ON MY MIND
It is striking the degree to which Russian pundits and the Russian media are beginning to wade into the topic of life after Vladimir Putin.
Not so long ago, the topic was practically taboo. It was less than three years ago, after all, when Vyacheslav Volodin famously said that "there is no Russia today if there is no Putin."
Now, suddenly, we have prominent sociologists like Sergei Belanovsky (in an interview and in a Facebook post, both featured below) proclaiming that "the Putin era is coming to an end" and that "this is an incontrovertible fact which doesn’t depend on how much longer he remains president."
And suddenly we have the St. Petersburg Politics Foundation publishing rankings of Putin's potential successors -- and major Russian newspapers amplifying them (see stories by Gazeta.ru, Vedomosti, and Kommersant featured below).
It's all a bit odd given that Putin is widely expected to seek -- and all but certain to win -- a fourth term in the Kremlin in March.
And it's odder still given that, despite a growing protest mood in the country and the rise of Aleksei Navalny as an opposition force, there appears to be no clear and present threat to Putin's rule, at least in the short term.
IN THE NEWS
Russian authorities say Kirill Serebrennikov, a prominent Moscow theater figure who has protested against the government, has been detained on suspicion of fraud.
Vladimir Putin has appointed Anatoly Antonov, a veteran diplomat who is under European Union sanctions for his role in Moscow's interference in Ukraine, as ambassador to the United States.
Vladislav Surkov, the Kremlin's point man for the conflict in eastern Ukraine, made upbeat remarks after talking with U.S. special envoy Kurt Volker, saying they discussed "fresh ideas" in a "constructive" meeting in Minsk.
Russia says it has settled the last of the foreign debt it inherited from the Soviet Union when the U.S.S.R. collapsed more than a quarter-century ago.
The Vatican's secretary of state will meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov today to discuss preventing humanitarian catastrophes and protecting Christians in Middle Eastern conflict zones, the Russian Foreign Ministry says.
The Court of Arbitration for Sport has upheld life bans on two former top Russian athletics officials for their parts in a doping scandal.
A top Russian commander has said that Moscow and Syrian government forces have made swift progress in the last month driving Islamic State militants from central Syria and a last major stronghold in the east.
WHAT I'M READING
Minsk-Moscow Tension On The Eve Of Zapad-2017
As the Zapad-2017 joint Russian-Belarusian military exercises approach, tension between Minsk and Moscow is rising over a number of issues.
RosBalt and Nezavisimaya Gazeta each have stories on how Vladimir Putin is publicly pressuring Belarus to export its refined petroleum products via Russian ports, rather than through those in the Baltic states, as Minsk prefers.
Vedomosti takes a look at Russia's recent ban of some Belarusian dairy products.
And Novaya Gazeta has a report about Alyaksandr Lukashenka's public criticism of Russian border guards and customs officials.
Stratfor, meanwhile, has a piece previewing the Zapad-2017 military exercises.
The St. Petersburg Politics Foundation has compiled a ranking of potential successors to Vladimir Putin. The top five, according to the list, are: Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin, Tula Governor Aleksei Dyumin, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, and Federation Council speaker Valentina Matvienko. Opposition leader and anticorruption crusader Aleksei Navalny was ranked 18th.
Various Russian media, including Vedomosti, Kommersant, and Gazeta.ru have weighed in on the report.
Meanwhile, in a post on Facebook and in an interview with RFE/RL's Russian Service, sociologist and political analyst Sergei Belanovsky argues that the Putin era is drawing to a close.
Protests On The Rise
RBK has a piece looking at the sharp increase in protest activity in Russia.
The report is based on research and a map monitoring economic and social protests in Russia, compiled by the Center for Economic and Political Reform.
Working For Sputnik
In Politico, journalist Andrew Feinberg reveals what it was like to be Sputnik's White House correspondent.
Putin's Pal Kim Jong Un?
Anna Nemtsova has a piece in The Daily Beast on the "dangerous games" Putin appears to be playing with North Korea
Reckoning With History
On CEPA's website, veteran Kremlin-watcher Edward Lucas, author of The New Cold War, argues that it is time for Russia to come to terms with its past.