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The Morning Vertical, February 7, 2018


Did the Russian liberals of the 1990s lay the groundwork for Putinism?

Did a belief that democracy means keeping us democrats in power set the stage for Vladimir Putin's authoritarian rule?

In an insightful piece featured below, Igor Yakovenko makes the case that they did, primarily by drafting a constitution that vested so much formal power in the presidency.

"The legal foundation of the present Putin empire was laid by people who were completely sincerely convinced that they were laying the foundations of a democratic state," he writes.

At the time, of course, Russian liberals supported a strong super-presidency because they believed the office was occupied by one of their own and because the legislature and many of the regions were dominated by retrograde forces.

It was Russian liberals -- and many of their Western backers -- who cheered the October 1993 shelling of a hard-liner-dominated parliament as a victory for Russian democracy.

Yakovenko's piece raises compelling and disturbing questions going forward.

If the Putin regime eventually falls, will this cycle repeat itself? Would a liberal leader in the Kremlin (as unlikely as that seems at the moment) again feel the need to centralize power and again lay the groundwork for yet another authoritarian regime?


The city council of Washington, D.C., has renamed the street where Russia's embassy is located to honor the memory of slain Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov in a move that Moscow has complained about.

The Court of Arbitration for Sport says that it will not hear an appeal of at least six Russian athletes who were banned from the 2018 Winter Olympics until after the competition in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

Ksenia Sobchak, the Russian TV celebrity, socialite, and daughter of President Vladimir Putin's political mentor, brought her long-shot campaign for the presidency to Washington, saying that her political ambitions were genuine and long-term.

The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that Russia violated the rights of Vladimir Akimenkov, a man who was jailed in connection with a protest on the eve of Vladimir Putin's last inauguration.

A Russian court has canceled an order imposing psychiatric treatment on Mikhail Kosenko, an activist who participated in a protest on the eve of Putin's 2012 inauguration.

The body of the Russian Air Force pilot who died last week after his plane was shot down over rebel-held territory in Syria has been returned to Russia.

The Russian Defense Ministry has criticized an independent news website for publishing the average salaries of members of the military after a Russian pilot's plane was shot down over Syria.

An activist in Russia's Tatarstan region who spent three years in prison for criticizing the Russian occupation of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula says he has fled Russia.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has said that Russia has the right to decide where it deploys its military resources on its own territory, following reports that Russia had deployed nuclear-capable Iskander missiles in its Baltic Sea exclave of Kaliningrad.


The Roots Of Putinism

Writing on his blog, political commentator Igor Yakovenko argues that 1990s liberals inadvertently laid the groundwork for Putin's authoritarian regime.

All Politics Is Local

In a commentary for Novaya Gazeta, Yuliya Galyamina writes that local referendums could become a powerful tool to challenge the Kremlin's power.

The Roots Of Anti-Western Conspiracy Theories

In a thought-provoking piece for, Vladimir Ruvinsky uses the concept of the Overton Window to explain the proliferation of anti-Western conspiracy theories in Russia.

Siloviki Shuffle has a piece looking at speculation in the Russian media that a major overhaul of the security services is likely after the presidential election.

Ukraine's Far Right

In The Daily Beast, Anna Nemtsova looks at the National Squad, a far right militia that is making waves in Ukraine.

Russia's Military Buildup

In an op-ed for The Moscow Times, Michael Kofman, a senior research scientist with the Center for Naval Analyses, looks at Russia's prospects for maintaining its military buildup.

Countering Russian Cyber Operations

Rachel Ansley has a piece summarizing an Atlantic Council conference this week on "Russian Cyber Operations in Ukraine and Beyond."

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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