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.
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.
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