ON MY MIND
Russia's Labor Ministry's proposal to introduce a tax on "parasitism" -- that is, able-bodied people who are unemployed -- is indicative of how Vladimir Putin's regime is approaching its current budget crunch.
The stated reason is that such a law -- similar to one recently enacted in Belarus -- would fill the budget gap created by off-the-books employment that goes untaxed.
Fair enough, except for one thing. As the Kremlin cracks down on ordinary Russians who are using under-the-table earnings to survive hard times, it is doing little to tax the fortunes the elite is stashing away in offshore havens. It is doing little to prevent billions of dollars disappearing from the state's coffers.
The message to ordinary people is the same as ever: corruption is for us, but not for you.
IN THE NEWS
The New York Times has an exposé on how Russia's state-run doping program worked at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.
Meanwhile, FIFA, world soccer's governing body, has made a surprise doping test of a Russian team.
According to a report in Vedomosti, Russia's Communications Ministry is seeking to isolate the Russian Internet by 2020.
In Chechnya, a man who complained to Vladimir Putin about Ramzan Kadyrov had his house burned down.
Russia's Labor Ministry is considering taxing the unemployed by introducing a tax on "parasitism."
The United States will break ground on another component of its missile-defense shield today.
A Russian opposition activist in Voronezh has been released from a psychiatric clinic, where he was forcibly admitted.
U.S. President Barack Obama is hosting Nordic leaders to discuss the Russian threat.
WHAT I'M READING
The Baltics In The Spotlight
In an absolutely must-read piece on the War on the Rocks blog, Michael Kofman goes outside the box in looking at how NATO should plan to defend the Baltics from Russia.
In another War on the Rocks piece, Mark Seip also looks at Baltic defense and focuses on the upcoming U.S.-Nordic Summit.
And on his Window on Eurasia blog, veteran Kremlin-watcher Paul Goble looks at the debate over whether the Kremlin really has designs on the Baltics.
Georgia And NATO
Tedo Japaridze, chairman of the Georgian Parliament's Foreign Relations Committee has a piece on the European Leadership Network's website on Tbilisi's endless quest to join NATO.
"Eight years have passed since Georgia was promised in Bucharest that it would one day become a member of NATO," Japaridze writes.
"During that time NATO Summits have taken place in Strasbourg-Kehl, Lisbon, Chicago and Newport and we are now approaching the 2016 Summit in Warsaw. Although NATO’s door remains open for some, with Montenegro expecting to become the 29th member of the Alliance this year, for Georgia, NATO's open door policy looks increasingly selective. This is not because Georgia is failing to meet expectations."
Cold War Myths And Their Consequences
Sir Andrew Wood of Chatham House's Russia and Eurasia program has a commentary on Moscow's "damaging obsession with Cold War myths."
Here's the money graf: "Putin and his colleagues have made the assertions that the United States is bent on world hegemony, and the humiliation if not destruction of Russia the long established purpose of American policy. These absurd though deeply felt claims distort Russia’s whole approach to international affairs. Neither aim is either achievable for Washington or, as the evidence demonstrates, desired by the United States. The same Russians on occasion claim at the same time that the United States (and the EU) are doomed to decline before too long. They comfort themselves with the idea that other groupings such as BRICS, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization or the Eurasian Union can be turned into new centres of power for Moscow.
But the overall effect is to make Russian foreign policy into a search for coherence, not the implementation of a rational strategy to achieve Russia’s true national interest."
The Moscow Times has a piece by Peter Hobson that looks at Russian organized crime's penetration of Europe -- and Europe's efforts to push it back.
Land For Peace?
In a piece in Slon.ru, Oleg Kashin explores whether Russia might be pursuing a land-for-peace-and-investment (plus sanctions-busting) deal with Japan over the Kurile Islands?