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The Morning Vertical, May 17, 2016


It was back to the 1990s this past weekend as a massive brawl and shoot-out erupted at Moscow's Khovanskoye Cemetery.

The motivations for the fight, which left three dead, are not entirely clear yet. Police say it was partially motivated by different groups fighting over control of the lucrative burial business. Some have also pointed to an ethnic component, noting that the cemetery staff were Tajiks and Uzbeks, while the attackers were from Chechnya and Daghestan.

What is clear, however, is that this kind of thing is not supposed to happen under Vladimir Putin's unwritten contract with Russia's organized crime groups.

Putin's deal with Russia's various mafias was simple: do your gangster stuff, but don't do it in the open; don't embarrass the Kremlin with the noisy public shootouts that were the hallmark of the Boris Yeltsin period. And if the Kremlin needs a favor from you someday, be ready to oblige.

The shoot-out on May 14 broke the first commandment of Putin's deal with the criminal underworld. And it may be an indication that he is losing control.


The Kremlin is denying a report that it plans to raise taxes in 2018.

Kremlin propagandist Dmitry Kiselyov has admitted that he used a fake Nazi ID card in a report on Russia's state-run Channel One comparing Ukrainian pro-European activists to a Nazi SS division made up of Ukrainians during WWII.

The United States, Russia, and other members of the UN Security Council have agreed to arm the Libyan government.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will co-chair Syrian peace talks in Vienna today.

The State Duma's health-care committee is considering issuing "reproductive health certificates" to men.

Russia's economy contracted less than expected in the first quarter of 2016.

Investigators say a massive shoot-out at Moscow's Khovanskoye Cemetery was financially motivated.


The Battle For Khovanskoye Cemetery

In his column in, journalist Oleg Kashin calls this weekend's shoot-out at Moscow's Khovanskoye Cemetery "a dress rehearsal for a civil war."

Will Sanctions Be Extended?

A commentary by Fredrik Wesslau on the European Council on Foreign Relations website predicts that the EU will extend sanctions on Russia next month.

Nationalizing Corruption

Ivan Krastev, chairman of the Center for Liberal Strategies in Sofia, has a piece in The New York Times on why Putin "tolerates" corruption.

"The Kremlin’s top priority then is not purging corrupt elites, but nationalizing them. Russian elites have the right to be corrupt, but only if they have proved their loyalty," Krastev writes.

Don't Mention The Annexation!

Mikhail Khodorkovsky's Open Wall has a piece looking at the case of Andrei Bubeyev, a mechanical engineer from Tver who was sentenced to 27 months in prison for reposting an article critical of Russia's forceful annexation of Ukraine on social media.

"Bubeyev case is the byproduct of the very nature of the law enforcement agencies in Putin's Russia, and of the so-called 'quota system' used to judge the performance of the FSB, the police, and their many confederates. Every region -- Tver, Chechnya, and the rest -- is given a set of targets whereby a certain number of extremism-related cases must be launched every year. Which, clearly enough, presents the counter-extremism authorities in Tver with a far tougher challenge than the one facing their colleagues in the Caucasus."

Managing the Spooks

In an interview with, Mark Galeotti discusses his widely circulated report on the management of Russia's security services for the European Council on Foreign Relations.

The End of Privacy

Shaun Walker has a chilling piece in The Guardian about the application FindFace, which compares photos to profile pictures on the popular Russian social network VKontakte and works out identities with 70 percent accuracy.

The Arctic Front

In a piece on the War On The Rocks blog, Robert W. Murray of the Frontier Center for Public Policy, argues that it would be a mistake to oversell the Russian threat in the Arctic.

NATO's Reaction Force

According to a report in the Financial Times, NATO generals say the alliance's new rapid-reaction force is not yet ready to be deployed to Eastern Europe in the event of a war with Russia.

"The 'Very High Readiness Joint Task Force,' the 5,000-strong centerpiece of the 2014 NATO summit and the package of measures it produced to counter Russian aggression, would be too vulnerable during its deployment phase to be used in Poland or the Baltic States, two senior NATO generals with close knowledge of the alliance’s logistical and military planning told the Financial Times."

The Kremlin And The Islamists

Reuters has a special report on how Russia allowed homegrown Islamic radicals to go and fight in Syria.

Privatization In Ukraine

Writing on the Atlantic Council website, Anders Aslund argues that it is time for Ukraine to start mass privatizations.

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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