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ON MY MIND

The European Union's rejection of a Russian proposal to involve Russia in a review of the bloc's Association Agreement with Moldova is a welcome sign. So are the European Parliament's recent moves to expedite visa-free travel for Georgians and Ukrainians. As a wave of antiestablishment populism -- one encouraged by Moscow -- buffets the West, there were very real fears from Kyiv to Tbilisi to Chisinau that the European Union would leave their eastern partners at Moscow's mercy. But Brussels appears, at least for the moment, to be standing by those in Moldova, Ukraine, and Georgia who are seeking to escape the Kremlin's orbit. It's welcome good news at a time when, for Russia's beleaguered neighbors, good news is a rare commodity.

IN THE NEWS

Russian President Vladimir Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, says the Kremlin expects the date for a phone call between Putin and U.S. President Donald Trump to be agreed soon.

U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis, on his first full day in office, assured European allies that the United States continues to have an "unshakable" commitment to NATO.

Estonian President Kersti Kaljulaid has told visiting Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko that she supports continued sanctions against Russia over its involvement in eastern Ukraine.

A Russian judge has rejected a motion by Kremlin critic Aleksei Navalny's lawyer to recuse himself from the retrial of the opposition activist.

Yandex Money, Russia's most popular online fundraising tool, has informed Navalny that he is forbidden to use it to raise money for his presidential campaign.

The Pentagon has denied Russian state-media reports that it provided coordinates for Russian air strikes targeting Islamic State militants in Syria and that the bombing was a joint mission with U.S.-led coalition forces.

Russia's Constitutional Court has begun hearing a complaint filed by imprisoned activist Ildar Dadin.

The head of Russia's North Caucasus region of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, has confirmed that men from Chechnya are serving in Syria.

French presidential candidate Francois Fillon says that the European Union's economic sanctions against Russia are ineffective and called for dialogue with Moscow.

Moldovan President Igor Dodon has said he does not believe his country will ever be part of the European Union and that in order to be fully unified, it is necessary "to find common ground with Russia."

The European Union has rejected a proposal from Moscow that Russia be involved in a trilateral review of Moldova’s Association Agreement with the bloc.

Moscow authorities have denied activists permission to protest in a central square against legislation that would decriminalize some forms of domestic violence in Russia.

WHAT I'M READING

Today's Must-Read: Life After Trust

Michael Idov has a piece in New York Magazine on what Putin's Moscow teaches us about authoritarian regimes, arguing that "Once you lose faith in one institution, you start to lose faith in them all."

"One tends to imagine life in an autocratic regime as dominated by fear and oppression: armed men in the street, total surveillance, chanted slogans, and whispered secrets," Idov writes.

"But residents of a hybrid regime such as Russia’s -- that is, an autocratic one that retains the facade of a democracy -- know the Orwellian notion is needlessly romantic. Russian life, I soon found out, was marked less by fear than by cynicism: the all-pervasive idea that no institution is to be trusted, because no institution is bigger than the avarice of the person in charge."

Why The Black Sea Region Matters

Chris Miller of the Foreign Policy Research Institute has a piece on the importance of the Black Sea region.

"No region of the world is more divided in Americans' mental map than the Black Sea," Miller writes.

"We place the countries that surround the Black Sea coast into three different categories. Romania and Bulgaria are in Europe, members of NATO and the European Union. Russia, Moldova, Ukraine, and Georgia are the former Soviet Union; for better or for worse, they are still defined by the historical legacy of Soviet rule. And Turkey, embroiled by Kurdish insurgency and at war in Syria and Iraq, is increasingly seen as one of the main powers of the Middle East."

Kudrin's Doomed Economic Plan

In The Moscow Times Boris Grozovsky explains why Aleksei Kudrin's economic plan will never see the light of day.

Talkin' Propaganda

OpenDemocracy has published the text of a roundtable discussion about Russian propaganda featuring journalists from Russia, Moldova, Germany, and Lithuania.

Television -- The Drug Of The Nation

Polina Potolova has a piece in Republic.ru on why the Internet will not overtake television as the media of choice in Russia

Putin, Navalny, And Legitimacy

In a commentary in Republic.ru, political analyst Tatiana Stanovaya argues that by limiting Aleksei Navalny's ability to raise funds for his campaign online, the Kremlin risks driving down turnout in the 2018 election and harming Putin's legitimacy.

Sanctions And The Russian Military

Foreign Policy's Pentagon correspondent Paul McLeary asks, Did Western sanctions actually help the Russian military?

The F-Word Again

In The American Interest, Vladislav Inozemtsev argues that Putin's Russia is an "early-stage fascist state."

Friends, Foes, Or Frenemies

The Middle East Eye has a piece explaining how Russia and Iran could ultimately come to blows over Syria

Trump: The View From Moscow

Dmitry Trenin has a piece on the Carnegie Russia website on the risks and opportunities of the Trump presidency for the Kremlin.

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 Follow @PowerVertical

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