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The Morning Vertical, August 25, 2016


At first glance, the recordings Ukrainian prosecutors released this week apparently depicting Kremlin aide Sergei Glazyev giving instructions on organizing unrest in eastern and southern Ukraine don't appear to tell us anything we don't already know.

It's no shocker that the Kremlin was behind the unrest that led to the conflict in the Donbas. But, as Andreas Umland of the Institute for Euro-Atlantic Сooperation in Kyiv has noted in comments featured earlier this week, the recordings actually do much more.

While few doubted that the armed conflict in the Donbas, which began in April 2014, was instigated by the Kremlin, it was unclear the extent to which the hand of Moscow was present in the so-called "Russian Spring" -- the unarmed uprisings in February and March that preceded the war.

What the Glazyev recordings clearly show is that the Kremlin clearly orchestrated that as well, stirring up -- or attempting to stir up -- unrest, not only in Donetsk and Luhansk, but in Odesa and Kharkiv as well.

Prior to the Glazyev recordings, it was perfectly reasonable to assume that the so-called Russian Spring was a grassroots movement that Moscow simply piggybacked on.

Now we know (assuming the recordings are authentic -- and their authenticity hasn't been seriously challenged) that the Russian Spring was orchestrated and financed by the Kremlin.


Vladimir Putin has ordered the largest inspection of the Russian armed forces' combat readiness in 18 months.

A court in Moscow has seized the assets of Grigory Rodchenkov, the former director of Russia's anti-doping laboratory, after he publicly detailed a vast state-sponsored system to help Russian athletes improve their performance.

Recessions in Russia, Brazil, Kazakhstan, and other emerging markets hit by low commodity prices is helping to push the world's youth unemployment rate up, the International Labor Organization reported.

Russia and Ukraine traded salvos this week with dueling criminal investigations against each other's top military brass, a new front in the ongoing conflict between the two countries.

A man who took four people hostage inside a Citibank branch in downtown Moscow surrendered peacefully a few hours later.

Russia has expressed deep concern at Turkey's military operation in northern Syria, hours after Turkish tanks advanced into an area held by the Islamic State group.

A Moscow court has sentenced Aleksandr Potkin, the leader of the banned "Russians" nationalist movement, to 7 1/2 years in prison on extremism and money laundering charges.


Russia's Iran Gambit

Writing in, Moscow-based foreign affairs analyst Vladimir Frolov unpacks the controversy surrounding Russia's use of an Iranian air base in the conflict in Syria.

"The strange story of how Russia rapidly deployed its bombers to an Iranian Air Force base to increase the intensity of its airstrikes in Syria, and then abandoned the mission a week later at the request of Moscow's 'Iranian partners,' raises serious questions about Russia's foreign policy-making process, inter-agency coordination, and the role of propaganda support," Frolov writes.

"What was conceived as a geopolitical gambit to restore Russia's position in the Middle East and benefit for the military operation in Syria turned into a diplomatic embarrassment that raised tensions with Iran and the United States and failed in its military goals. The reason for this was a counterproductive pursuit of geopolitical status and the primitive use of propaganda."

Fighting The Wrong Enemy

Political commentator Fyodor Krasheninnikov has a piece in Vedomosti arguing that, while Russian liberals and the West were focused on a resurgent Communist Party in the 1990s, it is now clear that the real threat came from ex-KGB officers embedded in the bureaucracy.

"Who would then have believed that the true restorers of everything bad that was in the Soviet political and economic system would come to power not from below, from some kind of 'left-wing' party or movement but from behind the scenes of the 'democratic' powers that be themselves?" Krasheninnikov writes.

The New Kremlinologists

Anders Aslund, a senior fellow at The Atlantic Council, has a piece in The American Interest arguing that we need Kremlinology to make a serious comeback.

"The increasing opacity of Russian politics has opened a window of opportunity for Kremlinology to make a comeback. Many people ridicule the field of study as little more than reading tea leaves, but it can be a helpful analytical tool when done properly," Aslund writes.

Ukraine's Media

Marta Dyczok, a history professor at Western Ontario University, has a piece on the website E-International Relations on Ukraine's media after 25 years of independence.

"If one steps back and looks at things from a quarter century perspective, one would see that despite the problems, so much has changed that the place is hardly recognizable from what it was like in 1991. This is very noticeable in the media sector," Dyczok writes.

Long Live Administrative Resources

Sergei Orlov has a piece up on Mikhail Khodorkovsky's Open Wall web portal on how the Kremlin plans to use its administrative resources to the fullest to get the results it wants in next month's parliamentary elections.

"In search of additional legitimacy, and fearful of a new Bolotnaya, the regime is promoting its latest Duma campaign under the banner of honesty and openness. It sounds voter-friendly enough. But on closer inspection, the changes are cosmetic. No one is seriously thinking of scrapping administrative resources just yet," Orlov writes.

Private Armies In Syria

RBK has a lengthy report on how Russia is using private armies in the Syrian conflict. According to the report, the cost of Russian mercenaries in Syria is roughly 10 billion rubles (approximately $154 million).

And Some Quick-Hit Analysis

The Financial Times has a video on its YouTube channel featuring it's commentary editor Frederick Studemann discussing the recent Kremlin shake-up and the rising tensions in Ukraine with Andrew Monaghan, a senior research fellow at Chatham House, and Neil Buckley the FT's Eastern Europe editor

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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