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The Morning Vertical, January 18, 2017


In a speech at the Atlantic Council, Samantha Power, the outgoing U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, made an impassioned defense of the liberal international order and a offered a scathing critique of Russia's efforts to undermine it.

The post-Cold War international order is a subject that is on a lot of people's minds these days. The West is trying to defend it as just and as a source of stability. Russia is trying to destroy it and criticizing it as a source of Western hegemony and imperialism. And everybody thinks it is on its last legs.

But what are we really talking about here? For me, the rules-based liberal international order can be boiled down to a very simple principle: Small countries have the same rights as great powers. The sovereignty of Estonia or of Georgia is no less sacrosanct than that of Russia, Germany, or the United States.

Russia's view, of course, is different. Moscow believes that small states must be subservient to big states. According to this vision, the sovereignty of Georgia, Ukraine, and the Baltic states is conditional and limited.

As Michael Kofman points out in a piece featured below, Russia has very skilfully pecked away at the liberal world order, which was already under strain. "Nineteenth-century geopolitics is back, and it's angry," he writes.

And what this means is that life is about to get pretty rough for small countries, especially if they are unfortunate enough to border Russia.


Russian President Vladimir Putin has accused U.S. President Barack Obama's administration of trying to undermine President-elect Donald Trump's legitimacy by spreading what Putin said were false allegations.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov says any claims that Moscow is staging cyberattacks to interfere in European elections are "dreamed up."

The outgoing U.S. ambassador to the United Nations has accused Russia of engaging in aggressive and destabilizing actions that she says are threatening the rules-based international order.

The retrial of Aleksei Navalny, a prominent Russian anticorruption campaigner and foe of President Vladimir Putin, resumed today after a break for the New Year and Christmas holidays.

Russia says it has extended the residency permit of Edward Snowden, the former U.S. intelligence contractor who disclosed archives of top-secret surveillance files.

Lithuania says it will start construction on a 129-kilometer fence on its border with Kaliningrad, the Russian exclave bordering the NATO-member nation.

Estonia and Lithuania have signed bilateral defense agreements with the United States to formalize the presence of U.S. troops in their countries, their defense ministries said.

Moldovan President Igor Dodon has told Russia that a landmark agreement bolstering ties between Moldova and the European Union was concluded "hastily" and suggested he wants to abandon it.

The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that a Russian law barring Americans from adopting Russian children led to human rights violations.

China is willing to play a constructive role in seeking a political resolution to the crisis in Ukraine, Chinese President Xi Jinping told his Ukrainian counterpart, Petro Poroshenko, on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos.

Two Russian football fans who were arrested in France for creating disturbances during the Euro 2016 games arrived in Moscow today after being deported.


Today's Must-Read: Michael Kofman On Russian Strategy

Is Russia good at strategy or just tactics? Is it waging a hybrid war or a nonlinear war? This discussion has been raging for three years now.

In the War On The Rocks blog, Michael Kofman, a research scientist at CNA Corporation and a fellow at the Wilson Center’s Kennan Institute, cuts through the rhetoric and the clutter and provides a comprehensive overview of Russian strategy and U.S. responses that is an absolute must read.

"Russia’s leadership is pursuing an emergent strategy common to business practice and the preferred path of startups, but not appreciated in the field of security studies. The hallmarks of this approach are fail fast, fail cheap, and adjust. It is principally Darwinian, prizing adaptation over a structured strategy," Kofman writes.

"This strategy is lean and iterative. It’s about feeling the terrain beneath your feet to figure out the next best step toward your goal. Politically and economically Russia is often a laggard compared to Western Europe, but it is a worthy competitor in international politics with an intuition for seizing advantages. Moscow can fail and try again comfortably within a single U.S. decision-making cycle. The god of Western military thought, Clausewitz, would remind us here that it is 'better to act quickly and err than to hesitate until the time of action is past.'"

The Spies Who Love Putin

In a piece in The Atlantic, The Spies Who Love Putin, Mark Galeotti of the Institute for International Relation in Prague looks at 'how the FSB's loyalty to Russia's president made it the country's most powerful intelligence agency."

When Donald Meets Vladimir

And on the European Council on Foreign Relations website, the ever-prolific Galeotti imagines the first Trump-Putin summit.

A Parting Shot From Samantha Power

Samantha Power, the outgoing United States ambassador to the United Nations, gave a scathing speech criticizing Russia and its efforts to undermine the liberal international order at the Atlantic Council.

You can watch the full video here. And Time Magazine has a full transcript here.

History Lessons

In The Globe and Mail, former Swedish Prime Minister Carl Bildt argues that "to tame Russia" you must "look to its imperial past."

Decoding Lavrov

In, political analyst Tatiana Stanovaya parses and decodes Sergei Lavrov's press conference.

Ukrainian Jitters

In his column for Bloomberg, political commentator Leonid Bershidsky looks at Ukraine's survival strategies for the Trump era.

"For Ukraine, January 20 is a scarier date than perhaps for any other country: It may be about to lose the U.S. support that has allowed it to stay afloat in the face of Russian hostility and economic disaster," Bershidsky writes.

"The Ukrainian elite is divided between two competing strategies in response. One is all but unmentionable in public: concessions to Russia and a return to the previous policy of trying to build ties both with Russia and with the West. The other favors looking for ways to approach the new U.S. administration or at least keeping the support of traditional Republicans in the Congress and Senate."

2017 Trends

Mark Leonard and Jeremy Shapiro have a piece for the European Council on Foreign Relations on 10 foreign policy trends to watch for in 2017.

Crime And Punishment

Polina Potapova has a piece in on how two inmates serving life sentences are trying to change Russia's prison system.

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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