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 http://www.russiaotherpointsofview.com/)