RUSSIAN FEDERATION WEEKLY SITREP 28 January 2010

PUTIN’S VIEW. Occasionally we get a succinct indication of Putin’s thinking. Here’s one from a meeting with the State Council on Friday: “We must not allow our political culture to follow a Ukrainian scenario, and we must also prevent it from sliding into totalitarianism and despotism. Unfortunately, we know examples of this within the post-Soviet space”. A not unreasonable via media.

NATO. Relations proceed as NATO continues its self-educational process of realising Russia is more important than it used to think it was.

PREDICTION. A study by PricewaterhouseCoopers predicts that, by 2050, Russia’s economy will be the sixth-largest in the world and larger than any in Europe. There are too many future unknowns to put much stock in these kinds of predictions but it is interesting (amusing?) to juxtapose this with the commonplace predictions that Russia will collapse, sink into permanent poverty or that Russians will disappear from the earth.

VOTING. The Central Elections Committee has proposed the elimination of preliminary voting; it is widely regarded as the principal means of “improving” election results. (I refuse to say “fixing”: under no conceivable circumstances, with the government so supported and the opposition so irrelevant, would United Russia not dominate elections across the country).

SHAYMIYEV. I have long been intrigued by Mintimer Shaymiyev who has been more or less running Tatarstan since 1989 (and a major player there since 1983). I was impressed by the negotiation of the power-sharing treaty with Moscow in the 1990s (which still has legs: I love that “associated (объединенное) with the Russian Federation”) and the way in which Moscow was skilfully manipulated by Kazan. Indeed, at one point in the First Chechen War Shaymiyev’s website could not resist pointing out how much cleverer he had been than Dudayev had been in Chechnya. Dudayev threw away the power-sharing treaty that the Chechen parliament negotiated with Moscow in 1992: because freedom needed sacrifice. On the contrary, one of the Tatarstan negotiators told me, never did they make the mistake of breathing the word “independence”. On Friday he announced he would not seek another term as President and will retire in March. Age, presumably, he’s 73 (and maybe a gentle hint from Medvedev). Tatarstan seems to be one of the better-off and more peaceful parts of the Federation. Medvedev has nominated PM Rustam Minnikhanov. Who knows, maybe the Mayor of all the Moscows (who is 74) will hang up his hat next!

KARABAKH. On Monday the Presidents of Russia, Armenia and Azerbaijan met in Sochi and agreed to a “preamble” to an agreement on Karabakh. For some years this issue seems to have been snatched back from solution at the last moment: often what happens is that the war veterans in all three participants (it’s important to remember there are three; it’s not just between Yerevan and Baku) protest any compromise.

IRAN. Foreign Minister Lavrov is quoted as saying that Moscow is disappointed with Tehran’s reaction to the proposal on nuclear fuels and added that “it is impossible to wait forever”. “Forever”, however, is a long time and doesn’t preclude more waiting.

GEORGIA. The Georgian government has issued a policy statement on South Ossetia and Abkhazia. It’s the usual stuff except for this: “Georgia seeks to achieve these objectives only through peaceful means and diplomatic efforts, and rejects the pursuit of a military solution”. For years Moscow tried to get Tbilisi to formally renounce force (and the ceasefire agreement does oblige it to do so) so this may mean something. But, on the other hand, there is no reason to believe anything that comes out of Saakashvili or his government. And, of course, the statement appears only now that the territories have been lost to Tbilisi for the foreseeable future and the Ukrainian election (in which Saakashvili seems to have tried to meddle) has removed one of Saakashvili’s most important friends (and weapons suppliers – will the new Ukrainian President will look into that murky story?). Finally, a strategy of “engagement through cooperation” might have been a winner in 1989, but it’s too late now: Tbilisi has attacked the two too many times.

© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Ottawa, Canada (see http://www.russiaotherpointsofview.com/)