ON MY MIND
NATO is planning on rotating four battalions through front-line states in the east. The European Union has significantly reduced its dependency on Russian energy supplies. Two items from today's Morning Vertical that illustrate ways in which the West is moving to address both the kinetic and nonkinetic threat emanating from Moscow. Two developments that show how the world has changed in the past couple years.Two signs that Vladimir Putin's regime has -- through its actions in Ukraine and elsewhere -- created a hostile environment in its neighborhood. The Putin regime will continue to play brinksmanship games with its military. And it will continue to use the energy weapon to play divide and conquer in Europe. But its ability to do so is steadily diminishing. The tectonic plates of European security are shifting. And they are not shifting in Moscow's favor.
IN THE NEWS
U.S. troops are in in Moldova for joint military exercises.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov meets the UN's special envoy for Syria in Moscow today.
U.S. Army General Curtis Scaparrotti takes over as Supreme Allied Commander of Europe, replacing U.S. Air Force General Philip Breedlove.
Outgoing NATO commander Breedlove, meanwhile, has called for a sharper focus on Russia.
Vladimir Putin has signed a law giving Russians free plots of land in the Far East.
Two Ukrainian energy firms are turning to the UN's Permanent Court of Arbitration to recover losses resulting from Russia's forceful annexation of Crimea.
Estonia hopes to complete a 70 million-euro fence along its border with Russia by 2018.
WHAT I'M READING
Russia's Gas Games
Sijbren de Jong looks at Russia's "empty Gazpromises" in the EUObserver.
"Over the years, Gazprom has perfected a strategy whereby it whets the appetite of Europe’s political and business elite with potentially lucrative pipeline deals, even though the prospects of realizing these projects are often unclear," de Jong writes.
"How does Gazprom do it? By tempting different countries with promises of turning each of them into a 'gas hub,' which creates confusion and division between those who expect billions in transit fees and those who see contradictions between the pipeline project and the policies agreed at EU level."
Europe's Gas Success
Meanwhile, Tim Boersma and Michael E. O'Hanlon of the Brookings Institution explain why Europe's energy policy has been a strategic success story.
"For many years, analysts and policymakers have debated the question of Europe's dependence on natural gas from Russia. Today, this problem is largely solved," Boersma and O'Hanlon write.
"Russia provides only one-third of Europe's gas. Importantly, Europe’s internal infrastructure for transporting natural gas in all desired directions has improved greatly. So have its available storage options, as well as its possibilities to import alternatives either by pipeline or in the form of liquefied natural gas. As a result, almost all member states are currently well-positioned to withstand even a worst-case scenario."
Putin Owned the Boom, Now He Owns the Bust
Andrew Higgins of The New York Times traveled to the northeastern factory town of Pikalevo, where Vladimir Putin famously chastised oligarch Oleg Deripaska for unpaid wages back in 2009.
"Pikalevo, about three hours east of St. Petersburg, and the rest of Russia are now mired in the country's longest recession since Mr. Putin came to power at the end of 1999, with the World Bank warning last month that the nation’s poverty rate would increase this year to 14.2 percent of the population, 'undoing nearly a decade’s worth of gains,'" Higgins writers.
Laughing at the Kremlin
In Newsweek, Marc Bennetts writes that humor is thriving in Russia despite the Kremlin's best efforts to stifle it.
In a blog post for RFE/RL's Russian Service, political analyst Andrei Piontkovsky argues that the post-Putin succession struggle has already begun.
"In such situations, the powerful clans shift in a standard away from a struggle for influence on the leader to a struggle for positions of power after he is gone," Piontkovsky writes.
The Crimean Tatars' Plight
Writing on the Atlantic Council's website, Eleanor Knott looks at what the banning of the Mejlis means for the Crimean Tatars.
"Those Crimean Tatars who choose to remain in Crimea -- around 20,000 have officially left since 2014 -- face an increasingly precarious future. Not least because the banning of the Mejlis has substantially limited Crimean Tatars’ main opportunity for recourse against Crimea’s de facto authorities and the Russian regime," Knott writes.