MISSILE DEFENCE. Here’s Russia’s position in a nutshell: “We must receive guarantees that it is not directed against us. So far no such guarantees have been given.” Simple, easy to understand and any other country would say the same. “Trust, but verify”. Do you become more secure by making your neighbours nervous?
LIBYA. It is reported that several leaders, formally or otherwise, asked Medvedev to mediate in Libya. He is willing. Moscow has maintained relations with Tripoli and more recently opened discussion with the rebels in Benghazi and is therefore in a position to be a middleman. In his press conference after the G8, Medvedev said that he had sent Mikhail Margelov to Benghazi to begin talks, that “Gaddafi’s regime has lost legitimacy and he must leave” and that Russia would not give him asylum. Readers will recall that when NATO’s operation began, I wondered if it would end (as Kosovo did) with Russia helping to get it out of a stalemate.
KHODORKOVSKIY. His lawyers say he will apply for parole. Meanwhile the European Court of Human Rights has ruled 1) that his first trial had not been politically motivated 2) his rights were violated by the treatment he received. It would have been better had this decision come out a lot earlier before it became a meme that the whole thing was political. By the way: the decision had two points to it and news outlets chose which to emphasise: rights violated, not politically motivated. The former slant seems to predominate although I would have put the second first because it contradicts the meme and is therefore less expected.
POLITKOVSKAYA. Rustam Makhmudov, her killer according to the prosecution’s theory, was arrested in Chechnya on Tuesday. The investigators thanked the authorities in Belgium, where he had been hiding, for making him leave. He has been formally charged with murder.
WTO. Sarkozy said that the G8 supported Russian entry into the WTO and saw no impediment. Well I do: Tbilisi seems to have a veto and will use it. So either its objection is dropped, ignored or it continues not to happen. Biden is reported to have told Saakashvili that Washington supports Russia’s entry. We’ll see if that hint from Saakashvili’s only remaining – and increasingly lukewarm – international supporter has any effect.
POLICE REFORM. Three traffic police officers in Samara are accused of beating a driver to death in January.
CORRUPTION. The Chief of the Main Military Medical Directorate of the Ministry of Defence has been arrested on corruption charges. Corruption is said to be a serious problem in the Ministry and Armed Forces and possibly getting worse (or, alternatively, more are being caught).
MISTRAL. Despite all the stories that the deal was falling apart, Medvedev and Sarkozy agreed that the contract (two ships built in France and then two in Russia) will be signed in 15 days. In his interview, Medvedev sidestepped the question about technology transfer so we will have to wait and see.
BELARUS. I believe that the Belarus economy – a sort of USSR-lite – is coming to the end of its possibilities. About two weeks ago the National Bank devalued the currency 36% against the US$ (4930 per dollar vs 3155 the day before) which has set off a degree of panic buying. True to form, Lukashenka has threatened to dismiss the government if it does not produce daily improvements. He has also shut down a number of Russian media outlets for printing “hysterical” pieces on the effect of the devaluation. Meanwhile Minsk is trying for a US$8 billion stabilisation loan from the IMF. Belarus under Lukashenka has been an island of torpid stability – no divisive “Orange Revolution”, wars or economic collapses when you thought everything was OK. He can indeed claim that it’s better under him in Belarus than in most of its neighbours. But it seems to be a gentle and implacable decline.
GEORGIA. The bloom continues to come off the rose: the UN, USA, OSCE and UK (plus people inside Georgia) have called for an inquiry into pretty considerable police brutality. I don’t recall such loud and immediate calls the last time. Meanwhile, as usual, “evidence” has appeared (been manufactured) to show the whole thing was hatched in Moscow. But Saakashvili is losing his audience.
© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Ottawa, Canada (see http://www.russiaotherpointsofview.com/)