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The Morning Vertical, February 1, 2017


An escalation in the Donbas. Suspicions that Moscow was behind a cyberattack against the Czechs. A Russian military buildup in the Arctic. These are just a few of the items featured below and they seem to point to a pattern: that Vladimir Putin's regime is feeling emboldened and is preparing to be even more assertive.

As I note in today's Daily Vertical, a State Duma deputy has referred to Russia's neighbors as "so-called countries" and said "borders are not eternal."

Putin's strategy has long been to test the waters, see what he can get away with, adapt, and move forward.
And right now, he seems to think he can get away with a lot.


The United Nations Security Council has expressed "grave concern" over the "dangerous deterioration" in eastern Ukraine and called for a halt to the violence.

Two Russian FSB officials and a former employee of a leading cybersecurity firm have been charged with treason, defense attorney Ivan Pavlov told Interfax.

Hackers have breached dozens of e-mail accounts at the Foreign Ministry of the Czech Republic in an attack that was similar to the 2016 hacking of the U.S. Democratic Party during the U.S. presidential campaign, Foreign Minister Lubomir Zaoralek has said.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg says the alliance and the new U.S. administration agree on the need for dialogue with Russia "from a position of strength."

A Russian prosecutor called for a three-year prison sentence for a youth activist from the Tatarstan region who is on trial over a social-media post praising the killing of 49 people at a gay nightclub in Florida last year.

Eight EU member states are calling for more cooperation between the United States and the European Union in pushing for reforms in Ukraine, according to a document seen by RFE/RL.

Tension is high in eastern Ukraine, where fighting has flared between government troops and Russia-backed separatists over the past three days.

The retrial of Aleksei Navalny, a prominent Russian anticorruption campaigner and foe of President Vladimir Putin, resumed today after he arrived in the city of Kirov from Moscow escorted by bailiffs.


In case you missed it, in my latest Power Vertical blog post, Tinker Tailor Hacker Spook, I take a crack at unpacking the recent espionage cases involving FSB cybersecurity officials.


The Fall Of A Cyberspook

Anna Nemtsova has a piece in The Daily Beast on the fall of FSB cybersecurity official Sergei Mikhailov. His arrest, she writes, "raises questions about who knew what, and when, about the hack of the U.S. elections."

Just Say No To A 'Grand Bargain'

Writing in Foreign Policy, Daniel Baer, the former U.S. ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, makes the case against a grand bargain with Russia. "The international order is based on values, institutions, and moral leadership -- not transactional politics," Baer writes.

Ukraine Between Trump And Putin

Ian Bateson has a report from Ukraine's eastern front, where he explores the country's fate in the event of a new detente between Washington and Moscow.

Trading Places

Aleksei Gorbachev has a piece in Nezavisimaya Gazeta on how the budding Trump-Putin friendship is causing the Kremlin and Russia's opposition to swap positions about the United States.

Arctic Exposure

Andrew Osborn of Reuters has a piece on Russia's renewed military push in the Arctic.

"Interviews with officials and military analysts and reviews of government documents show Russia's buildup is the biggest since the 1991 Soviet fall and will, in some areas, give Moscow more military capabilities than the Soviet Union once had," Osborn writes.

Nordic Exposure

Politician and political analyst Petri Makela looks at Finland's efforts to retool its military to combat hybrid threats from Russia.

When Viktor Meets Vladimir

Lili Bayer in Politico, in advance of Vladimir Putin's visit this week to Hungary, explains the importance of Viktor Orban in Russia's strategy.

"For the Kremlin, a public visit to Budapest at this time has both symbolic and political value," Bayer writes.

"Putin wants to show the Russian public at home that Russia is a world power. Moreover, at a time when the Kremlin is hoping to cooperate closely with the new U.S. administration and improve relations with European partners, Moscow could also usefully show that Putin isn’t a pariah."

Hacking The Czechs

The Guardian looks at suspicions that Russia was behind a recent cyberattack against the Czech Foreign Ministry.

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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