ON MY MIND
The two-week stretch spanning New Year's, Orthodox Christmas, and Old New Year's is traditionally quiet in Russia and this year is no exception.
The news coming out of Moscow has pretty much slowed down to a trickle.
But this year, with a presidential election -- and a new political season -- looming the quiet holiday season has the feeling of the calm before the storm.
And Kremlin-watchers are taking advantage of the calm to assess the state of play in Putin's court.
The debate continues about whether or not Vladimir Putin is becoming a "lame duck" and what that might mean for the elite (see Mark Galeotti's piece featured below).
The repercussions of Aleksei Ulyukayev's conviction for bribery, the first of a sitting minister since the 1950s, and what it signifies, continue to reverberate (see Maxim Trudolyubov's piece below).
The speculation about where Russia's political system is headed is intensifying (see Anton Shirikov's piece below, as well as Konstantin Gaaze's article and Gleb Pavlovsky's interview in yesterday's Morning Vertical).
Many questions remain going forward. But one thing appears clear.
Politics is returning to Russia -- court politics as evidenced by the intramural elite struggles highlighted by the Ulyukayev case; and street politics, illustrated by Aleksei Navalny's stubborn perseverance as an opposition figure.
2018 promises to be a highly consequential year in Russia. So enjoy the quiet while it lasts -- because it won't last long.
IN THE NEWS
Russian officials have rejected an accusation by CIA Director Mike Pompeo that Russia is attempting to interfere in U.S. congressional elections this year and has been meddling in U.S. elections "for decades."
Russia says 13 armed drones have recently been used to attack its air base and its naval facility in western Syria.
Aeroflot says the wife of Russian soccer star Andrei Arshavin was removed from an international flight due to what the airline said was her "obstructive behavior" and refusal to comply with the crew's requests.
U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller has informed the White House that he probably will seek to interview President Donald Trump as part of his probe into possible coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign, U.S. media are reporting.
Dozens of people gathered to pay their last respects to Iryna Nozdrovska, an activist lawyer whose killing sparked public outrage in Ukraine, ahead of her burial in her hometown outside Kyiv.
WHAT I'M READING
In a piece for Republic.ru, political scientist Anton Shirikov speculates about what Russia's political system will look like in a quarter of a century.
How Lame A Duck?
Mark Galeotti of the Institute of International Relations in Prague and author of the book Vory: Russia's Super Mafia has a piece in Raamop Rusland that tackles the issue of whether Putin is really becoming a lame duck.
Russia's Informal Rules
On the Kennan Institute's Russia File blog, Maxim Trudolyubov looks at what the prosecutions of theater director Kirill Serebrennikov and former Economy Minister Aleksei Ulyukayev teach us about the informal rules that govern Russia's elite.
Russia's 'Invisible Lobbyists'
Meduza has an interesting piece on the "invisible" and "ubiquitous lobbyists" and fixers who "negotiate the nation’s dicey relationship between businesses and the state."
In an insightful piece on the Carnegie Europe website, Thomas de Waal looks at the debate in Kyiv over how to handle the Russian-occupied separatist territories in the Donbas -- and how it is affecting the lives of those caught in the middle.
Why Putin Is 'Unwolffable'
In his column for Bloomberg, political commentator Leonid Bershidsky looks at Michael Wolff's White House tell-all book Fire and Fury and explains why such an exposé would not be possible in Russia. The closest thing that exists, he argues, is Mikhail Zygar's 2015 book All The Kremlin's Men.
Russian-Speaking Fighters In Syria And Iraq
The Center for Strategic and International Studies has released a report on Russian-speaking fighters in Iraq and Syria.
Hybrid Star Wars
James Stavridis, a former NATO commander who is currently the dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, has a piece in Defense One looking at what Star Wars can teach us about hybrid warfare.
Disinformation In The Czech Election
The Prague Security Studies Institute has launched a website to track disinformation and fake news in the run-up to the Czech Republic's presidential election.
Wilson's 14 Points At 100
Daniel Fried of the Atlantic Council has an interesting piece on the enduring relevance of Woodrow Wilson's Fourteen Points a century after he articulated them.
NOTE TO POWER VERTICALISTAS: As I will be speaking at the Snow Meeting in Lithuania this week, no Power Vertical products will appear from January 10-12. The regular schedule resumes on Monday, January 15.