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The Morning Vertical, February 23, 2017

  • Brian Whitmore

ON MY MIND

After propping up the regime of Bashar al-Assad and prolonging Syria's civil war, after destroying Aleppo with airstrikes that caused massive civilian casualties, after violating ceasefire after ceasefire, Russia is now asking world powers to pony up billions of dollars for Syria's reconstruction.

As the Financial Times reports in a piece featured below, European and Gulf states are balking at the idea, saying any aid must be tied to a political transition. In other words, Assad must go.

We're entering the phase where Russia's big push into the Middle East gets tricky for Moscow.

They've upended Western policy in Syria and against the odds they've kept their client regime in power.

Now comes the hard part.

You break it, you own it.

The Kremlin's attempt to get others to pay for a mess it created or exacerbated is, of course, par for the course.

For years, Moscow has been unsuccessfully trying to pass off the costs of its war in the Donbas on to Ukraine.

IN THE NEWS

Russia is open to dialogue with the United States on creating safe zones in Syria, but believes that any such plan needs to be coordinated with the Syrian government, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov says.

Russia has asked Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime to halt bombings during peace talks this week in Geneva, UN envoy Staffan de Mistura has said, adding that a peace breakthrough seems unlikely.

The Financial Times reports that Russia is pressing world powers to provide billions of dollars in reconstruction aid to Syria.

A plane carrying the body of Russian UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin has arrived in Moscow from New York.

Residents of the Russian region of Ingushetia are commemorating the victims of the Soviet Union's 1944 deportation of Ingush and Chechens from the North Caucasus.

Lawmakers in Russia's North Caucasus region of Ingushetia have approved in the first reading of a bill that bans honoring the legacy of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin.

The first secretary of the Russian Embassy in Bishkek, who was involved in a fatal traffic crash in in the Kyrgyz capital, has left Kyrgyzstan for Russia.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said he was satisfied he has established a dialogue with U.S. President Donald Trump's administration despite concerns in Kyiv that Trump might sacrifice ties with Ukraine in favor of a closer relationship with Russia.

Two U.S. lawmakers say the time has come for the United States to supply Ukraine with lethal weapons to better defend itself against Moscow-backed separatists, saying that a "confrontational" Russian President Vladimir Putin shows no sign of easing the pressure on Kyiv.

Susan Collins, a Republican member of the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee, said she's open to using a subpoena to investigate Trump's tax returns for possible connections to Russia.

Konstantin Kilimnik, an elusive Ukrainian associate of Paul Manafort, says he briefed the former chairman of Trump's campaign on Ukraine during last year's presidential race.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed into law a measure that imposes fines on Internet providers that refuse to restrict access to online information banned by the authorities.

Putin will visit Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan on February 27-28, a presidential aide has said.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu has expressed satisfaction with Moscow's military campaign in Syria and says it has been a good test of new weapons and special-forces units.

Shoigu also says a replica of the German Reichstag will be built at a military-theme park outside Moscow so that young cadets can emulate their Red Army forebears who seized the iconic building in the 1945 Soviet offensive on Nazi Berlin.

LATEST POWER VERTICAL BLOG

In my latest Power Vertical blog post, I look at the Russian Foreign Ministry's much-maligned website debunking "fake news" about Russia in the Western media. While it is easy to make fun of what looks like a lame effort, that misses the point of what the Kremlin is trying to do -- and succeeding.

WHAT I'M READING

The Siloviki Of 1917

As Russia prepares to mark the centennial of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, and its short-lived liberal predecessor, the February Revolution, there is no shortage of material in the media.

In Republic.ru, historian Boris Kolonitsky, a professor at the European University in St. Petersburg, looks at the role of the army and security services in the 1917 revolution. His conclusion: If a revolution is gaining momentum, it's a bad bet to rely on your siloviki to stop it.

Mainstreaming The Extremists

Anton Shekhovtsov, author of the forthcoming book Russia And The Western Far Right, has a piece in Raam Op Rusland on how Putin's Russia has helped Europe's fringe parties become mainstream.

The Troubled Union State

Sergei Kozlovsky has a piece in Global Voices unpacking how the Russian-Belarusian relationship went sour.

Faking Fake News

The Russian Foreign Ministry has unveiled a new "fake news" debunking page and it has gotten a lot of attention from Western media, with Newsweek and The New York Times weighing in on it.

Meanwhile, Emily Tomkin at Foreign Policy notes that "the phrase 'fake news' has now lost so much of its meaning that the term, to use the Russian Foreign Ministry’s parlance, no longer corresponds to reality." (As I wrote on The Power Vertical blog, that is exactly the point.)

And at Mashable, Gianluca Mezzofiore notes the snarky reactions to the site on social media.

Onward Information Soldiers

Mark Galeotti, a senior research fellow at the Institute of International Relations in Prague, has a piece up on his blog looking at the Russian military's new "information warfare" troops.

Developments In Nemtsov Case

Various Russian media have reports on developments in the investigation into Boris Nemtsov's February 2015 assassination. Kommersant reports that a cellphone has been found in the apartment of one of the alleged perpetrators that provides information about the purported mastermind.

Both Kommersant and Moskovsky Komsomolets are also reporting that police have found a weapon allegedly belonging to Ruslan Geremeyev, the former deputy commander of the Sever Battalion in Chechnya, whom Nemtsov's associates believe was behind the assassination.

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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