NATO-RUSSIA. Lots of things are rumoured: see this in the Independent for example. On a personal note I feel a lot of schadenfreude here. When I was working for the government, I wrote many briefing notes saying that NATO should listen to what Moscow was saying and take it seriously; not necessarily agree, but seriously think about it. But no, NATO light-heartedly (not my expression but George Kennan’s) went ahead and expanded here, there and everywhere, broke its promises, enjoyed its adventures, all under the complacent assumption that Russia was negligible and its objections could be dismissed as mere self-interest, or spun as threats. No more. NATO has discovered that it really needs Russia in Afghanistan. But, NATO has to learn that words have meanings: the Secretary General cannot say, one week, that Georgia will be a member of NATO one day, and on another that it wants to have a “true strategic partnership” with Russia. Georgia, under present management, is not acceptable to Moscow: there are reasons why this is so. NATO must make the, apparently difficult, attempt to understand those reasons. Nonetheless, the movement is encouraging: after all, NATO and Russia share the essential element of a military alliance – which is common enemies.

GULAG ARCHIPELAGO. Solzhenitsyn’s widow presented an abridged version for schools, where it is required reading. Some Western media outlets expressed surprise when Putin called it “essential reading”: “unusual words of praise from a former KGB agent” said AP. Had they spent more time learning what Putin has said and done, they might be able to shuck off the tired KGB trope that is the beginning and end of much comment.

INTERNET. ITAR-TASS reports that 44 million Russians say they use the Internet at least once a week and 30 million claim to be very active users. I repeat that the conventional reports of press freedom ignore Russians’ increasing use of the New Media. Not a surprise, I think: many members of the Old Media are barely aware of it. As an amusing example of hubris leading to nemesis see Newsweek in 1995, in 2005 and today.

POLICE LAW. Medvedev has submitted it to the Duma: it has been on the Net since August.

THE PROTEST GAME. Well, somebody had to break the impasse and the City has (perhaps with a nudge, as it were, from the Kremlin). An anti-Putin demo on Saturday passed off without incident. After some dickering over the size, the City has granted a permit for 1000 people on the 31st at Triumfalnaya Sq. One of the organisers says she (“we”) will accept the terms; we shall see what happens.

MOSCOW. To no one’s surprise the Moscow legislature elected Sergey Sobyanin and he was sworn in as Mayor on Thursday. Traffic, he says, will be a priority. Good luck. Will Luzhkov, still grumbling, appear in London as Russia’s new democratic spokesman? My bet is no – people aren’t as naïve about Russia as they were when Berezovskiy morphed from “gangster capitalist” to fighter for democracy.

DEFENCE PURCHASES. I am intrigued by the fact that the Russian Defence Ministry is open to buying foreign weapons. It has just been announced that it will manufacture light AFVs under licence from Italy and it has announced a tender for amphibious ships (presumably France will win). Two things here: it’s a sign of the “Third turn” in Europe but, equally significantly, that Moscow regards itself as part of the world.

MILITARY REFORM. Defence Minister Serdyukov says the new reorganisation into four strategic commands is complete ahead of schedule. This, of course, is nonsense – something this profound, overturning decades of Soviet and Imperial organisation – will take months, if not years, to be fully worked out. And it will have to be tested with real emergencies before its real point – unified command – operates smoothly.

JIHADISM. I again recommend people read Gordon Hahn’s regular coverage of jihadism in the North Caucasus. His latest report gives these numbers for last month: 92 jihadist attacks (3 of them suicide attacks), 47 officials and 22 civilians killed. This is a reality that few in the West seem to be aware of.

RUSSIA-UKRAINE. Putin visited Kiev and two agreements that have been announced cover cheaper than expected gas and a nuclear fuel agreement. Yanukovych has created an advisory council on Ukraine-Russian relations headed by his Chief of Staff. Better relations with Russia do not preclude better relations with Europe. A via media is Ukraine’s wisest strategy.

KYRGYZ REPUBLIC. The leader of the party that did best in the recent elections (about 9%), Kamchibek Tahiyev of the Ata-Zhurt party, says an assassination attempt on him on Saturday failed; he accuses the security forces.

© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Ottawa, Canada (see


THE THIRD TURN. Earlier this week Medvedev was in France talking with Sarkozy and Merkel. It doesn’t look as if anything much was decided but it was another step in Europe’s change of attitude towards Russia, moving into what I call the “third turn” (during the 1990s Russia was seen as a backward younger brother and, from 2000-2008, as an enemy). From the press conference. Sarkozy: “We are certain that Russia, Germany and France share common positions in many respects”; “we live in a new world, a world of friendship between Russia and Europe.” Merkel: “we need to put relations between Russia and NATO on a rational track. After all, we face some of the same threats in the world today.” “Rational” – interesting choice of word: are we to assume the previous policy was irrational? The subject of Georgia came up and Sarkozy said: “At the same time, Georgia also should make a commitment not to use force. It would be good if our Russian friends agreed to the presence of European observers on these territories.” Medvedev said he would attend next month’s NATO summit. The next day Medvedev said that those in Russia who thought of NATO was hostile to Russia were making a mistake. No news here, by the way: NATO’s behaviour is officially regarded as a danger – ie not yet a threat – and Russian military deployments show no fear of attack from the west. But, nonetheless, it’s a change of flavour: looking at it from the other side as it were. The NATO summit might, therefore, actually contribute something to stability.

LEGAL REFORM. Something important that I missed was the recent separation of the Investigation Committee from the Prosecutor General’s Office. Potentially a significant move in Medvedev’s campaign to reduce “legal nihilism”, it is analysed by Gordon Hahn here.

VENEZUELA. Venezuelan President Chavez was in Moscow last week. Putin announced that Russia will sell some more tanks to Venezuela – adding to several billion dollar’s worth of weapons deals. This seems to be to be very short-sighted on Moscow’s part: what do you suppose the chances that it will be paid for these deals in the end? And tanks are an offensive weapon and therefore destabilising. But, perhaps it’s payment for Caracas recognising South Ossetia and Abkhazia (which doesn’t, to my mind, make it a less stupid decision).

MOSCOW. On Friday Medvedev nominated Deputy Prime Minister Sergey Sobyanin (Rus bio) to be Mayor of Moscow. He is a long-time member of The Team, having been Head of the Presidential Administration and has a good deal of administrative experience. He is another lawyer – the zakoniki extend their grip on Russia! But he is not a Muscovite which will no doubt cause some problems in that proud (arrogant?) city.

THE FARCE. Lev Ponomaryov has said – are these first fruits of the post-Luzhkov era? – that the Moscow City authorities have permitted the opposition to hold a rally on Sunday at Pushkin Square. It’s time to stop the farce and someone had to move first. Will the protesters, now that they have got a venue (and apparently another) they have often asked for, play by the rules or will they try to create another incident?

CENSUS. Russia has begun a census; it will show that the population decline is greatly reduced and, perhaps, even recently reversed with immigration.

PRIVATISATION. First Deputy PM Igor Shuvalov (another lawyer!) says the government is contemplating privatising or selling significant ownership in about 900 enterprises. The final decisions haven’t been made but all this is in accordance with Medvedev’s policy of loosening control.

SOUTH OSSETIA. On Tuesday Russian troops withdrew from Perevi. This village, in Georgia proper, controlled a road connecting one part of South Ossetia to another. The Russians built a by-pass road. This means nothing at all, despite some excitement in Georgia and in Europe: Russian troops will not be leaving South Ossetia and the Ossetians don’t want them to. Commentators would be better advised to try to understand why Ossetians and Abkhazians do not want to be part of any Georgia that they have seen since Stalin and Beria put them in it.

GEORGIA. Parliament has passed the new constitution which will transfer power to the PM. Given that many see this as a means by which Saakashvili will retain power by becoming PM when his term as President expires, I look forward to Saakashvili’s shills in the West explaining that this is much more democratic than anything seen in Russia.

© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Ottawa, Canada (see


UK-RUSSIA. The British Foreign Secretary visited Moscow yesterday with the intention of improving relations. There are two principal irritants: the UK gives shelter to Berezovskiy and Zakayev, both of whom Moscow wants for various crimes and the UK wants Lugovoy in connection with the Litvinenko death (although the one Western reporter who has seen the evidence the British supplied is scornful of it). If anything actually comes of this apparent attempt to mend relations, Berezovskiy might be advised to start packing his bags.

DEFENCE SPENDING. A Russian newspaper quotes the Chairman of the Duma Defence Committee on planned spending for the Armed Forces. Including R&D, this year’s will be US$16.3 billion, rising to $38.8 billion in 2013. The money will be spread around: new ICBMs and SLBMs (the Bulava finally had a successful test), fighter aircraft, ships for the Black Sea Fleet and command-and-control systems for the Ground Forces (the last two are lessons learned in the Ossetia war). 13-15% will be reserved for modernising existing equipment.

HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL. Mikhail Fedotov, secretary of the Union of Journalists, was appointed head of the civil society and human rights council yesterday; his predecessor said she was pleased with the choice. He says his three priorities are: “de-Stalinisation of social consciousness”, judicial and police reform and protecting the rights of children and the family. He is a lawyer and wrote the 1991 media law.

GRAIN CROP. The Agriculture Ministry calculates the bad summer destroyed about a third of the grain harvest. There should be enough for domestic needs but little to export. Perhaps the most unexpected effect of the Putin reforms is that Russia is now such a significant grain exporter that its problems have caused food prices everywhere to rise. 15 years ago everyone thought Russian agriculture was an utterly hopeless proposition.

PEOPLE POWER. About three thousand people in St Petersburg turned out on Saturday to protest the gigantic Okhta Centre. It is clear that Medvedev doesn’t like it either but, as someone who is pushing the rule of law, he has to abide by the process.

CASPIAN. It’s been a long time coming but LUKoil has extracted its first tanker-load of oil from the Russian end of the Caspian Sea. Endless amounts of “high-altitude” speculation about Caspian Sea oil in the 1990s but it’s all turned out fairly quietly.

BUSINESS CLIMATE. Putin quite correctly told a group of businessmen that the business climate could only improve if Russian businesses started playing by the rules: “Businesses have to maintain and improve entrepreneurial standards and social responsibility. Only in this case the government will be able to pursue the policy aimed at reducing bureaucratic barriers, including those in taxation”. No doubt some nincompoop of a commentator will spin this as a threat by the “steely-eyed” Putin.

REGIONAL ELECTION. As usual, United Russia dominated Sunday’s local elections. Given that numerous polls over many years show at least a two-thirds approval of The Team, it would be rather strange for many to vote for the Communists, Zhirinovskiy or the cloud of quarrelsome “liberal” parties.

JIHADISM. On Tuesday police announced they had arrested three people believed to have been behind the September bombing of the market in Vladikavkaz; they are said to be under Doku Umarov’s Caucasus Emirate. (The US State Department finally added Umarov to its list of “global terrorists” in June).

TROUBLE IN PARADISE. Relations between Moscow and Minsk have been sour for some time but Lukashenka has just promised to normalise relations with Russia. My guess is that Moscow doesn’t care very much and would greatly prefer to be dealing with someone else. Lukashenka has been there since 1994 and it’s time for him to leave. But he won’t.

KYRGYZ REPUBLIC. Sunday’s parliamentary elections passed off quietly and international observers were satisfied. Five parties made it into parliament; the first four within a few seats of each other. Under the new constitutional arrangement, parliament elects a prime minister who will be the effective ruler; the president will be largely ceremonial. Otunbayeva will remain Interim President until the end of next year and cannot run again. Kyrgyzstan is not there yet but this seems a better outcome than many people feared. It now remains to be seen whether the five parties can form the alliances that will be necessary to get things done.

© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Ottawa, Canada (see


LUZHKOV. The storm clouds gather. There was a great deal of construction in Luzhkov’s Moscow and many contracts were won by companies controlled by his wife, Yelena Baturina, who became very wealthy. On Tuesday Finance Minister Kudrin said a quarter of his decrees, many of them dealing with construction, were signed in secret. One of his deputies has just been charged with bribery. The Russian Audit Chamber says it has numerous documents showing the city government spent budget funds inefficiently. Maybe a prosecution is being prepared. Meanwhile, still defiant, Luzhkov has said he will start his own political movement and he has been given a position at the International University in Moscow.

POLITKOVSKAYA. To recapitulate: she, a reporter who wrote a lot about atrocities in Chechnya committed by the authorities (but much less about jihadist atrocities), was murdered 4 years ago. Three men were charged but were acquitted by a jury in February 2009; a new trial was ordered in August 2009. Her murder has become a standard of the anti-Putin trope (although a bit of thinking would show he had nothing to do with it – senior policemen would hardly have been charged if he were involved). The Investigation Committee of the PGO says the investigation will be prolonged into 2011 and claims to have found new suspects. I have always thought she was murdered because she had learned some dangerous piece of “bizness” information. Contrary to common opinion, that’s the most common motive for murdering reporters in Russia. At any event, we have here the intersection of poor prosecutors and a mob hit with cutouts between the principal and the shooters.

MORTGAGES. I have been watching the gradual spread of mortgages in Russia. In the Communist days one was assigned a dwelling. Most were privatised in the Yeltsin days but to buy something else generally meant assembling hard cash. But mortgages are slowly catching on. Putin just said that the amount of money has better than doubled – from US$2.7 billion in 2009 to US$6.3 billion so far this year. As he said, giving an insight into government policy: “People are ready to invest funds to buy housing… That is why the emphasis of state policies has shifted toward stimulating the housing market.” That’s the right approach: use the government’s power to induce people to freely invest.

WTO. Moscow’s long march to WTO membership continues: the Finance Minister said Washington and Moscow had ironed out their differences. Well, be that as it may, Georgia has a veto and has said that it will use it. It is quite preposterous that Russia, the world’s 15th or so largest economy, and rising, is not a member but Burkina Faso and Zimbabwe are. Perhaps Russians can be forgiven for thinking that it’s all politics, really.

GEORGIY ARBATOV. He died on the 1st. I believe that he played a very important role in creating the intellectual basis for the realisation that the USSR had failed across the board. As a participant in the famous parade in 1941 who actually made it to Berlin, he must have thought that the rest of his life was an improbable gift.

RE-DESIGN. The statue of Columbus Peter the Great may be moved. It is one of Luzhkov’s more peculiar contributions to Moscow, courtesy of his favourite sculptor Zurab Tsereteli. All I can say, having been pretty gobsmacked when I first saw it, is that many Parisians hated the Eiffel Tower at first. But the story is another indication that Luzhkov is yesterday’s flavour.

PEOPLE POWER. SORT OF. Twelve students from MGU have posed wearing lingerie for a calendar to wish Putin a happy birthday (58 today). I doubt he’ll be amused by this publicity stunt.

RUSSIA INC. Finance Minister Kudrin expects capital outflow to be close to zero this year. An annual curse of the Yeltsin period, it hit a record high in 2008 with the twin hits of the financial crisis and Ossetian war.

LATVIA. Hitherto rather anti-Russia (despite the strong presence of Latvians in the history of Bolshevism), the international financial crisis hit it very hard. I watch its change of heart towards its (and who would have guessed it?) more economically successful big neighbour. The reparations commission is gone; President Zatlers is trying to turn the temperature down; the Economy Minister wants better relations. In Sunday’s elections, the Russophone representative coalition ran a strong second. Reality bites.

SAAKASHVILI. Kommersant reports that Georgia’s Labour Party has filed a lawsuit at The Hague against Saakashvili. The specifics of its charge are the suppression of protests and violent takeover of Imedi TV in 2007 and the attack on Tskhinvali in 2008. Bet nothing comes of it. If the report is true that is.

© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Ottawa, Canada (see