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The Morning Vertical, February 10, 2017


There's more than one way to build an empire. There's more than one way to dominate your neighbors. There's more than one way to play the imperialist.

And with Vladimir Putin's regime increasingly emboldened in the post-Soviet neighborhood, we should expect the Kremlin to deploy all of the tools in its toolbox to build its new model empire.

And on this week's Power Vertical Podcast, we'll take a close look at Putin's imperial toolbox. Joining me will be Agnia Grigas, a senior fellow at The Atlantic Council and author of the books Beyond Crimea: The New Russian Empire and the forthcoming The New Geopolitics Of Natural Gas; and Andrew Wilson, a senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, author of the books The Ukraine Crisis: What It Means For the West and Belarus: The Last European Dictatorship.

Also on the podcast, Agnia, Andrew, and I will discuss the uptick in tensions between Russia and Belarus.
So be sure to tune in later today.


The Russian Constitutional Court has ruled that the case of imprisoned opposition activist Ildar Dadin must be reviewed.

The Turkish military says three of its soldiers were accidentally killed and 11 others wounded by a Russian air strike in northern Syria.

Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite says the Baltic states will seek additional security measures from the United States and NATO ahead of a massive Russian military exercise in September.

U.S. media reports say White House national security adviser Michael Flynn privately discussed U.S. sanctions against Russia with Moscow's ambassador to the United States during the month before President Donald Trump took office.

U.S. Senator Bob Corker has suggested lawmakers should empower officials in Donald Trump’s administration whose views on Russia diverge sharply from those voiced by the president.

Russia does not have substantial differences with the United States over the Iran nuclear deal, Sergei Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to Washington, was quoted as saying by Russia's RIA Novosti news agency.

The European Union's foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, and U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson spoke "at length" about terrorism, Russia, the Iran nuclear deal, and Ukraine in their first meeting, the EU said.

Russia has reiterated its opposition to the use of sanctions in international affairs, saying they are "rather destructive and harmful to both sides."

A Russian Foreign Ministry official says Moscow views Romania as a NATO outpost and a "clear threat" because it hosts part of a U.S. missile shield in Europe.

Russian Embassy officials in Baku have met with blogger Aleksandr Lapshin, who was extradited to Azerbaijan from Belarus on February 8.

Pirates have kidnapped seven Russians and one Ukrainian after attacking a cargo ship off the Nigerian coast.


Navalny's Stubborn Persistence

In his column for Bloomberg, political commentator Leonid Bershidsky weighs in on the Navalny case -- and the Navalny phenomenon.

"Navalny, a dogged fighter and one of a handful of Putin opponents who haven't left the country or given up on fighting the regime, refuses to accept defeat even though it's all but certain. That's a disposition Navalny shares with Soviet dissidents such as Andrei Sakharov, who resisted the regime when there was no light at the end of the tunnel. Some of them lived to see that light, and that was their reward. Navalny wants more -- a chance to govern. And he's stubborn enough to get a crack at it eventually," Bershidsky writes.

Will Iran Spoil The New Detente?

Michael Weiss has a piece in The Daily Beast on why it will be difficult for Trump to decouple Russia from Iran.

"Any substantive deal winning Putin away from his Persian embrace would almost certainly entail the lifting of all U.S. sanctions on Russia for the invasion and occupation of Ukraine, plus formally recognizing Crimea as sovereign Russian territory. Such a diplomatic volte-face would put Washington in violation of international law and make it a pariah among Western liberal democracies, or what’s left of them," Weiss writes.

A New Opposition?

Tatiana Stanovaya has a piece on the Moscow Carnegie Center's website on the prospects for a new-model opposition to emerge in Russia.

"Observers of the Russian political scene are constantly looking for clues as to where political change will come from. At a time when Russia’s 'systemic' opposition, which is represented in parliament, is widely perceived as compromised, there is a common belief that the only viable alternative to the current ruling class will come from the 'nonsystemic' opposition, which does not play by the rules set by the Kremlin and does its politics on the street," Stanovaya writes.

"However, there is good reason to believe that the observers are looking in the wrong place, and that real political change in Russia will eventually come from a counter-elite that forms within the current regime."

How's That End Of History Thing Going?

The Washington Post's Ishaan Tharoor interviews Francis Fukuyama, author of the famous 1989 essay The End Of History, on the end of the end of history.

"Twenty five years ago, I didn't have a sense or a theory about how democracies can go backward," Fukuyama told Tharoor. "And I think they clearly can."

The Pros And Cons Of Intel Sharing

Steven L. Hall, a former CIA official who managed Russian operations, has a piece for The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace on the ins and outs of intelligence sharing with Russia.

The Donbas Escalation

Balazs Jarabik of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace has a piece in War On The Rocks on the recent escalation in the Donbas and how Ukraine is fighting for the status quo.

The Traditionalist International

Casey Michel has a piece in Foreign Policy on "how Russia became the leader of the global Christian right."

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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