NORTH CAUCASUS. Medvedev addressed the security problem: he spoke of corruption, socio-economic factors, the training and responsibility of police. He also recommended that jury trials be dropped for organised crime issues. Medvedev’s argument is “to ensure that criminals and corruptionists cannot exert pressure on courts hearing such cases”. For a similar reason he proposed that terrorism cases (jury trials already eliminated for them) be held in different parts of the country from where the crimes were committed. The organised crime proposal has attracted some opposition: for one thing, the temptation of the police to label every crime “organised” would be overwhelming, given that jury trials result in a higher rate of acquittal.

SUICIDE BOMBERS. Suicide attacks are back in the North Caucasus: on the 17th, 21st and 25th. Now that Iraq is much calmer, it is likely that the suicide bombers are being sent to the North Caucasus, Afghanistan and elsewhere. It’s a world-wide phenomenon in which a change in one battlefield affects the others. See this.

FRENCH SHIP. Confirming a rumour, the CGS said Moscow would buy Mistral class amphibious assault ships from France. I find this interesting for several reasons. Generally Russia makes its own weaponry and boasts of doing so; but this is the second foreign buy (Israeli UAVs the first) showing that a sense of reality about its capabilities is appearing. Second, it is another indication of the knock-on effect of Saakashvili’s military adventure with further evidence that Paris is revising its view of things. Third, is this the answer to the collapse of Russia’s aircraft carrier ambitions? Fourth, this is a power-projection ship designed to put a battle group on a foreign shore. Which shore? That question will produce a good deal of bloviating. A number of navies have such ships; the US has by far the most and the largest.

HEP ACCIDENT. On the 17th an accident shut down the Sayano-Shushenskaya HEP. The investigation is not complete but the culprit would appear to be that distressingly casual Russian approach to safety (see Chernobyl and Kursk). The sale of strong alcoholic drinks has been banned in the area.

ALCOHOL. Speaking of which, Medvedev held a meeting on the problem and a researcher gave some pretty eye-popping statistics.

THINGS YOU WON’T HEAR ABOUT. The British Council’s case against tax authorities has been upheld in a Russian arbitration court and a jury found a Moscow resident guilty of murdering a Jesuit priest.

GOVERNORS. The new system for choosing governors has begun with a vacancy in Sverdlovsk Oblast. The legislature (dominated by United Russia) has passed three names to Medvedev who must pick one (or return the choice). Medvedev insists that the Presidential Administration’s involvement was purely “administrative”.

CHECHNYA. Moscow Times reports that Kavkaz-Tsentr has announced a death sentence on Akhmed Zakayev. The jihadists evidently fear that he will take up Kadyrov’s offer of amnesty.

UKRAINE-RUSSIA. A recent poll shows a strong majority of Ukrainians holding “positive feelings” towards Russia but a negligible desire to become part of it. No surprise there.

SAAKASHVILI. Readers will know that I expected Saakashvili to be long gone. Obviously, I was wrong. I underestimated the effects of his near-total control of news outlets and his periodic promises of reform. The opposition never quite united and never tried to move protests out of Tbilisi. And, I guess, Georgians were unwilling to have the third president in a row be overthrown in the streets. But Georgia is unlikely to be in NATO anytime soon, South Ossetia and Abkhazia are lost for the foreseeable future, Saakashvili’s credibility has collapsed, the economy is stagnant (and much of the previous growth was illusory), the army has evidently decided to be neutral, his government is not very popular and the number of former colleagues in opposition is quite astounding – and revealing: after all they know him well. The next event to come into play will be the EU report on the war.

GEORGIA. US trainers have arrived. The US general naively said that the training had no application to Russia; the Georgian Defence Minister (just replaced) knows better. The last round, regardless of what the Americans thought they were doing, convinced Saakashvili that Georgia had “the best equipped and most technologically advanced” army in the region and that he “had the US support to carry out the military operation”. Sometimes the tail has its reasons of which the dog knows nothing.

© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Ottawa, Canada (see


UKRAINE. On the 11th Medvedev sent a sort of open letter to Ukrainian President Yushchenko complaining about relations and enumerating Russia’s complaints (for the majority of which Yushchenko would be most responsible). Reactions are appearing: some mocking, some thoughtful. I don’t understand the point of this. Yushchenko will not be the next President of Ukraine and whoever replaces him will have a more reasonable relationship with Russia. According to Gallup, approval of their government by Ukrainians is “the lowest in the world”. Surely the best thing for Moscow to do, if it wants a Ukrainian government interested in more than the “colour revolution package” of irritating Moscow and joining NATO, is to keep its mouth shut and wait for the Ukrainian people themselves to toss Yushchenko out. They need no encouragement from Medvedev: the “Orange Revolution” was based on false premises. As to the Ukrainian arms deliveries to Georgia (and I’d still like to know who paid for them), that’s percolating away in the background in Ukraine and needs no help from Medvedev either. It will likely re-surface with the new President in January, whether Tymoshenko or Yanukovych. So, altogether unnecessary, silly and rather whiney.

ECONOMY. Some numbers that aren’t as bad as previously. Unemployment is reported to have slightly declined (from 6.7 million to 6.3 million or 8.3% of the economically active population). GDP is reported to have grown 7.5% in the 2nd quarter over the 1st (but, year-on-year, is down 10.9%). Has it bottomed out?

THE MIGHTY RUSSIAN ARMS BUILDUP. Deputy PM Sergey Ivanov announced that the Russian Armed Forces would receive about US$15 billion nest year. To put this number in perspective, Canada’s defence budget this year was about the same. I know there is a big difference in purchasing power parity, and the Russian money will go much farther, but 15 billion is hardly an apocalyptical sum.

PIPELINES. The South Stream pipeline comes a little closer with a Turkish-Russian agreement last week. The two also agreed on construction of a Russian-built nuclear power plant, Turkey’s first.

STATE CORPORATIONS. Over the years Medvedev has mused that state ownership may have outlived its usefulness and I have been watching to see whether this would lead anywhere. He has ordered the Prosecutor General and the Director of the Presidential Control Directorate – interesting choices indeed! – to review and report on “the expediency of the future use of such business structures”.

CORRUPTION. A Moscow court has sentenced Andrey Taranov, the former head of Mandatory Health Insurance Fund, to 7 years in prison on corruption charges.

USE OF FORCE ABOARD. Medvedev has submitted to the Duma a draft law establishing authorisation to use Russian Armed Forces abroad. The reasons given are: to counter attacks on deployed troops; to counter or prevent an aggression against another country; to protect Russian citizens abroad; to combat piracy and ensure safe passage of shipping. No doubt other countries have similar legislation.

ANOTHER MURDER. The bodies of Zarema Sadulayeva (head of Let’s Save the Generation) and her husband, who were kidnapped in the 10th, were found the next day in Groznyy. Investigators wonder whether the target may have been her husband, Alik Jabrailov, who was formerly a fighter against the government. Interestingly, Akhmed Zakayev does not blame Kadyrov for the murders. A discussion of various theories here. Personally I have no clue: I can imagine jihadists and other interested parties wanting to embarrass Moscow and Kadyrev; I can imagine score-settling; I can imagine Kadyrov “cleaning house”. The murders will not be solved, although, like those in Novy Itagi in 1996, we may learn more years later. But there will always be problems with the credibility of sources.

CHECHNYA. To no one’s surprise, the authorities have announced a big increase in kidnappings and murders in Chechnya: the former are up from 4 to 23, and murders from 52 to 78. Crimes of “a terrorist nature” are down. But how can one separate jihadist activity, rebel activity, score-settling and “normal” “bizness”?

MOLDOVA. The four main opposition parties in Moldova have announced a coalition; 61 votes, of which they have 53, are required to name the next President; therefore they need support from some of the 48 Communists. If they fail, there will have to be another election.

© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Ottawa, Canada (see


PUTIN POPULARITY. At last a reasonably intelligent piece on Putin’s popularity. But, while it makes the important point strongly, it is still has some of the clichés that clutter up Western reporting. The important point is that Putin’s popularity has held up despite the fall in oil prices. However, it is a cliché that his popularity suffered with the Kursk sinking (presumably the feeling is that Western leader would in a similar case), the piece claims a “significant drop”, but the chart shows only about one point lost and soon regained. Someone is quoted dragging out the hoariest cliché of all: Russians’ alleged “lasting desire for strongman leadership”. No, it’s much simpler than that. Compare Russia’s prospects in 1999 with today’s. Russians give Putin’s team credit for the improvement across the board: higher standard of living, greater stability and cohesion, increased position in the world and all the rest. There’s nothing mysteriously Russian about it: people like effective leaders everywhere. Another point to reflect on is that many observers assume that they can measure political freedom by the level of opposition they perceive. They see opposition in Georgia or Ukraine but little in Russia. But, as the piece shows, since 2000 about seven out of ten Russians have approved of Putin; an observer will have to look much harder there to find an opponent than in the other two countries where the government structure is much less popular. There it’s easy to find opponents of the government: in Ukraine more than nine out of ten disapprove and in Georgia eight out of ten. And, I suspect, they are much more passionate about their disapproval.

POLITKOVSKAYA TRIAL. Has re-opened after the Supreme Court declared a mistrial in the last attempt. It was adjourned today to consider defence objections. Another case of Russia being damned if it does and damned if it doesn’t. It’s condemned because the case is still not resolved; it’s not congratulated that the government’s case failed to convince a jury.

SUBMARINES. Russian submarines off the US coast “raised concerns”, “assertive stance” “echoes of the cold war era” etc etc. But, according to the Russian Navy, such patrols never stopped. So why mention them now? And in the usual context which doesn’t even wonder whether the US makes similar patrols (it does)? As Stalin used to say: “the struggle intensifies”: many people want to undermine Obama’s “reset”.

SOUTH OSSETIA WAR. Saturday will be the first anniversary of the start of the fighting and there will be, no doubt, many think pieces written. Check them, dear readers, with these points in mind: any serious discussion ought to at least mention most of them. Background should start in 1918 when the Democratic Republic of Georgia attempted to add South Ossetia by force; then carry through Stalin-Jughashvili’s decision to cut Ossetia in two and give the southern half to the Georgian SSR; it should mention Ossetian demands to retain the rights they had had in the Soviet system (as an “Autonomous Oblast”); Tbilisi’s rejection of that; then the Georgian attack in 1991. Extra bonus points if anyone mentions the “hosts and guest theory” prevalent in Georgia in the late 1980s. All this left a legacy of mistrust and constant shooting back and forth. These think pieces should get the immediate chronology right too. On 7 August, Saakashvili gave a speech announcing a ceasefire and saying “I love Ossetians as a President and as an ordinary citizen of this country”. A few hours later, Georgian forces opened fire. Expecting a quick seizure of the bridge at Didi-Gupta and believing he had support from Washington, on the 8th Saakashvili gave a “victory speech”. But Georgian forces were stopped by Ossetian militia and collapsed and ran when Russian soldiers arrived, abandoning their cities and their weapons. Since then Saakashvili has changed his story several times; in particular he is now saying that the Russians moved first. There should be some understanding that Saakashvili’s former Defence Minister has admitted that an attack on South Ossetia was always part of the plan. There should be recognition of the truth that the Ossetians are actors, not Moscow puppets and that they have shown, by plebiscites and by fighting, that they do not want to be part of Georgia (at least as it has been constituted since Gamsakhurdia). All of these points should be considered. If they are not, you are reading a whitewash. Perhaps paid for by Saakashvili.

MOLDOVA ELECTION. In parliamentary elections, the Communists won a plurality but not a controlling majority.

UKRAINE GAS. The IMF has approved the third tranche of its US$16 billion stabilisation loan to Ukraine (about US$10 billion received so far). Gazprom has been paid in full for the gas pumped into Ukraine storage facilities in July. Perhaps we will have a quiet winter for once: the winter gas is getting there; it’s paid for.

© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Ottawa, Canada (see