USA-RUSSIA. The Kissinger-led group’s trip to Moscow and Gorbachev’s trip to Washington are visible signs of potential changes. More directly the Chair of the US Senate Armed Services Committee said Washington should seek cooperation with Moscow on missile defence. Of course, many attempt to head off any change by saying Obama is soft on Russia (an example which includes the current charge sheet). As Stalin said: “the struggle intensifies…”.

ANTI-CRISIS PLAN. The text of the government’s anti-crisis program has been published (Eng) (Rus). No sugar-coating here: “After ten years of continuous economic growth and improvement in living standards, Russia has faced a very serious economic challenge…The global economic downturn is affecting Russia in a special way because of its deformed economic structure, and a number of immature market institutions, including the financial system.” But maybe (maybe) Russia Inc has stopped dropping.

MILITARY REFORM. The Ground Forces commander has said that 20 motorised infantry brigades have been created. This is of course a re-organisation, not an addition. The current (and indeed long-announced) idea is to replace the old large-war structure of fronts/armies/divisions and move to smaller and more flexible brigade group structures. For years the General Staff fought for the large war concept and strove to preserve the structure, even though most of the divisions and armies were empty of troops. More than ten years ago, most of the “empty divisions” disappeared. The first Chechen war taught them the utility of special forces and the complete uselessness of their structure; after that war the first brigade groups were created in the North Caucasus at Buynaksk, Maykop and Budyonnovsk (ah! people must miss the CFE Treaty and all the information it produced!). There was talk then of completing the restructuring, but once again the process stalled and there were a number of under-strength “divisions” retained (troop sizes for motorised rifle divisions in 2002 ranged from 4700 in Kaliningrad to 15,000 in Groznyy). The Ossetia war seems to have taught them that the Russian Army is simply not as well-equipped or as flexible as it has to be. Last November, it was announced that the Kantemirovskaya tank division and the Taman motorised rifle division, as far as I know the most capable divisions Russia had, would be re-organised into four brigades. We’ll see if the plan is followed through this time. The reorganisation is, by the way, a convincing sign that Moscow does not seriously fear a big war with NATO; as is the location of its troops: the North Caucasus dominates.

PIPELINES. On Monday, Ukraine and EU signed a cooperation declaration to modernise Ukraine’s gas pipeline network. Putin is in a huff and called the agreement “unprofessional”. But why? Ukraine owns the pipelines; they are rather elderly and Tymoshenko has said Russia can invest. Gazprom’s official line is that this could uncoordinate what was designed in the first place as an integrated network.

FOR YOUR AMUSEMENT. Irreverent Russian art.

CAUCASIAN RUMOURS OF WARS. The Dagestan Interior Ministry has announced that a “special operation” has been concluded: 12 “militants” and 5 security servicemen were killed.

SOUTH OSSETIA WAR. The latest canard is that the assertion that BGen Mamuka Kurashvili said that there were orders to “restore constitutional order” in South Ossetia is “part of a series of lies and misinformation” by Russia. Well, here’s a Georgian report from 8 August quoting him as saying just that. Clearly Tbilisi is anticipating a bad report from the EU commission and is pre-muddying the waters.

GEORGIA. The dance continues and the government is making its moves. On the 17th the Georgian Times Media Holding announced it had shut down the Georgian edition of The Georgian Times, claiming “pressure” and “intimidation attempts.” The Interior Ministry has arrested a number of oppositionists, accusing them of illegally buying weapons; Burjanadze, from whose party they are said to have come, says it’s a plant and Alasania is sceptical.

AZERBAIJAN. In a referendum, limits on presidential terms were eliminated. Ilham Aliyev is 47 and he has a son. His father Haydar Aliyev brought a level of stability to Azerbaijan and, after the coups and other disorders of the 1990s, security was rather desirable to many of the citizens.


© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Ottawa, Canada (see

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