REGIONAL ELECTIONS. Elections were held across Russia on Sunday and, as usual, United Russia dominated the results. The losing parties have charged fraud and walked out of the Duma on Wednesday in protest. What are we to make of this? It is very likely there was a degree of fraud, both from the top of the power pyramid and from the bottom. But there are objective reasons for the domination of United Russia. It is the party in power and the population has showed, in innumerable opinion polls, that it approves of the people in power; approval of Medvedev and Putin is easily transferred to their pedestal party. Some opposition parties have been led by the same people for 15 years: why should anyone decide that Zhirinovskiy and Zyuganov, who have been rejected time and time again, suddenly have the answers? As to the others, Yabloko, while it has a new leader, marginalised itself by its repeated refusal to collaborate with like-minded people, Just Russia has never really got off the ground and Other Russia is a stunt for Western naïfs. Therefore, in my opinion, fraud, pressure and the like can account for the margin of victory but not for the victory itself. The Russian “opposition” has found a comfortable niche which is personally profitable to its leaders while United Russia gets things done. Not an ideal situation to be sure, but one which many hands have made.
ECONOMIC CRISIS. In an interview Medvedev admitted, as he has before, that “the real damage to our economy was far greater than anything predicted by ourselves, the World Bank, and other expert organisations” and that unemployment is worse than expected. He believed the government had made some correct decisions especially in supporting banks and maintaining the level of social welfare payments. As before, he stressed the need to modernise the economy: “You know, whether we’re in a crisis or not in a crisis, we can safely say that the economic challenge facing us is the same: we need to modernise the economy.” And that won’t be soon: “Not a year, not two, not three, but maybe 10-15 years – that is a perfectly plausible time frame in which to create a new economy, an economy that will be competitive with other major world economies”.
TODAY’S FLAVOURED HEADLINE. “Statistics Chief Claims Number Shenanigans”; quotation from piece: “At least they don’t tell us how to monitor. They don’t try to manipulate figures.” Sheesh!
CLINTON VISIT. Reports suggest reasonably amicable meetings; details no doubt will come out evebtually.
IRAN. Medvedev has said that Moscow is against “the extension of the nuclear club” and this was echoed by the Chair of the Security Council. Moscow remains opposed to more sanctions, saying it sees them as ineffective. Or right now this minute anyway. Clinton is quoted as saying “I believe if sanctions become necessary, we will have support from Russia”.
MILITARY DOCTRINE. Yet another version is on the way and it, like its predecessors (I can’t quite remember – I’ve lost count of them – but certainly in 2000 and 2003) will say that a nuclear first strike is possible. I do not understood why Moscow feels it necessary to spell out the obvious: it would be much better advised to imitate NATO’s formless language: “Nuclear weapons make a unique contribution in rendering the risks of any aggression incalculable and unacceptable. Thus, they remain essential to preserve peace.”
PEOPLE POWER. A poll shows half its residents oppose a skyscraper in St Petersburg. We shall see whether their wishes continue to be ignored. The Governor, who approved it last month, now appears to be backtracking.
TBILISI AND JIHADISTS. The FSB Director says that evidence has been found that Georgian authorities are collaborating with and training jihadists who then go to the North Caucasus; Tbilisi has denied it. But the last time the Russians said that there were jihadists in Georgia, Tbilisi denied and denied until 2003 when it finally admitted the truth of Moscow’s statements. So, in my opinion, the Russian accusation should not be dismissed.
GEORGIA. The Labour Party promises revelations about Saakashvili’s corruption and has urged Washington to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the financial involvement of some US officials in “bankrolling” the “Rose Revolution”. Zurabishvili says a new wave of protests will begin 7 Nov. Meanwhile Tbilisi is irritating Berlin with its accusations that Germans involved in the EU report were bought by Moscow.
ARMENIA-TURKEY. The agreement was signed in Zurich on Saturday after a last-minute delay. I expect this success of multilateral patient diplomacy to bear fruit on the Karabakh problem eventually.
© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Ottawa, Canada (see http://www.russiaotherpointsofview.com/)