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ON MY MIND

Russia's political season kicks off over the next two days.

Vladimir Putin holds his annual press conference today and a Moscow court is scheduled to deliver its verdict in the corruption case of former Economics Minister Aleksei Ulyukayev tomorrow.

In his press conference (which is in progress as I write this), Putin is (so far) focusing heavily on domestic themes and has revealed that he will run for president as an independent candidate rather than be nominated by the ruling United Russia party.

This suggests, as was widely expected, that Putin plans to run a populist campaign. It suggests that the Kremlin understands the danger of declining living standards and that Russia is not immune to rising antiestablishment sentiment.

Tomorrow's verdict in the Ulyukayev case will provide another signal -- this one for the elite.

The case is widely believed to be connected to an inter-elite struggle between Rosneft CEO Igor Sechin, who is trying to expand his dominance of the energy sector, and those who seek to curb this.

If Ulyukayev is acquitted (which, as Ivan Davydov explains in a piece featured below, is very unlikely), it would be a strong rebuke to Sechin. If he is given a long prison sentence (which Davydov also says is unlikely), it would signal a big win for Sechin.

A suspended sentence (or a light sentence), which is what many are expecting, would signal that Putin is choosing not to take a stand in the clan warfare that threatens to engulf the elite as elections near.

IN THE NEWS

Russian President Vladimir Putin is holding his annual press conference with Russian and foreign journalists, one of his last major public appearances before the country's March 2018 presidential election.

A top British lawmaker has accused Facebook of failing to thoroughly investigate whether Russia attempted to influence last year's vote to leave the European Union after the social media giant said it found only three suspicious advertisements.

UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura has urged Russia to convince the Syrian government to reach a peace deal to end the nearly seven-year war.

Russia has lashed out at the United States over remarks by White House national security adviser H.R. McMaster, who accused Moscow of using multiple methods of "subversion and disinformation and propaganda" to destabilize other countries.

Moscow has welcomed a new U.S. offer of talks with North Korea, with senior Russian officials calling it constructive and the "only correct approach" to tension over Pyongyang's nuclear weapons program.

The Moscow-based Kontinental Hockey League says it is in favor of allowing its players to participate in the upcoming 2018 Winter Olympics as "neutrals" after the International Olympic Committee banned Russian teams from participating under the country’s flag.

A senior executive at the Russian nuclear-processing plant suspected of being behind a spike of radioactivity over Europe in September-October has admitted that the facility emits the isotope that was recorded above the Ural Mountains.

Two Chechen men have been sentenced to prison over a deadly hostage-taking attack in the southern Russian city of Budyonnovsk in 1995, a turning point in the first of two post-Soviet separatist wars in nearby Chechnya.

Ukraine will not receive the third tranche of the European Union's financial assistance as Kyiv failed to meet some of the EU requirements, the head of the EU delegation to Ukraine said.

WHAT I'M READING

Question Time

RFE/RL is live streaming Vladimir Putin's press conference with running commentary on its Facebook page.

In her column for Republic.ru, political analyst Tatiana Stanovaya lists five questions she would like to ask Vladimir Putin during his annual press conference today.

The Ulyukayev Verdict

Ivan Davydov, the editor of Novoye Vremya-The New Times, has a piece in Intersection magazine looking ahead to tomorrow's verdict in the controversial corruption trial of former Economics Minister Aleksei Ulyukayev.

The Limits Of Divide And Conquer

Sabine Fischer, head of the Eastern Europe and Eurasia Research Division at the Berlin-based German Institute for International and Security Affairs, has a piece on the Carnegie Moscow website explaining why Russia can no longer count on bilateral deals with EU member states.

The Debate Over NATO's Promises

In his column for Bloomberg, political commentator Leonid Bershidsky weighs in on the debate about whether NATO promised Mikhail Gorbachev not to enlarge eastward.

Navalny's Platform

Meduza and Vedomosti have pieces examining Aleksei Navalny's election platform.

Germany's Russians

In Intersection magazine, Dmitri Stratievski, deputy director of the Berlin Center for East European Studies, looks at the role Russian-speaking immigrants play in Germany's politics.

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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