MILITARY DOCTRINE. On Friday Medvedev signed off on the latest military doctrine (officially the third after 1993 and 2000). I don’t see anything very different from its predecessors: NATO expansion, terrorism, nuclear weapons will be used if we think we have to. (The last seems to be hailed as a new development whenever it appears: in 2010 or 1999; but it’s every nuclear power’s actual policy). Perhaps there’s a bit more emphasis on modernisation of the Armed Forces and their equipment as a consequence of deficiencies discovered in the Ossetia war. I must confess, I never understand what these documents are supposed to do: large sections are simply a list of the obvious. For example: “36. The main tasks of military planning are” a, b, c, d, e, f; all of which could be summarised as “to plan for eventualities”. But they must serve some planning or authorisation purpose in the Russian bureaucratic structure. A calm and thoughtful assessment here.
TROUBLE IN PARADISE. It’s a cliché in certain circles that Russia has “annexed” Abkhazia. Apart from the fact that this is not formally true, all my sources indicate that Abkhazia seriously believes it can be an independent country: it would not be the smallest in the world. But, grateful as Abkhazians may be for Russia’s protection against Georgia, and economically dependent on it as they now are, they are not an appendage of Moscow (see 2004 election, for example). As an example we have a problem over the alleged seizure of Russian-owned real estate in Abkhazia. This will no doubt be settled amicably but it is a small indication of divergent interests.
MISTRAL. It is reported that Paris has agreed to sell Moscow at least one Mistral-class amphibious assault ship and possibly three more. Moscow is reported to be still considering doing so. There is a considerable lobby in Russia that would insist that it can make everything itself. More of the post-Ossetia war wakeup in France.
CORRUPTION. On Monday it was announced that 19 traffic police had been arrested in Astrakhan on bribery charges. Of course, arresting traffic police on corruption charges is shooting fish in a barrel and has little to do with the real corruption problem but it’s at least a nibble at a tiny corner of it.
NATO. NATO continues its voyage of discovery of things it ought to have known before with the Secretary General intimating in Munich that Russia might join the NATO operation in Afghanistan (rather unlikely, it would seem). I remember some of our delegates, returning from the Munich conference of February 2001, mocking Ivanov’s assertion that “Russia, a front-line warrior fighting international terrorism in Chechnya and Central Asia is saving the civilized world of the terrorist plague”; melodramatic, perhaps, but not wrong.
NORTH CAUCASUS. In past years, fighters in the North Caucasus lay low during the winter; which, given the severity of conditions there, was understandable. This winter, however, they have carried out a number of attacks. This, however, does not appear to have been a wise thing: it appears to me that the security forces have had more successes than they have. Given the transport advantages – helicopters and so forth – of the security forces this is, perhaps, not surprising.
UKRAINE. The latest results show a slight Yanukovych win, high turnout and a regional division: in short, what opinion polls predicted. Tymoshenko has not conceded and it’s not clear just what she’s doing; some of her people are claiming fraud. With the approval of Western outside observers it will be politically difficult to challenge the results.
WHAT HAPPENED IN UKRAINE. To my mind it is rather easy to explain. There have been a lot of opinion polls in Ukraine over the past years and, while one can object to this or that poll result, the agreement among them has been very strong. And, one has to go with opinion polls, if they’re there and they’re good: otherwise it’s just opinion and blather. What the polls show is that there has never been more than 20-25% support for joining NATO and that 70-80% of Ukrainians want to have good relations with Russia. A policy – Yushchenko’s – that pandered to the 20-25% and ignored the 70-80% was certain to fail. And Yushchenko’s friends and supporters in the West were remarkably otiose not to realise that. On the other hand, for Yanukovych to play to the 70-80% and ignore the 20-25%, while not as politically suicidal as the reverse, will not succeed either. The only rational – and politically viable – course for a Ukrainian leader is a via media. Will Yanukovych be wise enough to behave accordingly? First indications – an interview with CNN – are promising. And, if all that is out of the way, he can try to tackle Ukraine’s real problems.
© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Ottawa, Canada (see http://www.russiaotherpointsofview.com/)