DUUMVIRATE. A poll touches on Russians’ perceptions of the Medvedev-Putin relationship. Probably the most important finding was that 41% believed power to be shared equally between the two. This is the first time in history, as far as I know, that Russia has had two cooperating power centres (there was no cooperation in 1917 or 1993). I believe that the most accurate way to look at this unusual situation is through that perspective rather than barren speculation about who’s in charge and trying to find splits between the two.
ECONOMY NUMBERS. Last month unemployment was put at 2.26 million; GDP declined 9.5% in the first quarter but gold and foreign currency reserves increased slightly to US$384.8 billion. The Reserve Fund is down 13.7% to US$106.81 billion (it owned a lot of Fanny Mae and Freddy Mac at one time) and the National Prosperity Fund is down 1.6% to US$86.3 billion.
NATO. Foreign Minister Lavrov gave an interview explaining Russia’s position on NATO: “For us NATO is one of the objective key factors determining the state of security in the North-Atlantic region [but] obviously Russia cannot ignore NATO countries’ military infrastructure moving closer to its borders”. Worth reading for those who want to know what Moscow’s position really is rather than what interested parties tell you that it is.
EXPULSIONS. NATO expelled 2 Russians, perhaps in retaliation for an Estonian convicted of spying. As usual, Moscow has responded reciprocally with the expulsion of 2 Canadians from the NATO office in Moscow.
THINGS YOU WON’T HEAR ABOUT. Moscow has been quietly reducing its forces in Kaliningrad and Medvedev has said that he hopes for a response from NATO.
PIPELINES. On the 21st Moscow and Beijing agreed to build a branch of the East Siberia-Pacific Ocean pipeline toward China with an annual capacity of 15 million tonnes. Beijing is lending RosNeft and TransNeft US$25 billion to finance it. Interesting: China has a lot of assets worth less and less; here’s a use for them.
CHECHNYA. Long-time readers will recall that I have always believed that the former resistance fighters who now run Chechnya still want as much independence as they can get away with (short of actually using the word). Kadyrov has taken another step in that direction with the announcement that no Chechens will be conscripted this year into the Russian Armed Forces
GAS WARS. The international crisis, combined with political paralysis, is hitting Ukraine very hard and it cannot buy all the gas it contracted to. PM Tymoshenko is in Moscow trying to get the amount reduced, Putin’s response is open and some sort of arrangement may be possible – Gazprom may pay transit fees in advance.
MOLDOVA. The election results have been confirmed although with one important difference from the initial results: the dominant Communist Party is now one seat short of the power to name the next President. A Moldovan businessman has been arrested on suspicion of inciting mass riots and attempting a coup.
RE-WRITING HISTORY. Latvia has estimated the cost of the Soviet occupation: this sounds like an attempt to present a bill to Russia. But perhaps, given the role of the Lettish Rifle Regiment in Lenin’s coup in 1917, Latvia should charge itself. Or Georgia from whence Stalin, who ordered the 1940 occupation, came. These countries are airbrushing their home-grown Bolsheviks out of their history.
GEORGIA. The protests continue. The next tactic, to begin on the 8th, will be blocking highways. Which leads us to the “mutiny” story as reported here. One has to read all the way to the bottom of the account (all Georgian news media is controlled by the government), through Saakashvili’s accusations of Russian plots and the now-customary electronic “evidence” showing blurry people saying indistinct things to each other, to get to the real story. It appears that the battalion announced it would stay in its barracks and not get involved in the protests, perhaps after Saakashvili ordered it to prepare to stop the road blockages. In this connection see the report that the Patriarch’s appeal to troops to sit it out was censored from his address on 8 April. Opposition members are facing violence on the edge, out of sight of Western reporters – one example – and violence actually began last night. The Western MSM, still in thrall to the meme that Saakashvili “democratic”, is reporting little. The army unit’s refusal is indicative: people are switching sides and I continue to believe that the police will not turn out for Saakashvili as they did last time. Meanwhile more and more countries, perhaps sensing the trouble coming or re-assessing their views of Saakashvili’s regime, are dropping out of the NATO exercise.
© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Ottawa, Canada (see http://www.russiaotherpointsofview.com/)