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The Morning Vertical, September 5, 2016


Vladimir Putin was hoping to have a meeting at the G20 with Western leaders about Ukraine that excluded Ukraine. As I discuss with RFE/RL senior editor Steve Gutterman on The Power Vertical Briefing (featured below), Putin was hoping to decide Ukraine's future with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande over Kyiv's head and behind Kyiv's back.

After accusing Ukraine of plotting "terrorism" in Crimea, Putin pulled out of the so-called Normandy format talks with Hollande, Merkel, and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko. He then pushed for a joint meeting at the G20 with Merkel and Hollande to discuss Ukraine -- without Poroshenko.

Putin didn't get what he wanted. Merkel and Hollande denied Putin those optics, which would have been deeply disturbing for Kyiv, insisting instead that they each meet separately with Putin. The German chancellor and the French president then went on to meet with U.S. President Barack Obama to discuss Ukraine -- without Putin.

It appears that Putin's plan to use the G20 to convince the Western powers to pressure Ukraine to agree to a settlement of the conflict on Moscow's terms has failed. And with Russia still massing troops on Ukraine's borders, we should now keep an eye on what the Kremlin's next move will be.


U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin have met on the margins of the G20 summit in China.

Top diplomats from the United States and Russia have failed to reach a deal to ease fighting in Syria.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and German Chancellor Angela Merkel had a face-to-face meeting for nearly two hours late on September 4 on the sidelines of the G20 summit in China.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and British Prime Minister Theresa May held talks for the first time on September 5, with Moscow keen to improve ties.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, discussed resuming complete diplomatic relations on the eve of the G20 summit in China.

The opposition Yabloko party announced that it would not return Crimea to Russia.

Crimean Tatar activist Ilmi Umerov, who has been forced into a psychiatric hospital in Russian-occupied Crimea, says the conditions he’s facing are a threat to his physical health.

EU Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn said on September 3 that there will be a decision in both the European Parliament and among EU member states to grant visa liberalization to Ukraine and Georgia later this year.

Lithuania has supplied Ukrainian troops fighting Russia-backed separatists in the eastern part of the country with 150 tons of ammunition.

Two Russian opposition journalists have been attacked in Beslan.

Poland and Great Britain have announced that they favor extending sanctions against Russia.


On the latest Power Vertical Podcast, Putin's New Deal, we discuss how the Kremlin leader is changing the governing model he has relied on for the past 16 years and what this portends. Joining me are Nikolai Petrov of the Center for Political and Geographic Studies and Sean Guillory of the University of Pittsburgh's Center for Russian and Eastern European Studies, author of Sean's Russia blog and host of the SRB Podcast.


On this week's Power Vertical Briefing, RFE/RL senior editor Steve Gutterman and I take a look at what Putin achieved -- and did not achieve -- in his meetings with Western leaders at the G20 summit in China.


Moscow Targets Prague

The Prague-based European Values think tank has a new report, co-authored by its deputy director, Jakub Janda, and investigative journalist Ondrej Kundra, on Russia's tools of influence in the Czech Republic.

Is Belarus In The Kremlin's Crosshairs?

Kalev Stoicescu, a researcher at the International Center for Defense and Security and a former official with Estonia's foreign and defense ministries, asks: Is Belarus next on Russia's hit list?

Strange Things That Will Get You Arrested In Russia, Part 1

Kevin Rothrock at Global Voices takes a look at Ruslan Sokolovsky, the Russian blogger who has been jailed for playing Pokemon Go in church.

Strange Things That Will Get You Arrested In Russia, Part 2

Halya Coynash of the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group looks at the case of Vladimir Luzgin, the Perm-based blogger prosecuted for "rehabilitating Nazism" and "spreading false information about the activities of the Soviet Union during World War II" after he reposted a comment on social media noting that the U.S.S.R. invaded Poland in 1939.

Election Primer has its State Duma election blog up online, complete with helpful infographics, polls, and videos.

Forgotten Beslan

In Slon, prominent opposition journalist Oleg Kashin takes a look at why the Russian authorities don't want to remember the 2004 Beslan massacre.

The Argument Against Appeasement

On the Atlantic Council website, Aaron Korewa, a visiting fellow at The McCain Institute for International Leadership, argues that appeasing Russia won't work in Ukraine.

Europe's Unused Weapon

Andreas Umland of the Kyiv-based Institute for Euro-Atlantic Cooperation argues that Europe needs to more effectively use its economic leverage over Russia.

What Pivot To The East?

In a piece in The National Interest, Anita Inder Singh, visiting professor at the Center for Peace and Conflict Resolution in New Delhi, argues that Russia is not pivoting to Asia.

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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