REALITY BITES. NATO, having enjoyed a decade of expanding and ignoring Russia’s concerns, now finds itself, in the person of its Secretary-General, asking Moscow for help. Rasmussen was in Moscow looking for weapons and training to support NATO’s efforts in Afghanistan. Too bad the people in NATO didn’t listen harder in 2000 and early 2001, when Putin and Ivanov were warning about the common enemy. While Moscow certainly has no desire to see a jihadist-controlled Afghanistan, it has no reason to trust NATO which has failed to keep any of its promises to it. What can NATO offer Moscow in return? Will it make a binding declaration that there will be no more expansion? Can it, filled as it now is with new members who regard it as nothing but an anti-Russia organisation? It’s not surprising that Rasmussen left without any commitments. Just asking is not going to do the trick: NATO must acknowledge the mistrust it has built up.

NIGHTCLUB FIRE. Earlier in the month a fire in a nightclub in Perm killed about 150 people. The fire began when fireworks set off inside (!) ignited the place and the fire exits turned out to be locked. Sergey Shoygu, the long-time head of the Emergency Ministry, reported that inspectors “had turned a blind eye to the discrepancies for many years”. The disaster has sparked inspections throughout Russia and a list of 80 deficient Moscow clubs was published yesterday; 8 have been closed. No doubt more will follow.

YEVLOYEV DEATH. A court in the Ingush Republic sentenced Ibragim Yevloyev, the police officer who killed Magomed Yevloyev, to two years in prison upon conviction on accidental homicide charges.

GLONASS. Three more satellites were successfully launched on Monday. There are now 22 in orbit, enough to cover Russia and, with another two, to provide world-wide coverage. But the program is behind schedule and there are reported to be problems with the satellites.

GAYDAR. Yegor Gaydar died yesterday at the young age of 54. His role in the initial changes in the early 1990s will be hotly debated for years, particularly the removal of price controls. The empty stores that had characterised the later Gorbachev period filled up quickly but horrific inflation wiped out everyone’s savings. His actions remain unpopular today.

CAUCASIAN RUMOURS OF WARS. In the last few weeks the authorities have been having some successes but the jihadists struck back this week: two bombs in a gas pipeline in Ingushetia were defused; a Dagestan imam was wounded in a shooting, and in the Ingush Republic, a car bomb yesterday killed two in Nazran, and a suicide car bomb today wounded several. Something, come to think of it, NATO might pay more attention to.

IRAQ. A consortium of LUKoil (85%) and StatoilHydro (15%) has won an auction to develop the large (estimated at 12.88 billion barrels) West Qurna-2 oil field in Basra province, Iraq. The consortium expects to produce 1.8 million barrels per day.

PIPELINE. The Turkmenistan-Kazakhstan-Uzbekistan-China gas pipeline was officially opened on Monday. It is planned to pump 40 billion cubic meters annually in a couple of years of Turkmenistan gas to China.

STALIN. Evidently there is some sort of Stalinist revival in New York: a letter written by him sold for US$12,500 at Sotheby’s New York.

© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Ottawa, Canada (see


PUTIN PHONE-IN. On Saturday, Putin gave another marathon phone-in session (Eng) (Russ). As befits the Prime Minister’s job, everything was domestic (except for a bit about the WTO and the Jackson-Vanik amendment). The discussion was very detailed and, as ever, many questions were of the nature “My roof leaks, can you fix it?” My favourite bit was the presenter’s observation: “We have a lot of messages which quote the local authorities as saying: ‘We hear that Putin has promised it to you, so go and ask Putin’”. To which Putin replied: “Well, if you have such facts, let me know while we are on the air and we will sort out [мы разберемся] the people who give such answers.” Still a long way to go. And, once again he refused to give any indication of future plans. Here is his reason: “The biggest mistake would be to adjust our current work based on the interests of future election campaigns… When you start thinking about your ratings or about what you should do in the interests of future election campaigns, you will immediately feel tied to that and unable to make decisions some of which may be unpleasant but important for the economy and ultimately for the people.” Neither he nor Medvedev (nor Mr X) will ever say anything different before the event.

RUSSIA AND CLIMATEGATE. A few days ago articles in the UK media appeared intimating that the “Climategate” documents had been hacked/forged/whatevered by the Russian security services. Others have picked it up. The gist of the argument seemed to be that they were placed by the leaker on a server in Russia, that Russia has a lot of oil and that Russia is generally a sinister place (see van Ypersele’s comment in particular). The story collapses quickly – if they were clever enough to do it, they wouldn’t have leaked it from a Russian server.

HUMAN RIGHTS. Medvedev met with the Human Rights Ombudsman Vladimir Lukin yesterday who informed him that “the number of complaints has increased by a little more than 10 percent” December to December. The biggest increase (47%) concerned children’s rights; housing rights was next with a 42% and third was employment rights, up 20%. Medvedev expressed concern. The point of these rather wooden public exchanges, of course, is so that the populace can see them and understand that the President is behind them. (But “so go and ask Medvedev… ).

BULAVA LAUNCH FAILURE. Yesterday saw the seventh failure of this SLBM out of 12 launches. See “Strange lights over Norway”.

START. The treaty expired on Saturday but Medvedev and Obama stated they are working towards a new treaty and will observe the old in the meantime. Agreement is reported to be very close.

CAUCASIAN RUMOURS OF WARS. The FSB claimed that, so far this year, security forces had prevented 81 terrorist attacks in the North Caucasus this year and arrested 782 “members of illegal armed groups”.

INDIAN REACTOR. The USSR signed an agreement to build an NPP in Kudankulam, India, in 1988 but little happened until 1998. The head of RosAtom head has just said that the first reactor should start up in 2010. A somewhat faster rate of work than at Bushehr, where the Russian contract to finish what the Germans had begun was signed four years earlier. (Although Moscow has just promised to finish Bushehr “on time” – but “on time” has proved to be a flexible measurement).

UKRAINE ELECTION. Polls agree (here’s another) that, with about five weeks to go, Yanukovych is well ahead of Tymoshenko and President Yushchenko is far at the back. Indications therefore are that Yanukovych will head the first vote and beat Tymoshenko in the run-off. Either way, it’s probable that the NATO obsession, which has contributed to Ukraine’s political paralysis since the “Orange revolution”, will now stop.

MOLDOVA. In Moldova, the parliament chooses the head of state with 61 of 101 votes. The current dominant coalition (Alliance for European Integration) has 53 seats. Parliament again failed to elect someone (the Alliance nominated the same candidate who had been rejected last month). Neither side seems to be much inclined to compromise. The danger here is that some of the members of the Alliance, in former times at least, were in favour of Moldova’s joining Romania. This was the spark that set off war in the largely Slavic territory of Transdnestr (which was not part of Romania in the first place, having been added to territory gained from Romania in 1940 when Stalin created the Moldavian SSR). An idea altogether better forgotten at present.

© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Ottawa, Canada (see


RUSSIA AND EUROPE. Readers will know that since the Ossetia war I have been predicting a change in European attitudes towards Russia. My argument is that many there have realised what a bill of goods they were sold about Saakashvili, Georgia and Russia (to say nothing about the gas supply problem) and will therefore be re-considering their ideas about Russia’s alleged hostility. Some more indications: Medvedev seems to have had a fruitful visit to France and I would expect similar results when he visits Italy today. Furthermore, it appears that his ideas on a new security treaty (Russ, Eng) are at least being listened to rather than dismissed as they first were. And, interestingly enough, Berlusconi just visited Belarus signalling the end of the shunning of “Europe’s last dictator”.

NATO EXPANSION. Russians have been saying NATO promised not to expand. Are they right? Apparently.

IRAN. Russia’s representative on the IAEA voted with Western countries to criticise Tehran for its nuclear program. Ahmadinejad was not best pleased. So, Bushehr delayed, no SS-300s and now this.

DEMOGRAPHICS. More gradual improvements are reported as births continue to increase and deaths decrease. One analyst expects that, at present rates, the two rates will cross over in 18 months or so. A rather large drop (even suspiciously so – there is a mild anti-alcohol campaign on) in alcohol consumption is reported.

CW. The Foreign Ministry has announced that so far, Russia has destroyed 45% of its CW stocks in line with its obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention. All are supposed to be gone by 2012.

GAS. At their meeting a couple of weeks ago, Tymoshenko promised Putin that Ukraine would fulfill all its commitments. Gazprom is estimating a price next year of US$280 tcm with a reduced supply – it and Naftohaz agreed to cut gas deliveries by 35% in 2010. Then Medvedev said that Belarus’s price would be 30-40% lower than for EU states in 2010. For comparison, Germany was paying about $230 tcm in October; but it pays a fluctuating price which, a year earlier was $576 tcm. Russia is still subsidising its neighbours. But to a lesser degree than before.

MAGNITSKIY. The lawyer for Hermitage Capital Management, Sergey Magnitskiy died in prison in Moscow where he had been held on a tax dispute for a year. Medvedev ordered an investigation on the 24th. A consequence it appears of Russia’s brutal pre-trial detention rules and the appalling condition of the ancient and overcrowded prison. For what it’s worth, the prosecutors say he was involved in a scheme to illegally buy and sell Gazprom stock.

ZAKONIKI. A year or so ago I joked that, given Medvedev’s utterances about “legal nihilism”, the Kommentariat would stop talking about the siloviki and start talking about the sinister zakoniki behind him. Well, it hasn’t happened, but Russia’s top courts and RIA-Novosti have announced a program to “provide prompt and objective coverage of the Russian judiciary and legal system”.

RUSSIA INC. As of 20 November, Russia’s international reserves were up again to US$443.8 billion. GDP fell 8% year-on-year in October but has been inching up over the last five months. Foreign investment is way down however; that decline is, of course, not just because of Russia’s actions and events.

HISTORY WARS. For those among you who read Russian, here is a site with a lot of Russian historical documents. Evidently part of Medvedev’s Get the History Right project.

TERRORISM. A bomb derailed the Nevskiy Express on the 27th, killing a number of people. The police are tending to suspect jihadists. On the 20th a priest was murdered in his church, there may be a similar connection. Another bomb on a railway line in Dagestan failed to do damage.

STATUES. The Lenin statue in Kiev that was vandalised in June has been restored and re-erected. Does that mean that Leninism has returned to Kiev? And Moscow’s Worker and Collective Farm Woman statue has been re-erected after a long renovation.

THINGS YOU WON’T HEAR. A poll in the Czech Republic poll shows 80% of the respondents happy with Obama’s decision to stop the missile deployment. A poll in Poland just after the decision also showed approval. Clearly a gap between certain politicians and the population here.

© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Ottawa, Canada (see