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The Morning Vertical, January 25, 2017

  • Brian Whitmore

ON MY MIND

Russia should be careful what it wishes for. In a piece featured below, the Brookings Institution's Robert Kagan argues that the rules-based liberal international order "may be coming to an end." And while the Kremlin believes this is cause for celebration, it is likely mistaken.

If history is any guide, multipolar world orders in which great powers preside over spheres of influence tend to be unstable and tend to lead to major wars.

And as Mark Galeotti pointed out in last week's Power Vertical Podcast, Russia has benefited from the tottering post-Cold War order. It has been able to play the spoiler, breaking the rules that other major powers were following. It has gained asymmetrical advantage by being unpredictable in a world where everybody else was predictable.

But how would Russia fare in a world where nobody was following rules? With a GDP lower than that of Texas, an economy dependent on hydrocarbon exports, and a demographic crisis, probably not very well. In such a world, Russia's asymmetrical advantages would evaporate and its weakness would be exposed.

A world without rules and based on spheres of influence would be bad for the West and a tragedy for Russia's neighbors. But it would also be very dangerous for Russia.

IN THE NEWS

Legislation that would decriminalize some forms of domestic violence has advanced easily in the Russian parliament despite vehement criticism from human rights and family protection groups.

The Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled that the Belarusian men's canoe and kayak team was wrongly banned from the Rio de Janeiro Olympics on doping charges.

Russia, Iran, and Turkey said they would establish their own process for observing and enforcing the fragile cease-fire in Syria. But as two days of peace talks ended in Kazakhstan, rebel groups said they had major reservations about the plan -- mainly Iran's participation.

Japan scrambled fighter jets to intercept three Russian military aircraft that were approaching the country's borders on January 24, Tokyo's Defense Ministry said.

The U.S. Senate's No. 2 Democrat has backed calls for an independent investigation into allegations that Russian hackers interfered in the U.S. presidential election last year. Dick Durbin was the latest in a growing number of lawmakers pushing for a broader inquiry into intelligence conclusions that Russia sought to manipulate the vote and help Republican Donald Trump win the presidency.

WHAT I'M READING

The End Of The World Order As We Know It

Robert Kagan, author of the book The World America Made, has a piece on The Brookings Institution's website on The Twilight Of The Liberal World Order.

Kagan writes that if China and Russia "were to accomplish their aims of establishing hegemony in their desired spheres of influence, the world would return to the condition it was in at the end of the 19th century, with competing great powers clashing over inevitably intersecting and overlapping spheres of interest. These were the unsettled, disordered conditions that produced the fertile ground for the two destructive world wars of the first half of the 20th century."

Ilves Speaks

The Stanford Political Journal has an interview with former Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves on the future of NATO, European defense, cybersecurity, and the rise of populism.

What Happens Next In Syria?

Joseph Bahout has a piece on The Carnegie Middle East Center's website on where Syria appears to be headed post-Astana.

"Any kind of framework that comes out of Astana may gradually replace the Geneva framework that had previously been in place, and that sought a transitional arrangement for Assad’s replacement," Bahout writes.

"Geneva had numerous stakeholders, but Astana may better reflect what the Russians regard as a more realistic outcome in Syria: The replacement of any notions of a unified, democratic Syria with the consolidation of existing statelets and zones of influence through local truces and reconciliations. These would later be legalized through a permanent decentralization scheme. In this future Syrian state, a weakened Assad may remain in the picture for a long time, though very likely supported by new institutions, including a military council that would include regime generals and former rebels. This would be accompanied by a largely cosmetic national-unity government that could introduce minimal reforms on matters not vital for regime survival and oversee vital reconstruction plans for the country."

Secret Sale Of The Century

Reuters has a reconstruction of Russia's sell-off of shares in the state-controlled oil giant Rosneft.

"More than a month after Russia announced one of its biggest privatizations since the 1990s, selling a 19.5 percent stake in its giant oil company Rosneft, it still isn't possible to determine from public records the full identities of those who bought it," the report says.

Lukashenka In The Crosshairs?

Ryhor Astapenia, editor in chief of the Belarusian internet magazine Idea, has a piece in Belarus Digest asking: Will The Kremlin Topple Lukashenka?

The Current Dangers

Veteran Kremlin-watcher Edward Lucas, author of The New Cold War, talks to Monologue For Two, about Trump, Putin, and the Baltics.

Putin And Trump

In his column for Bloomberg, political commentator Leonid Bershidsky parses the parallels between Putin and Trump.

Here We Go Again

The Telegraph has a report by Justin Huggler and Roland Oliphant taking a closer look at how Russia is targeting the upcoming Dutch, French, and German elections with fake news dumps.

And The Guardian's Daniel Boffey and Jennifer Rankin weigh in with a report on how the European Union is stepping up its efforts to counter Kremlin-backed disinformation.

SRB Podcast

The latest SRB Podcast, hosted by Sean Guillory of the University of Pittsburgh's Center for Russian and Eastern European Studies, looks at Josef Stalin's purge of the Red Army. Sean's guest is Peter Whitewood, a lecturer at York St. John University and author of the book The Red Army And The Great Terror: Stalin’s Purge Of The Soviet Military.

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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