ON MY MIND
One way or another, we're in for a helluva show next year.
One way or another, the March 2018 presidential election will probably be like nothing we have seen before in Russia.
And the reason is Aleksei Navalny.
Because whether or not Navalny is allowed to run -- and all signs are that he won't be -- he will be a presence in the campaign nonetheless.
In the unlikely event that Navalny is allowed on the ballot, his modern grassroots campaign (illustrated in an excellent piece by Marc Bennetts featured below) will contrast sharply with those of Putin and fake opponents like Gennady Zyuganov and Vladimir Zhirinovsky.
He won't be allowed to win, but he will win by losing, by exposing the public to a real election campaign and by exposing the Potemkin nature of Russian elections under Putin.
And in the more likely event that Navalny is not allowed on the official ballot, my assumption is that he will continue campaigning and act as if he is running anyway.
And the result will be the same, with the added opportunity for Navalny to ridicule the fake election pitting Putin vs. Zyuganov, Zhirinovsky, et al.
Navalny is not running to win in 2018. He is running in a longer-term election. He is positioning himself for a future when this regime inevitably runs out of steam.
Next year's election is just the opening bell.
And one way or another, it'll be one helluva show.
IN THE NEWS
The Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta has published additional information about two dozen Chechens allegedly executed without trial after they were arrested over clashes with police in Russia's southern Chechnya region last year.
The U.S. Embassy in Moscow has accused Russia of blocking its staff from a guesthouse property in the Russian capital after authorities previously said they would grant access until August 1 in order for diplomats to take their belongings.
The Kremlin says it is up to the United States to determine which members of its diplomatic and support staff in Russia will be cut after Moscow demanded that Washington drastically reduce personnel numbers.
Russia and China hit back at the United States after U.S. leaders blamed them for not doing enough to rein in North Korea's nuclear ambitions.
Amnesty International has denounced a new Russian law banning the use of Internet proxy services -- including virtual private networks, or VPNs -- as a "major blow to Internet freedom" in the country.
Prominent Russian punk rocker Fyodor Chistyakov says he has decided not to return from the United States, citing Russia's new ban on the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
The governing body of world athletics said that Russia has not made sufficient progress changing its culture of sports doping and will continue to be suspended from international competitions.
A court in Russia has sentenced a Ukrainian citizen to 12 years in prison on terrorism charges.
The United States is set to begin delivering coal to Ukraine for the first time in a deal Washington framed as a move toward reducing Kyiv's reliance on Russian energy.
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence pledged Washington's support to Georgian leaders as he met with Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili in Tbilisi.
U.S. President Donald Trump told his son to say that his meeting last year with a Russian lawyer focused primarily on the issue of Russian adoptions and not the presidential campaign, The Washington Post reported.
THE POWER VERTICAL PLAYS RUSSIAN ROULETTE
During my recent visit to Washington, I appeared on the Center for Strategic and International Studies' Russian Roulette podcast with Jeff Mankoff and Olga Oliker of the CSIS Russia and Eurasia Program. The podcast is now online.
WHAT I'M READING
Mark Galeotti has a commentary for CNN on the U.S. sanctions on Russia and Moscow's retaliation.
In The Guardian, Natalie Nougayrede argues that "as the U.S. and EU square off over Russia sanctions, only Putin can win."
And in The Atlantic, Julia Ioffe calls Russia's retaliation against U.S. sanctions "Putin's way of dressing up a bad situation."
In Republic.ru, Vladimir Gelman of the European University of St. Petersburg explains why the Kremlin's fears that Russia could break up like the Soviet Union are exaggerated.
Angry Young Russians
Maryna Rakhlei of the Fund for Belarus Democracy at the German Marshall Fund has a piece on the "angry young Russians" who are taking to the streets to protest corruption.
Open Georgia, Closed Georgia
On the Carnegie Europe website, Thomas de Waal argues that "although Georgia is still a success story in an authoritarian neighborhood, three recent trends are a reminder that elements of that story are reversible."
Inside The Navalny Campaign
Marc Bennetts, author of the book I’m Going To Ruin Their Lives: Inside Putin’s War On Russia’s Opposition, has a piece in Politico looking inside Aleksei Navalny's long-shot presidential campaign and profiling his chief of staff, Aleksei Volkov.
Taming Ukraine's Militias
Vera Mironova and Ekaterina Sergatskova have a piece in Foreign Affairs on how Ukraine reined in its militias.
How To Fight Fake News
The Prague-based European Values think tank has a new report on "making online platforms responsible for news content."