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The Morning Vertical, October 5, 2017


The would-be emperor sees the relationship as imperial. The master gamer views it as transactional.

It's a dysfunctional marriage between two wary partners that has survived on mutual convenience and inertia for more than 17 years. And whether it will last into its second decade is anybody's guess.

If there is one thing that last month's Zapad 2017 military exercises illustrated, it was the escalating strain on the strategic partnership between Vladimir Putin and Alyaksandr Lukashenka.

As Grigory Ioffe notes in a piece featured below, Belarus frustrated Russia's efforts to turn Zapad into a psyop to spook the West.

"Moscow had long insisted on the offensive character of the exercises, Belarus had nevertheless invited several international observers, especially those from Ukraine, without coordination with Russia," Ioffe writes.

"Consequently, both President Vladimir Putin and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu did not visit Belarus during the drill, and the Russian military commanders did not stay for a ceremonial meal right after the event."

Lukashenka, moreover, did not visit a Russian military installation with Putin as planned.

The Belarusian elite, meanwhile, is splitting.

A faction of technocrats including Foreign Minister Uladzimer Makey, Security Council Secretary Stanislau Zas, Deputy Prime Minister Vasil Matsyusheuski is pushing economic reform to reduce Minsk's dependency on Russia.

Another group, led by Interior Minister Ihar Shunevich and KGB Chairman Valery Vakulchyk are pro-Moscow.

Some informed Minsk-based political analysts have told me privately that they are convinced that the Kremlin is considering removing Lukashenka in favor of a more pliant figure. They also say Lukashenka is wise to this and is planning fresh efforts at reorganization of his security structures to root out potential Kremlin moles.

That, of course, is all unconfirmed and difficult to substantiate at this point.

But what is clear is that we will all need to brush up on our Minsk Kremlinology soon. Post-Zapad Belarus, it appears, could be about to get very interesting indeed.


The Moscow homes of several employees of Open Russia, a civic movement established by exiled former tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, have been searched by Russian police.

The Canadian Parliament has stepped closer to final approval of its version of the U.S. Magnitsky Act, which sanctions Russians for alleged human rights abuses, a move that has brought threats of retaliation from Moscow.

Kurt Volker, the U.S. special envoy for efforts to end the conflict in eastern Ukraine, says he will meet with Kremlin aide Vladislav Surkov on October 7 in Serbia's capital, Belgrade.

The CIA has released newly declassified documents showing that U.S. intelligence agencies were aware of Russia's impending launch of the Sputnik 1 satellite -- an event that shocked the American public when the news broke 60 years ago.

Less than six months before Russia's next election, President Vladimir Putin says he has not yet decided whether to seek a new six-year term.

Jailed opposition politician Aleksei Navalny has called on Russians nationwide to protest on President Vladimir Putin’s 65th birthday on October 7, despite a Kremlin warning that organizers of unsanctioned public gatherings will face prosecution.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, who is facing international isolation amid unrest in the Latin American country, has publicly thanked Puitn for backing him.


Catalonia, Europe, Russia, And Crimea

In a commentary for, Andrei Arkhangelsky critiques pro-Kremlin pundits who are claiming that the Catalonian referendum illustrates that the European Union will share the fate of the Soviet Union.

There has also been a fair amount of commentary in the Russian media comparing the Catalonian and Crimean independence referendum. Both Vladislav Inozemtsev in and Leonid Bershidsky in Bloomberg explain why the comparison is inappropriate.

Russian Soft Power In Kazakhstan

The Central Asian Institute for Strategic Studies has just published a report on Russian soft power in Kazakhstan.

Putin's New Governors

In, Tatyana Stanovaya looks at Putin's new policy in appointing regional governors.

Ignoring Putin

In a piece for Novoye Vremya-New Times, Andrei Kolesnikov and Yevgenia Albats argue that Russian officials increasingly feel they can ignore Putin's wishes. The authors cite the case of the European University of St. Petersburg, which has been denied an extension of its license despite Putin's interventions.

Putin's Pal Kim

Andrew Osborn has a piece in Reuters explaining why Putin has been protecting the regime of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

The Stagnation Budget

In an editorial, Nezavisimaya Gazeta looks at Russia's proposed new three-year budget, arguing that "in Soviet times, the authorities promised citizens constantly rising living standards and they misled them. But the current authorities are instead promising an increase in poverty and they aren’t misleading anybody."

Belarus After Zapad

In the Jamestown Foundation's Eurasia Daily Monitor, Grigory Ioffe looks at the "limits on Belarus's sovereignty" in the aftermath of the Zapad 2017 military exercises.

Assessing Georgia's Abkhazia Policy

In a commentary for, Tornike Sharashenidze of the Georgian Institute for Public Affairs explains why Tbilisi's Abkhazia policy has failed.

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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