MEDVEDEV IN GERMANY. The conversation appears to have been mostly about gas pipelines but Medvedev expressed concern about the “increasing gap between Russia and the West” on security issues and reiterated his intentions to effect a “qualitative transformation” of Russia.

PUTIN INTERVIEW. When he was in France, Putin gave an interview (English summary, Russian) to Le Monde. As usual, it’s a straightforward unemotional statement of his views on present and past. It’s a “one stop shopping” trip for Putin’s view of things. The English summary above leaves out his remarks on Abkhazia where he, once again, attempted to educate a Western audience that the problem has deep roots that cannot be wished away.

LITVINENKO. Those who still accept the standard explanation might find this interview with Edward Jay Epstein interesting. From the start I have thought that Litvinenko was engaged in nuclear smuggling for his friends in Ichkeria and poisoned himself.

MONEY. As of 1 June the Reserve Fund had $129.32 billion and the National Welfare Fund $32.60 billion. Much of the first is supposed to be invested abroad which is a compelling indicator that Russia wants a quiet world.

MILITARY CHANGES. Yuriy Baluevskiy has resigned as CGS and will become Deputy Secretary to the Security Council (is it still a parking lot for retirees?); Nikolay Makarov will succeed him. There have long been rumours that Baluevskiy and Defence Minister Serdyukov have been at odds and perhaps they are true. Or maybe, it’s Medvedev putting new makeup on the Russian face. Or maybe he’s had enough.

ENERGY. Medvedev has issued a decree setting targets for improving Russia’s efficiency in using energy. Just as well if we are indeed facing another Maunder Minimum.

POLITKOVSKAYA. The Prosecutor General’s Office has announced that the preliminary investigation into her murder should be complete by the 20th. Although, as the editor of her paper observed, the case can hardly be called finished when neither the killer, nor the man who ordered it, is in custody.

ALTERNATE FUTURE. On Tuesday Grigoriy Romanov died, aged 85. At one point, he was regarded as a strong contender for the post of GenSek. I think we’d be looking at a rather different, and much worse, situation today if he had been.

CHECHNYA. Groznyy continues its tiptoe towards as much independence as it can get: an official has announced that Chechen conscripts into the Russian army this year will not serve outside Chechnya.

CAUCASIAN RUMOURS OF WARS. The International Crisis Group has issued a report on Abkhazia. Unusually for Western discussions of the issue, it is both balanced and informed and doesn’t take the conventional route of blaming Moscow alone: “It [Tbilisi] has quietly been making military preparations, particularly in western Georgia and Upper Kodori. A number of powerful advisers and structures around President Mikheil Saakashvili appear increasingly convinced a military operation in Abkhazia is feasible and necessary.” I remain convinced that Tbilisi would lose such a war and that Moscow will do what ever it has to to prevent it. There is, as the report admits, a considerable danger of spillover, just there was the last time Tbilisi decided to solve the problem by war.

ABKHAZIA RAILWAY. The railway from Russia, via Abkhazia, to Tbilisi has been closed (and decaying) since the Abkhazia-Georgia wars of the early 1990s. In February 2006 an agreement was made between the parties to re-open it. Last week Russia put about 400 railway troops in to rebuild tunnels, bridges and power supplies. Tbilisi has complained, insisting that it never gave permission. The timing of the Russian move has probably some connection with the decision to award the 2014 Winter Olympic Games to Sochi. There will be more activities like this in preparing the area and Sukhumi is certainly hoping to make some money out of all the visitors to a city which is only about 30kms from its border.

PEACEKEEPERS IN ABKHAZIA. The end of the Abkhazia-Georgia wars established a Russian-Georgian-Abkhazian peacekeeping force which has been there ever since (and very likely prevented another war). Ukraine’s Defence Minister has said that Kiev will sent troops if Tbilisi wants it to. We will see what this amounts to: presumably Moscow and Sukhumi would have to agree as well if Ukrainian troops are to be added to the force, but it could be a productive step as Kiev has no axes to grind there.


© Patrick Armstrong, Ottawa, Canada