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The Morning Vertical, June 22, 2016


Russian state media will no doubt make a big deal out of Vladimir Putin's visit to China later this week. But in reality, Moscow's pivot to Beijing as an alternative to the West, a move announced amid much fanfare in 2014, has turned out to be much less than advertised.

Last year, the two countries failed to achieve their goal of $100 billion in annual trade -- which actually fell by 27.8 percent in 2015. Russia and China continue to be competitors for influence in Central Asia. And the terms of a $400 billion gas deal between Gazprom and China's CNPC were clearly advantageous to Beijing. Putin's trip is an effort to revive this disappointing partnership and showcase his personal rapport with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Moscow hopes to sell arms to China, attract investment in its energy sector, and is reportedly even considering selling a 19.5 percent stake in Rosneft to Chinese and Indian companies. And speaking at the St. Petersburg Economic Forum last week, Putin announced that he would like to form a new trade bloc including Russia, China, India, Pakistan, Iran, and other former Soviet states.

But this relationship is probably doomed to remain stuck in neutral due to fundamentals: China is a rising power and it knows it and Russia is a declining power in denial.


The Clinton Foundation has reportedly been breached by Russian hackers.

France deported Russian soccer fan leader Aleksandr Shprygin for the second time in less than a week over violence that marred the start of the Euro 2016 tournament.

Moscow has signed an agreement with a Los Angeles company to explore building a futuristic, high-speed transportation system known as a Hyperloop in the Russian capital.

Pole-vault champion Yelena Isinbayeva said she'll lead what could become a wave of Russian athletes appealing the ban on Russian participation in the Rio Olympics.

Today marks the 75th anniversary of Nazi Germany's invasion of the Soviet Union.

The State Duma is scheduled to vote on a controversial "antiterrorism" bill today.

Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov is lobbying to have the republic's largest mosque depicted on the 200-ruble note.

Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has signed a decree making the state-controlled oil giant Rosneft the sole supplier of fuel to Russia's police.


Deutsche Welle Documentary: The Return Of Old Enemies

Or in this case, what I'm watching. A new documentary by Deutsche Welle looks at the origins of the current showdown between Moscow and the West.

Words And Deeds

Mikhail Alexeev, a professor at San Diego State University, has a piece in PONARS Eurasia, The Tale Of Three Legitimacies: The Shifting Tone And Enduring Substance Of Moscow's Ukraine Policy, that looks at Russia's rhetoric and actions in the Ukraine conflict. The conclusion: A softer tone does not mean a softer policy.

"A systematic analysis of official Russian statements and military conflict data over the last two years reveals that Moscow has no plans to accept Ukraine’s sovereignty over the Donbas," Alexeev writes.

"The Kremlin’s enduring Ukraine policy is to stall genuine conflict resolution unless the Donbas is provided political autonomy on Moscow’s terms, essentially turning the region into Russia’s client statelet."

Early Presidential Elections?

Political analyst Nikolai Petrov argues in Nezavisimaya Gazeta that Vladimir Putin is caught in a "legitimacy trap" and may opt to hold early presidential elections to get out of it.

The Plight Of Ukraine's IDPs

On The Atlantic Council's website, Kateryna Moroz takes a look at the painful journeys of Ukraine's internally displaced people.

Hybrid Hooligans -- Or Not?

Writing in Intersection magazine, Steffen Halling, a researcher at the University of Bremen's Center for East European Studies and a fellow at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, takes on the notion that the violence at Euro 2016 in France was orchestrated by the Kremlin.

"In calling the Marseille events an operation orchestrated by Putin we commit a grave error in reasoning about Russia: We grossly overestimate Russian regime efficiency and governance capacity. In the end, we help portray Putin as an omnipotent leader, and quite paradoxically, contribute to perpetuate his public image of a farsighted strongman," Halling writes.

"But analysts should actually deconstruct this very myth. Even more so as the thesis that the Kremlin planned and organized the Marseille events does not fit the overall picture on how sports is usually politically instrumentalized in Russia."

What Brexit Means For Russia

The European Leadership Network has three pieces looking at what the Brexit referendum means for Russia.

ELN research fellow Joseph Dobbs argues that while a Brexit serves Putin's geopolitical interests, it does not serve Russia's economic interests.

Andrei Sushentsov of the Moscow State Institute of International Relations looks at the adverse effects a British exit from the European Union would have on the Russian economy.

And Moscow State University professor Pavel Kanevskiy argues that, despite appearances, Brexit is not in Russia's geopolitical interests.

Why Is Putin Going To China?

Newsweek has a piece looking at what Vladimir Putin hopes to accomplish during his visit to China this week.

War Mobilization?

Writing in openDemocracy, New York University professor Mark Galeotti argues that Russia is not, in fact, mobilizing for all-out war.

"Putin appears to have internalized a Manichean, zero-sum sense of his relationship with the West, and this drives so much other policy, from countersanctions to political repression. Many in the West likewise embrace -- with near-relief -- a return to the comfortingly simplistic dualism of the us-and-them mind-set of the Cold War," Galeotti writes.

Cold War Redux

The U.S. Senate's Intelligence Committee is considering imposing Cold War-era restrictions on Russian diplomats.

Shekhovtsov On Dugin

Anton Shekhovtsov, a leading scholar and critic of the Russian far right, reviews two books by Aleksandr Dugin: Eurasian Mission and The Fourth Political Theory.

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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