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The Morning Vertical, December 23, 2016


Say what you will about 2016, it hasn't been boring.

And on this week's year-ender Power Vertical Podcast, my co-host Mark Galeotti and I will sum up the year and look ahead to 2017.

Was 2016 really a year of victories for Vladimir Putin? Or do these apparent "wins" have within them the seeds of defeat in the future?

What is the potential for blowback in Syria, in Europe, and in relations with the United States?

Also on the podcast, Mark and I will take a look at Putin's annual end-of-year press conference and parse what kind of message the Kremlin is trying to send.

So be sure to tune in later today.


Vladimir Putin holds his annual televised end-of-the-year press conference today. Read RFE/RL's live blog here.

Russia has lost hosting privileges for two more winter sports -- skating and world biathlon -- as the fallout from the country’s doping scandal continues.

Lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives have accused the fugitive national security contractor Edward Snowden of communicating with Russian security agencies while he is exiled in Moscow.

Ukraine's prosecutor-general says a former deputy chief of the state oil company Naftogaz fatally shot himself moments before investigators entered his home in the west-central region of Vinnytsya.

Russian news reports say Yevgeny Dzhugashvili, a grandson of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, has died in Moscow at the age of 80.

Vyacheslav Volodin, the influential speaker of Russia's lower house of parliament, has suggested opposition politician Aleksei Navalny is not eligible to run for president in 2018.

The Ukrainian parliament has removed lawmaker Nadia Savchenko from the country’s delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.

Putin asserted that Russia's military is now stronger that any possible attacker but must be prepared to "adjust plans to neutralize potential threats to our country."

A Russian court has found a former Moscow State University student guilty of trying to join the extremist group Islamic State and sentenced her to 4 1/2 years in prison.

France's National Front (FN) is struggling to raise the 20 million euros ($21 million) it needs to fund next year's presidential and legislative election campaigns, the party's treasurer told Bloomberg News. The Moscow-based First Czech Russian Bank (FCRB) lent the far-right party more than 9 million euros ($9.4 million) in 2014, but the Russian central bank revoked the bank's license in July.

The Russian ambassador who was assassinated in Turkey this week got a hero's funeral in his home country, with Putin placing flowers by his coffin and the head of the Russian Orthodox Church saying his memory would live forever.

The death toll from dozens of people drinking tainted bath lotion rose to 74, Russian authorities said on December 23, as police said they had seized more than 10,000 bottles of the berry-scented lotion in a cottage in Irkutsk.


This Ain't No Cold War

In an op-ed in The New York Times, Ivan Krastev argues that that The Cold War Isn’t Back. So Don’t Think Like It Is.

"The return of the Cold War narrative is becoming a factor in Russia’s growing international influence," Krastev writes.

"The West’s current obsession with Mr. Putin is at the heart of the Russian president’s newly discovered soft power. If Moscow, as so much of the news media suggest, can really rig the American elections, how could a small Bulgaria, or for that matter even France, trust that anybody but the Kremlin would decide who the next president would be? Russia’s power of attraction today is rooted not in its ideology but in its powerful image. If you believe Mr. Putin’s most zealous opponents, he is winning all the time."

The Limits Of A New Reset

Former U.S. State Department official Kirk Bennett has a piece worth reading in The American Interest that questions the myth that there could be a "U.S.-Russian global agenda."

Could Gorbachev Have Saved The U.S.S.R.?

Foreign Policy has published an excerpt from Chris Miller's new book, The Struggle To Save The Soviet Economy: Mikhail Gorbachev And The Collapse Of The U.S.S.R.

Lessons From The Fall

Foreign Policy has also assembled five experts to weigh in on the lessons learned from the Soviet collapse and the 25 years that followed.

Russia, The West, And Terrorism

Tatiana Stanovaya has a piece in on why terrorism no longer brings Russia and the West closer.

The Ambassador's Security

Writing on his blog, In Moscow's Shadows, Mark Galeotti of the Institute of International Relations in Prague shoots down the claim that Turkey wouldn't allow Russia's ambassador to have a security detail.

Swan Song For Sanctions?

Damir Marusic has a piece in The American Interest looking at the long-term prospects for the United States and the European Union maintaining the sanctions regime against Russia.

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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