Accessibility links

Breaking News

The Morning Vertical, September 13, 2016

The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect the views of RFE/RL.


So it appears the sabotage meme is getting a second life. Just over a month ago, Russia accused Ukraine of sending a team of agent saboteurs to the annexed Crimean Peninsula to carry out terrorist attacks. The evidence was so flimsy that the narrative quickly collapsed. But it nevertheless raised tensions between Moscow and Kyiv, sparking fears of an escalated conflict in Ukraine.

Now, as Halya Coynash of the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group notes in a piece featured below, the Kremlin appears to be at it again.

Pro-Moscow separatist authorities in Donetsk say they have arrested seven teenagers, claiming they were sent by Ukraine's Security Services to carry out acts of sabotage. The group is accused of blowing up cars, as well as other civilian and military targets. Like with the Crimean case, this is getting broad play in the separatist and Russian media. And like with the Crimean case, there is no evidence other than "confessions" by the accused.

So here we go again.


Russian metals giant Norilsk Nickel has admitted that a spillage at one of its plants was responsible for a local river turning blood red.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu has accused the United States and its Western partners of "destroying the foundations of the existing world order from the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina to the wars in Libya and Iraq."

Russia and China have launched joint military exercises in the South China Sea, the site of heated territorial disputes between Beijing and its neighbors.

Russia's finance minister is planning to meet next month with his Ukrainian counterpart for talks on Kyiv's multibillion-dollar bond default.

The acting head of an antigraft agency at the Russian Interior Ministry has been detained for corruption after $120 million in cash was found in his apartment.

The European Union has said that parliamentary elections in Belarus on September 11 show the need for "comprehensive electoral reform."

Dozens of Belarusian opposition activists have held an unauthorized rally in the center of the capital, Minsk, to protest what they call unfair parliamentary elections.


The War On Pokemon Go

Journalist and playwright Natalia Antonova has an insightful piece on why the Kremlin is afraid of Pokemon Go, and why they are prosecuting Ruslan Sokolovsky for playing the game in church.

"When historians discuss Sokolovsky a century from now -- and, considering the church’s efforts to make him into a martyr, it seems that this is inevitable -- they will see this jailing not as the act of a mighty, all-powerful spiritual bureaucracy, but as an act of genuine insecurity," Antonova writes.

Fear And Loathing On Social Media

Historian and journalist Grigory Revzin has a piece in on an "epidemic of hatred" prevalent on Russian social media.

A Predictable Election, But An Unpredictable Duma

Political analyst Yekaterina Schulmann has a piece in Vedomosti explaining why the September 18 State Duma elections will have predictable results and unpredictable consequences.

MIkhail Khodorkovsky's Open Wall web portal, meanwhile, looks at the obstacles opposition candidates are facing as the campaign enters its final lap.

All The Fake News That's Fit To Print

Aleksey Kovalev has a piece in Global Voices taking a granular look at how fake Russian news stories manage to fool people.

A Syrian Game Changer?

In a piece in The Moscow Times, foreign affairs analyst Vladimir Frolov looks at the prospects for the new cease-fire in Syria.

Teenage Saboteurs?

Halya Coynash of the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group has a piece on a group of teenagers being accused by pro-Moscow separatists in the Donbas of plotting acts of sabotage.

Letter From Prison

Oleh Sentsov, the Ukrainian filmmaker serving a 20-year sentence in Crimea on terrorism charges widely believed to be fabricated, has smuggled a letter out of prison.

"For three years I’ve been sitting in a Russian prison. For those three years a war has been conducted against my country. The enemy is fighting like a coward, vilely, pretending he has nothing to do with it. No one believes him now but that doesn’t stop him," Sentsov writes.

'Realism' And Its Critics

Veteran Kremlin-watcher Edward Lucas, author of The New Cold War, has a piece up on the Center for European Policy Analysis website critiquing those who claim to be "realists" about Russia.

"Realism is in the air," Lucas writes. "Not the realism we need: a bleak appreciation of the dangers facing our hitherto safe, free, and comfortable lives, of our own weakness and of our adversaries’ strengths. This is inverted realism: It argues that it is unrealistic to try to defend ourselves, that our enemies are not really enemies and that our allies are not really allies."

Bulgaria, NATO, And Russia

Politico has a reported piece by Harry Cooper and Christian Oliver on how Bulgaria's upcoming presidential election gives Russia an opportunity to expand its influence in the country.

The New SRB Podcast

The latest edition of the SRB Podcast, hosted by Sean Guillory of the University of Pittsburgh's Center for Russian and Eastern European Studies, looks at the "origins of the war in the Donbas from below." Sean's guest is Serhiy Kudelia, a political science professor at Baylor University specializing in state formation and political violence in the postcommunist world.

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


Latest Posts

Latest Podcast