SOLZHENITSYN. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, a man of unshakeable integrity and courage, who did more to kill communism than anyone else, died on Sunday. His body lay in state at the Academy of Sciences and Putin and Gorbachev paid their respects. He was buried yesterday at the Dmitriy Donskoy Monastery in Moscow and Medvedev attended. Lately he had begun to sound rather out-of-date but I suspect his influence will endure for many years.
CORRUPTION. Medvedev signed his national anti-corruption plan and the Russian text is up on his website. A number of laws and amendments are expected to go to the Duma next month. Some features are restrictions and regulations for disposal of state assets and a provision by which companies can be responsible for the corrupt actions of employees. Speaking of which, the labour in the Augean Stables continues: so far this year, the military prosecution office says that 5 generals have been found guilty on corruption charges and the Investigative Committee states that 757 criminal cases have been opened against legal officials.
THE CADRE PROBLEM. As Stalin once said, “cadres resolve everything”. Medvedev is starting to wrestle with the question of where Russia’s civil servants come from and how they get to where they are. He has recently been musing on the subject and has suggested that some sort of “reserve” be formed of likely people. That won’t do the trick either – it’s a perennial idea in Western bureaucracies and it all goes the usual way.
KHODORKOVSKIY. The Levada Centre released an interesting poll which indicated that 55% had little sympathy for him even though only 15% believed his conviction to be lawful (85% were either doubtful of the legality or gave no opinion); 35% thought he should be paroled – his hearing is set for 21 August – while 30% did not. Apart from anything else, it shows that Russians are more capable of making up their own minds than the conventional view, which assumes an imposed official opinion, has it. (JRL/2008/142/28).
XENOPHOBIA. In most Western press coverage, Russia is treated as a sort of freak show – an endless catalogue of disasters – but, typically, coverage is often short on the facts. One of the current memes is the epidemic of attacks on foreigners. Well, according to Aleksandr Brod, director of the Moscow Human Rights Bureau, who is not likely to understate the numbers, so far this year 73 have been killed and 200 injured. While this is much more than nothing, it is hardly an “epidemic” in a country of 150 million. Neither is it a uniquely Russian phenomenon.
USA-RUSSIA. The latest US National Defense Strategy takes some shots at Russia: “Russia’s retreat from openness and democracy… leveraged the revenue from, and access to, its energy sources; asserted claims in the Arctic; and has continued to bully its neighbors… more active military stance… threatened to target countries hosting potential U.S. anti-missile bases…. retreat from democracy… intimidation of its neighbors”. Too many unexamined clichés in that catalogue, I fear.
CHECHNYA. Sulim Yamadayev has been put on the federal wanted list on charges connected with kidnapping and murder. A real attempt at justice, or the removal of a potential opponent?
OSSETIA-GEORGIA. The small-scale war has intensified with reports of car bombs, artillery shelling and sniper fire. Each side blames the other. I have always maintained that Moscow’s principal motivation in the South Caucasus is that a war there could – as it did before – spread into the North Caucasus. And, rhetorically at least, it is spreading. Kokoity threatens to declare mobilisation and call on North Caucasians for help; Abkhazia has put its forces on alert; Tskhinvali claims volunteers from North Ossetia are arriving and a Cossack hetman says he’s ready to help. The Ossetians claim to have driven a Georgian force off a hill with some killed: Tbilisi first denied and later admitted losses. The correlation of forces may be changing: Saakashvili has just made a speech on TV: he ordered a ceasefire adding “And I am offering the Russian Federation to be a guarantor of the South Ossetian autonomy within Georgia… I offer a very important role to Russia in resolving this conflict… Georgia is a natural ally for Russia… We need a real mediator.” Words not before heard: he sounds quite nervous. As he should be: Tbilisi has been consistently defeated in its wars with South Ossetia and, if Abkhazia joins in, anything could happen in that rather fragile country. Illusion meets reality.
© Patrick Armstrong, Ottawa, Canada