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ON MY MIND

Rising tensions in Kosovo. Separatism in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Resurgent nationalism in Serbia. And an attempted coup in Montenegro.

No, the 1990s aren't calling and asking for their headlines back. And this isn't a flashback.

The volatile Balkans are again turning into a trouble spot. And this time around, the hand of Moscow is busy stirring the pot.

On this week's Power Vertical Podcast, we take a look at escalating unrest in the Balkans and Russia's role in it. Joining me will be co-host Mark Galeotti, a senior research fellow at the Institute of International Relations in Prague and a visiting fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations; and Arbana Vidishiqi, director of RFE/RL's Balkan Service.

It will be online later in the day so be sure to tune in!

IN THE NEWS

A controversial bill that would sharply reduce penalties for many cases of domestic abuse has won final approval in the State Duma, Russia's lower house of parliament.

U.S. President Donald Trump and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, are expected to speak on the phone on January 28, the TASS news agency has quoted Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov as saying.

The West should engage with Russia but remain wary about Moscow’s intentions, British Prime Minister Theresa May has said ahead of a meeting with U.S. President Trump in Philadelphia.

Russian media have reported that another Federal Security Service (FSB) officer has been arrested on treason charges in a case that may be linked to cyberattacks targeting the U.S. presidential election campaign.

U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis has assured his German and French counterparts that the United States has an "enduring commitment" to NATO, the Pentagon said.

Russian doping whistle-blower Yulia Stepanova is planning to return to the track this weekend at the Boston Indoor Grand Prix.

The Russian-imposed authorities in Crimea said that security forces were conducting an operation targeting alleged members of Hizb ut-Tahrir, an Islamic group that is banned in Russia.

Human rights advocates and European lawmakers are calling on Russia to drop criminal charges against Mykola Semena, an RFE/RL contributor who is accused of separatism in a case supporters say is aimed at silencing criticism of Moscow's seizure of Crimea from Ukraine.

Russia's Foreign Ministry says the country's ambassador to India, Aleksandr Kadakin, has died in New Delhi at the age of 67.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has signed a decree allowing troops from the United States and other NATO countries to carry out training missions in Ukraine during 2017.

Unidentified vandals have spray-painted Nazi graffiti at a memorial cemetery in Ukraine where some Poles are buried.

Ukraine has released a Georgian man who is wanted in Russia on suspicion of murder and fought against Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine.

WHAT I'M READING

FSB Espionage Arrests

There are still a lot of dots to connect in the cases of the FSB officers arrested in December for espionage, although there is a lot of speculation in the media that they connected to Russia's alleged hacking of the U.S. presidential elections.

There is still no official confirmation of the arrests, which have been made public in a series of leaks to the Russian media.

Kommersant reported earlier in the week that Sergei Mikhailov, deputy chief of the FSB's Center for Information Security, had been arrested, as had Ruslan Stoyanov, an employee of the cybersecurity firm Kaspersky Lab.

A report in Novaya Gazeta provides details about the arrest of Sergei Mikhailov, deputy chief of the FSB's Center for Information Security. The report also claims that Mikhailov was suspected of tipping U.S. intelligence off to to information about the Russian server-rental company King Servers, identified by cybersecurity experts as a nexus used by Russian hackers in attacks against the United States.

And the Tzargrad news site published a story claiming that Mikhailov had been involved with the notorious Russian hacking group called Shaltay-Boltay, that had previously hacked the e-mails of senior Russian officials.

Rambler News, REN-TV, Kommersant, and RBK then reported that a second FSB officer, identified as Major Dmitry Dokuchayev had also been arrested.

And RBK reports that Dokuchayev was previously a hacker known as Forb, who had been recruited by the FSB after being arrested for credit-card theft.

BuzzFeed, meanwhile, weighs in with a piece speculating "whether Russia is cleaning house of suspected spies, or going through an internal shakeup of the FSB, Russia's national security service" -- and whether the arrests are connected to the hacking of the U.S. election.

Cyber-Snitches

Znak has a report about how the FSB is forming a special online political-monitoring task force to keep an eye on dissent on the Internet.

Luke Harding On Russia's Assault On The West

NPR interviews Luke Harding, author of the books A Very Expensive Poison: The Definitive Story Of The Murder Of Litvinenko and Mafia State: How One Reporter Became An Enemy Of The Brutal New Russia.

Putin's Golden Pals

Bloomberg has a piece on how the state-corporation Rostec, run by Putin-crony Sergei Chemezov, won a largely noncompetitive auction for a lucrative gold field.

Domestic Violence And Traditional Values

The Economist has a leader on Russia's impending decriminalization of domestic violence under the banner of traditional values.

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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