DECENTRALISING. In April 2001, when Putin had been President for about a year, a piece entitled “Russia is Finished” appeared; it read as one would expect from its title. This piece, which proved to be a poor predictor and was swiftly forgotten, is a reminder of the view of many in the West and not a few in Russia at the time. I saw in Putin’s early speeches a reflection of the fear that Russia was actually heading towards collapse or extinction. In my opinion, this fear plus the shortages of competent managers in Russia (something about which he periodically complained) led him to solve problems by centralising power and decision-making in his office. Then the “colour revolutions” in Ukraine and Georgia, seen by Moscow as outside manipulations (something their unhappy outcomes, which can be directly related to the NATO expansion obsession, make plausible) re-emphasised this tendency. Perhaps that was the right thing to do between 2000 and 2008 but I believe that this over control has become a brake on development and that a large part of Medvedev’s job is to reverse it. In this regard, Medvedev has made another couple of openings in the political system. He has signed a law which will give equal access to state TV to all parties in the Duma and another law that will allow representation to parties receiving between 5% and 7% of the vote. A re-drafting of the NGO law is in the works. Many will spin this as Medvedev vs Putin. But maybe there’s a plan.
NATIONAL SECURITY STRATEGY. Yesterday Medvedev signed off on the latest version. A cursory read doesn’t show anything much different from other versions (Russian text). I have never understood why Russians feel the need to produce these long-winded cliché-ridden documents in which they toil though a laundry list of every thing that could conceivably affect security in its broadest possible definition (“46. Improvement in the quality of life for Russian citizens is guaranteed by ensuring personal safety and the availability of comfortable housing, high-quality and safe goods and services and appropriate payment for work”). They’re gifts to the Russophobes who skim through them to cherry-pick something alarmist.
US-RUSSIA. Nothing specific yet but an apparently good meeting between Obama and Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov the other day. Obama is scheduled to visit Russia 6-8 July. But for negotiations to be successful, both sides must gain something. And from Russia’s perspective, sooner or later, NATO expansion and missile defence locations will have to be discussed
THINGS YOU WON’T HEAR ABOUT. Last December the offices of St Petersburg Memorial were raided by police and data was confiscated. Several court rulings that the raid was unlawful followed and the organisation received its computer disks and other data back last week. They are being checked to see whether anything is missing. As always one wonders whether this is a result of Medvedev’s campaign against “legal nihilism” or merely “telephone justice” with a new phone.
UKRAINE. The war between President and Parliament continues: this time over timing of the Presidential election. At present ratings, Yanukovych is ahead. Far from being the stooge of Moscow, as we were told during the “Orange Revolution”, he remains the most popular politician in Ukraine.
GEORGIA. Saakashvili and members of the opposition met on Sunday although not much happened: they, according to Burjanadze, continue to insist that the only question is the timing and modality of his resignation; he insists he’s not going. In an interview which should be read by those who (still) think Saakashvili is a “democrat”, Salome Zurabishvili (his former Foreign Minister) says he’s “insane” and warns that Georgians “may turn away from Western style democracy out of disappointment. For too long, the Americans have confused support for Georgia with aid for Saakashvili”. Former President Shevardnadze said on Tuesday that the situation in the country was “catastrophic:” and that Saakashvili should resign. The protests continue as they have for a month now with more planned. Most interestingly however, two brigade commanders have been arrested and accused of involvement in the so-called mutiny of last week. Almost certainly this “mutiny” was a decision by the battalion commander that his troops would not become involved in putting down the protests. The new arrests suggest that this view is widespread in the army; thus Saakashvili has lost another prop of his rule. Not surprising, given the catastrophe he led them into last August.
© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Ottawa, Canada (see http://www.russiaotherpointsofview.com/)