RUSSIAN FEDERATION WEEKLY SITREP 19 November 2009

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 http://www.russiaotherpointsofview.com/)