PEOPLE POWER. While the Russian government enjoys a high and constant level of support, that support is, to a degree, rather passive: the population knows that the ruling party will stay in power but appears to be content that it do so. However, things are stirring: I do not refer to the “opposition” so beloved of the Kommentariat but to blue buckets. It is a grass-roots movement, sustained by the new media, and mobilised against the flouting of the law by big wheels. There will, no doubt, be attempts to paint this as an anti-government phenomenon but there is no reason why it need be: Medvedev has often railed against “legal nihilism” and the “bucketeers” are aiming at the same target. It is, I believe, the first example of a spontaneous, nation-wide, bottom-up expression of the popular will in post-Communist Russia: neither something the government started nor an artificial stunt like Other Russia. It could become a challenge to the government should the government ignore or attempt to suppress it. Medvedev would be advised to show the movement some support: the wise leader knows when to follow.
OKHTA CENTRE. A “monstrous carbuncle” indeed, the proposed Okhta Centre in St Petersburg has attracted much opposition; even Medvedev has weighed in against it. Nonetheless a local court dismissed a suit opposing it. Another issue around which grass-roots opinion could coalesce.
ATTITUDES. A commonplace of Russophobic opinion is that Russia is disliked and feared by most of its neighbours. The reality is rather more complicated as this analysis makes clear. The author concludes: “the much ballyhooed ‘Russian resurgence’ across the former USSR rests on firmer foundations than just political pressure or economic takeovers – of at least equal importance is that many of the peoples in its path back to regional hegemony aren’t actually that averse to it.”
BIG GOVERNMENT. Medvedev has told the government to draw up proposals to cut officials by 20%. If he should pull that off, it would be a world first.
KACZYNSKI CRASH. Russian sympathy and openness (and the Russian story of warning the plane off has been confirmed) have been marred by the discovery that some of the Russian first responders looted the bodies; four have been charged. Coverage was interesting: BBC rushing to imply the Russians were lying; Poles apologising for an erroneous accusation (bet the BBC doesn’t). Not OMON or police, but conscript soldiers.
DEMONSTRATIONS. The pattern is familiar: Other Russia requests a venue that it knows it will not get for a demonstration; the City offers another location; the marchers go to the first anyway; the police break up the demonstration and Other Russia has its desired incident. On the 31st the pattern was repeated. Human Rights Commissioner Lukin described the police action as “savage and inappropriate” and his office has suggested that Bolotnaya Square be turned into a “speakers’ corner” like the one in London. The square is a good choice: reasonably central and a decent size, demonstrations will not tie up traffic. And Repin is not a bad presiding genius for such a place. This seems to be a good way to break the ridiculous cycle of provocation and police over-reaction; given that the police and majority party support the idea, it will likely happen.
JIHADISM. Activity continues with successes and failures for the security forces. But yesterday security forces captured the leader of the jihad in Ingushetia. He was taken alive and is now in Moscow. It is rare to capture the leaders – they are usually killed – and he will be a source of intelligence. We can expect more successes to come.
WEAPONS. Kiev, under former management, supplied a lot of weapons to Georgia under murky circumstances. I expected the new government to take a look and so it has; irregularities have been found.
GEORGIA ELECTIONS. The ruling party dominated in Georgian local elections last month and the result has been breathlessly hailed as showing “broad public support” for Saakashvili. But, turnout was rather low and OSCE observers were not very impressed: one in five vote counts were assessed as “bad or very bad”.
KYRGYZ REPUBLIC. Seems to be settling down: the authorities lifted the state of emergency in Jalalabad last week.
© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Ottawa, Canada (see http://www.russiaotherpointsofview.com/)