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The Morning Vertical, March 15, 2018


It's easy to believe we are living in an age of emperors, strongmen, and presidents for life.

With Vladimir Putin's inevitable "reelection" this weekend, Xi Jinping's successful abolition of term limits in China, and the solidification of Recep Tayyip Erdogan's rule in Turkey, the trend seems clear.

In a piece featured below, the always insightful Ivan Krastev argues that "the leaders of the world's most powerful countries, democracies and non-democracies alike, are fashioning themselves as modern-day emperors. They are concentrating power in their own hands with no plans to leave office in their lifetime."

So are we entering an "emperor's moment" as Krastev argues.

Maybe. But maybe this is a bit premature. Xi's abandonment of term limits in China, for example, has undermined -- and could effectively eradicate -- the most serious model challenging liberal democracy.

China is an authoritarian state to be sure, but it was one with functioning institutions and elite turnover; it was one where leaders were limited to two five-year terms. This served as a check on clan rule and gave the system a degree of dynamism.

Now Xi, like Erdogan, risks turning himself into just another strongman -- just like Putin.

The difference is crucial, because Putin's personalized rule, and the clan politics that have accompanied it, has sapped the energy and dynamism out of Russia's economy and society.

The age of emperors may turn out to be just a moment.


Prime Minister Theresa May says Britain will expel 23 Russian diplomats and halt high-level contacts as part of a package of measures against Moscow, which ignored a deadline to explain how a deadly chemical developed during the Cold War was used to poison a former Russian spy in the English city of Salisbury last week.

Allies have expressed support for Britain after it announced the expulsion of 23 Russian diplomats in retaliation for the poisoning of a former spy with a military-grade nerve agent, but offered no quick response to the incident.

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has said that the country’s law enforcement agencies were investigating rich Russian individuals with assets in Britain, and suggested that those who owe their wealth to their ties with President Vladimir Putin could be brought to justice.

The Kremlin has expressed a measure of hope for an improvement in relations with the United States following President Donald Trump's nomination of Mike Pompeo as secretary of state, saying bilateral ties cannot get much worse.

Amnesty International has accused Russia of mounting a "fierce crackdown" on political activists ahead of this week's presidential election, systematically violating their rights through "arbitrary" arrests and detentions.

The Russian government has blacklisted two European organizations involved in election monitoring, days ahead of the March 18 presidential vote.

Vladimir Putin has thanked the residents of the annexed Crimean Peninsula, saying a 2014 referendum that led Moscow to seize the Black Sea region was "real democracy."

The Ukrainian government has ordered its athletes not to take part in any competitions held in Russia.

Thirteen of Ukraine's most enthusiastic backers in the European Union have put pressure on Kyiv by warning that the implementation of important reforms are "just beginning or lagging behind," according to a document seen by RFE/RL.


The Age Of Emperors

Ivan Krastev, chairman of the Center for Liberal Studies in Sofia and author of the book After Europe, has an op-ed in The New York Times looking at the "era of presidents for life."

Putin's 'New' Foreign Policy

Daniel Treisman, a professor at UCLA, and editor of The New Autocracy: Information, Politics, And Policy In Putin’s Russia, has a piece in Russia Matters looking at new elements in Putin's foreign policy.

The Skripal Poisoning In Context

The always insightful Michael Carpenter, former U.S. deputy assistant secretary of defense, speaks to Bloomberg about the poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal in the UK.

A Global 'Hybrid War'

On The Atlantic Council's website, Peter Dickinson argues that "from Crimea to Salisbury" it's "time to acknowledge Putin’s global hybrid war."

Putin's War

In The New Statesman, Lawrence Freedman looks at the tactics and motivations of Putin's war on the West.

Russia And The U.S. Election: The Public Evidence

In Russia Matters, David Filipov, Kevin Doyle and Natasha Yefimova-Trilling lay out the available public evidence about Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Putin's Pop Stars

In an op-ed for The Moscow Times, political commentator and music critic Artemy Troitsky looks at a new song praising Putin that "harkens back to the Soviet period" and explains why pop stars are supporting the Kremlin leader.

Georgia's President Speaks

Foreign Policy's Emily Tamkin interviews Georgian President Giorgi Margvelashvili about NATO, Russia, and his controversial predecessor Mikheil Saakashvili.

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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