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The Morning Vertical, November 3, 2016


Speaking in Athens yesterday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that, inevitably, Russia and the West will need to sit down and talk to resolve differences over Syria, Ukraine, and elsewhere. Vladimir Putin suggested the same in remarks at the Valdai Discussion Forum last week.

This all ignores the fact that Moscow's track record on agreements with the West has been far from stellar. The ink was barely dry on the Minsk cease-fire and the recent cease-fire in Syria before Russia began violating them. And as Mark Schneider notes in a piece featured below, it is not complying with the 2010 New START nuclear treaty. So there's that.

But leaving aside the issue of noncompliance, there are deeper questions about what a grand compromise with Russia would look like. Russia is not going to return Crimea to Ukraine. It is not going to stop its intervention in the Donbas. It is not going to stop trying to dominate its neighbors. Russia appears to want detente without changing any of its behavior.

It doesn't want compromise. It wants capitulation. And for this reason, a grand bargain with Moscow is all but impossible.


Ukrainian hackers claim to have broken into a second e-mail account linked to Vladislav Surkov, a senior aide to Russian President Vladimir Putin, releasing documents they say add to mounting evidence of Kremlin meddling in Kyiv’s affairs.

Russian paratroopers have launched joint exercises with Serbian military units at the same time as NATO is holding exercises in neighboring Montenegro.

The Russian Federal Penitentiary Service has said doctors found no traces of trauma or assault on a jailed activist who alleges he was tortured. Human rights activists, however, have expressed doubts over the independence of the prison service's findings.

Vladimir Putin has granted Russian citizenship to actor Steven Seagal.

A Moscow court has seized the assets of Pavel Ivlev, a former lawyer for the Yukos oil company, who lives in the United States.

The Russian State Duma has passed a bill criminalizing doping.

Internationally renowned Russian circus clown Oleg Popov has died at the age of 86.

Pro-Western Moldovan presidential candidate Maia Sandu has suggested her opponent, Igor Dodon, made treasonous comments in saying that Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula is now effectively part of Russia, two years after being forcibly annexed by Moscow.

The U.S. ambassador in Kyiv, Marie Yovanovitch, has welcomed Ukrainian officials' public declarations of their wealth as a step toward increasing citizens' confidence in elected officials.

The trial of the director of Moscow's Ukrainian Literature Library began in Moscow on November 2. Natalya Sharina pleaded not guilty to charges of extremism and embezzlement.


Vladimir Of Arabia

Emile Simpson, a research fellow at the Harvard Society of Fellows, has a piece in Foreign Policy looking at the causes and consequences of Putin's return to the Middle East.

"As any demagogue knows, one way to create power out of nothing is to find a division and then exploit it. In the Middle East, the fundamental division Russia has exploited is the one between the West’s aversion to Islamists, on the one hand, and human rights abuses on the other," Simpson writes.

"The conflict between these aims often produces equivocation in Western foreign policy. It also opens up political space where Russia can operate by investing in repression and discounting democracy."

The Culture Of Warfare

Stephen Covington, a strategic fellow at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, has a new report out: The Culture of Strategic Thought Behind Russia's Modern Approaches to Warfare.

"After years of marginalization, Russian military strategic culture has returned to a position of great influence inside Russia’s political system, and strikingly so over the last four years," Covington writes.

"This culture of strategic thought plays a dominant role in the country’s military preparations for war, and shapes the country's economic priorities. Russian military strategic culture also provides President Putin a strategic framework for Russia’s most critical security and defense calculations in peace, crisis, and war."

Nuclear Posturing

Former U.S. Defense Department official Mark Schneider, a senior analyst at the National Institute for Public Policy, has a new piece out: The Russian Nuclear Weapons Buildup And The Future Of The New START Treaty.

"Compliance with New START should have been easy for Russia," Schneider writes.

"As a result of the buildup of its strategic offensive forces, however, Russia is now 246 warheads above the New START treaty limit on deployed warheads. It now appears unlikely that Russia intends to comply with the New START treaty ceilings in early 2018 when they come into legal effect."

The Non-Cold War

Anton Shekhovtsov has a piece in Opendemocracy arguing that calling the confrontation between Russia and the West a new Cold War "relies on outdated thinking and ignores new realities."

The Glazyev Tapes, The Surkov Leaks, And Ukraine

Andreas Umland, a senior research fellow at the Institute for Euro-Atlantic Cooperation in Kyiv, has a piece on the European Council on Foreign Relations looking at what leaked communications from Kremlin aides Sergei Glazyev and Vladislav Surkov reveal about Russia's war on Ukraine.

Defining The Russian Nation

In a piece in The Moscow Times, Aleksandr Verkhovsky, director of the SOVA Center, looks at what is behind Putin's call for a law defining the Russian nation.

"If there is a law on the Russian nation, it will almost certainly tie ethnicity in with national security issues," Verkhovsky writes.

"It will also continue the vague, ideological quest that some have politely referred to as 'the ideology of new state nationalism.'"

The Return Of The Kremlinologists

Novaya Gazeta has a piece looking at the return of "Sovietology" in the West.

Fear And Loathing In Kaliningrad

Foreign Policy's Robbie Gramer weighs in on Kaliningrad's economic woes.

Meet The New Propaganda (Same As The Old Propaganda)

MIkhail Khodorkovsky's Open Wall web portal looks at how Russian propaganda reuses and updates old Soviet memes.

SRB Podcast

The new SRB Podcast, hosted by Sean Guillory of the University of Pittsburgh's Center for Russian and Eastern European Studies, takes a look at Soviet television. Sean's guest is Christine Evans, a history professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and author of the book Between Truth And Time: A History Of Soviet Central Television.

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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