ON MY MIND
August is a weird month for Kremlin-watchers.
It's the month when everybody is supposed to be on vacation and nothing ever happens -- except when it does. Except when there is a foreign invasion (Czechoslovakia, 1968; Georgia, 2008), or an economic meltdown (1998), or an attempted coup (1991).
August is either cucumber season or crisis season. And usually you never know which it will be.
This year, however, is different. With elections to the State Duma coming in September, which will launch a political season lasting until presidential elections in March 2018, few expect this August to be quiet.
The elite -- especially those in the security services -- is jockeying for advantage.
Governors are getting arrested. Criminal investigations are targeting former untouchables in the Investigative Committee and the Customs Service.
And government shake-ups have begun.
Seems we're skipping cucumber season this year.
IN THE NEWS
According to Russian media reports, some 90 people have been hospitalized in the Yamalo-Nenets district of the Tyumen Oblast due to an anthrax outbreak.
The International Olympic Committee, which has barred over 100 Russian athletes from the Summer Games starting in Rio de Janeiro this week, is in an open dispute with the World Anti-Doping Agency that recommended a total ban on Russians at the event.
The Russian governing bodies for weightlifting and rowing have lodged appeals with the Court of Arbitration for Sport in a bid to overturn Olympic bans on their athletes.
An explosion in a restaurant in Russia's North Caucasus region of Daghestan has injured at least 23 people, some of whom are reportedly in critical condition.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) is demanding unfettered access across eastern Ukraine after one of its monitoring missions there was threatened at gunpoint by Russia-backed separatists.
The Kremlin says all five aboard a Russian military helicopter downed in Syria have been killed.
A court in Moscow has declined to change the suspended sentence of Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny to an actual prison term.
WHAT I'M READING
Here A Hacker, There A Hacker
Andrei Soldatov, co-author of Red Web, has a piece in Foreign Affairs explaining how Russian hacking operations work.
"What we see now is the world’s most entertaining crowdsourcing effort: teams and individuals all over the world are working on hacking the Kremlin’s hackers," Soldatov writes.
"And that is hardly what Putin expected."
Games Siloviki Play
In Intersection magazine, political analyst Tatiana Stanovaya explains (in English and Russian) where the rivalries and battle lines are in the current conflict among Russia's security services.
The "security services in Russia have been fundamentally shaken in recent months. New structures have emerged, influential figures have disappeared into thin air or have been handed promotions. Others are less fortunate -- their subordinates get arrested. It seems that 'World War II' has broken out among the siloviki," Stanovaya writes.
A Memorable Honey Trap
Writing in The Daily Beast, Michael Weiss looks back at an elaborate honey trap the Soviets launched in 1956 against the French ambassador to Moscow Maurice Dejean.
"The operation involved over 100 officers and agents of the KGB including, incognito, the head of the Second Chief Directorate, the branch responsible for domestic surveillance and the monitoring or recruitment of foreigners inside the Soviet Union," Weiss writes.
"Celebrated Russian writers, actresses, painters, and intellectuals, and not a few prostitutes were conscripted for this mission of interlocking plots and subplots, featuring Dejean’s wife and the wives of others. Even Premier Nikita Khrushchev played a role in snaring the high-value mark he himself ordered snared. It was a mission of entrapment that repeatedly risked coming undone and likely would have but for the cosmic surety of French womanizing."
Moscow And Minsk
The Belarus Digest has a new report by Ryhor Astapenia on the state of Russian-Belarusian relations in the wake of the Ukraine crisis.
"Since the Russian-Ukrainian conflict began, the Kremlin has persistently tried to expand its control over Belarus, a process that has had quite the opposite effect as Belarusian government policy became more independent in 2014-2015," Astapenia writes.
Russia's Stalled Economy
Bloomberg has a piece on the debate in the Kremlin over how to get Russia's stalled economy moving again.
"After focusing almost exclusively on foreign policy since early 2014, the need to get the economy back into gear is forcing the Russian president to face a painful choice: bow to the demands of the markets or protect his Kremlin-centered system," according to the report.
The Limits Of Kremlinology
Mark Galeotti has a piece in OpenDemocracy on the perils of Kremlinology 2.0.
"Precisely because the inner workings of the Putin regime are so opaque, especially when issues of personal gain and private rivalry are played out through the medium of state action, it is very hard to get solid intelligence on what is happening," Galeotti writes.
"We rely on snippets of information that could mean much or little, and which we tend to interpret in such a way that fits our assumptions and expectations. One analyst’s 'cleansing' is another’s 'crackdown.' We rely on sources who in fact may well know no more than us."
A Coup-Proof Military?
And in the War on the Rocks blog, Galeotti has a post on "what Turkey can learn from Russia about coup proofing the military."
MIkhail Khodorkovsky's Open Wall portal has a post looking at the organized crime figures connected to last month's raid by the FSB on the Investigative Committee and and arguing that Putin's Russia is looking more and more like the wild '90s.
Is TurkStream A Paper Tiger?
Reuters has a report looking at the revival of the TurkStream gas pipeline, which has EU officials concerned.
"Declarations by Russia and Turkey last week reviving plans for the TurkStream natural gas pipeline linking the two have worried EU diplomats who see it strengthening Moscow's hand -- but analysts say the project is more rhetoric than reality," according to the report.
Putin And Erdogan
Grigory Golosov, a political science professor at the European University of St. Petersburg, has a piece in Slon.ru looking at how Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan are similar -- and how they are different.