ON MY MIND
Two winners emerging out of Vladimir Putin's decision to dismiss Sergei Ivanov as Kremlin chief of staff appear -- at least for the moment -- to be National Guard chief Viktor Zolotov and Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov.
The two are allies. Both have feuded with Ivanov in the past, both won those feuds, and now Ivanov is out (although not entirely, as he retains a seat on the Security Council). When Kadyrov emerged as the presumed mastermind in the February 2015 assassination of opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, Ivanov and FSB Director Aleksandr Bortnikov tried to clip his wings. They were stopped by Putin. Ivanov also appears to have opposed the creation of a National Guard under Zolotov's leadership. He obviously lost that fight.
Putin has abandoned his old policy of balancing the Kremlin's competing clans. He's sticking with the people he trusts the most and those he feels are the most loyal.
He appears to have thrown his lot in with his old bodyguard, one of the most hard-line members of the Russian elite, and with the mercurial Chechen leader.
IN THE NEWS
The Russian military has conducted air strikes in Syria using warplanes based in Iran for the first time, Russian state media are reporting.
A downturn in oil prices has prompted Russia and Saudi Arabia to start talking again about freezing output to try to stabilize prices.
Russia has proposed cutting the number of cosmonauts at the International Space Station from three to two -- a plan NASA is studying to see whether it poses risks to other crew members.
Russian doping whistle-blower Yulia Stepanova has said she and her husband fear for their lives after an attempt was made to hack her World Anti-Doping Agency records.
Russia's defense minister said Moscow and Washington were getting closer to an agreement that would help defuse the humanitarian crisis in the besieged Syrian city of Aleppo.
Some 44 percent of Russians believe that recent high-profile corruption cases targeting the Investigative Committee and the Federal Customs Service are just for show in advance of September's State Duma elections, according to a poll by the Levada Center.
Ilya Yashin of the opposition party Parnas is preparing a report on alleged criminal activities by members of the ruling United Russia party.
United Russia has picked 12 quotes by Vladimir Putin to use in its election campaign.
LATEST POWER VERTICAL BLOG
In case you missed it, on Power Vertical blog I argue that as he dismisses his cronies, Vladimir Putin is becoming Russia's Solitary Man.
WHAT I'M READING
Fear and Loathing In the Inner Circle
In a piece for OpenDemocracy, Mark Galeotti, a senior research fellow at the Czech Institute of International Relations and a visiting fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, plays off of Sergei Ivanov's dismissal as Kremlin chief of staff and looks at Putin's Incredible Shrinking Circle.
"This...does not represent a fundamental change in the system," Galeotti writes.
"Putin has always been the unchallenged 'decider' presiding over a court of boyars who know their power, wealth, and futures depended on the tsar’s favor. And while many of the new appointees are not yet well-known, we cannot assume that they are all docile yes-men and colorless ciphers. Today’s grateful appointee will likely become tomorrow's arrogant power in the land."
Anders Aslund, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, meanwhile argues that Ivanov's dismissal points to rifts in the security services.
Putin the Big
Writing in Vedomosti, Maksim Trudolyubov looks at how Vladimir Putin has gotten too big for the Russian political system.
"The most amazing thing about the political game in Russia is that even the generous powers granted by the constitution are too narrow for the Kremlin," Trudolyubov writes. "For more than 16 years these people have been continuously rewriting the laws, rules, and regulations; yet they still need to resort to schemes and special operations."
Russia and the European Right
Anton Shekhovtsov takes a historical look at Russia's ties to the European far right.
War Without End?
On the Atlantic Council website, Alexander Motyl argues that peace with Putin is impossible.
"While one must negotiate with irrational leaders, the only thing that can keep them in check -- possibly -- is preparedness," Motyl writes.
"Their promises are as meaningless as their declarations of peace, and appeasement only whets their appetites. Only a strong military and a determined policy of containment has any chance of keeping them in bounds."
Foreign Policy's UN correspondent Colum Lynch has a piece arguing that despite the public rapprochement between Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Russia and Turkey are still bickering over Syria behind closed doors.
"Erdogan and Putin are publicly trying to bury the hatchet. Away from the cameras, their cold war over Syria rages on," Lynch writes.
Vice has a piece profiling the Lithuanian colonel in charge of countering Russian propaganda.
August In Crimea
Mikhail Khodorkovsky's Open Wall web portal has a post up looking at how the Kremlin's manufactured crisis in Crimea is confirming Russia's traditional "August curse."
The View From Mariupol
Ivan Sigal, executive director of Global Voices, has a nice color piece from Mariupol, "a city at peace, but close enough to hear the war."