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The Morning Vertical, February 28, 2017

  • Brian Whitmore

ON MY MIND

On the surface, it looks like deja vu all over again.

Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka is doing what he does best, playing the gamer, flirting with the West, antagonizing Russia, and trying to secure the best possible deal for his regime.

We've seen this movie before.

But on close observation, this time it feels different. This time, the tension between Moscow and Minsk may prove more difficult to manage.

This is true for a number of reasons.

First, with NATO troops in Poland and Lithuania, Belarus's strategic value has increased significantly and the Kremlin will probably be less patient with Lukashenka's games.

Second, as Andrew Wilson argues in a piece featured below, Lukashenka has shifted from a "social contract," in which he guaranteed a minimal level of welfare, to a "security contract," in which he became the guarantor of Belarusian sovereignty. This has kept the opposition off the streets until now. But now, grassroots street protests driven by falling living standards and a tax on the unemployed are complicating the situation domestically for Lukashenka and could provide an opening for meddling by Moscow.

And finally, Moscow appears to perceive a more permissive international environment at the moment. This doesn't all necessarily mean that Moscow will try to replace Lukashenka with a more manageable and pliant figure. Such a move would still be risky. But it does mean that the current tensions between Moscow and Minsk are different -- and potentially more dangerous.

IN THE NEWS

Russian President Vladimir Putin is wrapping up a two-day trip to Central Asia with a visit to Kyrgyzstan.

Putin said he has agreed with Tajikistan's president to jointly bolster security along the Tajik-Afghan border.

The UN Security Council is set to vote on a bid by Western powers to impose sanctions on the Syrian government for toxic-gas attacks during the civil war, despite a Russian pledge to veto the move.

U.S. Senator Marco Rubio has introduced legislation to name the street in front of the Russian Embassy in Washington Boris Nemtsov Place in honor of the slain opposition politician.

A German family with 10 children that settled in Siberia, citing concerns about the sexual permissiveness of German society and the influx of refugees there, has reportedly returned to Germany just months after moving to Russia.

Former Soviet gymnast Olga Korbut, who exploded to international fame during the 1972 Munich Olympics, has sold her five Olympic medals and other trophies through a U.S. auction house for $333,500.

Soviet-era ice-hockey star Vladimir Petrov has died at the age of 69.

Police in Moscow have reportedly detained six activists at an improvised memorial near the Kremlin where Russian opposition politician Boris Nemtsov was gunned down two years ago.

The European Union has decided to prolong its weapons embargo on Belarus by another year and to leave a visa ban and asset freezes on four Belarusian citizens in place.

Activists in Belarus are continuing their fight against the construction of a business center next to a protected memorial area near Minsk where at least 30,000 people were killed and buried by Soviet authorities in the 1930s and '40s.

The European Union and Armenia have agreed on a new pact tightening political ties, more than three years after Yerevan walked away from a more far-reaching political and commercial deal with the EU to join the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union.

WHAT I'M READING

Hybrid Scenarios In The Baltics

The Rand Corporation has released a new report: Hybrid Warfare In The Baltics: Threats And Potential Responses. The main conclusions:

"Given the gains in standard of living and increasing integration of many Russian speakers in the Baltics, Russia will likely have difficulty using nonviolent tactics to destabilize these countries. Russian covert violent action is also unlikely to succeed on its own, given preparations by the security forces of Estonia and Latvia.

"The main vulnerability of the Baltics therefore lies in Russia's local conventional superiority: A large-scale conventional Russian incursion into the Baltics, legitimized and supported by political subversion, would rapidly overwhelm NATO forces currently postured in the region."

Moscow's Art Of War

Veteran Kremlin-watcher Edward Lucas, author of The New Cold War, has a piece on the Center for European Policy Analysis website on Moscow's Art Of War.

"Force, money, and information are the three vectors of Russia’s attack on the West. Each makes the other more effective," Lucas writes.

The Belarus File

With antigovernment protests continuing and with tensions between Minsk and Moscow rising, a fair amount of ink is being spilled on the situation in Belarus.

RFE/RL's Yury Drakahrust, co-author of the book Russia And Belarus: States And Societies, has a piece in OpenDemocracy titled Mind The gap Between Belarus And Russia (available in English and Russian).

Nikolay Pakhomov has a piece in The National Interest arguing why Belarus cannot be the next Ukraine.

And Andrew Wilson, author of Belarus: The Last European Dictatorship, has a piece on The European Council on Foreign Relations website on Alyaksandr Lukashenka's "game of truancy" with Moscow.

New Ukraine Report

The East European Security Research Initiative has released a new report: Ukraine In Crisis: The Economic And Security Consequences For The European Union, Ukraine, And Russia.

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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