ON MY MIND
Russian state television's botched "expose" of opposition leader and anticorruption crusader Aleksei Navalny is telling on a number of levels. That the Kremlin would commission a hit job on Navalny isn't surprising -- they've been doing that for years. That they would accuse him of being in the employ of Western powers is also no shocker -- it's a standard talking point.
What it does show is that Vladimir Putin's regime is very worried about the damage corruption allegations can do in the wake of the Panama Papers revelations; and that they're worried about Navalny's ability to document and spread information about official malfeasance.
But why would they do such a sloppy job of it? Why would they botch this hit job in such obvious and transparent ways? Perhaps it was a rush job, put together in haste after last week's Panama Papers bombshell. Perhaps Putin's vaunted propaganda machine is completely losing its mojo. Or perhaps, in a more sinister interpretation, the Kremlin just doesn't care about being even close to convincing anymore. Perhaps the "expose" wasn't meant to convince -- but to send a signal. In which case, Navalny had best prepare for a high-stakes show trial.
IN THE NEWS
A Russian military helicopter has crashed in Syria, killing two military personnel.
France has frozen $1 billion in Russian assets in connection with a lawsuit by shareholders of the defunct Yukos oil company.
Reuters is reporting that Ukrainian Finance Minister Natalie Jaresko will not serve in the country's new government.
Six NATO countries will send more than 1,000 troops to military exercises in Estonia in May.
President Vladimir Putin has removed Boris Gryzlov, the former speaker of the State Duma, from the Security Council. The move came days after Viktor Zolotov, who will head Russia's new National Guard, was named a member of the council.
Former Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin will reportedly draft a new economic program for Vladimir Putin.
A 3-meter-high bronze statue of bombastic Russian politician Vladimir Zhirinovsky has been unveiled in Moscow to mark his 70th birthday later this month.
WHAT I'M READING
The Warsaw-based Center for Eastern Studies has a new report out on the effect of sanctions on the Russian economy.
"Although they are not the deciding factor, the Western financial sanctions are nevertheless an important factor affecting the deteriorating economic situation in Russia," the authors write. "They have significantly undermined the opportunities which Russian companies have to attract foreign capital, thus contributing to the deterioration of their financial condition (which is particularly prominent in the case of energy firms subject to sanctions). Therefore, Russian businesses need more support from the state. However, this support is becoming more difficult due to the dramatic fall in oil prices -- revenues from oil exports are the main source of budget revenue."
Exposing the Navalny 'Expose'
Russian bloggers and journalists continue to point out discrepancies and inaccuracies in Russian state television's broadcast alleging that opposition leader and anticorruption activist Aleksei Navalny is a paid agent of U.S. and British intelligence.
The death of a Cosmonaut
Today marks the 55th anniversary of Soviet cosmonaut Yury Gagarin's historic first-ever orbit of the Earth on April 12, 1961.
NPR has a sad and creepy story about Gagarin's close friend Vladimir Komarov, a cosmonaut who died in the failed Soyuz-1 mission in April 1967.
"So there's a cosmonaut up in space, circling the globe, convinced he will never make it back to Earth; he's on the phone with Alexei Kosygin -- then a high official of the Soviet Union -- who is crying because he, too, thinks the cosmonaut will die."
Read the rest here.
The Death of a Journalist
What does it mean when a Russian man with no known enemies, a journalist covering cultural affairs, is killed in his apartment with no sign of forced entry? Journalist and author Masha Gessen has this moving piece in The New York Times on The Art Of Reading A Russian Obituary.
RosBalt interviews Caucasus expert Sergei Markedonov on how the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh went "from from bad to worse."
The Open Wall looks at "how Russia is playing both sides against the middle" in Karabakh.
Meanwhile, In Ukraine
On the Atlantic Council's website, Anders Aslund takes a look at the economics of Ukraine's political crisis.
Ukraine, meanwhile, is preparing to make its Soviet KGB archives available online.
Putin Loves His Nukes
Vladimir Putin's absence at the recent nuclear summit in Washington raised eyebrows. Simon Shuster has a good piece in Newsweek on why Putin isn't interested in arms control and why Russia is rebuilding its nuclear arsenal.
The Art of Electronic Warfare
Russia has been steadily expanding its electronic-warfare capabilities. The Jamestown Foundation takes a look at the the book Radioelektronaya Borba (Electronic Warfare), by a group of Russian defense experts.