DEMOGRAPHICS. The Russian demographic problem – which, incidentally, has its roots in the Soviet days and is mirrored in most FSU countries (Latvia perhaps the worst) – was the consequence of problems at each end. Low birth-rates and high infant mortality combined with too many early (and largely preventable) deaths. But, contrary to the customary poorly-sourced pieces that the Western MSM is rife with, progress is being made. Anatoly Karlin has been posting on the subject for several years and is well worth reading. His latest argues that Russia’s population has actually increased and is today higher than it was in 2009. While the natural population increase is still negative – but less and less so every year – the increase has come from immigration. Improvements have been made at both ends of the problem but Karlin provides data showing that deaths by alcohol, suicide and homicide have seen great reductions. They are still rather higher than they should be but these are factors where comparatively easy resolutions can be found. In short, it appears, barring some new disaster, that the Russian demographic crisis is on the way to being solved; that the various government programs are having their effect and that increasing prosperity will continue to raise life expectancy and reduce infant mortality. Thus Russia’s “demographic crisis” is yesterday’s news and the improvements – with more expected – serve as another of the many reasons that Russians generally approve of the Putin team. It cannot be said too often that the reasons for the Team’s popularity, trust and support in Russia is not that opinion polls are fixed, or that the mass media is as it was in the Soviet days or that Russians are naturally subservient (all assumptions of the Russophobic tendency) but because Russians can see every day the effect of a governing team that, generally speaking, does what a government is hired to do.

WTO. The long dreary saga of Russia’s attempt to join the WTO drags on. Although a member of the G8, firmly in the top 15 economies of the world and an important trader, being on the waiting list for years, promises of support from Washington and others, Russia has still not joined Zimbabwe, Papua New Guinea, Mongolia, Guinea-Bissau and 149 other countries in the group. On Friday Foreign Minister Lavrov said all the terms had been completed. All but one that is: the tradition is that all members must agree and Georgia, a member since 2000 – a gift to Shevardnadze I believe – does not. The latest from Tbilisi is that an official calls for Moscow’s agreement to “jointly monitor the Russian-Georgian border with international observers”. US Congressmen are getting into the act. Russians can be forgiven for seeing all this as another door being slammed in their faces; always a new goalpost, further down the field. We shall see – there is some indication that the EU is tired of Georgia’s intransigence.

LUZHKOV. Confirming what many suspected, the head of the Presidential Administration has said that the reason for firing Luzhkov as Mayor of Moscow was not just his “extremely inefficient city management” but also “the horrible level of corruption.” Luzhkov has threatened to sue. Medvedev has just ordered a probe into the 2003 sale of land in Moscow. The land had been set aside to house foreign embassies but was sold to a company belonging to Luzhkov’s wife.

POLITKOVSKAYA. Another former policeman has been charged with organising her murder.

GRAIN EXPORTS. Putin has said that he expects Russian grain exports to total 24 to 25 million tonnes this year. They were greatly reduced last year because of the bad summer

PATRIOTIC WAR. It’s autumn and time for 1812 war re-enactments. Getting bigger each year.

GAS WARS. Ukraine has given up the idea of contesting at the Stockholm Court of Arbitration the 2009 gas price deal negotiated by then-PM Tymoshenko. Kiev still hopes to get a lower price by negotiations and PM Azarov is optimistic. Ukraine has extensive shale gas deposits and has recently signed exploration contracts with Shell and ExxonMobil and is hopeful of freeing itself from dependency on Russian supplies.

© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Ottawa, Canada (see