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The Morning Vertical, September 6, 2017


The arrest and corruption trial of former Economics Minister Aleksei Ulyukayev is many things and can be viewed in many ways.

It can be seen as a power play by Rosneft CEO Igor Sechin as he seeks greater control of Russia's energy sector.

It can be seen as the opening shot in the cutthroat court intrigue that many observers expect in Vladimir Putin's inner circle in the coming years.

And it represents the first time since the Stalin era that a sitting minister has been arrested and tried for corruption.

But as Oleg Kashin shows in a piece featured below, it is also providing a rare window into how the Russian elite operates -- and the picture is not pretty.

Kashin notes that the case is resulting in "a radical desacralization of power," adding that "the Russian ruling class is a very closed social group that hides its life, its real face, and its relationships with each other from citizens. Cases when society can see what they really are, are extremely rare."

And for this reason, the Ulyukayev case may turn out to be a watershed moment.


Germany's foreign minister has welcomed Russian President Vladimir Putin's agreement to send UN peacekeepers to eastern Ukraine, saying it heralded "a change in [Russia's] politics that we should not gamble away."

Putin has congratulated Bashar al-Assad after Syrian state media said government troops broke a three-year long siege of the eastern city of Deir al-Zour by Islamic State forces.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) says that Russian police are "systematically" interfering with attempts by opposition leader Aleksei Navalny to campaign for the March 2018 presidential election.

Putin also warned against "driving North Korea into a corner" over its nuclear weapons program and missile tests.

Two alleged Russian intelligence operatives have been named as the main organizers of what authorities say was a coup attempt against Montenegro's pro-Western government as the trial of 14 suspected coup plotters opened in Podgorica on September 6.

The European Union will prolong its asset freezes and visa bans on Russian officials and Moscow-backed separatists in Ukraine for another six months, with Russia's new ambassador to the United States likely to remain on the list, diplomats said.

A Kyiv court adjourned Viktor Yanukovych's in absentia treason trial until September 21 after the former Ukrainian president's new lawyer asked for more time to prepare.

Nikita Belykh, the liberal former governor of Russia's Kirov region, pleaded not guilty as his trial on a bribe-taking charge got under way in Moscow on September 5.

The U.S. House Intelligence Committee has issued subpoenas for documents related to a dossier that claimed Russia collected compromising information about U.S. President Donald Trump, the panel's top Democrat said.

The independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta reports that Belarusian authorities have detained a woman from Russia's Chechnya region who was attempting to flee to Norway after receiving threats, and handed her over to a man who claimed to be her father.

A 15-year-old Russian schoolboy attacked a teacher with a meat cleaver and fired an air gun at her face during an assault that sent other pupils fleeing for safety, officials and the injured teacher said.

Ukrainian authorities have confirmed that they received a request from Georgia to extradite its former president, Mikheil Saakashvili.

Moldova's pro-Russia President Igor Dodon says he has canceled the participation of a small contingent of Moldovan soldiers in upcoming NATO exercises.


Sechin, Ulyukayev, And The Russian Elite

In his column for, opposition journalist Oleg Kashin opines about what a recorded conversation between Rosneft CEO Igor Sechin and former Economics Minister Aleksei Ulyukayev -- that was read out in Ulyukayev's corruption trial -- reveals about the state of the Russian elite.

New Book: David Kramer's Back To Containment

Former U.S. State Department official David Kramer, currently a senior fellow at the McCain Institute, has published a new book: Back To Containment: Dealing With Putin’s Regime.

More Book Buzz: Masha Gessen's The Future Is History

Masha Gessen's new book The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia is generating some buzz. Here's a Kirkus review of the book. And on October 3, BAM and Greenlight Bookstore in Brooklyn will host a launch event featuring a discussion with Gessen and David Remnick.


In Foreign Policy, former U.S. Under Secretary of Defense Dov Zakheim looks at the unlikely alliance between Russia, Iran, and Turkey in Syria.

Russia And Germany's Election

In Foreign Policy, Joerg Forbrig, a Berlin-based senior transatlantic fellow with the German Marshall Fund of the United States, explains why Russian interference in Germany's election is inevitable -- and will inevitably fail.

Russia's Goals In Ukraine

In an op-ed for The Moscow Times, foreign affairs analyst Vladimir Frolov argues that Russia "wants political control, not territory" in Ukraine.

The Nord Stream Threat To Europe

Former U.S. State Department official Kirk Bennett has a piece in The American Interest arguing that it is crucial to European security to kill the Nord Stream-2 gas pipeline project.

Why NATO Needs Its Own Zapad

Elisabeth Braw of The Atlantic Council has a piece in Defense One on why NATO needs to have its own version of Russia's upcoming Zapad military exercises.

Ukraine's Parliament Problem

The Atlantic Council's Peter Dickinson argues that Ukraine's parliament is becoming increasingly dysfunctional.

More On The 'Gerasimov Doctrine'

Molly K. McKew, a former adviser to the Georgian and Moldovan governments, has a piece in Politico looking at the so-called Gerasimov Doctrine.

Weaponized AI?

In his column for Bloomberg, political commentator Leonid Bershidsky argues that the West should take the threat of Russia weaponizing artificial intelligence seriously.

OpenDemocracy's Kremlinology Quiz

And now for a little fun -- OpenDemocracy Russia asks: What Kind Of Kremlinologist Are You?

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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