ON MY MIND
Viktor Zolotov is finally getting what he wanted. And that's a very bad sign.
For years, Vladimir Putin's longtime friend, judo sparring partner, and former bodyguard has been the Kremlin leader's boogeyman. Even among Russia's siloviki, Zolotov is viewed as a fierce Putin loyalist who is more interested in protecting his pal than upholding the law. If he ever got a top job in law enforcement or the security services, it was a sure signal that Putin was getting ready to take the gloves off -- and not just with the opposition, but with the elite, if necessary, as well. When Zolotov was promoted to deputy interior minister and put in charge of the ministry's elite forces, many saw it as a sign that it was only a matter of time before he would replace Vladimir Kolokoltsev as Interior Minister.
Zolotov didn't get that job -- he got something possibly better. He will lead a newly formed National Guard that will be outside any ministerial structure and will report directly to Putin. He will lead Putin's personal Praetorian Guard.
The creation of the National Guard is a disturbing development. Placing Zolotov in charge of it is more disturbing still.
IN THE NEWS
Putin establishes a new National Guard to combat terrorism and organized crime.
A draft bill on the National Guard would allow its members to fire their weapons without warning.
A Russian court has sentenced a Lithuanian citizen to 12 years in prison for spying.
Ukrainian military pilot Nadia Savchenko has begun a dry hunger strike.
Russia's Public Chamber has called for an investigation into the taxes of the opposition newspaper Novaya Gazeta following its publication of the Panama Papers.
Dutch voters go to the polls today to vote in a referendum on the European Union's Association Agreement and free-trade pact with Ukraine.
WHAT I'M READING
Putin's Praetorian Guard
On his blog In Moscow's Shadows, security service expert (and Power Vertical Podcast co-host) Mark Galeotti explains why Russia's new National Guard is a very big deal.
Novaya Gazeta, meanwhile, looks at the shady business dealings of Putin's longtime friend and former bodyguard Viktor Zolotov, who will head the National Guard.
The Syrian Front
A new report by the Atlantic Council, Distract, Deceive, Destroy: Putin At War In Syria, argues that Russia's campaign in Syria has been an exercise in duplicity from the start.
"Russian President Vladimir Putin tried to deceive the West when he started his air campaign in Syria, and he tried it again when he declared 'mission accomplished,'" the report claims.
Writing in Foreign Affairs, Dmitry Adamsky, professor at the Lauder School of Government, Diplomacy, and Strategy, looks at "Putin's Game In Syria."
"The Kremlin has been following a policy of “reasonable sufficiency” in Syria, which means using just enough force to convey that Russia still has significant influence in the country, but not so much that it got pulled into a messy war," Adamsky writes.
In the War On The Rocks blog, the ever prolific Mark Galeotti looks at the role Russian mercenaries have played in Syria
Russia, Turkey, And Nagorno-Karabakh
An uneasy cease-fire appears to be holding between Armenia and Azerbaijan in Nagorno-Karabakh. In a piece in Intersection Magazine, war correspondent Petr Bologov looks at whether the region could become the focus of a proxy war between Russia and Turkey.
"Every action elicits a counteraction and it is quite possible that the incongruity of today’s Russian leadership, which sees the plot against Russia in everything that is happening around it, could provoke a subsequent, imprudent and ill-advised counteraction from Ankara," Bogov writes.
"Thus, a clear message has been sent to Baku which reads: 'Go ahead! If something goes wrong, you can count on us.' Hence, Nagorno-Karabakh will simply become a military area of Russian-Turkish confrontation, which already has its tourist, horticultural, and construction fronts. Although neither Russia nor Turkey will join the conflict officially."
The Russian Economy
In a piece in Slon.ru, economist Natalia Anindinova looks at four scenarios for the future of Russia's economy.
A new poll by the independent Levada Center looks at Russian citizens' experience with and attitudes about corruption. The top line: A whopping 89 percent of Russians believe that their leaders are corrupt.
Ukraine And NATO
Is Ukraine's quest for NATO membership hopeless? Two sympathetic voices, Andreas Umland of the Institute for Euro-Atlantic Cooperation and Stephen Blank of the American Foreign Policy Council, offer different perspectives on the Atlantic Council's website.
The Panama Papers And Ukraine
What do the Panama Papers tell us about Ukraine? Tymofiy Mylovanov, the interim president of the Kyiv School of Economics and an associate professor of economics at the University of Pittsburgh, and Zoya Mylovanova, a lawyer and a member of the VoxUkraine Law team, take a look in The Washington Post.
The State Capitalist Threat
In a new book, State Capitalism: How The Return Of Statism Is Transforming The World, Joshua Kurlantzick of the Council on Foreign Relations looks at the move away from free-market capitalism by many developing countries.
"The most serious threat from state capitalism is that the two big state capitalist authoritarian powers, China and Russia, will use their state companies as weapons in conflicts with other countries, as vehicles to control certain types of natural resources, as vehicles for obtaining and stealing sensitive technology from other nations, or as tools for undermining environmental and labor norms in countries where their state companies invest."