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The Morning Vertical, February 17, 2017


A common refrain in the ongoing conflict between Russia and the West is that unlike the Cold War, it lacked an ideological component.

This, however, appears to be changing.

While Putin's Russia doesn't have a fully baked teleological ideology like the Soviet Union had with Marxism-Leninism, the Kremlin's embrace of what it calls traditional values -- and its increasingly assertive attempts to promote those values abroad -- appears to form the basis of an incipient ideology that harkens back to the "orthodoxy, autocracy, and nationality" of Tsar Nicholas I.

On this week's Power Vertical Podcast, we'll discuss the ideological component of Russia's confrontation with the West. Joining me will be co-host 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, and 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 tune in later today!


U.S. President Donald Trump says Russia appears to taking provocative steps such as sailing a spy ship near the U.S. East Coast because Moscow has concluded no improvement in relations will occur anytime soon.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has told his Russian counterpart that the Kremlin must adhere to its commitments on Ukraine if there is to be cooperation between Moscow and President Donald Trump’s administration.

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis says Russia must "prove itself" before Moscow can return to "a partnership of sorts with NATO."

Top world leaders, diplomats, and defense officials are gathering in Germany for the annual Munich Security Conference -- an event that will be attended this year for the first time by members of the new U.S. administration of President Donald Trump.

U.S. media are reporting that former White House national security adviser Michael Flynn may have lied to FBI agents in an interview last month, saying he had not discussed sanctions against Russia with Moscow's U.S. ambassador.

Russia's Red Army Choir has given its first performance since the December plane crash that killed most of its singers.

Ukraine this spring will renew its search for human remains at the crash site of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, Dutch Security and Justice Minister Stef Blok has said.


Russia's Military Strategy: 'Measure Twice, Invade Once'

Military analyst Michael Kofman, a fellow at The Kennan Institute, has just published his latest installment on Russian strategy in War On The Rocks.

"In the 20th century, the Soviet military’s penchant for area of effect artillery and armored firepower had earned it the reputation of a large hammer always in search of nails.This popularized impression stuck with Russia long after the Soviet Union's demise, but today’s Kremlin employs military power in a much more nuanced manner to pursue its objectives," Kofman writes.

"In recent conflicts, Russia has demonstrated a keen understanding of how to apply this instrument of national power to achieve desired political ends, doling out force in prescribed doses in the quest for decisive leverage. Although Russian military power remains a blunt-force instrument, the state wields it more like a rapier, demonstrating discretion and timing."

All The Tsar's Men

Anton Barbashin, managing editor of Intersection magazine, and Vladislav Inozemtsev, director of the Moscow-based Center for Post-Industrial Studies, have a piece in The American Interest challenging the false dichotomy of "liberals" and "statists" on Putin's team. Rather, Barbashin and Inozemtsev argue that Putin's team consists of "progressives" who favor modernization, "neutrals" who are essentially technocrats, "conservatives" who oppose modernization, and "bigots," who are vehemently anti-Western.

"If Putin signals his readiness to cooperate and include more progressives in the decision-making process, Russia's liberal opposition would lose its cohesion, and thus the opportunity to unite against Putin in 2018 and beyond. If he neglects to do so, he will face a much greater challenge than low oil prices and Western sanctions combined. Will the divisions among Russia’s elites prove too difficult for Putin to balance?" the authors write.

First Contact

In, political analyst Tatiana Stanovaya looks at the first meeting between U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and the prospects for relations between Moscow and Washington under Trump.

'The Simplification Of Mass Consciousness'

Yelena Mukhametshina has a piece in Vedomosti arguing that a recent conference on public opinion by the independent Levada Center has exposed "the complete simplification of Russian mass consciousness."

The FSB Espionage Cases

In a piece for the Georgetown Security Studies Review, Sam Skove looks at the recent espionage cases against top FSB cybersecurity officials and asks: Did the CIA just lose four agents in Moscow? Or did four innocent Russians get falsely accused of treason?

The Narrative Changes

Bloomberg reports, citing unidentified officials, that the Kremlin has ordered the Russian media to cut back on the fawning Trump coverage.

On Foreign Policy's The Cable blog, Emily Tomkin asks why Russia's media is changing its tune on Trump.

Russian Intelligence Contacts

The Atlantic's Kelly Gilsinan interviews Andrei Soldatov, co-author of the books The New Nobility: The Restoration Of Russia's Security State And The Enduring Legacy of the KGB and The Red Web: The Struggle Between Russia's Digital Dictators And The New Online Revolutionaries, about what it means to have "repeated contacts" with Russian intelligence.

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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