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The Morning Vertical, June 23, 2016


Vladimir Putin this week set September 18 as the date for Russia's parliamentary elections and addressed the outgoing State Duma. And thus begins a new political season. The outcome of this autumn's vote is not in doubt. The Kremlin is pretty skilled at using administrative methods to get the result it wants. But that doesn't mean the election isn't important.

Even more so than presidential elections, State Duma elections have proven to be watershed moments in Vladimir Putin's Russia. The 1999 election marked the end of the Boris Yeltsin era and the true start of the Age of Putin. The 2003 elections marked the turn to a more tightly controlled system of "managed democracy." The 2007 elections were a transition to the brief era of the tandem. And the 2011 votes pointed to the breakdown of the old Putin system and led to the establishment of the current one.

If this pattern holds, this year's elections -- which are being played out amid a deep economic crisis and a costly conflict with the West -- should prove to be a watershed, as well.

I'll be discussing the upcoming political season and what it portends on this week's Power Vertical Podcast with guests Sean Guillory of the University of Pittsburgh's Center for Russian and Eastern European Studies and Maxim Trudolyubov, a senior fellow at the Kennan Institute. Be sure to tune in on June 24.


Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev will lead the electoral list of the ruling United Russia party in elections to the State Duma in September.

The State Duma has removed provisions to strip the citizenship of Russians convicted of terrorism from a controversial antiterrorism bill.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland is scheduled to meet senior Kremlin aide Vladislav Surkov in Moscow today.

The International Weightlifting Federation said Russia, Kazakhstan, and Belarus face being banned from the Rio Olympics in August due to positive drug tests on samples from previous Olympics.

The World Anti-Doping Agency has come out against the International Olympic Committee's decision this week to allow Russian athletes who are drug-free to compete under their own flag in Rio.

The commander of the U.S. Army Europe says NATO would currently be unable to protect the Baltics against a Russian attack.

Russian authorities have detained Yevgeny Dod, the chairman of power company Quadra, and opened a criminal case against him.


The Ghosts Of 1996

Andrei Kolesnikov looks back at Russia's 1996 election and how it set the stage for Vladimir Putin's authoritarian regime.

"Those efforts to get Yeltsin elected look positively amateur compared to the electoral manipulations we see today. But we can see a direct line between the price paid back then for victory and subsequent developments. Modern Russia’s dishonest elections grew out of the experimentation of the 1990s," Kolesnikov writes.

"Another way in which Yeltsin’s victory of 1996 ultimately became a Pyrrhic one was that it legitimized the idea that there could be a controlled handover of power in Russia. This was later implemented when Yeltsin passed the 'scepter of the nation' to Putin. When you decide that it’s possible to control elections, then you can also impose a leader on the people. In this case, Vladimir Putin, the new young leader, was cynically constructed as the opposite image of his predecessor."

Requiem For Human Rights

Meduza has a nice rundown of what is in Russia's controversial "antiterrorism" bill that the State Duma is scheduled to vote on this week.

"The legislation would amend nearly a dozen different laws, broadly expanding the state's powers, tightening the controls placed on citizens and limiting the civil rights guaranteed by the Russian Constitution. If the legislation is approved (which is almost certain), Russia's authorities will gain the power to strip Russians of their citizenship, revoke the foreign travel rights of people convicted of reposting certain 'wrong' content online, and access every single telephone conversation and e-mail that crosses Russia's telecommunications lines."

The Kremlin's Taint

Political commentator Leonid Bershidsky has a strong and heartfelt column for Bloomberg on how the doping scandal and the Kremlin's general behavior is tainting all Russians.

"In a whole range of pursuits -- from business to culture -- Western partners want proof from Russians that they are not part of the Putin regime," Bershidsky writes.

"The IOC has formalized that feeling: Russians have been told to prove they're clean. It's assumed -- on the basis of plentiful data -- that the regime has corrupted those who live under it. As a Russian citizen, this stigma is hard for me to accept, but here are my choices: I can assume, as many Russians do, that the West hates my country and all its people, or I'm forced to prove that the Putin taint isn't on me. I understand why some see the latter option as humiliating, but I can't honestly support the former because I believe the regime to be rotten and worthy of condemnation. That doesn't mean the flag doesn't belong to me too."

Inconvenient Truths

Historian Nikitia Sokolov, executive director of the Yeltsin Foundation, has a piece in Intersection magazine (in Russian and English), about the "forgotten truths" about the start of World War II.

"Contemporary Russian officious propaganda has only slightly modified the Soviet stereotype taking into account its opportunistic needs. As a result, the traumatic experience of World War II in Russia as opposed to in Germany, for example, has not been lived through and reflected upon," Sokolov writes.

Kadyrov Country

In a piece in Yezhednevny Zhurnal, journalist and political commentator Igor Yakovenko writes that Russians are now living under the "yoke" of Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov.

Don't Forget Ukraine!

Melinda Haring, editor of the UkraineAlert at the Atlantic Council, has a piece on Europe's Short Memory And Ukraine's Long Crisis.

Fear And Terror

On the latest SRB Podcast, Sean Guillory of the University of Pittsburgh's Center for Russian and Eastern European Studies explores the origins of Josef Stalin's Great Terror. Sean's guest is James Harris, a senior lecturer in modern European history at Leeds University and author of The Great Fear: Stalin’s Terror In The 1930s.

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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