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The Morning Vertical, March 20, 2017


Ukraine's decision last week to suspend all cargo traffic with areas held by Moscow-backed separatists is the latest sign that Kyiv and the de facto Russian occupied protectorates are parting ways.

Russia has failed in its efforts to force Ukraine to reintegrate the territories in the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts on Moscow's terms -- terms which would have effectively turned Ukraine into a failed state.

So the Kremlin turned to Plan B: freezing the conflict and trying to make the territories economically viable.

Moscow is now recognizing documents issued by the separatists, is encouraging use of the ruble, and is supportive of separatist moves to seize enterprises owned by Ukrainian oligarchs.

Ukraine says the the suspension of cargo traffic will continue until the separatists relinquish control over enterprises they seized and until Moscow and its proxies comply with the Minsk agreement and return the border to Ukrainian control.

And since none of that will happen any time soon, Kyiv too appears ready to settle for a frozen conflict -- although it will never admit this publicly.


Vladimir Yevdokimov , the former executive director of the Russian space agency, Roskosmos, has been found dead in his jail cell with stab wounds.

Iurie Bolboceanu, a former member of the Moldovan parliament has been arrested amid allegations he spied for Russia, according to news reports citing unidentified law-enforcement officials.

FBI Director James Comey is set to testify in a highly anticipated session before the U.S. House committee looking into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential campaign.

The foreign and defense ministers of Japan and Russia have begun meeting in so-called "two-plus-two" talks, with both sides saying regional security and a decades-long dispute over a small chain of islands will be discussed.

Ukraine says the International Monetary Fund has postponed a review of the disbursement of a new $1 billion loan following Kyiv's imposition of a trade embargo on areas controlled by Russia-backed separatists in the east of the country.

Authorities in Belarus on March 19 detained at least three organizers of protests against a controversial tax on the unemployed, as hundreds took to the streets in the latest in a series of demonstrations against the levy in the tightly controlled former Soviet republic.

U.S. Representative Devin Nunes says he has seen "no evidence" of collusion between President Donald Trump's campaign and Russia during last year’s presidential campaign.

Moscow city authorities have banned an anticorruption rally planned by opposition leader Aleksei Navalny.

Russia plans to host international talks on the conflict in Afghanistan on April 14, a high-ranking Afghan official said.


In case you missed it, the latest Power Vertical Podcast, The Belarusian Spring, looks at the ongoing protests in Belarus and at Minsk's ongoing disputes with Moscow.


On the new Power Vertical Briefing, we look at the resumption of high-level talks in Japan this week and ask: Is Russia's isolation easing?


The Money Drain

Novaya Gazeta has a piece, based on a report by the Organized Crime And Corruption Reporting Project, on who benefited from 700 billion rubles that were siphoned out of Russia. The OCCRP report will be released later today.

Trump's New Russia Expert

Michael Weiss has a piece in The Daily Beast looking at Fiona Hill, co-author of the book Mr. Putin: Operative In The Kremlin, who is expected to join Donald Trump's National Security Council as senior director for Europe and Russia.

Russian Investment in Trump Properties

Reuters has a special report on how members of the Russian elite invested $100 million in Trump buildings

Russia's War On Europe

James Kirchick, author of the recently published book The End Of Europe: Dictators, Demagogues And The Coming Dark Age, has a piece in Politico arguing that "the road to a free Europe goes through Moscow."

Russia's Mental Health Facilities

Kevin Rothhrock has translated a piece by Russian journalist and mental health activist Vera Shengelia for Global Voices: A Visit To A Moscow Mental Health Center.

The Resistance In Kharkiv

Peter Dickinson has a piece in Business Ukraine on how Kharkiv resisted Russia's hybrid war.

More On Russia's Defense Budget

Military analyst Michael Kofman, a fellow at the Kennan Institute, takes a look at the Russian defense budget.

In the piece, Kofman takes issue with a report in IHS Janes that claimed Russia is reducing its defense budget by 25 percent.

With Or Without Europe

Lilia Shevtsova has an op-ed in the Financial Times on how Russia can't live with Europe -- and can't live without it

Russia's Cyber War Handbook

Sheera Frenkel has a report in in BuzzFeed on how Russia is writing the handbook for modern cyberwarfare.

Russia's Brain Drain

Rachel Ansley has a piece about Russia's brain drain on The Atlantic Council's website.

Putin's Tough Year Ahead

In his column for Bloomberg, political commentator Leonid Bershidsky explains why 2017 will probably be a tough and lonely year for Putin.

Vigilantism And Legitimacy In Ukraine

Nikolai Petro and Josh Cohen have a piece in The National Interest on how vigilantism is creating a legitimacy crisis for the Ukrainian state.

Ukraine And Decentralization

Balazs Jarabik and Yulia Yesmukhanova have a report for The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace: Ukraine's Slow Struggle For Decentralization

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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