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The Morning Vertical, January 31, 2018


One of the most striking things about Russia's current election campaign is that most of the speculation, analysis, and punditry is focused on what will happen after Putin's inevitable re-coronation.

In a must-read piece featured below, Tatiana Stanovaya looks at the personnel changes that are in the works after the election and what they portend for the system.

In a piece featured in The Morning Vertical earlier this week, Ilya Rozhdestvensky looked at leaks suggesting that a major reorganization of the security services is back on the table, as is the long-discussed idea to establish a Ministry of State Security that would effectively revive the old Soviet-era KGB.

And in another piece featured this week, Oleg Kashin looked at how street protests have become an inexorable part of the Putin system and will likely be well into the future.

The system is clearly in flux and March 18 is increasingly appearing to be a watershed event -- even though the result of the so-called election is a foregone conclusion.

As Stanovaya and other have noted, Putin will need to make a big choice during his next term in the Kremlin: repeal the constitutional limit on more than two consecutive terms, leave the presidency but assure his continued rule by some as-yet-to-be-defined constitutional reform, or truly leave power and anoint a trusted successor.

Each of these options has risks, and the next six years will be a protracted negotiation between Putin and the elite about what shape the system will take.

And this negotiation will take place at a time when a critical mass of the society -- a critical mass that Aleksei Navalny has skillfully tapped into -- is becoming increasingly restive.

Russia's real election will take place in the backrooms and on the streets -- and it will happen after March 18.


U.S. senators have criticized President Donald Trump for not imposing new sanctions on Russia after his administration released a list of 210 officials and billionaires from the country's ruling elite, exposing them to scrutiny and potential future punitive measures.

Trump has been overheard telling a Republican lawmaker that he was "100 percent" in favor of publicly releasing a classified intelligence memo on the investigation into Russia's alleged meddling in the 2016 U.S. elections.

Police in Moscow have arrested two prominent associates of opposition politician Aleksei Navalny on charges of urging people to participate in an illegal public demonstration.

The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that Russia violated the rights of three men who were jailed in connection with a protest on the eve of President Vladimir Putin's inauguration to his current term.

Vladimir Putin has called the whistle-blower who has provided evidence of what investigators say was an elaborate state-sponsored doping program a "jerk" who should not be trusted.

A conference in Russia aimed at helping resolve Syria's seven-year civil war concluded on January 30 with a final statement that endorsed the country's territorial integrity and called for self-determination through "democratic" elections.

CIA Director Mike Pompeo has said Russia will target U.S. midterm elections in November as part of the Kremlin's efforts to influence domestic politics across the West.

Ukraine says one of its soldiers has been killed and two wounded in clashes that took place in the country's east.

Hungary is seeking the introduction of more exemptions to the European Union's arms embargo on Belarus, according to several sources familiar with the matter.


Reactions To The Kremlin List

In his column for Bloomberg, political commentator Leonid Bershidsky argues that the U.S. Treasury Department's list of the most influential Russian officials suggests that the White House is not serious about sanctions.

In her column for, political analyst Tatiana Stanovaya suggests that despite the criticisms of the list, it could still have a profound effect on the Russian elite.

Washington Post columnist Christian Caryl argues that the list "offers a graphic reminder that the Putin regime is founded on systemic corruption."

Anders Aslund of The Atlantic Council claims that the list that was ultimately released was not the original and ignored the advice of experts.

In an op-ed for The Moscow Times, Alina Ryzhonkova, a researcher at Control Risks, argues that the list provides little clarity for businesses in Russia.

The Guardian and Reuters each have pieces looking at reactions to the list among U.S. officials.

Cadre Rotations

In a piece for the Carnegie Russia website, Tatiana Stanovaya looks at personnel change in the Russian political system in advance of the March 18 presidential election.

Putin's Speeches

In advance of Putin's state-of-the-nation speech next week, opposition journalist Oleg Kashin looks at how the ritual of Putin's big public addresses is changing.

Monuments, Monuments, Everywhere

Novaya Gazeta has a piece looking at the proliferation of monuments being erected in Moscow.

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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