ON MY MIND
Ukraine's usually jovial Black Sea port city of Odesa is tense this week. It's tense because today marks the second anniversary of clashes between pro-Kyiv demonstrators and Moscow-backed militants that killed dozens of people. It's tense because local residents are demanding the resignation of Odesa Mayor Hennadiy Trukhanov, who has been revealed to have a Russian passport. And it's tense because in recent weeks there have been a series of provocations in the city. Anti-Trukhanov demonstrators were attacked with thugs wielding baseball bats. A grenade was recently launched at a local bank. And Ukraine's Security Service, the SBU, uncovered a weapons cache outside the city. Odesa residents are mainly Russian speakers -- but they are also staunchly loyal to Kyiv. And this must drive the Kremlin crazy, since it shows Moscow's whole narrative about Ukraine to be a fiction.
This is a dangerous moment because Odesa also has its share of troublemakers -- many of them connected to organized crime groups -- who are more than happy to stir up unrest on Moscow's behalf for a price.
IN THE NEWS
Odesa has placed restrictions on demonstrations on the second anniversary of deadly clashes.
Ukraine has accused Moscow-backed rebels of breaking an Easter cease-fire in the Donbas.
Lithuania has joined Poland in denying entry to the nationalist Russian biker gang, the Night Wolves. The group is attempting to retrace the path the Red Army took to Berlin in 1945.
The leader of the annual satirical "Monstratsy" demonstration, Artyem Loskutov, has been detained in Novosibirsk.
And in another example of the Kremlin having no sense of humor, police in Moscow last week disrupted the opening of a new temple of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.
WHAT I'M READING
Russia and NATO
Chatham House's Andrew Monaghan has a commentary on why Russia and NATO will not be returning to business as usual anytime soon.
"The NATO−Russia Council (NRC) meeting last week provided an important bellwether in the run-up to NATO’s Warsaw summit in early July. Dialogue is important, but the disagreements are deep and Russia’s continuing military transformation will pose increasing challenges to the Euro-Atlantic structure," Monaghan writes.
Russia's New Nationalism
Ben Judah reviews the book Black Wind, White Snow: The Rise Of Russia’s New Nationalism by former Financial Times Moscow bureau chief Charles Clover.
Here's a teaser:
"Few, even in Russia, can remember what they were doing on the day in 1999 that Vladimir Putin became prime minister and the anointed successor to that sick old man in the Kremlin, Boris Yeltsin. In Britain, this opaque Russian succession was not even a lead news item. Fewer, especially in Moscow, expected this twitchy, mumbling, overpromoted, poorly-rated head of Russian domestic intelligence to last long. None expected him to hold power for himself. It seemed obvious he would only guard it for those who chose him.
"Quietly, without them even noticing, the fate of millions was decided that day. In a matter of hours, a hastily-planned reshuffle determined who would be rich and who would be poor, who would found gas dynasties and who would sit in jail for decades to come. Russia’s borders, pipelines and school history textbooks were all to be recast in the shape of Yeltsin’s choice that day. And though not even the lieutenant colonel from St Petersburg himself could fathom it, the enthronement would radiate backwards and forwards, changing not only the future but also Russia’s sense of its past."
Creeping Exit Visas?
Tatia Lemondzhava has a piece in Foreign Policy arguing that Russians are slowly losing their right to travel abroad.
"The main goal of these measures appears twofold," Lemondzhava writes.
"First, they are designed to limit the exposure of the Russian population to the outside world at a time when the Kremlin is at pains to maintain the facade of resilience and victory-against-adversity it has crafted through its media. Second, they aim to redirect a significant portion of the nearly $54 billion Russian tourism cash flow back into the country to help prop up its struggling economy."
Bashing the West
Kommersant parses Sergei Lavrov and Sergei Shoigu's criticisms of the West at the Moscow Security Forum.
Lavrov accused Europe and the United States of "using terrorists to settle accounts with objectionable regimes." Shoigu accused NATO of viewing Russia through the crosshairs of a rifle.
Speaking at the same venue, Lavrov said the Baltic states had shown no gratitude to Moscow for letting them "go in peace" after the Soviet Union collapsed.
Meet the New Boss...
Daniel Calingaert, executive vice president of Freedom House, on Ukraine's "revolution without change."
"Despite the bleak picture right now, Ukraine has a fighting chance at a genuine transformation," Calingaert writes.
"Since 1995, Freedom House's Nations in Transit has measured democratization in all 29 formerly communist countries of Europe and Eurasia. Ukraine stands out in the report for its extremely strong civil society, which is comparable to those in European Union member states in Central Europe and the Baltics. Ukraine’s media and electoral process are also relative strengths, better than the average of potential and official EU membership candidates in the Balkans."