ON MY MIND
During Vladimir Putin's tenure, some form of political upheaval has always seemed to precede elections to the State Duma.
The December 1999 elections came in the wake of the suspicious apartment bombings in Moscow, Buinaksk, and Volgodonsk and at the start of the second Chechen war -- events that propelled Putin to power.
The 2003 elections came just months after the arrest of oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, which signaled that Putin was consolidating the elite and making an authoritarian turn.
The 2007 elections came amid the uncertainty surrounding the imminent end of Putin's second term and the ascent of Dmitry Medvedev to the presidency.
And the 2011 elections came as the political elite split over the controversial "castling" -- in which Putin and Medvedev swapped jobs.
This year's elections are no exception. They will come in the wake of a massive reshuffling of the elite and a clear culling of Putin's inner circle.
State Duma elections in Putin's Russia have also been watersheds that herald the birth of a new political reality. And if this holds true, Putin's rule is about to enter a new phase.
IN THE NEWS
A court in the Armenian city of Gyumri has sentenced Russian Army Private Valery Permyakov to life in prison for killing seven members of an Armenian family in January 2015.
Iran’s parliament speaker Ali Larijani says Russian warplanes are still using an Iranian military base to strike targets in Syria. Larijani made the comment a day after an Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman said Russia’s use of an air base in Hamadan had ended "for now."
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said talks between the United States and Russia on military cooperation in the fight against the Islamic State terrorist group in Syria are nearing an end.
A court in Russia has ordered that Nikita Belykh, the former governor of the Kirov region who has spent two months in custody on a charge of accepting a bribe, should be kept there until December 24.
Finland’s defense minister says the Nordic country is negotiating a defense collaboration agreement with the United States and aims to sign it this autumn.
The Court of Arbitration for Sport has rejected Russia's appeal of a blanket ban from the Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro for doping.
Vedomosti is reporting that Dzhakhan Pollyeva, the State Duma's chief of staff, is stepping down.
WHAT I'M READING
Russia, Islamic State, And Civilian Deaths
According to a highly detailed and documented report by the Syrian Network for Human Rights, Russia has now killed more civilians in Syria than Islamic State.
Putin's New Generation
William E. Pomeranz, deputy director of the Kennan Institute, has a commentary for Reuters on how Putin's shrinking inner circle means a return to Soviet politics.
"Reading the Russian tea leaves is a growth industry. But even among all the comings and goings, certain trends have become apparent. Most notably, the people who built Putin’s system are on their way out, replaced by people of the system," Pomerantz writes.
"This may be a subtle distinction, yet it is a crucial one. The older generation brought a combination of intelligence, street smarts, and toughness that was essential for surviving in the highly competitive, often chaotic, post-Soviet environment. In contrast, their replacements have only known the relative stability of the Putin years and remain largely untested in times of crisis. Their inexperience may yet come to the forefront."
Jeffrey Lewis of the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute has a piece in Foreign Policy looking at what might have been behind all those murky and unsubstantiated reports that the United States was moving nuclear weapons from Turkey to Romania.
"The whole thing reads like a pretty classic Russian disinformation operation. A few anonymous sources make a claim in an obscure foreign newspaper. That allows Russia’s state media to 'cover' the allegations without quite taking responsibility for them," Lewis writes.
The Disturbing Case Of Ilmi Umerov
The Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group has a write-up on the plight of Ilmi Umerov, the deputy head of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis, who has been forcibly confined to a psychiatric hospital for opposing Russia's annexation of Crimea.
Back To The Future
MIkhail Khodorkovsky's Open Wall web portal has a piece asking what Russia would look like today if the August 1991 coup succeeded. The answer: a lot like Russia today.
The End Of Ideology
Writing in Snob, Moscow-based economist and political analyst Vladislav Inozemtsev explains why ideological labels like liberal and conservative are irrelevant in Putin's Russia.
Reshuffle Rumors And Speculation
Kommersant is reporting that more reshuffles of Russian officials are coming after the State Duma elections in September. According to the report, which cites unidentified officials, Deputy Kremlin Chief of Staff Vyacheslav Volodin will become speaker of the State Duma. The outgoing speaker, Sergei Naryshkin, will be named head of Russia's Foreign Intelligence Service. It could be a trial balloon. It could be speculation. We'll know soon enough.
The Ukrainian Prosecutor-General's Office has released what it claims are recordings of telephone conversations involving Kremlin adviser Sergei Glazyev discussing preparations for the secessionist referendum in Crimea two years ago. The recordings also depict him helping organize unrest in Donetsk, Odesa, and Kharkiv.
The recordings were initially posted on YouTube but have since been removed. They are still available on censor.net.ua.