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The Morning Vertical, May 17, 2017


So which is it? Is it Putin the invincible? Or is it Putin the vulnerable? Is the current Kremlin regime a monolithic authoritarian state impervious to change? Or is a revolution or a palace coup just around the corner?

In an insightful piece featured below, journalist and playwright Natalia Antonova concludes that "when it comes to possible scenarios, for now it’s best to stick with the boring ones" like "the slow corrosion of an inflexible political system."

That's probably about right.

Vladimir Putin's regime is in trouble because it has run out of rationales for why it should rule indefinitely. First it promised prosperity in exchange for political freedom. That worked until from 2000 until about 2012. Then it promised empire in exchange for prosperity and political freedom. But the high from the "Crimea drug" appears to be wearing off. For the first time, Putin seems incapable of articulating a convincing legitimizing narrative.

But the Kremlin also has enough tools of repression at its disposal to handle any public unrest. And Putin has been careful to take precautions -- purging his inner circle and creating the National Guard -- to insure against a palace coup.

What this all should add up to is a prolonged period of stagnation and decay. Can you say "Late Brezhnev"? Of course you can!

The Putin regime isn't strong, but it isn't weak either. But it is brittle.

As Antonova notes: "Russian history has been known to move in fits and starts, with plenty of surprises along the way. It’s just that surprises rarely occur exactly where you’re looking for them."


Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has imposed sanctions on several leading Russian social networks and search engines, ordering access to the sites to be restricted or blocked entirely in Ukraine.

Officials say a gas explosion has killed at least two people and injured eight in an apartment building in the southwestern Russian city of Volgograd.

The Telegram messaging service has announced that it will not hand over information to the Russian authorities.

Azerbaijani officials and legislators on May 16 decried a decision by Russia's Supreme Court to shut down a group representing more than 2 million Azerbaijanis living in Russia.

Authorities in the Czech city of Ceske Budejovice have stripped the late Soviet dictator Josef Stalin of the title of honorary citizen.

The Belarusian opposition movement Havary Pravdu (Tell the Truth) has been registered after seven years of unsuccessful attempts to gain official status.

Representatives of the European Parliament and the European Council are due to sign a document in Strasbourg formalizing a long-awaited visa-liberalization deal with Ukraine.

European lawmakers have delayed the disbursement of financial assistance to Moldova after several political groups in the chamber voiced concerns about the political situation in the country.


U.S. Helsinki Commission Hearings On Russia

The U.S. Helsinki Commission will hold hearings today on the growing Russian military threat to Europe. Witnesses will include former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Michael Carpenter (currently the senior director of the Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement), former State Department official Steven Pifer (currently a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute), and former Assistant Secretary of State Stephen Rademaker (currently of the Podesta Group). The hearing starts at 9:30 a.m. EDT and you can watch it live here.

Putin The Weak, Putin The Strong

Natalia Antonova has a piece in BNE Intellinews looking at the apparent contradiction between Putin the invincible and Putin the vulnerable.

Containment In The 21st Century

On his blog, veteran Kremlin-watcher and former U.S. State Department official Paul Goble explains why containment of Russia would be much more difficult in a globalized world.

The Duma's Council On Patriotism

The pro-Kremlin daily Izvestia is reporting that the State Duma will set up a new council to promote morality and patriotism -- and combat "cultural extremism."

It's Good To Be Rosneftegaz

In her column for, political analyst Tatiana Stanovaya looks at the privileged position occupied by the energy company Rosneftegaz.

Hybrid Threats

Veteran Kremlin-watcher Edward Lucas has a short piece on the Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA) website reviewing a panel he moderated on Russian hybrid threats at the Lennart Meri Conference in Tallinn.

Propaganda In An Age Of Discontent

Also on the CEPA website, former U.S. State Department official Donald Jensen, a senior fellow at the Center for Transatlantic Relations at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, looks at how Russian television is coping with a more complicated political environment.

The War On Drugs In Crimea

Lily Hyde has a reported piece out of Crimea on how Russia's ban on substitution therapy for drug addicts is leading to an HIV epidemic.

Slavophone Unity?

A Czech linguist and a Croatian anthropologist are trying to create an inter-Slavic language.

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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