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The Morning Vertical, August 19, 2016


The dismissal of Sergei Ivanov as Kremlin chief of staff last week was indeed a bombshell.

Few Russian officials were closer to Vladimir Putin and few wielded as much influence. But Ivanov's downfall didn't happen in isolation. He was the third member of Putin's innermost circle to go down in the past year.

And it came on the heels of high-profile corruption investigations targeting the Investigative Committee and Federal Customs Service, the establishment of a new National Guard, and a shakeup in the FSB.

On this week's Power Vertical Podcast, we take a deep dive into what is going on with the Russian elite.

What are we witnessing? Normal cadre rotation? A shakeup ahead of the elections? Or a purge and the birth of a new elite?

Joining me are co-host Mark Galeotti, a senior research fellow at the Czech Institute of International Relations, a visiting fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, and author of the blog In Moscow's Shadows; and Andrei Soldatov, editor in chief of the investigative website and co-author of the books Red Web: The Struggle Between Russia's Digital Dictators And The New Online Revolutionaries and The New Nobility: The Restoration Of Russia's Security State And The Enduring Legacy Of The KGB.

Also on the podcast, Mark, Andrei and I will discuss the meteoric rise of Viktor Zolotov, the chief of the new National Guard.

Be sure to tune in.


Russian military forces are carrying out "logistical exercises" in and around the occupied Crimean Peninsula.

Russia agreed to a 48-hour cease-fire in the besieged Syrian city of Aleppo after a haunting video of a young boy injured by an air strike there went viral on the Internet on August 18.

Prominent Russian human rights lawyer Mark Feygin has been barred from leaving Russia in a move he says is aimed at preventing him from defending Crimean Tatars at an Organization for Security and Cooperation event in Warsaw.

Ukraine’s president has said the likelihood of an escalation of the conflict with Russia and Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine "remains significant" and said he cannot rule out "a full-scale Russian invasion."

A court in Russia's St. Petersburg has convicted Vladimir Barsukov, aka Vladimir Kumarin -- a high-profile reputed mafia kingpin who led the notorious Tambov Organized Crime Group, of murder and attempted murder and has sentenced him to 23 years in prison.

Russian pole vaulter Yelena Isinbayeva, who was barred from the Rio Olympics under a blanket doping ban, was elected as an athletes' representative on the International Olympic Committee on August 18.

Ukraine has protested to the Commonwealth of Independent States over the organization's plans to send monitors to the Russian State Duma elections in the region of Crimea, which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014.

Oleg Gazmanov, a prominent Russian singer known for his nationalist songs such as "Made In The U.S.S.R." has been denied entry to Lithuania.

The Russian Prosecutor-General's Office has deemed two U.S.-based NGOs -- the International Republican Institute and the Media Development Investment Fund -- as being "undesirable" in Russia and of threatening the country's national security.

Russia's Central Election Commission has already registered nearly 1,000 complaints of alleged irregularities in the preparations for the country's December legislative and local elections, chairwoman Ella Pamfilova told journalists.

The Moldovan Foreign Ministry has complained to Russian diplomats over a recent military exercise involving Russian troops on the territory of Transdniester, a region of Moldova that is de facto controlled by Russia-backed separatists.

According to a poll by the Kremlin-connected VTsIOM agency, nearly half of all Russians would wear clothes featuring the Russian flag.

The German airline Eurowings will stop flights to Russia.


Dealing With Moscow

Angela Stent, director of the Center for Eurasian, Russian and East European Studies at Georgetown University and author of the book The Limits of Partnership: US-Russian Relations in the Twenty-First Century, argues in The Washington Post that there will be no reset with Russia.

"It’s been a quarter-century since the Soviet Union collapsed. In the aftermath, the United States had two main goals: The first was integrating the new Russia into Euro-Atlantic and global institutions; the second, if that did not work out, was ensuring that Russia not thwart America’s commitment to create a peaceful, rules-based post-Cold War order. A quarter-century later, it is clear that the first goal was not achieved. That means the next occupant of the White House will have to redouble efforts to achieve the second," Stent writes.

Also in The Washington Post, David Kramer, director for human rights and democracy at the McCain Institute for International Leadership and a former U.S. assistant secretary of state, argues that Russia is a threat and should be treated as one.

"The next U.S. administration should recognize that the nature of the Putin regime precludes real partnership between the United States and Russia and vastly limits areas of cooperation. Increasing engagement will not change that -- both George W. Bush and Barack Obama tried and failed -- and even risks appearing desperate, which Putin would exploit as weakness on our part," Kramer writes.

The Russian Economy

Vladislav Inozemtsev has a piece in Intersection magazine laying out what needs to be done to rescue the Russian economy.

"Despite the hopes of the authorities, the economic crisis in Russia is not coming to an end -- on the contrary, a growing number of Russians are still experiencing it," Inozemtsev writes.

"According to recent data, 41 percent of citizens cannot afford basic food and clothes, while real disposable income has already decreased nearly one fifth since the beginning of the crisis. At the same time, those "at the top" do practically nothing about the economy, whereas the groups of experts who are developing absolutely different programs (as they believe), are now, in fact, offering similar recipes for recovery: both strategies focus on the need to support producers (one through cheaper loans in larger volumes; the other through the reduction of institutional obstacles to business).

It seems to me that the “mainstream Russian economists” are wrong."

The Kremlin And Khodorkovsky

Oleg Kashin has a piece in exploring why the Kremlin is allowing candidates from Mikhail Khodorkovsky's Open Russia to participate in next month's State Duma elections.

"The most obvious conclusion is that the authorities are not afraid of Khodorkovsky, or are pretending that they are not afraid of him," Kashin writes. "The electoral prospects of these candidates are slim and none of them are likely to get into the Duma. Why not allow them to participate, divide the protest vote, and give the impression of a fair election?"

He goes on to speculate that perhaps "the Kremlin is hedging its bets" and "building a new system of relations with Khodorkovsky."

The Coup Plotters' Advocates editor Yulia Taratuta has a piece looking at the lawyers who defended Russia's August 1991 coup plotters.

The Coup In Photos

To mark this week's anniversary, also has a nice photo gallery of the coup.

Belarus In The Middle

The Minsk-based Center for Strategic and Foreign Policy Studies has a new report titled: Belarus In The Context Of The Russia-NATO Confrontation.

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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