PUTIN SPEECH. Today Putin gave his annual speech to the Duma reporting on the government’s activities and plans. He was generally upbeat about Russia’s recovery from the financial crisis. He returned to one of his key themes: “This country requires decades of steady, uninterrupted development. Without sudden radical changes in course or ill thought through experiments based so often in either unjustified economic liberalism, or, on the other hand, social demagogy. We need neither. Both will distract us from the general path of developing the country. And, of course, we should maintain civic and inter-ethnic peace, and put a stop to any attempt to cause our society to split and quarrel among itself”. To my mind stability is still the dominating theme for him (probably less so for Medvedev, given the difference in age and experience – Putin was 39 when the USSR fell apart, Medvedev 26. A significant difference I believe). He enumerated a number of targets for the future having to do with the economy. His observation (supporting his contention that Russia had done better than some others) that Portugal had asked for emergency financial assistance put me in mind of his remark a decade ago: rather than Russia struggling to catch up to Portugal, it may happen that it passes Russia, going in the other direction.

PEDESTAL PARTY. On Friday he gave another important speech to the leaders of United Russia. To my mind the most important point was his call for competition inside the monolith. What he appears to be suggesting is that UR candidates in the Duma elections (in December), rather than nominated from above, should be chosen through some sort of electoral process presumably resembling a US primary. The party leadership enthusiastically agreed with the proposal. An interesting idea: we will see how authentic it is in practice (as little as local bosses can get away with no doubt).

PARTY OF POPULAR FREEDOM. And yet another liberal party. Boris Nemtsov, Mikhail Kasyanov, Vladimir Ryzhkov and Vladimir Milov created the Party of Popular Freedom in December and it is beginning to stir. We’ve seen a lot of these come and go: usually they founder on the egos of the leader; each Russian liberal appears to believe that only he is fit to be leader of a “united” movement. Probably this attempt will fade away as so many others have but I was struck by an interview with Ryzhkov in which he sounded quite realistic (JRL/2011/65). He sees potential support in the range of 10% rather than some notion that a majority will support them. I’m also impressed that the website is in Russian – I always wondered what the target for sites like this really was. And it’s not the Kremlin that crushes these things. Ryzhkov named three problems of liberals in Russia: 1) “All previous parties were clubs comprising intellectuals, mostly from Moscow, who established these parties in accordance with their own ideas concerning what the people needed”; 2) “[The 1990s] compromised the democratic idea thoroughly… A good deal of Russians regard the words ‘democrat’ and ‘rascal’ as synonyms” and 3) “the eternal discord among democrats. Hence the lack of success.” So some difference. But the odds are poor. But one of these days Russian liberals will get together.

KHODORKOVSKIY. The Supreme Court has ruled that the detention of Khodorkovskiy and Lebedev before their second trial was not legal. There is, after all, a new law that says people charged with economic crimes should not be parked in the (often lethal) pre-trial detention prisons. We shall see what difference this will make to their situation but it is another sign that Russia is not entirely run out of one office.

JACKSON-VANIK. A lawsuit has been filed in the USA to require Obama to remove Russia from the restriction. They believe he has the necessary legal authority. US Presidents routinely promise to end it, but it never happens. Its retention is another of those things that makes suspicious Russians believe that it’s all a swindle.

CORRUPTION. There was a large anti-corruption demonstration in Moscow – several tens of thousands they say – on Sunday. It attracted Nashi and the Party of Popular Freedom as well as the newly-appeared “white aprons”. It looked rather un-spontaneous to me but may develop into something more popularly rooted.

PEOPLE POWER. An Arbitration Appeals Tribunal ruled that Rosneft must provide information on its 2009 board meetings to minority shareholder and blogger Aleksey Navalniy, who has consistently called for greater transparency in Russian business practices. Another small victory for the ordinary citizen.

 © Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Ottawa, Canada (see