The Morning Vertical, October 7, 2016

October 7, 2016
Demonstrators place a portrait of Kremlin critic Anna Politkovskaya during a demonstration commemorating killed opposition activists in central Moscow, February 1, 2009. REUTERS/Thomas Peter (RUSSIA)


They’ve been gunned down in their stairwells. They’ve been shot dead on Moscow streets. And one was even poisoned with a rare radioactive isotope in the heart of London. Political assassinations have become a regular feature of post-Soviet Russia — from television anchor Vladislav Listyev back in 1995 to Boris Nemtsov in 2015.

And today marks the 10th anniversary of one of the most shocking, the 2006 killing of investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya.

On this week’s Power Vertical Podcast, co-host Mark Galeotti and I take a closer look at the phenomenon of political assassinations in Russia.
What accounts for the proliferation of assassinations over the past two decades? Are they localized acts of violence? Or is there a method to the madness?

Tune in later today!


A Russia Defense Ministry spokesman suggested that Russian antiaircraft systemsmay shoot down U.S. or U.S.-led coalition aircraft if they attack Syrian forces.

Finland’s Defense Ministry says it suspects a Russian warplane has violated Finnish airspace, forcing Finland to scramble military jets to identify the Su-27 fighter flying over the Baltic Sea.

Russian security officials say a member of the Islamic State and five other militantshave been killed in two counterterrorism operations in the North Caucasus region of Ingushetia.

The World Anti-Doping Agency says Russian hackers tampered with some of the drug profiles they leaked in a bid to embarrass dozens of star Olympic athletes.

A U.S. citizen and two Russian nationals were arrested for allegedly exporting sensitive military technology from the United States to Russia, the U.S. Justice Department has said.

New York City police are looking for whoever draped a gigantic banner portraying Russian President Vladimir Putin over the side of the Manhattan Bridge.


They’ve Still Not Found The Organizers

To mark the 10th anniversary of Anna Politkovskaya’s slaying, her former colleagues at Novaya Gazeta have put out a powerful video reminding us all that those who ordered the assassination have still not been brought to justice.

Novaya Gazeta also has an article critically examining the investigation.

Also to pay tribute to Politkovskaya, author and journalist Irina Borogan writes in The Guardian about Russia’s female journalists “who risk everything to report from Russia’s front lines.”

Putin’s Paranoia

Power Vertical Podcast co-host Mark Galeotti, a senior research fellow at the Institute of International Relations in Prague, has a piece in BNEIntellinews on why Vladimir Putin believes his own hype about a hostile West — and what the West can do in response.

“Russia these days looks almost as if it is spoiling for a fight with the West, from its brutal bombings in Aleppo to the decision to end nuclear cooperation with the U.S. However, what may seem like petulant antics actually reflects a difficult and dangerous underlying problem: Putin genuinely believes the West is out to get him,” Galeotti writes.

The Battle For Aleppo

Maxim Trudolyubov, a senior fellow at The Kennan Institute, has a post up on the Russia Files blog on how the Kremlin sees Aleppo as a path to victory — and why this is probably a mistake.

Meanwhile, in an op-ed in The New York Times, former U.S. National Security Council officials Steven Simon, a professor at Amherst College, and Jonathan Stevenson, a senior fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, ask, Is it too late for the United States to intervene more forcefully in the Syrian war?

The Diplomatic Breakdown In Syria

Steven Heydemann, a professor at Smith College and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, has a piece in Vedomosti explaining why the United Statesbroke off talks with Russia on Syria.

“The U.S. decision to withdraw from the diplomatic dialogue with Russia on Syria makes sense: in a situation where only the United States is engaging in diplomacy, no joint projects are possible,” Heydemann writes.

From KAL007 To MH17

Writing in The Moscow Times, Vasily Gatov, a visiting fellow at the Annenberg Center on Communication Leadership and Policy at the University of Southern California, compares the Soviet response to KAL007 to the Russian response to MH17.

“One strange quality is consistent among Russian power mongers: they utterly dislike making apologies regardless of evidence, court decisions, or common sense. And, in Putin’s emergent pariah state, an apology is nothing more than weakness,” Gatov writes.

Meet The Fake NGOs

Daniel Baer, the U.S. permanent representative to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, has a piece on so-called GONGOS, or Government Organized Non-Governmental Organizations.

“‘Why would a government organize a “fake” community organization or human rights advocacy group?’ you ask. Well, repressive regimes have found that because they are often unable to convincingly answer the criticism voiced by citizens who join to form bona fide civil-society organizations, they can set up their own fake organizations that will shill for the government in an attempt to distract from repressive failings,” Baer writes.

“GONGOs defend countries’ policies, attempt to delegitimize genuine civil-society voices, and consume time, space, and other limited resources that could be used for real, meaningful dialogue.”

Europe and Ukraine

Gustav Gressel, a senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, has a new report out : Keeping Up Appearances: How Europe Is Supporting Ukraine’s Transformation.

“Ukraine fatigue and defeatism is taking hold in some European countries. But the governments of these countries should know that Ukraine can reform. It just requires effective support and guidance — some of which can be provided by the EU,” Gressel writes.

How Old Is Putin?

To mark Vladimir Putin’s 64th birthday today, has an article and graphic looking at the average ages of world leaders. Putin, it turns out, is just slightly older than the average age for a head of state.

Warrior Children

Christopher Moldes at Global Voices has a piece looking at the controversy over Ramzan Kadyrov’s children participating in mixed-martial-arts fighting in Chechnya.

The Battle For The Black Sea

Sergei Glebov, a professor of international relations at Mechnikov National University in Odesa (and a former student of mine), has a new scholarly article out: Russia’s Policy Towards The Black Sea Region And EU-Russia Relations,

NOTE TO READERS: I will be away on the conference circuit until the end of the month. The Morning Vertical, therefore, will not appear for the next three weeks and will return on Monday, October 31.