ON MY MIND
Will 2018 be the year when Vladimir Putin and the so-called "collective Putin" part ways?
In a piece featured below, political commentator Konstantin Gaaze argues that it may be.
According to Gaaze, Russia's ruling regime is composed of a "day shift" and a "night shift" -- that is, formal institutions and the informal relationships among Putin's closest courtiers.
When the regime is consolidated, these two systems work in sync and are mutually reinforcing. When it is not, they work at cross purposes.
"As Putin gets ready to serve a fourth presidential term from next March," Gaaze writes, "the main question facing Russia is whether these shadowy nighttime rulers will obey the orders of a leader whose time in office is beginning to expire, or whether they will act as freelancers, ignoring the man who created the authoritarian system that they make use of."
The corruption trial of former Economics Minister Aleksei Ulyukayev, the revocation of The European University of St. Petersburg's license, and the lawsuits against the Sistema Financial Corporation, he notes, are all examples of freelancing inside the Kremlin court.
Whether Putin re-asserts his authority over the system, or whether the freelancing escalates to the point of destabilizing the regime, is one of the key things to look for going forward this year.
IN THE NEWS
The Russian Supreme Court has upheld its decision to reject an appeal by opposition leader Aleksei Navalny against a decision to bar him from running in Russia's 2018 presidential election.
U.S. National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster says the Kremlin has launched a sophisticated campaign to influence Mexico's 2018 presidential election, a video obtained by a Mexican newspaper shows.
Vladimir Putin attended Orthodox Christmas services at the Church of saints Simeon and Ann in St. Petersburg on January 7 and offered greetings to Orthodox Christians and all Russians.
Seven Russian bobsled and skeleton athletes have been cleared to keep racing in World Cup events after being banned for life from the Olympics over doping violations.
Moldova's Constitutional Court has ruled that the government does not need the signature of pro-Russian President Igor Dodon in order to enact a law that bans so-called "media propaganda" from Russia.
The Tbilisi city court has found former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili guilty of abuse of power in connection with a 2006 murder case and sentenced him in absentia to three years in prison.
WHAT I'M READING
Is RT Really A Weapon?
The Atlantic Council's Digital Forensics Research Lab has an interesting piece assessing RT's role as an "information weapon."
Arguing About Soviet Mythology
In his column for Republic.ru, opposition journalist and political commentator Oleg Kashin looks at how mythology about the Soviet Union is deployed in current political debates.
The Battle For Putin's Fourth Term
In an op-ed for The Moscow Times, political commentator Konstantin Gaaze asks: Who will control Putin's fourth term?
And in an interview with Fontanka.ru, former Kremlin insider Gleb Pavlovsky looks ahead to "Putin 3.0."
Russia's Eastern Energy Strategy
Energy consultant Irina Slav has a piece in OilPrice.com looking at Russia's "eastern pivot" and the expansion of the East Siberia-Pacific Ocean pipeline.
Ukraine And Corruption
Gustav Gressel has a commentary for the European Council on Foreign Relations asking whether Ukraine is on the "brink of kleptocracy."
And former U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Michael Carpenter, director of the Penn Biden Center, has a piece in Foreign Policy arguing that Ukraine needs help in fighting corruption.
A Meeting Of The Generals?
John Hudson reports in Buzzfeed that the top Russian and NATO military leaders are planning to meet in Azerbaijan this month.