Thursday, July 02, 2015


The Daily Vertical: Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid

The Daily Vertical: Be Afraid, Be Very Afraidi
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May 20, 2015
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.

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.


Lose The Territory, Win The War

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko (left) and Russian President Vladimir Putin during cease-fire talks in Minsk on February 11.

For more than a year, there's been a war in eastern Ukraine that nobody called a war. And for the past three months, there's been a cease-fire there that wasn't a cease-fire.

And now that the agreement reached in Minsk in February that was supposed to end hostilities in the Donbas is all but dead in the water, we seem to be lurching toward some kind of endgame. And it is shaping up to be as strange and counterintuitive as every other aspect of this through-the-looking-glass hybrid conflict.

"Normally, wars are fought over prize territory: winners gain it, losers lose it," Alexander Motyl, a professor at Rutgers University-Newark and expert on post-Soviet affairs wrote recently in Foreign Policy. 

But in this conflict, Motyl added, whoever ends up holding the Russian-controlled territories of the Donbas will actually be the loser.

The region, he noted, is an economic basket case. Its industrial base is devastated. Infrastructure damage is estimated to be $227 million. Gas and water shortages are endemic. Only one-third of the population is receiving regular wages.

Of the estimated 3 million people remaining there, 2 million are either children or pensioners who must be supported by 1 million working-age adults.

Responsibility for rebuilding this mess will be a major financial albatross for either Kyiv or Moscow.

And then there are the politics.

Without the rebel-held areas, Ukraine can get on with reforming its economy and integrating with the West. With them, Kyiv will be saddled with a pro-Moscow fifth column in the east that will paralyze it for the foreseeable future.

So who is losing?

"As the man who owns the enclave and is likely to do so for the foreseeable future," Motyl wrote, "Vladimir Putin is thus the loser. And both Russia and Ukraine know it."

And this explains a lot. It explains, for example, why the Kremlin is suddenly so concerned about Ukraine's territorial integrity.

In a radio interview last month, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow wanted Ukraine to remain united and accused the authorities in Kyiv of trying to partition their own country. 

Lavrov made his comments in reaction to a call by Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko for UN peacekeepers in Donbas

It also explains why separatist leaders in Donetsk and Luhansk last week submitted proposals for those territories' long-term status that keep them inside Ukraine -- albeit one that is decentralized to the point of dysfunction.

"At first glance, the separatist documents seem promising. In a sharp break with previous practice, they make no mention of the unrecognized Donetsk and Lugansk 'people's republics,'" Russian political commentator Leonid Bershidsky wrote recently in Bloomberg.

"Instead, the territory is called 'a separate district with a special status.'"

Bershidsky added that the proposals "have Moscow's fingerprints" and "demonstrate a lawyerly cunning that the rough and ready rebels have never exhibited."

This is the context, subtext, and backstory of the flurry of diplomacy we have seen in recent weeks -- from Angela Merkel's visit to Moscow to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry's stopover in Sochi to U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland shuttling between the Ukrainian and Russian capitals.

The West is desperately trying to salvage a Minsk cease-fire that is long past its sell-by date.

Russia, meanwhile, is trying to force an interpretation of that cease-fire on everybody that results in a Bosnia-style solution that allows Moscow's proxies in eastern Ukraine to keep the country dysfunctional and out of the Western orbit.

Russia could of course still launch a costly and risky military offensive aimed at Mariupol or Kharkiv.

Or, as Bershidsky suggests "he can freeze the situation and proceed to build ties with the rebel-held areas on the model of other frozen conflict zones: Transdnistria in Moldova, Abkhazia and South Ossetia in Georgia."

But according to Motyl, "time is on Ukraine's side" as "the current stand-off is the best of all possible worlds for Kyiv."

"Winning this 'hybrid' war means losing territory. All Ukraine needs do is keep the separatists boxed in," he wrote.

"Sooner or later, a rational or semi-rational Putin disinclined to start World War III over a piece of crummy real estate will have to accept 'frozen conflict' status or pull another Crimea and annex the territory. Either way, Russia will be stuck with a no-future region that will be a drag on its economy for decades to come."

-- Brian Whitmore


Video The Daily Vertical: The Strange Endgame In Donbas

The Daily Vertical: The Strange Endgame In Donbasi
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May 19, 2015
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.

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.


The Daily Vertical: Is The Nemtsov Case Being Whitewashed?

The Daily Vertical: Is The Nemtsov Case Being Whitewashed?i
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May 18, 2015
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.

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.


The Daily Vertical: Who Are The Real Fascists?

The Daily Vertical: Who Are The Real Fascists?i
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April 30, 2015
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.

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.


Audio Podcast: The Lukashenka Shuffle

Playing a double game

You can call it the Lukashenka shuffle and the authoritarian Belarusian leader has been doing it for years.

First you play the loyal Moscow ally, until you need something -- like lower gas prices, for example. Then, you cozy up to the West to blackmail your Kremlin patrons.

Everybody knew what he was doing and everybody played along with the little two-step.

But something has changed in the wake of the Ukraine crisis. Alyaksandr Lukashenka's criticism of Moscow has become more persistent and more pronounced. And his overtures to the West appear more serious and more sincere.

Suddenly, Lukashenka's little dance has become a lot more consequential -- and a lot more dangerous.

On the latest Power Vertical Podcast, we look at the Belarusian leader's machinations and their consequences -- both internationally and domestically.

Joining me are Alyaksey Znatkevich of RFE/RL's Belarus Service and Andrew Wilson, a senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations and author of Belarus: The Last European Dictatorship and the recently published Ukraine Crisis: What It Means For the West.

Enjoy...

Power Vertical Podcast: The Lukashenka Shuffle
Power Vertical Podcast: The Lukashenka Shufflei
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Listen to or download the podcast above or subscribe to "The Power Vertical Podcast" on iTunes.​

Tags:Alyaksandr Lukashenka


Video The Daily Vertical: Info Wars Escalate

The Daily Vertical: Russia Plays The Victim Cardi
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April 30, 2015
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.

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.


Video The Daily Vertical: Moscow's Desperate Donbas Endgame

The Daily Vertical: Moscow's Desperate Donbas Endgamei
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April 29, 2015
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.

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.


Video The Daily Vertical: Bikers Of Mass Distraction

The Daily Vertical: Bikers Of Mass Distractioni
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April 28, 2015
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.

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.


Video The Daily Vertical: Is Berlin Wavering?

The Daily Vertical: Is Berlin Wavering?i
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April 27, 2015
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.

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.

 


Audio Podcast: Goodbye, Lenin

Breaking with the past or dividing the future?

When Ukrainians began toppling statues of Soviet founder Vladimir Lenin at the height of the Euromaidan revolution, it seemed almost retro. As if we had gone back in time to 1991.

And in some ways we had.

Because to many of its supporters, last year's Ukrainian uprising represented reviving the dashed hopes and promise of that heady time. Hopes for a truly independent Ukraine that had broken from its Soviet past -- and was free from Russian domination in its present.

But as Ukraine's pro-Western rulers are now learning, putting these hopes into practice is a lot trickier than knocking down a monument.

On the latest Power Vertical Podcast, we look at a series of anticommunist laws recently passed by the Ukrainian parliament and the controversy they have generated.

Joining me are Natalia Churikova, senior editor of RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service and host of the program European Connect; Taras Kuzio, a senior research associate for the Canadian Institute for Ukrainian Studies at the University of Alberta; and Lucan Way of the Center for European, Russian, and Eurasian Studies at the University of Toronto.

Enjoy...

Power Vertical Podcast -- 24 March 2015
Power Vertical Podcast: Goodbye, Lenini
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Listen to or download the podcast above or subscribe to "The Power Vertical Podcast" on iTunes.​

Tags:Power Vertical podcast, Russia, Ukraine


Video The Daily Vertical: Kadyrov 'Declares Independence'

The Daily Vertical: Kadyrov 'Declares Independence'i
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April 24, 2015
The Daily Vertical is a video primer for Russia-watchers that appears Monday through Friday. Viewers can suggest topics viaTwitter@PowerVertical or on the Power Vertical Facebook page.
The Daily Vertical: Kadyrov 'Declares Independence'

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


Video The Daily Vertical: The Respectable Mr. Lavrov

The Daily Vertical: The Respectable Mr. Lavrovi
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April 23, 2015
The Daily Vertical is a video primer for Russia-watchers that appears Monday through Friday. Viewers can suggest topics viaTwitter@PowerVertical or on the Power Vertical Facebook page.
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The Daily Vertical is a video primer for Russia-watchers that appears Monday through Friday. Viewers can suggest topics viaTwitter@PowerVertical or on the Power Vertical Facebook page.


Video The Daily Vertical: Why The Gazprom Antitrust Case Matters

The Daily Vertical: Why The Gazprom Antitrust Case Mattersi
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April 22, 2015

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


Video The Daily Vertical: Russia's Embarrassing Exports

The Daily Vertical: Russia's Embarrassing Exportsi
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April 21, 2015
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.
The Daily Vertical: Russia's Embarrassing Exports

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.

 


Video The Daily Vertical: Lukashenka Makes His Choice

The Daily Vertical: Lukashenka Makes His Choicei
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April 20, 2015
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.

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.


Audio Podcast: Putin's Rite Of Spring

Putin talks dogs, clones, pensions, and Ukraine -- for four hours.

It happens every spring.

The sun shines, the birds sing, the trees bloom, and Vladimir Putin holds his annual phone-in program in which carefully vetted ordinary Russian citizens can ask the Kremlin leader any pre-approved question their heart desires.

It's a highly scripted and choreographed affair and it's hyped up as if it were the World Cup or the Super Bowl.

And it's closely watched by Kremlinologists for clues about Putin's thinking.

So what exactly was he telling us this year?

On this week's Power Vertical Podcast, we unpack the Putin Show. Joining me are co-host Mark Galeotti, a professor at New York University, and expert on Russia's security services, and author of the blog In Moscow's Shadows; and RFE/RL's Social Media Editor Glenn Kates.

Also on the podcast, Mark, Glenn, and I take a look at the latest developments in the Boris Nemtsov assassination.

Enjoy...

Power Vertical Podcast: Putin's Rite Of Spring
Power Vertical Podcast: Putin's Rite Of Springi
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Listen to or download the podcast above or subscribe to "The Power Vertical Podcast" on iTunes.​

Tags:Power Vertical podcast, Vladimir Putin, Russian politics, Boris Nemtsov


Video The Daily Vertical: The Wily Lukashenka

The Daily Vertical: The Wily Lukashenkai
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April 17, 2015
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.

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.

 


Video The Daily Vertical: The Wrong Wars?

The Daily Vertical: The Wrong Wars?i
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April 16, 2015
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.

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.


Video The Daily Vertical: Keep An Eye On Karelia

The Daily Vertical: Keep An Eye On Kareliai
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April 15, 2015
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.

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.

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About This Blog

The Power Vertical is a blog written especially for Russia wonks and obsessive Kremlin watchers by Brian Whitmore. It covers 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