LUZHKOV. Medvedev dismissed Luzhkov as mayor of Moscow on Tuesday and appointed his 1st Deputy Vladimir Resin pro tem. The reason given was that he had lost confidence in Luzhkov. Luzhkov thereupon resigned from the pedestal party. As usual, some in the Kommentariat are trying to spin this as evidence that the Duumvirate is cracking, but Putin seemed quite comfortable with the decision. So now what? I see three possibilities from Medvedev’s side. 1. Luzhkov, who is 74, is allowed to go quietly into retirement. 2. He is given some face-saving appointment. Either seems to be more likely (based on past practice) than the third which is that a corruption prosecution is opened against him, his wife or both. Putting them on trial would send a very strong signal that Medvedev is serious about corruption and that even the highest are subject to the law. (And, come to think of it, not doing so would send quite a different signal). But, any prosecution has to be transparent and competent (the last being in rather short supply among government prosecutions: vide YUKOS and Budanov). It’s a pity that it ended this way: I think Luzhkov did a great deal for his city but it would have been better had he stepped down a term ago. I believe that what’s really happening here is that the Team is forcing out those regional heads who think they own their jobs. While Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, the other recently departed leader-for-life, has his future worked out he was just re-elected head of FIDELuzhkov is still grumbling and has invoked the Russian version of Godwin’s Law. Something not much noted is that there have been more name changes at the top than elsewhere: for example, in 1996 Yeltsin ran against Zhirinovskiy, Zyuganov and Yavlinskiy; in 2000 Putin ran against the three. Only the last had departed the political scene (and not at his own desire) when Medvedev ran in 2008. Luzhkov had been mayor since 1992 and Ilyumzhinov president of Kalmykia since 1993. A lot has happened since then.

POLICE. Police reform grinds along. On Sunday Interior Minister Nurgaliyev told a TV station that police recruits will have to pass a three-stage test: the traditional questionnaire, a re-evaluation and then they must find a “warrantor” (whatever that last proves to be). Regular polls will be conducted and monitored to gauge popular satisfaction with police procedures and a hot line for reporting abuses will be created.

RUSSIA INC AND THE WORLD. As an illustration of how Russian businesses are becoming connected with the rest of the world, the Sukhoy Superjet 100 involves components from at least 6 other countries.

REPORTERS. The head of the Investigation Committee of the Prosecutor General’s Office has ordered a “prompt and thorough analysis of all criminal cases in which journalists are listed as victims”.

NORTH CAUCASUS. A new commission, charged with economic development and headed by Putin, has been formed. An admission that previous efforts to improve the dismal economic situation have not been effective.

YANAYEV. Gennadiy Yanayev, Gorbachev’s vice president and a leader of the August 1991 coup attempt died on Friday, aged 73. This, combined with the fact that Yeltsin’s vice president led a coup attempt against him, explains why Russia does not have a Vice President position today.

JIHADISM. The last week has had several significant operations in Dagestan with claims of success and prevention of major attacks. Kadyrov is personally leading an operation in Chechnya’s mountains (no empty boast: he’s done lots of this). I again recommend that people interested in the jihad in the North Caucasus follow Gordon Hahn’s periodic analyses here.

MOLDOVA. Moldova’s acting president dissolved parliament for elections in November. Moldova has been in a political deadlock for a year and a half with parliament unable to choose a new president. The potential danger here is that the old notion that Moldova should dissolve itself and join Romania is no longer dormant. It is a very divisive issue and has potential to destabilise things in Moldova (and Romania).

CHUTZPAH. There’s an old joke made to explain the meaning of “chutzpah”: a man, on trial for murdering his parents, pleads for mercy because he is an orphan. Here is another: My first call is addressed to my fellow citizens of Abkhaz and Ossetian origins who live behind the New Iron Curtain that divides our common nation. I want to tell them once again: we will protect your rights. Your culture. Your history-we will work with you. We will work for you.” Ossetians and Abkhazians remember Saakashvili’s similar promise in 7 August 2008 and what followed it on 8 August.

© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Ottawa, Canada (see


LUZHKOV. The number one story in Moscow these days is the future of Mayor Luzhkov. It is highly probable that the present campaign against him is blessed by the Kremlin. It is rumoured that the object is to get him to go quietly. Luzhkov is a powerful man but that’s a lot of pressure. I expect that he will “retire at his own request for personal reasons” as they used to say (vide Ilyumzhinov). There is a style to the way the Team handles these problems: Nazdratenko was ousted as governor in 2001 with the excuse of poor handling of power failures and appointed head of the State Fishing Commission (where he served at Putin’s pleasure); that pleasure ended in 2003. The Team evidently agrees with Lyndon Johnson’s advice on tents. Nazdratenko is still in the tent, but far off in the corner. What’s happening here I think (most commentators didn’t notice Ilyuzhinov’s departure) is that, bit by bit, the Team is getting rid of people who thought they had jobs for life (and, of course, who aren’t as loyal as they might be. But that’s politics and power the world over.)

BUREAUCRACY. The Finance Minister said the other day that the number of federal bureaucrats was to be reduced by 100,000 over the next 3 years. World experience shows that this is much easier to say than to do. By the way, one of the many wrong things repeated by the Kommentariat is that Russia’s bureaucracy is bigger than it was in the Communist days. Not so: they forget the enormous CPSU structure that paralleled and directed the government structure. The overall total of state functionaries is surely much lower today. There was a sort of coup that took place in the 1990s in which the local GorIspolKoms (ie “government”) took over the local GorKom (CPSU) building. This can be seen in towns all over Russia if you look: the huge building on Lenin/October/Revolution Square that used to be the local Party HQ is now the City government. Vide Smolniy in St Petersburg.

NATO. NATO has officially invited Medvedev to attend the NATO summit in Lisbon in November. To its surprise, NATO now finds Russia useful. I wonder what will come of this: it’s a significant gesture but NATO is a pretty dead tree organisation these days, capable of little more than platitudes.

WILDFIRES. Changes are being made to prevent such disasters again: amendments to the law; centralisation of the Federal Forestry Agency; new equipment.

MILITARY CHAPLAINS. The Patriarch says that priests will soon appear in military units to serve as chaplains. This (a little like rumours of Cossack units) keeps being announced but never seems to actually happen.

BOEING. Happy days for it: it won the bid and 50 or more 737 Next Generation airliners will be bought for Aeroflot; it beat out Russia’s United Aircraft and Airbus.

IRAN. Medvedev signed a decree Wednesday banning the sale of many weapons systems (including the S-300 SAM) to Iran; he was also reported to have placed restrictions on movement through Russia of “a number of Iranian nationals” connected with Iran’s nuclear program. Moscow has held out the S-300 carrot for years now; I believe as part of its (unsuccessful) attempt to influence Tehran. It has now given up. And another staple of thecharge sheet” against Russia bites the dust. Where does this leave Bushehr? The billion dollars or so that Russia received for completing the reactor is chump change to Russia Inc these days. But, we are told, there’s no effect on it.

POISON. The Ukrainian Prosecutor General’s Office is taking another look at the Yushchenko poisoning story. This story, which was a major component of the “Orange Revolution” narrative, is very fishy indeed. I always found it significant that, during Yushchenko’s presidency, we never heard anything more about it. Perhaps now we will. A complete fake in my opinion.

GEORGIA. A bomb went off close to the US Embassy in Tbilisi on Wednesday. This may or may not mean something. Probably not, but something to keep an eye on.

© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Ottawa, Canada (see


WILL HE, WON’T HE? Because the only subject about Russia worth discussing seems to be this: Medvedev’s and Putin’s remarks at Q&A sessions have been parsed to create head scratchers on whether Putin will stand for President again. But, this speculation fails to take into consideration the simple fact that, had he wanted to, Putin could be President right now. All it took was the amendment of Art 81.3. No one can doubt that he had enough influence to have arranged that; but he didn’t. That is the fact these speculations ignore: why would he have fashioned this elaborate rigmarole of four years of Medvedev just so he could get back to the top again after a few bare chest events and harpooned whales? There must have been a reason for his decision (I now believe my 5th hypothesis to be correct). Secondly, we have a recent clue: “I am fed up with foreign policy”. The President’s job has a lot to do with foreign policy (and Medvedev’s personal style is better suited to today’s requirements); obviously Putin is saying he’s had enough of that. After years of observation I am convinced that Putin usually says what he means and means what he says. Therefore, I believe that, barring some catastrophic event, Putin will not run for President again. My prediction, therefore, is that Medvedev will run again and that, at the completion of his second term, some other member of The Team will be put forward (and win). But it’s the same team that has been in charge since 2000 and it has the same program. (By the way, as evidence that it’s a team, note that Sergey Ivanov – the “next President” in 2007 – is quietly plugging away.) There remains a considerable amount of popular support for The Team and there are no real challengers now or in the immediate future. This situation will not last forever, but it ought to endure another ten years or so.

MEDVEDEV AND DEMOCRACY. At his Q&A session in Yaroslavl, Medvedev spoke quite a bit about democracy. “[Russia] is a country with a thousand years of authoritarian tradition” and only a very few in a democratic direction: “We have a very young democracy, an imperfect democracy… [with] …many birth marks of the Soviet era”. That legacy creates many difficulties in personal behaviour but he underlined how much had changed: “I am quite optimistic about the future. I just think back to the way I was, say, 20 years ago, my ideas and beliefs, and I compare it to my current perception of life”. Of particular interest to me is that throughout his remarks he showed a hands-on experience with and understanding of the New Media (something rather rare in world leaders I think). To my mind his answers showed evidence of real thought. As always, the text should be read in full rather than what some reporter thinks you should know.

LUZHKOV. Yuriy Luzhkov has been a power in Moscow since 1977 and Mayor since 1992. He has won huge election mandates ever since. (For good reasons in the beginning: I came to Moscow about the time he took over and improvements were immediate and visible). But he’s been there too long and his wife is far too wealthy. Perhaps he is on the way out. Last week NTV accused them of corruption (they say they will sue) and rumours swirl that he will soon be dismissed by Medvedev (all heads of regions – Moscow City is one – hold power at the President’s pleasure). This may or may not happen – there was a lot of speculation in 2000 that, because he had backed a different horse, Putin would have got him out then. If he is dismissed, and if he (or she) is brought to trial for corruption, if it is a competent prosecution, then there might finally be an example to show that Medvedev’s anti-corruption campaign has real teeth. Several “ifs” there, but something to watch.

BEREZOVSKIY. More than US$52 million, allegedly made away with by him, has been returned to Aeroflot after a Swiss court ordered it. This success, years in the doing, has encouraged the Prosecutor General’s Office to demand that Berezovskiy return another half billion of the money he acquired in the 1990s. Given the changing relations, and perhaps also because of a new government in the UK, it will be interesting to watch this develop.

UNPANIC! Remember all the breathless reports that Putin had “claimed” the North Pole? Well Canada and Russia agreed today to settle the issue through UN rules and science; yesterday Norway and Russia settled their Arctic border by splitting the difference. Cooler heads got it right.

PEOPLE POWER. Another official falls victim to cell phone cameras and YouTube.

THE THIRD TURN. The NATO GenSek has again suggested Moscow should be included in a European missile defence system. It may happen at the summit in November: I am assuming that there is some backing in the membership (from France, Germany and Poland perhaps?). Poland has announced it will arrest Akhmed Zakayev should he appear in Poland; it appears he did not.

© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Ottawa, Canada (see


POPULARITY. Polls show that both Medvedev and Putin are back at their previous high levels of popularity. A few weeks ago ratings took a dip, and some in the Kommentariat foretold the coming collapse of the “Putin System”. There only seem to be two subjects for the Kommentariat these days: the coming collapse of the “Putin System” and will Putin again be President: every event is spun as evidence of one or the other. No wonder everyone is always surprised.

AT LAST. One of the mysteries, to me at any rate, is how the – what word to use? eccentric, volatile? – President of Kalmykia, Kirsan Ilumzhinov, has been able to survive for so long. Well, finally yesterday he announced that he would not seek another term. He claims it was his decision.

THE FARCE. It is important to point out that, while many protesters are arrested at their unsanctioned demos, they are usually released quickly. Generally speaking, Western media reports don’t mention this and leave the reader with the impression that they stay in jail. But then, neither do they mention that the City generally approves a demo in some place other the one the protesters insist on (one of the offered sites on 31 August, by the way, was Bolotnaya Square, the place proposed as a Moscow “Speakers’ Corner”). Boris Nemtsov was arrested on 31 August; on Friday he was fined 500 Roubles (about $16) for disobeying a police officer. Nor do Western media outlets see fit to mention that protesters everywhere are arrested when they break the rules governing demos: Washington, Helsinki, Ottawa. Somehow, it’s only in Moscow that democracy and decency are imperilled when demonstrators who break the rules are arrested.

FIRES. The worst appears to be over – although there are still many wildfires burning. Medvedev instructed the Prosecutor General to inquire into preparedness in the regions and said “I hope that the prosecutors’ actions will serve as a wake-up call for the municipal authorities. Clearly the blame is about to be laid. But not, it seems so far, in the Kremlin.

BACK TO THE FUTURE. Russian Railways has introduced a regular service between Moscow and Nice. In terms of how the West has perceived Russia over the centuries, this marks a certain return to the view of Russians as valued, rich and well-behaved visitors that was prevalent 100 years ago. Many European cities – including Nice – have Russian churches as a reminder of this period. Will Baden-Baden be next?

JIHADISM. After last week’s blows at their leadership, the jihadists have struck back with a suicide attack on an Army base in Buynaksk and a suicide car bomb in a market in Vladikavkaz (police have already made arrests). An attempted assassination of a Dagestan minister may also be their work.

THE THIRD TURN. More small indications of reality. Russia and Israel have signed a long-term defence cooperation agreement. The Russian Defence Minister spoke about learning from the IDF and the Israeli about common threats. It would be very interesting to know what was said about Iran. The French Foreign Minister is reported to have said that the Russian S-300 SAMs in Abkhazia do not upset the balance of power. And this, from a former Polish Foreign Minister, calls for a new relationship: Poland and Russia. Time for change”.

JIHADISM COMES TO TAJIKISTAN. Returns, actually: a number of foreign jihadists – Khattab, for example – went to Tajikistan during the 1990s in an attempt to turn the multi-sided civil war into another locus of their world-wide war. They did not succeed and Khattab, for one, returned to Afghanistan and thence to Chechnya. But there was a suicide car bomb attack on Friday at a police station in Khujand which injured about 30 people. A bomb attack on a disco in Dushanbe on Monday sounds more like a “bizness” dispute.

GEORGIA. Discussions on a new Constitution which will make the PM more powerful than the President have begun. This is an obvious ploy to allow Saakashvili to retain power and quite different from what Putin did – he did not change the Constitution. I wonder how the Kommentariat will regard this. A poll shows opposition to the idea 48% to 14%.

 © Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Ottawa, Canada (see


CORRUPTION. I believe that the single greatest problem in Russia today is corruption. I wouldn’t try to estimate how great a proportion of GDP is “taxed” this way, but it is very large. (Others don’t hesitate: 40% or 50%. Surely too high: if that much went to corruption, the only industries left would be brothels and fast cars!). Reducing corruption is said to be a high priority of the government, but how effectively is it being done? According to the Interior Ministry, 8000 people in the first 6 months of the year were prosecuted: among them 4 deputy governors, 3 regional ministers, 8 parliamentarians, 12 heads of municipalities and deputies and 15 heads of local executive power structures. You can’t say that that is nothing, but you can wonder if it goes high enough: as I’ve said before, the anti-corruption campaign will really bite when someone in an office near Medvedev or Putin is arrested. But bit by bit: recently a senior policeman was arrested and 4 Moscow policemen detained on suspicion of kidnapping. In an interesting approach, Sberbank posted a list of employees fired for breach of duty: “We do not want them to work in the banking system again”.

PUTINOLOGY. Putin has been in Russia’s Far East for some weeks visiting this and that and personally driving a car some distance along the new Chita-Khabarovsk highway. He gave some interviews in his car as he drove. In one (JRL/2010/165#34) he defined The Team’s target: “a mechanism of stable Russian statehood” (“механизм устойчивой российской государственности”), a process that will take decades. (Is mechanism really the best word? Something a little more organic, and less top-down, might be better.) Everything fell apart in the USSR because it was “organised on closed production”. Protesters say they want a law-governed society but refuse to get a protest permit and obey it. The West “deceived us in the most primitive way” about NATO expansion. In another interview he acknowledged the difference between hearing about something and actually seeing it: roads in this case. And confirming something I’ve suspected for a while: “I am fed up with foreign policy”; in any case, as he said, stronger domestic policy leads to stronger foreign policy.

SOMETHING YOU WON’T HEAR ABOUT. Putin laid flowers at the NorilLag Golgotha memorial.

PEOPLE POWER. Medvedev suspended construction on the Moscow-St Petersburg highway through the Khimki forest “given the concern experienced today by a significant number of Muscovites”. And the new media has its effect: a St Petersburg policeman was charged with excessive force breaking up an opposition rally 31 July thanks to a YouTube video and a cell phone video led to two traffic police in Magadan being sentenced. Maybe the police will try to ban cameras altogether (as some other jurisdictions have tried).

THE FARCE. As usual the marchers went anyway to Triumfalnaya Square,having refused other venues; the police broke it up; Washington huffed. Berezovskiy, that great champion of law and order, organised a demo in London; it passed peacefully (but he obeyed the rules: suppose he’d gone to Marble Arch instead?). Given that one of the principals today said that she will no longer participate in these stunts – she’s 83 – perhaps they will now stop.

ALCOHOL. Another campaign is under way: here’s some data. But on the other hand….

CHECHNYA. The Kadyrovs and Yamadayevs have, as they say, “made the peace”. Kadyrov formalised it at a wake for Sulim. Both families fought against the Russians in the first war but turned against the jihadists in the second and fought for Moscow (as it were). They had a falling out and two Yamadayevs and Kadyrov senior were killed. A term of the peace, it appears, is that neither side will blame the other for the deaths.

JIHADISM. Some good news for the authorities in the last two weeks. The man suspected of having organised the Moscow Metro bombings in March was killed as was the “Emir of Groznyy”. And as further evidence of informers or penetration, jihadists were killed in Ingushetia and Dagestan. It’s up and down.

HOW FLEETING IS FOREVER. The gold-plated statue of Saparmurat Niyazov has been dismantled.

GEORGIA. Saakashvili has promised that Tbilisi will soon formalise a non-use of force commitment over South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Well, I’ll believe it when I see it (and no weasel-wording). Wouldn’t it have been good if Tbilisi had made this commitment three years ago?

IRAN. The Defence Minister said that no decision to ship S-300 SAMs to Iran had been made. A bargaining chip I suppose. Bushehr is being fuelled but the Russians will control it for some time and all fuel is supposed to be accounted for and returned.

© Patrick Armstrong, Ottawa, Canada