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The Morning Vertical, May 31, 2016


A warning from Vadim Troyan, the first deputy head of Ukraine's National Police, that the Kremlin has deployed a team of mobsters to destabilize Ukraine merits checking out. But it's certainly plausible. Russia has used its nationalized mafias to carry out many of the unsavory tasks it wants taken care of without Kremlin fingerprints: arms smuggling to the Donbas, assassinations, raising off-the-books cash for black ops. So why not use them to destabilize Ukraine? With the Minsk peace process stuck in neutral and the war in the Donbas becoming a frozen conflict, Moscow will have fewer and fewer options to pressure Kyiv's pro-Western rulers. But one place they do have influence is in the criminal world -- so why wouldn't they open a gangster front in the hybrid war?


Nadia Savchenko has been sworn in as a member of the Verkhovna Rada, the Ukrainian parliament.

Police have opened a criminal case for "hooliganism" in connection with a deadly shoot-out at Moscow's largest cemetery.

Sevastopol, the capital of Russian-annexed Crimea, has made Vladimir Putin an honorary "citizen."

The death toll is rising from suspected Russian air strikes in the rebel-held Syrian city of Idlib.

Tatar journalist Lilia Budzhurova says she was warned by Crimean prosecutors over "extremist" views for writing about the plight of Tatar children whose parents were arrested.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg says NATO will increase its military presence on the alliance's eastern flank.

Russia's envoy to NATO has warned that the Black Sea will never become "NATO's lake."

Russia says it will spend more than $16 billion on arms.


The Criminal Front In The Hybrid War

In a piece published on, Vadim Troyan, the first deputy head of Ukraine’s National Police, accuses Moscow of opening "a criminal front" in Ukraine by deploying gangsters to destabilize the country. Troyan's warning came after the Ukrainian parliament failed to pass a law making it easier to prosecute top organized-crime figures.

The Sanctions Debate

In his column in, foreign-affairs analyst Vladimir Frolov tries to separate the signals from the noise in the run-up to the EU's sanctions decision.

Der Spiegel is reporting that the German government has developed a plan behind the scenes to reduce sanctions on Russia step-by-step.

Russia's Media Wars

Writing in Global Voices, Kevin Rothrock looks at how a Russian newspaper is warning its readers not to watch television.

In a column this week, Moskovsky Komsomolets Editor in Chief Pavel Gusev unloads on the Kremlin's favorite television propagandist Dmitry Kisselyov.

Jessikka Aro Vs. The Trolls

The New York Times has picked up on the story of Jessikka Aro, the Finnish journalist who has been the target of a coordinated campaign of harassment and character assassination by Russian trolls.

Russia-Europe 2030

Fredrik Wesslau and Andrew Wilson of the European Council on Foreign Relations have a new report out, Russia 2030: A Story Of Great Power Dreams And Small Victorious Wars, that projects what Russia's relations with Europe will look like in 14 years.

Here's their opener: "Russia will colonize the Moon in 2030. Cosmonauts will build a lunar base with a solar power station and a science lab, using long-range research rovers to explore the Moon’s surface, and a satellite will orbit above, according to the Russian space agency.1 Back on Earth, it’s anyone’s guess what Russia will be up to in 2030. President Vladimir Putin, who turns 78 that year, may be long gone; or he may be starting his fourth consecutive term as president, having amended the constitution to do away with term limits. There will be five million fewer Russians than today. The economy will be larger, though not much. But what will Russia’s position be on the international stage?"

Read the rest here.

Inertia Vs. Inertia

Vedomosti sums up the conflict between Russia and the West in an editorial titled The Inertia Of Containment Vs. The Inertia Of Confrontation.

"Russia's foreign policy is a thing unto in itself. In principle, we're for peace, but we're also ready to criticize any peace proposal. And we promise an asymmetrical response to any action that seems hostile."

Perestroika In Reverse

In a piece in Intersection magazine, Perestroika Undone, journalist Vadim Shtepa unpacks Mikhail Gorbachev's support for Vladimir Putin's forceful annexation of Crimea.

"In his day, Gorbachev tried to create a “contractual state” and establish equal, agreement-based relations with other countries," Shtepa writes. "The current paradox is that by defending the stance of the Kremlin, the initiator of perestroika is himself in favor of the violation of international agreements. However, it is not only his own inner conflict, but a dilemma for all of Russian society."

Mobsters Online

Sergei Mikhailov, the reputed founder of the Solntsevo organized-crime group, has taken advantage of Russia's "right to be forgotten" law.

Customs Crusader

Reuters has a feature on Yulia Marushevska, the 26-year-old Ukrainian activist who has taken on the impossible task of reforming Odesa's notoriously corrupt customs service.

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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