JUST WHAT RUSSIA NEEDS. Another liberal/social democrat opposition party. But it has been announced that Gorbachev’s Independent Democratic Party of Russia will hold its founding congress in early September. I would estimate that 10 to 15% to the electorate would be sympathetic to something like this (although the “pedestal parties” long since stole the economic platforms) but for some reason Russian liberals absolutely refuse to cooperate with each other and there doesn’t appear to be much sign that they ever will. Each is prepared to unite – but only under his leadership.

KARABAKH. At a side meeting of the G8, Russia, France and the USA announced they would submit a revised set of proposals to resolve the Karabakh problem to Yerevan and Baku. Like South Ossetia, Abkhazia, Chechnya and Transdnestr, this particular attempt to revise Stalin’s cartography started up in the dying days of the USSR in an. After quite serious fighting over several years, the Karabakhians secured their independence and occupied a swath of Azerbaijan territory linking themselves to Armenia. Like the other issues (except Chechnya for some reason) the “international community” generally ignores the secessionists, regarding them as the finger puppets of recognised states. External attempts to mediate the issue have foundered on the assumption that it’s only a Baku-Yerevan issue. But that is folly: the Karabakhians won their independence and they will not allow it to be traded away by somebody else. Any solution must return a substantial amount of territory to Baku and assure Stepanakert that it will not be governed from Baku and offer veterans of the fighting enough to satisfy them. Not an easy thing to achieve. Over the years, however, the rough form of a settlement has emerged: Karabakh remains nominally in Azerbaijan but in reality controls its own destiny; some access to Armenia is secured, the other land is returned to full Azerbaijan control. Naturally, there would have to be some strong peacekeeping force in place (and who would volunteer for that?). Nonetheless it is encouraging that Washington-Moscow and Paris are getting involved: the combination may be able to deliver. The preliminary meeting of the Armenian and Azerbaijanian presidents will be held in Moscow this weekend.

BLACK SEA FLEET. The Black Sea Fleet in the Soviet days was based in Crimea. When the USSR broke up, the Russia portion of the fleet negotiated a lease to stay there. The current lease expires in 2017. On Tuesday Medvedev visited Novorossiysk and announced that construction of a new base was underway and should be complete by 2020. What appeared to be a strong intimation that the fleet would finally leave Ukraine was immediately muddied when the Chief of the General Staff announced that Moscow hoped to extend the lease. Moscow should bite the bullet, finish the base and move the fleet to it as soon as possible. Perhaps Medvedev will issue a clarification.

AIRCRAFT LOSSES IN SOUTH OSSETIA. Moscow Defense Brief says that Russia actually lost 6 aircraft in the fighting (Moscow admits to 4), three of them to Russian fire because the lack of cooperation between Army and Air force “led them to conduct completely separate campaigns”. The General Staff has denied the report.

ANOTHER MURDER. Natalya Estemirova was kidnapped in Chechnya yesterday and her body was found in Ingushetia. The Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev has pledged action. While it is possible that the murder will be quickly solved, it is more likely that it won’t and the usual rumours will replace fact.

GEORGIA. The opposition has announced that it will spread protests throughout Georgia. Meanwhile Burjanadze was in France presenting evidence of government repression. Saakashvili continues to tighten control with a new law on protest rallies and a stronger grip on the news media. He assured the Georgian people that the new presidential palace a-building cost a “trifle”.

BEREZOVSKIY. It is reported that Ukrainian investigators interviewed Berezovskiy about the alleged poisoning of President Yushchenko in 2004. If true, that’s a new and curious twist to this long unsolved mystery.

NABUCCO. The gas pipeline moved a step forward with Turkey, Austria, Hungary, Bulgaria and Romania signing an intergovernmental agreement on the line (Caspian to Europe via Turkey). Naturally, in the zero-sum thinking that infests the subject of pipelines, some hailed it as a way to cut Russia out. But, for what it’s worth the Turkish PM invited Russia and Iran to join the project.

© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Ottawa, Canada (see