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The Morning Vertical, June 3, 2016


For all of Russia's bluster about the United States and NATO, Moscow's real problem is actually with Europe and the European Union. It is the EU that presents a model of governance close to Russia's borders that directly challenges the kleptocracy in the Kremlin. It is the EU that creates a magnetic pull on Moscow's former Soviet vassals. As Yale University professor Timothy Snyder recently put it, "Europe is fundamentally a domestic problem for Russia" and "as long as Putin is in power, they are not going to stop trying to undo the European Union." This is something for EU leaders to consider as they debate extending sanctions later this month. Russia's conflict with Europe will be the subject of today's Power Vertical Podcast, which will feature Mark Galeotti of New York University and Andrew Wilson or the European Council on Foreign Relations.


A senior adviser to German Chancellor Angela Merkel says it is too early to discuss easing sanctions on Russia.

The Ukrainian parliament has adopted a series of judicial reforms backed by the West.

After days of leaks and vaguely sourced reports, Vladivostok Mayor Igor Pushkaryov has finally been formally charged with corruption and abuse of office.

But the Vladivostok branch of United Russia has failed to strip Pushkaryov of his party membership.

The situation in eastern Ukraine after two years of conflict "remains volatile and continues to have a severe impact on human rights," according to a new United Nations report.

The European Parliament has decided to reestablish contacts with Russia’s lower house of parliament, the State Duma.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has said the military alliance is not seeking confrontation with Russia by bolstering its battalions in Eastern Europe.


The Failed Revolution

Why did Russia's popular uprising of 2011-12 fail? This is a question Marc Bennett addresses in his book I'm Going To Ruin Their Lives: Inside Putin’s War On Russia's Opposition.

In a review in OpenDemocracy this week, Moscow-based journalist James Kovpak argues that Bennett pulls off the task.

"I'm Going To Ruin Their Lives serves as an excellent primer for anyone trying to get a handle on Russian politics not just from the Putin era, but from the very beginning in 1991," Kovpak writes.

"How else can you hope to explain all the contradictions and Phillip K. Dick-level twists and turns of Russian politics so someone with no background in Russian politics can accept the idea that 'liberals' who are at the same time xenophobic nationalists are indeed a real thing?"

Explaining The War In Ukraine

Also in OpenDemocracy, Mary Kaldor, a professor at the London School of Economics, reviews two books that offer starkly different assessments of the underlying causes of the Russian intervention in Ukraine: Richard Sakwa’s Frontline Ukraine: Crisis In The Borderlands and Andrew Wilson’s Ukraine Crisis: What It Means For The West

"But they put forward two starkly opposed narratives. Richard Sakwa’s book is the geopolitical reading favoured by Putin that Russia was reacting to the westwards expansion of NATO. The other, from Andrew Wilson, is what I call the 'political marketplace' reading that Russia could not accept a democratic revolution in Ukraine, which would expose the dealings of both Russian and Ukrainian oligarchs," Kaldor writes.

For the record, I'm with Wilson on this one.

Looking Ahead To The NATO Summit

The European Leadership Network has just released three commentaries looking ahead to the NATO summit in Warsaw on July 8-9.

Klaus Naumann, the former chief of staff of the German armed forces, looks at three crucial decisions that will be made at the summit.

Former French Defense Minister Paul Quiles argues that while a major policy shift will not be solidified until a new U.S. president is in office, the alliance must make some important changes in Warsaw.

And former deputy NATO commander John McColl argues that a key challenge for the alliance will be prioritizing the multiple threats it faces.

Gorbachev In Winter

Neil MacFarquhar of The New York Times spoke to former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev about his legacy and Vladimir Putin's Russia.

"In his twilight years, Mr. Gorbachev has become an isolated figure. Most of his contemporaries are dead. He is just critical enough about the lack of democracy under Mr. Putin that state-run television channels avoid him. His death has been announced more than once," MacFarquhar writes.

Russia's Islamic State

In a piece in The Wall Street Journal, Yaroslav Trofimov shows how Chechnya became "Russia's Islamic State."

"In theory, Chechnya -- though overwhelmingly Muslim -- is an integral part of the secular Russian Federation, governed by the same laws as Moscow. In practice, however, this North Caucasus republic of 1.4 million people, ravaged by two wars of secession, lives under very different rules," Trofimov writes.

The Paradoxes Of Lviv

On the latest installment of the SRB Podcast, Sean Guillory of the University of Pittsburgh's Center for Russian and Eastern European Studies looks at the tumultuous history of the Ukrainian city of Lviv. Sean's guest is Tarik Cyril Amar, an associate professor of history at Columbia University

PROGRAMMING NOTE: The Morning Vertical, and all Power Vertical Products, will take a short break from June 6-10. The regular schedule for all products will resume on Monday, June 13.

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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