How nervous is Vladimir Putin's inner circle getting?
We can't be certain of course. But judging from recent external indicators, they're getting pretty damn nervous.
Consider the following.
According to anticorruption blogger Aleksei Navalny, longtime Putin crony Vladimir Yakunin, who resigned as head of Russian Railways back in August, is now under investigation for corruption.
Russian law enforcement has not confirmed Navalny's claim -- but they have not denied it either.
Vedomosti quoted an unidentified Interior Ministry official as saying that Navalny's claim is credible.
And Yakunin himself is refusing to comment.
This could be nothing more than intrigue and subterfuge.
Or it could mean that the economic crisis is so dire that Putin feels the need to sacrifice one of his own to convince the public he is serious about fighting corruption.
And if the once untouchable Yakunin is really about to take a fall -- and I should add that this is still a very big if -- it would be truly remarkable.
Yakunin's relationship with Putin goes back to the 1990s and he has long been seen as one of the Kremlin leader's closest associates.
Nobody this close to Putin has ever faced criminal investigation.
And if he is, it means nobody -- not even Putin's closest cronies -- are safe.
It would mean that the Kremlin's inner sanctum, the so-called "collective Putin," is coming unglued.