ELECTION FEVER. Recent remarks by Medvedev and Putin have set off a Kommentariat feeding frenzy of will-they-won’t-they run again. I’m tired of this analytical bankruptcy: there is more happening in Russia than can be reduced to the actions of a few people at the top of the power pyramid. But, more importantly, it is unreflective. Neither Medvedev nor Putin is ever going to say out loud whether and for what position he is going to stand in the future. If, for example, Putin were to say he was tired of working like a “galley slave” and would open a fishing lodge in Yakutia in the new year, there would be immediate upheaval in the bureaucracy and power structure as kratotropic timeservers sought a new power source to connect to. The Russian government is not so well-structured and stable that it can smoothly hum away on its own while the men at the top change. There is also a stubborn inability to observe. Putin never signalled personnel changes in advance. I commend three case studies: the replacement of Sergeyev by Ivanov as Defence Minister, the replacement of Vyakhirev by Miller at Gazprom and the blessing of Medvedev as President. There were no hints: he never gave away his thinking, but when he thought he had the right man, he acted. It is too early to see whether Medvedev follows the same modus operandi, but I would be surprised if he didn’t. And if the two should ever doubt the wisdom of keeping quiet about their intentions, all they have to do is observe the political paralysis in their immediate neighbour caused by the open hostility between President Yushchenko and Prime Minister Tymoshenko. Continuing speculation about whether Putin will become President betrays a refusal to comprehend that, had he wanted to, he could be President right now: the question is not “will he or won’t he?” but “why didn’t he?”. Finally, it should be noticed that the will-he-won’t-he obsession of the Kommentariat now involves two people: to that extent Russia has advanced in political pluralism.

MV ARCTIC SEA. A spokesman for Investigation Committee of the Prosecutor General’s Office says no “compromising” cargo has been found on the ship. The theory that it was carrying missiles to Iran is inherently improbable: it would have been far easier to put them on a train to the Caspian and ship them direct to Iran. But, probability is often ignored when it’s about Russia.

TOILETS. Yulia Latynina, who evidently hasn’t heard that there is no press freedom in Russia, has written (another) piece attacking the system: Medvedev is Putin’s “obedient sidekick” and Russia is “completely ungovernable”. I don’t know why she feels she has to use such absolute terms: completely ungovernable?

CORRUPTION. It is reported that criminal charges have been laid against a company for faking the age of replacement parts for the MiG-29s which Algeria rejected last year. The Defence Minister has ordered a probe into corruption charges, reported by Novaya Gazeta, against the Airborne Troops commander.

CASPIAN OIL. LUKoil has announced that it plans to start extracting oil from the Russian sector next spring.

MUSLIM CLERIC MURDERED. On Sunday, Ismail Haji Bostanov, the deputy chairman of the Spiritual Board of Muslims of the Karachay-Cherkess Republic and former Rector of the Karachay-Cherkess Republic Muslim Institute, was assassinated. He was a strong opponent of Wahhabism, describing them in 2001 as “doing their utmost to spread hatred of mankind”. The murder of influential Muslim opponents is an important tactic of the international jihad.

YUSHCHENKO POISONING. Readers will recall the mysterious affliction suffered by Viktor Yushchenko in 2004 which was diagnosed as dioxin poisoning caused by “unknown opponents” (nudge-nudge wink-wink). Apart from the inherent improbability of poisoning someone with something that might kill him in 20 years, I have been struck with the fact that, despite Yushchenko’s being President for four and a half years, we have heard nothing more about it. Or perhaps not: a Ukrainian parliamentary commission; inspired by the conclusions of a prosecutor who alleges that his blood samples had dioxin added to them in the USA and implicated his wife in the fraud, wants an official inquiry. I doubt we will learn more as long as Yushchenko is President.

ANOTHER. Sozar Subari, the former Public Defender, has joined the Georgian opposition. There’s been another leak that the long-delayed EU report will not be to Saakashvili’s liking. The opposition may be re-activated by it when it (supposedly) comes out next week. Saakashvili is preparing its reception by suggesting that Moscow bought the commission.

© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Ottawa, Canada (see