MEDVEDEV. Faithful readers will know that, for some years, I have been saying that Putin over centralised power; perhaps understandably, given his fears in 2000 that Russia could altogether collapse. I believe that his concentration of all decisions in the offices next to his strangles initiative (in this connection I am amused to see some in the Rightosphere picking up on his warning that the Soviet experience shows the folly of state control). I expected that his successor would have to take steps to change course. That is what I believe Medvedev is doing: witness his discussion with Novaya Gazeta, his re-activation of the human rights group, his remarks on the “information society”, his “fireside chats”, his list of leading personnel and others. It would be quite wrong, I believe, to search here for disagreements with Putin – they are a team and have been for some time and there is every sign that they are cooperating in their division of labour.
POLITKOVSKAYA TRIAL. The jury acquitted all defendants today. So where does this leave us? Another in a long series of bungled prosecutions.
UNEMPLOYMENT. RosStat announced that unemployment in January, using ILO methodology, was 6.1 million or 8.1% of “the economically active population”, up 5.2% from December. 1.7 million of these are officially registered and 1.4 million are receiving benefits.
OIL FOR CHINA. Yesterday Moscow and Beijing signed an agreement by which Russia will supply oil for 20 years in return for a loan.
LNG. Yesterday Russia’s first LNG plant was officially opened in Sakhalin. Capacity is said to be 9.6 million tonnes a year and most of it has already been sold to Japan, South Korea and the USA. Gazprom owns half plus one share and Royal Dutch Shell, Mitsui and Mitsubishi most of the rest.
POLICE. Levada has completed a poll on how Russians feel about the police. I was rather surprised that as many as 9% expressed “complete trust” and 46% were “inclined to trust”. That’s a lot higher than I would have guessed considering how poorly the police do in polls on corruption.
MANAS. Today the Kyrgyz Republic parliament voted 78-1 to close the base. Perhaps Washington could have upped its offer, but it didn’t seem to try very hard and is apparently looking at Uzbekistan. I’ll bet Tashkent drives a harder bargain than Bishkek ever would have.
TRANSIT. A train carrying supplies to US forces in Afghanistan left Riga today to pass through Russia.
CAUCASIAN RUMOURS OF WARS. The slow background of violence continues in Ingushetia with a shootout last week and a car bomb this. The change of governor does not seem to have made any difference.
GENEVA TALKS. Yesterday the participants in the talks on South Ossetia and Abkhazia agreed to a modest set of provisions designed to reduce violence. A start. Tbilisi still seems, under present management unwillingly to solemnly declare that it won’t try another war. As Burjanadze observed on Tuesday, the August attack gives much ammunition to those who consider Georgia to be Georgia as “an unstable and unpredictable state”. Meanwhile a Georgian general has joined the opposition and Alasania, who is emerging as one of it principal leaders, laid out his program.
GAS WARS – UKRAINE. Some polls: 1) a majority of Ukrainians find the gas deal acceptable; 2) 70% think President Yushchenko should quit right now; 3) 54% blame him for the gas crisis and 44% blame Tymoshenko. Not a happy place: those “coloured revolutions”, based on fantasy narratives and raising unrealistic expectations, were disasters. And no one speaks of the “Tulip Revolution” any more.
© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Ottawa, Canada (see http://www.russiaotherpointsofview.com/)