PUTIN Q&A SESSION. Putin answered questions on Russian media today. Most of what he spoke about was connected with the economy – he remains reasonably optimistic – and the financial crisis – ditto – and other “money” issues.

NATO EXPANSION. At its meeting in Brussels NATO did not offer MAPs to Georgia or Ukraine. It also began a retreat from its decision not to deal with Russia. Typically, this was covered up by waffle language but that is the bottom line. As someone wisely observed, NATO is “becoming the problem that it had been trying to solve”. No one can doubt that the Ossetia war was a by-product of NATO expansion which was sold as a means of creating stability, not reducing it. We will see whether this marks the end of this foolish project, or “tragic mistake”, as George Kennan put it in 1998. The latest poll from Ukraine shows what a divisive issue it is there: over 80% want a referendum before joining and only 30% said they would vote to join. 16% in eastern Ukraine supported NATO membership, 28% in the central region and 68% in western Ukraine.

LATIN AMERICA. Medvedev has been visiting countries in Latin America that Washington does not like. Part of this I suspect is the perennial attempt to get customers for something other than oil and gas and part of it is an attempt to irritate Washington and show that Russia is a force to be taken seriously.

KARABAKH. The optimism of last month’s agreement signed by the Presidents of Russia, Armenia and Azerbaijan is fading. There was a protest in Yerevan a few weeks later by war veterans calling “the liberated territories” “an integral part of our Motherland” and any cession “treachery”. On the other side, Azerbaijan President Aliyev told RAI International that the agreement did not rule out the use of force. Karabakh is another of Stalin’s cartographical jokes and should never have been included in the Azerbaijan SSR in the first place. As a result of the war, the Karabakh-Armenian forces have occupied a good piece of territory to the west of Karabakh which are, typically in the Caucasus where history and historical myth are so strong, already being considered part of the “Motherland” by some. Just as many Georgians consider the Empire of David to be the “true” extent of Georgia, there are Armenians who consider the Empire of Tigranes to be the “true” Armenia. And so it goes, with a lot of blood shed to intensify feelings.

UKRAINE-RUSSIA. President Yushchenko’s party, People’s Union “Our Ukraine”, held its conference and declared that Russia was a threat to Ukraine and that many politicians ignored this reality to the detriment of Ukraine’s independence. As far as I know the word “Tymoshenko” did not appear in the statement. On the other hand, it is reported that Yushchenko has set up a group to improve ties with Russian Federation in face of the financial crisis. Kiev’s Ambassador to Moscow pointed out that Russia, Ukraine’s largest trade partner with turnover of about $30 billion, must be Ukraine’s partner in finding a way out. The National Security Council Secretary said, in reference to the party’s statement: “It is unacceptable when our partner is branded a national security threat”. Reality bites. Meanwhile it is announced that Naftohaz Ukrainy has been able to pay for September’s gas imports. Leaving, I suppose, October and November still to be paid for.

GEORGIA. I highly recommend that people watch this interview with Erosi Kitsmarishvili, the former Ambassador to Moscow and quondam ally of Saakashvili. In essence he says that: Saakashvili has betrayed the “Rose Revolution” (in which Kitsmarishvili was an important ally); Washington was stupid not to see what manner of man he was; Saakashvili started the war because he wanted to be another David; there is more than a hint that he believes Saakashvili, or someone close to him, had Zurab Zhvania murdered; all news outlets in Georgia are government-controlled and the population has few other sources of information and therefore the opposition must move slowly and carefully. Finally Georgia cannot exist without good relations with Russia. He says he will sue the government to regain control of the TV station he helped start (Rustavi-2), no doubt as a first step in breaking the government’s control. That’s a lot of former allies of Saakashvili now in open opposition: including now the PM from February 2005 to November 2007, who set up his opposition party yesterday. Hard to keep up with them, in fact.

© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Ottawa, Canada (See