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The Morning Vertical, March 16, 2017


Two specters are haunting Belarus: the specter of Russia and the specter of Ukraine.

As Belarus witnesses its largest protests in years and President Alyaksandr Lukashenka tries to weather the worst crisis his regime has faced, nightmare scenarios of war, revolution, and Russian intervention are increasingly being invoked.

And in the process, we appear to be getting a rare glimpse into the palace intrigue afoot Lukashenka's inner circle.

Three pieces featured below illustrate this.

A report by the Minsk Center for Strategic and Foreign Policy Research and an article by journalist Dmitry Galko claim that a faction of security service officials led by Interior Minister Ihar Shunevich are trying to frighten Lukashenka into cracking down on the protests by claiming that they are being orchestrated by elements from Ukraine. The goal, according to these reports, is to cut off any possibility of the regime getting closer to the West and forcing it into Putin's embrace.

And in a report in Regnum, Yuriy Baranchyk claims that a faction led by Foreign Minister Vladimir Makei is trying to persuade Lukashenka to negotiate with the protesters. The reason, Baranchyk argues, is that Makei is scheming to be Lukashenka's successor.

It's hard to judge -- let alone confirm -- any of this. But it all seems to suggest that the curtain is being pulled back -- just a bit -- on clan warfare inside the black box of Lukashenka's opaque regime.


U.S. authorities have indicted two Russian intelligence officers for the massive 2014 hack against Yahoo, one of whom was arrested earlier in Moscow as part a widening scandal involving Russia’s top security agency.

The United States has denounced a move by Russia to allow soldiers from the breakaway Georgian region of South Ossetia to serve in the Russian armed forces.

The Russian State Duma has approved legislation that would strengthen restrictions on live broadcasts of open trials on television, radio, and the Internet.

Protesters in Belarus took to the streets of several cities on March 15 for the latest in a series of demonstrations against a tax on the unemployed in the tightly controlled former Soviet republic.

The editor in chief of Russia's Regnum news agency, Belarusian citizen Yuriy Baranchyk, has been detained in Moscow on Minsk's request.

Ukrainian authorities have announced the suspension of all cargo traffic with areas held by Russia-backed separatists in the eastern part of the country, prompting Russia to urge Kyiv to cancel the measure to avoid a "humanitarian catastrophe."


Palace Intrigue In Belarus?

Minsk Center for Strategic and Foreign Policy Research has released a report claiming that elements from the security services in Lukashenka's inner circle are trying to frighten him into cracking down on protesters, claiming that they are being provoked by nationalist elements from Ukraine.

In a piece on the website BelarusPartisan, Dmitry Galko comments on the report and speculates that a full-scale crackdown could lead to a "Romania scenario," in reference to the 1989 overthrow of Nicolae Ceaușescu.

And in a piece in Regnum, Yuriy Baranchyk argues that the Center for Strategic and Foreign Policy Research report is part of an disinformation campaign designed to intimidate Lukashenka into making concessions to the protesters. The campaign, Baranchyuk argues, is being led by Belarusian Foreign Minister Vladimir Makei who is hoping to become Lukashenka's successor and is "leading him down the path" of ousted Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych. (Note: hours after Baranchyk's report was published, he was detained in Moscow at the request of authorities in Minsk).

Eye On The Spetsnaz

MIlitary analyst Michael Kofman, a research scientist at CNA Corporation and a fellow at the Kennan Institute, talks to the Cipher Brief about the expanding role of Russia's special forces, or Spetsnaz.

Cracks In The Propaganda Facade

Former U.S. State Department officials Donald Jensen, a senior fellow at the Center for Transatlantic Relations at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and a senior adjunct fellow at the Center for European Policy Analysis, has a piece on the CEPA website on how Russia's vaunted propaganda machine might not be all it's cracked up to be.

Russia's Fifth Column

Ken Gude, a senior fellow at The Center for American Progress, has released a report, "Russia's Fifth Column," looking at Moscow's support for the Western far right.

The National Guard's Power Play

Rosbalt has a report (which is discussed in today's Daily Vertical) claiming that Putin's National Guard is trying to take over the Interior Ministry's anti-extremism unit, Center-C.

Crimeans and Russians

In his column for, opposition journalist Oleg Kashin writes that the annexation of Crimea is exposing the profound differences between Russians and Crimeans.

Lifestyles of the Corrupt and Famous

Anna Nemtsova has a piece in The Daily Beast on how journalists are using social media posts to expose the lifestyles of corrupt officials in Russia.

More On Russia's Libya Gambit

The American Interest asks: "Is this Russia's opening move in Libya?"

What Is Truth?

In a piece in Vedomosti, Aleksei Levinson of the Levada Center explains why nearly half of Russians can't distinguish between truth and lies in the media.

Outsourcing Foreign Policy

In his column for Bloomberg, political commentator Leonid Bershidsky explains how the "semi-private adventures" of nationalists are used to advance the Kremlin's foreign policy goals.

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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