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The Morning Vertical, August 31, 2017


There is a specter haunting the Kremlin -- the specter of Vladimir Putin as a lame duck.

Sure Putin is all but certain to seek and win a fourth term in the Kremlin next March. But then what?

The Kremlin leader, after all, will turn 65 in October. If he completes another six year term as president, he'll be 71.

Will he then change or ignore the Russian Constitution and seek a third consecutive term -- a move that would effectively amount to declaring himself president for life?

Will he try to repeat the so-called "castling" and anoint a placeholder president as he did with Dmitry Medvedev in 2008-12 -- and triumphantly return to the Kremlin at the age of 77?

Either is possible, but probably unlikely. And there appears to be a growing realization that, while Putin isn't going anywhere right now, his next term in the Kremlin will probably be his last.

And what that probably means is that -- like in 1999 and in 2007-8, when the prospect of a transition loomed -- we are probably in for a period of high-stakes court politics, intensified intrigue, and elite instability.

In fact, as Nikolai Petrov and Donald Jensen note in separate pieces featured below (and as Yevgeny Minchenko noted in his latest Politburo 2.0 report featured in the Morning Vertical earlier this week), we are seeing evidence that this is already happening.


Anatoly Antonov, Russia's new ambassador to the United States, has called for reestablishing regular, direct contacts between Moscow's and Washington's military, intelligence, and foreign policy chiefs.

NATO says it will send three observers to Belarus and Russia to monitor the upcoming Zapad 2017 military exercises, but is repeating its calls on the two countries to allow broader monitoring of the drills.

A Moscow court has rejected an appeal to end the house arrest of former Economic Development Minister Aleksei Ulyukayev, who is facing bribery charges.

More than 300 young Russian cultural figures have published an open letter of support for theater director Kirill Serebrennikov, who is under house arrest and facing embezzlement charges, and four other figures connected with the case.

Russia has urged against further sanctions or military action against North Korea even as U.S. allies called for more sanctions, including stiffening limits on Pyongyang's workers in Russia and China.

Some 15 members of the Tatar Public Center rallied in the capital of Russia's Tatarstan region, Kazan, on August 30, demanding the renewal of the Kazan-Moscow treaty on power sharing.

The Kremlin has confirmed that U.S. President Donald Trump's lawyer sent an e-mail about a real estate project in Moscow during the U.S. presidential campaign.

News reports from Moscow say that Umar Dzhabrailov, a wealthy businessman and former member of the Russian parliament, could face criminal charges after allegedly firing a pistol in a luxury hotel near the Kremlin.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation (OSCE) in Europe has called on Estonia to reverse its decision to bar three Russian journalists from covering an EU meeting in Tallinn next month.

Ukrainian authorities say they have expelled a Russian state TV journalist, despite condemnation from Russia and the OSCE.

A court in Austria has rejected a Spanish extradition request for Ukrainian oligarch Dmytro Firtash.

A Ukrainian politician's son charged with hitting and seriously injuring a pedestrian while driving a car has avoided pretrial detention.


Power Games

In Vedomosti, political analyst Nikolai Petrov argues that repression is now being used to control the Russian elite.

And on the Center for European Policy Analysis website, Donald Jensen, a former U.S. State Department official who is currently a fellow at CEPA, looks at the power struggles in the Russian elite.

Info Ops

Emilio J. Iasiello has a paper in the U.S. Army War College's scholarly journal Parameters on how Russia is improving its information operations "from Georgia to Crimea."

Media Wars

Estonia is defending its decision to ban some Russian journalists from EU presidency events.

The Center for International Media Assistance looks at Germany's efforts to fight against fake news.

Navalny Strikes Again -- And Prepares To Go On Tour

Aleksei Navalny's latest exposé lifts the veil on "Putin's secret dacha."

Navalny will begin a tour of Russian cities on September 15, his campaign has announced.

When Vladimir Met Viktor

The Budapest-based Political Capital Research and Consulting Institute has produced a post-mortem on Putin's meeting with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban this week.

Exposing Russia's Mercenaries

Meduza has an interview with Denis Korotkov, the journalist for the St. Petersburg-based who exposed the Russian mercenaries fighting in Syria.

Book Review: Masha Gessen's The Future Is History

In Bookforum, Sean Guillory of the University of Pittsburgh's Center for Russian and Eastern European Studies and host of the SRB Podcast reviews Masha Gessen's new book The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia.

Recalling 1999

In Tablet magazine, David Satter looks back at the 1999 apartment bombings in Moscow and other cities that propelled Putin into power.

More On Zapad

In The National Interest, Peter Zwack, the former U.S. defense attaché in Moscow, looks ahead to the Zapad 2017 military exercises.

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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