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The Morning Vertical, July 29, 2016


July has been the deadliest month in the conflict in Ukraine's Donbas region in nearly a year. But what is driving the escalation? Is it a sign that Moscow is intent on reigniting a full-scale conflict? Or are the Kremlin's proxies in eastern Ukraine going rogue? To what extent do the agendas of the Kremlin and the armed separatist forces it conjured, nurtured, and assisted converge at this point? This week's Power Vertical Podcast will explore these issues. Joining me will be co-host 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, and Christopher Miller, RFE/RL's Ukraine correspondent who is on the front lines in the Donbas. Be sure to tune in later today!


In a massive reshuffle, Vladimir Putin has replaced four governors, four federal district chiefs, the disgraced head of the Federal Customs Service, and the ambassador to Ukraine.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov called the shakeup an "ordinary rotation."

Peskov also said appointing a large number of security-service veterans to key posts was Putin's "personal decision."

U.S. tech giant Google has come under fire in Russia for using Ukraine's "decommunized" names of streets in parts of Crimea, which Moscow annexed illegally from Ukraine in 2014. Google Maps has adopted new names for some 900 places in Crimea in line with a "decommunization" law Kyiv passed last year.

Some Russian media, meanwhile, are reporting that Google has agreed to restore the old Soviet-era names.

Russian media is reporting that the Moscow offices of PriceWaterhouseCoopers have been searched by police.

China and Russia will hold naval exercises in the South China Sea in September, China's Defense Ministry announced.

A depleted Russian team has departed for the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro without more than 100 athletes who have been banned in connection with the country's scandal over the use of performance-enhancing drugs.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) says that it has not yet decided to resume a bailout of Ukraine, which was halted over corruption concerns last year.


The Putin Shuffle

With all the moving parts, the minutiae of yesterday's massive reshuffle of regional and federal elites can make your head spin. Fortunately, some Russian media have weighed in with useful pieces unpacking Vladimir Putin's day of the long knives. has an explainer, complete with useful infographics, that unpacks exactly what happened, who were the winners, and who were the losers.

Kommersant argues that the reshuffle is seeking a new management model for government.

RBK has a piece, that also includes infographics, claiming that Putin is seeking to eliminate troublesome regional conflicts and promote mid-level functionaries.

And writing in, political analyst Tatiana Stanovaya argues the reshuffle is part of a partial purge of the elite as Putin dumps some longtime allies.

That Cold War Trick

Writing in The National Interest, Olya Oliker argues that Russian foreign policy aims to make Russia the main focus of U.S. attention.

"The Russians are messing with the United States," Oliker writes.

"Russia’s actions are meant to center U.S. policy on itself, to recreate a bipolar global structure reminiscent of that during the Cold War. Such a relationship, however, runs counter to U.S. interests, which are much broader than Russia."

Putin's Global Reality Show

Bloomberg's Henry Meyer has a piece on how global turmoil is playing into Putin's hands.

"If Vladimir Putin were scripting ways to weaken NATO, he couldn’t do much better than what’s happening right now," Meyer writes.

Suddenly, with little effort, the KGB veteran is reaping a surprise windfall from the internal politics of two pillars of Europe’s collective defense structure.

The Pros And Cons Of Crony Capitalism

Writing in Foreign Affairs. George Washington University professor David Szakony explains how the system of crony capitalism Vladimir Putin created keeps him in power.

"The real threat to Putin's hold on power does not arise from societal discontent, whether it's from Moscow's and St. Petersburg's so-called creative class or the lower class, which has been further impoverished by the economic downturn. Instead, the current Russian government survives because it has successfully placated the elites who have become fabulously rich and powerful thanks to Putin’s crony capitalism," Szakony writes.

"This transfer of wealth into the hands of such a small group of elites has created a system of mutual dependence with Putin: he orchestrated their rise but cannot rule the country or sustain economic growth without their backing."

You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet

Bruce Schneier, a lecturer at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and author of the book Data And Goliath: The Hidden Battles To Collect Your Data And Control Your World, has a disturbing op-ed in The Washington Post claiming that by November, Russia could be hacking U.S. voting machines.

"Russia was behind the hacks into the Democratic National Committee’s computer network that led to the release of thousands of internal emails just before the party’s convention began, U.S. intelligence agencies have reportedly concluded," Schneier writes.

"The FBI is investigating. WikiLeaks promises there is more data to come. The political nature of this cyberattack means that Democrats and Republicans are trying to spin this as much as possible. Even so, we have to accept that someone is attacking our nation's computer systems in an apparent attempt to influence a presidential election. This kind of cyberattack targets the very core of our democratic process. And it points to the possibility of an even worse problem in November -- that our election systems and our voting machines could be vulnerable to a similar attack."

Podcast: Ukraine Calling

And be sure to tune into Hromadske Radio's excellent new podcast, Ukraine Calling, hosted by Marta Dyczok, a professor at the University of Western Ontario. The last episode looked at the killing of journalist Pavel Sheramet. A new podcast is due to be posted later today.

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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