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The Morning Vertical, June 17, 2017


The foundations of Vladimir Putin's authoritarian regime were established by what appeared at the time to be a triumph of democracy. This week marks the 20th anniversary of Russia's first post-Soviet presidential election, the first round of which took place on June 16, 1996. When Boris Yeltsin ultimately defeated Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov in the July 3 runoff, many Russians and much of the world breathed a sigh of relief. But rather than a victory for Russian democracy, that election established the precedent for many of the hallmarks of the Putin regime: the marriage of money and power, oligarchic rule, and a media that (during the election campaign) slavishly followed the Kremlin line. As a result, when Yeltsin handed Putin the keys to the Kremlin in 1999, he had the tools to establish an autocratic state.


The International Association of Athletics Federations is scheduled to rule today on whether to uphold its suspension of Russian track-and-field athletes from international competitions. Upholding the suspension would effectively ban Russia's track-and-field athletes from the 2016 Summer Olympics.

Vladimir Putin has signed a decree setting September 18 as the date for State Duma elections.

Putin is also scheduled to address the outgoing State Duma on June 22.

Four Russian security officers have been killed during a special operations in Daghestan.

The United States has accused Russia of carrying out air strikes in southern Syria against rebels, including forces backed by the United States, that are battling the Islamic State group.

Police in Cologne, Germany, say they have detained six Russian soccer fans for allegedly beating up three Spanish tourists outside Cologne's landmark cathedral on June 16.

Ukrainian lawmakers have approved an appeal to the worldwide head of the Orthodox Church asking him to recognize the Ukrainian Orthodox Church's independence from Moscow.


Today's Must-Read: A Russian 'Illegal' In Spain

Politico has a fascinating piece, The Spanish Story Of A Russian Illegal, about a Moscow spy who worked for two decades under cover in Europe by building a fake biography.

"As relations between Moscow and the West have gone from guarded cooperation to hostile defiance under Russian President Vladimir Putin, a former KGB head, the scope of intelligence activities, and the number of Russian spies operating in Europe, has 'roughly doubled,' according to the former head of a major European power’s intelligence service, who added that in such matters, estimates are by definition difficult,'" the author, Pierre Briancon, writes.

A Call To Intensify Sanctions

Former Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt has written a piece for Project Syndicate, Don't Appease Putin, that argues for sanctions to be intensified.

"Those who are calling for a softer approach to Russia need to remove their blinders and recognize the scale of the Kremlin's efforts to bring about the EU’s disintegration," Verhofstadt writes.

NATO's Cyber-Vulnerabilities

The New York Times' David Sanger has a piece reported out of NATO's cyberdefense center in Tallinn, Estonia, that claims the alliance is struggling to find a strategy to counter Russia's state-sponsored hackers.

"While there are frequent conferences and papers, there are no serious military plans, apart from locking down the alliance’s own networks. Russia, China, and Iran have increasingly sophisticated offensive cyberforces; NATO has none, and no established mechanism to draw on United States Cyber Command or its British equivalent," Sanger writes.

"That stands in sharp contrast to NATO’s strategy for dealing with more familiar threats."

Why Putin Needs American Commerce

Bloomberg has a story arguing that Russia's has become increasingly reliant on trade with the United States.

"President Vladimir Putin loves to reel off statistics, but here’s one he may not trumpet at his annual investment forum in St. Petersburg this week: Russia’s reliance on American commerce has never been greater," the authors, Jake Rudnitsky and Ilya Arkhipov, write.

Pork-barrel Politics, Russian Style

Intersection magazine has a piece (in Russian and English) by Perm-based political analyst Pavel Luzin looking at the competition among Russia's regions for resources in advance of September's State Duma elections.

"The main source of suspense over the next two years will be the way regions fight for access to the resources in the hands of the Kremlin and the way the Kremlin manages this access in order to maintain the existing power system," Luzin writes.

"The goal of regional elites is to maintain their well-being and to increase their chances of political survival. The methods used to achieve this goal are aggravation of intra-elite competition, and reliance on their clientele. The Kremlin's goal is to maintain the existing system of distribution of power and of economic resources. The methods for attaining this goal are trading subsidies for loyalty. The paradox is that, when it comes to bargaining, both parties are increasingly tempted to increase citizens’ tax revenues and thereby face the risk of clashing with them."

The United Russia Platform

Vedomosti has a piece looking at the platform of the ruling United Russia party.

More on the Orthodox Schisms has a piece looking at this week's summit of Orthodox Christian churches and deepening splits in the Orthodox world.

The Economist, meanwhile, has a piece examining efforts in Ukraine to establish a unified Orthodox Church that is independent from the Moscow Patriarchate.

The Soviet Origins of the RuNet

The latest SRB Podcast, hosted by Sean Guillory of the University of Pittsburgh's Center for Russian and Eastern European Studies, takes a look at "the stillbirth of the Soviet Internet." Sean's guest is Ben Peters, a professor at the University of Tulsa and author of the book How Not To Network A Nation: The Uneasy History Of The Soviet Internet.

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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