RUSSIAN FEDERATION WEEKLY SITREP 24 February 2011

REVOLUTIONS. The Arab Revolution is making a few people (Gorbachev for one) speculate about the possibility of a similar rising in Russia. Speculation about a Russian “Arab scenario” is little more than wishful thinking from a negligible opposition that agrees on almost nothing. The “Arab revolution” is sui generis: rulers-for-life enriching their circle while impoverishing everyone else and populations in which half are under 30 or 25 with little to hope for. And some outside advice. This is not Russia: simply stated, the necessary conditions are not there. The Duumvirate remains popular and for good reason: Russians can see and touch the improvement in their situation over the past decade. If in 15-20 years the same people were on top still taking about police reform, cooruption and modernisation that would be a different story. However, some of the other post Soviet states, especially those with rulers-for-life, could develop that way. One place to keep an eye on is Georgia: if Saakashvili contrives to stay in power (as he seems to be trying) and we have another few years of stagnation and blaming everything on Russia, it could happen there – at least some of the opposition says so.

DEMOGRAPHICS. Generally speaking the government’s efforts to correct the demographic decline by working at each end of the problem – ie birth and death rates – is showing good effects. Anatoly Karlin follows developments in greater detail than I; here is his latest entry. Population decline was never an exclusive Russian problem – most of the former communist countries had similar numbers (see below for one of the contributing factors) – and Russia is starting to pull away from its neighbours. The Health Minister unveiled a new program for 2011-2015 which aims to keep the population at least at the current level.

BOOZE. Figures from the WHO claim that Russia ranks fourth highest in the world in alcohol consumption (interactive data by regions here – this site is excellent for statistics, by the way). Interestingly, nine of the top ten on the list enjoyed the blessings of communism. That is a little too coincidental.

CORRUPTION. The push against illegal gambling in Moscow continues: the police chief claims that 388 illegal casinos have been shut down in the last six weeks. And, naturally, that’s not the only involvement of the legal authorities: the Moscow Oblast prosecutor and a number of other officials have been suspended during the investigation. Bribery is suspected.

DISMISSAL. Medvedev has dismissed the FSB deputy head Vyacheslav Ushakov at the request, we are told, of the FSB head. “Shortcomings in his work and code of ethics violations” were the reasons given. I’m sure there’s more to the story but we may never hear it.

TRIALS. The Governor of Magadan was murdered in 2002 and four people have just been sentenced. Some of this rather excessive delay is due to the fact that the two principals had to first be extradited from Spain. The trial for the murders of lawyer Stanislav Markelov and reporter Anastasia Baburova has begun. I wonder if the Kommentariat will take notice of that because it goes against its meme that Putin is killing reporters and nothing is done about it.

KHODORKOVSKIY VERDICT. Veniamin Yakovlev, adviser to Medvedev for justice, says he is ashamed to hear the allegation that the verdict was dictated to the judge from on high and that the allegation must be investigated. I haven’t the faintest idea what this means: a private opinion? (does a Presidential advisor of six years standing have private opinions that he publicly expresses)? A hint that the verdict could be overturned? That a really serious investigation of the whole Khodorkovskiy case will be conducted? That a better cover-up will be contrived? His retirement speech? Stay tuned.

INVESTMENT. General Motors announced that it intends to double output at its St Petersburg plant in 2011.

GAMSAKHURDIA. A Georgian Parliamentary Commission, headed by his son Konstantin, has concluded that Zviad Gamsakhurdia could not have committed suicide in 1993 as reported (I have always called it an “assisted suicide”). Gamsakhurdia was the author of much of Georgia’s present problems and was overthrown by a coup which brought Shevardnadze in to be its “beard”.

MANAS AIRPORT. It has just been announced that a Russian-Kyrgyz JV has been created to supply jet fuel to Manas airbase. Given the scandals associated with the last supplier, its alleged connections to the Bakiyev regime and Otunbayeva’s criticisms of its present behaviour, I expect that this consortium will get the contract.

© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Ottawa, Canada (see http://www.russiaotherpointsofview.com/)