US-RUSSIA. US Vice President Biden is in Moscow. He says that Russia’ accession to the WTO is a top priority, (although hinted that it depended on Russia’s human rights record) and may have made approving noises about ending the absurdly out-of-date Jackson Vanik Amendment. He reportedly told Putin that visa-free travel between Russia and the US was “a good idea”. Well, we’ll see. As to the WTO, it is quite absurd that Russia is not a member. During the time Russia has spent trying to get into it, Oman, Côte d’Ivoire, China, Cuba, Zimbabwe and others have entered. No problems with “human rights” there apparently. Russians could be forgiven for thinking that the WTO is not the economic organisation that it purports to be but really a political organisation. Members appear to have a quasi-veto and Tbilisi is quite happy to use its. A Russian official claims that Biden said that Washington had tried to talk Tbilisi out of opposing Russian membership. But I wonder how much influence Washington has on Tbilisi these days over what is the only pressure point on Moscow that Saakashvili has.
AFGHANISTAN SUPPLY. With good timing, Medvedev signed the law ratifying the agreement with Washington on military transit to Afghanistan via Russia. Another attack on a NATO fuel convoy in Pakistan a couple of weeks ago.
CORRUPTION. Two significant cases this week. Yesterday the Duma sanctioned the arrest of a Deputy from the LDPR. He is accused of significant fraud and embezzlement connected with construction in Moscow. The Duma stripped him of his immunity in November – the fourth Deputy to have lost it. Criminal proceedings were instituted in Primorskiy Kray in another embezzlement case. The suspect is the former director of a plant and the charge is that he expropriated money Japan had contributed three years ago to a program for the safe disposal of nuclear submarines.
THE THIRD TURN. Something that I’m sure would not have happened a couple of years ago is that a Russian company won the tender to operate the container terminal at the port of Tallinn Port beating out nine other bidders including an Estonian firm.
CHECHNYA. On Saturday, with Medvedev’s nomination, Ramzan Kadyrov was unanimously confirmed for another 5-year term as head of Chechnya by its parliament. Whether it likes it or not, Moscow is pretty well stuck with him. I have long been of the opinion that the people now running Chechnya, mostly people who fought Moscow in the first war, have learned that de jure independence is too costly in blood and risks the danger of a takeover of Chechnya by international jihadism. So they have decided to game Moscow with effusive protestations of loyalty and improbable voting results for the pedestal party while inching their way towards de facto independence. If this is true, there isn’t much Moscow can do about it.
LIBYA. Medvedev signed on to the UN sanctions package. It remains opposed to international intervention. There are, I believe two principal reasons for its opposition. Moscow questions the wisdom of intervention in something that grows messier by the day, especially when it is encouraged by hyperbolic reporting that may not prove correct in the end. A bit of intervention can easily become a lot of intervention. The other reason is that Moscow is highly suspicious of the “international community”, or some part of it, making decisions about what regime is acceptable and what is not. It remembers the Kosovo intervention (speaking of a “little” turning into a “lot” and hyperbolic reporting) and fears the same could be applied to it. The current Russian government prefers the international status quo.
© Patrick Armstrong, Ottawa, Canada