DEMOGRAPHICS. Medvedev gave an interview the other day in which he spoke about what the government was doing about Russia’s demographic problems. The problem has two “ends”: too few births and too many early deaths and the government has put effort into both ends. A number of specialist cardiovascular centres (he visited one today) are being created around Russia “we know that cardiovascular disease is the biggest cause of death here” and the program to encourage births is having its effect as well: “The number of childbirths has increased by almost 7 percent over the last year… At the same time, there has been a decrease in infant mortality….” RosStat’s figures show that these programs are starting to bite. While Russia is still losing population, the net loss has been reduced by about 300,000 since 2006 (2006 – 637,200 net loss; 2007 – 442,700; 2008 – 337,300). 2009’s figures show continuing progress. 2006-2008 saw births up by about 200,000 and deaths down by about 90,000. In short, alarmist pieces about Russia’s demographic collapse are starting to look outdated. Added to which, Russia is not the only country with a shrinking population.

CONSTITUTIONAL COURT. Earlier this month Medvedev proposed a change to the way the Chair of the Court is appointed. Today the President nominates judges and the Federation Council approves them and they choose their own Chair. His proposal is that the President nominate the Chair and the Federation Council approve. In short, something similar to the way that US Supreme Court judges are chosen. The big difference however is that in Russia the President has a powerful influence on determining the membership of the Federation Council. So, under present circumstances this is an increase in Presidential power (although all members were nominated by the President before); if Russia ever has real political parties, it will be different. (Discussion).

CORRUPTION. Medvedev has signed an executive order creating a list of senior civil servants and managers of state owned corporations and funds who will be required to file public annual declarations of property and income (see his for the example). In principal, this could be an effective attack on corruption given that most corruption is about acquiring money. If enforced, that is. One of the major enforcers will be Sergey Stepashin, head of the State Audit Commission. In an interview (JRL/2009/93/12) he is talking tough: FSB involvement, undercover operations etc. We will see: an earlier attempt in the Yeltsin years fizzled out. I still say that we will know that Medvedev is really attacking the problem when someone in an office near his or Putin’s is arrested.

HISTORY. Medvedev has set up a commission to guard against “falsification of historical facts and events aimed at damaging Russia’s international prestige”. This will no doubt be excoriated as an attempt at thought control but, given Ukrainian attempts to paint the great famine as a Russian attack on Ukraine, or Latvian attempts to gain compensation from Russia for the cost of communism or the long-term refusal to regard Russia as a “captive nation”, there may be something to be said of reminding people of the Kuban famine, the Lettish Rifle Regiment and the cost of communism to Russia. But those who know these things know them, and those who want to airbrush them out of the historical picture will do so anyway.

NUCLEAR WEAPONS TALKS. Russians say they are “satisfied” so far. Related (maybe) to better Washington-Moscow relations is the report that Moscow has put a hold on a contract to supply fighter aircraft to Syria.

PIPELINES. Russia, Italy, Serbia, Bulgaria and Greece signed an agreement on South Stream gas pipeline (Russia-Black Sea-Bulgaria and north) on the 15th bringing it a step closer to construction.

CHECHNYA. For some years I have been arguing that the war in Chechnya is over: that is to say the jihadist attempt to create a secure base in Chechnya from which they could spread elsewhere has been defeated. But jihadists are still there (as elsewhere in the world). A bomb attack in Groznyy – said to be a suicide attack – has impelled Kadyrov to cancel the amnesty. The next day the police reported having killed 3 connected with the attack. This, if true, suggests informers led them to it.

GAS WARS. Today Gazprom announced it had pre-paid for this year’s gas transit, somewhat helping out Ukraine’s economy; meanwhile Yushchenko still wants to re-negotiate the deal.

GEORGIA. Government repression continues, quietly, with little coverage. Meanwhile the protests have spread to other towns in Georgia.

© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Ottawa, Canada (see