhdestvensky has a piece in on what four events from the past year tell us about the balance of power in Russia's security services.

The Politics Of Monuments

Anna Arutunyan, author of the book The Putin Mystique, has a piece in USA Today about how Russia is erecting statues of Josef Stalin as Confederate statues fall in the United States.

Livable Kyiv

Business Ukraine has a piece on the reaction to The Economist placing Kyiv among world’s bottom ten least livable cities

The Weaponized Diaspora

Central Asia Program Series has released a report: Russia’s Weaponization of the Diaspora: Lessons from Georgia, Tajikistan, and Azerbaijan.

Chechnya Conquers Russia?

Ekaterina Sokirianskaia, a former North Caucasus project director for the International Crisis Group, has a piece in The New York Times asking: Is Chechnya Taking Over Russia?

WikiLeaks And The Kremlin

According to a report by Jenna McLaughlin in Foreign Policy, WikiLeaks turned down damaging information on the Kremlin last year.

The Invisible Putin

Mikhail Vyugin and Aysel Gereykhanova have a piece in looking at Putin's low profile this summer, including his recent week out of public view, and what it might mean.

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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