ON MY MIND
After more than two years of focusing almost exclusively on foreign conflicts, is Vladimir Putin now turning his attention to domestic affairs? A recent editorial in Vedomosti and a commentary by political analyst Tatiana Stanovaya in Slon.ru each suggest this is the case.
The creation of a new National Guard -- an elite paramilitary force that answers to Putin alone -- seems to illustrate the trend. So does the accompanying reorganization of the Interior Ministry. So does legislation introduced in the State Duma that would increase the penalties for extremism -- an offense that tends to be interpreted broadly in Russia. And so do moves that were less attention-grabbing -- like the creation of a Fatherland History Foundation to popularize history and Putin's move to place the Russia's Federal Archives under direct presidential control.
The economy is in recession. Social protests are on the rise. The euphoria from Putin's military exploits is fading. And parliamentary elections are just months away. The Kremlin needs a new story line, a new movie, a new plot.
But given that Putin has staked so much legitimacy reviving Russia's great power status, I have a hard time seeing him turning inward at this point -- even if it is to focus on domestic "enemies."
IN THE NEWS
In his first public comments on the Panama Papers, Vladimir Putin stuck with tried-and-true talking points, calling the reports a Western plot to destabilize Russia.
An arson attack has destroyed the office of a judge in Kyiv who was hearing the case of two Russian citizens charged with fighting alongside separatists in the Donbas.
A new bill has been introduced in the State Duma that would toughen penalties for terrorism and extremism.
The Kremlin has announced that Putin's annual call-in program is scheduled for April 14.
Duma speaker Sergei Naryshkin says a war between Russia and Ukraine would last no more than four days.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov says Russia's new National Guard, which reports directly to Putin, will begin working even before the State Duma passes a law creating it. Hey, why wait?
A Russian diplomat says soldiers from the 14th Army who are due to leave Moldova can only do so by going through Ukraine.
WHAT I'M READING
Writing in Slon.ru, political analyst Tatiana Stanovaya argues that Vladimir Putin is turning his attention to domestic politics after years of focusing on foreign affairs.
Contrary to one of the Kremlin's favorite talking points, the historical record shows that the West did not want the Soviet Union to break up. Aleksei Portansky, a professor of international relations at the Higher School of Economics and the Institute of International Economics and World Relations, makes the case in Nezavisimaya Gazeta.
The Panama Papers -- The Gift That Keeps On Giving
Writing in The Moscow Times, Maxim Trudolyubov, a senior fellow at the Kennan Institute and the editor at large of the Russian daily Vedomosti, shows how the Panama Papers reveal two value systems.
Also in The Moscow Times, journalist and author Oliver Bullough calls out Russia's Offshore Bandits.
Taking Kleptocrats To Court
A new report by Alan Riley for the Atlantic Council's Dinu Patriciu Eurasia Center, Ukraine Vs. Russia And The Kleptocrats, looks at Ukraine's legal options to recover assets lost due to corruption during ousted President Viktor Yanukovych's rule and from the Russian occupation of Ukrainian territory.
The Stakes In Ukraine
In a piece in Intersection Magazine, Alexander Clarkson of King's College London shows how Ukraine's European integration benefits Russia.
And a new Chatham House report by John Lough and Iryna Solonenko asks: Can Ukraine achieve a reform breakthrough?
How are Crimeans faring two years after Russia's forceful annexation? Snob.ru talks to the locals.
And courtesy of Bloomberg, meet the ex-con who now has a thriving banking business in Crimea.
The Rise Of Illiberal States
The U.S. National Endowment for Democracy has released a new edited volume, Authoritarianism Goes Global: The Challenge To Democracy. The book looks at the soft-power competition between democratic states and the "big five" authoritarian regimes: China, Russia, Iran, Venezuela, and Saudi Arabia. It includes contributions from Anne Applebaum, Lilia Shevtsova, Peter Pomerantsev, and others.
Here's a blurb from the publisher, the Johns Hopkins University Press: "Over the past decade, illiberal powers have become emboldened and gained influence within the global arena. Leading authoritarian countries -- including China, Iran, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Venezuela -- have developed new tools and strategies to contain the spread of democracy and challenge the liberal international political order. Meanwhile, the advanced democracies have retreated, failing to respond to the threat posed by the authoritarians."
Navalny Trolls Putin
On his blog, Aleksei Navalny parses Putin's first public comments on the Panama Papers: The Master Class of Lies.
Brexit Meets Dutch Referendum
The Telegraph is reporting that the European Parliament is investigating subsidies allegedly funneled to Dutch referendum campaigners by a Brussels think tank linked to Nigel Farage, after he admitted arranging financing for the newspaper advert that helped gather enough signatures to force the April 6 vote.
The Stakes In Karabakh
Thomas de Waal, everybody's go-to guy on the South Caucasus, warns in The New York Times that the international community needs to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict "before it explodes."
"A new all-out Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is the stuff of nightmares. Given the sophisticated weaponry both sides now possess, tens of thousands of young men would most likely lose their lives. Russia and Turkey, already at loggerheads and with military obligations to Armenia and Azerbaijan, respectively, could be sucked into a proxy war. Fighting in the area would also destabilize Georgia, Iran, and the Russian North Caucasus. Oil and gas pipeline routes from the Caspian Sea could be threatened, too."
And The Creepiest Story Of The Day Is…
A piece by Kevin Rothrock at Global Voices: The Russian Art Of Meta-Stalking.
"The next time you ride the subway in St. Petersburg, watch out for 21-year-old photographer Egor Tsvetkov. He recently unveiled a new project called 'YOUR FACE IS BIG DATA,' which he created by semisecretly photographing passengers seated across from him on the city’s metro, without asking their permission."
Read on, and be creeped out.