DOMODEDOVO. A suicide bomber team killed and wounded many in the arrivals area of Domodedovo Airport. Not the first time jihadists have attacked outside the security zone and we will see more. It is possible that this attack may wake up Westerners to the reality that it’s all the same thing: the NORAD commander appears to understand. On the other hand, others still blame the “Putin system”; one assumes these editorialists blamed the December Stockholm bomb on the “Reinfeldt system”. Medvedev has dismissed several officials, blaming lax security. Some of this is the ancient Russian tradition of pretending to solve the problem by firing somebody, but it also fits with Medvedev’s policy of clearing out deadwood.

START. The Duma finally ratified the agreement on Tuesday by a comfortable margin and the Federation Council did so the next day. The question of missile defence is still a potential stumbling block and Russia will denounce the Treaty if it feels US developments in this area threaten it. But that was always the reality and one hopes that a rational settlement will be found.

OPPOSITION ALLIANCE. The alliance of Limonov and his NatBols with the liberals, about which so much was written a few months ago, appears to be over. It was always unnatural: the two groups have quite different aims, no matter how much they may share a dislike of Putin. Lyudmila Alexeyeva appears to be emerging as the principal leader; she has the advantage of not being tainted by the Yeltsin years and Putin cannot say about her what he said about some of the Yeltsin-era oppositionists: “they want to come back and refill their pockets”. She has broken with Limonov who is now calling himself head of the Other Russia party but doesn’t appear to have taken over the website (registration of his party was turned down yesterday). The authorities are probably not unhappy with this development and Moscow City has (again) given permission for her group to demonstrate on the 31st but not Limonov’s. Limonov will likely show up anyway for some street theatre.

THE NEW MEDIA. Medvedev, who must be one of the most Internet-savvy leaders around, had quite a bit to say about it at Davos. It leads to the “creation of communities of people… in different countries… by a shared goal or idea, and no national government can claim to have a strong impact on such communities” (as we see in Egypt and elsewhere today). There are dangers that criminals or terrorists use it. But “this universal connectedness must become a powerful driver of economic growth”. He promised “Russia will not support initiatives that may jeopardise Internet freedom”. There is general agreement that the New Media flourishes in Russia and the government leaves it alone.

LENIN’S TOMB. I think it’s finally going to happen. The official line has always been that the body will be buried in St Petersburg when the population wants it. A Duma Deputy started the current campaign and there is a website on which people can vote; so far a solid majority wants the body moved out of Red Square. So, what will replace the Mausoleum? My bet is whatever was there before. And what about the Kremlin wall necropolis, Stalin’s ashes and all the rest of the Communist Pantheon? Surely, if Lenin goes, Stalin and the others have to too.

ANOTHER OIL ENGAGEMENT PARTY. RosNeft and ExxonMobil have made an agreement to jointly develop hydrocarbon findings in the Russian part of the Black Sea. The wedding season has come early to Russia!

MURDER. Last week another mass murder was discovered – most of a family of a local crime boss was found dead in a garage in Stavropol. Will it be discovered, in this case too, that the local authorities were providing cover for him or for his murderers?

KACZINSKI CRASH. Two defenders of the Russian findings have spoken up. David Learmount accepts them. Poland’s lead investigator agrees. As the first said of the report: “It does not make happy reading for the Polish people or their government, and indeed they are finding its truths difficult to swallow”.

FRIENDS AGAIN. It is claimed that practically all the problems between Moscow and Minsk have been resolved. Of course, now that the West has decided it doesn’t like Lukashenka (again), he doesn’t have many alternatives. There was a brief moment there when Belarus was being spun as a fellow victim of Moscow’s “gas weapon”.

© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Ottawa, Canada (see

Russian Arab Spring?

Note February 2016. These were done for the Russia Profile Weekly Experts’ Panel which I cannot find on the Net now. Many were picked up by other sources and I have given links where I can find them.

The chance of a Tunisian scenario in Russia is something less than zero. The conditions simply don’t exist.

The popular revolt in Tunisia – I assume it was not a phoney revolution like the “Orange Revolution” or the “Rose revolution” or the now-forgotten “Tulip Revolution” – was a result of revulsion at years of hopelessness and stagnation.

In Russia, innumerable polls, over many years – see, for example, the Levada data at – show that Russians appreciate the steady improvement of their own living conditions and give the government a great deal of credit for it. They show no naïve belief that everything is wonderful, but they do show a steady increase in optimism (or reduction in pessimism) for the future and improvement of present circumstances. The Duumvirate is popular – most governments would love to have a constant 60-70% support in difficult times. The Levada data is especially useful because, with ten to fifteen years of results for a given question, one can make direct comparisons and observe trends. Other polling organisations show the same trends.

In short, the Putin Team has generally provided the things that people hire governments for.

Thus, the underlying conditions that sparked the Tunisian revolt do not exist in Russia. Observers who take the effort to analyse polling data rather than lazily phone up names on the Rolodex their predecessors bequeathed them would understand this.

But, nonetheless, those who predicted the collapse of the “Putin system” with Kushchevskaya, last summer’s fires, the expected collapse of the Russian economy in the global financial crisis, riots in Vladivostok, Beslan, the “Orange Revolution”, the Kursk sinking, the debt crisis, apartment bombings, the “virtual economy” (I keep a file of this stuff), will quarry the “Tunisian parallel” for indicators. Until the next thing pops up. Same story, new indicators.

I am dumfounded by the endless speculation about how Putin and Medvedev are struggling under the blanket and that Putin will re-appear as President. If Putin had wanted a third (and fourth and fifth) term, all he had to do was arrange for one little clause in the Constitution to be changed. And no one can doubt that he could have, and many wanted him to. But he didn’t. Why would he go through this elaborate charade to get back?

Perhaps he and Medvedev are part of the same team, carrying out the same program. As they say they are.

But what do they know?


CORRUPTION. A reasonably big fish was hooked yesterday: the head of the CIS anti-organised crime bureau (!), Alexander Bokov, was arrested in Moscow on embezzlement charges. The case seems to be that he extorted a large bribe and then trousered it. A couple of days earlier a case opened in Altay in which several officials were charged with hunting endangered animals two years ago. The former Mayor of Barnaul was charged with what looks to be a privatisation swindle six years ago. Last week the Interior Minister said that “Criminal proceedings were launched against some 10,000 officials, one-third of them were started for taking brides”. The tax Service has opened a 24/7 phone line and e-mail address so that citizens can report corruption examples. This is not nothing; gradually the campaign is starting to bite.

PEOPLE POWER. Russia has its own “WikiLeaks” site: Allegedly shut down for its photos of “Putin’s Palace”, I was able to get on the site without difficulty. The “palace” is surely a state-owned guest house and not Putin’s personal property. As in other countries, high state officials spend their time in elaborate facilities without paying rent. But the story is here (although the source is the Washington Post which never misses a chance to take a shot at Russia).

BP AND ROSNEFT. The two companies have struck a deal to explore oil deposits in the Kara Sea and exchanged blocks of shares to cement their apparent alliance.

SPIRIDOV. Saturday’s rallies in St Petersburg and Moscow commemorating his murder passed off mostly peacefully although police arrested some people they suspected were participants in the riots. An informed summary of what is known and what is speculated about the murder and the immediate police reaction is here.

WHERE DOES THE MONEY COME FROM? A Duma Deputy has asked the Prosecutor General to investigate whether Boris Nemtsov is being funded by foreign sources (illegal under Russian law). I also wonder.

PROTESTS. Now that they are getting demonstration permits, there will be two things to watch. First, is there any point to the “31” rallies protesting their inability to hold rallies? But more interestingly, I suspect we will see a split between the “liberal” protesters like Alexeyeva and Limonov. The fissure is visible already.

NORTH CAUCASUS INVESTMENT. The Presidential Envoy to the North Caucasus has announced that 37 investment projects worth US$13 billion are planned for the area. Given the difference between plans and reality and the “corruption tax”, I wonder how much of this will actually hit the ground.

MISTRAL. As expected, Moscow chose the French ship. Two will be built in France and another two in St. Petersburg and delivery of the first is expected in three years. Latvia and Lithuania are not best pleased: this should lead to some entertaining encounters in the corridors of NATO.

KHODORKOVSKIY. A book of writings and interviews has just been published in Moscow. For someone buried deep in the Russian penal system, he seems to be able to get his words out rather easily.

POVERTY. In what he says is a protest against poverty in Russia, a Yekaterinburg student says he will attempt to live for a month on the official minimum food cost. His blog is said to be here (but I can’t open it). I wonder who will be the first to opine that this is comparable to Mohammed Bouazizi’s suicide and heralds the (long-predicted) end of the “Putin system”.

KACZYNSKI CRASH. Last week the Russian committee published its report (Eng Rus); the crew was blamed. This has not pleased the Polish side. The Interior Minister thought Russian air traffic controllers had some responsibility while Kaczynski’s brother’s reaction is much stronger. President Komorowski and PM Tusk are also critical, although the latter added that opposition members who were calling it “murder” or a “terrorist attack” were wrong to do so. In response, the Russian side announced it will publish complete transcripts of all the conversations. I do not fully understand what is happening: I suspect national embarrassment and internal politics. Personally I think Lech Walesa is right when he said, admitting it was “difficult” to do so: “everything they’ve done in regard to the Smolensk case deserves recognition and thanks, not sputtering”.

UKRAINE. Former President Yushchenko was summoned to the Prosecutor General’s Office to discuss the poisoning story. I have always thought the standard story very fishy and am glad that the case is still open.

© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Ottawa, Canada (see


FISSURES. Last month exposed, in a way that cannot be ignored, two serious fissures in Russian society. Long-simmering ethnic tensions and their concomitant gangs boiled over and the collaboration of local authorities and criminal groups was revealed in three places. A soccer fan was killed in Moscow in a brawl in early December, apparently by a Caucasian; the suspect was arrested but quickly released (or so Medvedev and Putin said). Protests became riots as the gangs took over. The worst was on 11 December in central Moscow. The police have been taking preventative actions (most recently on Saturday). This problem has been growing for years and the authorities haven’t done much (but the trial of two super-nationalists for the murders of Markelov and Baburova has begun). A series of murders in a small town in Stavropol Kray in November uncovered a criminal gang that had been operating with cover from the local authorities for years. Then an open letter revealed a similar situation in a town near Moscow. Thirdly, the long-suspected belief that there is a connection between the local Khimki administration and attacks on reporters was given support by the arrest of members of the administration. What may tie these two phenomena together is the fact that ethnic gangs can be hired to do violence on behalf of their paymasters. Some will blame this on the “Putin system” but he is not the author of “legal nihilism” – that has very deep roots. But it is a failure: as he said, “I think the entire law enforcement system has failed.” It did, and as PM and President before, he is part of that system. But how do you change it? You can’t fire all the police, good and bad, and then gradually create a better force: see what happens even in “rule of law” countries when the police are absent. Reform can only happen incrementally: corrupt officials arrested where detected, laws and procedures reformed, checks and balances introduced (Medvedev justified creating an independent Investigation Committee “in order to have them do their job properly, i.e. keep an eye on each other”). It has to be gradual; even if pushed with determination, the goal will never fully be achieved and there will be many failures along the way.

CORRUPTION. Bit by bit. In addition to the above, two Moscow police officers were charged with kidnapping a businessman for ransom. The director of Tula Oblast’s Department of Land and Property Relations was arrested on suspicion of demanding a bribe for giving planning permission for a business.

DIVISION OF LABOUR. Reading the Q&A sessions of Medvedev and Putin, I see that Putin is deep in the minutiae (suburban train schedules, health centres, sports infrastructure) while Medvedev is at high altitude (foreign affairs, long-term projects like “modernisation”; reflections on Russia’s culture of belief in “the good tsar and physical force”). About the only points they both touched on was the economy’s relatively good year (at least as compared with what many feared) and the value of the present system of appointing regional leaders. (Their argument is that leaders appointed this way will be better – and less corrupt. Recent events are unlikely to change their minds). I have the impression, by the way, that Putin is much happier in the details. He has remarked that he is “fed up with foreign policy”.

KHODORKOVSKIY. Khodorkovskiy and Lebedev were found guilty. Western opinion was predictable: “Russia hits back at West” being an extreme (No. That’s not why it happened) with some even suggesting that his real crime was being an honest businessman. Eugene Ivanov gives a better informed (and informing) discussion here. But he makes the observation that the new charges look rather like the old ones re-named. The strong flavour of political expediency will be a setback for Russia’s improving reputation.

PEOPLE POWER. A win and a loss: the Okhta Centre will be built but not in the centre of town and the highway will go through the Khimki Forest (although environmental compensations are promised).

KACZYNSKI CRASH. The official Russian report is on the Net (Eng Rus); poor crew training and interference from the high officials on board are blamed. Kaczynski’s brother is not happy with it.

BUREAUCRACY. Medvedev has ordered the reduction of federal officials by 20% by 2013. Many have tried but few have succeeded: bureaucracies are very tenacious animals.

INTERNET. Readers will know that I keep an eye on Russian Internet use (probably because I personally have little use for the Old Media). At last someone else has noticed how big and healthy it is in Russia. By the way, Russians can read translated selections from the Western media here (including uncomplimentary stuff).

© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Ottawa, Canada (see