A NOTE ON FILLING THE PAGE. Today is the 490th Thursday that I have done a Sitrep. I have always been able to fill a page, some days more easily than others. This is the hardest I’ve worked to do so. For some years, we have been living with the “Russian Question”. One day, it, like the “Eastern Question” or the “German Question”, will pass and there won’t be enough happening to warrant weekly Sitreps. While that day is not here, we are, perhaps, closer to the desired end when Russia ceases to be a “Question” (with, FAR less bloodshed than the other two were settled, by the way, and far less than predicted by anyone). A “normal” Russia: one with which other countries may have trade disputes or strategic disagreements but will be confident that they can be settled “inside the box”. It’s a mixture of perception and reality: the latter changing much faster than the former.

TOURISM. A result of the growing prosperity of the Putin years has been a steady increase in tourism by Russians. 15 years ago the fear was millions of refugees; ten years ago thousands of criminals; the reality has become ordinary Russians on holiday. I have noticed this for some time but last year in the Mediterranean was interested to see that there are enough of them to justify guidebooks in Russian everywhere and we often had a Russian couple beside us in a cafe. This piece discusses the phenomenon. To my mind, the relative absence of such pieces in the MSM (although see JRL/2008/116/2) is a product of the meme that Russia is locked down by Putin and his Chekist minions. But, as Stalin understood, to really lock a country down, you can’t let people out and you can’t let people in. Perception and reality again.

POLITKOVSKAYA CASE. The Investigation Committee of the Prosecutor General’s Office has announced that it has “finalised” the investigation into her murder. Murder charges have been brought against three Chechens and the police officer, earlier rumoured to have been the “spotter” for the killers, has been charged with abuse of office and extortion. The editor of the paper for which she worked, which has been doing its own investigation, questioned how “finalised” the investigation was. While it was “on the right track”, he reiterated that there were more people involved than the three shooters. As was evident the moment the prosecution’s case was outlined, the murder was not something ordered by the Kremlin, as so many in Western media outlets rushed to assume. As I thought from the beginning, it appears that she ran across some piece of information a “biznesman” didn’t want known.

KLEBNIKOV CASE. This is also the likely explanation in the murder of Paul Klebnikov some years ago – certainly it is the heart of the prosecution case. The Presidium of the Supreme Court just ruled that the decision to return the case to the Prosecutor and suspend the trial was lawful. The Prosecutor General’s Office believes that he was murdered at the order of a Chechen “biznesman” (now apparently dead himself) who didn’t like what Klebnikov said about him in a book. But the prosecutors have been unable to produce either killers or witnesses as is not unusual in mob hits.

TNK-BP. I have no idea what is going on and it appears that there is no clear opinion elsewhere either. Some see it as another Kremlin-inspired takeover while others believe it is an internal dispute.

YOU JUST CAN’T KEEP UP ANYMORE! The newspaper that published the false report that Putin was going to divorce has announced that it will resume publication; on the other hand, the eXile is stopping. While the latter’s closing will be – is being – spun as pressure from the centre, so was the former’s. Apparently the eXile was no longer making money for its backers. Newspapers are dying all over the world.

NORTH CAUCASUS. Quite a number of evidently coordinated small scale attacks across the North Caucasus on and around Russia Day. In Dagestan, a bomb in Makhachkala killed one, the authorities were after a group near the Chechnya border, and a bomb was defused near Khasavyurt. In Chechnya there was an attack on a village in the mountains and a couple of attacks elsewhere and in the Ingush Republic an attack on a police post. Nothing like the scale of a few years ago but a reminder that the jihadists are still there, as they are elsewhere around the world.

CAUCASIAN RUMOURS OF WARS. There was an explosion yesterday on the railway line in Abkhazia on which the Russian railway troops are working. Tbilisi denies any involvement. There are, however, a number of Georgian militia groups in Western Georgia that are not necessarily under Tbilisi’s control. Meanwhile accusations and claims continue from all parties.

© Patrick Armstrong, Ottawa, Canada