MISSILES. Washington has given up missile system deployment in the Czech Republic and in Poland. (White House Pentagon), an idea never very popular in either country. A good deal of the comment accuses Washington of abandoning eastern Europe to the “Russian menace”. This is very ironic: when Moscow complained that it saw the missiles as a possible threat, everyone pooh-poohed it and insisted that it was only about Iran. Now it turns out that many saw them precisely as a counter to Russia. (Indeed we see this logic here: we say that what we do is not a threat to Russia; but the Russians think it is; that is itself threatening; therefore we must counter this Russian threat). I am encouraged that there seems to be some opening to Russian participation in the new scheme. But, more details to follow no doubt.
MILITARY REFORM. At the Valdai meeting, one of the authors of the military reform plan (he doesn’t like the word “reform”; he prefers “revolution”) described it. “Russia is giving up the mass army prepar[ed] for a large-scale war. That old system was introduced by War Minister Dmitriy Milyutin in 1874. The purpose was to have a rather small regular army for peace time and a huge pool of reservists… And that was followed for almost 150 years”. But there is now no need for it today: “No mobilization, no large-scale war, no threats from NATO”. The aim now is about one million in the standing forces with reserves of about 100,000. However, tactical nuclear weapons will be “the replacement for those reserves, dozens and dozens of reserve divisions in case of something happening. It is not considered a real threat at the present time. But when they speak about Chinese spread or NATO spread, you cannot just dismiss it as something impossible”. Russia is adopting NATO’s strategy of the 1950s: nuclear weapons as the equaliser. But it is painful: “And it is difficult to accept with the military mind, that is why lots of officers are unhappy about what is going on. But it should have been done, in my opinion, five, 10 – maybe even better – 15 years ago. What’s being done is overdue.”
COLOURS OF RUSSIA. I recommend a look at this. “The Colours Group of Canada addresses the need to eliminate the out-dated and often negative cultural stereotypes perpetrated by global media.”
ALCOHOL. Medvedev has instructed the government to prepare a plan to regulate alcohol production and use. Here are some statistics; they don’t look especially bad to me as an average, but binge drinking (запой) is quite common and that is more dangerous than steady quiet soaking.
CORRUPTION. The Head of the Voronezh Oblast branch of Agency for Federal Property Management, Zafeddin Mikailov, was arrested on suspicion of taking a bribe.
BONY. It is reported that that the Bank of New York Mellon is very near settlement on a money laundering suit brought by Moscow. Of course, the story was reported rather differently in 1999: “USA Today reported Thursday that Russian organized crime figures laundered at least $15 billion”.
TERRORIST ATTACKS. The past week has brought at least three suicide attacks in the North Caucasus. Confirming my deduction that the area has (again) become a magnet for the international jihad, Ingush Republic President Yevkurov has said that “Out of 30 recently killed participants of illegal armed formations, 27 were foreigners”.
NAVY. The head of the Navy announced that Moscow plans to hold an international tender for the purchase of a helicopter carrier; France, Spain and the Netherlands were mentioned as bidders. With the customary opacity of the MoD, it’s not clear whether this is exclusive of the announcement that it would buy a Mistral-class amphibious assault ship from France. But it is certainly an indication of the deficiencies of Russia’s shipyards.
WHAT A DIFFERENCE A YEAR MAKES. A year ago NATO was all in a huff about Russia, yesterday the new NATO Secretary General, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, called for an “open-minded and unprecedented dialogue” with Moscow, taking into account “that Russia has legitimate security concerns”. What could have made the difference I wonder? Could reports like this, or this, or this have had an influence?
CHAVEZ VISIT. Venezuelan President Chavez visited Moscow; announced Caracas’ recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia and did some arms deals involving, it is said, tanks, MLRSs and possibly SSMs. Not, I would have thought, much use to Venezuela but they will, not doubt, look impressive on parade.
© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Ottawa, Canada (see http://www.russiaotherpointsofview.com/)