The Morning Vertical, January 17, 2017


Kosovo's President Hashim Thaci thinks Serbia is looking to follow the Crimea model in northern Kosovo. In an interview with Reuters (featured below), he said Belgrade's attempt to send a train painted in Serbia's national colors and bearing the words "Kosovo is Serbia" across the border was an attempt by Belgrade to provoke a conflict and create the pretext for military intervention. The train, he said, was donated by Russia. And the aim was to seize part of northern Kosovo, home to some 50,000 ethnic Serbs.

We don't know if this is indeed the case, although Serbia's president, Tomislav Nikolic, has threatened military intervention in northern Kosovo. And we don't know, although we have ample grounds to suspect, whether Moscow is encouraging Belgrade's behavior.

But what we do know, is that an attempted annexation of northern Kosovo -- something Serbia wouldn't have dared just a few years ago -- is much more likely in the post-Crimea world.

And this illustrates the degree to which Russia's annexation of Ukraine's sovereign territory has set a precedent for others to follow. And it illustrates the degree to which Moscow has already succeeded in eroding the rules-based post-Cold War international order.

It may not happen in Kosovo this time. But sooner or later, somebody somewhere is going to follow the Crimean precedent.


Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov says he thinks it's right to invite the incoming administration of U.S. President-elect Donald Trump to Syria peace talks scheduled for January 23 in Kazakhstan's capital, Astana.

Lavrov says that Moscow expects to engage in a dialogue with the incoming Trump administration on issues related to strategic stability, including nuclear weapons, after the U.S. president-elect takes office.

Russia appears to have rejected U.S. President-elect Donald Trump's offer to lift U.S. economic sanctions against Russia in exchange for a deal to curb nuclear arms.

Moscow has welcomed Trump calling NATO "obsolete," as key NATO ally Germany reacted with concern to his remarks.

Russian media are reporting that Moldovan President Igor Dodon has arrived in Moscow to meet President Vladimir Putin for talks, with the breakaway Moldovan region of Transdniester to be on the agenda.

Lawyers for the Russian government and former shareholders of defunct Russian oil giant Yukos are back in court in what could be the final stages of a $50 billion battle over ex-tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky's once-massive energy company.

An exodus from the Russian PEN Center took a new turn when the organization claimed that 2015 Nobel Literature Prize winner Svetlana Alexievich could not have quit because she was never a member.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has warned that Ukrainians may become disillusioned with their pro-European path if the European Union further delays closer integration with Kyiv.

Ukraine has sued Russia at the UN International Court of Justice in The Hague, accusing Moscow of acts of "terrorism" and "discrimination" related to its backing separatists in eastern Ukraine and its annexation of the Crimean Peninsula.

Making his final visit to Kyiv in eight years as U.S. vice president, Joe Biden urged the international community to stand against what he called Russian aggression and urged the incoming administration of President-elect Trump to be a strong supporter of Ukraine.

Kosovo's President Hashim Thaci says Serbia plans to seize a slice of northern Kosovo just as Russia annexed Ukraine's Crimea region in 2014, Reuters reported.


What Russia Wants

Michael O'Hanlon has a piece on the Brookings Institution's website exploring potential security arrangements for countries like Georgia and Ukraine that fall in the gray zone between NATO and Russia.

And in The Moscow Times, Vladimir Frolov explains what Russia is really after.

"It is precisely the U.S. system of alliances underpinning the liberal international order that Russia is after," Frolov writes.

"The goalposts have moved since Putin made his Munich conference speech in 2007. It is no longer enough for Moscow that the West recognizes its security interests and the zone of influence in the former Soviet Union by eschewing further enlargement of NATO and the EU, as some propose. Russia has now moved beyond Helsinki (a territorial status quo between the blocks) and is heading toward a new Yalta[and] Yalta as we know it did not envision NATO or the EU, and neither must the next Yalta."

The Spy Who Wrote The Dossier

David Corn of Mother Jones spoke to the former MI-6 agent who produced the controversial and yet unverified dossier on Trump's ties to Russia.

Here are the money graphs: "The former spy said he soon decided the information he was receiving was 'sufficiently serious' for him to forward it to contacts he had at the FBI. He did this, he said, without permission from the American firm that had hired him. 'This was an extraordinary situation,' he remarked.

"The response to the information from the FBI, he recalled, was 'shock and horror.' After a few weeks, the bureau asked him for information on his sources and their reliability and on how he had obtained his reports."

The Internet Weapon

Maria Farrell has a piece in Slate on "why Russia is using the Internet to undermine Western democracy."

More Post-Truth Stuff

Francis Fukuyama has a column for Project Syndicate explaining the emergence of a post-truth world

And Sebastian Dullien and Jeremy Shapiro have an essay on the European Council on Foreign Relations website explaining how to avoid it.

The Populist Threat

Writing in Foreign Policy, Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, argues that "the global rise of populism is a dangerous threat to democracy and human rights. And if it goes unchecked, the rollback of Western values could be staggering."

The article is adapted from a recent report by Human Rights Watch, The Dangerous Rise Of Populism.

Moscow Flashback

In The New York Times, former Moscow correspondent Serge Schmemann recalls "that time the KGB slipped me vodka."

"For those of us who worked in the old Soviet Union as reporters or diplomats, all the talk of 'kompromat' and 'dezinformatsiya' that has emerged with the Trump dossier -- unverified -- has been a blast from what we thought was a distant past," Schmemann writes.

Reports Of My Death Are Greatly Exaggerated

The Daily Beast has a feature on how actress Sasha Grey found herself caught up in Russia's propaganda war in Ukraine.

What Did We Learn In Syra?

The Center for Strategic and International Studies held a symposium on the lessons learned from Russia's intervention in Syria. Participants included Ruslan Pukhov, director of the Center for the Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, Michael Kofman of the CNA Corporation, and Olga Oliker, director of the CSIS Russia and Eurasia Program. You can watch a video of the event here.

Looking Ahead To The Trump-Putin Relationship

Hal Brands,a professor of global affairs at Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies, has a piece in the War On The Rocks blog asking whether the Trump-Putin relationship will result in "peace through strength or peace in our time."

SRB Podcast

The latest installment of the SRB Podcast, hosted by Sean Guillory of the University of Pittsburgh's Center for Russian and Eastern European Studies, looks at Russia's mass protests five years later. Sean's guest is Marc Bennetts, author of the book I'm Going To Ruin Their Lives: Inside Putin's War On Russia's Opposition.

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