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/)