ON MY MIND
The new report by the Organized Crime and Corruption Project (featured below) on the mysterious wealth of Vladimir Putin's friends, family, and cronies is just the latest set of data points suggesting the deeply kleptocratic nature of the current Kremlin regime.
But to simply call Putin's Russia a kleptocratic state is a simplification.
The Russian state under Putin is both kleptocratic (it is hardwired to allow top officials to monetize their positions) and ideological (it aims for an imperial revival that would restore Russia's great power status and dominance of the post-Soviet space).
In many cases -- such as those in which corruption and organized crime have been deployed as weapons -- the kleptocratic and ideological states are working hand-in-glove.
Ilya Zaslavskiy of the Free Russia Foundation illustrated how exporting corruption advances the Kremlin's imperial project in a recent report for The Hudson Institute, which was featured in The Morning Vertical last week.
But often -- as when corruption and rent-seeking undermine the state's ability to finance imperial expansion -- kleptocracy and ideology operate at cross purposes.
Understanding how these "two states" interact, conflict, and collaborate with each other is essential if we want to make sense of Russia's capabilities, intentions, and vulnerabilities.
IN THE NEWS
Prominent Russian opposition politician Ilya Yashin says that a fellow activist has died two months after an attack in which he was beaten with a metal pipe.
A court in the Russian city of Sochi has jailed two activists supporting opposition politician Aleksei Navalny's presidential election campaign.
Vladimir Putin's circle of close friends and relatives controls a combined wealth of nearly $24 billion, although Putin has kept himself "officially" clean in terms of financial assets, says a joint report by a global investigative group and an independent Russian newspaper.
Socialite and opposition-minded journalist Ksenia Sobchak has called on the authorities to release all political prisoners as she gave her first press conference since announcing she will run in the presidential election set for March.
Russia's Ekho Moskvy radio says Tatyana Felgengauer, a prominent journalist who was stabbed in the throat by an attacker, has been operated on, has come out of a coma, and has been transferred to an intensive-care unit of a Moscow hospital.
German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier is set to meet separately with Russian Putin, former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, and human rights activists when he visits Moscow today.
A U.S.-based security research firm says Russia, and the former Soviet region more broadly, is the single largest source for foreign militants fighting in Syria and Iraq.
Russia has vetoed a UN Security Council resolution that would have extended for one year the work of international inspectors investigating chemical-weapons attacks in Syria.
A new wave of cyberattacks seeking to extract ransoms from computer users hit a major Ukrainian international airport as well as the Kyiv subway ticketing system, and three Russian media outlets.
Republicans in the U.S. Congress have announced a new investigation into an Obama-era deal in which a Russian company bought a Canadian firm that owned some 20 percent of U.S. uranium supplies.
Members of the Russian performance-art collective Pussy Riot have carried out a protest in support of jailed Ukrainian filmmaker Oleh Sentsov at Trump Tower in New York City.
Russian Prosecutor-General Yury Chaika has urged U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions to launch a criminal case against British investor William Browder, the man who had initiated the Magnitsky Act, which sanctions Russians for alleged human rights abuses.
Some Bulgarian Air Force pilots have refused to fly their Soviet-built MiG-29 jets in planned training exercises, citing safety concerns with the outdated aircraft.
Former Georgian President and ex-Odesa Governor Mikheil Saakashvili has called upon his supporters in Ukraine to protect him from Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko.
WHAT I'M READING
New OCPR Report: Putin's Proxies
A new investigative report by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project and the Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta -- Putin and His Proxies -- claims that the Kremlin leader's closest cronies, friends, and relatives are worth nearly $24 billion.
Kashin On Felgengauer Attack
In his column for Republic.ru, opposition journalist Oleg Kashin weighs in on the knife attack on Ekho Moskvy journalist Tatiana Felgengauer -- and how it was facilitated by "an atmosphere of hate."
In an interview with Novosti Donbasa, Ksenia Sobchak says Kremlin aide Vladislav Surkov "has blood on his hands" in Ukraine.
Pomerantsev: Disinformation And The Decay Of Nations
Peter Pomerantsev, author of the book Nothing Is True And Everything Is Possible: Inside The Surreal Heart Of the New Russia, has a piece in The American Interest: Disinformation And The Decay of Nations.
More On The Regional Shakeup
Fedor Krasheninnikov has a piece on the Kennan Institute's Russia File blog looking at Putin's shakeup of regional governors and what it means.
Book Review: Lenin: The Man, The Dictator, And The Master Of Terror by Victor Sebestyen
In The New York Times, Josef Joffe reviews the book Lenin: The Man, The Dictator, And The Master Of Terror by Victor Sebestyen
Parsing Putin's Valdai Speech
Former State Department official Angela Stent, director of the Center for Eurasian, Russian and East European Studies at Georgetown University and author of the book The Limits Of Partnership: U.S-Russian Relations In The Twenty-First Century, has a piece in The National Interest looking at Putin's speech at the Valdai Discussion Forum.
And in his column for Republic.ru, former Russian Foreign Ministry official Vladimir Frolov, a Moscow-based foreign affairs analyst, also looks at Putin's speech and what it signifies for Russian foreign policy.
On the Atlantic Council's website, Adrian Karatnycky explains why Ukraine's protests are fizzling.
Russia And The Balkans
In The American Interest, Dimitar Bechev, a research fellow at the Center for Slavic, Eurasian, and East European Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, has a piece looking at the limits of Russia's influence in the Balkans. The article is excerpted from Bechev's book: Rival Power: Russia In Southeast Europe.
Navalny's Outsider Campaign
The Economist has a leader looking at Aleksei Navalny's outsider campaign.
Myths About Putin
In Politico, Susan Glasser takes on "this myth about the great and horrible Putin."