THE SOBCHAK INFLUENCE. Medvedev and Putin are disciples and admirers of Anatoliy Sobchak and both commemorated the tenth anniversary of his death on Saturday. Medvedev, who knew him as one of his students and later worked with him in St Petersburg, gave praise to “the man who first brought legitimacy to Soviet politics”. In an interview for a program on his life and work, Putin paid very high tribute to him. He described how he began working for him when he was Mayor of St Petersburg, how he quit the KGB in the August 1991 coup attempt (“I wrote a letter of resignation in the first hours after the coup began… The point is that I had made my choice and I could not change it. It was my duty to be there, defending our shared ideals and the concept of national development which Mr Sobchak and I had put into words and implemented together.”) and how much he learned from him in work habits and morality: “The time when I worked with Mr Sobchak was the most valuable part of my education. It was in that period that my basic principles of work and communication took shape. The fundamentals of my personal principles and behaviour probably began to develop much earlier, at home and later at the university, where I studied and he taught. However, my work with him had tremendous practical significance for me”. So we have both the present and previous Presidents telling us that they regard Sobchak as their mentor and example and regard their times working under him as formative. Perhaps, the Kommentariat should pay more attention to this relationship and less to the lazy assumption that all we need to know is that Putin was a KGB officer and Medvedev is his sock puppet.
POLICE REFORM. Reform of the Interior Ministry started with a bang as Medvedev dismissed 15 senior MVD generals, including 2 Deputy Ministers (they to be replaced by civilians). Some were dismissed because of violations of the law by them or their subordinates, some to clear the way for new people. As the Russians (and many others) say: “The fish rots from the head” (although the Minister himself appears to be safe. And in uniform as an Army General: surely it is time to stop giving Armed Forces ranks to policemen.)
ENERGY. Putin has signed a resolution setting out the principles of Russia’s long-term energy market, Details are not yet out but he promises clear and consistent regulations that companies will have to work within (and punishment if they do not). As has suddenly become fashionable, he proposes investment for new nuclear power plants.
LAW AND ORDER. Members of a racist skinhead gang the “White Wolves” (interestingly, one of them has a Georgian surname) have received heavy sentences for numerous murders. Investigators say they have identified a suspect in the murder of Natalia Estemirova.
NATO. Confusing messages out of NATO: US Secretary of State Clinton calls for cooperation: “While Russia faces challenges to its security, NATO is not among them”; Secretary General Rasmussen says NATO has not given up plans to accept Georgia and Ukraine. By the way, the new Russian military doctrine distinguishes between a “military danger” (военная опасность) and a “military threat” (военная угроза). NATO expansion is the former and clearly not as serious as the latter.
UKRAINE. Viktor Yanukovych was inaugurated today as President and made a speech to the Rada (with several Christian references, interestingly) in which he pledged that Ukraine sought good relations all round and would not join any military alliances (“We are ready to participate in such processes as a European non-aligned state”). Symbolising this, his first trips abroad will be to Brussels (1 March) and Moscow (5 March). Tymoshenko withdrew her court challenge but, as she did, claimed the court was biased and insisted that she did not recognise Yanukovych as President. Her party (modestly named the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc) boycotted Yanukovych’s address. So, the question for the Ukrainian political system is whether Yanukovych’s party can put together a coalition and oust her as PM or whether we will have another period of the (same) PM opposing everything a (different) President does. Amusingly, Berezovskiy has excoriated the Ukrainian people for their vote: many suspect that he was one of the people behind the “Orange Revolution”.
© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Ottawa, Canada (see http://www.russiaotherpointsofview.com/)