ON MY MIND
So we seem to have learned some things this week.
For one, the simulated democracy and managed pluralism that characterized most of Vladimir Putin's rule are now clearly out.
With United Russia controlling three-quarters of the seats in the State Duma, the legislature will be, for all intents and purposes, a one-party parliament. The Kremlin has apparently given up on even pretending to have a multiparty system.
With a record low turnout of 47.8 percent in the September 18 elections, the majority of Russians have clearly decided to opt out of electoral politics -- and the Kremlin has decided that it doesn't really need to mobilize them anymore.
And with widespread reports and evidence of vote fraud (see Mikhail Zelensky's report below), and no protest to speak of, it is clear that the authorities can now fix elections with no fear of a public backlash.
As Maksim Trudolyubov notes in a piece featured below, Russia's political system is becoming increasingly divorced from society.
IN THE NEWS
Russia and the United States have traded angry accusations over the attack on a Syrian humanitarian aid convoy, as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called for a no-fly zone in some parts of northern Syria.
The spokesman for Russia's Investigative Committee, Vladimir Markin, says he has "decided" to resign from his position.
Russia's Emergency Situations Ministry says one of its helicopters has crashed near Moscow, killing three pilots aboard.
Russia's prime minister has warned against "populism" in budget planning and the allure of printing more rubles to cover the country's persistent economic problems.
An alleged militant for the Islamic State group has been detained in Russia's Tatarstan region.
A founding member of the Russian dissident art collective Voina has been released from custody in the Czech Republic.
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden has delivered a blunt message to Ukraine, saying the country needs to follow through with economic and political reform or risk undermining European backing for Russian sanctions.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has criticized Russia for being "the instigator and major participant" in the ongoing deadly conflict in eastern Ukraine.
WHAT I'M READING
Still More On That KGB-MGB-FSB Thing
In a piece in Foreign Policy, Andrei Soldatov, author of The New Nobility: The Restoration Of Russia's Security State And The Enduring Legacy Of The KGB, weighs in on reports that Putin is about to reestablish the KGB in the form of a new Ministry of State Security.
"Efforts to strengthen the security services fit within this pattern of centralizing control; what’s new is that he’s decided the best way to strengthen them is to merge them into one gigantic service, with a fearsome name and a reputation that reminds any would-be dissidents of the most frightening days of the Soviet era," Soldatov writes.
And Still More On The Elections
Political analyst Nikolai Petrov argues in The Moscow Times that the September 18 State Duma elections herald major changes in Russia.
"Before the year is out we can expect to see a number of major changes -- not only to staff, but also to the very structure of the presidential administration, government, and political bloc, including both houses of parliament and the party system," Petrov writes.
"The Duma elections are over. They are no longer a restraining factor but a stimulus to change."
In Vedomosti, Maksim Trudolyubov writes that the elections highlighted the gap between the Russian state and society.
On his video blog, meanwhile, opposition figure Vladimir Milov explains why, in the aftermath of the Duma elections, Russia will probably have an early presidential election as well.
And Slon.ru senior editor Mikhail Zelensky, continuing his statistical investigation into vote fraud, finds the most suspicious number of the election: In Saratov Oblast, more than 100 polling stations gave United Russia the exact same result: 62.2 percent of the vote.
Former U.S. Defense and State Department official Robert Caruso has a blog post up on the Council on Foreign Relations website on the lessons learned in the Cold War in combating Russian disinformation campaigns.
"Sophisticated and well-funded, influence operations pose a significant and metastasizing obstacle to transitional democracies and the national security objectives of the United States. Modern adversaries operating in cyberspace consider such manipulations not only as an important instrument for conducting their foreign policy but also as instruments suitable to use in lieu of conventional military operations," Caruso writes.
"In Russia’s case, influence operations strive to create dissension among allies and undermine the international order. To date, this has failed but left unchecked, has the potential of complicating and undermining the United States’ relationships with its allies. For the next administration, identifying, countering, and neutralizing corrosive narratives should be a priority. The only answer to disinformation is more accurate information."
Finnish politician and foreign affairs analyst Petri Makela has a blog post looking at the methods Russia uses to spy on military exercises in the Nordic countries.
Russia And Europe
In an interview with Russia Direct, Ivan Krastev, chairman of the Center for Liberal Strategies, discusses Russia's relations with the EU.
Who Are These 'Anti-Bellingcat Bloggers' Anyway?
The Atlantic Council's Digital Forensic Research Lab has a piece out looking at Kremlin-sponsored "anti-Bellingcat bloggers" who have launched a disinformation campaign ahead of the September 28 report by a Dutch criminal investigation into the crash of Flight MH17.
Russia Without Pornography
And finally, in Global Voices, Kevin Rothrock and Yulia Savitskaya take a look at a very unique online protest that has followed Russia's banning of two popular pornography websites.