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ON MY MIND

Speaking to reporters yesterday, Kremlin mouthpiece Dmitry Peskov provided a clue as to why fighting has sharply escalated in eastern Ukraine this week.

Peskov said the renewed "fighting shows another reason for a swift resumption of a dialogue and cooperation between Russia and the United States."

Russia, it appears, is again deploying its tactic of reflexive control -- the shaping of an environment to compel adversaries to behave in a manner advantageous to Moscow.

The Kremlin wants a grand bargain with the West, and particularly with the United States, that gives it a free hand in Ukraine. Renewed violence in Ukraine would suggest that the Minsk cease-fire and the European-centered peace talks -- the so-called Normandy Format that includes Germany, France, Russia, and Ukraine -- are a failure.

The solution, of course, is for Russia and the United States to solve the problem without the Europeans and over the heads of the Ukrainians.

Can you say Yalta! Or course you can!

Meanwhile, circumstantial evidence is accumulating that it was the Russian-backed separatists that sparked the latest round of fighting, with Moscow's knowledge and apparent blessing.

Russia warned the OSCE on January 26 that there was a risk of escalation in the Donbas. Two days later, on January 28, fighting escalated in the Donbas.

Moreover, in a piece featured below, for example, Oleg Kashin cites reports that pro-Kremlin journalists were dispatched to the area of the recent fighting -- before it began.

It all looks like a classic reflexive control operation.

IN THE NEWS

Russian President Vladimir Putin is heading to Hungary for his second visit in two years, a development that has many in the European Union looking on with concern.

Vladimir Kara-Murza Jr., a Kremlin critic whose sudden and severe illness in 2015 led to suspicions that he was poisoned, has been hospitalized in Moscow with similar symptoms, his wife told RFE/RL.

Russia's Federal Security Service has established a security zone with border controls along the country's border with neighboring Belarus.

The upper chamber of Russia's parliament has passed a bill that would decriminalize some forms of domestic violence. The bill now only requires Putin's signature to become law.

Kremlin foe Aleksei Navalny says his retrial in a politically charged case is being rushed to a conclusion and that he expects the court will convict him in order to bar him from running for president in 2018, when Vladimir Putin may seek a fourth Kremlin term.

The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that Russia must pay Navalny 63,000 euros in compensation for detaining him while he was participating in demonstrations between 2012-14.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko told German media that he is planning a referendum on whether Ukraine should join NATO now that polls show 54 percent of Ukrainians favor such a move.

Ukraine's ambassador to the United Nations said the Trump administration fully supports his country's territorial integrity and independence and will never accept Russia's annexation of Crimea.

Ukraine says two of its soldiers have been killed in the country's east as heavy fighting between government forces and Russia-backed separatists entered its fifth day.

Ukrainian military authorities say that an unarmed military transport plane was hit by antiaircraft fire from a Russian naval vessel over a disputed area of the Black Sea.

A group of senior Democratic members of the U.S. House of Representatives have asked the Defense Department to investigate whether President Donald Trump's national security adviser violated the constitution by accepting money from Russia's state-funded RT television network.

A Russian court has convicted a youth activist of terrorism-related offenses for a social-media post praising the mass killing at a gay nightclub in Florida last year, but declined to sentence him to prison.

Authorities in Belarus have detained Ukrainian journalist Vitaliy Sizov and ordered him to leave the country due to the fact that he was barred from entering Russia.

Fewer Russians are taking vacations abroad than in 2014, the Russian newspaper Kommersant reports.

WHAT I'M READING

Is It Putin's World Now?

In a piece in The Atlantic, It's Putin's World, Franklin Foer looks at how Vladimir Putin has used so-called traditional values to divide the West and "become the ideological hero of nationalists everywhere."

"Putin has inverted the Cold War narrative," Foer writes.

"Back in Soviet times, the West was the enemy of godlessness. Today, it’s the Russian leader who seeks to snuff out that supposed threat. American conservatives are struggling with the irony. They seem to know that they should resist the pull of Putinism --many initially responded to his entreaties with a ritualistic wringing of hands -- but they can’t help themselves."

A Hacking Harbinger

Writing in Lawfare, Arun Mohan Sukumar, who heads the Cyber Initiative at the Observer Research Foundation in New Delhi, asks: "What Does Russian Hacking Of The U.S. Election Mean For The Rest Of The World?"

Connecting The Espionage Dots

In The Moscow Times, Eva Hartog and Mikhail Fishman comprehensively reconstruct the espionage case involving two FSB cybersecurity officials, a former employee of a cybersecurity firm, and a hacker group.

A Russian Winter In Donbas

In a column for Republic.ru, opposition journalist Oleg Kashin looks at the escalated violence in the Donbas this week and argues that contrary to predictions that the war in eastern Ukraine would settle into a frozen conflict like in Moldova's Transdniester, it is turning into a more dangerous and volatile conflict, as in Nagorno-Karabakh.

Russia And Holocaust Remembrance

On the Kennan Institute's Russia File blog, Izabella Tabarovsky looks at Soviet and Russian efforts to "universalize" the Holocaust.

Russia As A Change Agent

Also on The Russia Files blog, Maksim Trudolyubov, a senior fellow at The Wilson Center, looks at Russia's history of being a catalyst for change in the West.

Talking Hybrid War

Mark Galeotti, a senior research fellow at the Institute of International Relations in Prague, appeared on Reuters' War College Podcast to talk about Russia's hybrid war on the West.

From Fake News To Fake Commentary

In a piece on The Atlantic Council's website, Brian Mefford looks at a fake think tank that publishes fake articles, mixes them with legitimate analysis and a healthy dose of Russian propaganda. Mefford concludes that we should be aware not just of fake news but "fake opinion" as well.

About This Blog

The Power Vertical
The Power Vertical

The Power Vertical is a blog written especially for Russia wonks and obsessive Kremlin watchers by Brian Whitmore. It offers Brian's personal take on emerging and developing trends in Russian politics, shining a spotlight on the high-stakes power struggles, machinations, and clashing interests that shape Kremlin policy today. Check out The Power Vertical Facebook page or

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