RESPECT AND INFLUENCE. Two centuries ago John Jay wrote: “If they [foreign powers] see that our national government is efficient and well administered, our trade prudently regulated, our militia properly organized and disciplined, our resources and finances discreetly managed, our credit re-established, our people free, contented, and united, they will be much more disposed to cultivate our friendship than provoke our resentment.” True then and true now. A Medvedev interview touches on many of these points: “Just as our foreign policy has a direct impact on living standards here at home, so does our success at home have a direct impact on how others perceive us.” He knows Russia has some distance to go: “So long as others see Russia as a country with an unacceptably high level of corruption we will be treated accordingly.” If you want to know what the Russians think about things, read what they say; not what other people want you to think they said.
CORRUPTION. Medvedev has called on people “not to be afraid to use [the new anti corruption laws]”. In the interview cited above, he admits that so far his efforts have had “very modest results”.
MAIL. Law enforcement agencies are now empowered to inspect private mail. With a court order. Which, in the realities of Russia, is a flimsy safeguard.
NGOs. Medvedev has approved a simplification of the registration rules for Russian NGOs.
POLITKOVSKAYA. It is announced that a new murder trial is to begin 5 Aug. I think that the prosecutors got it right (and the editors of Novaya Gazeta seem to agree) but the last trial was completely bungled. As so many prosecutions have been: the best lawyers are working somewhere else; mob hits are notoriously difficult to prove thanks to cutouts, intimidated witnesses and the expendable triggermen; the police are incompetent and corrupt (one policeman acted as the spotter for the murderers it is said). Very few prosecutions do the job in modern Russia.
RELIGION. In a meeting with leaders of Russia’s four “traditional” religions (Orthodoxy, Islam, Judaism and Buddhism), Medvedev expressed support for voluntary religious instruction in schools and chaplains in the Armed Forces. It will be interesting to see how the kommentariat spins this one.
CHECHNYA. An effort is underway to bring back into the fold the last remaining independence fighters so as to gain their cooperation against the jihadists. Talks with Akhmed Zakayev in particular.
BASES. A Russian admiral says the Black Sea Fleet should have at least two main bases: one in Sevastopol and Novorossiysk. I think it should have as many bases as it wants. But they should all be in Russia.
GEORGIA. Just before Biden’s visit Saakashvili promised reforms: the opposition is scornful. What are his promises worth anyway? A few hours before Georgian forces opened fire on Tskhinvali last year, he said “I have been proposing and I am proposing Russia act as a guarantor of South Ossetian autonomy within Georgia”. The opposition has suspended its regular Tbilisi street protests but promises to keep working to get rid of Saakashvili. Not a failure: Biden seems to have taken to heart Burjanadze’s appeal to support Georgia not Saakashvili. In the Wall Street Journal interview (which has been spun, in my opinion, as far more hostile to Russia than it really was) Biden was asked about Saakashvili’s reform promises: “I’m not concerned, but I’m not taking any chances. The opposition believes the only reason he said it was because I was coming. The opposition said to me the only reason he did some of the stuff he did in terms of backing off the demonstrations was because I told him…” Saakashvili wanted weapons; he has been refused. The Daily Telegraph reports that the EU report on the war has been delayed. This leads me to suppose that it will not support Saakashvili’s various stories. Pretending that the fact that Georgian forces opened fire on Tskhinvali at midnight doesn’t matter is absurd: does anyone seriously think that Russia would have “invaded” anyway if Saakashvili had actually meant what he said? Extracting what he can from Biden’s visit, Saakashvili says “Putin’s plan to completely occupy and to destroy Georgia: has now been foiled”. Perhaps this will put an end to all the op-eds predicting that Moscow is about to do what it could have done last year but didn’t.
BIDEN IN UKRAINE. He appears to understand that the gas problem is not just Moscow: he is reported to have observed that allowing local consumers pay fractional rates for gas means that Naftohaz is always short of money to pay Gazprom.
© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Ottawa, Canada (see http://www.russiaotherpointsofview.com/)