RUSSIAN FEDERATION WEEKLY SITREP 20 May 2010

TOTALITARIANISM. Some excitement has been occasioned by Medvedev describing the USSR as “totalitarian” as if this were some sort of never-before breakthrough. “His comments on the USSR, the most outspoken by a recent Russian leader, will be seen as an attempt to distance himself from…Putin”. Seen by those who don’t pay attention to what Putin says, that is. Putin in 2000: “We have already lived under a totalitarian regime”. In 2005, describing things that did not exist “in the Soviet Union within the context of a totalitarian system”. (This was said during an interview with French TV which is interesting, given that the standard report everyone is recycling comes from AFP). And, in 2007, how the “pride of the nation” was killed in the Stalin years. But, of course, for years Putin has been mis- or selectively quoted by people who can’t be bothered to read what he says or who only want to find something they can twist to fit a preconception (“attempt to distance himself from Putin”). I stress again: always read the original at the official website; never trust a reporter’s agenda-driven (and ill-informed) partial quotation.

PRE-TRIAL DETENTION. The Moscow Regional Court appeals board has ruled that a lower court’s decision to extend the detention of Vera Trifonova was unlawful; she died in custody last month.

CORRUPTION. A criminal case against a Vice Mayor of Moscow for taking bribes has been opened.

FORCE AND OBJECT. The Immovable Object resisted the Irresistible Force and there were indeed a few portraits of Stalin among other Soviet war leaders in Moscow on Victory Day.

BLACK SEA FLEET BASE. Putin said that Moscow would complete the construction of a naval base in Novorossiysk by 2020 at a cost of about US$3 billion. The Black Sea Fleet is costing Moscow a lot of money.

JIHADISM. The battle continues with actions by both sides; the authorities doing better in the last two weeks. The FSB reported that those responsible for the bomb in Derbent on the 7th had been killed a few days later; there was an “own goal” on the 12th; and the FSB reported that 3 of the team responsible for the Metro bombings had been killed.

PIRATES. The captured pirates were set adrift and “most likely perished”. Medvedev has complained that there is nothing useful on the treatment of piracy in international law and Moscow’s Ambassador to NATO is calling for action.

KYRGYZ REPUBLIC. Disturbances broke out in the south of the country last week with Bakiyev supporters seizing administrative buildings in three cities. Violence continues with some deaths. The new government has formally asked Minsk to extradite Bakiyev to Minsk. Otunbayeva has been invested with the powers of President pending a new Constitution and elections.

GEORGIA-NATO. An opinion poll just published in Georgia shows that support for NATO membership is actually declining: 26% fully support and 36% generally support it. In October 2009 54% were fully supportive and in September 2008 69% were. Which is a remarkable result considering the fact that joining NATO is Saakashvili’s number one priority and that he is continually pumping out the propaganda. The only explanation I can think of, given the near-complete control of the news media by Saakashvili, is that ordinary Georgians realise that, when the army broke and ran in August 2008, there was nothing to stop Moscow; but it stopped anyway. They presumably understand that the threat is overblown.

GEORGIAN OPPOSITION. Opposition members/former government members – the two categories are almost identical – continue their efforts to shape a post-Saakashvili Georgia with Burjanadze meeting Putin again in Moscow. Zurab Nogaideli called for direct talks between Tbilisi and Sukhumi and Tskhinvali. Shevardnadze weighed in by saying that confrontation with Russia was a “destructive path for Georgia”.

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