RUSSIAN FEDERATION WEEKLY SITREP 25 September 2008

AFTERMATH. I think the dust is still settling after what has been a power earthquake of some significance and it’s still too early to make pronouncements. But one thing that seems to be happening is a rift between Washington and the EU, at least under Paris’ presidency. Sarkozy reacted quickly and decisively and negotiated the settlement that is actually being put into effect. But then it started to become rather murky: when, for example, did Saakashvili sign the Medvedev-Sarkozy plan? Was it 12 August as the French reported? Or was it on the 15th when Rice visited? Did Washington try to re-write it? And if so, how would Sarkozy feel about such second-guessing from the sidelines? At any case, while Washington is doubling down on its bet on Saakashvili and talking of excluding Russia, France, apart from pro forma references to territorial integrity, is moving in the opposite direction. The French PM was quoted as saying “Russia should play an important role in the world as well as the EU for the sake of the world’s stability, and besides, the more we talk to each other and the more confidence is between us, the closer our economic ties and the more stability and peace on our planet”. Meanwhile – and perhaps this is his answer to Washington – Sarkozy has suggested a “joint economic community” between Europe and Russia. This is quite different from regarding Russia as a pariah state that must be shunned.

FINANCIAL CRISIS. Seems to be dying down, at least for now, with the stock markets and ruble making a recovery.

DUUMVIRATE. I am more and more inclined to think my fifth hypothesis is the winner. In any event, the latest Levada poll shows that Medvedev is becoming almost as popular and trusted as Putin (83% to 88%). I believe that this is the very first time since 1991 when we have seen the President and the PM equal in popularity and both at a high level. So, at last, there are in Russia two centres of constitutional power.

ENERGY SUPPLY. In yet another attempt to try and get the obvious across, Medvedev has said supplies of energy resources should be predictable and stable both for suppliers and consumers. Given that Russia earns so much through oil and gas supplies and the government gets so much of its taxes from this source it would be disastrous for Moscow to cut supplies to its customers to the West. And vice versa. It is, in fact, a mutual dependence between Russia and its customers.

SKINHEADS. A court in Moscow has sentenced a group of skinheads to prison terms varying between 3 and 10 years for numerous crimes, including the murder of the Yakut chess master Sergey Nikolayev last October.

NEWS YOU PROBABLY WON’T HEAR. Russia just moved 40 T-72 tanks out of Kaliningrad, through Lithuania (with the complete, nay enthusiastic, approval of Vilnius) into “mainland” Russia.

SEVASTOPOL. The treaty between Moscow and Kiev has the Russian Black Sea fleet leaving the base in Sevastopol by 2017. A few years ago it was announced that Moscow would begin construction of a base in Novorossiysk but it is very unclear how much, if anything, has been done. The Russian Defence Minister has just said that Moscow is prepared to offer Kiev “lucrative” terms to keep the base there after 2017. Discussions begin today in Kiev.

YAMADAYEV. Ruslan Yamadayev, the brother of Sulim, was assassinated in Moscow. Sulim, who fought against Moscow in the first war and was a most effective hunter-killer of jihadists in the second, is now being accused by Groznyy of a multitude of crimes. I noticed a BMP captured by Chechens from the Georgians last month had “Yamadayevtsy” written on it indicating support for him. Neither event augurs well for peace and quiet in Chechnya.

ABKHAZIA. President Sergey Bagapsh has announced that there will be two Russian basses in Abkhazia: an army base in Gudauta and a naval group at Achamchira. Meanwhile, the first EU observers have arrived in Tbilisi and should take up their posts in Poti soon.

UKRAINE. The “Orange coalition” has now become outright political war with President Yushchenko describing PM Tymoshenko’s actions as “treachery”. She, possibly in connection with the rather large amount of heavy weaponry acquired by Georgia from Ukraine, has called for an inquiry into the arms trade carried by Ukrspetsexport. Meanwhile a recent poll shows that 61.2% of respondents would vote “no” in a referendum on NATO membership and 23.7% “yes”. Nonetheless Washington still pushes for NATO membership for Ukraine.

© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Ottawa, Canada