KURILES. I’m mystified why this issue has suddenly boiled up. Perhaps Medvedev’s visit last November has driven the two capitals into the inevitable rhetorical exchanges. Attempts are being made to calm things down: the two foreign ministers have promised to talk calmly and the chief of Antiaircraft and Missile Troops, responding to a suggestion that S-400 SAMs be deployed there, dismissed the idea as excessive and dangerous. The principal Japanese opposition leader has criticised his government for its language. At present each claims the islands and it is not easy to see how a compromise can appear. But there is at least one international example that might serve as a model – the Åland Islands.
KHODORKOVSKIY. An aide to the judge who sentenced Khodorkovskiy and Lebedev to another prison term has said: “Higher echelons didn’t like the verdict, so it was replaced by another one”. The judge denies it, and, although the aide fully expects to be fired, the court says “it has no plans” to do so. Apart from any other considerations, there has always been a strong political content to the prosecutions because Khodorkovskiy was trying to gain control of the Duma and thence the government.
POLICE REFORM. A detailed analysis of the new law is presented here by my colleague Gordon Hahn. On paper the reform looks good and even if execution is only 50%, it will be a huge improvement.
TOURISTS. One of the more noticeable changes since 1990 is that Russian tourists are all over the place (enough, as I have observed myself, to make it worthwhile to print souvenir booklets in Russian). According to RIAN, 2009’s three favourite destinations were Turkey, Egypt and China; there were about 7 million Russian tourists.
RUSSIA-UK. Moscow-London relations have been rather bad for some time. Moscow is not amused that Berezovskiy has a safe haven there to continue his attempts to overthrow the Russian government and there have been several painful events regarding British companies. The Litvinenko affair irritates both capitals. But, very gradually, relations are improving. Foreign Minister Lavrov has been visiting and so far, the atmosphere seems to be cautiously friendlier. But there is a long way to go: perhaps a serious investigation of the Litvinenko affair would be a good place to start.
EDUCATION. It’s being reformed too. The ministry has posted the projected standards for high school education (Russian) on its website; the idea is to encourage public discussion. Subjects will be taught at “minimum” and “dedicated” levels depending on the student’s choice. Subjects will be grouped as follows: Russia and literature (including the appropriate second language: eg Tatar, Ossetian et al); foreign languages; mathematics and computer science; social sciences; natural sciences; arts or an optional subject. Four subjects will remain compulsory: Russia in the World, life safety basics, physical training and a personal research project. This is supposed to come into effect in 2020. What ought to strike an observer from the West is how solid these subjects are.
CORRUPTION. Yesterday the FSB raided a Moscow Oblast police station over alleged links to illegal gambling; two police officers having been arrested the day before. Medvedev has submitted a draft law to the Duma increasing penalties for accepting bribes and kickbacks.
LUZHKOVS. Police have raided Baturina’s company Inteco. I do believe that we will see charges laid eventually.
COSSACKS. Medvedev has proposed the creation of an All-Russian Cossack Association to unite Cossacks. “The Cossack Question” is something that never quite seems to get off the ground. They exist – or at least there are people who believe themselves to be Cossacks and organise themselves that way – and from time to time the government has muttered about Cossack self-defence organisations, Cossacks assisting the police, or Cossack units in the Army, but nothing much ever seems to happen.
DEMOS. Now there are plenty on Moscow – although none very large. Fearing another nationalist rally, police cordoned off Manezh Square last week and made some arrests. A sanctioned “anti fascist” rally organised by the Caucasus Congress passed off quietly. The sanctioned “Day of Wrath” rally attracted a few hundred but arrests were made as the Left Front movement leader Sergey Udaltsov attempted to move to the Presidential Administration building. I suppose that protests about the inability to protest will die away.
© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Ottawa, Canada (see http://www.russiaotherpointsofview.com/)