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ON MY MIND

They did it in Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Is Russia now getting ready to do it in the Donbas?

One of the key developments to look for in the frozen conflicts on Russia's borders is "passportization" -- the issuing of Russian passports to residents of territories controlled by pro-Moscow separatists.

In the past, the Kremlin has sent signals that it may be considering such a move in the Donbas -- but has never followed through.

But Vladimir Putin's move this weekend to recognize passports and other documents issued by separatist leaders in Donetsk and Luhansk could be construed as a move in that direction.

Is the Kremlin considering formally recognizing the independence of the so-called Donetsk and Luhansk "people's republics"?

Is this an interim step before issuing Russian passports?

Is this just a negotiating ploy that would allow Moscow to reverse the move later as a "concession"?

It's unclear at this point.

But the decision, which came after an escalation in fighting in the Donbas and as a new ceasefire was coming into effect, is a clear break from existing policy.

Moscow's official policy has been that it wanted the separatist-held territories reintegrated into Ukraine -- so they could, of course, act as a Trojan Horse for Moscow.

But now it is hard to rule out that the Kremlin is looking at other options.

IN THE NEWS

The United States and Russia were the top arms exporters over the past five years, with demand in the Middle East and Asia fueling an increase in global transfers, a Swedish-based research institute says.

White House chief of staff Reince Priebus has denied that advisers to President Donald Trump were in contact with Russian intelligence during the election campaign.

U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham has vowed to seek increased punishments against Russia for its alleged interference in the U.S. presidential election, saying that "2017 is going to be the year of kicking Russia in the ass in Congress."

The Associated Press reports that the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee has formally requested that more than a dozen organizations, agencies, and individuals preserve all material related to Russian interference in the 2016 election.

France’s foreign minister has blamed Moscow for a series of election-related cyberattacks, saying that such actions were "unacceptable."

Russian opposition political figure Vladimir Kara-Murza Jr. has been released from a Moscow hospital and has traveled abroad for further medical treatment following a suspicious illness he believes might have been caused by poisoning.

The U.K. newspaper the Sunday Telegraph reports that senior British officials believe Russia was behind a plot last October to assassinate Montenegro's pro-Western prime minister and overthrow the government.

The U.S Embassy in Kyiv has said Russia's decision to temporarily recognize documents issued by Moscow-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine is incompatible with the Minsk process on regulating the conflict.

A new cease-fire has been agreed to for eastern Ukraine, but some Russia-backed separatists could not say if they would respect the halt in fighting, and a Ukrainian leader said he was not pleased with the results of a four-party meeting in Munich.

Nationalists and other protesters clashed with police in Kyiv as demonstrators rallied in support of a blockade on coal-producing regions controlled by separatists.

Protests over a new tax aimed at reducing social welfare spread beyond the Belarusian capital Minsk, as thousands took to the streets in Homel and other towns.

Thousands have rallied in the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, to protest what they say is an attempt by the government to shut down a popular television channel.

A new study says Los Angeles, Moscow, and New York are the most traffic-congested cities in the world.

LATEST POWER VERTICAL PODCAST

In case you missed it, the latest Power Vertical Podcast, "Putin's Russian Idea," looked at Putin's vision for Russia and asked: Is it an ideology?

WHAT I'M READING

The Euromaidan, Three Years Later

In his column for Republic.ru, opposition journalist Oleg Kashin looks at the three years since the Euromaidan and asks: Who changed more, the Ukrainians or the Russians?

The Plot Against Ukraine

The New York Times has a report on how a group of Trump associates developed a plan with a pro-Kremlin Ukrainian lawmaker to discredit Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and lift sanctions on Russia.

The Plot Against Montenegro

The Sunday Telegraph, meanwhile, has reconstructed the outlines of an alleged Russian plot to destabilize Montenegro and prevent it from joining NATO.

Target: Europe

Bloomberg has a piece on how the Kremlin disinformation machine is gearing up to target Europe.

Reuters has a piece reporting that Petr Pavel, who heads NATO's military committee, is claiming that Russia was behind a false report that German soldiers raped a woman in Lithuania and warned Europe to expect more such "fake news."

And in his column for Bloomberg, political commentator Leonid Bershidsky writes that we should nevertheless not expect a barrage of fake news in Europe.

Kara-Murza Speaks

Khodorkovsky.com has published an interview with opposition figure Vladimir Kara-Murza, who has left Russia for treatment for an alleged poisoning.

Navalny's Latest Video Exposé

Aleksei Navalny has a new video up on his YouTube channel looking at the history of two formerly pro-Kremlin State Duma deputies, Denis Voronenkov and Maria Maksakova, who defected to Ukraine. Navalny uses their case to illustrate the hypocrisy of Russia's nomenklatura.

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 Follow @PowerVertical

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