RUSSIAN FEDERATION WEEKLY SITREP 19 August 2010

CIVIL SOCIETY. One of the things I try to keep an eye on is the growth of civil society – which I define as people doing things for themselves and not waiting for instructions from the top. There isn’t a lot in Russia, but there is some. This summer’s plague of wildfires has brought about a flowering volunteers helping out those affected by these local catastrophes. The effort is made possible and glued together by the New Media. This piece discusses what is happening and here is one of the websites tying people together and helping organise the volunteer effort.

THE PROTEST GAME. A game is played over and over again between the opposition and Moscow City. The opposition asks for a venue it knows it won’t get and goes anyway hoping for the inevitable police reaction and Western coverage. The City refuses the application because, by an amazing coincidence, it was preceded by that of a regime-friendly organisation. Article 31 of the Constitution allows citizens “to assemble peacefully without weapons”. (But, surely not anywhere at any time and, given the presence of NatBols in these stunts, “without weapons” needs some thought.) The opposition likes to hold demos on the 31st day of months and applied for a permit to use Triumfalnaya Square next Tuesday. The City made its move and followed it with checkmate: it transpires that the square must immediately be turned into a parking garage! That well-known “democratEduard Limonov says he will go anyway. The farce, in both variations, continues.

CIVILIANISATION. Medvedev appointed Tatyana Shevtsova a Deputy Defence Minister. She is a finance specialist like the other woman on the team. A further step in the evolution of civilian control. (I attended many meetings with their defence ministry: for years it was uniforms and suits on our side and only uniforms on theirs thus blurring the distinction between Ministry and Armed Forces. No more: of the 9 Deputies, only two are “uniforms” and the Minister has been a “suit” for a decade).

FSB POWERS. Medvedev told the FSB head to ensure its new power to issue pre-crime warnings be precisely defined. Might have been a better idea to have done that before passing the law.

MORE SPIES. On Monday Moscow expelled a Romanian diplomat. Yesterday, Bucharest expelled a Russian. So far, the usual tit-for-tat policy that Moscow itself almost always follows. But the Russian Foreign Ministry professes itself offended and threatens retaliation.

THE THIRD TURN. As more small indications of what I call the “Third Turn”, both the Polish and Latvian Presidents have recently called for improving relations with Russia.

BUSHEHR. RosAtom has stated that the Bushehr NPP will be loaded with fuel from Russia on Saturday. Under the agreement spent fuel rods will be returned to Russia. Both French and American spokesmen have said that the operation of this power reactor shows that Tehran has no reason to continue nuclear enrichment activity. Is something going on? Of course, despite some hyperventilation, Bushehr has nothing to do with other Iranian nuclear efforts. Assuming, that is, that Tehran does return the spent fuel.

TROUBLE IN PARADISE. Moscow would like more countries to recognise South Ossetia and Abkhazia and has been working on Minsk. But not with much success. On Friday Lukashenka said that Minsk had not recognised them because Moscow refused to help it cope with any consequences. Moscow is threatening to publish a transcript in which he promised to. To my mind this is another indication that Belarus – as a sort of USSR lite – is running out of possibilities: it sounds as if Lukashenka was ready to sell recognition. I have never taken the Russia-Belarus “union” seriously, regarding it as something useful to talk about during elections but never to interfere with real business. For years it foundered on the currency union question and now there is too much difference between the two economies to make it worth Moscow’s while.

ARMENIA. The Armenian Foreign Minister has just said that the Russian air defence base lease in Gyumri will be extended well into the future and that Medvedev will sign this when he visits Yerevan today. Yerevan is of course worried that Baku, flush with oil revenues, will attack and sees a Russian presence as a deterrent.

JIHADISM. A jihadist leader was killed in Ingushetia; a car bomb in Pyatigorsk injured many; a suicide bomber stopped by police, blew himself up. For full coverage of jihadism, I recommend Gordon Hahn’s reports in ROPV: he follows it full time and has a good understanding of its relationship to the world wide jihad.

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

RUSSIAN FEDERATION WEEKLY SITREP 12 Aug 2010

FIRES. This summer’s exceptional heat sparked hundreds of wildfires in Russia (map here). The response showed many deficiencies in organisation and law. The worst appears to be over now but satellites still show nearly 500 fires. There will be political casualties – possibly even including Moscow’s Mayor who was out of town until Monday. A number of news outlets are trying to spin this into yet another story of the imminent collapse of the “Putin system” – see, for example, the amusing exchange in which a French reporter tries to get Alexandre Latsa to spin it that way. (Google “Latsa dissonance” and go down ‘till you find it).

DUUMVIRATE. That having been said, three polls show somewhat of a drop in trust levels for Medvedev and Putin although the numbers remain at levels most other politicians would do just about anything to get. Too early to know if it’s a trend, but I doubt it. One day Russians will tire of Medvedev/Putin but not yet.

SPIES. Washington and Moscow seem determined not to let the spy business derail relations and a swift exchange was mounted after Medvedev pardoned some individuals. The Russians were then interrogated at SVR HQ: “If it comes to light that the SVR officers have made serious mistakes, they may be dismissed”. I suspect that the authorities want to find out who was behind this daffy, and possibly corrupt, enterprise. Meanwhile, the US is getting rather silly too: the case against Aleksey Karetnikov is eviscerated by Eugene Ivanov here and Anna Fermanova was arrested for exporting something she could buy on the Internet.

RUSSIA INC. Unemployment is a little better: as of early August the “official” number (people registered with employment agencies and entitled to unemployment benefits) fell to 1.8 million; the ILO estimate of total unemployment is 5.6 million. Taking the ILO number and a labour force of about 75 million, this is 7-8% (a figure some countries would envy). GDP grew 4.2% in the first six months year-on-year.

MILITARY REFORM. On 14 July Medvedev signed a decree reorganising the Armed Forces at the top level. The age-old military district arrangement is to be replaced 1 December by four “strategic commands”: Western, Southern, Central and Eastern. The Strategic Missile Force will remain independent and an Integrated Logistic Support System will be created. To my mind the really significant thing about this is that each commander will control all the resources in his area: land, sea and air. The South Ossetia war showed the inadequacy of the old system with the Military District commander, who controlled only ground forces, having to negotiate – even plead – with separate commands in Moscow to get air or naval assets under his control.

EX VIGILANT EAGLE. A Russian-NORAD exercise has just concluded: it practised coordination responses to a simulated hijacked aircraft. Good to see thought given to common enemies rather than the endless repetition of Cold War memes.

GLONASS. Putin says GLONASS will be global by the end of the year. We’ve heard that before.

MODERNISATION. The government has launched an English website to give news of modernisation. It is too early to know whether it will have real content or just be PR fluff.

MORTGAGES. The Bank of Russia reports that the money issued for home mortgages doubled year on year; there are now 316,576 of them in ruble mortgages. Step by step.

PAMFILOVA. The presidential human rights council chief, Ella Pamfilova, has resigned. While she gave no reasons, it would appear that she was tired of inaction. Her decision may be connected with the sinister extension of the FSB’s powers “to issue an official warning to an individual regarding the inadmissibility of his or her actions that may lead to a crime”.

GEORGIA. I haven’t seen many polls on Georgians’ attitudes but here is a current one. Some highlights: nearly half consider themselves to be unemployed and, not surprisingly economic issues dominate their concerns. Even so, more than half think the country is going in the right direction. Nearly half do not think Georgia is a democracy now. Opinion is slightly against Saakashvili re-appearing as Prime Minister and strongly against his scheme of changing the Constitution to make the PM more powerful. Curiously, while 95% said they encountered no problems with the voters’ list; its integrity was seen as the biggest problem with elections. And, while NATO membership is strongly supported, 59% disapprove of current relations with Russia. Make of that what you can.

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