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The Morning Vertical, October 5, 2016


When the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in December 1979, it looked at the time like Moscow was on the march and the West was on its heels. We all know how that movie ended.

This is worth bearing in mind as the cease-fire in Syria crumbles and it looks like Russia is aiming for a military victory that would shore up its ally, Bashar al-Assad, and marginalize the United States and its allies.

But, as Philip Gordon notes in a piece featured below, Vladimir Putin's regime may be setting itself up for a quagmire in Syria that could sap its resources and poison its relations with the Arab world.


Officials in Russia's second largest city, St. Petersburg, are now required to report about their contacts with foreign entities every three months.

An aide to Vladimir Putin says the Russian president will visit Turkey on October 10 for talks with Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The speaker of Moldova's parliament has accused Russia of seeking to influence the country's upcoming presidential election.

Ramzan Kadyrov will be inaugurated for another term as Chechnya's leader today, on his 40th birthday.

The Washington Post reports that the United States is considering resuming military strikes on Syria.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry says Russia "knows what it has to do" to get a cessation of hostilities in Syria, but that it refuses to take the necessary steps.

Russia's Defense Ministry has confirmed that it has deployed an S-300 antiaircraft missile system to its Mediterranean naval base in Tartus, Syria.

Russia says its embassy compound in the Syrian capital has come under shelling from rebels.

A court in Russia has sentenced a Turkish citizen to four years in jail after finding him guilty of being an active member of the Islamic State.

Russia's Foreign Ministry rejected U.S. reports that two officials traveling with diplomatic passports were drugged while attending a conference in St. Petersburg last year, suggesting instead that they might have had too much to drink.

Russia has no far-reaching plans to suspend further agreements with the United States after suspending an agreement to dispose of weapons-grade plutonium, the Kremlin said.

Putin addressed the State Duma today in it's opening session.


Putin's Ultimatum

Vladimir Putin's threat to withdraw from a 16-year-old disarmament agreement if sanctions are not lifted and NATO rolled back is getting a fair amount of attention from commentators.

In his column for Bloomberg, political analyst Leonid Bershidsky noted that "the next U.S. administration will inherit the worst relationship with Russia since Ronald Reagan called the Soviet Union an evil empire."

"Putin’s message is that Russia will start acting as an equal, whether or not the U.S. wants to treat it as one. It’s a reminder to the presidential candidates that pacifying Russia will have a price tag, and that Russia’s starting position in any negotiations will be arrogantly high," Bershidsky writes

In Vedomosti, Olga Kuvshinova picks up on Putin's demand that the West compensate Moscow for sanctions as well as for Russian countersanctions and looks at the actual costs of these measures.

The Bloodbath In Syria

David Hearst, editor-in-chief of Middle East Eye, has a piece looking at Putin's endgame in Syria.

"Putin is assuming that the fall of Aleppo will be a pivotal moment in the civil war. He is assuming the fall of a Sunni city to Shia militias, controlled by the regime and two other foreign interveners, Hezbollah and Iran,would be game over for Syrian rebels," Hearst writes.

In The Washington Post, David Ignatius also looks at how Putin has "made civilian suffering into a weapon of war" in Aleppo.

Also in The Washington Post, former White House adviser Philip Gordon, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, argues that Putin is walking into a disaster in Syria.

And in The New York Times, a report by Michael Gordon and Neil MacFarquhar looks at how Russia is hoping to take advantage of the U.S. election cycle "to strengthen President Bashar al-Assad’s hold on power."

The MH17 Probe

Alina Polyakova, deputy director of the Dinu Patriciu Eurasia Center at the Atlantic Council and author of the book The Dark Side of European Integration, has a piece in The American Interest looking at the potential fallout from the Dutch criminal investigation into the downing of Flight MH17.

Alexei Sobchenko of the Atlantic Council's Ukraine Alert project, meanwhile, explains why the Dutch report is making Kremlin officials nervous.

NATO's A2/AD Dilemma

Writing in The National Interest, Dominik P. Jankowski of the Polish Defense Ministry and Maksymilian Czuperski of the Atlantic Council look at NATO's efforts to counter Russia's Area Access/Area/Denial (A2/AD) capabilities.

Fear Of Sociologists

Masha Gessen, author of The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin, has an op-ed in The New York Times looking at Russia's last independent pollster, the Levada Center, and its director, Lev Gudkov.

Duma Deputies And Their Money

RBK has a piece looking at the income declarations of newly elected members of the State Duma. The richest, at least on paper, is Arkhangelsk lawmaker Andrei Palkin. Apparently he has 56 apartments, 200 cars, and an income of an estimated 1.5 billion rubles ($24 million).

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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