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The Morning Vertical, September 8, 2017


They've been called pretext for mischief in the Baltics and Poland.

They've been called a stealthy way to occupy Belarus.

They've been called Kremlin saber-rattling, a message to the West, and a very expensive and noisy psyop.

And they've been called routine military exercises that are nothing more than business as usual.

But whatever you call them, the joint Russian-Belarusian Zapad 2017 military exercises that will begin next week seem to have everybody's attention.

On this week's Power Vertical Podcast, we look ahead to next week's massive war games, Russia's largest since the end of the Cold War.

Joining me will be co-host Mark Galeotti, a senior research fellow at the Czech Institute of International Relations, a visiting fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, and author of the blog In Moscow's Shadows; and military analyst Michael Kofman, a research scientist at the CNA Corporation and a fellow at the Wilson Institute's Kennan Institute.

So be sure to tune in later today!


The French and German defense ministers have condemned Russia's upcoming military maneuvers with Belarus, saying Moscow is seeking to show off military might on the borders of the EU and NATO.

The last Russian activist imprisoned following clashes at a protest on the eve of President Vladimir Putin's inauguration in 2012 has left the country after serving his 30-month sentence.

A Ukrainian teenager whose disappearance in Belarus has triggered claims of a Moscow-orchestrated kidnapping is being held in a detention center in Russia, his father and Russia's Federal Security Service have confirmed.

Russian authorities are investigating Sova Center, a respected research organization that tracks hate crimes and extremist movements in Russia, in connection with a controversial law on “undesirable organizations,” a move that could severely curtail its work.

Darya Polyudova, an activist who is serving time over Internet posts criticizing Russia's actions in Ukraine, is being mistreated in prison, her mother says.

Moscow authorities say a plaque honoring slain opposition politician Boris Nemtsov placed on the apartment block where he lived is illegal.

Vladimir Putin said U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has "fallen in with the wrong crowd" since being awarded the Russian Order of Friendship four years ago.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko says that the purpose of a proposed UN-mandated peacekeeping mission in war-torn eastern Ukraine must be to foster peace, not to cement what he called "Russia's occupation" of a chunk of his country.

The Russian Defense Ministry says it has killed four Islamic State commanders in an air strike targeting the extremist group outside Syria's eastern city of Deir el-Zour, including a former senior security official from Tajikistan.

U.S. President Donald Trump's eldest son told Senate investigators that he met with a Russian lawyer in 2016 because he wanted to determine if she had damaging information about his father’s Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, U.S. media are reporting.

A court in Belarus has convicted a woman of unintentional manslaughter in the death of her newborn child, who died after a home birth.


On the latest Power Vertical blog -- Local Elections: Boring And Predictable, Until They Aren't -- I recall the Soviet Union's experiment with competitive local elections three decades ago and look at the lessons that provides for this weekend's regional and municipal elections in Russia.


Putin's Peacekeeper Proposal

Foreign affairs analyst Vladimir Frolov has a piece in on why Putin has suddenly proposed sending UN peacekeepers to the Donbas.

The Sobyanin 'Personality Cult'

Aleksei Kovalyev has posted a blog on Noodle Remover on the emerging "cult of personality" surrounding Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin

A New Look At An Old Dossier

In Just Security, former CIA official John Sipher takes a new look at the Steele dossier in light of what we know now.

Influence Operations

According to a new report by the Alliance for Securing Democracy of the German Marshall Fund, Vladimir Putin's Russia has interfered politically in no less than 27 countries since 2004.

Burma And Russia's Muslims

In The Moscow Times, Sergei Markedonov explains why Burma has inflamed passions in the North Caucasus. An earlier version of the article appeared in Russian on the Moscow Carnegie Center's website.

The Serebrennikov Case And Russian 'Justice'

In Vedomosti, sociologists Irina Chetverikova and Kirill Titayev look at what the trial of theater director Kirill Serebrennikov means for the Russian judicial system.

Undesirable For Whom?

In Novoye Vremya, Pavel Krasheninnikov critiques proposed legislation providing for the deportation of foreigners and the prosecution of Russian citizens for "undesirable behavior." Under the Putin regime, he writes, undesirable behavior is a sign of being a "free and normal person."

Liberal Russia

In his column for, opposition journalist Oleg Kashin argues that the Putin regime has pushed liberal Russians to the margins of society.

NOTE TO READERS: I will be traveling to Vilnius, Lithuania, for a speaking engagement on September 11-12. No Power Vertical products will appear on those days. The regular schedule resumes on September 13.

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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