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The Morning Vertical, September 16, 2016


Russian elections aren't elections. They're theater. They're a legitimization ritual. And they need to be evaluated as such. On today's Power Vertical Podcast, we'll discuss why Sunday's vote matters and what to look for.

Will the Kremlin be able to control the narrative and get the result they want without resorting to crude and obvious forms of falsification? Or will they lose control of the narrative and walk straight into a disaster, as was the case in 2011?

The elections will also be held in Crimea, which is not legally recognized as part of Russia. How will international organizations like the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly and the Council of Europe's Interparliamentary Assembly handle this? Will they shun the new Duma? Or will they de facto recognize Russia's forceful annexation of the peninsula by accepting members from the Russian parliament?

Joining me will be co-host Mark Galeotti of the Institute of International Relations in Prague and guest Anna Arutunayn, author of the book The Putin Mystique.
It will be posted later today, so be sure to tune in!


The White House is trying to build a legal case against Russian hackers it believes are behind recent leaks aimed at disrupting the U.S. presidential election, while Congress is eyeing sanctions as a remedy, media reports says.

U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has applauded a Syrian cease-fire deal brokered by the United States and Russia but said its success is "up to the Russians."

The chief of the Russian military's General Staff has visited Turkey for talks with his counterpart about the situation in Syria.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has inspected construction work on a bridge aimed at linking the annexed Crimean Peninsula to Russia.

President Vladimir Putin has called on Russians to go to the polls on September 18 to elect a new State Duma, the lower house of parliament.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier says a new cease-fire declared in eastern Ukraine appears to be holding.

Ukraine has filed a complaint at the World Trade Organization (WTO) to challenge Russia over restrictions on freight transit.

A European court has partially upheld sanctions imposed on Ukraine's ousted former president, Viktor Yanukovych, his son Oleksandr, and the former head of the presidential administration, Andriy Klyuyev.


Sure, they're fixed and they're falsified. Of course, they're a far cry from free and fair. And yeah, their results are always painfully predictable. But elections to the Russian State Duma still matter. On the latest Power Vertical blog, I explain why.


An Important Election That Doesn't Matter has published a debate between the prominent opposition journalist Oleg Kashin and former Kremlin insider Gleb Pavlovsky on whether it makes sense for Russians who want change to vote in Sunday's State Duma elections.

In a commentary for the Moscow Carnegie Center, political analyst Tatyana Stanovaya looks at the "hidden agenda" behind the elections.

"The elections serve one important purpose for the elite. They are a testing ground for the future contenders in top positions in the pyramid of power that will be formed after the 2018 presidential election," Stanovaya writes.

And Anna Arutunayn, author of the book The Putin Mystique, argues that the elections offer the Russian opposition the opportunity to lay the groundwork for the future.

What's Up With Bastrykin?

Wondering what is going on with Investigative Committee head Aleksandr Bastrykin? Is he really on his way out, as Russian media reports suggest? Mark Galeotti, a senior research fellow at the Institute of International Relations in Prague and a visiting fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, has a piece in OpenDemocracy that provides useful context and insight.

Medvedev Slept Here

Don't look now, but anticorruption blogger and opposition leader Aleksei Navalny has just flown a drone over a luxury estate used by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and posted the video on his blog. Navalny also outlines the opaque transactions that allowed Medvedev to gain access to the property, which he does not formally own.

The Hacker File

Washington Post columnist David Ignatius argues that the Cold War with Russia may be over, but the cyberwar has just begun.

The Washington Post reports that the website that leaked former Secretary of State Colin Powell's e-mails is linked to Russia.

Reuters, meanwhile, is citing U.S. law-enforcement and intelligence officials as saying that "the Federal Bureau of Investigation is intensifying efforts to find enough evidence to enable the Justice Department to indict some of the Russians that U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded are hacking into American political parties and figures."

Spy Wars

The Washington Post is reporting that "U.S. intelligence agencies are expanding spying operations against Russia on a greater scale than at any time since the end of the Cold War."

Imperial Overstretch

Writing in The American Interest, former U.S. State Department official Kirk Bennett asks whether Russia is risking overstretching itself in its foreign adventures.

"The near abroad presents at least as much risk and vulnerability as opportunity for Russia. Lured by the siren song of Eurasia and the Russian World, the Kremlin risks dashing an already battered Russian ship of state against the rocks of imperial overstretch," Bennett writes.

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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