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The Morning Vertical, December 22, 2017


When Western sanctions against Russia were first introduced back in 2014, they were largely met with snickers and derision in Moscow.

Not anymore.

As a piece by Anders Aslund and Daniel Fried of the Atlantic Council (featured below) illustrates, the Russian elite is more than a bit jittery about a U.S. government report due in February identifying "the most significant senior foreign political figures and oligarchs in the Russian Federation, as determined by their closeness to the Russian regime and their net worth."

The report is mandated by the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, which was passed this past summer. And those whose names show up on it stand a good chance of being slapped with sanctions.

"Judging by the decibel level in Moscow, and intense activity by Washington lobbyists on behalf of Russian clients, many in the Russian elite would hate to be fingered as being creatures of Russian President Vladimir Putin," Aslund and Fried write.

"It's clear why: Being named in this report could lead to future U.S. sanctions, and the threat of being cut off from the dollar and American banking system can be crippling; even without sanctions, being listed would make it harder to do business in the West."

The palpable fear of new sanctions among the Moscow elite illustrates a couple things.

First, it demonstrates that the West has gotten very good at using sanctions as a means of policy. (A longtime U.S. diplomat, Fried served as sanctions coordinator in the administration of Barack Obama.)

It also illustrates that despite the bluster and the conventional wisdom that Vladimir Putin is running rings around the West, Russia -- which has a GDP lower than that of three U.S. states: New York, Texas, and California -- is in fact quite weak.


The U.S. Treasury has hit Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov with financial sanctions under the Magnitsky human rights law, accusing him of torture and "extrajudicial killings," and another Chechen security official of involvement in the "antigay purge" that targeted gay and bisexual men in the Russian region earlier this year.

Vladimir Putin's spokesman says that Moscow considers U.S. sanctions imposed on Kremlin-backed Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov "illegal" and "unfriendly."

Russia has activated three new early-warning radar stations to detect missile attacks near its southeastern border, including its border with North Korea, after repeated missile tests by Pyongyang have raised fears of a possible conflict.

Russian investigative journalist Yelena Milashina, who broke a major story this year by uncovering evidence of campaign of abuse against gay men in Chechnya, has been selected to receive a Harvard University award for integrity in journalism.

Anonymous bomb threats that had prompted mass evacuations in several Russian cities have resumed.

The International Olympic Committee has barred the Russian national anthem and flag from official ceremonies during the upcoming Winter Olympics and said the country’s national colors cannot be represented on athletes’ uniforms.

Russian sports clothier Bosco, the exclusive supplier of outfits for the 2018 Winter Olympics, will ask the International Olympic Committee not to use its brand at the games, company founder Mikhail Kusnirovich says.

The International Paralympic Committee says a final decision on whether Russian athletes can compete at the upcoming Winter Paralympics in South Korea will be made in January.

The Moscow City Court has banned a rally planned by opposition politician Ilya Yashin for December 24 in the Russian capital, he wrote on Facebook.

The U.S. State Department says it has approved an export license for Ukraine to buy certain types of light weapons and small arms from U.S. manufacturers.

The European Union’s top diplomat has warned that the humanitarian and security situation has “deteriorated abruptly” in eastern Ukraine, where Russia-backed separatists have been fighting Kyiv government forces since 2014.

Ukraine's military says that one of its soldiers has been killed and four wounded amid multiple cease-fire violations by Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine in the previous 24 hours.


The Year That Was

In her column for, political analyst Tatyana Stanovaya looks back at 2017 and lists five unpleasant surprises it held for Vladimir Putin.

Also in, Moscow-based foreign-affairs analyst Vladimir Frolov assesses the year in Russian foreign policy.

The Cheka Century

In an editorial, Vedomosti looks at the centenary of the founding of the Soviet secret police.

FSB chief Aleksandr Bortnikov gave an extensive interview to the official Russian government newspaper Rossiiskaya Gazeta marking the centenary of the founding of the Cheka in which he defended the legacy of the Soviet and Russian security services.

The Moscow Times published excerpts translated into English.

Sanctions Fears

In Politico, Anders Aslund and Daniel Fried of the Atlantic Council look at the impending sanctions that are "freaking everybody out" in Moscow.

Weaponizing Boredom

In an op-ed for The Moscow Times, Mark Galeotti of the Institute of International Relations in Prague and author of the forthcoming book Vory: Russia's Super Mafia, argues that tedium and boredom are Putin's latest political weapons of choice.

Peacekeepers In Ukraine

The International Crisis Group has a report looking at the potential impact peacekeepers could have in the Donbas.

Interview With Hanna Hopka

In an interview with, Ukrainian lawmaker Hanna Hopko, who heads the Foreign Affairs Committee in the Verkhovna Rada, talks about Western assistance and Ukraine's messy 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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