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The Morning Vertical, November 15, 2016


I'm still trying to unpack the arrest of Economic Development Minister Aleksei Ulyukayev. But here are some initial thoughts.

Somebody as powerful as Ulyukayev just doesn't get arrested in Russia unless they crossed somebody even more powerful.

Ulyukayev is the highest official arrested in Russia since 1991, and possibly the first minister since 1953!

If the Investigative Committee's version of events can be believed, that Ulyukayev extorted a bribe from Rosneft, then he clearly crossed Igor Sechin. In that case, it would be all neat and clean and Sechin would walk away victorious.

But the fact that this case is tied up in the highly politicized Bashneft privatization, and Rosneft's efforts to acquire that firm (which makes it an odd "privatization," in which one state company acquires another), makes all sorts of intrigue possible.

Could somebody be trying to undermine Rosneft's acquisition of Bashneft and Ulyukayev got caught in the crossfire? It's plausible. We'll just need to wait for more data points to emerge.


U.S. President-elect Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed battered bilateral ties between their countries in the first phone call between the two men since Trump's election last week.

U.S. President Barack Obama says Donald Trump has indicated strong backing for NATO, despite statements to the contrary made by the Republican during his successful election campaign.

The United States has added six Crimean representatives newly elected to Russia's parliament to its sanctions blacklist for supporting Moscow's illegal annexation of the Ukrainian territory in 2014.

Poland says it will build a new territorial defense force of 53,000 volunteers by 2019 in order to guard against threats from Russia.

Russia's Economic Development Minister Aleksei Ulyukayev has been detained for extorting a bribe

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has called for a "thorough investigation" over the detention of Ulyukayev, the government press service says.

Russia's economy contracted by 0.4 percent over the past year, authorities say, indicating that while it remained in recession it appears to be stabilizing.

Russia's Defense Ministry says a MiG-29K fighter jet has crashed in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Syria after taking off from the deck of Russia’s Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has expressed his outrage to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry about the refusal to grant a U.S. visa to Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, the president of the World Chess Federation.

Two close allies in Ukraine of Georgia’s former President Mikheil Saakashvili have resigned from their posts, just days after Saakashvili himself stepped down from his post as the governor of Ukraine’s Odesa region.

Hundreds of people took to the streets of Moldova's capital on November 14 after a pro-Russia politician was declared the winner of the country's presidential runoff election.


More Trump-Russia Fallout

What kind of deal might Putin and Trump make? In his column for, Moscow-based political analyst Vladimir Frolov weighs in on the possibilities.

In a piece on the Brookings Institution's website, Fiona Hill, co-author of the book Operative In The Kremlin, writes that "Putin and the Kremlin are experts at reading the popular mood. And they were watching America."

In his column for The Washington Post, Jackson Diehl writes that how Trump handles Putin will be one of the first indications of whether the liberal world order is in jeopardy.

In a piece for CAPX, veteran Kremlin-watcher Edward Lucas, author of the book The New Cold War, compares the Trump and Putin worldviews.

And Kevin Rothrock has a piece up on Global Voices looking at how Russia's opposition is viewing Trump's victory.

The Liberal World Order In Peril

Timothy Garton Ash has a piece in The Guardian on what the West needs to do to resist the wave of antiestablishment populism.

The New York Times looks at Angela Merkel, the last best hope for the Western world.

In his column for Bloomberg, political commentator Leonid Bershidsky argues that Europe is not quite ripe for a full-blown populist revolution.

The Pacific Council on International Policy interviews Agnia Grigas, a fellow at the Atlantic Council and author of the book Beyond Crimea: The New Russian Empire, on Trump, Russia, and the future of Europe's security architecture.

The Minister's Arrest

RBK looks at what was behind the arrest of Economic Development Minister Aleksei Ulyukayev.

Cadres Decide Everything!

In a piece in Vedomosti, Moscow-based political analyst Nikolai Petrov looks at the impact of recent personnel changes in the Kremlin.

Putin Vs. 'Putin'

In a piece for Intersection Magazine, Tatiana Stanovaya argues that Russia has become a country of "little Putins." (available in English and Russian)

"For many years, the entire structure of the regime was based on loyalty to a physical entity. Nowadays, Putin the physical entity is separate from 'Putin' as a set of values for Russia's salvation; Putin's ideology. But the system cannot distinguish between those who back Putin and those who support 'Putin' as a virtual, eternal value. 'Putin' cannot have a heart attack tomorrow, it does not age or grow tired. It is eternal," Stanovaya writes.

The Kiriyenko Factor

Also in Intersection Magazine, Vladislav Inozemtsev looks at the reasons and consequences of Sergei Kiriyenko's appointment as deputy Kremlin chief of staff in charge of political management. (available in English and Russian)

New SRB Podcast

The new SRB Podcast, hosted by Sean Guillory of the University of Pittsburgh's Center for Russian and Eastern European Studies, looks as "Stalin, Clans, and Terror." Sean's guest is UCLA professor Arch Getty, author of the recently published book Practicing Stalinism: Bolsheviks, Boyars, and the Persistence of Tradition.

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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