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The Morning Vertical, March 8, 2017


We should all watch very closely what Russia does next in Ukraine.

The developments in recent weeks -- Russia recognizing documents issued by separatist authorities, the so-called "Luhansk People's Republic" adopting the ruble, the Ukrainian nationalist blockade of separatist-held territories, and the seizure of Ukrainian oligarchs' properties by separatist authorities -- makes a couple things clear. The Minsk process is dead in the water. And the last links between the separatist-held territories in the Donbas and the rest of Ukraine are being severed.

We are moving into a new phase of this war.

If Russia chooses to escalate, it would be a clear sign that the Kremlin believes it will face little push-back from a distracted West. It would also be a test of what Moscow can get away with in what it sees as an increasingly favorable geopolitical environment. And it would mean that Vladimir Putin's regime believes it can get what it wants -- a free hand in the former Soviet space -- without a so-called "grand bargain" with the West.

Escalation can take various forms. Moscow could recognize the so-called Donetsk and Luhansk people's republics' independence and freeze the conflict. It could outright annex them and claim victory. Or, in the most extreme case, it could launch a drive to take more territory.

And any of the above would be a clear signal about Moscow's broader intentions.


Russia says the International Court of Justice in The Hague has no jurisdiction to issue an order Ukraine seeks to halt Moscow's support for separatists in eastern Ukraine and Crimea.

Envoys from six European countries that border Russia have pushed for more U.S. military and economic support, as they repeated warnings to U.S. senators about an increasingly aggressive Russia.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin says U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has assured him that Washington will continue to support Kyiv in its standoff with Russia.

The U.S. House Select Committee on Intelligence will hold its first public hearing on March 20 in its investigation into Russia's alleged interference in the 2016 presidential election.

A U.S. federal prosecutor who is poised to oversee Justice Department investigations into alleged connections between Russian officials and White House aides during the 2016 presidential election campaign has said he isn't aware of any reason for him to recuse himself from those probes.

The United States says it has begun deploying a missile-defense system in South Korea, prompting a quick rebuke from Russia and China.

The chiefs of staff of the Turkish, Russian, and U.S. militaries have met in southern Turkey in an effort to boost coordination in Syria and prevent skirmishes between rival groups that are all battling Islamic State militants.

Russian Orthodox Church officials in the Kremlin-annexed Crimea region have refuted a controversial claim by State Duma Deputy Natalya Poklonskaya that a bust of Tsar Nicholas II in Simferopol wept tears on the centennial of his abdication of power.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has pardoned a woman who was convicted of high treason for sending a text message to a friend in Georgia during the brief August 2008 Russian-Georgian war.

The prosecutor-general of Russia's Tatarstan region has asked a judge at a high-profile terrorism trial to sentence the defendants in the case to prison terms ranging from 22 years to life.

Europe's top human rights court has prolonged its suspension of an attempt by the government in Tbilisi to put the country's biggest independent television station under the control of an alleged close government ally.


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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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