ON MY MIND
Vladimir Putin's Kremlin continues to play head games with its hostage. After reportedly indicating that a deal had been reached to release kidnapped Ukrainian military pilot Nadia Savchenko and that she could be home within weeks, the Russian authorities are now indicating that the process can take up to a year. Russia's Federal Penitentiary Service, meanwhile, said yesterday that Savchenko can only be returned to Ukraine if Kyiv pledges to make her serve her 22-year sentence there. For her part, Savchenko has threatened to resume her dry hunger strike. Virtually everything Russia has said about Savchenko from Day 1 has been a lie. The case against her is a pure fabrication. And everybody knows this. She was kidnapped and is a hostage, pure and simple. It isn't clear whether Moscow is trying to save face, is stalling in hopes of getting a better deal in exchange for its hostage, or doesn't plan to release her at all and is simply playing cruel mind games. Whatever the case, its behavior is criminal.
IN THE NEWS
Russia says it will only release Ukrainian military pilot Nadia Savchenko if Kyiv promises to imprison her.
Savchenko, meanwhile, says she may resume her dry hunger strike.
European police say the Russian mafia is infiltrating sports clubs.
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov says Bashar al-Assad is not Russia's ally.
NATO's new commander, U.S. Army General Curtis Scaparrotti, says he will press Washington to deploy a third brigade to Eastern Europe to deter Russia.
Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu says Russia will create three new divisions to counter NATO buildup in Eastern Europe.
Armenia's government has sent a bill to parliament on formally recognizing the independence of Azerbaijan's breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh.
WHAT I'M READING
Either Russians are becoming more extremist, or the Kremlin is becoming more willing to use Russia's very flexible laws on extremism. Call me crazy, but I suspect the latter. Whatever the case, according to a piece in Gazeta.ru, the number of Russians sentenced under antiextremism legislation has tripled in the last five years.
Meanwhile, a journalist in Saratov is under investigation for extremism after he posted a picture the Virgin Mary wearing a mask and holding a Molotov cocktail on Facebook.
Policing the Internet
In a piece on The World Post, investigative journalist Andrei Soldatov, author of The Red Web, explains how Vladimir Putin is bringing a Chinese-style Internet firewall to Russia.
Exiled former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky gave a speech at the Oxford Union last week. A video and transcript are available.
The Times Magazine also has profile of Khodorkovsky.
Hybrid War and Gangsters
Writing in Vox, New York University professor Mark Galeotti, an expert on Russian security services and organized crime, argues that "the West needs to stop panicking about Russia's 'hybrid' warfare."
The ever-prolific Galeotti also has a piece for the European Council on Foreign Relations that looks at the Spanish investigation into Russian organized crime.
A How-To Guide to Propaganda
Euromaidan Press has just published its Guide To Russian Propaganda.
Transdniester Redirects Its Trade -- to Europe
Eurasianet has a piece on how Moldova's pro-Moscow separatist Transniester region is -- to a degree -- reorienting its trade from Russia to European Union