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The Morning Vertical, July 26, 2016


If, as the circumstantial and forensic evidence available seems to suggest, Russia was indeed behind the hacking of the Democratic National Committee's e-mail servers, it should come as no surprise.

In recent years, state-backed Russian hackers have attacked targets including a French television station, a German steelmaker, the Polish stock exchange, Estonian banks and government offices, the U.S. House of Representatives, the State Department, and the White House. Why not the DNC too?

And if, as many suspect, the hack was part of an effort to intervene in a U.S. election, it would be very disturbing (and this would be true regardless of which party or candidate they were attempting to help or harm).

But what this would not be -- despite suggestions to the contrary -- is unprecedented.

Russia has been using various tools of intervene in Western countries for some time. It uses media stealthily backed by the Kremlin to poison public discourse in various European countries. It gave moral support to the Brexit campaign in the United Kingdom. If has provided loans to Marine Le Pen's National Front in France and backed extremists across the continent. It has manufactured scandals, like the infamous Lisa case in Germany, to turn the public opinion against governments the Kremlin finds inconvenient.

As Max Fischer notes in a piece in The New York Times featured below, this is all part of Russia's hybrid war on the West. And as Miriam Elder argues in a piece in BuzzFeed (also featured below), it means that the Kremlin is taking the black PR tactics it has long used to smear opposition figures into the international arena.

It's not unprecedented. It's been happening for years. And we shouldn't be surprised.


U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry says he hopes to announce in early August details of a U.S. plan for closer military cooperation and intelligence sharing with Russia on Syria.

Kerry also said that he raised the issue of the hacking of Democratic Party e-mails in a July 26 meeting with Lavrov.

Lavrov, meanwhile, brushed aside allegations that Russia was involved in hacking the Democratic National Committee's emails.

A United Nations council overturned a move by Russia, China, Pakistan, Azerbaijan, and other countries to block accreditation for media freedom watchdog, the Committee to Protect Journalists.

The FSB has conducted a search on the office of the head of Russia's Federal Customs Service.

Three Russian rowers and seven swimmers have been banned from next month's Summer Olympics in Rio for doping.

The Telegraph is reporting that the Russian Olympic team in Rio could be reduced to just 40 athletes.

Patriarch Kirill is scheduled to lead prayers for the Russian Olympic team today.


Unpacking The Hacking

There is no dearth of material out there looking at the allegations that Russia was behind the hacking of the Democratic National Committee's e-mail server.

Motherboard has a highly technical -- but extremely informative and very disturbing -- piece arguing that "all signs point to Russia being behind the DNC hack."

And Bloomberg reports that other cyberexperts agree.

Writing in The Atlantic, Patrick Tucker, technology editor of Defense One, evaluates the evidence pointing at Russia.

In The Washington Post, Andrew Roth looks at five more hacks Western officials have linked to Russia.

Writing in Politico, Nahal Toosi looks at how suspicions that Russia hacked the DNC are harming U.S. efforts to work with Russia in Syria.

In BuzzFeed, Miriam Elder puts the DNC hack in the context of traditional Russian black PR.

In The New York Times, Max Fischer puts it in the context of hybrid warfare.

In The Guardian, Trevor Timm claims it is still premature to blame Russia for the DNC hack.

And Meduza takes a look at how the Russian state media covered the allegations.

Theft And Incompetence

Writing in bne Intellinews, Mark Galeotti, a senior research fellow at the Institute of International Relations in Prague and a visiting fellow with the European Council on Foreign Relations, argues that Russia’s new rules dictate "steal a bit less, do your job a bit better."

"There is emerging a gradual awareness that the Kremlin, if not changing the social contract with the elites, is at least 'editing' it," Galeotti writes.

"Put at its most basic, the new line is that you can be corrupt (within certain bounds) and you can be incompetent (but not so much so as to embarrass the Kremlin). However, the acceptable levels of corruption and incompetence have been gently and quietly reduced. More to the point, it is impermissible to be both."

Gangsters In The Spotlight

And, in a commentary for the European Council on Foreign Relations, Galeotti says security concerns are putting Russian organized crime back on the agenda.

"Russia is engaged in a geopolitical struggle with the West but lacks the economic and soft power of its adversary. As such, it must take advantage of covert and unconventional tactics to make up this deficit. From this perspective, criminal networks are an obvious asset," Galeotti writes.

Ukraine At 25

Writing in the World Affairs Journal, Alexander Motyl, a professor at Rutgers University-Newark, looks at a quarter century of Ukrainian independence.

"Ukraine’s biggest achievement since independence in 1991 is to have confounded its critics, ill-wishers, and the Kremlin by surviving as a democratic state," Motyl writes.

Why Novorossiya Failed

Andre Hartel, a professor at Kyiv Mohyla University, has a new report out for the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung (KAS) titled: Where Putin’s Russia Ends
'Novorossiya' and the Development of National Consciousness in Ukraine.

"In early 2014 the existence of an independent Ukraine hung by a thread. Russia had annexed the Crimean Peninsula, and with the 'Russian Spring' a 'hybrid' war in eastern Ukraine was initiated. At this moment the watchwords of 'Novorossiya' and Moscow’s 'reconquering' of South-Eastern Ukraine gained popularity," Hartel writes.

"Ultimately, the failure of the idea of a 'Novorossiya' is attributable mainly to developments within Ukraine that involved a renegotiation not only of ethno-national allegiances, but also of national and political loyalties since 1991."

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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