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The Morning Vertical, June 2, 2016


It is impossible to read the pieces featured below by William Courtney and Donald Jensen, Anton Barbashin, Maxim Trudolyubov, and Ilya Klishin, and not come to an inescapable conclusion: Vladimir Putin's Russia is repeating the mistake of Leonid Brezhnev's Soviet Union.

The Kremlin is again failing to understand that great power status and a strong, dynamic, and resilient economy are inseparable.

Foreign adventures, intimidating your neighbors, and playing spoiler to the West may provide a quick patriotic rush and catch your opponents flat-footed. But in the long run, the high is unsustainable.

Sooner or later, the illusion fades, the bubble bursts, and the reality of a third-rate economy dependent on commodities sets in -- usually too late.

Putin's glib dismissal of former Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin's advice to dial down the conflict with the West and get on with reforming the economy was revealing. Putin said he would not "bargain with Russia's sovereignty."

He just doesn't get it. And probably never will.


In my latest post on The Power Vertical blog, Putin's Little Hackers, I look at this week's arrest of a group of cybercriminals and ask: Was it a victory for law-enforcement? Or a recruitment exercise?


Russia has detained 50 hackers suspected of stealing $45 million.

The mayor of Vladivostok, who was detained as part of a corruption investigation, has reportedly been flown to Moscow.

Mikhail Prokhorov has suspended negotiations to sell RBK.

Four Crimean Tatars suspected of terrorism have pleaded not guilty at their trial in the Russian city of Rostov-on-Don.

Three alleged members of the banned Islamic organization Hizb ut-Tahrir have been detained in the Chelyabinsk region in Russia's Ural Mountains.

The Kremlin says it is still waiting for Turkey to apologize for shooting down a Russian warplane near the Syrian border last year and to pay compensation for the incident.


Friends, Allies, And Enemies

The Levada Center has a new poll out on Russians' attitudes toward the outside world. Belarus, Kazakhstan, China, and India top the friends list. The United States, Ukraine, Turkey, and Poland are the leading enemies.

A Crisis Of Scholarship

Vladislav Inozemtsev has a piece in titled: Nonsense and Lies: How Russian Scholars Are Losing Touch With Reality.

"From all sides, Russians are being bombarded not so much with disinformation as with pseudoscientific fabrications which then become the basis for public policy," Inozemtsev writes.

The Promise That Wasn't

Stephen Blank of the American Foreign Policy Council has a piece on The Atlantic Council's website arguing that the West needs to once and for all expose Russia's false NATO narrative.

"A staple of Russian, pro-Russian, and so-called realist narratives is that NATO not only reneged on its promises to not enlarge after German reunification, it also rebuffed all Russian efforts to integrate with the organization. To paraphrase Ernest Hemingway, it is pretty to think so -- but that is not the truth," Blank writes.

"The integrity of the historical record is under attack, and defending it will help strengthen the foundations of European security. The false narrative peddled by Moscow and its supporters is not only factually wrong, it is morally and strategically corrosive. It is high time we defend that record and expose this deceitful narrative for the fraud it is."

Blank was, in part, reacting to a piece in the Los Angeles Times by Joshua R. Itzkowitz Shifrinson, an international security fellow at Dartmouth College, that argued "Russia's Got A point: The U.S. Broke A NATO Promise."

NATO's Test

In a piece in The New York Times, Steven Erlanger reports that NATO is struggling to"find a country to lead the last of four military units to be deployed in Poland and the three Baltic nations."

"Despite the growing threats, many European countries still resist strong measures to strengthen NATO," Erlanger writes. "Many remain reluctant to increase military spending, despite past pledges. Some, like Italy, are cutting back. France is reverting to its traditional skepticism toward the alliance, which it sees as an instrument of American policy and an infringement on its sovereignty."

The Great Power Complex

Former U.S. State Department officials William Courtney and Donald Jensen have a piece in U.S. News and World Report titled Russia's Great Power Choice arguing that Russia's actions in Ukraine are undermining its efforts to become a world power.

Likewise, Anton Barbashin's piece in Intersection magazine, Russia's Expensive Great Power Dreams, evaluates the Council of Foreign and Defense Policy's recent policy paper.

"For Russian foreign policy strategists, the economy is neither so important, nor comprehensible," Barbashin writes.

And on his blog for the Kennan Institute, Maxim Trudolyubov, editor-at-large for Vedomosti, has a post titled Everybody Wants To Be Great Again, which places Russia's great power ambitions in a global context.

"Everybody wants to be great again these days (perhaps for the admirable exception of Canada)," Trudolyubov writes.

"But few are ready to come up with openly irredentist claims on neighboring countries' territories and few announce their utter dissatisfaction with global and regional security arrangements, as Russia does. Few think that addressing economic problems is for losers, as the Kremlin appears to think. Russia has learned that using force pays."

What Is Putinomics?

Mikhail Khodorkovsky's Open Wall portal has a post up by Ilya Klishin that looks at the peculiar phenomenon of "Putinomics."

"Putinomics is the name given to a new type of economic theory -- where nothing adds up," Klishin writes.

The Pessimism Paradox

In a piece in BNEIntellinews, New York University professor Mark Galeotti examines "Russia's Pessimism Paradox."

"Objectively, Russia’s current economic problems are nothing like the crisis of 2008. But politically, what matters are not the facts but the feelings, and subjectively Russians are feeling distinctly pessimistic," Galeotti writes.

What's Going On At MK?

Moskovsky Komsomolets hardly has a reputation for voicing dissent. But it has sure been getting surly this week.

Just days after Moskovsky Komsomolets editor in chief Pavel Gusev published a column slamming the Kremlin's favorite television propagandist Dmitry Kiselyov, the newspaper ran a piece by political analyst Aleksandr Minkin taking on Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov.

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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