LIBYA. After Russia abstained on the UNSC resolution, allowing it to pass, the Foreign Ministry spokesman piously objected when the “no fly zone” enforcement began exactly as the US Defense Secretary had said it would two weeks before. Much as it may please some Russians to throw that fatuous word “disproportionate” back at the West, this is pretty hypocritical. Russia could have stopped it by veto. Meanwhile Medvedev has declared that Moscow is ready to mediate. That may happen yet: for all I know, NATO would still be fighting in Kosovo if Chernomyrdin and Ahtisaari hadn’t stepped in.
SPLIT IN THE DUUMVIRATE? Is there a difference between Putin and Medvedev on Libya? Putin said that the resolution reminded him of “a medieval call to crusade”; shortly afterwards, Medvedev said that to talk of crusades was “unacceptable”. Certainly Medvedev seems more comfortable (or less uncomfortable) with the operation than Putin does (not surprisingly given the number of times Putin was burned by the West.). Although, when meeting with the US Defense Secretary, Medvedev used the words “indiscriminate use of air power”. Which it is not (but then, the Russians don’t have JDAMs. See below). When Medvedev (in Moscow) made his formal statement, was he aware that Putin (in the Udmurt Republic) had given his “personal opinion” about four hours earlier? On the other hand the word “Crusaders” is commonly used by jihadists to describe the West and Gaddafi is using it too. So, coincidence or direct rebuke? Putin (in Slovenia) has denied any split: “We have a president in Russia who directs foreign policy and there can not be a split”. Yesterday he (in Serbia) eased off a bit more. What this incident does show is that the assumption that Putin is the puppet master and Medvedev the puppet is naïve.
DEFENCE INDUSTRY. The battle continues. As Russia tries to catch up after a twenty-year pause in weapons design and production, the question arises as to whether what’s left of the old Soviet weapons industry is competitive. In a number of categories – UAVs, assault ships, light AFVs – the decision seems to be that it is not. But there are many more categories over which to argue. In a direct riposte to the Ground Forces Commander’s assertion that the T-90 MBT was inferior to, and more expensive than, the German Leopard, we have the counter: mathematical models that purport to show the reverse. (A personal aside: years ago I was in the combat simulation business and inputs and assumptions are pretty important in the models: one of the ones in this study apparently was to start the fight at 1500 metres. Which is a rather short range these days). Deputy PM Ivanov, however, has announced that Moscow will invest US$100 billion in the development of the defence industry in next decade. A lot of money and pride is at stake and the battle will intensify.
POLICE. Medvedev just dismissed another batch of high-ranking police officers; no reason was given. (Perhaps they failed their examination). As I suspected, the current situation is that all high officers have been formally suspended and are acting in their former ranks pending the performance review to be conducted by the Head of the Presidential Administration and approved by Medvedev.
CORRUPTION. Dmitriy Gayev, the former Moscow subway chief, has been charged with taking US$4 million of public funds: the story is that he illegally patented the electronic tickets that replaced the old tokens and peacefully trousered the patent payments.
ROADS. Last year a couple of guys drove from Moscow to Vladivostok recording all the way. Their films are worth a look: Russian roads are in much better shape than is commonly assumed: Russia has not been wasting its energy profits.
ARMENIA. On Thursday there was a substantial (10,000 people seems to be the consensus) anti-government protest in Yerevan. The former president, Levon Ter-Petrosyan, was one of the leaders. He has been protesting the results of the last election, claiming fraud, and claims that the present ruling group is corrupt and oppressive. Independent Armenia has not had a happy 20 years. Wars over Karabakh, the resulting blockade of the eastern rail route from the north (the western one is blocked by the Georgia-Abkhazia dispute); a small land link with Iran and a longer border with Turkey (and difficult relations there); the fear that Baku will use its oil revenues to attack. All these have made for a stagnant economy and rather hopeless forecasts. And high levels of emigration.
© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Ottawa, Canada (see http://www.russiaotherpointsofview.com/)