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 http://www.russiaotherpointsofview.com/)