NORTH CAUCASUS. Medvedev visited Makhachkala, Dagestan yesterday for a Security Council meeting and stated that “Overall, 308 crimes of a terrorist nature have been committed so far in the North Caucasus in 2009”. His solution was a combination of security activity and amelioration of “root causes” among which he named “low living standards, high unemployment and massive, horrifyingly widespread corruption”. A plan was apparently evolved at the meeting: we shall see. The question is: to what extent are the attacks on police and officials (8 in the last week!) a product of desperation and a habit of killing after all the warfare there; “normal” (in the Russian context) “bizness” disputes; or the operations of jihadists? Whatever the cause may be, and it’s likely a combination, the situation is growing slowly worse. It is a very explosive place: quick roundup at JRL/2009/109/12. Another reason, by the way, to try and keep a rein on Saakashvili’s military ambitions: the last time Georgia tried forcibly to incorporate the unwilling people of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, fighters from the North Caucasus, seeking the re-creation of their “Mountaineer Republic”, fought there. They brought their fight home and, especially, to Chechnya. Chechnya attracted a professional jihadist named Khattab who was instrumental in causing the second war. Moscow does not want a repeat performance.
PIKALYOVO. The transcript of Putin’s meeting in the town is worth reading as an illustration of many of Russia’s problems “in the weeds”: a Soviet-era unified plant complex was broken up in the privatisations; maybe there was some ripping off; as the sole employer, it had large responsibilities for the town’s social welfare system; the world economy reduced demand for its products; the workers exhausted normal channels and only got attention after blocking the highway; the issue required the personal intervention of A Boss. It is also an example of Putin’s style and authority. By the way, he did not call Deripaska a “cockroach” as has been sloppily reported (see the end of the transcript). This is not the first time Putin has been wilfully misquoted – see, for example “greatest geopolitical catastrophe” which is endlessly recycled to prove his evil.
RUSSIA INC. Putin reported that foreign investment totalled US$12 billion in the first quarter, down 30% on the previous year. The federal budget deficit so far this year is US$16.3 billion or nearly 4% of GDP. International reserves are up to nearly US$410 billion.
GAS WARS. After all Moscow’s huffing and puffing, Naftohaz paid Gazprom in full for May’s gas deliveries.
HISTORY. A film discusses the Lenin statues still standing in Kiev. Some think they should be removed (totalitarian reminders have no place in a democracy) others that they should stay (part of our history). A reminder that the issue is not just a Russian one and still attracts passions all over the post-Soviet space.
MANAS. Perhaps the US-led coalition will get Manas airbase back: Afghan President Karzai sent President Bakiyev a letter requesting an extension to the lease. Bakiyev had numerous grievances about the previous deal that will have to be met but signs from Bishkek seem promising. But Bishkek appears to have two principal issues: the fee and the worry that the base may be used for other things than supply to Afghanistan.
BELARUS. The Russian consumer rights organisation has banned almost all dairy products from Belarus; its story is that producers failed to comply with new legislation.
GEORGIA. In a speech attempting to explain why so many of his former allies were calling for his resignation, Saakashvili essentially said they were all corrupt; at other times he has accused them of being Moscow’s stooges. Meanwhile his former Ambassador to Moscow and his former Foreign Minister appealed to the West to pay more and better attention to Georgia and the actual nature of Saakashvili’s rule. Yesterday one of the opposition leaders, Levan Gachechiladze, and Saakashvili met. According to the former, “I could not see in him even a bit of sign that he is ready for changes. So I think and I firmly believe that our struggle should continue and become more radical”. About 20,000 marched in Tbilisi yesterday to commemorate 2 months of protests. As the stalemate grows, violence is becoming more possible (there were some explosions today in Zugdidi). Quiet repression is reported in the background: the sort of things, indeed, that would be headlines were they said to be happening in Russia).
© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Ottawa, Canada (see http://www.russiaotherpointsofview.com/)