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The Morning Vertical, February 13, 2017


This week, U.S.-Russian relations move out of the realm of the hypothetical and into the realm of the real.

In all likelihood, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will meet on the sidelines of the G20 ministerial in Bonn on February 17. And as Steve Gutterman and I discuss on today's Power Vertical Briefing, the Munich Security Conference on February 18-19 will provide another opportunity for top U.S. and Russian officials to meet.

Since the election of Donald Trump, U.S.-Russian relations have been entering an odd and often confusing new landscape -- with a president who aimed to improve ties with Moscow and a foreign-policy establishment that remained deeply skeptical of the Kremlin.

This week, we should get our first hints about what that landscape will look like.


U.S. Democrats have called for an investigation into whether White House national security adviser Michael Flynn discussed U.S. sanctions against Russia with Moscow's ambassador to the United States while President Barack Obama was still in office.

Stephen Miller, a top White House aide, has declined several opportunities to defend Flynn, who has come under fire for phone conversations he had with a Russian diplomat before President Donald Trump's inauguration.

Georgia's Foreign Minister Mikheil Janelidze says that U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson expressed Washington's firm support for the ex-Soviet nation's sovereignty and territorial integrity.

U.S. President Donald Trump has expressed support for Ukraine's territorial integrity in a letter to the president of Lithuania, which has often backed Ukraine in its disputes with Russia.

Vladimir Putin says he would be happy to hold his first meeting with Trump in Slovenia, but that there are many factors in a decision on a venue for the meeting.

An exhibition of Russian revolutionary art objects has opened in London's Royal Academy of Arts, part of events to mark the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution.

Serhiy Zhadan, a popular Ukrainian writer, says he was seized by Belarusian security agents in the middle of the night while visiting Minsk and ordered to leave the country.

German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen has said U.S. demands that NATO partners increase defense spending are "fair," while her U.S. counterpart praised Germany's role in fighting the war in Afghanistan.


In case you missed it, the latest Power Vertical Podcast, New Model Empire, looked at Vladimir Putin's imperial toolkit in the former Soviet space. My guests were Agnia Grigas, a senior fellow at The Atlantic Council and author of the books Beyond Crimea: The New Russian Empire and the forthcoming book 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.


On the new Power Vertical Briefing, we look ahead to the first face-to-face meetings between top Russian officials and members of the Trump administration at this week's G20 ministerial in Bonn and at the Munich Security Conference. Joining me is RFE/RL's News Editor Steve Gutterman.


More Analysis Of The Navalny Verdict

RBK reports that the Kremlin has decided not to follow a strategy of allowing a strong opposition candidate like Aleksei Navalny to run for president in order to boost turnout.

Aleksandr Ryklin writes in Yezhednevny Zhurnal that the reason the verdict in Navalny's trial was a word-for-word copy of the 2013 verdict was because the Kremlin wanted to send a message to the West.

The Intelligentsia's Dilemma

In his column for, opposition journalist Oleg Kashin looks at why Russia's intelligentsia almost always opts to collaborate with the authorities.

Known Knowns About Shaltai-Boltai

Meduza's Andrei Sokolov has a piece outlining what we know about five members of the hacking group Shaltai-Boltai, three of whom have been arrested.

The New Labor Camps looks at the practice of forced labor, which officially returned as a form of legal punishment in Russia on January 1.

Internet Non-Freedom

Daria Litvinova has a piece in The Moscow Times on six signs that "there’s no such thing as Internet freedom in Russia."

"Writing about Crimea, Ukraine, Syria or religion on social media in Russia has become a dangerous business. Saying -- or typing -- the wrong thing on the Internet could now land you a harsher sentence than if you beat your wife," Litvinova writes.

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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