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The Morning Vertical, December 9, 2016


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ON MY MIND

Five years ago this weekend, tens of thousands of Russians gathered on Moscow's Bolotnaya Square in the largest anti-Kremlin demonstration since the fall of the Soviet Union.

Also five years ago this week, the Power Vertical Podcast was launched as a regular program, largely in reaction to those protests and the new political reality they seemed to portend.

Since then we've had the rise of Aleksei Navalny and the Pussy Riot Case; we've had a crackdown in Russia and the annexation of Crimea; we've had little green men and a war in the Donbas; we've had hybrid wars, cyberattacks, the Panama Papers, and a lot more.

The past decade sure has been a wild and dizzying ride.

To put it all in perspective and context, I've reassembled the lineup from the early days of the podcast for a special five-year anniversary program that will be online later today.

Joining me will be co-host Mark Galeotti, a senior policy fellow at the Institute of International Relations in Prague and a visiting fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations; my original co-host Kirill Kobrin, editor of the Moscow-based history and sociology magazine Neprikosnovenny Zapas; and one of our very first guests, Sean Guillory of the University of Pittsburgh's Center for Russian and Eastern European Studies, author of Sean's Russia blog and host of the SRB Podcast.

So be sure to join me, Mark, Kirill, and Sean later today for a look back -- and a look ahead!

IN THE NEWS

German intelligence says Russia is trying to destabilize German society with an intensifying campaign of propaganda, disinformation, and cyberattacks ahead of federal elections next year.

Leading U.S. Senate Republicans will investigate alleged meddling by Russia in the U.S. presidential election last month and potential Russian cyberthreats to the military, putting them on a collision course with U.S. President-elect Donald Trump.

More than two dozen U.S. senators have urged U.S. President-elect Donald Trump not to weaken sanctions targeting Russia for its actions in Crimea and elsewhere in Ukraine.

The U.S. Congress has backed legislation giving the president new, broader authority to impose sanctions on human rights abusers worldwide, building on an earlier law that has infuriated the Kremlin. The measure, formally known as the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, passed the Senate in a 92-7 vote.

The White House says U.S. authorities will examine the around $11 billion privatization of a stake in Russian state oil giant Rosneft to determine how U.S. sanctions may impact the deal.

The World Anti-Doping Agency will release a new report today on drug use in Russian sports, building on a landmark report this summer that led to doping bans on dozens of Russian athletes.

Less than half of 14 major oil-producing countries have agreed so far to attend a meeting this weekend aimed at securing their public commitment to output cuts sought by OPEC, cartel officials said.

The head of Russia's Chechnya region, Ramzan Kadyrov, asserts that troops based there would be happy to fight what he called "scum" in Syria if President Vladimir Putin wishes.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov says the Syrian army has suspended combat operations in rebel-held eastern Aleppo, Russian media reported.

The United States and Russia are "poles apart" in trying to agree on terms for evacuations from rebel-held areas of Aleppo, UN humanitarian adviser Jan Egeland says.

Britain's foreign intelligence chief says that Russia and the Syrian government are blocking efforts to end the war in Syria and defeat the extremist group Islamic State by treating all opponents of President Bashar al-Assad as terrorists.

The FSB is conducting a search of the main headquarters of the Russian Post Office in Moscow.

WHAT I'M READING

New Report: Evaluating Sanctions

The Atlantic Council has a new report by Sergei Aleksashenko, a nonresident fellow at The Brookings Institution and a former Russian deputy finance minister, on the effectiveness of Western sanctions.

"The sanctions’ greatest achievement is that they have been an important demonstration of transatlantic unity," Aleksashenko writes.

"The coordination of sanctions between twenty-eight EU countries and the United States is a signal foreign policy achievement, sending a clear message to Putin that the West will take a united stance against Russia’s invasion of a sovereign nation. Until Russia pulls its forces out of the Donbas and no longer occupies Crimea, the sanctions should stay in place. If the West wants to go beyond making a symbolic statement, and to have any hope of changing Russia’s behavior, it should contemplate wielding policy tools it has not yet used, including a ban on the purchase of Russian oil and gas and a freeze on the assets of state-controlled banks and companies."

Lenin's Revenge

Arkady Ostrovsky has a piece in The Economist arguing that "Putin will find it hard to reconcile Russia’s revolutionary past with his Tsarist ambitions."

"The centenary of the 1917 Bolshevik revolution will be extremely awkward for Russia's president, Vladimir Putin. On the one hand, the Kremlin has restored so many Soviet symbols and institutions that it can hardly ignore the foundation myth of Soviet rule. On the other, Mr Putin intensely dislikes revolutions, particularly ones that overthrow authoritarian, imperial regimes," Ostrovsky writes.

"In 2017, expect to see Mr Putin perform intellectual somersaults to square Lenin’s anti-imperialist drive with his own ambitions to restore imperial order."

Russia And Islamic State

In a piece in The Daily Beast, Michael Weiss argues that Russia is playing a double game with Islamic State.

"Even as Washington touts its counterterrorism partnerships with Moscow, evidence points to Putin's intelligence service practically helping the Islamic State," Weiss writes.

Putin's Words

In Intersection magazine, Yuri Lobunov, editor in chief of the independent news agency Gorod32, looks at how Putin's rhetoric has changed over the course of his rule.The story is available in English and Russian.

Construction, Then And Now

In an interesting and quirky piece in Meduza, Maksim Trudolyubov compares the construction of residential buildings in Soviet times and today.

Propaganda, Then And Now

The Economist has a leader claiming that Russian propaganda has again become state-of-the-art.

"For much of post-Soviet history Russia was seen as an outlier whose politics would inevitably move towards those of the West. After the Brexit vote and the election of Donald Trump in America, it appears the opposite is taking place: the style of politics practised by Vladimir Putin’s regime is working its way westward," The Economist writes.

"The last time Russia had such a role in crystallising anti-establishment ideas was in the 1920s and 1930s, after the Bolshevik revolution."

Dashed Hopes

In a thoroughly reported piece, The Guardian's Shaun Walker looks at the small Tajik town of Kommunizm and the "death of the post-Soviet dream."

"Like the rest of Tajikistan and the four other former Soviet "Stans" -- Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan -- Kommunizm is marking 25 years of independence, thanks to the slow-motion collapse of the Soviet Union in the autumn of 1991. But for all the overblown rhetoric and parades across the region, the celebrations had a bittersweet tinge," Walker writes.

"While efforts at nation building in the newly independent countries have had some success, the collapse of the planned economy and its replacement with kleptocratic regimes has meant the standard of living for most people in the region has sharply declined over the past quarter of a century."

New Report: Russian Military Capacity

The Swedish Defense Research Agency has released the latest edition of its report series, Russian Military Capability In A Ten-Year Perspective.

New Report: Russia And China: Partners Of Choice Or Necessity

Ian Bond has a new report out for the Center for European Reform on the Sino-Russian relationship.

Separatist Diplomacy

In a piece in Coda, Amy MacKinnon profiles the "honorary consul" of the so-called Donetsk People's Republic in the Czech Republic.

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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