COURT ACTIVITY. Lots of activity in the legal system. In old cases, the Moscow City Court announced that it would hear an appeal against the new jail term for Khodorkovsky and Lebedev on 17 May. This follows last week’s Supreme Court ruling that their pre-trial detention was not legal. Perhaps we will see a reduction in sentence or maybe even an acquittal. Valeriy Borshchev, of the presidential council on human rights, said that that body’s investigation showed that charges against Sergey Magnitskiy (who died in pre-trail detention 18 months ago) were fabricated. Meanwhile, in Switzerland, a money-laundering probe against a former Russian tax official has been opened at the request of the company with which he was associated. In on-going cases, two defendants accused of the murders of Stanislav Markelov and Anastasia Baburova in January 2009 have attempted suicide; the verdict was supposed to come out today. And in coming cases, the Russian Audit Chamber says it will sue the former Bank of Moscow president, Andrey Borodin, for US$1 billion (the sum he is supposed to have extracted from Moscow City). Medvedev’s campaign against “legal nihilism” presumably excludes pre-determined verdicts, fabricated evidence and requires punishment. We will see how these work out. Meanwhile Medvedev signed into law an extension of defence lawyers’ rights.
PAVLOVSKIY. Gleb Pavlovskiy, long time political fixer and advisor to the Kremlin, has severed (or been severed from) his connection with the Presidential Administration. He gave his reasons in an interview yesterday. He is disturbed by the fact that neither of the Duumvirate has announced his candidacy; this he says, is creating competition between their two “fan clubs”. Pavlovskiy makes no secret that he thinks Medvedev should be the “consolidated team” candidate and implies that his credibility was impaired by the opposition from Putin’s “fan club”. He, however, utterly denies a split between the two leaders: “There is no split and rumours about it are unfounded (неправомерны)”. The potential difficulty with the Duumvirate idea was never competition between the two principals but struggles between their apparats. When one of the two is up, so is his tail and vice versa. Putin, ever cautious, thinks it’s too early to announce – he wants to get the Duma elections over first – but Medvedev seems to be willing to announce earlier. Myself, I don’t see why it shouldn’t be announced earlier – it’s not as if Zhirinovskiy (running yet again – that’s every presidential election since the first twenty years ago) is likely to win otherwise. Or Zyuganov.
UNITED RUSSIA. There is a good deal of discussion going around that the pedestal party is slipping in the polls and may even lose its predominance. I’m less convinced: too much analysis seems to assume that the choice is between United Russia and the Archangel Michael’s party. Michael won’t be running but the Communists and Zhirinovskiy will and Russian electors will have the same old tired choice: more of the same or the obsolete past. Nonetheless, there is a good deal of struggling under the blanket and it is time for the Duumvirate to decide on its candidate and end the struggles between the “fan clubs”.
STATE AND ECONOMY. On Monday, addressing the boards of the Ministry of Economic Development and the Ministry of Finance, Putin said “We need to reduce the government’s unjustified presence in the economy and excessive amounts of government property creating more room for private initiative.” Is the Kommentariat going to start writing headscratchers on how Putin has now become the anti-Putin? His speech could have been given by Medvedev: reducing reliance on commodities, more innovation and modernisation. Same team, same plan, different phase.
LIBYA. As NATO’s operations in Libya inexorably expand, my suggestion that Russia may become the necessary intermediary comes a little closer: it is reported that Foreign Minister Lavrov was in discussion with the Libyan PM on a ceasefire. Lavrov also made it clear that Moscow will not support any new UN resolution that “stipulates further aggravation of the civil war and violence”. Putin remains scornful. Shades of NATO’s Kosovo adventure in which a limited and quick – or so it was expected – air operation went on for a couple of months with talk of introducing ground troops until Chernomyrdin and Ahtisaari brought it to an end.
© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Ottawa, Canada (see http://www.russiaotherpointsofview.com/)