RUSSIAN FEDERATION WEEKLY SITREP 4 August 2011

ELECTION BET. I’ve put mine down: Medvedev will run, Putin will not, there may be a second Team candidate (ie one from United Russia and one from Just Russia).

PUTIN Q&A. Another session worth reading. He was in Magnitogorsk to open a new cold rolling complex but, as usual, answered all the questions thrown at him with his customary frankness and mastery of detail. As I have noticed on several occasions lately, he seems to be in a reflective mood and is ready to speak about what he believes he accomplished (stability again: “Who is going to invest in a country that is always shaking like a leaf?”). Several times lately he has been looking back in detail but forward in generalities. Is this a (tiny, I agree) indication that he is contemplating retirement?

LEGAL ACTIVITY. Quite a lot since my last Sitrep. Contractor arrested for swindling the Navy (and, by the way, a rather easily detected swindle). Four people in the North Caucasus arrested as they were preparing a bomb attack on Moscow. Yet another RosAtom executive arrested on charges of embezzlement. Another traffic cop arrested in another “blue light” affair. Three police sentenced for abuse of office. Criminal investigation into a St Petersburg shipyard. Charges laid in the Bulgaria sinking. Investigation into a “blue light” death re-opened. Extreme nationalist sentenced. Two charged in a laser blinding case (there have been a spate of these lately). A man arrested for a multiple murder. And, in the Magnitskiy case, charges have been laid and the investigation re-opened. That’s what I’ve noticed in three weeks – I wouldn’t say that nothing is being done about corruption and malfeasance.

LIBERALS. Has a “liberal” party with legs finally appeared in Russia? I refer to Right Cause (Правое дело). Founded in 2008 out of SPS and a couple of others, it has succeeded in electing some people. Most importantly it survived the preposterously complicated (and easily manipulated) registration process and thus is ready to go. The billionaire businessman Mikhail Prokhorov heads it and has said that he will devote his efforts to the future of the party. But the curse of Russian “liberals” is that they refuse to unite (that is, each is ready as long as he’s the boss) and hence there are innumerable and evanescent “taxi parties”. I believe that there is an electorate of 10% or so ready to support a viable “liberal” party and this might be the one.

POLICE REFORM. The Interior Minister says that over 90% of the police rank-and-file passed their performance review. That is not convincing – a third of the top people were let go and while I know that “a fish rots from the head” the rot doesn’t stop at the head. The job will have to be done again.

PAY PAL. It is reported that the enterprise is planning to start operations in Russia soon. I recall flying out to Vladivostok in 1995 carrying thousands of dollars in cash to pay our people out there: there was almost no other way to get money to them. This is a remarkable step and says much about Internet penetration, credit and banking institutions, changes in mentality and so forth. It also is a vote of confidence in Russia.

STUNTS. First we had “Putin’s Army” and now we have “Medvedev Girls”. A feeble example of civil society I suppose but mostly a publicity stunt as “Obama Girl” turned out to be.

GOOD NEWS FOR UKRAINE. Ukraine is thought to have significant reserves of oil and gas shale. It was announced that Royal Dutch Shell may make a significant investment in exploration. If this pans out, it will help reduce dependence on Russia.

QUADRIGA AWARD. The huffing and puffing worked and the award was rescinded. Pretty amateur performance.

US SENATE. One would think that American Senators had a pretty full schedule these days. Nonetheless they found time to pass a resolutioncalling upon Russia to remove its occupying forces from Abkhazia and South Ossetia”. Perhaps a Senator should go to one of these places and ask the locals what they think about the Russian troops and why they want them to stay. Once again, no consideration of the Abkhazian or Ossetian point of view.

© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Ottawa, Canada (see http://www.russiaotherpointsofview.com/)