ON MY MIND
The recent protests in Horlivka, a city in Donetsk Oblast controlled by Moscow-backed separatists, illustrate how time is not on Russia's side in Ukraine. The militants and their Kremlin backers are incapable of providing anything resembling prosperity in the areas they control, and sooner or later they will lose public support.
The demonstrations in Horlivka, in which about 1,000 small business owners protested confiscatory taxes and said they wished to return to the system under Kyiv's control, could be the shape of things to come.
IN THE NEWS
British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson is calling on Russia to pressure Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down.
FIFA has promised "appropriate steps" after a report on July 18 found that a dozen doping cases in Russian football were among hundreds covered up by Moscow.
Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev suspended Deputy Sports Minister Yury Nagornykh, who was named in a report on the doping of Russian athletes at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.
The Federal Security Service says it has detained an interpreter for the Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and accused him of spying for Ukraine.
A poll by the Levada Center shows that one-quarter of Russians are thinking about emigrating.
WHAT I'M READING
James Goldgeier, dean of the School of International Service at American University and author of the book Not Whether But When: The U.S. Decision To Enlarge NATO, weighs in on the ongoing debate about what the United States did and did not promise Russia in the 1990s regarding NATO enlargement.
"As someone who supported enlargement as a vehicle for helping to ensure the security of a historically insecure region, I tell this story not as part of what has been a quarter-century 'gotcha' game and certainly not to feed into Russian justifications of their 2014 invasion of a sovereign country," Goldgeier writes.
"Rather, I hope to remind us of the key contours of the immediate post-Cold War world: The United States believed it had won the Cold War and sought to ensure the terms of settlement were favorable to American interests. Yeltsin believed he and the Russian people had overthrown communism and wanted the terms of settlement to recognize their interests in being major players in Europe. Given the power disparities, the differences would be hard to reconcile."
The piece is well worth a read, as it puts useful context around how the decision to enlarge NATO evolved.
Goldgeier's piece, which appeared in the War On The Rocks blog, links to a declassified memo of an October 1993 conversation between Warren Christopher, then the U.S. secretary of state, and Boris Yeltsin.
The Funk Of The West
Veteran Kremlin-watcher Edward Lucas, author of The New Cold War, has a short, smart, and sobering piece up on the Center for European Policy Analysis website that looks at the current funk engulfing the West and how Russia is taking advantage of it.
"The best argument against the bombastic, disruptive approach epitomized by Putin’s rule is that normality is actually fine," Lucas writes.
"The West’s values of rule of law, democracy, and capitalism form the best combination of political and economic arrangements the world has ever seen. So we don’t need 'sovereign democracy' because our own system works fine. Nor do we need a 'new European security architecture' (code for giving Russia the right to meddle in its neighbors’ affairs) because the existing setup -- based on the Paris Charter and the OSCE -- works perfectly well."
New Troll Tactics
The Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project has a new report out on how organized Russian trolls are using new methods in an effort to influence U.S. policy toward Moscow.
"Reporters for OCCRP have found evidence that pro-Kremlin agents are using an online petition tool on www.whitehouse.gov, a U.S. presidential website, in an attempt to covertly influence U.S. policy," the report claims.
On Ukraine's Front Line
The International Crisis Group has released a report about conditions along the separation line between the separatist-controlled areas in eastern Ukraine and the rest of the country.
Here's a teaser: "The 500-km line of separation between Russian-supported separatist districts of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts and the rest of Ukraine is not fit for purpose. The cease-fire negotiated at the February 2015 Minsk talks is being violated daily and heavily. Tens of thousands of well-armed troops confront each other in densely populated civilian areas. The sides are so close that even light infantry weapons can cause substantial damage, let alone the heavy weapons they regularly use. This presents major risks to civilians who still live there -- about 100,000 on the Ukrainian side alone, according to an unofficial estimate -- often next door to troops who have taken over unoccupied houses."
The Horlivka Protests
The Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group has a report on demonstrations against pro-Moscow authorities in separatist-controlled Horlivka.
"Attempts by Kremlin-backed militants in Horlivka, a city in the so-called ‘Donetsk People’s Republic’ to milk small business owners has prompted the first mass demonstration in the city since 2014," the report claims.
"Over a thousand people, mainly traders from the local market, are reported to have gathered outside the city administration protesting against the militants’ methods for extracting money and demanding a system like what they had under Ukrainian government control."
Stay In Your Lane!
MIkhail Khodorkovsky's Open Wall web portal has a piece looking at the changing nature of censorship in Russia.
Here's the money graph: "As long as the federal TV channels continued to stultify the country with their propaganda (so the theory went), the so-called 'minnows' of independent media could carry on being as nonconformist as they wished. But the economic crisis -- and the concomitant increase in paranoia -- has changed all that. In the eyes of the regime, 'media minnows' no longer exist -- anyone and everyone is now seen to be dangerous and influential. It’s only a matter of time, then, until a new wave of repression is unleashed against individual journalists and entire editorial teams are pulled over for crossing that shifting double white line."
Playing The Terror Card
The always insightful foreign affairs analyst Vladimir Frolov has a piece in The Moscow Times on the Kremlin's (not so) hidden agenda in the war on terrorism
"The war on terror is instrumental in advancing Russia's other foreign policy goals," Frolov writes.
"By enticement and, if necessary, by force, the West is made to accept Russia as a valuable ally in defeating an existential threat, while tacitly accepting Moscow’s 'legitimate interests' in the former Soviet space and the Middle East. It is a deft move to create a situation where the maintenance of Western sanctions imposed on Russia for its shenanigans in Ukraine would be politically and morally untenable -- one does not sanction a valuable war ally."
It's A Strange World
Andrei Kortunov, president of the Russian Foreign Affairs Council, has a smart, funny, and irreverent piece looking at Russian foreign policy and the Kremlin's worldview.