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The Morning Vertical, February 8, 2017


So the Kremlin just showed its hand. Vladimir Putin is afraid to face Aleksei Navalny in an election.

Today's guilty verdict in Navalny's retrial in the KirovLes embezzlement case, means he won't be allowed to seek the presidency.

Prosecutors are asking for a five-year suspended sentence (although as I write this, the judge has yet to pronounce a sentence and it is still possible he could be imprisoned).

There was plenty of speculation in the Russian media (some of it featured below) suggesting that powerful voices in the Putin regime wanted to allow Navalny to run in the March 2018 presidential election.

Such a move, reminiscent of a decision to allow him to run for mayor of Moscow in 2013, would have boosted turnout and given the election a greater air of legitimacy.

And with his considerable administrative resources, Putin would almost certainly prevail, just as Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin did four years ago.

But Navalny's innovative 2013 campaign, when he nearly forced a runoff, appears to have spooked the authorities.

Putin just showed us that he is afraid of Navalny.

But, as I argued in my latest Power Vertical blog post (featured below), he is not a problem that is going away anytime soon.


A court in the provincial Russian city of Kirov has found opposition political activist and anticorruption campaigner Aleksei Navalny guilty in an embezzlement case, making the opposition figure ineligible to run for public office.

U.S. Senator John McCain has voiced concern for the life of Kremlin critic Vladimir Kara-Murza, Jr., who fell critically ill last week in Moscow for the second time in two years.

A separatist commander in the eastern Ukrainian region of Donetsk has been assassinated, Russia-backed separatists say. Mikhail Tolstykh, better known by his nom de guerre Givi, died after a bomb exploded in his office in the separatist stronghold of Donetsk.

Russia is increasingly cracking down on Internet users as courts impose harsh jail sentences for posts expressing political views, a rights advocacy group has warned.

Vladimir Putin has ratified a deal to build the Turkish Stream natural gas pipeline to southern Europe, state media reported.

Putin has put the Russian Air Force on high alert for a snap inspection, the latest in a series of drills amid tensions with the West.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov says he views U.S. President Donald Trump's opinion about the conflict in Ukraine as "a qualitative change" compared to that of Barack Obama.

A group of U.S. senators are set to introduce legislation that would prevent President Donald Trump from lifting sanctions on Russia without Congressional approval.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has urged Russian President Vladimir Putin to use his influence on separatists in eastern Ukraine to stop the violence there, a German government spokesman says.

Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite says the deployment of NATO forces in the Baltic country is sending a "very clear" message that the military alliance stands "strong and united."

Moldova's pro-Russia President Igor Dodon has warned NATO against moving too quickly to seek closer ties with Moldova and opening a planned liaison office in Chisinau.

The European Court of Human Rights has ordered Russia to pay a group of Russian activists 183,000 euros ($197,300) in compensation for limiting their right to hold public gatherings.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed a law that decriminalizes some forms of domestic violence.

Russia's deputy prime minister in charge of sport has admitted that many Russian coaches have been responsible for track-and-field athletes using performance-enhancing drugs.

Russian blogger Aleksandr Lapshin was extradited from Belarus to Azerbaijan over objections from Moscow that he be sent to Russia.

Russian civil-rights activist Mark Galperin has been detained in Moscow.


How do you solve a problem with Navalny? The Kremlin has no idea. In case you missed it, the latest Power Vertical blog looks at Putin's Navalny Dilemma -- something that despite today's verdict is not going away.


The Navalny File

Today's guilty verdict in Aleksei Navalny's retrial on embezzlement charges in the KirovLes case appears to prevent the opposition leader from running for president next year. Although one never knows, as the Navalny saga has gone through so many dizzying twists over the years. has a piece offering Navalny advice on how he could win an election, should he ever be allowed to run in one again.

In a piece in Moskovsky Komsomolets, Mikhail Zubov argues that there is a faction in the Kremlin that wants Navalny to run for president in 2018.

And in Foreign Policy, Oliver Carroll profiles Navalny as "Russia's last opposition hero."

Moscow Vs. Cyprus Reunification

Andrew Higgins has a piece in The New York Times on Russia's efforts to derail Cyprus reunification talks.

Strategic Suicide In Syria

Hal Brands and Colin Kahl argue in a piece in Foreign Policy that, for Trump, aligning with Russia in Syria would be "strategic suicide."

Russia's French Election Fail

In The Daily Beast, Christopher Dickey argues that Putin's election-interference strategy is failing in France.

Is Putin A Killer?

In his column for Bloomberg, political commentator Leonid Bershidsky asks: "How fair is it to call Putin a killer?"

"To call Putin a killer, though, is to reduce Russia's problems to the size of Putin's compact body. The system he has built will likely still be there long after he is gone, and it will keep killing, even if Russia's next leader makes an attempt at liberalization," Bershidsky writes.

The Russian Art Of War

Michael Cecire, a fellow at the New America’s International Security Program, has a piece in Foreign Affairs on "The Russian Art Of War."

Merkel Goes To Warsaw

Foreign Policy's Emily Tamkin previews German Chancellor Angela Merkel's upcoming trip to Warsaw.

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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