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ON MY MIND

Russia's Justice Ministry has gone all Kafka on us. Or more accurately, it has gone more Kafka.

The Justice Ministry proposed this week to amend Russia's notorious law requiring NGOs that receive foreign funding and engage in political activity to register as "foreign agents."

Now the Justice Ministry wants to include criticism of the law itself to be considered "political activity." So, as Vedomosti cleverly put it in a headline, criticizing the law on foreign agents proves you are one.

You really can't make this stuff up.

Meanwhile Russia's registry of foreign agents grew to 81 organizations in 2015, a threefold increase over 2014.

IN THE NEWS

Russian prosecutors are targeting opposition leader and anticorruption crusader Aleksei Navalny with a new criminal investigation.

Russian prosecutors have opened a criminal case into Mikhail Prokhorov's RBC media group.

The United States' European missile defense shield goes live today.

Pro-Russian authorities in Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula have blocked access to RFE/RL's Crimea news website, Krym.Realii.

Lawyers say a proposed prisoner swap to release kidnapped Ukrainian military pilot Nadia Savchenko may not happen.

Russia's Justice Ministry says criticizing a law requiring foreign-funded NGOs to register as "foreign agents" makes one --- a foreign agent.

WHAT I'M READING

Decoding Russian Diplomacy

Anybody who wants to understand Russian foreign policy and the factors and motivations driving it should read Vladimir Frolov regularly. Here's the latest from the Moscow-based foreign affairs analyst, "An Unclear Message: Why Russia Is Afraid To Reach An Agreement With The West," in Slon.ru.

Putin's Hydra

New York University's Mark Galeotti has penned a new report for the European Council on Foreign Relations, "Putin’s Hydra: Inside Russia’s intelligence."

"Putin has the intelligence and security community he wanted: a powerful, feral, multi-headed, and obedient hydra," Galeotti writes. "But it is Putin himself, and his dreams of Russia as a great power, that is the real victim of this badly managed beast. The agencies reinforce his assumptions and play to his fantasies rather than informing and challenging his worldview."

Transatlanticism In An Age Of Russian Aggression

The Transatlantic Academy's annual report argues that unity is essential for the West in order to counter an increasingly aggressive Russia.

“The Western response to Russian aggression has in fact been robust and effective, and Western unity has been critical to limiting the damage created by this incursion,” Transatlantic Academy Executive Director Stephen Szabo writes in the report’s introduction. But the true test will be whether this unity can be maintained.

The Operative-Autocrat

Fiona Hill, a senior fellow at of the Brookings Institution and co-author of the book Mr. Putin: Operative In The Kremlin, has a report for The Bulletin Of Atomic Scientists titled: Putin: The One-Man Show The West Doesn’t Understand.

"Vladimir Putin, the operative-as-autocrat, is without precedent either in Russian history, or at the top of a modern state anywhere else in the world," Hill writes.

Putin's Nuclear Brinksmanship

Writing in The National Interest, the Brookings Institution's Steven Pifer, a former United States ambassador to Ukraine, argues that it is time to push back on Russia's nuclear threats.

Putin's Lack Of 'Helicopter Money'

According to a piece on Open Wall, the blog of Mikhail Khodorkovsky's Open Russia organization, "somehow, somewhere, the Kremlin needs to find money to throw at the population, before the Duma elections in September." The problem is, there isn't enough money.

"Elections are won with helicopter money -- throw money at the people below (and stuff the ballot boxes), and victory is almost assured. The problem for the president is that he also needs to keep his retainers happy. Until recently, there has been plenty for everyone to feed at the trough, but as the recession deepens, the number of feeding places is diminishing; and as every keeper knows, sooner or later, animals bite the hand that feeds them."

Kyiv-based journalist Ian Bateson has a piece in Open Democracy arguing that the decline in Western media coverage of Ukraine has negative consequences for the country's democratic development.

"This slipping coverage matters for Ukraine because media scrutiny is necessary for accountability," Bateson writes. "Media as a check on government abuse of power is a cornerstone of any democracy. But foreign media is especially important in Ukraine both because it is what Ukraine’s western bankrollers read and watch, and because Ukrainian media doesn’t play that role."

Worst Places In Europe To Be Gay

Azerbaijan, Russia, and Armenia are respectively the least LGBT-friendly countries in greater Europe, according to a ILGA's Rainbow Europe list.

Peter Piper Picked A Peck Of Panama Papers

And the best headline alliteration award of the week goes to...The American Interest for -- Putin's Panama Papers Problem.

About This Blog

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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