ON MY MIND
Well, spring must finally be here! Vladimir Putin will answer the spontaneous questions of carefully vetted ordinary Russian citizens on live television today. In addition to being a traditional rite of spring, Putin's marathon call-in program is -- along with his state-of-the-nation speech and his end-of-year press conference -- one of the Kremlin's three big annual set pieces. Most of it is scripted. It's an event in which Vladimir Putin plays Vladimir Putin on TV. But it is also an opportunity to get a window into the Kremlin leader's thinking and into the signals he is trying to send to the Russian people, the Russian elite, and to foreign leaders. I'll be live tweeting the event on The Power Vertical's Twitter feed (@PowerVertical), contributing running commentary to RFE/RL's live blog, and doing a "postgame show" live on RFE/RL's Facebook page.
IN THE NEWS
Vladimir Putin will take questions from Russians today in his annual call-in program.
Putin was reportedly preparing for the big show at a guesthouse in Moscow.
Turkey has arrested two alleged Russian agents.
Russian fighter jets buzzed a U.S. destroyer, the USS Donald Cook, in the Baltic Sea on April 12.
Days earlier, on April 9, Russian fighter jets buzzed another U.S. destroyer, the USS Ross, in the Black Sea on April 9.
A Ukrainian court has issued an arrest warrant for Sergei Aksyonov, the de facto leader of Russian-annexed Crimea.
A mass grave has been discovered in eastern Ukraine.
Separatist authorities in Crimea have closed the Mejlis, a council that represents the region’s Tatar ethnic minority.
The United Nations is calling for the release of a staff member being held in Donetsk.
Mikhail Khodorkovsky has returned to Forbes' list of the richest Russians for the first time since 2005. Putin's son-in-law, Kirill Shamalov, is also on the list, for the first time.
WHAT I'M READING
Panama On The Moskva
Writing in BNE Intellinews, Russian security expert Mark Galeotti explains "Russia's Panamaization of Politics."
In The Daily Beast Michael Weiss reports that "a Swiss law firm implicated in the Panama Papers also has links to an alleged Russian mafia."
The Case For Georgia
Writing in Foreign Affairs, Tornike Zurabashvili makes the case for Georgia being admitted to NATO.
Navalny Takes The Initiative
The best defense is a good offense. Aleksei Navalny has called Russia's Federal Security Service to investigate allegations on Russian state television that he is a paid agent of U.S. and British intelligence. Here's Navalny's letter to the FSB, which he posted on his blog.
The National Guard And Kadyrov
Maria Snegovaya has a piece on why the creation of the National Guard is a blow to Ramzan Kadyrov -- and why the appointment of Viktor Zolotov as head of the guard may have been a sweetener.
What will Russia look like in 2025? The European Union's Institute for Security Studies has a new report out looking at domestic politics, the economy, the energy sector, and relations with the United States, China, the Middle East, the former Soviet Union, and the EU.
The Politics of Coercive Diplomacy
Lilia Shevtsova has a disturbing piece on how Moscow's "coercive diplomacy injects adrenaline into Russia's decaying regime."
"True, there are two traps into which Russia and the West could fall while following this strategy," she writes. "The first is that the requirements of maintaining “Fortress Russia” may prevent the Kremlin from achieving a grand bargain with the West. The second trap is, from the West’s point of view, a catch twenty-two: any bargain that would allow the Kremlin to interpret the global rules of the game as it chooses would undermine the coherence and unity of Western principles. But rejecting the bargain could incite the Kremlin bull to wreck the Western china shop. The liberal democracies of the West are hardly ready to clash with a nuclear foe."
Beggar Thy Neighbor
The Open Wall says "the Russian government has shifted the burden of the economic crisis onto the shoulders of the population," and asks: "but for how long will they put up with it?"
From Dignity to Shame
Writing on the Carnegie Europe website, Mikhail Minakov, a professor at Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, claims Ukraine has gone "from a revolution of dignity to a government of shame."
"In the two years since Ukraine’s Revolution of Dignity, or Euromaidan, Ukrainian politics has revealed its worst side: former corruption fighters have established their own financial-political clans; former democrats have created a superpresidential system, hunted the media, and deprived the opposition from having a say; and former reformers have sought to leave the drowning government as soon as possible," Minakov writes.
The Financial Times is reporting that "Russia's potential economic growth rate may have fallen close to zero as a result of its shrinking labour force."