ON MY MIND
The upcoming State Duma elections will kick off the new political season in Russia that will culminate with the 2018 presidential election. But while Vladimir Putin has been busy ditching old cronies and bringing fresh blood into the Kremlin administration, it appears that the new State Duma will feature the same old parties and the same old faces.
We'll again see United Russia, A Just Russia, Vladimir Zhirinovsky's Liberal Democrats, and Gennady Zyuganov's Communists. Meet the new Duma, same as the old Duma.
But there is one way that this legislature may be different. Half its members will be elected from single-mandate constituencies in the regions -- which could make for a less manageable parliament for the Kremlin. Which is one of the reasons why rumors that Vlacheslav Volodin, the deputy Kremlin chief of staff and the regime's main political fixer, will be the next Duma speaker could just be plausible.
IN THE NEWS
Russian tycoon and Kremlin critic Mikhail Khodorkovsky has launched a project to identify replacements for Russian President Vladimir Putin in the 2018 presidential election.
Russia and China have launched joint military exercises in the South China Sea, the site of heated territorial disputes between Beijing and its neighbors.
Two opposition figures have won seats in the next parliament in Belarus, the first time the opposition will be represented in parliament in 20 years.
The director of the Central Intelligence Agency is again warning about Russia's computer-hacking abilities, saying the country has "exceptionally capable and sophisticated cyber-capabilities."
Greenpeace activists have been attacked in the Krasnodar region.
LATEST POWER VERTICAL PODCAST
On the latest Power Vertical Podcast, we looked at the anniversary of the 1999 apartment bombings and what they mean for Russia today. Joining me were co-host Mark Galeotti, a senior research fellow at the Institute of International Relations in Prague; David Satter, author of the recently published book The Less You Know, The Better You Sleep; and former State Department official Donald Jensen.
NEW POWER VERTICAL BRIEFING
On the new Power Vertical Briefing, I discuss Russia's upcoming legislative elections with Senior RFE/RL Editor Steve Gutterman.
WHAT I'M READING
Russia In American Politics
New York Times columnist Ross Douthat has a piece, Our Russia Problem, that takes a look at the Russia conundrum in U.S. politics.
"Russia's place in American politics used to be (relatively) simple. The further right you stood, the more you feared Ivan and his Slavic wiles. The further left, the more you likely thought the Red Menace was mostly just a scare story," Douthat writes.
"Now things are more complicated."
The Costs Of Cutting The War Machine
In a piece for BNE Intelinews, Mark Galeotti argues that as the Russian military faces cuts, Putin will lose muscle.
"Russia’s finance ministry has proposed a 6 percent cut to the defense budget, phased over the next three years. This is unlikely in any case to be fully applied, but nonetheless says something about the economic squeeze on Vladimir Putin’s ambitions. The implications are serious not just for Russia’s military, but also its defense industries," Galeotti writes.
Is Putin Winning?
In a piece in the Kyiv Post, Alexei Bayer asks: Is Putin winning his war with the West?
"With Putin turning 64 in October, he will reach Brezhnev’s age in 1970, when the Soviet Union started to stagnate," Bayer writes.
"The same forces that caused the Soviet Union to rot and eventually crumble are very much at work in today's Russia. The Russian economy is inefficient, its population is backward and its adventurism abroad -- in Syria and Ukraine for now, but probably in Central Asia and again in the Caucasus next -- is costing it plenty and causing it to overextend. We may have to wait a while, but unlike Brezhnev, Putin probably won't have the luxury of growing old and decrepit in the Kremlin in today's more dynamic environment. Putin's Russia will eventually follow Brezhnev’s Soviet Union to the dust heap of history."
The Putin Files
Benjamin Nathans has a piece in the New York Review of Books, The Real Power of Putin, looking at a series of recent notable books about the Kremlin leader.
According to a report in The Daily Dot, a "trove of hacked emails published by WikiLeaks in 2012 excludes records of a 2 billion euro transaction between the Syrian regime and a government-owned Russian bank."