ON MY MIND
Don't look now, but Vladimir Putin has just created the basis for a morality police. Putin has signed a bill into law that allows the Interior Ministry to monitor and collect data on "antisocial behavior" -- which is so broadly defined (violating "the generally accepted norms of conduct and morality") that it could mean literally anything. It could mean public intoxication. It could mean wearing a tattoo or having pink hair.
The provision, part of a law on "basic crime prevention," had largely slipped under the radar until recently. But rights activists, bloggers, and opposition journalists are raising the alarm that, like legislation prohibiting "extremism," it opens the door to the harassment of broad categories of citizens the authorities find distasteful.
IN THE NEWS
Following months of tension between Moscow and Ankara, the Kremlin has announced that Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan spoke by telephone. According to media reports, the conversation lasted 40 minutes.
The Federation Council has passed legislation establishing Russia's National Guard.
Russian Foreign Ministers Sergei Lavrov will hold talks with his French counterpart, Jean-Marc Ayrault, in Paris today, with Ukraine, Syria, and Russia-EU relations on the agenda.
Russia has complained that a U.S. naval ship passed too close to one of its ships in the Mediterranean Sea. But Pentagon officials blamed the incident on the Russian warship, which they said carried out "unsafe and unprofessional" operations near two U.S. Navy ships.
The Federation Council is scheduled to vote today on controversial "antiterrorism" legislation.
Tatarstan's legislature, meanwhile, has come out in opposition to the legislation.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has said that Putin is aware of the objections to the law and will make his own decision about whether to sign it.
Putin, meanwhile, has signed a law allowing the police to monitor and collect data on "antisocial behavior," which is undefined in the legislation.
A new poll by the Kremlin-connected VTsIOM shows that 42 percent of Russians saying their financial situation has deteriorated and 38 percent say they are struggling to cover basic expenses like utility bills.
Former RBK editor Roman Bodanin has been named editor in chief of Dozhd-TV.
WHAT I'M READING
Today's Must-Read Piece: Agnia Grigas On Frozen Conflicts
If you read nothing else today, be sure to check out an excellent new report titled: Frozen Conflicts: A Tool Kit For U.S. Policymakers by Agnia Grigas, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council and author of the book Beyond Crimea: The New Russian Empire.
"Since the 1990s, a number of separatist movements and conflicts have challenged the borders of the states of the former Soviet Union and created quasi-independent territories under Russian influence and control," Grigas writes.
"An examination of the development of frozen conflicts and Russia’s continued creation of separatist territories suggests that the past policy responses of the U.S. government to these conflicts have been largely insufficient to deter further aggression."
More Brexit Views
Writing in Vox, Mark Galeotti, a senior research fellow at the Czech Institute of International Relations, explains why Russia may soon regret cheering on Brexit.
"Putin may still have reasons to regret what he wished for," Galeotti writes.
"His ideal is an EU that is distracted, divided, and weakened, but not mortally so. He may, however, find that he has traded a cozy and polite neighbor for an uncertain, volatile, and sometimes aggressive one."
Aleksandr Baunov of the Moscow Carnegie Center has a piece explaining why Russia really likes Brexit.
"For a long time, ever since the era of 'Color Revolutions' in Georgia and Ukraine, the successes of the West have been seen in Russia to be Russia’s failures and vice versa," Baunov writes.
"Now the EU has apparently done Russia a favor by punishing itself. There may be in part a psychological reaction here: When our Soviet Union broke up, you celebrated; now your own union is breaking up, and we will not be sorry."
Does Russia Own Syria?
Beirut-based military analyst San Heller has a lengthy post in the War On The Rocks blog claiming that Russia has taken control of both the battlefield and the negotiating table in the Syria conflict.
"The Kremlin has successfully made itself the most powerful party to this war. The best the White House can do now is to make them own it," Heller writes.
"Russia has used its intervention in Syria to reshape the military and political contest for control of Syria and to deliberately constrict the space for countervailing American action. The idea that America can menace Russia’s regime partner in Syria unilaterally and without consequences is an unreal one. And unless America is willing to risk a dangerous and unpredictable confrontation with Russia, the course of Syria’s war hinges on what Russia does next."
Stephen Sestanovich, a professor at Columbia University and senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, has a piece in The Wall Street Journal, Friends Without Benefits, that looks at the asymmetrical Sino-Russian relationship.
"Russian President Vladimir Putin has just concluded a visit to Beijing, where, after announcing a few big-sounding energy deals, he said that Russia and China were 'friends forever.' These days everyone wants a good relationship with China, but Mr. Putin does so from a disadvantageous position. Russia is one of the few countries in the world with few friends besides China," Sestanovich writes.
"With the ruble having lost more than half its value, China can buy what it wants for less! But no need to rub that in. If, with no other buyers on the horizon, Russia is now ready to sell off parts of its oil and gas sector, then China is ready to pick up a few bargains. That was the real news of this summit. It’s what being 'friends forever' actually means."
A new report by the Sova Center shows the degree to which penalties for expressing anti-Kremlin views online have increased, as well as the likelihood of prosecution.
The Turkish 'Apology'
Meduza has a piece parsing what we know -- and don't know -- about Turkey's "apology" for shooting down a Russian S-24 warplane in November.