ON MY MIND
Sometimes the Kremlin's political operations don't exactly go off as planned.
And according to a piece in Novaya Gazeta featured below, this appears to be the case with Communist candidate Pavel Grudinin.
At first, Grudinin seemed to suit the Kremlin's needs perfectly.
He's a former member of the ruling United Russia with ties to Putin dating back to the 2000 presidential election.
As the head of the Lenin Collective Farm outside Moscow, Russia's largest producer of strawberries, his business interests are highly dependent on the goodwill of the authorities.
And as a fresh face, he promised to boost turnout in an election that Vladimir Putin's regime has been struggling to make exciting.
But then something unexpected happened. Grudinin's poll numbers started rising to levels the Kremlin considered dangerous.
According to the Novaya Gazeta report, one on-air poll on Vesti-FM in late December showed him getting 45 percent of the vote.
The regime then clearly got spooked and began smearing Grudinin with "kompromat" in the state-controlled media.
Of course, this could all be highly choreographed "pokazukha."
But if Novaya Gazeta's account is accurate, it illustrates that the Kremlin's political machine is slipping in its ability to stage-manage the show in this campaign.
IN THE NEWS
Frants Klintsevich, a prominent Russian lawmaker, has resigned as deputy head of the Russian Federation Council's Defense Committee, saying unnamed critics did not like his "openness," Russian media reported.
Russia's Federal Security Service says it has detained Kostyantyn Davydenko, a Ukrainian national in Russian-controlled Crimea on suspicion of espionage.
Russian authorities began examining two flight recorders from a plane that crashed outside Moscow while the airline operator grounded similar plane models in its fleet.
U.S. President Donald Trump has told Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin that "now is the time to work toward an enduring peace" between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, the White House says.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmud Abbas arrived in Moscow on February 12 for meetings with President Vladimir Putin as he seeks Russia’s support in the face of rising tensions with the United States.
A British judge has ruled that Soviet-era dissident Vladimir Bukovsky is too ill to stand trial on charges of creating and possessing indecent images of children.
Opposition politician Mikheil Saakashvili has accused Russia, Georgia, and Ukraine of "wanting to get rid of" him and urged his supporters to remain calm after he was deported from Kyiv to Poland.
The Supreme Court of Belarus says it has started the trial of Pavlo Sharoyko, a Ukrainian journalist charged with espionage.
Ukraine says one of its soldiers has been killed and two wounded in clashes in the country's east.
WHAT I'M READING
New Estonian Intelligence Report
Estonia's Foreign Intelligence Service has released its annual report on security threats.
In his column for Bloomberg, political commentator Leonid Bershidsky comments on the reports assessment of Russia.
United Russia's New Leader
On the Carnegie Moscow website, Andrei Pertsev profiles United Russia's new leader, Andrei Turchak.
Who Is Pavel Grudinin?
Novaya Gazeta has a piece taking an in-depth look at Communist candidate Pavel Grudinin and the forces that stand behind his candidacy.
Russia's Syria Adventure
In his column for Republic.ru, Moscow-based foreign affairs analyst Vladimir Frolov looks at the escalation of the conflict in Syria and the dilemma this poses for Russia.
Also in Republic.ru, opposition journalist and political commentator Oleg Kashin looks at the role of private armies in Russia's Syria campaign.
Mixed Messaging About The Kremlin List
On the CEPA website, Donald Jensen looks at the mixed messaging in Moscow over the Kremlin list.
An Illogical System
Lilia Shevtsova has a piece in the Financial Times arguing that "Russia's system of power defies any rational explanation."
Fred Weir has a piece in the Christian Science Monitor looking at a grassroots effort in Voronezh to expose the details of Stalin's great terror.
The Logic Of Censorship
In Republic.ru, Maksim Trudolyubov looks at the logic of censorship in Russia.
Meduza has a report looking at the case of Aleksandr Kruze, a student in Voronezh who is writing a thesis on extremism and who has been sentenced to prison for posting some of his research online.
Is Saakashvili Finished In Ukraine?
On the Atlantic Council's UkraineAlert blog, Melinda Haring has collected expert opinions about Ukraine's deportation of Mikheil Saakashvili.