ON MY MIND
One has to wonder why Russia decided to so flagrantly violate a ceasefire in Syria when the terms of the truce were so clearly in Moscow's interests.
Is Vladimir Putin's regime simply intent on humiliating and taunting the West?
With the recent all-out assault on Aleppo, which resulted in the bombing of two hospitals last week, has the Kremlin decided to go for broke and seek outright military victory?
Or, as I suggest in today's Daily Vertical (and Mark Galeotti writes in a piece featured below), is Vladimir Putin simply calculating that the tactical and strategic benefits to be gained from blatant duplicity and brutality outweigh any damage to Russia's international reputation?
IN THE NEWS
Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop says the people responsible for shooting down Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine two years ago could be known by the end of 2016 and will be prosecuted.
Russian warplanes and their Syrian government allies have continued an aerial assault on the separatist-held areas in Aleppo as rebels and aid workers accused them of destroying one of the city's main hospitals and killing at least two patients.
Britain's Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said Russia risks becoming a "pariah" state because of its air strikes on Syrian civilian targets.
The Ukrainian military and Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine have announced a pullback from the front-line town of Zolote as agreed upon in a demilitarization deal that was concluded last month.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova announced that Andrey Fomachkin, an official with the Belarusian Sports Ministry who marched in the Rio Paralympics' opening ceremony carrying a Russian flag will receive an apartment in Russia.
The trial of suspects in the February 2015 assassination of opposition leader Boris Nemtsov begins today in Moscow.
The mufti of Russia's North Caucasus region of Chechnya has defended a fatwa adopted at an Islamic gathering in Grozny that proclaimed all nontraditional Islamic teachings across Russia as extremist.
NEW POWER VERTICAL BRIEFING
Vladimir Putin turns 64 this week. That's the same age Leonid Brezhnev was in 1970, as the Soviet Union entered a decade of stagnation. On this week's Power Vertical Briefing, Senior RFE/RL Editor Steve Gutterman and I look at how Putin is laying the groundwork to stay in power indefinitely.
WHAT I'M READING
All The Kremlin's Men
One thing I am reading right now -- and that I strongly recommend others to read as well -- is All The Kremlin's Men, an excellent book by Mikhail Zygar, the founding editor of Dozhd-TV. The book, which looks at the Putin years by focusing on his courtiers and their intrigues, was a bestseller in Russia and has just been published in English.
Karen Dawisha, author of Putin's Kleptocracy, reviews Zygar's book for the Wall Street Journal.
All The Kremlin's Men has also been reviewed by John Kampfner for The Guardian, as well as by The Economist.
I'm working hard to line up Zygar for the Power Vertical Podcast sometime soon, so keep an eye out for that.
Putin The Outlaw
The New York Times pulled no punches in a recent editorial that took Putin to task for "unconscionable behavior" including "butchering civilians in Syria and Ukraine, annexing Crimea, computer-hacking American government agencies, crushing dissent at home."
"Putin is fast turning Russia into an outlaw nation," the paper opined.
"As one of five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, his country shares a special responsibility to uphold international law. Yet, his behavior in Ukraine and Syria violates not only the rules intended to promote peace instead of conflict, but also common human decency."
Putin And Truth
In an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal, Stephen Sestanovich,a professor at Columbia University and senior fellow with the Council on Foreign Relations, looks at what lies behind Putin's trouble with the truth.
"Putin is so associated with lying that we no longer even bother to explain it. What are his motives?" Sestanovich asks.
Aleppo In 2016? Or Grozny In 2000?
Writing in Foreign Policy, 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, argues that Putin is "playing by Grozny rules in Aleppo."
The Plot To Whack Kadyrov
Novaya Gazeta has a report about an alleged plot this spring to assassinate Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov
The Clear And Present Danger
Joshua Foust, a former intelligence analyst and a fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, has a piece in the War on the Rocks blog on "the clear and present danger" of Russian hacking and "info-ops."
"This isn’t the sort of “cyberwar” we were promised," Foust writes.
"When scholars and pundits talk about this set of threats, they are thinking of things like Stuxnet: sophisticated programs meant to destroy or disrupt infrastructure. From former White House officials to journalists, even to academics trying to debunk the worst of the fear mongering, the overwhelming focus is on tangible targets: the power grid, banking institutions, military installations, even voting machines. The idea of targeting one party and selectively leaking embarrassing emails just wasn’t on anyone’s radar. In hindsight, maybe it should have been."
Geopolitics Trumps Economics
In his column for Bloomberg, political commentator Leonid Bershidsky explains why Putin's geopolitical games are sinking the Russian economy.
"As President Vladimir Putin further tightens his grip on power after dubious elections that gave his party an absolute majority, Russia is sliding into protracted stagnation," Bershidsky writes.
"The Economics Ministry has adjusted downward its forecast through 2019 and Russia is now expected to underperform the global economy even more than previously anticipated. That is the background against which Putin's continued geopolitical games and the generational change in his team will proceed, resulting in a two-track Russia."
Russia's Europe Problem
Sijbren de Jong of The Hague Center for Strategic Studies has a piece in the EUobserver on why Russia doesn't want to cooperate with Europe.
Homeless In Russia
And finally, writing in Global Voices, Darina Gribova takes a look at the plight of Russia's homeless.