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