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 http://www.russiaotherpointsofview.com/)