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The Morning Vertical, December 20, 2016


Russia's intervention in Syria has long been viewed as a geopolitical masterstroke that wrong-footed the West, upended the balance of power in the Middle East in the Kremlin's favor, and returned Russia to the ranks of major powers.

But as I argue in today's Daily Vertical, intervening in the Middle East never comes without costs. The most dramatic example of this, of course, was the tragic assassination of Andrei Karlov in Ankara yesterday. And as Leon Aron shows in a highly recommended piece featured below, Moscow's intervention in Syria could also soon create domestic problems for Russia among the country's mainly Sunni Muslim population.


A gunman shot and killed Russia's ambassador to Turkey as he was giving a speech at an art gallery in Ankara, yelling, "Don't forget Aleppo!"

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that a meeting on Syria between him and his counterparts from Turkey and Iran will proceed today despite the assassination of Russia's ambassador in Ankara.

The European Union has extended sanctions against Russia for its actions in Ukraine for another six months.

A former Russian diplomat has reportedly been found shot dead in his apartment in Moscow.

The governor of Russia's Siberian region of Irkutsk declared a state of emergency as the death toll rose to more than 50 after dozens of people drank bath lotion.

Serbia has announced it will purchase Russian military jets in a move that could add to tensions in the Balkans amid alleged Russian attempts to block countries in the region from joining Western institutions.

NATO and Russia still "have profound disagreements on the crisis" in Ukraine, the head of the Western military alliance says.

An Austrian far-right party has signed a "cooperation pact" with Russia's ruling party, which is loyal to President Vladimir Putin, the latest sign of ties between the Kremlin and populist, anti-EU parties in Europe.

Former President Bill Clinton voted for his wife, Hillary, as a New York Electoral College member on December 19 and afterward blamed "the Russians" and the FBI for her loss to Donald Trump.

A factory that hoped to manufacture condoms in a Russian village acclaimed for its Christian heritage will forgo the contraceptives production after protests by Orthodox activists, says its managing partner.

Prominent Russian human rights campaigner Lyudmila Alekseyeva says journalists from pro-Kremlin NTV television tricked her into giving an interview by claiming they were with RFE/RL.

The United Nations General Assembly has named Russia an "occupier state" in Crimea.


Death Of A Diplomat

Walter Russell Mead and Damir Marusic have a short commentary in The American Interest on what the assassination of Andrei Karlov, Russia's ambassador to Turkey, might mean.

"The assassination is an early indication of the Pyrrhic nature of Russia’s victory in Aleppo, at least in the world of Sunni Islam," they write.

"Russia’s alliance with Shi'a Iran and the bloodbath Russia aided and abetted in Syria will make Russia the object of fanatical and determined hatred all the way from Turkey well into Central Asia. And the brazenness of the attack, perpetrated right under the noses of Turkish security, certainly diminishes Erdogan's interest in being seen on the same side of the barricades as the Russians and the Persians, Turkey’s two most important historical enemies."

In The New York Times, Max Fischer looks at what the assassination could portend for Russian-Turkish relations.

In Foreign Policy, Robbie Gramer and Emily Tamkin look at five things to worry about in the assassination's aftermath. has a tik-tok chronicle of the assassination and its aftermath.

Heavy Metal Diplomacy

Mark Galeotti of the Institute of International Relations in Prague has a report out for the European Council on Foreign Relations: Heavy Metal Diplomacy: Russia's Political Use Of Its Military In Europe Since 2014.

Hacking Democracy

Galeotti also has a piece on the Netherlands-based website Raamop Rusland on how Russia is "hacking Western democracy."

Fake New World

In a piece in The World Post, former Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves writes that Western democracies now face a "Fake New World."

Forgetting The Past

Thomas de Waal has a piece on Carnegie Europe's website on 2016, the year Europe forgot the lessons of World War II.

Trump And The Former Soviet Union

James Henry, author of the book The Blood Bankers, has a very detailed piece in The American Interest on U.S. President-elect Donald Trump's business dealings in ex-U.S.S.R.

End Of An Era

Ian Bremmer writes in Time Magazine that The Era Of American Global Leadership Is Over. Here's What Comes Next.

Putin Vs. Merkel

Writing in The Observer, Jakub Janda of the European Values Institute's Kremlin Watch project looks at six tools the Kremlin will use against German Chancellor Angela Merkel

What Drives Putin

Leon Aron has a piece on The American Enterprise Institute's website on the drivers of Putin's foreign policy.

The Russian Jihad

In a piece on the War On The Rocks blog, Aron also looks at "the domestic impact of Russia's involvement in Syria's civil war and the strategies deployed by the Russian authorities to contain these effects."

Poroshenko Vs. Kolomoyskiy

Oliver Carroll has a piece in Politico on the battle between Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and oilgarch Ihor Kolomoyskiy

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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