IN THE NEWS
Moscow's big week of diplomacy continues today with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Prior to a meeting with German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier yesterday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called on Europe to stop playing "geopolitical games" and unite with Moscow against terrorism.
Russia has detained a Turkish ship suspected of crashing into the construction site of the Kerch Strait bridge, linking annexed Crimea to Russia.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko discussed the case of Nadia Savchenko in a telephone conversation with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Poroshenko is scheduled to visit the United States next week.
The Russian military has confirmed that special forces took part in the military campaign in Syria.
"I will not hide from you that units of our special operations forces are also active on Syrian territory. They carry out additional reconnaissance of facilities for strikes of Russian aviation, are involved in guiding aircraft to targets in remote areas, and tackle other special tasks," General Aleksandr Dvornikov, commander of Russian forces in Syria, told the official government newspaper Rossiiskaya Gazeta.
A team investigating the downing of Flight MH17 is in Malaysia to find ways, in the wake of Russia's veto of a UN Security Council resolution, to set up an international tribunal to punish those responsible.
Swimming's world body, FINA, says it will investigate fresh allegations of doping by Russian athletes.
And there is some blowback against bombastic Russian lawmaker Vladimir Zhirinovsky's televised comments following this week's attacks in Brussels. Zhirinovsky said: "now there will be attacks across Europe -- and this benefits us. Let them die and die."
An editorial in Gazeta.ru takes Vladimir Zhirinovsky to task for his comments.
And liberal St. Petersburg legislator Boris Vishnevsky has called on prosecutors to investigate whether Zhirinovsky's comments constitute support for terrorism.
And Putin has apparently made a remarkable admission. The Kremlin leader told prosecutors yesterday that 60 percent of the crimes committed in Russia involved the state violating the rights of citizens.
WHAT I'M READING
How Strong Is Russia, Really?
For anybody who thinks Moscow is running circles around the West, veteran Kremlin-watcher Ariel Cohen has a well-argued piece on the Atlantic Council's website arguing that Russia is much weaker than it looks.
Indigenous Foreign Agents
"Foreign Agent" is apparently a very flexible term. Fred Weir has a story in The Christian Science Monitor about how an indigenous group in Russia's Far East got tagged with the label by Russian authorities.
Still More On Russia's Game In Syria
In an essay in Newsweek, Maxim Trudolyubov, a senior fellow at the Kennan Institute and editor at large of the Russian daily Vedomosti, looks at why Putin pulled out of Syria when he did.
And in The National Interest, Ilan Berman opines on why Russia is claiming victory.
Estonians For Savchenko
The Estonian parliament this week became the first national legislature to adopt a resolution in support of Ukrainian military pilot Nadia Savchenko. In a piece on the Up North website, Estonian lawmaker Eerik-Niiles Kross convincingly deconstructs the Russian case against her.
History and Independence In Ukraine
Pulitzer Prize winning author Anne Applebaum has a thought-provoking essay in The New York Review of Books that looks at Ukraine's struggle for independence and how it is bound up in struggles over language and historical narratives.
Probing The Litvinenko Case
In his essay, "A Murder In Mayfair" in the London Review of Books, Peter Pomerantsev dives into Luke Harding's book on the assassination of Aleksandr Litvinenko, "A Very Expensive Poison."
The Politics Of Passports
Russia is pursuing the same passportization policies in the Donbas that is used in Moldova's separatist Transdniester region and in Georgia's breakaway Abkhazia and South Ossetia territories.
Agnia Grigas, author of Beyond Crimea: The New Russian Empire and The Politics of Energy and Memory between the Baltic States and Russia, looks at how in a piece for The Atlantic Council.
On The Dark Side
And finally, a look at why Putin is so fond of late-night meetings.
NOTE: The Morning Vertical -- and all Power Vertical products -- will take a brief break for the Easter holidays. This means that we will not appear on Friday March 25 and Monday March 28. The regular Power Vertical schedule will resume on Tuesday March 29. Have a nice holiday weekend everybody!