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The Morning Vertical, October 31, 2016


So in just a week, Russia will mark the 99th anniversary of the revolution of 1917. Which means that the centennial is just a year away. And it is a milestone that the Kremlin is very nervous -- even schizophrenic -- about. On one hand, Vladimir Putin's regime is keen on reviving Soviet forms and Soviet power. But on the other, any talk of revolutions -- especially a (red) colored revolution that took place on Russian soil (in Putin's hometown, no less) is anathema.

And the Kremlin appears to be wasting no time in shaping the narrative about the 1917 anniversary. According to a report in Kommersant (featured below), the Security Council is preparing to prevent any "falsifications" about the true meaning of the Bolshevik Revolution. Translation: there will be an officially approved party line about how the anniversary will be marked and framed. And no deviation from that line will be tolerated.

What the approved narrative will be should be very revealing about the Kremlin's current thinking.


Moldova’s presidential election appears to be headed toward a runoff, preliminary results show. Pro-Moscow candidate Igor Dodon will likely face the pro-Western Maia Sandu in a second round on November 13.

Russia's oldest working actor, Vladimir Zeldin, has died at the age of 101 at a Moscow clinic.

A Russian Defense Ministry spokesman has blamed U.S. forces for a near-miss of planes over Syria earlier this month.

Dozens of Russians read aloud the names of the victims of Stalin's purges, an annual demonstration that comes amid a shift in thinking about the Soviet leader.

Russian officials have cried foul at being voted off the United Nations' Human Rights Council and vowed to regain Moscow's seat in a bid next year. ​


In case you missed the latest Power Vertical Podcast, recorded on the road at the Warsaw Security Forum, here it is. On the podcast, I discussed the contours of the emerging cyberwar between Russia and the West with co-host Mark Galeotti, a senior research fellow at the Institute of International Relations in Prague, and David Venable, a former intelligence officer for the U.S. National Security Agency and currently vice president of cybersecurity at Masergy. ​


Power Vertical products resume their regular schedule today. The exception is The Briefing, which will next appear on November 7.


Balkan Exposure

Writing in The American Interest, Damir Marusic looks at the recent spy scandal in the Balkans and argues that it points to a foiled Russian plot to stage a coup in Montenegro.

"A murky tale of spycraft, diplomacy, and intrigue in the Balkans suggests that Russia's secret services are ratcheting up their efforts to an unprecedented degree," Marusic writes.

"If the story, as I've tried to reconstitute it, is true and the Russians were in fact involved in a failed coup against a sovereign country trying to align itself with the West, it should give pause to those pundits who still think that a workable equilibrium with the Kremlin is somehow attainable."

Meanwhile, Finnish politician and foreign-affairs analyst Petri Makela argues on his blog that the Balkans will be the next battlefield where Russia will challenge the West.​

Notes From Valdai

Writing in Bloomberg, Marc Champion looks at the Cold War fears that were visible this year at the Valdai discussion group meetings in Sochi.

Meanwhile, Andrew Kuchins of the Center for Eurasian, Russian and East European Studies at Georgetown University parses the message Putin was trying to deliver at the Valdai meetings.

Thunder On The Right

Writing in the World Affairs Journal, Alina Polyakova, deputy director of the Eurasia Center at the Atlantic Council, and Anton Shekhovtsov, a visiting fellow at the Institute of Human Sciences in Vienna, take a look at Europe's far right and who stands to benefit from its rise.

"A pivot to the right will first and foremost benefit the far-right extremists themselves, whose illiberal agenda will be legitimized. The other winners will be authoritarian regimes, most notably Russia," Polyakova and Shekhovtsov write.

"Russian President Vladimir Putin has endorsed and even financed far-right parties such as the National Front and allegedly Jobbik. And the admiration is mutual: especially in Central and Eastern Europe, the far right today is openly pro-Russian and anti-American. Far-right leaders maintain close relationships with the Kremlin -- traveling to Russia for various celebrations, including Putin’s birthday, and even serving as election observers to legitimize fraudulent and unfair balloting, such as the illegal referendum for the annexation of Crimea."​

The Ghost Of Henry Wallace

Writing in Vox, Washington-based foreign-affairs analyst Will Moreland takes a look at the last time Moscow interfered in a U.S. election -- in 1948.

The Failure Of Putin's Chaos Strategy

In a piece in Foreign Policy, Mark Galeotti, a senior policy fellow at the Institute of International Relations in Prague, suggests that Putin's strategy of sowing chaos in the West might be backfiring.

"The Russian president has sown confusion and conflict around the world the past two years. But his short-sighted meddling isn’t the work of a mastermind," Galeotti writes.​

The Kremlin's 2017 Problem

The Putin regime is clearly worried about how to mark the 100th anniversary of the Revolution of 1917. And as Kommersant explains, the Kremlin is already working on the problem.

It's The Economy, Stupid!

Writing in the EUobserver, Sijbren de Jong of The Hague Center for Strategic Studies takes a look at Russia's money problems.

The Months Of Living Dangerously

Writing in The Times, veteran Kremlin-watcher Edward Lucas explains why Putin is "fully loaded and highly dangerous"-- particularly as the United States enters the lame-duck period between presidencies.

"The Kremlin knows the U.S. is heading for two months when it will be at its least decisive," Lucas writes.​

Nuclear Diplomacy

Writing in Newsweek, Robert Litwak, vice president of the Wilson Center, and Matthew Rojansky, director of the Kennan Institute, look at how the West can contain the Russian nuclear threat.​

Ukraine Calling Podcast

The latest edition of Hromadske Radio's Ukraine Calling Podcast takes a look at the plight of civilian prisoners of war in the Russian-controlled territories in Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts. ​

SRB Podcast

The latest installment of the SRB Podcast, hosted by Sean Guillory of the University of Pittsburgh's Center for Russian and Eastern European Studies, features veteran Russia commentator Masha Lipman.

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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