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The Morning Vertical, February 15, 2017

  • Brian Whitmore

ON MY MIND

Russian missile deployments in violation of the 1987 INF treaty.

Russian aircraft buzzing a U.S. naval destroyer in the Black Sea.

A Russian spy ship spotted off the U.S. east coast.

More Russian hacking allegations, this time in France.

Is it me, or has the Kremlin been hyperactive even by its own high standards?

And this doesn't even take into consideration Moscow's behavior in its neighborhood like the escalation in the Donbas, rising tensions with Belarus, and threats from a lawmaker on northern Kazakhstan.

There is no doubt that the Kremlin has turned up the temperature of late.

The question is, why?

Is this a sign of a confident regime that sees things going its way and is ready to push the envelope?

Is Vladimir Putin testing the waters to see what he can get away with as the West enters a period of uncertainty?

It's unclear and, in either case, it is worrying.

IN THE NEWS

U.S. media are reporting that Russia has deployed a new cruise missile that the United States contends is in violation of a landmark arms control treaty.

The U.S. military said multiple Russian military aircraft buzzed a U.S. Navy destroyer in the Black Sea last week in "unsafe and unprofessional" maneuvers. They were the first such incidents reported during the Trump administration. Russia denied that they occurred.

Congressional leaders said they will investigate growing questions over contacts between Russia and top advisers to U.S. President Donald Trump in the weeks and months before he took office.

The White House has said that President Donald Trump fully expects Russia to return control of Crimea to Ukraine.

Russia has denied carrying out media and Internet attacks against French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron.

Russia's embassy in Ankara has expressed anger about the awarding of the prestigious World Press Photo Award to a photographer who shot an image of an off-duty Turkish policeman assassinating Russia's envoy to Turkey.

Former Russian State Duma Deputy Denis Voronenkov, who defected to Ukraine last year, has called Russia's 2014 annexation of Ukraine's Crimea region "a mistake" and compared present-day Russia with Nazi Germany.

Montenegro's prime minister, Dusko Markovic, has told Russia and its allies within Montenegro to stop destabilizing the country as part of their opposition to Podgorica's NATO membership bid.

Moldova's pro-Russian President Igor Dodon says he thinks the planned opening of a permanent NATO liaison office in Moldova would amount to a provocation.

A court in Moscow has sentenced three men from Russia's volatile North Caucasus region to prison on terrorism charges.

NATO defense ministers are expected to discuss defense spending and the fight against terrorism at a Brussels meeting attended for the first time by the new U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis.

WHAT I'M READING

Flynn And The Russians

David Frum, a senior editor at The Atlantic and a speechwriter for former U.S. President George W. Bush, has a piece on why the resignation of Michael Flynn as U.S. National Security Adviser matters.

How To Deal With Putin

Eugene B. Rumer, Richard Sokolsky, and Andrew S. Weiss have a piece in Foreign Affairs on "the right way to manage relations with Russia."

"It’s possible to stand up for American interests and principles while pursuing a less volatile relationship with Russia," the authors write.

"The Nixon administration sowed mines in a harbor in North Vietnam, a Soviet ally, while seeking detente with Moscow. The Reagan administration aggressively challenged Soviet-backed regimes and groups in Eastern Europe, Asia, Africa, and Latin America at the same time as it signed arms control agreements with Moscow."

The Kremlin's Nukes

Dave Majumdar, defense editor of The National Interest, has a piece looking at Russia's recent nuclear weapons deployments.

"The Soviet and Russian military only grudgingly accepted the INF treaty at the end of the Cold War-era hostilities. Now, with permissive leadership in the Kremlin, the Russian forces are resuming their pre-Gorbachev-era nuclear posture," Majumdar writes.

Lukashenka The Wily

In BNEIntellinews, Mark Galeotti, a senior research fellow at the Institute of International Relations in Prague, looks at Alyaksandr Lukashenka's game of chicken with Putin.

"'Batya [Lukashenka] has obviously decided it is time for a bit of a shake-down, that Putin will huff and puff, but ultimately needs to have some allies, and will make a deal to buy one. Or at least rent one, as Lukashenko has made it clear he does not stay bought for long. If he gets away with it, this will be a useful indicator to just how confident the Russians really are behind their facade of cynical bombast," Galeotti writes.

The Ghosts Of Revolutions Past

Veteran Kremlin-watcher Edward Lucas, author of The New Cold War, has a piece on the Center for European Policy Research's website, "Russia's propaganda machine and the ghosts of revolutions past," that looks at the Kremlin's dilemma in commemorating the centennial of 1917.

Be Careful What You Wish For

Alexander Clarkson, a lecturer in European studies at King’s College London and the author of the book Fragmented Fatherland: Immigration And Cold War Conflict In The Federal Republic of Germany, 1945–1980, has a piece in Politico on why Russia and China should fear the end of Pax Americana.

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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