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The Daily Vertical: A Rough Year Ahead In The Neighborhood (Transcript)

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

Russia's neighbors should probably expect a pretty rough ride in 2017.

To mark the 25th anniversary of the formal breakup of the U.S.S.R., Vladimir Putin met with the leaders of several former Soviet states to call for a new spirit of integration.

It wasn't an invitation. It was more of an order.

Russian state media, meanwhile, has been increasingly running stories criticizing Belarus, questioning its independence, and warning it against following Ukraine's path.

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Leonid Reshetnikov, the outgoing director of the Kremlin-backed Russian Institute of Strategic Studies, recently said that Belarus was part of "Greater Russia" and could not exist independent of Moscow.

In Ukraine, meanwhile, fighting has escalated in the Donbas over the past week as pro-Moscow separatists upped their attacks despite a formal cease-fire.

And, last month, Russia escalated its campaign of pressure on Georgia, ratifying an agreement with the breakaway Abkhazia region to establish joint military units.

Putin appears to think his moment has come.

The Kremlin leader appears to believe that his coveted sphere of privileged interest and Russia's imperial dominance over its neighbors is finally within his grasp.

He appears to think the Kremlin's guerrilla war on Western institutions has created enough disruption and distraction that there will be very little pushback from Europe or the United States.

He appears to believe he pretty much has a free hand in the neighborhood.

And as a result, Russia's neighbors need to brace for a very rough year ahead -- even rougher than usual.

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