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The Morning Vertical, August 17, 2017

  • Brian Whitmore

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ON MY MIND

One of the more interesting developments in the run-up to next month's joint Russian-Belarusian Zapad 2017 military exercises has been the behavior of Belarus.

Unlike Moscow, which seems intent on using the exercises as something of a psyop to spook Russia's neighbors and the West, Minsk appears determined that they not become a source of external friction.

With the exercises taking place on Belarusian soil, Minsk has invited military observers from NATO and non-NATO countries, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), and the Red Cross.

Belarus has made a special effort to reach out to -- and assuage the concerns of -- countries in the neighborhood like Poland, Ukraine, and the Baltic states.

Additionally, as Chatham House's Keir Giles noted in a piece featured in The Morning Vertical earlier this week, "Belarus is running its own program of advance briefings for NATO and Western countries on how the exercise is to run, in parallel with information that Russia is providing."

This is partially out of self-interest. There has been much speculation and anxiety in Minsk that Russia will use the exercises to tighten its grip on Belarus, perhaps stealthily leaving troops behind.

"Belarus is pushing for openness to the West during the exercises -- which will also help ensure that Russia does not take the opportunity to deviate from the exercise scenario to launch some kind of unfriendly action," Giles notes.

But Minsk's surprising transparency also stems from the fact that Belarus does not want to be drawn into a conflict between Russia and the West -- and wants to distance itself from any attempt to use the exercises as a psychological operation to unnerve the West.

Ever the gamer, Alyaksandr Lukashenka wants to keep his options open and to play both sides -- even as the wily Belarusian president prepares to join Putin in presiding over the biggest wargaming exercises since the Cold War.

IN THE NEWS

A Russian web-hosting provider says it has suspended the Russian domain of the prominent U.S. neo-Nazi website Daily Stormer after the government's media regulator asked it to look into the site's "extremist content."

Russia's state railway monopoly plans to order additional trains from Siemens despite a recent scandal over Moscow's delivery of four of the German company's turbines to Crimea in violation of sanctions, Russian news agencies report.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that Moscow hopes Iran will not quit the agreement reached in 2015 with world powers to curb its nuclear work in return for the lifting of most economic sanctions.

Lavrov also said that the crisis in Venezuela should be resolved peacefully and without external intervention.

Prominent Russian actress and director Vera Glagoleva has died at the age of 61, Russian news agencies reported.

A court in the Russian city of Arkhangelsk has fined a local activist for placing a plaque commemorating a victim of Soviet persecutions on a house that has protected status.

Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko says he has ordered an "urgent, thorough, and full investigation" into a media report alleging that North Korea may have purchased rocket engines from a Ukrainian factory.

Mikheil Saakashvili, the former Georgian president and ex-governor of Ukraine's Odesa region who was stripped of his Ukrainian citizenship in July, says he plans to return to Kyiv next month.

Georgian civil activist Tamara Mearakishvili says she has been detained without reason in the Russian-controlled breakaway region of South Ossetia.

WHAT I'M READING

Russia And World Public Opinion

A new poll by the Pew Research Center finds that publics worldwide have a negative view of Putin and Russia.

Politico's Matthew Nussbaum looks at Putin's rising popularity among U.S. Republicans.

And in an op-ed for The New York Times, the ever insightful Ivan Krastev explains why American liberals find Putin's Russia so frightening.

The Road To Zapad 2017

The Center for European Policy Analysis has launched a web portal -- The Road To Zapad 2017 -- tracking and analyzing the exercises.

Meanwhile, in Yezhednevny Zhurnal, military analyst Aleksandr Golts argues that the "main secret" of Russia's upcoming Zapad 2017 exercises is the low combat readiness of three new Russian divisions that were created in late 2015.

Germany's Ethnic Russians

A report by Andrea Shalal of Reuters looks at the role of ethnic Russians in Germany's upcoming elections.

Russia And North Korea

Former U.S. State Department official Donald Jensen, a fellow at the Center for Transatlantic Relations in the Nitze School of International Studies at Johns Hopkins University and a senior fellow at the Center for European Policy Analysis, looks at Russia's role in the North Korea crisis.

Moscow's Global Agenda

In The Moscow Times, Dmitry Trenin, director of the Moscow Carnegie Center, looks at Russia foreign policy goals.

Witness To A Hacking

Andrew Kramer and Andrew Higgins have a report in The New York Times on the malware expert in Ukraine who may hold the key to the Russian hacking case.

Fixing Ukraine's Economy

Mark Gitenstein, the former U.S. Ambassador to Romania, and Jacques Tohme, managing partner of the resources investment firm Amerocap LLC, have a piece on the Atlantic Council's website on how to fix the Ukrainian economy.

Silk Road Geopolitics

The Hague Center for Strategic Studies has a new report, A Road To Riches Or A Road To Ruin? The Geo-Economic Implications of China’s New Silk Road, authored by Sijbren de Jong, Willem Oosterveld, and Michel Roelen.

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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