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The Morning Vertical, August 24, 2016


The anniversaries have been coming fast and furious in recent weeks. There's been the failed Soviet coup on August 19-21, the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia on August 20, the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact on August 23, and Ukrainian independence (featured in today's Daily Vertical) today.

And a pretty important one is coming tomorrow, although it probably won't garner the attention of the others. On August 25, 2008, weeks after it invaded Georgia, Russia crossed an ominous line when it recognized breakaway Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states. Only a handful of countries (Nicaragua, Venezuela, and Nauru) followed Moscow's lead, and the two separatist territories remain largely isolated. But formally recognizing Abkhazia and South Ossetia was nevertheless a clear escalation of Russia's bullying of its neighbors.

It was a prelude to the annexation of Ukraine's Crimean peninsula and its intervention in the Donbas. It was a signal that Vladimir Putin's regime planned to treat the sovereignty of its neighbors as conditional.


U.S. officials say reporters at The New York Times and other U.S. news organizations have been targeted by hackers suspected of working on behalf of Russian intelligence.

The Kremlin has announced that the leaders of Russia, Germany, and France will meet on the sidelines of an upcoming G20 summit to discuss the situation in eastern Ukraine.

Russia has charged that U.S. reluctance to do more to combat Syria's Al-Qaeda affiliate remains an obstacle to reaching agreement to cooperate in Syria.

Ukrainian filmmaker Oleh Sentsov, who is behind bars in Russia, has called on Ukrainians not to fight for his release "at any price, as it would not bring the victory nearer."

During a televised debate, Vyacheslav Maltsev, a State Duma candidate from the opposition PARNAS party, called for Vladimir Putin's impeachment.

Russia's Investigative Committee has opened a criminal case against Ukraine's defense minister.

Two Russian weightlifters who won bronze medals in the 2008 Summer Olympics have failed doping retests.


Troops On The Border

On his blog Russian Military Analysis, Michael Kofman examines the goals of Russia's military buildup on Ukraine's borders.

"Russian staff likely fears a ‘Croatia scenario’ whereby Ukraine cordons off the separatist republics and then builds up an army large enough to wipe them out in a few years," Kofman writes.

"With three divisions, plus several brigades, organized under two combined arms armies (CAA) headquartered nearby, they figure it will deter future Ukrainian leaders from such adventurism. It also places Ukraine in a geographic vice, running from Yelnya to Crimea."

Putin's Lost Decade

Writing in, economist and political analyst Vladislav Inozemtsev evaluates what he calls "Russia's lost decade."

"The first 10 years of the Putin regime were modern Russia's lost decade," Inozemtsev writes.

"The country entered them after ending the crisis and industrial downturn of the 1990s. There was very cheap labor and raw materials, which could have led to a 'new industrialization' similar to that of the Asian tigers. But those 10 years were spent consolidating a Soviet-style economy."

Revisiting A War Scare

Thomas Frear of the European Leadership Network has a piece looking at the 1983 war scare that followed NATO's Able Archer exercises.

"In November 1983, the Soviet Union began to increase the combat readiness of its forces in Eastern Europe, including the air force forward-deployed in East Germany, in preparation to meet an expected preemptive strike by the United States and its allies," Frear writes.

"The cause of this anxiety was the 1983 Able Archer NATO military exercise, an unusually large affair that focused on concentrating major formations of allied units in Western Europe in order to fight a combined arms operation, inclusive of tactical nuclear weapons, against the Warsaw Pact. The series of events leading up to and including this exercise highlight multiple, highly serious intelligence failures by both sides."

David Hoffman's piece in The Washington Post on the same topic last year is also worth a read -- or a reread.

Livable Moscow

Maria Antonova in Foreign Policy on how Moscow is becoming more livable as it becomes less democratic.

Winning At Doping

In an article in Vox, Mark Galeotti, a senior research fellow at the Czech Institute of International Relations in Prague, argues that Putin has turned Russia's doping scandal into a win-win.

Hacker Fail

Well, you knew this was going to happen sooner or later. As Elias Groll writes in Foreign Policy, Kremlin-backed hackers falsified documents stolen from George Soros to smear Aleksei Navalny -- and got caught out.

Stress Test

In The American Interest, former U.S. State Department official Kirk Bennett looks at the state of the Russian economy and asks: "Is Putin’s Russia Headed For A Systemic Collapse?"

The Best Medicine

Oliver Bullough has an interesting piece in The Guardian on how Ukraine is reforming its medicine procurement system with the help of some U.K. firms

The Russia Card

In a piece for Meduza, former U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul explains how Russia became a theme in the U.S. presidential election.

The Glazyev Tapes

Andreas Umland comments on the recently released recordings of telephone conversations allegedly depicting Kremlin aide Sergei Glazyev helping orchestrate the annexation of Crimea and unrest in the Donbas.

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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