Morning Vertical, March 21, 2016

March 21, 2016
In Lithuania, a group of "troll fighters" called "elves" take on Russian propaganda | The Daily Beast

IN THE NEWS

Initial indications are that a court in the southern region of Rostov will find Ukrainian military pilot Nadia Savchenko guilty of the killing of two Russian journalists in eastern Ukraine in 2014, Russian news agencies are reporting. The verdict is scheduled to be read out on March 21-22. Prosecutors are asking for a 23-year prison sentence.

Four more Russian athletes have tested positive for meldonium.

A group of local lawmakers in St. Petersburg are calling on Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev to fire Russia’s controversial Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky.

It’s also a big week diplomatically in Moscow with U.S. Secretary of StateJohn Kerry visiting the Russian capital on March 23-24 for talks on Syria and German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier arriving for talks on implementing the Minsk cease-fire in eastern Ukraine.

WHAT I’M READING

Moscow’s Divide-And-Rule Tactics

Chatham House releases a new report today, “Russia’s ‘New’ Tools for Confronting the West – Continuity and Innovation in Moscow’s Exercise of Power.” The author, Keir Giles, argues that Russia’s allegedly new “hybrid-war” strategy is actually a revival of traditional Soviet doctrine. “Today, as in the past, Western planners and policy-makers must consider and plan not only for the potential threat of military attack by Russia, but also for the actual threat of Moscow’s ongoing subversion, destabilization and ‘active measures,'” Giles writes.

In the same vein, Sijbren de Jong of the Institute for European Studies published a policy brief last week, “Confuse, Divide, And Rule – How Russia Drives Europe Apart.” 

Columnist Natalie Nougayrède has an strong piece in The Guardian onVladimir Putin’s long game against the West. “Putin calculates that the ultimate geopolitical prize will come not in the Middle East but in Europe. That is where Russia’s historical obsessions truly lie. Reacting to that reality may well be the next struggle for the continent,” she wrote.

Russia’s Game In Syria

Is Russia really withdrawing from Syria? A growing number of analysts are saying no. Dmitry Gorenburg and MIchael Koffman have a post on the excellent blog, War On The Rocks, that argues that the alleged pullout “constitutes a political reframing of Russia’s intervention in order to normalize Moscow’s military presence in Syria, and make it permanent, while convincing Russians at home that the campaign is over.” They add that “‘the ‘withdrawal’ announcement is not about how Russia leaves, but about how it stays in Syria.”

Kommersant Vlast has an in-depth reconstruction on Russia’s Syria operation. The report claims that Russia found Bashar al-Assad’s forces in Syria inadequate and mostly coordinated with Hezbollah against anti-Assad forces.

Elves Vs. Trolls

Michael Weiss has an report out of Lithuania in The Daily Beast about the country’s cyber warriors, who battle Russia’s Internet trolls. And yes, they really do call themselves “elves.”