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The Morning Vertical, February 6, 2017


Paying attention to whom Russia's propaganda machine chooses to attack can be very revealing.

And over the weekend, Sputnik suggested that Emmanuel Macron, the independent French presidential candidate, "could be a U.S. agent" lobbying for banking interests.

Why would the Kremlin's disinformation machine target Macron? Well, until very recently the upcoming French presidential election was going swimmingly for Russia. It appeared to be heading for a runoff between the openly pro-Moscow National Front leader, Marine Le Pen, and conservative candidate Francois Fillon, who has argued that sanctions against Russia should be lifted.

But suddenly Fillon is embroiled in a financial scandal. And suddenly, Macron -- who is not as Moscow-friendly as Fillon or Le Pen -- is drawing big crowds and is surging in the polls. Suddenly the runoff looks like it could very well be Le Pen vs. Macron instead of Le Pen vs. Fillon. Suddenly is isn't win-win for the Kremlin anymore. So we should expect the anti-Macron propaganda to keep on coming.


A senior Kazakh lawmaker has sharply criticized a Russian legislator who reportedly called for the return of what he said were "Russian territories temporarily taken by Kazakhstan."

Kazakhstan's Foreign Ministry says Russia, Turkey, and Iran have begun meeting to discuss mechanisms to monitor the ceasefire they brokered in Syria.

The White House says President Donald Trump has discussed the conflict in eastern Ukraine during a call with NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg and agreed to attend a meeting of alliance leaders later this year.

Trump has shrugged off a description of Russian President Vladimir Putin as a "killer," saying the United States had "a lot of killers" as well.

Fighting has appeared to subside in the Ukrainian town of Avdiyivka after a weeklong surge, as Trump told Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko the United States will work to end the deadly conflict near the Russian border in eastern Ukraine.

Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine say one of their top commanders was killed when his car exploded early on February 4.

Norway's security services say hackers suspected of having ties to Russia have targeted several of the country's institutions. the BBC World Service reports.


In case you missed it, the latest Power Vertical Podcast, Beyond Hybrid Warfare, looked at the nuts and bolts of Russian military strategy with analysts Michael Kofman and Johan Norberg.


And on this week's Power Vertical Briefing, I look ahead to the verdict in Aleksei Navalny's retrial on embezzlement charges. Joining me is RFE/RL's News Editor Steve Gutterman.


Putin's New Model Empire

In a piece of YaleGlobal Online, Agnia Grigas, senior fellow at the Atlantic Council and author of the books Beyond Crimea: The New Russian Empire and The New Geopolitics Of Natural Gas, argues that Russia is building an "empire by other means."

"The concept of reimperialization should not be solely understood in the narrowest sense of the term. An empire does not simply result from acquisition of territories. Rather, reimperialization should be understood as a process allowing a dominant country to have indirect control over the sovereignty of other states," Grigas writes.

Toward A New Containment

In a piece in Foreign Affairs, Leon Aron, director of Russian studies at the American Enterprise Institute and author of the book Roads To The Temple: Truth, Memory, Ideas, And Ideals In The Making Of The Russian Revolution, 1987-1991, argues for a new policy of containment.

"There is a way to make Putin change course. It is to gradually reverse the regime's sustaining political dynamic by turning its foreign policy, which today is by far the most powerful source of the Kremlin’s successes, legitimacy, and popular support, into a wellspring of doubt, embarrassment, and, finally, humiliation and remorse," Aron writes.

Revisiting Putin, Obama, And The Red Line

Aron Lund of The Century Foundation looks back at the 2013 "red line" episode and how Putin undermined U.S. policy in Syria.

Reset Interrupted

Alexander Motyl, a professor at Rutgers University-Newark, has a piece in Foreign Affairs on why U.S.-Russian cooperation won't last.

Putin's Intelligence Crisis

In an essay in The New York Review Of Books, Amy Knight, author of the book Orders From Above: The Putin Regime And Political Murder, looks at the recent espionage cases against FSB cybersecurity officials and argues that they point to an "intelligence crisis."

RosBalt, meanwhile, explains how Russian investigators identified members of the hacking group Shaltai-Boltai in its recent espionage investigation.

Political Education

According to a report in by Anastasia Yakoreva, Soviet-style ideological educational institutes are making a comeback.

Governors In The Crosshairs

The Russian business daily Vedomosti explains why a bunch of governors are about to get fired.

Lukashenka The Clever Gamer

Opposition journalist Oleg Kashin has a column in on how Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukasnenka has become adept at outsmarting Putin.

Propaganda Then And Now

Mikhail Iossel has a brief piece in The New Yorker on the Soviet disinformation that nobody believed, but was nevertheless corrosive.

Decoupling Moscow And Tehran

The Wall Street Journal reports that the United States is trying to drive a wedge between Russia and Iran

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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