ON MY MIND
The license to steal has long been a prerogative of the Russian elite. The license to plunder an economy where the rule of law is a fiction and might makes right -- and then stash the loot in the West where it is protected by a law-based system -- has been an innovation of Putinism and a benefit of globalization. But as Mark Galeotti notes in a piece highlighted below, now Vladimir Putin's contract with the elite is being squeezed on both ends. Due to sanctions, low oil prices, and a flailing economy, there is less money to plunder at home. And due to heightened geopolitical tensions and increased vigilance by Western law enforcement, the plundered loot isn't so safe anymore. And given this, sooner or later, a critical mass of the Russian elite will begin to view Putin as a liability rather than an asset. And as I note in today's Daily Vertical, Putin may end up needing that spiffy new National Guard he just formed sooner than we think.
IN THE NEWS
The World Anti-Doping Agency will investigate new charges against Russia.
The recently posted Panama Papers archive contains more information about the offshore activities of Vladimir Putin's cronies.
Authorities in Moscow have removed an improvised memorial to slain opposition leader Boris Nemtsov.
Russia and the United States have pledged to intensify efforts to find a political solution to the Syria conflict.
WHAT I'M READING
Defined By The War
There have been a some notable pieces in the Russian media about the consequences of the Kremlin's use of World War II mythology to mobilize the nation and sanctify the state.
RBK columnist Olga Malinova, a professor at the Higher School of Economics, has a piece exploring "how the great victory became everything for us, and what that threatens."
Likewise, Dmitry Glukhovsky has a column in Snob.ru arguing that "Russia is stuck in the trenches of this war and remains in the 20th century, while the rest of the world has moved on to the 21st."
TTIP = NATO?
According to a piece in Politico, Russia is calling the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Pact an "economic NATO."
"Russia’s concerns about TTIP don’t get much attention in Washington and Brussels. But Moscow has been actively pushing its neighbors in the EU to strengthen ties with them, and not the United States," the author, Benjamin Oreskes, writes.
"Moreover, Russian officials -- and the country’s state-owned and state-affiliated media machine -- are quick to highlight the disputes that continue to bedevil the U.S.-EU talks."
The Untouchable Governors
According to a report in Vedomosti, the governors of 15 Russian regions are completely immune to criticism from the local media.
The Praetorian Guard's Coming Out Party
Vladimir Putin's new National Guard was on display at yesterday's Victory Day parade in Moscow.
What Are They Thinking?
Writing in BNEIntellinews, Mark Galeotti looks at the logic of regime liberals like Aleksei Kudrin and Ella Pamfilova.
"There will be no general cleansing of the Russian economy, no massive decrease in the arms budget. Kudrin will not be able to break the power of the hydrocarbons barons, or end a culture of institutionalized embezzlement and clientelism. The Duma elections will be rigged, not least to manufacture the level of turnout the Kremlin needs as part of its legitimating ritual, as it packs another tame legislature with United Russia and other hand-picked hacks," Galeotti writes.
"But this does not mean that Kudrin and Pamfilova are doomed to complete uselessness, or else that they have decided simply to sell themselves for office."
Putinism In The Dock
And writing in Open Democracy, Galeotti argues that "Putinism won't end with a bang, but with a warrant."
"More and more Russians are finding their opportunities for foreign travel constrained, their overseas assets frozen, their companies flagged as potential investment risks. And why are Western governments more willing to provide their magistrates and investigators the resources for such major operations and back them with political muscle? Because of the new geopolitical confrontation, the responsibility for which can be laid squarely at Putin’s feet," he writes.
"An elite that was co-opted and contented by the freedom to steal and the scope to use that wealth abroad is, thanks to Putin, finding itself less able to steal and increasingly barred from the West."
The End of the American World?
In a piece in Gazeta.ru, foreign-affairs analyst Fyodor Lukyanov argues that the U.S. elections illustrate that the U.S.-dominated model of globalization is nearing its end. Wishful thinking? Perhaps. But the article provides a useful window into the thinking of the Russian elite.
Why Sanctions Matter
In a piece on the Atlantic Council's website, Christopher A. Hartwell, president of the Center for Social and Economic Research in Warsaw, and Andreas Umland, a senior research fellow at the Institute for Euro-Atlantic Cooperation in Kyiv, argue that the EU's sanctions against Russia are overrated -- but necessary.
Old Ukraine vs. New Ukraine
In a piece in Intersection magazine, Gustav Gressel of the European Council on Foreign Affairs and Francisco de Borja Lasheras of the European Council on Foreign Relations, argue that "old Ukraine" is threatening "new Ukraine" -- and Europe ignores this at its own peril.
"Turning a blind eye to reform shortfalls is the greatest gift the Kremlin can get," the authors write.
According to a piece in Politico, as Georgians feel increasingly spurned by the EU and NATO, Russia is moving in to capitalize on the disillusionment.
"For most Georgians, Europe is little more than a fantasy that comes to life on the streets of Tbilisi’s fancy tourist quarter," the author, Felix Kartte, writes.
"Just around the corner from swanky bars and chic boutiques, hardship persists: children scrounge for cigarettes. Half-finished high-rise buildings, in which whole families live in poverty and without basic services, are dotted with satellite dishes that mostly broadcast Russian programs. They deliver a powerful message to Georgian homes: You belong to us.