UKRAINE-RUSSIA. The big news is, of course, the cheap gas for base agreement announced last week. Russia/Gazprom (is there a difference?) will knock 30% off the going rate and the Sevastopol lease will be extended to 2042. I don’t think that this is a very good deal for either side: Moscow will pay more than it would cost to build a new base in Russia and Ukraine will have another period of cheap gas that it will probably use no more wisely than it has for the last 20 years. Plus all the complications of a foreign (and sovereign) military base on its territory. (Although apparently forbidden by Art 17 of the Constitution, the Constitutional Court approved it). And, ten years down the road, a differently flavoured government in Kiev may seek to reverse the base agreement. On the other hand, as I suspected, Ukraine has been paying its gas bill with IMF loans and, by all accounts, is pretty close to bankruptcy (this seems to be Yanukovych’s justification). Another benefit is that the price of gas for Ukraine is known for a long time in the future, so downstream customers of Russian gas should be spared the tense negotiations between Kiev and Moscow. The old base agreement had Moscow give credits; this time it will pay cash (and more). So everything is more transparent. The agreement appears to have opened up other possibilities of mutual trade and cooperation so there may be good effects over time. The Ukrainian opposition is furious, of course, but a poll suggests that the agreement has good support in the country.

POLAND-RUSSIA. Russia’s sympathetic and transparent response to the tragedy has opened the possibility of better relations. As the Archbishop of Krakow said at the funeral: “The sympathy and help we have received from Russian brothers has breathed new life into a hope for closer relations and reconciliation between our two Slavic nations.” Today Polish PM Tusk said there will be no “sensational revelations” from the black boxes.

YOUR WEEKLY SMILE. The NATO Secretary General criticised Russia’s new military doctrine for “old-fashioned Cold War rhetoric” because “it states that NATO constitutes a major danger, at least, which is not the reality. NATO is fast becoming purely a “rhetorical” organisation in which the only reality is its statements. Oops! new reality: now Russia’s military doctrine is “balanced”. As Humpty-Dumpty said: “When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean”.

SOUTH STREAM. This project appears to be ready to go: Austria has signed on and contracts are being issued. The line will carry gas from Russia under the Black Sea to Bulgaria and westwards.

CORRUPTION. An aide to the Ground Forces Commander has been sentenced to 9 years for fraud.

Weaponry. Foreign purchases develop: there is a plan to establish a joint venture with Israel for production of UAVs and it looks as if Russia will buy one or more Mistrals.

HISTORY WARS. Yanukovych made a historically correct statement on the Holodomor: “The Holodomor was in Ukraine, Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan. It was the result of Stalin’s totalitarian regime. But it would be wrong and unfair to recognise the Holodomor as an act of genocide against one nation”. PACE agrees. Not a Russian attempt to exterminate Ukrainians, it was a Communist attempt to exterminate independent farmers.

KYRGYZ REPUBLIC. Bakiyev is now in Belarus and surrounded by confusion: on the one hand he says he’s still President, on the other that he won’t be back. Lukashenka seems to support him but as far as Moscow is concerned Bakiyev resigned). The interim government seems to be determined to put people on trial (the former Interior Minister was picked up in Moscow, flown to the Kyrgyz Republic – to Manas: can we assume Washington’s cooperation? – and promptly arrested), they also want to put Bakiyev on trial. A draft constitution has been produced for a referendum on 27 June. It is designed to reduce the chances of one-man domination and cooked elections. There were some violent protests over the last couple of weeks but they seem to be unconnected with each other. For the last couple of days no disturbances have been reported although today there are reports of a separatism movement in the south. As usual, theories abound: the coup was orchestrated in Moscow, orchestrated in Washington or done by drug barons (roundup); the customary construction of bricks without straw. Certainly the interim government has been very fast off the mark which argues considerable pre-planning by somebody. There is some evidence that Washington was too close to the Bakiyev family’s stranglehold on money; if true, the US star will be setting in Kyrgyz Republic.

© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Ottawa, Canada (see


KACZYNSKI DEATH. Medvedev’s address to the Polish people; Putin and Tusk (and Sergey Shoygu) at the crash site; RIAN’s roundup of coverage; mourning in Russia. There was a very similar crash in Poland in 2008 in which a lot of the Air Force’s leadership was killed. There are assertions that Kaczynski had failed (or succeeded) in overruling his pilot once before. The joint Polish-Russian investigative team promises a conclusion soon.

CONSPIRACIES. Some in the Rightosphere were quick to look for a conspiracy. Some reacted almost hysterically foretelling: “new, perhaps irresistible, pressure on Poland to toe the Kremlin line” (piece savaged here). Others were more subtle about looking in Moscow’s direction. Some flatout accused Moscow of engineering the crash. In these cases the beginning and the end of their accusation was cui bono? Moscow benefits (but they never quite spell out how it benefits, other than their assumption of an omni-directional malevolence); therefore Putindunnit. Connect the dots, there are no accidents. Ridiculous and revealing.

THE TEAM. In the US Medvedev said “I therefore believe very strongly that Russia now requires several decades of calm and stable effort to build an effective political and economic system”. This appears to be in accordance with the wishes of the population. A poll shows 72% of respondents prefer order to democracy (although a closer look at the results shows rather more nuance: “order” includes rule of law and individual rights. “Democracy” has acquired a rather bad odour in Russia what with the corruption and chaos of the 1990s and the attribution of the adjective to people like Saakashvili and Bakiyev). At any rate the population and its rulers set a very high value on stability. Not surprisingly, given the course of Russian history since 1905. Of course the trick is to prevent the stability from becoming stagnation.

JUDGE MURDERED. Federal judge Eduard Chuvashov was murdered in Moscow on Monday. The opinion is that the murderers were from Russia’s racist gangs against which he had been active.

PLUTONIUM. Medvedev ordered the last Russian reactor producing plutonium to be shut down today.

PEOPLE POWER. The well-organised and effective Federation of Russian Car Owners has launched a nation-wide campaign against “blue lights”. In theory, only certain official vehicles are allowed the flashing blue lights that order all opposing traffic to part allowing them to drive as fast as they care to. In practice – and this has been going on for years, despite half-hearted attempts to cut them back – plutocrats and hoods can easily acquire the lights. It is important to remember – before these activities are fitted into Procrustean tropes about a Medvedev-Putin rivalry or the inner bankruptcy of “Putin’s Russia” – that the Federation’s aims are fully in step with Medvedev’s: everything it does is directed against “legal nihilism”. Luzkov, Mayor of Moscow where the “blue light” abuse is worst, in fact believes that only the President, Prime Minister and Patriarch should have one. The combined pressure from both top and bottom is more likely to produce results than pressure from one direction only. Just for fun, for those who think Medvedev and Putin have opposing aims, here’s Putin in 1999 enumerating the characteristics of “strong state power in Russia”: “creating conditions beneficial for the rise in the country of a full-blooded civil society to balance out and monitor the authorities”.

STALINSHCHINA. A road-building crew in Vladivostok has uncovered a mass grave,

SUICIDE BOMB. A suicide bomber failed to kill the Nazran police chief and blew herself up (or was blown up – it is not clear whether these women actually possess the trigger).

KYRGYZSTAN. The former government has folded. After trying unsuccessfully to hold his rallying speech in Osh, Bakiyev went to Kazakhstan and latest reports say he has resigned. His Defence Minister has been arrested. Moscow and Washington have promised financial aid. The latter after Otunbayeva promised to honour agreements on the Manas base. Ten days – remarkably quick: obviously lots more to learn about it.

GEORGIA. Again the Europe-US divide. The UK Foreign Secretary criticised Saakashvili for harassing the opposition and controlling the news media; meanwhile a US warship arrived in Georgia for joint exercises. Of course, Tbilisi is making a significant contribution to the international effort in Afghanistan”; Obama also “appreciated President Saakashvili’s continuing commitment to democratic and economic reforms in order to fulfil the promise of the Rose Revolution.”

© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Ottawa, Canada (see


NUKES. Medvedev and Obama signed the strategic arms treaty in Prague today. The text of the treaty is here. Such agreements are, no doubt, important but have little to do with the threats the two actually face.

MISSILE DEFENCE. On Tuesday Foreign Minister Lavrov saidThe initial focus [of Washington’s current missile defence plans] is on regional systems, systems that do not prejudice strategic stability, and do not create risks for the Russian strategic nuclear forces.” Everything else is “when and if” Moscow thinks something else is happening (Moscow has appended to the Treaty a statement stressing that it only holds if Washington “refrains from developing its missile defence capabilities quantitatively or qualitatively”). Serving the ball to Washington, Medvedev said: “We offered to the United States that we help them establish a global anti-missile defence system, and we should think about this, given the vulnerability of our world, the terrorist challenges and the possibility of using nuclear arms by terrorists existing in this world”.

PRISONS. A measurement of the dreadful Russian prison system was offered by a Deputy Prosecutor General who said that 4150 people had died in correctional facilities and 521 in pre-trial detention centres in 2009. The last figure is especially appalling given that most of those should be out on bail. There are currently 861,867 people imprisoned across Russia. See below.

ECONOMIC CRIMES LAW. Yesterday Medvedev signed an amendment to the law on economic crimes. It does two things: it raises the level of economic value of the crime six-fold and sets bail levels. The object is to stop petty harassment of businesses and to encourage bail to replace pre-trial detention. As Medvedev said, when he promised to do something: 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.”

JIHADIST ATTACKS. No one was hurt by a bomb on a Dagestan railway line Sunday. But the next day a suicide bomber and a follow-up car bomb in Ingushetia killed and injured several people. Medvedev has ordered the creation of a “separate permanently active counterterrorism operations group” in the North Caucasus.

ECONOMY. Optimistic predictions from an American analyst on the “‘biggest bounce’ in the world” for Russia’s economy: 7% growth this year.

VISITS. A reason for the duumvirate, as we saw this week, is that the workload can be shared: Putin was in Venezuela 2-4 April and is now in Novosibirsk and on 6-7 Medvedev visited Slovakia and is now in Prague.

STALIN. Despite much disapproval (and from the Kremlin too) Mayor Luzhkov insists that Stalin’s visage will appear among posters of war leaders in Moscow’s Victory Day decorations. I wonder how this will turn out: an immoveable object meets an irresistible force.

INTERNET. A VTsIOM poll finds 38% of respondents use the Internet “several times a month” and 23% daily.

KATYN. Yesterday Putin and Polish PM Tusk took part in a ceremony commemorating the massacre of Polish prisoners at Katyn. Putin pointed out that the Russian people could not be held responsible. This is true: and neither should the Georgian people be held responsible; even though the idea was a Mingrelian’s, approved by a Georgian and carried out by the Georgian-dominated NKVD. The truth is that the Bolsheviks did it.

SOUTH OSSETIA. Moscow and Tskhinvali have signed an agreement on Russian basing in South Ossetia. The base will be in Tskhinvali and hold up to a large battle group. A similar agreement was concluded with Sukhumi in February. There will be no more Georgian military adventures into these areas.

KYRGYZ REPUBLIC. The opposition says it has taken control, claiming control of the security forces, and formed a provisional government headed by Roza Otunbayeva. President Bakiyev has fled to the south. Protests began in Talas on Tuesday and spread to Bishkek with some violence. Several discussions argue that the overthrow is rooted in big increases in utility costs with the profits going to Bakiyev’s favourites. Some reports speculate on the possibility of civil war (north vs south) but former President Akayev thinks Bakiyev does not have the necessary support. Moscow has reinforced its base at Kant and, it appears, is close to recognising the new government. Washington has a major stake in Manas. Nonetheless, it appears to me that the overthrow is sui generis and has nothing to do with either Moscow or Washington.

© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Ottawa, Canada (see


BOMBINGS. As the world knows, there were two bombs on the Moscow Metro on Monday and another two in Dagestan two days later. The use of suicide bombers in both cases makes it clear to the meanest intelligence who is responsible. Even so, despite the other suicide bombings in the last week (two in Afghanistan, one in Pakistan), there remain those who cannot make the connection and insist that jihadist attacks in Russia are sui generis and unrelated to anything else. Nonetheless, the Western MSM coverage was generally more understanding of reality than it has been. Thus it may be that a result of these events will be an increased understanding that jihadism is a worldwide phenomenon and that practically everyone on earth – Shiites or Sufis in Iraq, Sunnis in Pakistan, Buddhists in Thailand, Hindus in India, Christians in Nigeria – is a target. Note that security in the New York and Washington subways systems was stepped up suggesting some sort of apprehension of an attack on the USA.
JIHADISTS. The bombings were no doubt attempts to gain revenge for the successes of the security forces in the last couple of weeks. One of the original Arab jihadists who helped Khattab ignite the second war in Chechnya was killed 2 weeks ago; on the 22nd the “Emir of Grozny” was killed in Makhachkala; another leader was killed in Kabardin-Balkaria on the 25th; on the 30th a raid in Ufa captured the local leader. Together with the killing of Buryatskiy earlier in the month, the jihadist leadership in Russia has been hard hit in March.
PROTESTS. The “opposition” held its much-advertised “Day of Anger” protests across Russia two weeks ago. The largest turnouts were in Kaliningrad and Vladivostok where the organisers were greatly helped by the well-organised Russian car-owners federation. Western MSM reaction was mixed: some, following their predilection for decision-based evidence making, made them out to be much more significant than they were; others were more balanced. These protests remind me of the Yeltsin era where one could see supporters of Nikolay II side-by-side with supporters of his murderers. It makes little rational sense to call them “the opposition” as if to imply there is something that really unites them. Most of the time, the majority, when not communists, are rent-a-thugs from the National Bolsheviks; not, generally speaking, a group anyone would want to associate with and hardly “democratic” or “liberal” by anyone’s definition.
PEOPLE POWER. The above having been said, Russia does have genuine protests. The car-owners federation has the potential to grow into something real – although its objects are in line with the stated aims of the government. The other protests that are real – and have effects – are those against rising utility prices. There was one in Saratov and another in Arkhangelsk and Medvedev has reacted. He ordered a freeze in utility price increases and also ordered an inquiry into unjustified hikes. This is a difficulty for the government: the utility prices have to rise to reflect economic reality, but the process is painful and unpopular.
“COMPATRIOTS”. The government has prepared a law that will reduce the number of “compatriots abroad” (соотечественники за рубежом). When the USSR broke up, Moscow agreed to give citizenship to any former USSR citizen who could not or would not have citizenship otherwise. The rest of us, it should be understood, were profoundly grateful: Moscow’s offer ensured that the disappearance of the USSR would not create any stateless persons (as had happened, for example, after the breakup of empires in 1919). This provision was necessary in the cases where local citizenship was not automatically granted to residents (Estonia and Latvia) and where the locals did not agree with Stalin’s mapmaking (Abkhazia, Transdnestr et al). This particular provision ended some time ago. Then there were the “compatriots” who were ethnic Russians in the new countries who might not want to remain there. The new law will greatly reduce this vague category and restrict it to self-identifiers. The connection will be now largely cultural.
JACKSON-VANIK. On her visit to Moscow, Clinton said Washington wanted to lift the Jackson-Vanik Amendment. Well, what’s stopping it? It is an unnecessary slight and promising to lift it and not doing so will irritate Russians and make the suspicious believe that Washington is ultimately hostile. Enough already do.
NEWS YOU WON’T HEAR. Zaporozhie, Ukraine is erecting a Stalin statue. His images will not appear in Moscow.
TROUBLES IN PARADISE. Lukashenka has just complained that Belarus cannot get “transparent and fair terms of mutual trade” with Russia. Probably not unconnected with the relative vectors of the two economies but another illustration that the “Belarus-Russia Union” is mostly for show.

© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Ottawa, Canada (see