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.
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”.
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 http://www.russiaotherpointsofview.com/)