JIHADIST WAR IN RUSSIA. The jihadist war continues in the North Caucasus. After the deaths of Khattab in 2002 and Basayev in 2006, jihadist activity slowed greatly; but a new leader, who has re-animated the “Caucasus Emirate” has appeared, (Said Abu Saad Buryatskiy). His new tactics use suicide bombers to target the security forces and other opponents. Since the last Sitrep, there has been a murder attempt on an imam, car bombs in Nazran and elsewhere in Ingushetia, a police chief murdered in Dagestan, a bomb defused in Kabardino-Balkaria, a suicide car bomb in Makhachkala and today mines near a railway line in North Ossetia. However, in strong contrast with their ineffectiveness when the international jihadists arrived 15 years ago, the authorities also win some: a group, together with an important leader was killed in Chechnya; another group with its leader was killed in Dagestan. The last produced a document showing payments (reportedly local extortions as well as monies from UAE, Georgia, Turkey and Azerbaijan). Two more were killed today in Dagestan. This is, of course, the very same war, animated by the same ideology, using the same methods and fought for the same purpose, which we see in the USA, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia and around the world. It’s just being fought in a different place. But, because that place is Russia, many in the Kommentariat cannot make the connection. (And I’m not convinced that very many intelligence and security services truly understand it either).

POPULATION. The Health and Social Development Minister said that, as of 1 November, the population was 141.9 million and by 1 January it would be 15,000 to 25,000 larger than it had been the year before. The increase comes from immigration (about a third of a million) because the natural decline continues. Although at a slower rate: the birth rate is up about 3% and the death rate down about the same. The government program is having an effect at both ends of the demographic problem.

FINANCIAL CRISIS. Last week Medvedev said that Russia had passed through the worst of the global financial crisis and he anticipated modest growth in 2010. Indications suggest he is correct in thinking so.

INTERIOR MINISTRY. Medvedev has signed a decree ordering the Interior Ministry Staff to undertake reform because “there has been a recent increase in offences against law and disciplinary infractions committed by police officers”. It is reported that some of the aims are a 20% staff reduction and a review of selection procedures. Eradicating corruption – which is to say, getting it down to “normal G7levels – will be a long, weary effort for Medvedev and his successors.

STREET THEATRE. Here we go again: “opposition” groups apply for a demonstration permit; the city refuses, claiming the location was already booked; they march there anyway; they are arrested and soon released; Western governments huff and puff. When they march where the city permits them (and what city allows anyone to demonstrate anywhere at any time?) nothing happens.

THINGS THAT AREN’T REPORTED. There are all kinds of projects in Russia that don’t get much mention. Two items caught my eye recently: an upgrade of the control system for Russia’s railways and the “modernity” of the ambulance in this photo. Not all of Russia’s new money is being spent on yachts and fast cars.

PEOPLE POWER. There was a blow to the opposition to Gazprom’s proposed high-rise in St Petersburg when the city council voted against holding a referendum on its construction.

GAS. Gazprom has announced that Belarus will be charged about $168 tcm in the first quarter of 2010 (up from 2009’s average price of US$150 tcm). Meanwhile Russia and Turkmenistan have agreed on gas supplies at the European price level (last year’s price was about US$300 tcm).

CUSTOMS UNION. As of Friday, Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus have begun using common customs tariffs. It is planned to introduce a common customs space in July and a single economic space in January 2012.

UKRAINIAN ELECTION. The last poll before the presidential election on the 17th shows Yanukovych leading comfortably (about 30%), Tymoshenko second (about 20%) and Yushchenko far behind. Therefore, Yanukovych will not likely win on the first round but will presumably on the second against Tymoshenko on 7 February. I would suggest that any other result would be prima facie evidence of severe cheating, given that these polling results have held for the past couple of years. I wonder who really won in 2004.

© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Ottawa, Canada (see