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The Morning Vertical, June 16, 2016


OK, I've still got this soft power thing on the brain. So at the risk of being repetitive, I'm going to offer some more thoughts on Russia's surprise appearance in this year's Soft Power 30 rankings by the London-based consultancy Portland Communications.

As I noted yesterday, the report cited Russia's global media empire, the attraction of its cultural heritage, and its diplomatic efforts in Syria as the key variables increasing Moscow's soft power. I will, of course, grant the cultural heritage point. This is probably Russia's main claim to soft power. But the other two? Let's take them one at a time.

True, RT has become a global media empire broadcasting in multiple languages and gaining viewers worldwide. But RT's programming is designed less to build up Russia's image than to tear down the image of the West. And in that sense, it is a perverse inversion of what soft power is supposed to be.

And the diplomacy in Syria? That came after a military intervention designed to undermine the West's efforts to end the Syrian civil war. It was an exercise in spoiling and geopolitical extortion. These things may advance Russia's interests and increase its influence, but they do not resemble soft power at all. At least as I understand the term.


NATO has announced a Comprehensive Assistance Package for Ukraine.

The United States will give Ukraine $220 million in new aid this year to support Kyiv's economic, political, and energy reform efforts.

Vladimir Putin will meet with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker at the St. Petersburg economic forum on June 16.

Russia's Defense Ministry has announced that a 48-hour cease-fire will start on June 16 in the Syrian city of Aleppo.

In a new report, the World Anti-Doping Agency says hundreds of attempts to carry out drug tests on Russian athletes this year have been thwarted.

St. Petersburg has formally named a bridge after the slain former Chechen leader Akhmat Kadyrov, the father of current Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov.

The State Duma has passed the so-called "Google tax" law requiring IT companies to pay value-added tax on the sale of online content.


Today's Must-Read Piece

If you read nothing else today, be sure to check out Marius Laurinavicius's excellent piece, The Many Faces Of Putinism, in The American Interest. Laurinavicius uses the career of filmmaker Andrei Nekrasov to illustrate that Putinism is not about just one man but rather is a systemic phenomenon.

"The faces of Putinism are legion, and at first glance, one might be tempted to draw sharp distinctions between them when in fact more unites them than divides them," Laurinavicius writes.

"In order to understand whom we are really dealing with when we deal with the Russian regime, we need to learn to recognize and publicly name them. And we must avoid the lulling illusion that we might be able to count on some of them as driving forces for regime change."

Perception And Misperception

Writing on his blog, Maxim Trudolyubov, a senior fellow at the Kennan Institute, looks at how Russia and the West have continuously misinterpreted each other in recent years.

"The irony of the moment is the fact that Moscow is running out of capacity exactly when others have started to respond to Russia’s assertive behavior by spending more on their military," Trudolyubov writes.

"The Russian security community has been reading too much into what the West was doing during the previous decade."

Scare Tactics

In a piece in The National Interest, Andreas Umland, a senior research fellow at the Kyiv-based Institute for Euro-Atlantic Cooperation, argues that Russia is baiting the West by appearing to be scarier than it actually is.

"NATO and its member states are overreacting rhetorically, militarily, and politically to Russia’s new aggressiveness. Without realizing, they are barking up the wrong tree and playing Moscow’s game," Umland writes.

The War Fetish

In a piece on Moscow Carnegie Center's website, political analyst Andrei Kolesnikov takes a granular look at how the Kremlin is using war -- and Russians' perceptions of it -- to legitimize the regime.

"The Kremlin’s permanent war footing has become the primary means for Russian elites to keep themselves in power. And this discourse -- of providing wars that are fair, defensive, victorious, and preventive -- constructs the foundation for a heavily personalized regime," Kolesnikov writes.

War Hooligans

Mikhail Khodorkovsky's portal The Open Wall has a piece titled The Battle Of Marseilles that playfully looks at the fight between Russian and English fans at the European football championship in the context of Russia's fetishization of war.

Here's a teaser: "It was a crushing victory, one for the chronicles. The Russians were heavily outnumbered. Facing them were the massed ranks of the English. On the sidelines sat the French, waiting to see which way the battle would go. But our brave Russians were armed to the teeth, disciplined and well trained, battle-hardened from the civil wars they had fought in St. Petersburg and Moscow, scarred veterans returning from Ukraine and Syria. The battle was joined, and the English soon put to flight, fleeing through the back streets of the old city, cowering under the onslaught of our bare-chested and bloodied warriors."

Syrian Tipping Point?

In a piece in Intersection magazine, Stephen Blank argues that Putin's Syria campaign has reached a critical moment.

Orthodox Schisms

Writing in Georgia Today, Nicholas Waller notes the rifts in the Orthodox Christian world in advance of a scheduled summit on the Greek island of Crete next month.

Espionage Then And Now

NPR has a story looking at how the espionage game between Moscow and Washington has changed -- and stayed the same.

Fighting Bigotry With A Song

And finally, LGBT activists in St. Petersburg have turning the homophobic statements of local lawmaker Vitaly MIlonov, the initiator of Russia's infamous "gay propaganda" law, into a song.

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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