RULE-OF-LAW. At the St Petersburg Legal Forum Medvedev said: “Over these last years we have made progress in putting in place the foundations on which we can build a rule-of-law state in our country.” I think that’s a fair statement: he’s essentially saying that the beginning has been begun and not pretending that what’s been done is enough or that the job is finished. Police reform, legal changes, dismissals, some trials; that’s not nothing. I find that too much comment on Russia is absolutist: either a reform is 100% successful right now or it’s 100% failure. But, in the real world, it’s all incremental and one should look for small progress. It’s there.
POLICE REFORM. Medvedev has signed a decree establishing advisory panels at regional police headquarters. They are to “coordinate issues of public importance concerning the interests of peoples, federal and regional bodies of state power, local self-governments, and public associations”. That’s quite a lot he’s done in this area. Its effectiveness will be revealed in the next few years but again, it’s not nothing.
CORRUPTION. A military trial has charged a commissioning officer of selling rations and substituting dog food. The whistleblower who broke the story (YouTube again) was dismissed earlier. The base in Vladivostok was also found to have illegal immigrants doing construction work. More and more stories of wide-spread corruption in the Armed Forces are coming out. I wonder if a police-style sieving process will come there.
PEOPLE POWER. Civil society is pretty weak in Russia for obvious historical reasons but I am always watching for shoots to appear and here is a small one. A group of women have formed an organisation in Ulan-Ude to improve social problems in the region.
BLUE LIGHTS. But a bigger sign of success for a grass-roots protest is that Just Russia has proposed legislation to limit blue lights to cars that carry the President, the PM or emergency services vehicles. There are said to be about 1000 cars in Moscow with the official right to carry them and make everyone else get out of the way. (It does appear, however, that the do-it-yourself blue lights so common for plutocrats and hoods in the 1990s have been somewhat reduced). If Just Russia gets the law through – and it will be a popular one and hard for the other parties to object to – several ends will have been served. First the protesters will have been vindicated and we will have a law that truly came from the bottom up (the first ever in Russian history?). Second, Just Russia will have established a bit of space between it and United Russia which will be something for the Duma elections and a tiny step towards pluralism. If United Russia uses its majority to bury the proposal that will have an effect in the elections too. Very interesting to watch this play out.
KHODORKOVSKIY. The Moscow City Court heard the appeal and upheld the second conviction of Khodorkovskiy and Lebedev but cut their sentence by a year. They will now be out in 2016. It also closed a criminal case against them on the grounds that the term of the case had expired. So, just the tiniest mercy. Amnesty International has declared them “prisoners of conscience”.
PRIVATISATION. Putin has approved the sale of 7.58% of Sberbank’s share capital; at the end the government would own 50% plus one share. It is planned that a number of government holdings will be sold.
G8 BILATS. Medvedev and Obama said nice things about each other (and Doku Umarov was added to a US program that offers a reward for information about his whereabouts – it has taken official Washington a very long time to understand what’s going on in the North Caucasus). Sarkozy said the two had agreed that a contract for the Mistral will be signed in 15 days (2 built in France, 2 in Russia) and “we should treat Russia as a friendly state and involve it in our deliberations about creating an extensive space of security and prosperity”.
GEORGIA. Protests against Saakashvili have begun again, led by Burjanadze. I notice signs in English, which weren’t common in earlier protests: clearly an appeal to the outside world. We see the usual problems of disunity: Okruashvili was supposed to return to Georgia but didn’t and the numbers are not large. Standard reactions from the regime: a film purporting to show some of the protesters planning violence (why always videos?) and Saakashvili says it’s all the hand of Moscow. The protests were broken up by riot police today with some complaints of excessive force. The protesters set up defences and fought back. The planned military parade went ahead. Will the protesters succeed this time? Probably not, but one day they will: the long-term prospects for Georgia are not encouraging; see this Chatham House paper by an experienced observer.
© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Ottawa, Canada (see http://www.russiaotherpointsofview.com/)