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The Morning Vertical, September 8, 2016


The most remarkable thing about the prosecution of Yekaterinburg-based blogger Ruslan Sokolovsky for playing Pokemon Go in church is how unremarkable it is.

The most striking thing about the fact that Sokolovsky faces five years in prison on charges of "preventing the realization of the right to freedom of conscience and religion and incitement of hatred" is that it is completely unsurprising.

As journalist and political commentator Oleg Kashin shows in a highly recommended piece featured below, the Sokolovsky case should be a stark reminder of how much Russia has changed in the four years since Vladimir Putin returned to the Kremlin. Kashin notes that when four members of the female punk rock collective Pussy Riot were prosecuted for offending religious believers in the summer of 2012, it was a shock and a sensation.

But Sokolovsky's prosecution today is seen as routine.


The United States has declined to confirm Russia’s announcement that Secretary of State John Kerry will join Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Geneva on September 8 to pin down a cease-fire in Syria.

In a speech at Oxford University, U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter accused Russia of having "clear ambition to erode the principled international order."

Officials say Russian jets repeatedly intercepted U.S. naval reconnaissance planes over the Black Sea, and U.S. defense officials have complained a Russian pilot at one point flew within 3 meters of one of the planes.

A Russian Orthodox priest charged with sexually abusing minors has been extradited from Israel to Russia at the Russian prosecutor-general's request.

Colleagues and human rights activists have condemned the jailing of journalist Zhalaudi Geriyev on drug charges in Chechnya as political persecution. Geriyev, a contributor to the website Caucasus Knot who is known for his reporting on human rights in the region, was sentenced to three years in prison for alleged marijuana possession.

Environmental regulators say they have ordered an investigation into why a river in far northern Russia turned an alarming hue of red in recent days.

A Russian court has sentenced a man to eight years in prison after ruling he was a member of a group in Syria that was once linked to Al-Qaeda.


On the latest Power Vertical blog: One of the most significant things about the G20 summit was something that didn't happen. Hangzhou didn't become Yalta. Vladimir Putin didn't get what he wanted in Ukraine. So what does he do next?


From Pussy Riot To Pokemon Go

Prominent journalist and political commentator Oleg Kashin has a piece in Slon that looks at how the 2012 convictions of four members of the female punk rock collective Pussy Riot made the prosecution of Yekaterinburg-based blogger Ruslan Sokolovsky -- on trial for playing Pokemon Go in church -- possible.

"The Pussy Riot case, in which the authorities turned victims of political persecution into common criminals, was a sensation. The Sokolovsky case is routine," Kashin writes.

Perils Of A Nationalist Eastern Europe

In his column for Bloomberg, political analyst Leonid Bershidsky looks at what rising nationalism among the European Union's eastern members means for the bloc.

"Post-communist nations have taken two decades to decide what they are, and the decision is almost unanimous: They are countries based on strong national traditions and interests," Bershidsky writes.

"The nationalisms may have different vectors -- Poland is fiercely anti-Russian, Hungary and Slovakia are relatively pro-Russian -- but they have more uniting features than differences. They are all about a decentralized Europe that is not particularly welcoming to outsiders."

The Putin Generation

Bloomberg Businessweek has a reported piece on how Putin is cultivating a new generation of leaders to prolong his rule.

"The new generation is steeped in the state-controlled system that Putin has built," the authors, Ilya Arkhipov, Henry Meyer, and Gregory White, write.

"While some of his contemporaries might have had the stature to challenge the president in private, the younger officials owe their entire careers to him. That bodes ill for the overhauls that could jump-start the economy -- loosening state control, stimulating private business, and cutting wasteful government spending. Putin has long resisted such steps in practice, despite embracing them in public statements."

The Plight Of Kaliningrad

Reuters has a reported piece on how sanctions and the recession are hitting Russia's exclave of Kaliningrad particularly hard.

"Kaliningrad is hardly the only part of Russia that is hurting. Throughout the past two years, a collapse in global prices for energy exports have created a grinding economic crisis. The ruble has fallen, raising the price of imports," the author, Lidia Kelly, writes.

"But while some parts of Russia have been partly shielded from the pain by the fall in imports, which has boosted consumption of homemade goods, Kaliningrad's close ties to its EU neighbors means it has suffered more than other areas."

Ilmi Umerov's Release

Halya Coynash of the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection group has a piece looking at the release of Crimean Tatar activist Ilmi Umerov from a psychiatric hospital, where he was forcefully admitted.

Reactions To The Paralympic Ban

A post on Mikhail Khodorkovsky's Open Wall web portal looks at how Russians widely view the banning of its Paralympic team as unjust, even those "who do not doubt the existence of a state doping program."

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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