ON MY MIND
After Russia forcefully annexed Crimea, the slogan and hashtag #крымнаш -- Crimea is Ours -- became a popular patriotic rallying cry. Two years later, Crimea has become a showcase for Russian rule: It is poorer, more corrupt, more authoritarian, less free, and more isolated from the world. And that's saying something since Crimea wasn't exactly a model of good governance under Ukrainian rule. Like Georgia's breakaway pro-Moscow regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia and Moldova's separatist Transdniester region, its people are less well-off and have fewer prospects for the future than those in the country it split from. This should be Exhibit A in any comparison of what Moscow and the West are offering in terms of models of governance.
IN THE NEWS
Russia has warned that it is prepared to unilaterally bomb groups that it believes are violating the cease-fire in Syria.
Patriarch Kirill has denounced as "heresy" those human rights that contradict the Bible.
A court in Russia's Rostov region continued reading the verdict in the case of Ukrainian military pilot Nadia Savchenko.
Oligarch Oleg Deripaska will sit on the General Council of Right Cause, a Kremlin-controlled pro-business party.
And in the "class act" department, Aleksei Pushkov, chairman of the State Duma's Foreign Affairs Committee, tweeted a snarky comment in reaction to the attacks in Brussels: “While [NATO Secretary-General Jens] Stoltenberg is busy fighting the imaginary ‘Russian threat’ and putting troops in Latvia, under his nose in Brussels people are blown up.”
Likewise, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said in reaction to the Brussels attacks: "You can’t support terrorists in one part of the globe and not expect them to appear in others."
WHAT I'M READING
Russian Forces In Syria
In a piece in the War on the Rocks blog, Mark Galeotti takes a close look at Russia's special forces, or Spetsnaz, in Syria.
Debate: How To Talk To Russia?
Back in December, Kadri Liik of the European Council on Foreign Relations wrote a thoughtful and much-discussed piece, "How to Talk to Russia." Liik argued that Russia and the West "have fundamentally different understandings not only of what constitutes acceptable international behavior, but also of the goals and 'natural' drivers that underpin it. And we are unable to have a direct conversation about our differences."
Last week, Andrei Kortunov, director of the Russian International Affairs Council, offered an equally thoughtful rebuttal. Kortunov, who is one of the more thoughtful Russian commentators, concluded that "For centuries, educated Russians looked to the West in search of modernization patterns, best social practices, and intellectual inspiration. Today many critics of EU in Russia argue that the European project is doomed, that Europe is losing its competitive edge, and that the future belongs to other regions and continents. I hope that Europeans can prove these critics wrong."
More On The Information War
Over the past couple years, the Ukrainian website Stop Fake has earned a reputation as one of the leading debunkers of Kremlin propaganda. But that's not all they do. In its "Context" section, Stop Fake also puts out original analytical pieces.
One of their latest, "Kremlin Propaganda: Soviet Active Measures by Other Means," is worth a read.
My old colleague, and good friend Marta Dyczok, a professor at the University of Western Ontario, has a new book out (free download here): "Ukraine’s Euromaidan: Broadcasting through Information Wars with Hromadske Radio."
Ukraine's War At Home
Is the glass half empty or half full in Ukraine? Is Kyiv doing the best it can under the circumstances as it tries to reform in the middle of a war? Or is corruption and oligarchic rule undermining Ukraine's best chance to join the West.
Andre Hartel, a professor at Kyiv Mohyla University, and Andreas Umland, senior research fellow at the Institute for Euro-Atlantic Cooperation in Kyiv, provide a cautiously optimistic take in their latest paper, "Challenges and Implications of Ukraine’s Current Transformation."
Crimea In Russia's Strategy
It's always a pleasure to listen to the cool-headed analysis of Chatham House's James Sherr. In an 11-minute interview with Ukraine Today, Sherr outlines the place Crimea occupies in the Kremlin's strategic thinking two years after the annexation.