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 http://www.russiaotherpointsofview.com/)