GAS WARS. The contract with Ukraine ended on 1 January and negotiations were stopped as Gazprom was offering $250tcm (about half what Germany pays). Gazprom shut off gas to Ukraine, Ukraine started siphoning Europe-bound gas and Gazprom then shut down the system altogether saying that no gas was getting through anyway. Negotiations ensued, agreements were made, Gazprom is trying to ship through Sudzha but Naftohaz comes up with new objections; no gas is presently flowing. Gazprom’s point of view here, Naftohaz’s here. At least Western coverage has been more balanced this time around – Gazprom has been using international monitors at all stages to document events. For readers of Russian, here’s Ukrainian PM Tymoshenko confirming that Gazprom offered $250tcm and her speculation that forces on the Ukrainian side are trying to keep the murky RosUkrEnergo alive for their own profit. (Let’s not forget theft as a motive (JRL/2009/8/24)).
JUDICIARY. Medvedev continues his activities against “legal nihilism”. Addressing the National Congress of Judges, he called for court records to be available on the Internet, attacked “telephone justice”, mentioned pilot projects on free legal aid for the poor and called for fewer prison sentences. Legislation to come, no doubt.
CORRUPTION. The Duma passed Medvedev’s anti-corruption bill (with the dates changed back) and he signed it on the 25th. He then signed a bill requiring Cabinet ministers to declare their income and property to tax authorities. Not the first time such a requirement has existed. Meanwhile an aide to the Ground Forces Commander was arrested on suspicion of accepting bribes and abuse of authority. A very uphill task.
RUSSIA INC. On the 25th the Central Bank of Russia said Russia gold and foreign currency reserves were US$450.8 billion; rumours of Russia’s bankruptcy are exaggerated.
ECONOMY. The government’s expectations, according to a Presidential aide, are 2% growth with 10-12% inflation in 2009. If that does come to pass, Russia may be one of the star economies of 2009.
PERISTALSIS. Medvedev has complained about how slowly the government works and Putin issued a directive designed to give deputy PMs more power to approve work. Another uphill task.
NAME OF RUSSIA. An Internet completion on The Name of Russia” had Nevskiy, Stolypin and Stalin close in the popular estimate, while the “experts” placed Nevskiy and Pushkin first followed by Suvorov. There was much flapdoodle in the West about Stalin’s high ranking. But Internet votes are easy to influence and I would argue that Stalin’s placing has much to do with older people resisting the devaluation of their youth. See, for example Putin’s remarks at the Butova Memorial or his description of communism as a “a road to a blind alley”; in short, was their youth wasted and their achievements hollow?
PEOPLE POWER. A court in Ulyanovsk region upheld Yuriy Budanov’s parole request; he is to be released 15 months early after 11 January. There have been several large protest rallies in Groznyy.
NOT COLOUR-FAST. Not a good time for those “democratic” “revolutions”, whether “Orange” “Rose” or “Tulip”. Unrealistic expectations, ignoring essential interests and expecting Washington to bail you out is not a recipe for domestic success.
1. Ukraine. President Yushchenko has abandoned his call for early parliamentary elections; he ordered his people out of the “orange coalition” in parliament so there is now no majority. Tymoshenko says he should resign and accuses him of weakening the economy on purpose. Not surprisingly a poll this week shows 83.7% of respondents thinking Ukraine has taken a wrong turn and over 90% believing the situation “tense” or “explosive”). No doubt the gas war is connected with the political struggle there.
2. Georgia. As expected, the former Ambassador to the UN has gone into opposition and calls for early elections. The Public Defender says he has proof that senior officials deliberately planned to break up the November 2007 demonstrations with excessive force. (REF). Another opposition member accuses Saakashvili’s family of embezzling money designed to provide insurance for poor people. (REF). The opposition says it will launch a series of demonstrations; and reiterated its demand for Saakashvili’s resignation. Meanwhile Freedom House has re-classified it as “a non-electoral democracy” (whatever that is).
3. Kyrgyz Republic. The main opposition parties have signed an agreement to form an alliance and demand the resignation of President Bakiyev. Not that anyone remembers this any more.
© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Ottawa, Canada (See http://www.russiaotherpointsofview.com/)