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The Morning Vertical, February 9, 2017


If the Kremlin were truly confident, they would have either acquitted Aleksei Navalny outright or sent him to prison.

An acquittal would have demonstrated that Vladimir Putin is not afraid of facing Navalny in next year's presidential election. Imprisoning Navalny would have indicated that the Kremlin was not afraid of turning him into a martyr, and not afraid of the unsanctioned and spontaneous street protests that erupted back in July 2013 when it appeared he was headed for prison.

By convicting Navalny and giving him a suspended sentence, the Kremlin is splitting the difference -- no prison and, it appears for the time being, no chance to run in the election.

In a piece featured below, Oleg Kashin argues that by giving Navalny a suspended sentence, the Kremlin is keeping its options open. This is true. But it also indicates that the Putin regime doesn't like its options with Navalny. It suggests the Kremlin views the situation as lose-lose. It suggests the regime is not as confident as it seems.


A group of U.S. senators has introduced legislation that would hamstring any effort by President Donald Trump's administration to lift sanctions imposed on Russia for its actions in Ukraine.

Kremlin critic Vladimir Kara-Murza, Jr., who has been hospitalized in critical condition for the second time in two years in what his family and friends suspect was a deliberate poisoning, has awoken from a coma and improved noticeably, his lawyer and wife told RFE/RL.

Russia has lost the right to host the International Biathlon Union World Championships in 2021, the sport's governing body has announced, citing the World Anti-Doping Agency's reports documenting widespread doping and cover-ups in Russia.

Amnesty International says a new law that decriminalizes some forms of domestic violence in Russia poses a greater risk to women.

Opposition leader Aleksei Navalny has called his reconviction for embezzlement a telegram from the Kremlin that it fears him.

A date has been set for the high-profile trial of journalist Mykola Semena in the Russian-controlled Ukrainian region of Crimea.

Ukrainian officials say Belarusian journalist Pavel Sheremet was killed because of his professional activities in a contract assassination.

Oleksiy Honcharenko, a Ukrainian lawmaker, has defaced a remnant of the Berlin Wall on the grounds of the German Embassy in Kyiv in protest over Germany's position in peace negotiations, drawing a rebuke from Berlin.

Unknown individuals have vandalized an arts exhibition in Kyiv devoted to the situation in Ukraine since protests ousted former President Viktor Yanukovych three years ago.

Moldovan Prime Minister Pavel Filip has urged the Foreign Ministry to accelerate the opening of a NATO liaison office in Chisinau after President Igor Dodon had earlier called on alliance officials not to rush in establishing the office.

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev has thanked his Belarusian counterpart, Alyaksandr Lukashenka, for the extradition of a Russian blogger wanted in Azerbaijan.


Navalny Reactions And Follow-Ups

Aleksei Navalny's reconviction and suspended sentence in the KirovLes case appears, at first glance, to mean he can't run for president next year. But Navalny insists he is going to run and is challenging both the verdict and any effort to bar him in court.

The issue generated a lot of commentary in the Russian media.

In his column for, opposition journalist Oleg Kashin argues that by handing Navalny a suspended sentence, the Kremlin has left itself room to maneuver on whether or not to allow the opposition leader to run in next year's election.

In Vedomosti, lawyer Yelena Lukyanova parses the fine points of the law and looks at Navalny's legal options.

Meduza has published an explainer on what the verdict means for Navalny's political future.

And the BBC's Russian service reviews the reactions in the Russian media.

Estonian Intel Report

The Estonian Information Board, the country's foreign intelligence service, has released its new report on security threats.

Welcome To The New Bipolarity

Leonid Ragozin has an op-ed in The Moscow Times on the new bipolar world pitting liberalism against illiberalism.

Pipeline Surrender?

In a piece in Foreign Policy, Robbie Gramer asks, Is Europe surrendering to Russia on pipeline politics?

Carl Bildt On Sanctions

In The Washington Post, former Swedish Prime Minister Carl Bildt urges Europe not to cave on Russia sanctions.

Can Kaliningrad Turn Into Crimea?

In a piece for The Jamestown Foundation, veteran Kremlin-watcher and former State Department official Paul Goble asks if Kaliningrad will become Russia's version of Crimea.

Disinformation Review

In a piece on The Atlantic Council's website, Jakub Janda and Ilyas Sharibzhanov of the Prague-based European Values think tank look at "six outrageous lies Russian disinformation peddled about Europe in 2016."

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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