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The Morning Vertical, January 19, 2017

  • Brian Whitmore

ON MY MIND

In a piece featured below, Olga Oliker of the Center for Strategic and International Studies raises an interesting and relevant question: Will Russia continue to play the role of international spoiler after Donald Trump becomes the U.S. president tomorrow?

On one hand, it is hard to imagine Moscow abandoning this strategy when it appears to be yielding dividends.

But on the other, continuing it risks upsetting a possible new reset and turning Trump into an adversary -- one much less predictable than his predecessor.

Likewise, another thing to watch -- especially as Russia enters a new political season culminating with the March 2018 presidential election -- is what effect the Trump presidency will have on domestic politics?

Anti-Americanism has been a staple in Russia's political discourse and such a source of legitimacy for Vladimir Putin's regime for so long that abandoning it will leave a gaping hole that will need to be filled with something.

IN THE NEWS

In her Senate confirmation hearing, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, President-elect Donald Trump's pick for United Nations ambassador, sharply criticized Russia saying Moscow cannot be trusted. She added that Washington will nonetheless need the Kremlin's cooperation on counterterrorism efforts and other challenges.

U.S. President Barack Obama said sanctions imposed on Russia for annexing Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula should not be linked to discussions on reducing nuclear arsenals, saying instead that the sanctions should remain in place until Moscow reverses course on Ukraine.

In his final major speech in office, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden said that Russia poses the biggest threat to the "liberal international order" and warned that "further" Russian attempts to meddle in Western elections should be expected.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko is expressing confidence that Donald Trump will support Ukraine in its struggle against Russian aggression despite his desire to mend ties with Moscow.

Russia says it has conducted its first joint air strikes with Turkey against Islamic State targets in Syria, operations signaling the improving ties between the two nations that back opposing sides in the Syria conflict.

A Russian computer programmer who was accused of conducting illegal missionary work after giving a lecture on yoga has been cleared of the charges by a court in St. Petersburg.

Russian authorities have launched a fresh investigation targeting a former teacher in the country's western region of Oryol who was convicted of inciting ethnic hatred and sacked from his job for writing a pro-Ukraine poem.

A Russian nongovernmental election monitoring organization called the Golos movement has received the 2017 international Democracy Defender Award from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

Ukrainian lawmaker Nadia Savchenko has caused controversy by suggesting that Kyiv must accept Moscow's grip on Crimea for the time being if it wants to regain control over eastern territory held by Russia-backed separatists.

WHAT I'M READING

Today's Must Read: Molly McKew On Why Russia Is Winning

In a piece in Politico, Molly McKew, a former adviser to the Georgian and Moldovan governments, dissects Moscow's strategy of undermining the United States and the American response, arguing that "Russia is already winning."

"What's happening isn't about hacking, or cybersecurity, or fake news. It isn’t about BuzzFeed, or everyone’s new favorite buzzword, kompromat. In the most important sense, it isn’t really even about Donald Trump. The leaders in the Kremlin don’t care about any individual American winning or losing. They care about America as a nation losing," McKew writes.

"On the fields of this new hybrid war, few want to accept that Russia is already winning. The Kremlin’s campaign of disruption has succeeded in deepening divides in our society, tarnishing a considerable cross-section of our leadership, eroding faith in our institutions and propelling Russia to the center of our political life.

"It has helped turn us against each other and our allies, and made us distrust the very tools and institutions that can give us clarity on the threats we face. Russia has won a series of small but cascading victories against us, the cumulative effect of which is absolutely crushing."

Decoding Putin

In The Atlantic, Julia Ioffe decodes Putin's recent press conference and claims the Kremlin leader is trying "to claim the role of senior partner in [the] relationship with the U.S."

Power's Speech

In Vox, Zack Beauchamp evaluates the recent speech by Samantha Power, the outgoing U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, in which she diagnosed the threat from Russia.

Let's Make A Deal

In Republic.ru, Moscow-based foreign affairs analyst Vladimir Frolov explains why Trump's suggestion that sanctions be eased in exchange for a lifting of sanctions is both welcome and unwelcome in the Kremlin.

The Spoiler's New Game

Olga Oliker of the Center for Strategic and International Studies has an insightful piece asking: Will Russia continue to play the role of spoiler?

The Pros And Cons Of Putin's Populism

Alexander Baunov has a longish piece on the Moscow Carnegie Center website looking at the Putin regime's alternative use and abandonment of populism.

Foreign Policy Improv

Mark Galeotti of the Institute for International Relations in Prague has a piece in BNEIntellinews on Russia's ad hoc foreign policy.

The Money Trail

It appears the FBI and other U.S. law-enforcement agencies are also investigating a potential Russia-Trump money trail.

On Their Own?

Alexandra Hall Hall, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council and former U.K. Ambassador to Georgia, argues that "it is time for all countries affected by Russia's hostile activities to be more proactive in defending their interests --without relying on US leadership".

Trouble In Russia's Military

Moskovsky Komsomolets has a report on how Russian soldiers who served in hot spots in the 1990s are now being asked to return their supplemental combat pay. Paul Goble, who flagged the story, has a good write-up about the issue on his blog, Window On Eurasia.

Fake News In Ancient Rome

Izabella Kaminska of The Financial Times has an interesting piece on a "lesson in fake news from the info-wars of ancient Rome." The piece looks at how "Octavian’s strong but fabricated narrative helped him defeat Mark Antony"

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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