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The Morning Vertical, September 13, 2017

  • Brian Whitmore

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ON MY MIND

Readers of The Power Vertical blog may not have been so surprised by the Russian opposition's surprisingly strong showing in Moscow in this past weekend's local elections.

As I wrote on the eve of the vote, local elections in Vladimir Putin's Russia "tend to be dull and boring -- until they get interesting," and "sometimes, they highlight latent discontent that is becoming manifest."

And recalling the Soviet Union's local elections in June 1987 -- when Mikhail Gorbachev experimented with competitive elections in a small number of districts, resulting in embarrassing losses there for the ruling Communist Party -- I argued that sometimes local elections provide "the first tangible hint that the tectonic plates were shifting beneath the political landscape."

June 1987, I argued, was an early precursor to the historic elections to the U.S.S.R. Congress of People's Deputies in the spring of 1989 -- and ultimately the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.

We don't yet know if the strong showing by Dmitry Gudkov's United Democrats in Moscow is a harbinger of anything. (They won approximately 250 of the 1,502 seats on Moscow's district councils, took majorities in more than a dozen of them, and finished second overall to President Vladimir Putin's United Russia party in the capital).

But as Mark Galeotti notes in a video commentary featured below, the elections do show that "a culture of resistance" is growing in which more Russians are saying, "We are not happy with this and we are not going to go along with it."

2017 is not 1987. And a new 1989, let alone a new 1991, is probably not around the corner.

But this weekend's elections are probably causing more than a bit of restlessness in the Kremlin as Russia enters a crucial political season.

IN THE NEWS

Demonstrators are planning a rally in Kyiv in support of Akhtem Chiygoz, the Crimean Tatar leader who was sentenced to eight years in prison by a court in Russian-occupied Crimea on charges widely seen as being politically motivated.

A Russian fighter for the Islamic State extremist group who was captured in Mosul has been sentenced to death by hanging, Iraqi authorities say.

Ads that Russian operatives purchased on Facebook during last year's presidential election actively promoted then-Republican candidate Donald Trump's anti-immigration campaign and other conservative causes, U.S. media are reporting.

Russian state broadcaster RT and U.S. media are reporting that the U.S. Justice Department has asked RT to register a company that supplies extensive services for U.S. outlet as a "foreign agent."

Two U.S. astronauts and a cosmonaut who blasted off on a Soyuz rocket from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan have boarded the International Space Station.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson does not want diplomatic disputes between Washington and Moscow to escalate further and seeks an improvement of ties between the "two nuclear powers," a spokeswoman says.

Russia's biggest cinema chain says it will not show Matilda, a film based on an early romantic liaison of Tsar Nicholas II, citing fears for the safety of audiences after a string of attacks linked to the movie and its director.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu has met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus, as Russia-backed government troops press their assault against the extremist group Islamic State in the country's east.

A series of anonymous bomb threats phoned in to authorities in cities across Russia have prompted evacuations at schools, shopping malls, theaters, and universities.

Turkey has signed a deal with Russia to buy S-400 antiaircraft missile systems in its first major weapons purchase from Moscow.

An independent Russian election monitoring group, Golos, says low turnout for regional and local elections across the country on September 10 was caused by "the low level of competition and by voters' distrust toward the election process."

LATEST POWER VERTICAL PODCAST

The Zapad military exercises are about to begin. In case you missed it, we previewed this week's war games on the latest Power Vertical Podcast.

WHAT I'M READING

Here Comes Zapad

Fredrik Wesslau and Andrew Wilson have a new report out for the European Council on Foreign Relations: So Far From God, So Close To Russia: Belarus And The Zapad Military Exercise.

Igor Sutyagin has a piece for the Royal United Services Institute on why the numbers matter in the Zapad military exercises.

In The Times, veteran Kremlin-watcher Edward Lucas argues that Zapad takes Russia and the West closer to conflict.

Local Elections Postmortem

In a video commentary, Mark Galeotti of the Institute of International Relations in Prague (and co-host of The Power Vertical Podcast) offers his take on this past weekend's local and regional elections.

Reset Dreams

John Hudson has a piece in BuzzFeed looking at documents that reveal that Putin was hoping for a broad reset with the United States during the Trump administration.

Net Wars

The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists has published a new paper -- Netwar: The Unwelcome Militarization Of The Internet Has Arrived -- by Jonathan Zittrain, a professor of international law and computer science at Harvard University.

The Kremlin Black Box

Nabi Abdullaev, an associate director at Control Risks, has an op-ed in The Moscow Times on how "understanding the Kremlin’s decision making is a growing challenge."

What's Behind The Matilda Scandal?

In Republic.ru, opposition journalist Oleg Kashin looks at the controversy surrounding the film Matilda.

New Protest Restrictions?

Nezavisimaya Gazeta is reporting that new legislation is being drafted that would place additional restrictions on public demonstrations.

Budget Counter-Propaganda

In his column for Bloomberg, political commentator Leonid Bershidsky explains "how to combat Russian propaganda on a tight budget."

New Podcast On The Block

A new podcast on Russia is apparently coming soon and it looks like a must-listen! The word on the Twitter is that the EHM Podcast, "a not-quite-weekly podcast featuring news and discussion on Russian politics, culture, and society" hosted by Matt Bodner, Aleksei Kovalev, and Kevin Rothrock will go live soon. Welcome aboard, guys!

SRB Podcast

The latest SRB Podcast, hosted by Sean Guillory of the University of Pittsburgh's Center for Russian and Eastern European Studies, looks at the early modern Russian empire. Sean's guest is Stanford University professor Nancy Kollmann, author of the book The Russian Empire, 1450-1801.

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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