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