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ON MY MIND

One can look at the decision by the center-left Latvian party Harmony to terminate its cooperation agreement with United Russia as a cynical preelection maneuver.

Harmony, after all, won the most seats in Latvia's 2014 parliamentary election but was frozen out of the government by other parties, largely due to concerns over its relationship with United Russia.

The party, which is led by the ethnic Russian mayor of Riga, Nils Usakovs, is expected to poll strongly in elections in October 2018. And apparently it doesn't want the albatross of being associated with Russia's ruling party to keep it out of government again.

But even if you look at Harmony's decision in this light, it is also significant and telling.

As I argue on today's Daily Vertical, it is an indication that the party has concluded "that its future, and that of the ethnic Russians it represents, lies in Latvia and in Europe -- not in Moscow."

Harmony's move has also put pressure on Estonia's Prime Minister Juri Ratas, whose Center Party is part of a coalition government and also has a cooperation agreement with United Russia.

Ratas told reporters that there were no plans to end the agreement, but claimed that the agreement "lapsed in 2016" and "has lost its applicability." He added that the accord with Russia's ruling party "isn't active" and "there hasn’t been any cooperation based on it."

Not exactly a ringing endorsement.

Parties representing ethnic Russians in the Baltic states are entering the mainstream.

And as they do, they are being forced to rethink their ties with Vladimir Putin's regime. Helping their constituents means they need allies in Riga and Tallinn more than in Moscow.

You can call it pragmatic. You can call it cynical. But the end result is that the Kremlin loses a measure of influence over those it hoped to use as Trojan horses.

IN THE NEWS

Russia's top election official says that opposition politician Aleksei Navalny will not be eligible to run for office until about 2028.

A senior Russian diplomat says he expects to hold talks with an Iranian counterpart this week to discuss the situation surrounding the Iran nuclear deal following U.S. President Donald Trump's threat to abandon the multinational accord if it is not amended.

A prominent gay-rights watchdog has alleged that a singer from Chechnya who disappeared in August was detained by the authorities in connection with a campaign targeting gay men in the southern Russian region.

Valentina Matviyenko, the speaker of the Russian parliament's upper chamber, has held separate talks with the heads of North Korean and South Korean delegations to an international parliamentary meeting.

Russian protest performance artist Pyotr Pavlensky set fire to an entrance of the Bank of France in Paris, according to photographs and accounts on social media. There was no immediate explanation of any motive for the action.

A Russian court has imposed an 800,000 ruble ($14,000) fine on Telegram for refusing to provide the Federal Security Service with encryption keys to the popular messaging app.

Thousands of protesters gathered amid a heavy police presence in front of Ukraine’s parliament in Kyiv today for a rally organized by firebrand politician Mikheil Saakashvili, the former Georgian president and governor of Ukraine's Odesa region.

Ukraine's main security agency, meanwhile, claimed it averted potential violence planned during the protest.

WHAT I'M READING

Preelection Maneuvers

Vedomosti has a piece looking at the infighting in the ruling United Russia party as it prepares for Putin's reelection.

And in Novaya Gazeta, Leonid Gozman looks at how the Kremlin's preelection agitprop campaign is already getting started.

After 2018

In Republic.ru, political analyst Tatiana Stanovaya looks ahead to what Russia can expect after Putin's presumed reelection in 2018.

Attack Of The Trolls

RBK has an investigative report on the activities of Russian trolls during the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Reassessing The Reset

In an op-ed for The Washington Post, Derek Chollet, executive vice president of the German Marshall Fund, looks back at the Obama administration's reset policy with Russia and its aftermath.

What Is An Oligarch?

In a piece for New Eastern Europe, Sean Guillory of the University of Pittsburgh's Center for Russian and Eastern European Studies and host of the SRB Podcast, asks: What Is A Russian Oligarch?

Catalonia And The Kremlin Machine

On the Center for European Policy Analysis website, former State Department official and CEPA adjunct fellow Donald Jensen looks at how the Kremlin-backed media played the crisis in Catalonia.

Moscow's Evolving Tactics

Also on the CEPA website, veteran Kremlin-watcher Edward Lucas, author of the book The New Cold War, warns that Russia's tactics against the West are likely to evolve in unexpected ways.

Spy Games

In Foreign Policy, former CIA official John Sipher explains why the United States always loses tit-for-tat spy games with Moscow.

Chechnya's Gay Victims

Oliver Carroll has a piece in The Independent based on an interview with a victim of Chechnya's "gay purge."

Mr. Lukashenka Goes To Brussels

In Belarus Digest, political commentator Artyom Shraibman looks ahead to Alyaksandr Lukashenka's upcoming visit to Brussels.

Book Review: Serhii Plokhy's Lost Kingdom

Jennifer Siegel, a professor of history at Ohio State University, reviews Serhii Plokhy's book Lost Kingdom for The Wall Street Journal. The book explores "the relationship between what became the Russian state, based in either Moscow or St. Petersburg, and the western lands wherein Russia’s origin myth dwells" -- in other words, Ukraine.

Putin's Peacekeeper Trap

James Sherr of Chatham House takes a critical look at Putin's proposal to send international peacekeepers to Ukraine.

Ukraine Calling Podcast

On Hromadske Radio's Ukraine Calling podcast, hosts Marta Dyczok and Oksana Smerechuk speak to Oleksiy Haran, a professor at Kyiv Mohyla University, about Ukraine's changing strategy in the Donbas.

Democratic Attitudes

The Pew Research Center has released a report on global attitudes toward democracy.

Upcoming Event At The Kennan Institute

The Wilson Center's Kennan Institute will host a discussion about William Taubman's book Gorbachev: His Life And Times. The event takes place at the Wilson Center's Washington, D.C., office at 4 p.m. EDT on October 23. Details are available here.

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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