POPULAR FRONT. The fundamental problem with United Russia is that, being a pedestal party, its members aren’t especially interested in new ideas: they only want to stay in with the statue standing on it. Putin has complained about this before and in his latest idea to bring some life to Russia’s stodgy political system, announced on Friday at a United Russia conference the creation of a “popular front”, Set up the next day, it is supposed to harness the creativity of the population and bring forward good ideas. Blunt as ever, he gave two reasons: the Duma elections are coming (presumably this ties into his notion of something like primaries before candidates are chosen) and “Frankly speaking, United Russia, our leading political force, needs an influx of new ideas, proposals and people in these circumstances”. I’m sceptical: first, this is too top-down and second, all the kratotropes in United Russia will comb the Bosses’ speeches so that they can enthusiastically agree with whatever they propose.
HERMITAGE CAPITAL. Two stories: the official Moscow story and Browder’s. Moscow said Hermitage Capital participated in a tax fiddle, Browder was a “threat to national security” and expelled him in 2005. Some officials were dismissed, some arrests were made and the case lumbers on. Browder’s story is that Russian tax officials robbed him and set him up. Browder’s story is looking better these days: Swiss authorities have just frozen the bank accounts of the tax officials that he accused. This all ties in with the death of Sergey Magnitskiy, a lawyer for Hermitage, who was arrested when he made these accusations and died in pre-trial detention in November 2009. An investigation into his death was ordered by Medvedev and is due to report soon. But that only covers Magnitskiy’s death; a part of what appears to have been a very elaborate operation. This case will be a test of how serious the anti-corruption campaign is, especially now that the Swiss authorities have brought new evidence to light. The complicated story, from Browder’s perspective, is here and this website covers events.
NAVALNIY. In something that may be related to the Hermitage Capital case, the anti-corruption campaigner Aleksey Navalniy, who runs a Wikileaks-style website (rospil), has been himself charged with fraud. He insists it is a false charge to shut him down.
MARKELOV AND BABUROVA MURDER. Sentencing finally: life for Tikhonov and 18 years for Khasis. Their suicide attempts are understandable.
FOREST FIRES. Now that it is the forest and peat bog fire season again (34 in Siberia so far), Shoygu, whose Ministry is responsible for fighting them, has proposed that networks of “public patrols”, with direct links to his Ministry, be created to keep watch. In the Soviet days there was an extensive network of federal forest rangers but this service was disbanded in 2007 and the responsibility downloaded to regional governments. In hindsight, obviously a mistake and it’s evident that Shoygu is trying to bring something like that back.
KHIMKI FOREST. Even though the decision has been made to route the highway through it (with vague assurances of some sort of offset) the issue is not going away. An unauthorised protest was put down with heavy-handed police tactics on Sunday.
BORDERS. One of the more naïve charges against Russia in the 90s was that it had not settled its borders with the former SSRs – the implication being that this was an indication of its desire to “restore the empire”. Naïve because it actually takes a very long time to delineate an international border in a context in which the former inter-USSR borders didn’t matter very much and many tiny details (routes of power lines or navigable channels in rivers for example) have to be laboriously negotiated. To say nothing of the expense of constructing signage, crossing points, patrols and all the rest of the infrastructure of a meaningful border. Medvedev just submitted to the Duma the treaty on the border with Azerbaijan. And it’s clear that it is still not completely delineated: the precise starting point (where Azerbaijan, Georgia and Russia meet) and the Caspian appear still unsettled).
© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Ottawa, Canada (see http://www.russiaotherpointsofview.com/)