MEDVEDEV SPEECH. Last week Medvedev gave the annual Presidential address to Parliament. (Russ) (Eng). The principle theme was “modernisation”: “Today we are talking about modernisation – this is the essential aspect of my Address today – about our desire to be modern.” His definition: “A truly modern society is the one that seeks constant renewal, continuous evolutionary transformation of social practices, democratic institutions, visions of the future, assessments of the present, the one engaged in gradual but irreversible changes in technological, economic and cultural spheres, the steady improvement of the quality of life.” He understands that this involves a major psychic change: “Instead of an archaic society in which the leaders think and decide for everyone we will become a society of clever, free and responsible people” and “we ourselves will change too”. These speeches are made annually (the Constitution requires them, Art 84.f) and I am interested that, for practically the first time, the Kommentariat appears to have actually read the speech rather than skimmed it looking for some phrase it can twist into a threat. But old blinders are still on as many commentators spun it as a criticism of Putin, because they never bothered to read Putin’s speeches. Here from Putin’s speech in 2004 (the first I looked at): “We want high living standards and a safe, free and comfortable life. We want a mature democracy and a developed civil society… We are interested in further integration of the Russian economy into the international economy.” What many people cannot imagine is that this is a long-term project carried out by a team. Putin stabilised things; Medvedev is to modernise things. But it’s the same project. The doing of it, is, of course, the problem. It will be neither easy nor short. Nor entirely successful.

IRAN. The Bushehr NPP will not start this year as planned and the Iranian Defence Minister complains that Moscow has not fulfilled its promise to supply S-300 SAMs. Medvedev stated that Moscow and Washington could use “other means” if the talks on Iran’s nuclear program yield no results. Clearly a developing story.

LITVINENKO DEATH. German prosecutors have dropped their investigation of Dmitriy Kovtun because of lack of evidence. Is this the beginning of the end of this flimsy case? Readers who think there is a case against Lugovoy are invited to read this piece by US reporter Edward Jay Epstein.

TIME ZONES. One of Medvedev’s suggestions was to “examine the possibility of reducing the number of time zones”. This struck me as strange until I looked at a map which shows some rather curious divisions: there appear to be two spots in Siberia where, by merely turning around, one can be in three time zones.

CORRUPTION. Medvedev said “We need to take some very strong measures to cleanse the ranks of police and special services and rid them of the unworthy.” A policemen in Novorossiysk made a YouTube recording on corruption in the police force. The Interior Ministry has promised an investigation. Here’s Medvedev’s chance.

GOVERNORS. Russia has fiddled around with the method of choosing regional governors and we have just had the newest idea carried out. The dominant party in each region nominates three candidates, the President picks one and the legislature approves (or not). Eduard Rossel has been Governor of Sverdlovsk Oblast since 1995. He was duly nominated but Medvedev picked Aleksandr Misharin, deputy transport minister. It is rather probable that Rossel, controlling the resources he does, would have been re-elected so this method at least allows for new blood occasionally.

BUS ACCIDENTS. The head of the traffic police says that more than 5000 people have been killed or injured in driver-caused bus accidents in the first 9 months of 2009. Here is a film of one man lucky enough not to be.

HAPPINESS. A VTsIOM poll shows that about 70% of Russians say they are more happy than not. Which is another reason why they vote – those who do – for the establishment.

GAS GAMES. On Monday Russia and the EU signed a memorandum designed to avert another supply crisis. Right on cue, Ukrainian President Yushchenko started complaining about the existing deal. Readers are reminded that there is an election in Ukraine in which the President and PM are pitted against each other and that it was PM Tymoshenko who negotiated the existing deal. Blaming Tymoshenko, Yushchenko says the IMF has declined the latest tranche of its loan to Ukraine. There may be gas interruptions this winter, but they won’t be Moscow’s doing.

© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Ottawa, Canada (see


ELECTION FRAUD. Two opinion polls, both by Levada, give us data on how people say they voted in the elections last month. A poll of Muscovites (JRL/201/4) gives 46.1% for United Russia (official numbers 66.25%), 27.1% for the communists (13.3%), 11.8% for LDPR (6.13%), 7.9% for Just Russia (5.33%) and 3.7% for Yabloko (4.71%). A nation-wide poll asking the same question gives United Russia 47%, communists 13%, Just Russia 8%, LDPR 7% and Yabloko 2%. When the Yabloko leader said his vote hadn’t been counted at all, a recount was ordered and, lo! it was found that some Yabloko votes had “accidently” been miscounted. But these numbers do not give us a clear picture. Levada tells us that Muscovites voted communist at twice the rate of the nation; this seems improbable. Levada also tells us that fewer people voted for Yabloko than the official numbers give; this too seems improbable if the scenario were to inflate United Russia’s numbers and deflate the others. So, as always, an examination of the data we have deepens the mystery. The Yabloko leader has described what his people told him and it appears that fake voters was the preferred method. Medvedev met with the head of the CEC and said “All types of claims must be investigated thoroughly”. Well, we’ll see. These numbers make a prima facie cause for fraud favouring the pedestal party but leave us in the dark as to what degree of fraud there was.

STALINSHCHINA. Last Friday was the Remembrance Day of Victims of Political Repression and Medvedev made an address on his video blog. “It is impossible to imagine now the scale of terror which affected all the peoples of our country and peaked in the years 1937-1938… For twenty years before the World War II entire strata and classes of our society were eliminated… millions of people died as a result of terror and false accusations – millions… But even today you can still hear voices claiming that those innumerable victims were justified for some higher national purpose. I believe that no national progress, successes or ambitions can develop at the price of human misery and loss… But it is equally important not to sanction, under the guise of restoring historical justice, any justification of those who destroyed our people.” The Kommentariat will either ignore this or try and spin it into a difference between Medvedev and Putin (despite the latter’s similar remarks at the Butovo Memorial two years ago).

OPEL. The GM Board of Directors has voted to keep Opel, thereby blocking the Russian-Canadian offer to buy it; but workers in the Opal plants in Europe are not happy.

MARKELOV MURDER. It is reported that one of the suspects has confessed.

North Caucasus. More violence in the last two weeks but the authorities have done better: an assassination attempt on Kadyrov was said to have been prevented and the instigator killed, another senior “emir” was killed in Chechnya; “militants” were killed in Dagestan. Two suicide bombers were stopped in Groznyy. The Chechnya Interior Minister says that 144 “militants” have been killed since April, 118 of them in Chechnya. On the other hand, the imam of a village mosque in Dagestan was murdered (murder of Muslim clerics who oppose Wahhabism is an important jihadist tactic).

UKRAINE. Readers are reminded that there is a rather vicious election campaign in Ukraine in which President Yushchenko, whose ratings are very low, and PM Tymoshenko are rivals. It would be wise to regard all statements by either as part of that campaign. Yushchenko will be campaigning as the man who stands up to Russia and would like a crisis to prove it; Putin reports that Tymoshenko told him that he was blocking payments for Russian gas supplies. Tymoshenko will be campaigning as the person who can get things done and she has ordered a 3-week closure of schools and cinemas because of the H1N1 flu. Yushchenko then appealed for international help (including from NATO!). Yanukovych, the favourite, so far has been silent. He will no doubt be campaigning as the man Ukrainians should have picked in the first place.

GEORGIA. Two more reasons to be happy that Georgia is not in NATO. International PEN says that “mass media in Georgia is under strict censorship” and “government controlled broadcasting organisations are led by companies that are themselves part of the government administration”. The newly-appointed Public Defender (his predecessor has joined the opposition) reports that the human rights situation, especially in prisons, is “grave”. Meanwhile, we discover that the Foreign Minister of Georgia has Russian citizenship! He, after a Russian Duma member tried to get him stripped of it, has decided to renounce it.

© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Ottawa, Canada (see