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 http://www.russiaotherpointsofview.com/)