POLITICAL CHANGES. Medvedev has sent his first changes in the political system to the Duma. He wants the President’s term to be 6 and the Duma’s to be 5 years. It appears, from what the Speaker said, that the Federation Council will return to being elective (the method of choosing “senators” has gone through several iterations). In his speech Medvedev also spoke of loosening the (in my opinion) over-strict requirements for parties to qualify for Duma elections. Naturally the Western press is fitting this and that into their preconceptions. Especially worthless was this piece. Let it be repeated again: if Putin had wanted to stay on as President, he could have. He had the power and the popularity to have the Constitution amended; there was no need for some later elaborate scheme. But logic should never get in the way of the anti-Russia meme.

MILITARY REFORM. We move another (long-awaited) step; at least in planning. The Soviet Army was structured to fight a very big war with the basic building blocks being divisions organised into armies and fronts. The actual decisions were made at front level (as they had been in the Second World War). The formations were designed to be filled out by conscription. Thus an army of many divisions, many officers, much weaponry, huge reserves but fully manned only in front-line formations. This is obsolete today, and has been for some time. For several years there has been an intention to move towards brigades (in Commonwealth military terms: “brigade groups”) and a number of steps have been taken in this direction. Eight years ago Putin called for “a smaller, better-equipped, technically perfect army” but there is a powerful vested interest for the old way in the Russian Armed Forces, especially in a context where so many in the West are doing their best to create a new cold war. These interests have fought hard: they have been losing, but they have dragged the process out for many years. The latest plans to restructure formations have been announced: starting next year and finishing in 2012, all divisions will be disbanded (23) and be replaced by 12 brigade groups. In the process the Armed Forces will shrink by 270,000 soldiers and officers (160,000 of them!). The program is quite correct: Russia’s real threats require smaller and more flexible formations that can operate independently but we will see if the reform succeeds this time.

MISSILES. Foreign Minister Lavrov has made it clear that the deployment of Iskander missiles to Kaliningrad would only take place if Washington were to emplace its missiles.

SUBMARINE. On the 8th there was an accident in the Russian SSN Nerpa in the Sea of Japan while on sea trials. Apparently the Freon fire suppressant system was accidentally triggered and 20 people, most of them civilian workers, suffocated. The boat is said to be undamaged and will be taken into Russian Navy service (and not leased to India as some reports have it).

OLD STORIES NEVER DIE. The US Defense Secretary congratulated Estonia with beating off mass-scale Russian cyber attacks. The Moscow cyber attack story is rubbish – read this: “These were simply hackers whose fathers and grandfathers had made huge sacrifices for Russia during World War II.”

CHECHNYA. It has been announced that the Vostok and Zapad battalions will be disbanded and re-constituted as companies in an MR division in Chechnya. The Russian Prosecution Service has ordered the Chechen Interior Ministry to bring former Vostok commander Sulim Yamadayev to interrogators by force. This could lead to trouble: this photo of a captured Georgian BMP shows a certain loyalty to Yamadayev in the Vostok battalion; he created it.

GEORGIA. The opposition held a one-day protest in Tbilisi attracting several thousand people; one notable slogan was “Stop Russia-Stop Misha!”. It passed off without incident. The opposition has developed a plan to hold protests with the goal of holding parliamentary and presidential elections in the spring. Saakashvili’s version of the start of the war is collapsing rapidly with testimony from OSCE observers and the like. I am amused that a US State Department spokesman was quoted as saying: “We may or may never get to the bottom of who was actually responsible for what went on there”, which is quite a change from the earlier line. Actually, it’s not such a mystery as all that. See this.

© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Ottawa, Canada