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The Morning Vertical, March 3, 2017


Five years ago this month, three women were arrested in Moscow, kicking off a crackdown on dissent that continues to this day.

This week, one political prisoner walked free from a Siberian prison camp after alleging systematic torture and sparking a national scandal.

From Pussy Riot to Ildar Dadin. For the past half-decade, the Kremlin has waged a far-ranging war on dissent, cracking down on NGOs, strictly policing the Internet, prosecuting people for comments on social media, expanding the legal definition of extremism, and outlawing things like blasphemy.

It's been dizzying and it appears to have been effective. But has it been?

On today's Power Vertical Podcast, we'll look at the state of dissent in Vladimir Putin's Russia, five years after Pussy Riot.

Joining me will be co-host Mark Galeotti, a senior research fellow at the Institute of International Relations in Prague, a visiting fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, and author of the blog In Moscow's Shadows; and Marc Bennetts, author of the book I'm Going To Ruin Their Lives: Inside Putin's War On Russia's Opposition.

Be sure to tune in later today!


Russia's ambassador to the United States Sergei Kislyak met with a number of aides to U.S. President Donald Trump during the election campaign last year besides current Attorney General Jeff Sessions, including Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner, the White House and U.S. media reports said.

U.S. Democrats are charging that FBI Director James Comey declined to divulge all he knew about the agency's investigation into Russian meddling in the U.S. election at a closed-door meeting with the House Intelligence Committee.

German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel has described a military buildup by Russia along its borders with the Baltic states as "completely irrational" and has vowed to keep German forces in the region as long as necessary.

Moscow says Syria's armed forces have recaptured the ancient city of Palmyra from Islamic State militants.

Ilmi Umerov, a Crimean Tatar leader who has criticized Russia's annexation of the Black Sea peninsula, is expected to go on trial within weeks.

Moscow authorities have again removed an improvised memorial near the Kremlin where Russian opposition politician Boris Nemtsov was gunned down two years ago.

Russia has asked France to extradite Sergei Pugachyov, a fugitive banker and former lawmaker who once had close ties to the Kremlin.

A teenager charged with attacking shoppers at a mall in Minsk and killing one woman with a chainsaw has been sentenced to 15 years in prison, the maximum term for a minor in Belarus.

A company controlled by billionaire Rinat Akhmetov, Ukraine's richest man, said that the seizure of some of its assets by Russia-backed separatists in the eastern part of the country is "unacceptable."

European Union ambassadors have decided to prolong asset freezes imposed by Brussels against Ukraine's former President Viktor Yanukovych and 14 of his associates.

Authorities in Kyiv say a methane gas explosion and tunnel collapse at a underground coal mine in western Ukraine has killed eight workers.

Moldova's government has recalled its envoy to Moscow, without offering any explanation.


Putin's Game

Strobe Talbott and Jessica Brandt have a piece in The Atlantic on what Putin is up to -- and why it may be too clever by half.

"Over the centuries, Russia has shown a predilection to overplay its hand," Talbott and Brandt write.

"Precisely because of Putin’s flagrant forays beyond Russia’s borders, he has awakened its neighbors to the threat -- and, as a consequence, underscored the need for NATO and an equally vigilant, clear-eyed, and reliable U.S. administration."

Putin's Killers

In an op-ed for The New York Times, opposition journalist Oleg Kashin ironically explains why "there are no 'killers'" in Vladimir Putin's Russia.

"In Russia during the Putin era, a remarkable phenomenon has emerged: Accusations have become decoupled from crimes," Kashin writes.

"In an ordinary society, if a man is called a killer, he will either deny it or admit his guilt. Twenty-first-century Russia has chosen a third path: to take pride in one’s crimes while at the same time claiming to have no involvement in them. It’s a tactic of intelligence agents and spies, people who work in the shadows."

The Department Of Putin Studies

In a piece in Foreign Policy, Mark Lawrence Schrad, a professor at Villanova University and the author of the book Vodka Politics: Alcohol, Autocracy And The Secret History Of The Russian State, critiques the various schools of thought about the behavior of Putin's Russia.

Weaponizing The West's Corruption

On his blog In Moscow's Shadows, Mark Galeotti of the Institute for International Relations in Prague looks at how Putin uses Western corruption as a weapon against the West.

"For the West today, the greatest security threat is not Russian tanks or Russian disinformation, it is our own corruption -- and the ways Russia seeks to use it," Galeotti writes.

Moscow's Man In Washington

In a piece in Slate, Joshua Keating looks back at the career of Sergei Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the United States, who is at the center of the scandal over contacts between officials from the Trump administration and Russia.

Baltic Buildup

In a piece for The Institute for Modern Russia, Matthew Bodner looks at the implications of Russia's military buildup in the Baltic region.

Nepotism Watch

Vedomosti is reporting that the son of Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin will head the transport division of the United Aircraft Corporation.

Diplomatic Protocol

In his column for Bloomberg, political commentator Leonid Bershidsky looks at how Putin's Russia stigmatized U.S. diplomats in Moscow -- and is now seeing its own diplomats stigmatized in Washington.

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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