FREEDOM OF OPINION. We hear a great deal about how Russia’s media is not free, but because the discussion is usually only about the “old media” and not about the “new media”, a distorted picture is given about citizen access to information. Which is the really important thing. But the “old media” is dying everywhere for a variety of reasons. A recent poll (JRL/2009/21) gives some numbers on Russian access to the Internet: daily use is claimed by 22% of the population; naturally Moscow (49%) and St Petersburg (40%) are the highest. This site suggests Russian “Internet penetration” is about half the European average and about one-third of the North American average. But the main point is that the Internet is free – there is no government control and once you’re on it, you’re on it, whether you’re in Ottawa or Omsk. So assessments of Russians’ access to different opinions ought to take into account the fact that about a third of Russians say they use the Net at least once a week and that number is, of course, growing all the time and more wide-spread among young than old.

PR. The Presidential Administration head Sergey Naryshkin will head up a commission to improve Russia’s international image. In his copious spare time. The piling of new duties on a few key players is rather Putinesque and not particularly effective.

FOR YOUR DELECTATION. Volcano in the Kuriles from the ISS.

CAUCASIAN RUMOURS OF WARS. Another two weeks of bombs, assassinations and counter moves culminating in the attempted assassination of the President of Ingushetia. There’s no doubt in my mind that one of Putin’s biggest mistakes in the region was replacing Ruslan Aushev.

THE GREAT RUSSIAN MILITARY BUILDUP. The plan to build aircraft carriers has been dropped. Meanwhile this year the Russian Armed Forces added 10 tanks and 20 fighters to its roster. And 12 UAVs bought from Israel.

CSTO. The CSTO agreed to form a joint rapid reaction force involving troops from Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Russia, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. Before we have the usual comments, there are two things to bear in mind. First, this was tried before in the 1990s and nothing much came of it and second, the threat in that part of the world is from jihadism which is supposed to be a major role for NATO.

DAIRY WARS. These appear to be over; I have no idea what was going on; here’s some speculation and summary of theories. Certainly, if Moscow was trying to bully Minsk, it doesn’t seem to have succeeded.

DEMOGRAPHICS. A reminder that not just Russia has a demographic problem: the population of Ukraine has dropped from 52 million in 1990 to 46 million. Population loss is a widespread post-communist phenomenon.

HISTORY. Latvia is reported to have suspended its commission calculating the cost of the Soviet occupation; saving money was the reason given.

MANAS. Washington and Bishkek have come to an agreement on the use of the base. Bishkek had three principal concerns: the money, the possibility of the base’s use in US operations other than Afghanistan and alleged crimes. The rent has tripled and there is about $100 million for other things; the base is now supposed to be only for “the transport of non-military goods of a commercial nature”. As to extraterritorial issues, nothing has been said. So, it appears that Bishkek has got most of what it wanted. Medvedev approves.

EU REPORT ON SOUTH OSSETIA WAR. Der Spiegel has a piece purporting to be based on leaks from the uncompleted EU report on South Ossetia war, It will not give any comfort to Tbilisi; especially to Saakashvili’s (postwar) claim that Russian forces entered South Ossetia before Georgian forces did. Meanwhile Russia’s CGS has said the number of troops in South Ossetia and Abkhazia will be reduced. Further indications of a disconnect between the EU and Washington on views of Georgia as is the PACE report below.

GEORGIA. Open violence began on the 15th in front of the Interior Ministry. The police claim they were trying to arrest some people and the protesters fought back. Perhaps, but reporters were beaten and so was an identified member of Georgia’s Public Defender’s office. Readers are invited to scroll through this site to see other actions by the authorities of intimidation, kompromat at al. My guess is that it will get more violent, not least of all because of the way the protesters feel that they are being ignored by the West. Although PACE has noticed “the growing number of attacks by unknown assailants on opposition activists and peaceful demonstrators”.

© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Ottawa, Canada (see