ON MY MIND
Is the so-called "collective Putin" diverging from its creator?
In a strongly recommended piece featured below, former Kremlin insider Gleb Pavlovsky writes that the Russian elite is currently less concerned with preserving the continued rule of Vladimir Putin than it is with preserving the system Putin established.
"We increasingly have the impression that 'the boss is away,'" Pavlovsky writes.
"The management of Russia that is formally exercised by the president has been almost entirely taken over by his inner circle and the presidential administration, which has ceased being just a general staff and has turned into a player with its own special interests."
Is Pavlovsky right? There certainly are data points out there suggesting that he is.
Arrests are taking place that do not appear to be sanctioned by Putin. Figures like Rosneft CEO Igor Sechin and Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov seem to be pursuing independent agendas. Intramural clan warfare appears to be intensifying.
As Pavlovsky suggests, "The system is not only functioning without a fully functional Putin, it also lacks any strategic direction."
So, are we witnessing the birth of Putinism without Putin -- or at least with a diminished Putin?
A necessary caveat: Every time pundits have written off Putin in the past, he has come roaring back.
But somehow, this time it just feels different. It feels as if next year's election will not only be Putin's last -- which has become the consensus position among Kremlin-watchers -- but that it will be a watershed that will usher in a new political era.
IN THE NEWS
Russia's ambassador to the United Nations has accused the U.S.-led coalition in Syria of trying to partition the country by setting up local governing bodies in areas seized from the Islamic State extremist group, Russian news agencies reported.
The organization overseeing media access to the U.S. Congress has stripped Russia state-funded TV channel RT of its press credentials.
A Canadian man has pleaded guilty to his role in the 2014 hack of Yahoo's e-mail servers, the latest development in a mysterious investigation that has ensnared officers of Russia's main security agency.
Two men in the central Kazakh city of Qaraghandy, members of a Russia-based semireligious group called the Union of Co-Creators of the Holy Russia, are being tried on charges of inciting ethnic and religious hatred.
A lawyer for a Russian historian who is being tried on child pornography charges his supporters say are politically motivated has asked a court to move his client from jail to house arrest.
Tatar language classes are no longer mandatory in Russia's Tatarstan region, a senior official has announced.
A U.S. diplomat has dismissed the idea that the controversial Nord Stream 2 pipeline will ever be built.
During his first trip abroad since his inauguration earlier this month, Kyrgyz President Sooronbai Jeenbekov has pledged to make "every effort" to strengthen the partnership between Kyrgyzstan and Russia.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has signed a law declaring December 25 a public holiday.
WHAT I'M READING
New PSSI Report On Russian Active Measures In The Visegrad Four
The Prague Security Studies Institute has released a new report -- United We Stand, Divided We Fall: The Kremlin's Leverage In The Visegrad Countries -- on Russian influence operations in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, and Poland. You can download the full report here.
Explaining The War Drums
As I note in today's Daily Vertical, the rhetoric in Moscow is becoming increasingly -- and alarmingly -- bellicose as the long winter sets in. It has included schools in Siberia being told to prepare for wartime conditions, Vladimir Putin telling defense contractors to ramp up production, and Patriarch Kirill's remarks about a looming apocalypse.
Novaya Gazeta's politics editor Kirill Martynov has a commentary contextualizing the recent wave of bellicose rhetoric from the authorities.
Meanwhile, economist and political analyst Vladislav Inozemtsev looks at recent proposals to increase military production and what they indicate in a commentary for RBK.
Russia's North Korea Problem
In his column for Republic.ru, Moscow-based foreign affairs analyst Vladimir Frolov writes that, with its latest missile launch, North Korea has put Russia in a very uncomfortable position.
New Blog From NED: Power 3.0
The National Endowment for Democracy has just launched a new blog, Power 3.0, that explores how authoritarian governments spread their influence in a globalized information age and how democracies are contending with this challenge.
Putinism In Transition
In a commentary on the Moscow Carnegie Center's website, former Kremlin insider Gleb Pavlovsky argues that with the 2018 election, Putin has become diminished and Russia is entering into an era of transition.
Ulyukayev And Sechin
In a commentary for Novaya Gazeta, political analyst Leonid Nikitinsky argues that Aleksei Ulyukayev and Igor Sechin both benefit from the Rosneft CEO's refusal to testify in the former economic minister's corruption trial.
A BRICS Internet?
Kommersant looks at a recent proposal from the Russian Security Council to have the BRICS countries pool their efforts on Internet security.