POLICE REFORM. The Police Reform Bill has been passed and signed into law; a simple summary of it by RIA/Novosti is here. Symbolically they will now be called “Police” rather than the revolutionary-sounding “Militia” and will get new uniforms resembling, we’re told, the Tsarist ones. Perhaps the most important part of the reform is that presently serving police will interviewed for their jobs, so to speak, and 20% will be let go. This last strikes at the heart of the problem, which is that too many serving police are corrupt and incompetent. But, as a former bureaucrat myself, I doubt that the process will thin them out much. This is undeniably another step but it takes a long time to change.

ARMS TREATIES. With the new START out of the way – Medvedev signed on the 28th and Obama on the 3rd – there is talk of new arms control discussions between Washington and Moscow. Obama said Washington intended to initiate talks on tactical nuclear weapons, of which Russia is believed to hold many more than the US. At the Munich security conference the Russian Foreign Minister called for re-animation of the CFE Treaty which Moscow finally denounced after NATO kept piling conditions on ratification. This was a particularly useful treaty: it was one of the few disarmament treaties that actually destroyed weapons and the inspection regime and data exchanges were great confidence and transparency builders. At the same conference the US Secretary of State called for cooperation on missile defence and talks at NATO began today on that subject.

THE THIRD TURN. The only mention of Russia in the new US National Military Strategy document speaks of cooperation.

KURILES. Yesterday Medvedev held a meeting with the Regional Development and Defence Ministers regarding the Kurile Islands and gave instructions to improve living conditions and defence readiness. At the same time it was announced that the first two Mistral class ships will be based in the Far East. The island chain runs from Kamchatka to Hokkaido; the issue with Japan relates to islands at the south of the chain: specifically Iturup, Kunashir, Shikotan and a few tiny islands (Habomais), not those north of 45º30’. But, as it happens, the troops that Russia has out there are based on the first two. This is an issue that is very neuralgic in Japan and is legally rather murky. For a long time it was a block in investments – although perhaps no more with the new Toyota agreement. Why Moscow is today talking about defence of these rather insignificant and poverty-stricken islands I do not know.

LUZHKOV’S MOSCOW. The noose does appear to be tightening, The Audit Chamber’s investigation, at the request of the new Mayor, found significant misspending on the transportation sector (especially on Moscow City’s airline – !!??). The head of the Metro resigned amid allegations of unlawful diversion of funds. Luzhkov himself is not having a lot of luck at finding a safe haven.

31. Alexeyeva’s demonstration attracted about 500 people and passed off without incident. When it finished Limonov and a few dozen tried his: they were arrested but quickly released.

KHODORKOVSKIY. Some see hints of a pardon for Khodorkovskiy and Lebedev in Medvedev’s request to the “legal expert community” to look into the case. The Moscow City Court has opened review proceedings on the second trial. But for a pardon Khodorkovskiy has to admit his guilt and this he has said he will not do.

CORRUPTION. The Public Chamber has announced that it will open a phone hotline and a website to receive citizens’ reports of official corruption; perhaps it will name corrupt officials: one author says it will be a “hall of shame”. This follows another reporting site created by the tax service last month

DOMODEDOVO BOMBING. More security chiefs have been fired; two suspects have been arrested. Doku Umarov, the leader of Caucasus Emirate, claimed credit for the bombing but the authorities doubt it, saying that it was an independent cell.

KAZAKHSTAN. Nazarbayev has modestly admitted that he’s prepared to serve for as long as the people want him. In short he will run in April and win. Perhaps he should look at the news from Tunisia and Egypt.

BELARUS. Minsk is back in the Western doghouse with the USA and the EU imposing new sanctions; on the other hand it is reported that nearly all the problems with Russia have been solved.

© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Ottawa, Canada (see