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The Morning Vertical, July 22, 2016


What to make of this week's raid by the FSB on the Moscow branch of the Investigative Committee, which resulted in the arrests of three top law-enforcement officials? Is it the manifestation of a struggle between Russia's security services? A struggle within them? Is it an assault on Investigative Committee head Aleksandr Bastrykin? And given the fact that the case is connected to the mafia kingpin Zakharia Kalashov, what does it say about the changing relationship between the Russian state and organized crime?

On this week's Power Vertical Podcast, I'll try to unpack all this with co-host Mark Galeotti, an expert on Russia's security services, and Karina Orlova, a journalist with Ekho Moskvy. It will be up online later in the day, so be sure to tune in.


A Texas executive who acted as an agent for the Russian government and illegally exported cutting-edge military technology to Russia has been sentenced to 10 years in prison.

According to a report in Vedomosti, the Chinese share of the Russian smartphone market has doubled over the last year.

A delegation from Turkey is scheduled to visit Moscow on July 26-27.

Moscow authorities have denied permission for a demonstration against Russia's "antiterrorism" law.


Doping Denial

In his column for Bloomberg, political commentator Leonid Bershidsky explains "why Putin won't tell the truth about doping."

"Russian President Vladimir Putin is changing his tune about the doping scandal that has engulfed Russian Olympic and Paralympic athletes. As proof mounts that the use of performance-enhancing drugs is a state-sponsored system in Russia, Putin appears less and less willing to cooperate with international sports organizations and increasingly inclined to complain about political conspiracies against his country," Bershidsky writes.

A Partnership Renewed

Writing in Foreign Affairs, Jeffrey Mankoff, deputy director of the Russia and Eurasia Program at CSIS, looks at the rapprochement between Moscow and Ankara.

"In the years to come, Russia's growing clout in Turkey’s backyard will continue to limit the opportunities for genuine partnership between Ankara and Moscow," Mankoff writes.

"And although the failed coup attempt against Erdogan has created the opportunity for increased Russian-Turkish cooperation in the short term by straining Ankara’s relations with the United States and Europe, it has also made Turkey weaker and therefore more vulnerable to Russian coercion. These developments will further limit the long-term prospects for anything but a highly unequal partnership between the two countries."

More On The FSB Vs. The Investigative Committee

Writing in The American Interest, Karina Orlova, a correspondent for Ekho Moskvy (who will appear on this week's Power Vertical Podcast), unpacks the FSB raid on the Investigative Committee and provides useful context.

Arms And Influence

Nikolai Kozhanov of Chatham House has a commentary out about how Russia is using arms exports to gain influence in the Middle East.

"Moscow has long been the world’s second-largest arms exporter after the U.S., with average annual income in 2012-15 reaching $14.5 billion. But over the past decade, it has particularly increased its arms exports to the Middle East, part of a broader Russian strategy of reestablishing Moscow as a key player in the region," Kozhanov writes.

Paper Tiger

Writing in The National Interest, Kremlin-watcher and security expert Mark Galeotti, a senior research fellow at the Czech Institute of International Relations in Prague, makes the argument that "Russia is only a threat if we let it be one."

"Russia is a declining power, a part-reformed, part-stagnant fragment of a shattered and spent empire," Galeotti writes.

"Vladimir Putin, though, has perfected a foreign policy built on equal parts chutzpah, gamesmanship, and bluff. His aim, after all, is not to rebuild a Soviet Union 2.0, nor to spread any ideological message abroad. It is, rather, to force or persuade the outside world to conform to his will, to allow him to claim a sphere of influence and exempt Russia from those influences of the global order he finds constraining, from international law to human rights."

Russia And Europe

Maxim Trudolyubov, a senior fellow at the Kennan Institute, explains on The Russia Files blog how Russia is often a mirror image of Europe.

"In weakness or strength, Western Europe and Russia have, in fact, always mirrored each other," Trudolyubov writes.

"The last time antidemocratic forces were rising throughout Europe (during the late 1920s and 1930s), Russia was turning into a full-fledged totalitarian dictatorship. Communism and Fascism, the terrible regimes that defined 20th century, were mirror images of one another. When Europe was building a common market and learned to prioritize human rights irrespective of national borders, the Soviet regime, a distant reflection, was gradually, in its own way, becoming more benign and respectful of the rights of the individual. The values of common market and human rights seem to be on the retreat now, and both Europe and Russia are entering a cycle that, some fear, might be a repetition of the 1930s. Let’s just hope that both sides of the mirror have learned something from the past."

Sheramet As Visionary

Writing in Vedomosti, where he serves as editor at large, Trudolyubov explains why the experiences of slain journalist Pavel Sheremet in Belarus under Alyaksandr Lukashenka made him uniquely qualified to understand what was happening in Russia under Putin and to appreciate the potential of Ukraine.

"Sheramet ruthlessly felt the insane political dynamics of our part of the world," Trudolyubov wrote. "He looked at all three of these societies with no illusions, but always with hope."

New Podcast: Ukraine Calling

There's a new podcast on the market that's worth checking out. Ukraine Calling is a weekly roundup of news and views on Hromadske Radio hosted by Marta Dyczok, a professor at the University of Western Ontario (and, full disclosure, a longtime friend of mine). It comes out every Friday, so be sure to tune in.

Unpacking Russia's "Antiterror" Laws

The most recent installment of the SRB Podcast, hosted by Sean Guillory of the University of Pittsburgh's Center for Russian and Eastern European Studies, looks at Russia's controversial new legislation. Sean's guest is Gleb Bogush, an associate professor in the Law Faculty at Moscow State University.

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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