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The Morning Vertical, October 4, 2016


We seem to have crossed a rubicon.

Moscow's relations with the West, of course, have been on a downward spiral since Russia's annexation of Crimea and intervention in the Donbas in 2014. But for the past year, some Western officials held out hope that a deal could be struck with Moscow to end Syria's civil war. But Russia's bombing of two hospitals in Aleppo last week not only ended a fragile cease-fire Moscow and Washington had negotiated -- it seems to have ended any illusions that the Western powers can work with Russia in Syria.

As a result, the United States has declared Syrian peace talks dead. And Russia has pulled out of a 16-year-old agreement with the United States to reduce stockpiles of weapons-grade plutonium. Russia is also reportedly planning to increase military spending by $10 billion.

It's not quite the Cold War yet, but the standoff between Russia and the West is about to get even more tense.


Russia plans to increase defense spending by 679 billion rubles ($10 billion) and cut the welfare budget by 375 billion rubles ($6 billion).

The Ukrainian parliament is considering requiring visas for Russians entering the country.

Moscow summoned the Dutch ambassador on October 3 to complain about a criminal investigation last week that concluded that a missile brought in from Russia shot down a passenger jet flying over eastern Ukraine.

A Moscow court has found prominent Russian-Israeli blogger and web pioneer Anton Nosik guilty of extremism and fined him half a million rubles ($8,000) over a blog post titled Wipe Syria Off The Face Of The Earth.

The trial of five men charged with the murder of outspoken Kremlin critic Boris Nemtsov has begun in a Moscow military court.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has suspended a 16-year-old deal that called for reducing some of Russia's and the United States' stockpiles of weapons-grade plutonium, citing "Washington's unfriendly actions toward Russia."

The United States says it is suspending talks with Russia on trying to end the violence in Syria and accused Moscow of not living up to its commitments under a cease-fire agreement.

Georgian President Giorgi Margvelashvili has said Russia must treat former Soviet republics as full-fledged members of the international community.

Ukrainian journalist Roman Sushchenko is being held in custody in Russia on espionage charges.

Russia's United Nations Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said Moscow would like to see a woman and an Eastern European take the top UN job after Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon leaves next year.

Ramzan Kadyrov's press service has denied reports that there was an assassination attempt on the Chechen leader in the spring.

Kersti Kaljulaid, a former member of the European Court of Auditors, has been elected as Estonia's president.


Russia And Europe's Extremists

I'm very much looking forward to Anton Shekhovtsov's forthcoming book on Russia's contacts with the European far right.

And the good news is that he has released a chapter, one focusing on the Russian media's ties to extremist forces, to give us a bit of a teaser.

Duplicity In Syria

Richard Gowan of the European Council on Foreign Relations has a piece in The American Interest looking at Russia's double dealing on Syria.

"The meltdown over Syria followed a predictable pattern. Russia has consistently manipulated UN diplomacy over Syria, getting U.S. diplomats and UN mediators bogged down in negotiations to distract from military developments on the ground," Gowan writes.

And Thanassis Cambanis, a fellow at The Century Foundation and author of the books A Privilege to Die: Inside Hezbollah's Legions and Their Endless War Against Israel and Once Upon A Revolution: An Egyptian Story, has a piece in The Atlantic asking if Russia has finally crossed the West's red line in Syria.

"Perhaps Russia has been searching for the West’s actual red lines all along, exploring how far it could go in Syria without provoking any push back from the United States and its allies. Maybe it finally found them after it bombed the UN aid convoy in September," Cambanis writes.

The Morality Police

In a piece in The Spectator, veteran Moscow correspondent Owen Matthews looks into Putin's moral crusade and Russia's puritan streak.

"Putin’s Russia is fast becoming a very puritan place. Ever since returning to the presidency in 2012, Putin has pursued an increasingly religious-conservative ideology both at home and abroad, defining Russia as a moral fortress against sexual licence and decadence, porn, and gay rights," Matthews writes.

"Putin’s puritanism has grown hand-in-hand with the personal influence of two key conservative ideologues: his personal confessor Bishop Tikhon Shevkunov and the mystical geopolitical thinker Aleksandr Dugin."

Corrupt Corruption Fighters

A new post on Mikhail Khodorkovsky's Open Wall web portal takes a look at the case of Colonel Dmitry Zakharchenko, the anticorruption official who was arrested for -- you guessed it -- corruption.

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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