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ON MY MIND

The more Finland and Sweden cooperate with NATO, the more the security equation in the Baltic region changes.

Specifically, the Baltic states become much more defensible in the face of potential Russian aggression.

And this, of course, hasn't escaped the Kremlin's notice.

Speaking at a joint press conference this week with Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that the non-aligned status of the two Scandinavian countries was vital to the "stability of the Baltic region and Europe in general."

I guess that depends on what your definition of stability is.

Now, as usual, a bit of translation is required to understand exactly what Lavrov means.

Because in Moscow-speak, the "stability of the Baltic region" means Russia's continued ability to harass and threaten the Baltic states.

But from the vantage point of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, the stability of the Baltic region -- i.e. their security -- is only enhanced by Sweden and Finland collaborating more closely with NATO.

IN THE NEWS

The Presidium of Russia's Supreme Court has set aside the conviction of political activist Ildar Dadin on charges of participating in multiple unsanctioned protests and has ordered his release from custody.

Russia has reacted cautiously to U.S. President Donald Trump's appointment of Army Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster as his national security adviser.

Montenegro's former prime minister has accused Russia of seeking to destabilize the Balkans following a thwarted attempt to overthrow the country's pro-Western government.

The head of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe has said there are still "significant" violations of the cease-fire in Ukraine and "no evidence" that either side is withdrawing heavy weapons from the front line as agreed last week.

Ukraine's president has called for new sanctions against Russia over its decision to recognize passports issued by separatist authorities in eastern Ukraine.

Ukraine has called for reform of the United Nations Security Council's structure to prevent Russia from using its veto power on the council to obstruct actions involving the conflict in eastern Ukraine.

Russia has successfully launched an unmanned Soyuz cargo rocket on a mission to supply the International Space Station.

The Associated Press is reporting that medical examiners who performed an autopsy on Russia's ambassador to the United Nations say they need more tests to determine how and why he fell ill and later died.

Moscow and Kyiv are at odds over a statement issued by the UN Security Council mourning the February 20 death of Russia's long-time envoy to the United Nations, Vitaly Churkin.

Ukraine's top prosecutor says his office is investigating a previously obscure lawmaker on suspicion of treason after he presented associates of President Donald Trump with a controversial peace plan for Ukraine and Russia.

The Russian authorities in the annexed Ukrainian region of Crimea have sentenced 11 Crimean Tatars to administrative arrest after convicting them of holding an illegal public gathering.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has said the military neutrality of Sweden and Finland is fundamental to the security of the Baltic region.

An Austrian court has approved the extradition of Ukrainian tycoon Dmytro Firtash to the United States to face bribery allegations, overturning an earlier ruling that had said the U.S. request was politically motivated.

WHAT I'M READING

The Incredible Shrinking Foreign Minister

In a piece for BNE Intellinews, Mark Galeotti, a senior research fellow at the Institute of International Relations in Prague, looks at the diminished role of Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

"Russian Foreign Minister [Sergei] Lavrov, long a fixture -- indeed, legend -- in global diplomacy, has been looking testy of late, and much less in command," Galeotti writes.

"Since Crimea, he has essentially been excluded from the inner circle setting foreign policy and is instead relegated to the role of articulating and defending an increasingly untenable and incredible official line. The sight of him being openly mocked by his peers at the 2015 Munich Conference was in many ways the beginning of the end."

Weaponizing Huntington

David Batashvili, a former member of Georgia's National Security Council, has a piece in The Hill on how Russia has "weaponized" the ideas of Samuel Huntington, author of the influential essay and book The Clash Of Civilizations.

"Russians usually don’t make direct references to Huntington," Batashvili writes.

"But they use the notion of civilizational conflict extensively...The arguments employed by Russia’s information warriors today are the same that were used 15 years ago: Islam is the enemy; the decadent West is doomed and on its way to be replaced by the Muslims, just like the Roman civilization was replaced by the barbarians; modern democracy cannot deal with these challenges; the Western political elites have betrayed their populations, dooming them to be destroyed."

Why Ukraine Needs A Cultural Revolution

Writing in Republic.ru, Vladimir Pastukhov, a visiting fellow at Oxford University's St. Anthony's College, argues that Ukraine's political culture has survived the Euromaidan and the war -- and this needs to change.

Hearts And Minds

Writing in Foreign Policy, Samuel Greene, director of the Russia Institute at King's College London, argues that Europe needs a hearts and minds policy in Russia.

This Shouldn't Be So Difficult

Chatham House's John Lough argues that it shouldn't be so hard for the West to handle Russia.

Putin The Man, Putin The Myth

Keith Gessen has a piece in The Guardian on "the many myths of Vladimir Putin."

Lessons From The Past

Jeffrey Gedmin, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council and Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service, has a piece, The KGB And Me, recalling his time in communist East Germany, the tactics the KGB and the Stasi used there to compromise foreigners, and why they are relevant today.

Trump, Russia, And The Republicans

In her column for Politico, Susan Glasser asks whether U.S. Republicans will break with Trump over Russia.

The Costs Of War

The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry has issued a statement on the anniversary of Russian troops entering Ukraine summarizing the costs of three years of war.

Georgia's Options In Abkhazia

Lolita Brayman, an immigration attorney specializing in refugee and asylum law, and Jason Pack, a researcher of World History at Cambridge University, have a piece in New Eastern Europe on Georgia's options in the pro-Moscow separatist region of Abkhazia.

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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