MEDVEDEV ADDRESS. Yesterday Medvedev made the annual address to parliament (Russian, English ). It is a meaty speech and is the formal announcement of his program. A memorable remark: “The cult of the state and the alleged wisdom of the administrative apparatus reigned in Russia for centuries. A person, with his rights and freedoms, personal interests and problems, was viewed as a tool, at best, or, at worst, as an impediment to the strengthening of state might.” He then quoted Stolypin saying that first comes the citizen and then the civic consciousness will follow (I watch for references to Stolypin). What struck me about it was evidence of something I have predicted before. Putin had a tendency to settle all problems by centralising power; perhaps necessary in 2000, over-centralisation now strangles initiative. I see in Medvedev’s speech many proposals to decrease centralisation of power. He gave a strong statement of Russia’s values which, one may be sure, will receive little coverage in the West. I would summarise the speech by saying that the overall emphasis was on making Russia “modern” in all senses of the word. In short, Putin stopped the rot, Medvedev has to build something and that something may require some dismantling of Putin’s structures. Read it yourselves: don’t let the biased and incompetent Western MSM tell you what he said. As a guide to coverage: the Russian text is 8315 words. Security occupied 13% of it and missiles in Kaliningrad 1.7%.
MISSILES. Medvedev’s announcement that Russia will station missiles and radar jamming equipment in response to the planned US deployment in Europe should be understood as conditional. If the US does that, Russia will do this. He made it clear that he believes Moscow has been forced to respond.
SOMETHING YOU WON’T HEAR ABOUT. An organiser of the nationalist “Russian March” in Moscow on Tuesday has been fined for organising an unauthorised demonstration.
DUUMVIRATE. Putin has opened a website which will have an English section. I do not recall any other PM having his own website and this is another indication, to my mind, that a degree of pluralism of power exists in Russia with two (cooperating) power centres.
INFLATION. RosStat announced that consumer prices grew 11.6% January to October as compared with 9.3% for the same period last year. This is not as bad as was feared earlier in the year.
CORRUPTION. A Moscow court found the former 1st Deputy Director of the Kremlin Property Department Settlements-Financial Centre, “guilty of squandering money” (I quote Interfax) and sentenced him to 7 years in prison. It is good that officials are being hit in the anti-corruption drive (a significant theme in Medvedev’s address) but it would be better yet if their offices were closer to Medvedev’s.
INGUSH REPUBLIC. Medvedev has repaired one of Putin’s mistakes and replaced Murat Zyazikov as President of the Ingush Republic (“at his own request”). Security has been gradually getting worse and he was extremely unpopular. Medvedev nominated a general, Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, born in 1963 in Prigorodniy Rayon, North Ossetia. Will this prove to be the popular and effective choice that Zyazikov never was?
BEST LEADER IN 100 YEARS. VTsIOM asked Russians who were the best and worst rulers of the past 100 years and Putin won handily. The ratios of “best” to “worst” responses are: Putin 10 to one best over worst; Nikolay II 1.41:1; Brezhnev 1.17:1; Lenin 0.94:1; Stalin 0.73:1; Yeltsin 0.27:1; Gorbachev 0.27:1; No particular nostalgia here for the Soviet past (although some for the placidity of the Brezhnev years).
HISTORY. A plaque commemorating Admiral Kolchak was unveiled at a Moscow church last week. There has also been a successful movie made about him.
PRESIDENT OBAMA. What will be the future of Russia-US relations? I don’t know: as I see it, Obama is a palimpsest on which his supporters have written their dreams.
GEORGIA. The opposition – now with a great number of former allies of Saakashvili – is planning a big demonstration tomorrow. We will see what happens: but my bet is that, at the end, Saakashvili will be gone.
KARABAKH. On Sunday the presidents of Russia, Armenia and Azerbaijan met in Moscow and issued a statement on Karabakh. It is rather anodyne but may represent a step forward. I suspect that the disaster of Tbilisi’s latest military adventure has had a sobering effect all round.
© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Ottawa, Canada