ON MY MIND
Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenka was conspicuous by his absence from this weekend's summit of the Eurasian Economic Union and Collective Security Treaty Organization in St. Petersburg.
The decision not to attend comes at a time of rising tension between Minsk and Moscow following the arrest of Russian journalists in Belarus and Russia denying credits to Belarus. And as a new report by the Warsaw-based EAST Media Review (featured below) shows, it comes as Russian media are stepping up attacks on Belarus and questioning its independence.
For years, and particularly since Russia's intervention in Ukraine, the authoritarian Lukashenka has skillfully played Russia and the West against each other. But as I note in today's Daily Vertical, the Kremlin appears emboldened by what it sees as a series of victories over the West, and appears to be gearing up for a new effort to reassert control over former Soviet states.
And an early target is likely to be Belarus.
IN THE NEWS
Russia has sharply criticized an annual defense spending bill signed by U.S. President Barack Obama last week, accusing him of seeking to undermine President-elect Donald Trump and forcing a "depraved anti-Russian" policy on him at the start of his term.
Vladimir Putin met with the leaders of several former Soviet republics in St. Petersburg on December 26 on the day after the 25th anniversary of the dissolution of the Soviet Union and called for "a new integration."
Russia's Defense Ministry says it has found the main black box, or flight data recorder, from a military passenger jet that crashed near the Black Sea coastal city of Sochi.
Russian aviation authorities have grounded the country's fleet of its newest civilian airliner, the Sukhoi Superjet 100.
Russia's Defense Ministry said its troops had found mass graves in the Syrian city of Aleppo with bodies showing signs of torture and mutilation.
The Ukrainian Army and Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine have accused each other of violating a cease-fire that took effect just a day ago.
A Moscow court has ruled that a coup took place in Ukraine in 2014.
LATEST POWER VERTICAL PODCAST
In case you missed it, the latest Power Vertical Podcast, Putin's "Victorious" Year, looks back at 2016 -- and ahead to 2017.
WHAT I'M READING
Belarus In The Crosshairs?
A new report by the Warsaw-based EAST Media Review claims that Russian media have sharply increased the number of stories criticizing Belarus and questioning its independence.
Gazeta.ru, meanwhile, takes a look at recent comments by Leonid Reshetnikov, the outgoing director of the Kremlin-backed Russian Institute of Strategic Studies, suggesting that Belarus is part of "Greater Russia" and could not exist independent of Moscow.
Putin's Rich Pals
The Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project has the latest in a series of reports on how Putin's cronies have monetized their proximity to the Kremlin leader. The new report looks at the business dealings of Nikolay Tokarev, a former KGB officer who served with Putin in Dresden in the 1980s.
It's Not The Economy, Stupid!
In an op-ed in The New York Times, Sergei Guriev, the chief economist at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, explains why Russia's weak economy has not harmed Putin's political standing.
It's Europe's Economy, Stupid!
In a piece in Foreign Policy, Martin Vladimirov and Ruslan Stefanov of the Sofia-based Center for the Study of Democracy look at Russia's grip on some of Europe's economies.
Weaponizing Europe's Far Right Fringe
In The New York Times, Andrew Higgins looks at Russia's courtship of the European far right.
President Gorbachev's Last Phone Call
The New York Times has published a transcript of Mikhail Gorbachev's last phone call to U.S. President George W. Bush before resigning as Soviet president on December 25, 1991.
Lessons Not Learned
James Palmer has a piece in Foreign Policy on the lessons China did not learn from the breakup of the Soviet Union.
In The Washington Post, Adam Taylor takes a look at why so many people miss the Soviet Union.
Putin As Bond Villain
Mark Galeotti of the Institute of International Relations in Prague lets his hair down with a tongue-in-cheek piece comparing Putin to various villains from James Bond films.
In a commentary for the European Council on Foreign Relations, Francisco de Borja Lasheras looks at rising Euroskepticism in Ukraine.