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The Morning Vertical, October 3, 2017


As the international community seeks to contain North Korea, Russia continues its efforts to assist the regime of Kim Jong Un.

According to a report by the research group 38 North (featured below), a Russian state-owned telecommunications company is providing Pyongyang with a lifeline to the global Internet at a time when the West is seeking to isolate North Korea over its nuclear weapons program.

Moscow's latest effort to assist Pyongyang is nothing new.

Shortly after Russia's annexation of Crimea in 2014, Vladimir Putin wrote off most of North Korea's $11 billion debt to Russia.

About 50,000 North Koreans are working on construction projects in the Russian Far East. And since most of their pay is taken by the North Korean state, it's not a stretch to call them slave laborers.

And a new ferry route was recently opened between Vladivostok and the North Korean port of Rason.

Kim Jong Un, it appears, has joined Syria's Bashar al-Assad as an international pariah that Putin is determined to protect.

In a piece featured below, the Moscow-based foreign affairs analyst Vladimir Frolov argues that Russia's main foreign policy goals are preventing former Soviet states like Ukraine and Georgia from joining the West and diminishing and undermining U.S. influence in the world.

As I argue on today's Daily Vertical, Russia's main tools in achieving its goals with its neighbors are effectively bribery and blackmail.

And as Russia's actions in Syria and North Korea illustrate, a key Kremlin tool in achieving its goals with the West is extortion.

By exacerbating crises in Syria and North Korea that are priorities for the West, Moscow is manufacturing leverage and then using that leverage to extract concessions.

Bribery, blackmail, and extortion aren't the tools of a great power. They more resemble the instruments of a geopolitical protection racket.


Facebook says that an estimated 10 million people saw advertisements that have been linked to Russia on its social-media platform before and after the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

A transport plane has delivered two Russian MiG-29 fighter jets to Serbia, the initial shipment of a six-jet deal that could add to East-West tensions in the Balkans.

Russia's Foreign Ministry has again complained about U.S. law enforcement taking over the Russian Consulate in San Francisco, threatening unspecified retaliation against U.S. diplomats.

A U.S.-based research group on North Korea says a Russian state-owned Internet company has started providing Pyongyang an alternate connection to the global Internet. (The report, by 38 North, an organization housed at Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies, can be read here.)

The presidents of Russia and Turkmenistan have signed a "strategic partnership" agreement in a show of cooperation between two former Soviet republics whose ties are sometimes clouded by disputes.

Lawyers say the authorities in Russia-controlled Crimea have detained four Crimean Tatars on suspicion of extremism in what activists and the Ukrainian government said was part of a discriminatory campaign targeting members of the Muslim group.


Putin's Foreign Policy

In his column for, foreign affairs analyst Vladimir Frolov explains what Vladimir Putin's foreign policy will look like after a presidential election in March.

Election Season Looms

In his monthly column for Raam op Rusland, Mark Galeotti of the Institute of International Relations in Prague looks at the Kremlin's dilemma in framing next year's presidential election.

Russia And The U.S. Midterms

In a commentary for The Hill, former Deputy Secretary of Defense MIchael Carpenter says we should expect Russia to try to interfere in the 2018 U.S. midterm elections.

Chechen Asylum Seekers

In a piece for Intersection magazine, Olga Gulina, director of the Institute on Migration Policy, looks at what happens when Chechens fleeing persecution in Russia seek asylum in Europe.

Containing Putin

On the sidelines of the UN General Assembly last month, Politico convened a working group of top security leaders on both sides of the Atlantic to discuss how to contain the threat from the Putin regime. Maura Reynolds wrote up the conclusions.

Merkel's Visegrad Challenge

In a piece for The Atlantic Council, Peter Kreko, director of the Budapest-based Political Capital Institute, looks at the challenge German Chancellor Angela Merkel faces in confronting Russia's expanded influence in the Visegrad countries.

Excerpt From Masha Gessen's The Future Is History

BuzzFeed has published an excerpt from Masha Gessen's new book, The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia.

The Peacekeeper Trap

In a piece for Euromaidan Press, Ukrainian journalist Vitaly Portnikov claims that Putin's offer to allow international peacekeepers in the Russian-controlled areas of the Donbas is a trap.

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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