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