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ON MY MIND

Apparently, Europe's last dictator ain't what he used to be.

Alyaksandr Lukashenka's suspension of a controversial tax on the unemployed today marked the second time this month that the Belarusian strongman backed down and reversed an unpopular decision in the face of public protests. Earlier this month, authorities in Minsk suspended construction of a business center next to the Kurapaty preserve, where thousands were killed and buried during Josef Stalin's terror, after weeks of protests.

It's way too early to say this is a whole new Belarus. But Belarus does appear to be moving into a new period amid intensifying tensions with Russia and fears of Russian aggression.

After Russia's annexation of Crimea and invasion of the Donbas, Lukashenka presented himself as the last best hope for Belarusian sovereignty and Belarus's opposition was reluctant to take to the streets, fearing that any instability could invite Russian intervention.

That changed in recent weeks with the unemployment tax and the Kurapaty preserve protests. And it appears that Lukashenka also fears that a crackdown on protesters could lead to instability and provide a pretext for Russian intervention. He chose to placate the protesters rather than cracking heads.

Russian revanchism has apparently done the impossible. It has led to an uneasy peace between Lukashenka and the Belarusian opposition.

IN THE NEWS

U.S. media are reporting that the White House has asked former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman to become the next U.S. ambassador to Russia, and he has accepted the offer.

Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka says the collection of a controversial tax on unemployed people will be suspended for one year.

Nearly a thousand people marched through Kyiv on International Women's Day calling for women to rise up, fight domestic violence, and demand equality.

Police in Moscow have detained four women who tried to hang a banner reading "Men in power for 200 years! Down with that!" on the Kremlin wall on International Women's Day.

A decision by Russia to permanently station Iskander missiles in Kaliningrad, its enclave on the Baltic Sea, would mark a setback for European security, German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel has said.

The vice chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff says Russia has deployed a land-based cruise missile that violates the "spirit and intent" of a Cold War-era nuclear-arms-control treaty -- and that it did so to "pose a threat to NATO."

Ukrainian authorities are threatening to impose sanctions on the local subsidiary of Sberbank, Russia's main state bank, after Sberbank said it would recognize passports issued by Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine.

WHAT I'M READING

The Counterrevolution Cometh

In a piece in Tablet, Paul Berman, author of the books A Tale Of Two Utopias, Terror And Liberalism, Power And The Idealists, and The Flight of the Intellectuals, looks at the current authoritarian and nationalist "counterrevolution" that is rolling back a half-century of democratic gains.

"What has brought about the counterrevolution?" Berman writes.

"Fear has brought it about -- a vague and unarticulated fear that life has spun out of control: a fear that assumes a different shape in each country, yet is visibly shared across half the world, such that people who experience the fear naturally feel a solidarity, even across the national borders. And what has brought about the fear? The liberal revolution itself has done this -- its aspirations, its successes, its failures, and the gap between aspirations and realities."

Just Say No To Yalta II

In a commentary on the Center for European Policy Analysis website, veteran Kremlin-watcher Edward Lucas, author of the book The New Cold War, argues that a new detente, a new Yalta, or a new grand bargain would not solve the West's problems with Russia.

"The real problem here has nothing to do with Russia, a declining, mid-sized economy with an outsized military. It is Western weakness," Lucas writes.

"We have lost self-confidence in the rule of law, democracy and the sustainability of welfare capitalism. That makes us timid in promoting our values abroad, and in defending them at home. Plenty of room for new thinking there."

A New Transatlanticism

Anna Wieslander, director for Northern Europe at the Atlantic Council and secretary-general of the Swedish Defense Association, has a piece on how Europe is preparing for a new transatlantic bargain.

Women's Day In Ukraine

In OpenDemocracy, playwright and political commentator Natalia Antonova speaks to Ukrainian feminist activist Maria Dmytriyeva to look at what Women's Day should mean in contemporary Ukraine.

The Showdown In The Middle East

Ilan Goldenberg, a senior fellow and director of the Middle East Security program at the Center for a New American Security, and Julie Smith, director of the strategy and statecraft program at the Center for a New American Security, have a piece in Foreign Policy on the return of U.S.-Russian competition to the Middle East and what it means.

CFR Report on NATO and Russia

The Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) has released a report by Kimberly Marten, a professor at Barnard College, on how to maintain deterrence while reducing tensions between NATO and Russia.

How Russia Is Using WikiLeaks (Again)

Kevin Poulsen has a report in The Daily Beast on how Russian media and Internet trolls are attempting to use WikiLeaks' latest data dump to suggest claims about Moscow hacking the U.S. election are a "false flag."

Target: Canada

In a piece in MacLean's Scott Gilmore looks at why Canada is now a target in Russia's information war.

Jitters In Belarus

Grigory Ioffe, a professor at Radford University, has a piece on the Jamestown Foundation's website on how fears are mounting in Belarus about potential Russian aggression.

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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