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The Morning Vertical, May 20, 2016


Are the Kremlin's repressive policies and aggressive international posture just the latest expression of traditional Russian autocracy, imperialism, and expansionism? Or are they, as Ivan Krastev and Stephen Holmes suggest in a provocative and thought-provoking essay featured below, a new form of "aggressive isolationism" that is part of a worldwide struggle against globalization -- a revolt of the losers in the post-Cold War order?

It is certainly a relevant question and Krastev and Holmes' important essay is well worth a read. My initial reaction (and I plan to do a bit more thinking about this) is that these things aren't necessarily mutually exclusive. Vladimir Putin's regime is seeking to insulate Russia from the forces of globalization, to be sure. But it is doing so because the Kremlin believes they are a threat to their autocratic rule at home and their ability to expand abroad.


The European Union's foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, says sanctions against Russia are likely to be extended when EU leaders meet later this month.

Likewise, Reuters cites unidentified EU sources as saying the same thing.

The World Anti-Doping Agency has named the head of its investigation into the Sochi Olympics.

Russia's Constitutional Court chief has compared Barack Obama to Adolf Hitler.

A survey by the consulting firm GlobeScan has ranked Russia the least welcoming country for refugees.

According to a top official from the Health Ministry, Russians' alcohol consumption has fallen by one-third over the past five years.


Remembering Putin's Rise

Writing in The American Interest, David Satter, author of Darkness At Dawn: The Rise Of Russia's Criminal State, recalls the lethal apartment bombings of 1999 that brought Vladimir Putin to power.

"The strange events that made possible Putin’s rise to power were not an anomaly. In fact, the bombings were the logical culmination of the history of the previous eight years," Satter writes. "Russia’s transition from communism to capitalism in the 1990s led to an upheaval that destroyed the moral orientation of the population. Under communism, Russia was organized on the basis of false values, but a moral code of sorts did exist. In the post-Soviet era, the idea that there was such a thing as right and wrong was all but jettisoned, and a new hierarchy emerged in which the gangster was king."

The Aggressive Isolationist

Also in The American Interest, Ivan Krastev and Stephen Holmes have a piece, Russia's Aggressive Isolationism, arguing that "Putin is leveraging foreign policy for domestic purposes, a flip made possible by a globalized world."

Here's the money graf: "Putin’s policies have almost nothing to do with Russia’s traditional imperialism or expansionism, nor is cultural conservatism such a decisive factor as some commentators allege. Putin does not dream of conquering Warsaw or re-occupying Riga. On the contrary, his policies are an expression of aggressive isolationism. They embody his defensive reaction to the threat to Russia posed not so much by NATO as by global economic interdependency. In this sense, Kremlin policy reflects a general trend that can be observed in the self-insulating behavior of several other global actors in the wake of global financial crises as they have unfolded since the 1980s. Superficially, it’s true that Putin’s actions resemble 19th-century Russian imperial politics, but they are actually part of a worldwide 21st-century resistance to unfettered, open-for-business but under-governed globalization."

Putin's War On The Media

Political analyst Masha Lipman has a piece in The New Yorker, The Demise Of RBC And Investigative Reporting In Russia, on Putin's destruction of the media

"The Kremlin is increasingly intolerant toward independent players, whether in politics, civic activism, or media, and a media organization like RBC was doomed from the start," Lipman writes. "Putin’s government has largely refrained from pressuring or persecuting individual journalists. Instead, it has drawn on a range of tools -- such as restrictive legislation and pressure on advertisers, cable providers, or owners --to clamp down on those media outlets that have grown too audacious."

Poland's Crackdown On Pro-Moscow Activists

Writing on his blog, Anton Shchekhovtsov, a visiting fellow at the Vienna-based Institute for Human Sciences, looks at Poland's crackdown on a pro-Russia party and the detention of pro-Moscow activist Mateusz Piskorski.

The Tatars' Plight

In an op-ed in The New York Times, Christina Paschyn, director of the documentary film A Struggle For Home: The Crimean Tatars, argues that "Russia is trying to wipe out Crimea’s Tatars."

The Kremlin And Anti-Semitism

Journalist and political analyst Olga Irisova has a piece in Intersection magazine on how the Kremlin "manages" -- and uses -- anti-Semitism.

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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