LOCAL ELECTIONS. In Sunday’s local elections United Russia didn’t do as well as usual. No doubt, this will be analysed to death according to the writer’s preconceptions. I say there are three possibilities 1) a fluke; 2) United Russia, for some reason, didn’t amplify its results; 3) a level of dissatisfaction with local bosses. It is too soon to say which is which and whether this is a trend or not.

PUSHING ON A ROPE. In a meeting Medvedev emphasised that his instructions must be carried out. His complaint was indicative: “I regularly receive reports from the Cabinet, the regions, and other organisations, these reports are often not particularly meaningful.” A common problem in Russia and contrary to the assumption so many have that everything is Russia goes as planned by the cabal at the top. Shades of “We hear that Putin has promised it to you, so go and ask Putin”.

MVD REFORM. Medvedev dismissed a deputy justice minister; the individual, Yuriy Kalinin, had previously been in charge of the prison system and thus his dismissal may be connected with the shocking state of Russia’s prisons and more fallout from the death of Sergey Magnitskiy. Meanwhile a police officer in Samara Oblast been charged over the death of man in a detoxification centre.

CORRUPTION. RIA-Novosti has a video of a traffic policeman swallowing a bribe. The story is that the traffic policeman stopped a motorist and demanded a bribe; the motorist left promising to get the money but called the police; they set up the sting and arrested the traffic policemen. What is interesting is 1) that the motorist went to the police and 2) that they acted. Maybe Medvedev’s anti-corruption drive is gaining some traction.

BILLIONAIRES. Forbes has its latest list of Russian plutocrats, which people seem to take seriously. As for me, I’m still awaiting Forbes’ explanation of how Chernomyrdin’s US$1.1 billion in 2001 was all gone by 2004.

INDIA. Putin visited India and had a fruitful trip. Agreements covered nuclear power plants, GLONASS and exports (including weaponry). Delhi is playing a careful role with closer relations with Washington and Moscow as it gradually becomes a major player.

WHAT’S IN A NAME? On Monday a series of arrests across Europe, but especially in Spain, scooped up members of a criminal gang, although the boss himself escaped the roundup. Was it a Russian or Georgian gang? The BBC says Georgians. Some French media (but not all) say Russians. Euro News is on the fence. Russians, Georgians, Russians, Georgians. Whatever. The truth seems to be that it was a Georgian gang but it’s sometimes difficult for the MSM to get its clichés straight. Reminiscent of the sudden death of Badri Patarkatsishvili in 2008: some in the UK MSM saw it as another enemy of Putin suddenly dying; the story stopped fast when they learned he was Saakashvili’s enemy.

FAKE RUSSIAN INVASION. On Saturday Imedi TV broadcast a “simulation” of a Russian invasion of Georgia in June. As with the The War of the Worlds broadcast, the station was not over-careful to assure viewers that it wasn’t true. Watching it makes it clear that the real point of the broadcast, in addition to keeping the Russian scare going, was to smear Saakashvili’s opposition as a fifth column: the broadcast had them making a statementdeclaring the authorities as illegal and announcing the establishment of a so called people’s government” and obviously collaborating with the invaders. This point was hammered home by Saakashvili. Saakashvili is, of course, pretending that he had nothing to do with it, but Imedi TV is under his control: it was forcibly taken over in November 2007. There is a purported phone intercept of Saakashvili approving the whole thing: chose your theory for its origin – the truth, Moscow or the Georgian Interior Minister. Perhaps the strangest thing about the scenario is how quickly Saakashvili’s regime falls – other than some, apparently, civilian resistance, no one fights back, the Army goes over. What is going on in Saakashvili’s mind? Does he want to be a martyr? Or, given that the only clear thing about this farrago is that Burjanadze and Noghaideli are portrayed as traitors, is he about to arrest the whole opposition? The broadcast has been roundly condemned: by the Catholicos-Patriarch; the OSCE and the EU Monitoring Mission; the British and French Ambassadors (whose faces were used with fake dialogue); the President of the EC (who advised Tbilisi “to refrain from any activities which could exacerbate local or regional tensions”; the US Ambassador (who took the opportunity to chide the regime for the “inconsistent application of the rule of law”).Certainly this curious episode has not improved Saakashvili’s standing in Europe.

© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Ottawa, Canada (see


PEOPLE POWER. For years Russian big wheels have been whizzing down roads ignoring the rules confident that, should there be an accident, their connections will help the police to come to the correct conclusion. As it were. In Irkutsk in December, the daughter of the regional election committee chairwoman ploughed into two pedestrians. No charges were laid. A couple of weeks ago, the car of a LUKoil executive killed two people in a head-on collision; the victims were blamed. This was the last straw and a strong public opinion movement sprang up. Two observations (in addition to the obvious one) here. First, these protests are made possible by “new media” – YouTube, social networking, cellphone cameras. Second, an organisation of car owners called Freedom of Choice has mobilised in other cases and stands ready to go into action quickly. This is what is called civil society. For those who are immediately going to interpret this as signs of disquiet with Medvedev, the protesters are entirely in step with his pronouncements. But it is also a challenge for him to put his efforts where his mouth is; as a public appeal to him said: “If you take the case under your personal control and punish the person responsible for the crash, you will prove your commitment to the fight against corruption.” Yesterday Medvedev ordered an investigation. The Irkutsk campaign did force the police to re-consider.

NATO. Continues its journey towards reality. Several former German officials have said that the time has come for NATO to invite Russia to join. The NATO SACEUR is reported to have said Russia should become a “partner” in missile defence. Better late than never, I suppose, but it is rather late: as the Germans said: “One of the key bones of contention is that, for historical reasons, the new members of NATO define their security as being directed against Russia, while the imperative for Western Europe is that security in and for Europe can only be achieved with and not against Russia.” Meanwhile, Russia’s Ambassador to NATO, has offered a million dollars to “the person who will prove that NATO is not pursuing military planning against Russia”. Russian diplomats must be well paid! Of course, this is a stunt: militaries plan for all kinds of contingencies.

POLICE. The policeman who made the YouTube recording and was then arrested by his former colleagues, reports that he has been released from custody.

CORRUPTION. Investigators claim to have broken up a racket, involving a former Moscow Oblast finance minister, which made off with property and budget funds in 2007-2008.

OLYMPIC ANGST. Putin has called for a probe into use of funding for athletes (US$110 million says he). Meanwhile more nonsense on how the performance shows that “Russia is at a standstill”. Mind you, Russians can be just as silly about it. To paraphrase Freud: sometimes sport is just sport.

BURYATSKIY. In an important success for the authorities, Said Buryatskiy (aka Aleksandr Tikhomirov) was killed in Ingushetia last week. The FSB has linked him to the St Petersburg train bombing. This will be a heavy blow to the jihadists in the North Caucasus as Buryatskiiy may be said to have re-animated the jihad there both as a theoretician and recruiter of suicide bombers.

BUSHEHR. Foreign Minister Lavrov said that the Bushehr NPP would be launched this year. Ah! the years do roll by: here from a year ago.

RUSSIA-GEORGIA. Nino Burjanadze, one of the three “Rose Revolution” leaders and now opposition leader, has completed her visit to Moscow. Her take on the talks: “I participated in this meeting not to talk about the past, but to try to find solution for the future.” And another of Saakashvili’s former allies is there as well. Meanwhile Saakashvili continues to hire US PR companies.

RUSSIA-UKRAINE. Yanukovych had a fruitful trip to Moscow with much talk of improving relations. But, as expected, he laid down some markers, particularly that Moscow must find a new base when the Sevastopol lease runs out in 2017. I couldn’t agree more: Russian fleets should be based in Russia.

UKRAINE. Mykola Azarov is the new PM. He declared that “The country has been plundered, the coffers are empty, state debt has risen threefold …”. Parliament also dismissed the head of Ukraine’s National Security Service. Perhaps we will finally learn about the famous “poisoning” of Yushchenko.

THAT TIME OF YEAR AGAIN. Latvian Waffen-SS veterans want to hold a parade; the city says no; the ruling party says it will appeal. Last year they marched anyway, despite a city ban.

© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Ottawa, Canada (see


RUSSIA AND FRANCE. I have been saying for some time that Paris has a better take on the reality of Georgian-Russian relations than other capitals and that this knowledge is gradually working its leaven. The first reason is Salome Zurabishvili who, as a former French Foreign Service employee, has a certain inside track in France. The second is that Foreign Minister Kouchner made the effort to visit the Ossetian refugees in Vladikavkaz and learned more about the actual situation than other capitals and the Western MSM who did little more than parrot Tbilisi’s press releases. Thus, Paris freed itself from much of the nonsense about the 2008 South Ossetia war and has come to realise how much Saakashvili was manipulating coverage and to better understand the real nature of his rule. Medvedev just visited Paris and meetings seem to have gone very well with Sarkozy’s address at the state dinner a concise statement of past relations and present common interests. Medvedev responded in kind. (Press conference. The talks seem to have covered a lot: visa-free regime, Georgia, Mistral sales, Middle East, new European security architecture. Both said much about trusting each other). Indeed, it seems to have been quite an important visit and should serve to further move the reflex reaction away from the binary position that whatever “we” do is good and whatever Moscow does is bad.

BUSINESS. On Friday Medvedev met with business leaders and promised to reduce the “administrative burden”. True to his word he then introduced a bill that would set bail limits for people accused of economic crimes. There is very little bail in Russia and the interminable pre-trial detentions in the terrible prisons can be fatal. It’s also a racket: as Medvedev said, “Corrupt officials get the word from an entrepreneur’s competitor, put the entrepreneur behind bars, and then let him out after he coughs up a certain sum”. So that is a step forward as was the coming into effect Tuesday of a law banning businesses from forming their own security departments (the 90s saw much fighting between biznessmen and their private armies – and their media outlets).

OLYMPICS. Russia’s relatively poor performance has been the cause of some angst. The Olympics, which long ago ceased to be about mere sport, serve as the peg for the silliest comment about Russia that I have ever seen: “but why not try to measure Russia’s greatness by its ability to build a free and prosperous country, a good global citizen at peace with its neighbors? This kind of Russia might also fare better at the Olympics. The four leading medals winners in Vancouver are free-market democracies.

GLONASS. Despite the happy talk from Moscow, there appear to be problems with the system. Three more satellites were orbited yesterday but we are now informed that of the 22 up there only 16 are functioning. Thus, despite many promises of imminent world-wide coverage, the system can barely maintain coverage of Russia. I hope Putin doesn’t lose his dog.

RUSSIA AND EUROPE. The Constitutional Court has affirmed that Moscow should obey Strasbourg human rights court decisions. Given the fact that a very large proportion of the cases there are against Moscow, I’m not convinced that this was a wise ruling. But it does conform to Art 15.4 of the Constitution.

ZHIRINOVSKIY. Is in the business of staying in the public eye (more difficult these days because the Kremlin doesn’t need his votes). He has just proposed cloning himself “for the nation’s benefit”. He is a very clever clown figure and, in retrospect, it is very fortunate that he (and the Communist Party) absorbed many of the nasty super nationalists in the 1990s rather than much more dangerous figures prevalent then.

UKRAINE. Yesterday Tymoshenko’s government failed a no confidence vote. Yanukovych’s party has 30 days to put together a coalition and 60 a government.

GEORGIA. Readers will notice I have said little about Georgia lately. The reason is that one of my favourite sources (Civil Georgia) seems to carry nothing now but pro-Saakashvili entries. I believe that it is no longer a reliable source. Enthusiastic supporters of “democratic” Georgia ignore findings like this from the Committee to Protect Journalists that “press freedom in this small South Caucasus nation stagnated due to persistent state manipulation of news media”. I am left with Georgian Times (which sounds as if it’s been taken over too); this and this, of whose provenance I am not certain. (If any reader knows of an English-language source uncontaminated by the government, I would appreciate knowing). At any rate, the Kazbegi-Verkhniy Lars crossing point was opened after a long delay (for repairs said Moscow) on Monday and former Saakashvili ally Nino Burjanadze arrived in Moscow and talked to Putin today. But Washington remains in thrall.

© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Ottawa, Canada (see