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The Morning Vertical, December 22, 2016


Was 2016 the year Putin won, as Maksim Trudolyubov suggests in a piece featured below? Or, as Mark Galeotti suggests in another piece featured below, do Putin's apparent victories this year carry within them the seeds of blowback and dire consequences in 2017 and beyond?

In many ways, 2016 handed Putin a perfect storm.

It was a year when Western angst and malaise from the 2008 financial crisis, the eurozone crisis, and the migrant crisis crested and dovetailed with a concerted Kremlin campaign to undermine Western institutions.

And it was the year that Western fatigue with Middle East interventions allowed Russia to take the lead role in Syria, undermine the West's interests in the region, and save Bashar al-Assad.

Putin has proven to be very adept at the politics of destruction. He's skillfully waged a guerrilla war against the existing order. He's missed few opportunities to exploit Western vulnerabilities. He's rallied the reactionaries of the world to his side.

But destroying is not the same as winning. At the end of the day, Putin is the leader of a declining power with a kleptocratic economy smaller than three U.S. states (Texas, California, and New York) and dependent on energy exports.

Putin's "victories" in 2016 should prove difficult to maintain. In fact, this past year may turn out to be the high-water mark of his power.


Andrei Karlov, the Russian ambassador who was assassinated in Turkey this week, is getting a hero's funeral in his home country.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov complained that dialogue with the United States was currently "frozen" and said Moscow did not expect a quick thaw of ties when President-elect Donald Trump takes office.

Peskov also criticized the United States for targeting additional individuals and organizations with sanctions over Moscow’s aggression in Ukraine and suggested the Kremlin would respond in kind.

A Russian hacking group known as Fancy Bear has likely used a malware implant on Android devices to track and target Ukrainian artillery units, a new report by the cybersecurity firm Crowdstrike says.

Investigators working for Russian anticorruption crusader Aleksei Navalny have uncovered two luxury Miami apartments allegedly belonging to Ivan Karnilin, the mayor of Nizhny Novgorod.

The death toll resulting from the drinking of bath lotion in Russia's Siberian region of Irkutsk has risen to 71, officials say, while Putin has demanded restrictions on the sale of surrogate alcohol.

Russia blasted the Netherlands for allowing the United States to begin stocking tanks there, and for a court ruling that ordered Crimean treasures on loan to a Dutch museum to be returned to Ukraine rather than Russia.

Ukraine returned 17 masterpieces valued at 17 million euros to Italy on December 21 after they were stolen by masked, armed robbers from a Verona art museum last year.

The United Nations General Assembly, over strenuous objections from Russia and Syria, voted to establish a panel to prepare cases involving war crimes and human rights abuses in Syria.

Russia announced it would stop flights to Tajikistan, and then agreed to resume them within hours on December 21 as a dispute played out in talks between Moscow and Dushanbe over air service between the countries.

Kremlin spokesman Peskov said he did not know whether Putin plans to seek reelection in 2018.

Russia is fighting on the wrong side in Syria and has turned close neighbor Ukraine into a "hostile state" through its aggression, Kremlin foe Aleksei Navalny said in an interview with RFE/RL.

The Czech Republic's biathlon team says it will boycott a World Cup event in the Russian city of Tyumen next year as a result of the Russian doping scandal.


After The Assassination

In a piece in OpenDemocracy, Mark Galeotti of the Institute of International Relations in Prague looks at the assassination of Andrei Karlov as an example of blowback.

"Russia's 'wins' have largely been destructive and destabilizing. The assassination of its ambassador to Turkey shows consequences are never far behind," Galeotti writes.

Moscow-based foreign-affairs analyst Vladimir Frolov has a piece in on how Russia replaces the United States as "Enemy No. 1" in the Middle East.

In The Daily Beast, Roy Gutman and Michael Weiss ask, "Will Putin use his ambassador's assassination to gain a political edge?"

And Asli Aydıntasbas has a piece for the European Council on Foreign Relations on how Karlov's assassination has led to anti-Western conspiracy theories in Turkey

The Russo-American Cyberwar

On the War Is Boring blog, Brian E. Frydenborg takes a granular look at what he calls The First Russo-American Cyberwar.

And Larry Diamond of the Hoover Institute has a piece in The Atlantic on The Most Urgent Questions About The Russian Hacks.

Relitigating The Post-Cold War Order

Julia Ioffe has a piece in Foreign Policy on how we have reached The End Of The End Of The Cold War."

"Twenty-five years ago this week, the Soviet Union lost the Cold War," Ioffe writes. "And 25 years later, Russia renegotiated the terms of surrender."

On The Russia Files blog, Maksim Trudolyubov, a senior fellow at the Kennan Institute, calls 2016 The Year Putin Won.

Michael Mazarr of the RAND Corporation has a thought-provoking piece in Foreign Affairs on The Once And Future World Order.

The End Of NATO As We Know It?

In an interview with Politico, former deputy NATO commander General Richard Shirreff argues that the transatlantic alliance could be gone in as little as five years.

Fight The Power -- With The Law

Writing in The Times, Edward Lucas, author of the book The New Cold War, argues that "we must stand up to Putin's gangster state."

"As Russia uses military force and dark arts with impunity, it’s time to hit the kleptocrats where it hurts: in their pockets," Lucas writes.

New Bellingcat Report: Russia's Undeclared War (in Ukraine)

Bellingcat has issued a new report: Putin's Undeclared War: Summer 2014 Russian Artillery Strikes Against Ukraine

Russia's Standing In The U.S.

According to a new poll by the Chicago Council on Foreign Affairs, Russia's popularity among Americans has sunk to a 30-year low.

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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