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 “democrat” Eduard 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/)