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The Morning Vertical, August 29, 2016


There are facts. And then there are facts on the ground.

Form recently released telephone intercepts, we learned the extent to which Russia orchestrated and manufactured the social unrest that preceded the armed conflict in eastern Ukraine.

Almost everybody figured out pretty quickly that Moscow's claims that Ukraine had sent agents to Crimea to carry out terrorist acts were pure fiction.

We've known for a long time that Russia is deeply involved in the fighting in the Donbas, despite Moscow's denials.

In short, we know a lot about how the war in eastern Ukraine happened and why it happened. And when the historians sort this all out, the record should be pretty clear.

But then there are the facts on the ground.

And the most important fact on the ground is that Russia is intent on destabilizing Ukraine until it wears everybody down.

It is intent on keeping the war in the Donbas simmering with implicit threats of escalation.

And it is working.

In some Western capitals, despite everything we know, there is a renewed push to accommodate the Kremlin in order to make this war go away and get back to business as usual with Moscow.

We know the facts.

But in terms of policy here and now, they don't really matter because of the facts on the ground.


The foreign ministers of Germany, France, and Poland have called for a fresh international effort to end fighting in eastern Ukraine.

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has signed a directive lifting a nine-month ban on charter flights to Turkey.

Aleksandr Shchetinin, a Kyiv-based Russian journalist who founded the Novy Region news agency, has been found dead at his apartment. Ukrainian police said they suspect Shchetinin's death was a suicide.

Russia's emergency services said a fire broke out at a warehouse in Moscow on August 27, killing 14 migrant workers from Kyrgyzstan and three others.

Vladimir Putin has fired two top generals from the Investigative Committee

The ruling United Russia party has launched a telephone campaign in advance of the September 18 elections.


On the latest Power Vertical Podcast, The Tale of the Tape, we discuss the recent telephone intercepts released by Ukrainian prosecutors depicting Kremlin aide Sergei Glazyev orchestrating unrest in eastern Ukraine.


Drugs, Guns, And Identities

Meduza has a piece looking at the Russian "dark web," where it is possible to buy drugs, weapons, and stolen identities.

"The usual search engines don’t index a considerable part of the Internet. But it’s not hard to get to the shadowy area: just install the Tor browser, which allows users to remain anonymous, and know a few important addresses," the author, Daniil Turovsky, writes.

"With this, you can solve a variety of 'problems' -- from obtaining forged documents to buying an anti-tank missile system. For some people, using the so-called "Deep Web" is a matter of ideological principle. For others, it’s a technical necessity when breaking the law to avoid publicity."

The False Story Weapon

Neil MacFarquhar of The New York Times has a strong piece on how Russia uses false news stories spread on social media to advance its interests.

"With a vigorous national debate underway on whether Sweden should enter a military partnership with NATO, officials in Stockholm suddenly encountered an unsettling problem: a flood of distorted and outright false information on social media, confusing public perceptions of the issue," MacFarquhar writes.

"The claims were alarming: If Sweden, a non-NATO member, signed the deal, the alliance would stockpile secret nuclear weapons on Swedish soil; NATO could attack Russia from Sweden without government approval; NATO soldiers, immune from prosecution, could rape Swedish women without fear of criminal charges.They were all false, but the disinformation had begun spilling into the traditional news media."

How Putin Decides

Moscow-based political analyst Nikolai Petrov has a new piece in Vedomosti looking at how personnel decisions are now made in the Kremlin.

"The personal participation of the president in personnel decisions doesn’t mean one-man rule and his absolute independence in making these decisions," Petrov writes, adding that decisions are "the result of a struggle in the apparatus and competition of various groups within the elite."

Petrov adds that Putin spends a lot of time thinking about major personnel changes in advance and "tests the reaction to possible appointments on various people from his entourage."

With Friends Like There...

Bloomberg has an interesting report on how China is stepping up its cyberattacks against Russia.

An Average Joe Spy?

The Daily Beast tells the story of Gregory Allen Justice, a Boeing employee accused of trying to sell U.S. secrets to Russia.

Putin And The Ayatollah

David Patrikarakos, author of Nuclear Iran: The Birth Of An Atomic State, has an op-ed in The Moscow Times on the growing "bromance" between Putin and Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Putin Through An Old Colleague's Eyes

Ukraine's Gordon News Agency has an interview with Yury Shvets, a former KGB colleague of Vladimir Putin. Shvets describes Putin as a man of average competence who has skilfully used television to boost his image, but who may end up destroying Russia.

Russia And The West

Defense News has a piece arguing that a new Russian partnership with the West is not in the cards.

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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