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The Power Vertical

Sunday 26 March 2017

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The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect the views of RFE/RL.

The Daily Vertical is a video primer for Russia-watchers that appears Monday through Friday. Viewers can suggest topics via Twitter @PowerVertical or on the Power Vertical Facebook page.

A transcript of today's Daily Vertical can be found here.

The Morning Vertical, March 23, 2017

  • Brian Whitmore

Your daily roundup.

ON MY MIND

As a must-read piece featured below by Neil Barnett clearly illustrates, the West needs to take the issue of unaccountable "black cash" much more seriously. It needs to recognize that combating money laundering and offshore havens are not just matters of good governance, but matters of national security.

Because as Barnett notes, the Kremlin is not just using these tools to establish networks of influence and "Finlandize" the West, it is also trying to "Putinize" our domestic political systems as well. It is trying to establish a network of Moscow-dependent oligarchs and pro-Moscow political parties in the West.

And it is doing so at a time when antiestablishment sentiment in the West is rising.This all adds up to what he calls "an existential threat to democracy."

Barnett offers some common-sense prescriptions like tightening up money-laundering and campaign-finance laws, marginalizing and ultimately eliminating offshore centers, and stronger financial disclosure requirements for elected officials and candidates.

I argue on today's Daily Vertical that those profiting from Moscow's black cash are the Kremlin's "fellow travelers." Barnett's piece offers some ideas about what can be done about this, and is well worth a read.

IN THE NEWS

A former Russian lawmaker who defected to Ukraine in 2016 and has compared Russia with Nazi Germany has been shot dead in Kyiv, police say.

A munitions depot near the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv caught fire and was rocked by a series of explosions in a huge conflagration that the authorities have blamed on "sabotage," prompting the evacuation of thousands of people living nearby.

Bosnia-Herzegovina and Russia have signed an agreement to settle Moscow's $125.2 million Soviet-era debt to the Balkan country.

The head of NATO's military committee recently held a telephone call with the chief of the Russian General Staff, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said.

Three Russian athletes have been disqualified from the 2012 Olympics after failing doping retests, the country's track federation has said.

The Kremlin has sought to cast doubt on a report that conservative French presidential candidate Francois Fillon was paid 50,000 euros ($54,000) to arrange a meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and a Lebanese oil magnate.

Russian opposition politician Aleksei Navalny has rejected sites proposed by the authorities for an anticorruption rally on March 26, vowing to hold the protest in central Moscow.

Russia's lower house of parliament has approved legislation to exempt Russians who are under Western sanctions from paying tax in Russia if they are registered as taxpayers in foreign countries.

NATO Secretary-General Stoltenberg says he is "absolutely certain” a semiannual meeting of the alliance's foreign ministers can be rescheduled so U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson can attend.

A lawyer representing the family of deceased Russian whistle-blower Sergei Magnitsky remained hospitalized on March 22 after falling several stories from his apartment building, though Magnitsky's former employer said his condition had improved.

Moscow says it hopes former Bosnian Serb military leader Ratko Mladic will be granted provisional release from detention in The Hague to undergo medical treatment in Russia.

Ilmi Umerov, a Crimean Tatar leader who has criticized Russia's seizure of the Black Sea peninsula, appears likely to face trial soon on what he says are spurious charges of separatism.

Lithuania and Ukraine have rejected Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's allegations that they were involved in what Lukashenka called a planned "armed provocation" in Belarus.

Ukraine's main state security agency has announced it has barred Russia's contestant in the Eurovision Song Contest from entering the country, drawing a swift and angry reaction from Moscow.

NEW POWER VERTICAL BLOG

In my latest post on The Power Vertical Blog, Black Cash And Black Ops, I look at the OCCRP report on Russian money laundering.

WHAT I'M READING

Today's Must-Read: Dirty Money And Western Security

Neil Barnett has an excellent piece in The American Interest on how "dirty foreign money" is an "existential threat to democracy."

Active Measures In Slovakia

Olexia Basarab has a report for the for the Policy Association for an Open Society: The Kremlin's Trojan Horses In Slovakia.

Belarus's Time Of Troubles

Ingo Petz has a piece in Eurozine on how Belarus is "between a rock and a hard place" as it searches for a national identity amid tensions with Russia and a popular uprising.

Baltic Security And Western Security

Veteran Kremlin-watcher Edward Lucas, author of the book The New Cold War, has testified before the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee on U.S. policy toward the Baltic states. You can watch the video here.

Responding To Russia's Intel War

In a position paper for the Institute of International Relations in Prague, Mark Galeotti argues that "Russian spies do not simply gather information, but seek directly to undermine European solidarity, and require a response to match."

And Still More On The Russian Defense Budget

Dave Majumdar, defense editor of The National Interest, is the latest military analyst to challenge claims by Janes IHS that Russia is reducing its military budget by 25 percent.

Hybrid War And The World Order

Foreign Policy has an interview with Ukrainian elder statesman Volodymyr Horbulin on how Russian hybrid war is changing the world order.

Putin's Anti-Feminists

Ekaterina Sokirianskaia, Russia and North Caucasus project director of the International Crisis Group, has a piece in The Guardian on how antifeminist women are legitimizing Putin's drive to instill patriarchal "traditional values" in Russia.

Making Russia Great Again

Sophie Pinkham, author of the book Black Square: Adventures In Post-Soviet Ukraine, has a piece in The Guardian on "how annexing Crimea allowed Putin to claim he had made Russia great again."

Reasons For Optimism In Ukraine

Ben Carnes of the Washington-based R Street Institute has a piece in Forbes on how "Ukraine Is silently leading a digital-currency revolution."

And Mark Temnycky has a piece in EUObserver on Ukraine's IT boom.

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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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