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The Morning Vertical, January 9, 2017

  • Brian Whitmore

ON MY MIND

So here we are again. The last four U.S. presidents came into office with the intention of improving or maintaining good relations with Russia. Two of them, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, were largely successful.

But the last two, not so much. And it is no coincidence that those two -- George W. Bush and Barack Obama -- were the ones who had to deal with Vladimir Putin.

This, of course, says a lot more about Putin than about his counterparts in the White House.

For Putin, relations with the United States are a zero-sum game. And what Putin wants from any reset, any detente, or any rapprochement is something Washington cannot give: an end to a rules-based world order, the dissolution of NATO, and a free hand for Moscow in the former Soviet Union.

As William Burns writes in a piece featured below, "The reality is that our relationship with Russia will remain competitive, and often adversarial, for the foreseeable future."

At first glance we appear to be in uncharted waters with Donald Trump about to enter the White House. But the geopolitical fundamentals of the U.S.-Russian relationship remain the same.

IN THE NEWS

U.S. President Barack Obama says he has "underestimated" the impact misinformation and hacking can have on democracies, after intelligence agencies concluded that Russia's president ordered a hacking campaign that aimed to influence the U.S. presidential election.

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump accepts the U.S. intelligence community's conclusion that Russia tried to interfere in the U.S. presidential election, his incoming chief of staff says.

Trump again vowed to improve relations with Moscow, one day after the release of a U.S. intelligence report that found that Russia's president personally ordered a cyber-campaign to benefit Trump's election bid.

France blocked 24,000 cyberattacks targeting its military last year, the country’s defense minister says.

A Russian political activist serving a 2 1/2-year sentence for participating in illegal demonstrations has been located after not being heard from for more than one month.

Russian state-controlled gas giant Gazprom said it was pumping record volumes to Europe amid unusually cold temperatures.

PROGRAMMING NOTES

The Daily Vertical resumes its regular schedule today. The Power Vertical Podcast returns this Friday, January 13. The Power Vertical Briefing returns next Monday, January 16.

WHAT I'M READING

The Reset Illusion

Former U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns, president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, has an op-ed in The New York Times on How We Fool Ourselves On Russia.

"The reality is that our relationship with Russia will remain competitive, and often adversarial, for the foreseeable future. At its core is a fundamental disconnect in outlook and about each other’s role in the world," Burns writes.

"It is tempting to think that personal rapport can bridge this disconnect and that the art of the deal can unlock a grand bargain. That is a foolish starting point for sensible policy. It would be especially foolish to think that Russia’s deeply troubling interference in our election can or should be played down, however inconvenient."

The Trump-Russia Connection

In The American Interest, James Henry, author of the book The Blood Bankers, takes a granular look at Donald Trump's Russian business connections.

Former U.S. State Department official Steven Pifer, meanwhile, has a commentary on the Brookings Institution's website on what to expect in Trump's relations with Moscow.

Michael McFaul, the former U.S. ambassador to Russia, has a piece in Foreign Policy on How Trump Can Play Nice With Russia, Without Selling Out America.

In the Los Angeles Times, political commentator David Horsey asks: "Will John McCain protect America from Trump's strange affinity for Putin?"

And David Remnick has an essay in The New Yorker on Trump, Russia, and "the big hack."

The Old New KGB Playbook

In The Daily Beast, Michael Weiss looks at the old Soviet KGB playbook for recruiting Americans, and why it is relevant today.

Putin And The Populists

In The Atlantic, Ronald Brownstein looks at the roots of Russia's political appeal in Europe and the United States.

Hacking, Intel, And Media

In The Moscow Times, Kevin Rothrock takes a critical look at the declassified U.S. intelligence report on Russian meddling in the U.S. election.

Max Fischer has a piece in The New York Times on how Russian hacking shapes media coverage.

The Atlantic, meanwhile, has a useful explainer on Russian hacking and the U.S. intelligence report.

And Moscow-based political commentator Vladimir Frolov gives his take on the declassified U.S. intelligence report -- and what remained classified, and why.

Target: Europe

Andrew Rettman has a piece in The EUObserver on what Moscow has in store for elections in Europe this year.

NATO, The EU, And Populism

The NATO Review has a piece asking whether the populist wave in the West will "wash away NATO and the European Union?"

Moscow Eyes The Balkans

Julia Petrovskaya in Intersection Magazine: Do the Russians want a hybrid war in the Balkans?

Is Putin A War Criminal?

Alexander Motyl of Rutgers University-Newark makes that case in Politico.

How Lithuania Is Bracing For Conflict

Robert Beckhusen in War Is Boring on how Lithuanians are learning to block tanks with trees.

After Putin

In his column for Republic.ru, opposition journalist Oleg Kashin speculates about what Russia can expect when Putin finally leaves the scene.

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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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