So, in case you missed it, Russia's presidential election actually began this past weekend.
And Aleksei Navalny drew first blood.
Yeah, yeah, I know. The election is a year away and in all likelihood, Navalny won't even be allowed on the ballot.
And yeah, I know. Next March Putin is sure to handily defeat handpicked cartoonish opponents like Vladimir Zhirinovsky and Gennady Zyuganov.
But this misses a larger point about how politics works in authoritarian countries like Russia.
When elections are fixed, predictable, and ceremonial, regimes like Vladimir Putin's need to fight for -- and win -- their legitimacy every single day.
They need to constantly preserve a collective hallucination and a shared fiction of their own omnipotence, invulnerability, and inevitability.
People need to believe there are truly no alternatives.
And Navalny's game is to try to burst this bubble.
With his slick videos exposing corruption in high places, with defiant and disobedient acts like holding a nationwide protest without official permission, he is trying to end Russia's collective hallucination of Putin worship.
He knows he will probably not be allowed on the ballot. And even if he is, he knows the election's going to be rigged.
So he is playing a broader and longer game. And he is clearly not going to let up.
It's the longest of longshots of course. But today it suddenly looks like a little bit less of a long shot.