ON MY MIND
This week, on August 24, Ukraine celebrates a milestone -- a quarter-century of independence. And this week, fears of a fresh Russian offensive against Ukraine are at their highest levels in years.
This is probably not an accident. As I note on today's Power Vertical Briefing (featured below), the very idea of an independent Ukraine is offensive to Vladimir Putin.
Ukraine is Russia's road not taken. It has truly competitive elections, a pluralistic elite, and a vibrant civil society. And since the Euromaidan revolution, it has been trying with mixed results to take the next crucial step -- moving from oligarchic pluralism to the real thing. It's an alternative model of governance that is threatening to Putin, and he feels compelled to crush it.
And for that reason, Ukraine's independence celebrations this week will be tense indeed.
TODAY'S POWER VERTICAL BRIEFING
On today's Power Vertical Briefing, we discuss the rising tensions between Moscow and Kyiv, which come as Ukraine prepares to mark 25 years of independence.
LATEST POWER VERTICAL PODCAST
In case you missed it, the latest Power Vertical Podcast, All The President's Men, looks at Vladimir Putin's culling of his inner circle and what it portends. Joining me are co-host Mark Galeotti, a senior research fellow at the Czech Institute of International Relations in Prague and a visiting fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, and Andrei Soldatov, editor in chief of the investigative website Agentura.ru and co-author of the books Red Web: The Struggle Between Russia's Digital Dictators And The New Online Revolutionaries and The New Nobility: The Restoration Of Russia's Security State And The Enduring Legacy Of The KGB.
IN THE NEWS
Iran’s Foreign Ministry says Russia’s use of a military base in Hamadan for striking targets in Syria has ended for now.
Russian authorities are investigating an attack on journalist Yulia Latynina in which the prominent critic of President Vladimir Putin was doused with fecal matter by an unidentified assailant.
The Ukrainian military and Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine continue to accuse each other of violating a cease-fire agreement.
Austria's Constitutional Court has refused to consider an appeal by Ukrainian businessman Dmytro Firtash in an attempt to fight his extradition to the United States, where he is wanted on corruption charges.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has reassured his Ukrainian counterpart, Petro Poroshenko, that Ankara will continue to recognize the Crimean Peninsula, which was illegally annexed by Russia, as Ukrainian territory.
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden urged both Russia and Ukraine to show restraint one day after Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko warned he could not rule out "a full-scale Russian invasion."
According to a poll by the Levada Center, nearly a quarter of Russians would be prepared to sell their votes in next month's State Duma elections.
Russian media is reporting that opposition figure Aleksei Navalny is seeking ways to run for president in 2018.
WHAT I'M READING
Remembering August 1991
Prominent Russian journalist Sergey Parkhomenko has a piece up on the Kennan Institute's Russia Files blog recalling the events of August 19-21, 1991.
And in Vedomosti, Oleg Ozherlyev, who served as an aide to former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, speculates about what Russia might look like today if the August 1991 coup attempt never happened.
The Kremlin's Election Dilemma
Sergei Orlov has a piece on Mikhail Khodorkovsky's Open Wall web portal on the dilemma facing the Kremlin in next month's elections.
"The Kremlin loudly trumpets its wish to see free and fair elections this September, but it needs to come up with a public strategy, which ensures that the desired result keeps the courtiers in place while at the same time observing all the external proprieties," Orlov writes.
The Crimea Incident
Writing in Slon.ru, Moscow-based foreign affairs analyst Vladimir Frolov unpacks the so-called "Crimea incident" and Russia's recent saber-rattling with Ukraine.
"Russia wants to solve the 'Ukrainian issue' through negotiations, not on the battlefield. But it wants to resolve it directly with the West, without Ukraine's participation," Frolov writes.
"Moscow is presenting the West with an ultimatum -- either you provide a 'Minsk-2' right now and over Poroshenko's head, or Russia has a free hand -- and everything is possible."
Death Of A Mobster
Writing on his blog, Mark Galeotti examines the recent killing of Azerbaijani-born mob boss Rovshan Janiev, also known as Rovshan Lenkoransky.
"What made Janiev interesting is that around him cohered a loose coalition of hungry young and youngish gangsters, who felt the relative stability of the post-'90s status quo -- and the end of the rapid social mobility caused by periodic turf wars and gangland killings -- was locking them out of the big time," Galeotti writes.
The 1999 Apartment Bombings
Writing in The National Review, veteran Kremlin-watcher David Satter -- a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, a fellow at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies, and author of the recently published book The Less You Know, The Better You Sleep: Russia’s Road To Terror And Dictatorship Under Yeltsin and Putin -- looks back at the 1999 apartment bombings that helped bring Putin to power.
"I believe that Vladimir Putin came to power as the result of an act of terror committed against his own people," Satter writes.
"The evidence is overwhelming that the apartment-house bombings in 1999 in Moscow, Buinaksk, and Volgodonsk, which provided a pretext for the second Chechen war and catapulted Putin into the presidency, were carried out by the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB). Yet, to this day, an indifferent world has made little attempt to grasp the significance of what was the greatest political provocation since the burning of the Reichstag."
Russia's Opposition Is Dying -- Literally
Moscow-based journalist Andrew Kramer has a piece in The New York Times on how many of the Kremlin's opponents keep winding up dead.
Ukraine And August 1991
Don't miss the latest edition of Hromadske Radio's Ukraine Calling Podcast. Host Marta Dyczok and her guests look at the failed hard-line coup of August 1991 from Ukraine's perspective.