PUTIN PLATFORM. An article in Izvestiya lays out the outlines of Putin’s election platform. And perhaps we have a clue as to why he thinks he must return as President. It’s one of the most concise statements of his desire for gradual reform he has ever given us. “A recurring problem in Russian history has been the elites’ desire to achieve sudden change, a revolution rather than sustained development. Meanwhile, both Russian and global experience demonstrates how harmful these sudden historical jolts can be… This is balanced by a different trend, a diametrically opposed challenge – in the form of a certain inclination to inertia, dependency, the elites’ uncompetitiveness and high levels of corruption.” Perhaps he feels that only he has the political muscle to steer between these twin shoals. He reiterated the long list of achievements since 2000 when many “foresaw one future for Russia: bankruptcy and breakup.” In short, vote for me, you know what I’m doing, you’ve seen what I’ve done. He promises more such pieces. I was also interested to see what I believe to be his first public reference to Khattab – a figure not as well known in the West as he should be.
POLLING. A VTsIOM poll shows Putin’s numbers rising since the Duma election and the rest of the field well behind. A Levada poll a few weeks earlier showed a similar rise for Putin and comparable numbers for the rest of the field. Another VTsIOM poll finds most Russians (53%) favour gradual political reforms while 39% (but note the rise from 30% in 2008) want rapid and radical reforms. All this bodes well for Putin’s winning in the first round in March.
PROTESTS. Igor Shuvalov observed that the recent protests were a sign of Russia’s irreversible political transformation and “will not be stifled”; “When per capita GDP is approaching $15,000, a country crosses a certain line, it begins to perceive itself differently, and the political system becomes more flexible”. Putin made a similar observation in Izvestiya: “Lastly, the middle classes are people who can choose politics. As a rule, their education is such that they can take a discriminating attitude to candidates rather than ‘voting with their heart’. In short, the middle classes have begun shaping their real demands in various fields.”
CORRUPTION. The former Moscow Region 1st deputy prosecutor was detained in Poland and Moscow has begun extradition procedures: he is accused of protecting an underground casino ring. A member of the Investigative Committee says the federal budget lost US$220 million last year in crimes on government purchase contracts. A former police captain has been charged with facilitating a bribe so a company could have the case against it closed. A former policeman was sentenced to 26 years for murdering an investigator looking at his rackets.
GOVERNORS. Medvedev submitted a bill to the Duma restoring direct election of regional heads. I’ve forgotten all the twists and turns but I believe it was first by presidential appointment, then direct election, then presidential appointment with two variations and now direct election again. Well, it takes time to figure it all out.
RUSSIA INC. RosStat has announced that consumer price inflation in 2011 was 6.1%; this is the lowest in the post-Soviet period. And Putin says Russia’s GDP grew 4.2% in 2011, third among the major economies (behind China at 9.5% and India at 7.8%. USA was 1.6% and Eurozone 1.5%.) (World numbers to 3Q 2011 here). More grist for Putin’s campaign mill.
ROCK SPIES. Well well, eventually it comes out. The British admit to spying in the “rock case” of 2006. Maybe we will eventually learn that, as Moscow said at the time, they were surreptitiously passing money to NGOs. Not quite how the story was spun when we first heard of it: Russian “paranoia” and “campaign of pressure against Russian NGOs”.
IRAN. The Foreign Minister has said that an attack on Iran by Western powers could cause an unpredictable “chain reaction”. Russia is also trying to tone down statements and actions against Syria. Despite the prattle in Western news outlets about Russian “support” for “allies”, the real truth is that Russia is cautious about changes. And indeed, foreign meddling in this part of the world often leads to unhappiness down the line.
© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Ottawa, Canada (see http://www.russiaotherpointsofview.com/)