USA-RUSSIA. More indications that something is happening under the surface.

The mighty Russian arms build-up. Medvedev has (again) announced plans to re-equip the Armed Forces (Eng) (Rus). But before hyperventilating, consider that the Defence Minister then said the aim was to have 30% “modern” weaponry by 2015 and 70% by 2020. (REF) A very long way to go. And that I myself heard Russian generals outlining much the same intention a decade ago. Doing is harder than saying.

BRICKS WITHOUT STRAW. Reading JRLs after a week or so away from Russia, I am struck with all the pieces on 1) how Russia’s economy is collapsing (and with it Putin) and 2) how Medvedev and Putin are starting to split. I can’t find any real evidence of either and editorials from the usual sources or endless regurgitation of the “car riots” in Vladivostok only convince the already convinced.

FINANCIAL CRISIS. Putin stated government spending on anti-crisis measures will be 12% of GDP in 2009 and outlined a 2009 budget of US$198 billion revenues, $287 billion expenditures and a deficit of $88 billion 7.4% of GDP.

UNITED RUSSIA. There has been some coverage of Gorbachev’s criticism that it is “a party of bureaucrats” reminiscent of the CPSU. But here’s Putin himself in November 2007: the party lacks a set of serious principles, has attracted some criminals, but “we don’t have anything better”. Sounds much the same to me. (Can’t find the original but I mentioned it in Sitrep 20071115).

DÉJÀ VU ALL OVER AGAIN. Medvedev has declared that all state officials, including himself, must annually publish their incomes and property holdings. I seem to recall an earlier attempt at doing this that dissolved into risible declarations of parsimonious adherence to state salaries, broken-down dachas and a part share in a Zaporozhets. Despite a plethora of fancy watches and elaborate holidays.

NEWS YOU WON’T HEAR. A sanctioned protest – Day of People’s Wrath – on Sunday in Moscow was disrupted by Young Guard (usually termed “pro-Kremlin”) counter protesters: the police arrested them.

IRAN. A Russian source has admitted that there is a contract with Iran to deliver S-300 SAM systems but insists that no missiles have been delivered and that fulfilment would depend on the world situation. Sounds like a bargaining chip to me. According to this however, thanks to Belarus, Iran already has some of an earlier version (the earliest versions of the system were fielded 30 years ago).

FRANCE. Readers will recall that I believe Paris had a “reality check” last August about the actuality of the situation in Georgia and the consequences of NATO expansion. Some signs of this, I think. France will return to the NATO military structures – giving it more say – and its Defence Minister said Russia should be consulted before NATO expands further.

TRANSDNESTR. Yesterday Medvedev hosted talks between Moldova and Transdnestr; nothing much is reported other than a communiqué which doesn’t say anything new. Of the five unrecognised mini-states created after the USSR’s dissolution: Chechnya is “solved” (although I remain convinced that the leadership – all now Chechens, many of them veterans of the first war – still want eventual independence); Abkhazia and South Ossetia have a kind of solution. That leaves Karabakh, which seems as far from solution as ever, and Transdnestr. I believe Transdnestr is solvable and that the solution is more-or-less on the table already.

GAS WARS. Are now raging inside Ukraine itself. Too complicated, too many accusations and counter-accusations for me to summarise: see JRL/2009/54/40. Ukraine is taking less gas than it contracted to but Gazprom will not seek compensation; as Putin said: Ukraine is “on the verge of bankruptcy and as you well know you should not finish off your partners”.

GEORGIA. On the 10th 9 opposition parties began to collect signatures demanding Saakashvili’s resignation. There is a disagreement among the opposition whether to collect signatures, hold protest rallies or do both. It is intended, starting 9 April to begin continuous protests but they have already begun (Pictures). Will Saakashvili go quietly, or will he turn to the police again; and if so will they turn out for him? (It would be interesting to know who paid for all that expensive equipment the police have).


© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Ottawa, Canada (see