ANNIVERSARY. Twenty years today the USSR held a referendum on whether to support the proposed New Union Treaty. The new setup would have given much more power to the republics; the word used to describe it then was “confederation”. I recall much brouhaha about how the referendum would be a bust and even some “experts” claiming that no one knew what they were voting on (despite the fact that all the iterations of the treaty – 3 as I remember – had been published in the Soviet press). In the event there was a decent turnout and a strong support for continuing in the new arrangement. This was the pre-Internet days and I have lost the detailed results but the overall results are here and more detailed here. (Both sources are disingenuous, taking their numbers not from the whole population of potential voters but from those who actually did vote; in several areas not voting was voting “no”). The three Baltic SSRs, the Moldavian, Georgian and Armenian SSRs did not hold votes, on the grounds that they had not legally been incorporated into the USSR in the first place. But the Abkhaz ASSR voted by a small margin to stay in. The Chechen-Ingush ASSR voted to get out as did the Nakhichevan ASSR (the last I suspect being part of Heydar Aliyev’s manoeuvring to get to Baku). So, some hints of the future were given. The proposed signing date was set for 20 August but the coup attempt on the 19th (not unconnected of course) intervened. In the event the leaders of the Ukrainian and Belarussian SSRs and the RSFSR (55.7% of whose registered voters had voted “yes”) simply declared the end of the USSR in December (the three Baltics had been let go in September in what turned out to be effectively the last official act of the USSR). And that was that. I still believe that the bulk of the USSR could have transformed into the New Union; if so, a lot of suffering would have been avoided. Three quotations are instructive: “The recent dramatic events [ie the coup attempt] showed that our republic is absolutely unprotected… ” (Kravchuk 1991); “if Ukraine really will not be in the Union, I cannot imagine such a Union” (Yeltsin 1991); “I believed that Ukraine is so rich that it provided for the entire [Soviet] Union” (Kuchma 1993). So Ukraine killed the New Union on the expectation that it would become immediately rich by stopping the imagined drain from the others on its “rich” economy. Ah well, divorce in haste, repent at leisure: a recent poll from Ukraine says half the population now regrets the breakup. I suspect that a lot of former Soviets do too. Indeed it would be very interesting to see polls from others of the fifteen; especially from those that were very glad to get out twenty years ago. But it’s too late, it’s gone.

EMERGENCIES MINISTRY. Speaking of 1991, that is the year that Sergey Shoygu was appointed head of the Ministry. And he still is. For twenty years he has consistently ranked very high in popularity and trust. And for good reason. I have noticed in many international disasters that the Ministry is quick to act and regularly one of the first responders. And so it has with the Japanese disaster: the first rescue teams started work in Sendai Tuesday and more are on the way together with the first load of emergency supplies. Moscow has also offered fire fighting expertise at the damaged reactors. A highly skilled and efficient organisation that does not receive the attention that it should, obsessed as the Kommentariat is with Russian failures, malfeasance and Kremlinology.

ELECTIONS. As usual United Russia dominated in Sunday’s local elections. Well, if you were a Russian, would you vote for Zhirinovskiy? the Communists? for any of the latest dozen quarrelling “liberal” parties? What do they have to offer?

WEAPONS PRODUCTION. The Russian Armed Forces are re-equipping themselves and the effort is revealing problems in what is left of the former Soviet weapons industry. I was interested to see that the Ground Forces head told the Federation Council that Russian ground weapons were below NATO and Chinese standards and over-priced as well. Here is a rather gloomy accounting of the latest armaments program about half way through its term. Not unconnected with this is the announcement that Moscow is in talks with France to buy light armoured vehicles for the border guards.

UMAROV. The UNSC has put Doku Umarov on its terrorist list. High time.

LIBYA. The Foreign Minister has just said that the Arab countries should take the lead in formulating the international response to the situation in Libya and that Moscow will base its policy on their views.

© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Ottawa, Canada (see