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The Morning Vertical, December 7, 2016

  • Brian Whitmore

ON MY MIND

The new foreign policy doctrine Vladimir Putin signed last week views Russia as a rising power. It views the West in decline. And it views Western actions as aimed at constraining Russia's rise.

Given the string of foreign policy victories the Kremlin has enjoyed over the past year, from saving Bashar al-Assad's bacon in Syria to the rise of the pro-Moscow populist right in Europe, it's not hard to come to this conclusion.

But a little perspective is in order here.

How can Russia be a rising power when it ranks 12th in the world in GDP and 48th in the world in GDP per capita? How can Russia be a rising power when its economy is smaller than three U.S. states and worth less than the combined market capitalization of the world's top three corporations?

The answer is that it can't. Russia is a power in decline. But it is precisely this that makes it so dangerous.

As Vladimir Frolov notes in a piece featured below, Russia "savors the benefits of appearing to be an unhinged, unpredictable power." This, I think, nails it.

What Russia has -- and has been ready to use -- is political will. It's willing to go rogue to get what it wants. But this is not the stuff of which great powers -- or even rising middle powers -- are made. These are the tactics of spoilers.

IN THE NEWS

A high-ranking Russian military officer has been killed in the Syrian city of Aleppo, the Russian Defense Ministry says.

Russia has accused the United States of canceling a meeting this week to discuss the fate of dwindling rebel forces in Syria's Aleppo and declared that fighters who refuse to leave the city will be "eradicated."

Former Swiss President Samuel Schmid has taken over an International Olympic Committee investigation into doping at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics after a French judge resigned, the committee said on December 6.

The White House's failure to retaliate against a 2014 cyberattack on Sony Pictures may have encouraged Russian hackers to interfere in this year's presidential election, a senior Democratic U.S. lawmaker said.

European Union diplomats say EU leaders are highly likely to prolong economic sanctions on Russia through July 31, 2017, when they meet in Brussels for a summit next week.

Russia is criticizing what it says has been the "more than modest" international reaction after two Russian Army medics were killed in what the Defense Ministry said was rebel shelling of a field hospital in the Syrian city of Aleppo.

Russia's new information-security doctrine calls for the government to develop "a national system of managing the Russian segment of the Internet."

A Russian judge has rejected a motion by lawyers for Aleksei Navalny to recuse himself from the retrial of the opposition activist.

WHAT I'M READING

Cyber-Jujitsu

In his column for Bloomberg, political commentator Leonid Bershidsky looks at Russia's new cybersecurity doctrine.

"Russia, demonized as the biggest cybervillain in the world in the wake of the U.S. election campaign, must now take special care of its own information security. Its adversaries don't just possess powerful cyberspying and offensive capabilities -- they suspect Russian involvement in every incident, and that makes Russia vulnerable to all kinds of retaliation," Bershidsky writes. "Putin clearly understands that and feels the need to shift the narrative or at least signal his preparedness."

The Hybrid State

In a piece in the War On The Rocks blog, Mark Galeotti, a senior research fellow at the Institute of International Relations in Prague and a visiting fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, argues that "Russia's hybrid war" is the "product of a hybrid state."

"In Russia, state institutions are often regarded as personal fiefdoms and piggy banks, officials and even officers freely engage in commercial activity, and the Russian Orthodox Church is practically an arm of the Kremlin. Given all that, the infusion of nonmilitary instruments into military affairs was almost inevitable," Galeotti writes.

A Call To Arms?

Foreign affairs analyst Vladimir Frolov has a piece in The Moscow Times unpacking Russia's new foreign policy doctrine.

The doctrine, Frolov writes "makes it clear that Russia wants few constraints on its international actions, even those that come from enduring alliances. It savors the benefits of appearing to be an unhinged, unpredictable power, guided by self-interest. Russia is not looking to deliver global goods. In foreign policy, Russia walks alone."

Putin's Europe

Back in June 2014, Frank Jacobs had a piece in Foreign Policy on "what Europe could look like in 2035 if Putin gets his wish." Given the events of the past year, it's worth revisiting now.

Fillon's Russophilia

Pierre Briancon has a piece in Politico looking at French presidential candidate Francois Fillon's pro-Russia stance and what it might mean for the future of French foreign policy.

"Whether true Gaullist or serious Putinphile, Fillon will soon have to square his Russian policies with equally forceful statements that he wants first and foremost to repair what he sees as France’s broken relationship with Germany," Briancon writes

The Trump-Putin Reset

Writing in The National Interest, Daniel Treisman, a professor of political science at UCLA, looks ahead to the relationship between Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump.

"In negotiating with Russia, the first thing President Trump will need to do is lower expectations," Treisman writes.

"His statements during the campaign have left him with a remarkably weak initial bargaining position. Talleyrand told junior diplomats, “Don’t be too eager!” Trump’s public eagerness to meet with Putin and his promises to quickly strike a deal put the Russian leader in the driver’s seat."

Putin's Plans

In a piece in Republic.ru, political analyst Tatyana Stanovaya parses Putin's remarks to factory workers in Chelyabinsk that he would like to successfully complete his career and travel.

"Whatever they were, Putin's words were not empty rhetoric," Stanovaya writes.

"'The successful completion of a career' with the prospect of traveling and visiting different countries seems like a significant political declaration. There seems to be a reluctance to linger in the Kremlin like Brezhnev, a willingness to leave the country a friendly successor, and the intention to maintain relations with the international community that will not be an obstacle to free movement in the world."

NATO's Info War Handbook

The NATO Defense College has published its Handbook Of Russian Information Warfare.

Populism In The West And 'Nationalism' In Ukraine

In a piece on The Atlantic Council's website, Peter Dickinson, publisher of Business Ukraine magazine, looks at the rise of populism in the West and myths about nationalism in Ukraine.

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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