ON MY MIND
With a bill working its way through the State Duma to change Russia's presidential election date to coincide with the anniversary of the annexation of Crimea, it's worth asking: how often has Russia changed its election laws?
Quite often, actually. According to a piece by political scientist Julia Krivonosova (featured below), Russia has changed its presidential-election law 31 times since 2002. It has also changed its law on political parties 41 times since 2001 and amended its law on the electoral rights of Russian citizens 75 times since 2002.
And the reason for all this is pretty obvious. The regime changes the rules of the game to suit their interests in each election cycle. And by constantly moving the goalposts, the Kremlin is able to keep the opposition off balance and unable to plan for the future.
With some noticeable glitches, like the 2011 Duma elections, it's worked like a charm. The game is rigged and Vladimir Putin's regime is able to use elections as legitimization rituals and coronations.
But there are signs that the tactic may be hitting the point of diminishing returns. A new poll by the Levada Center (also featured below), just 48 percent of Russians would vote for Putin's reelection.
Truckers' protests against a road tax that benefits a Putin crony are gaining momentum. Muscovites are up in arms over plans to demolish whole apartment blocs in the name of urban renewal. And large numbers of Russians are willing to defy official bans and take to the streets in unsanctioned protests.
Next year's election will probably not be the smooth affair the Kremlin had hoped for.
IN THE NEWS
A Russian court has upheld an embezzlement verdict against opposition leader Aleksei Navalny, a politically charged ruling that will strengthen the government's case for keeping him out of next year's presidential election if President Vladimir Putin doesn't want him to run.
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson says there is "almost no trust" at present between the United States and Russia, mentioning arms-control agreements and Ukraine as areas where Moscow "is not being particularly helpful today."
FBI Director James Comey says Russia is continuing to meddle in U.S. politics, and he has warned that Russia’s "intention and capability" make it a major international threat.
Former President Barack Obama's national security adviser Susan Rice has declined to testify at a Senate hearing on May 8 on Russia's alleged interference in the 2016 election.
Ramazan Abdulatipov, a veteran politician who heads Russia's Daghestan region is facing criticism after suggesting that some school employees in the North Caucasus republic look like "cows."
Georgia's government has refused entry to the Night Wolves, a Russian motorcycle gang that is closely linked to President Vladimir Putin.
Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan have agreed that their countries have overcome a period of difficulties in bilateral relations and have returned to "normal partner interaction."
Former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych is being tried in absentia on high-treason charges in Kyiv.
WHAT I'M READING
The Kremlin's Other Rightist Pals
Novaya Gazeta has a report looking at the Kremlin's ties to far right politicians (and not just Marine Le Pen) in France and Belgium.
Putin The Fearful
The Brookings Institution's Marvin Kalb explains why Putin needs a Praetorian Guard to protect him.
A new poll by the Levada Center says only 48 percent of Russians say they would vote for Putin's reelection.
And in Newsweek, Damien Sharkov looks at that poll and Putin's slipping popularity as the "Crimea boom" fades.
The Elusive Grand Bargain
In twin pieces in Republic.ru (in Russian) and in The Moscow Times (in English), foreign affairs analyst Vladimir Frolov explains why Russia is unlikely to give in to Western conditions for better relations.
And in The New York Times, Neil MacFarquhar reports that Russia is feeling slighted by the Trump administration.
The Baltic Front
In a piece for The Jamestown Foundation's Eurasia Daily Monitor, veteran Kremlin-watcher Paul Goble looks at Russia's anti-NATO propaganda campaign in the Baltic states.
The Moscow-Minsk Default Setting
In a post for the Kennan Institute's The Russia File blog, Anton Barbashin writes that relations between Moscow and Minsk are more predictable than they appear.
Putin's Syria Plan
In The Washington Post, David Ignatius speculates about why Putin is pushing his Syrian "safe zones" plan now.
Kommersant, meanwhile, takes a closer look at Putin's proposal.
The head of the U.S. Coast Guard is warning about a Russian military "checkmate" in the Arctic, Foreign Policy's Robbie Gramer reports on The Cable blog.
Russia's Ever-Changing Election Laws
In Intersection magazine, Julia Krivonosova looks at Russia's tendency to constantly change its election laws.