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.

THE MIGHTY RUSSIAN ARMS BUILDUP. The Defence Ministry says the Air Force will receive over 60 modernised MiG-31 (first flight by prototype 1975) by 2020.

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.

GAS. We are informed by Ukraine’s gas company that Russian gas prices will be about US$416 per thousand cubic metres this year. This compares with the German price in December of US$435.

© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Ottawa, Canada (see

The End of USAID in Russia Exacerbates US-Russia Tensions

Patrick Armstrong
Patrick Armstrong Analysis,
Ottawa, Canada
USAID is an NGO, NGOs are good. USAID promotes democracy, democracy is good. Putin is kicking it out of Russia, Putin is bad. Throw in something about Syria or Georgia (well, perhaps not Georgia, after the prison revelations) and you’re done. Simple story, writes itself. Journalism 101.
But let’s go a little deeper than the surface browsing practised by the Western MSM. USAID is funded by the US State Department and as the proverb has it: “he who pays the piper calls the tune”. (Russians have the exact equivalent of this English proverb “Кто платит, тот и заказывает музыку”). What tune might that be?
Item. Two days after the Duma election – before the results were fully in, US Secretary of State Clinton called for a “full investigation” of accusations of irregularities and expressed ”our serious concerns about the conduct of the election”.
Item. The “irregularities” had been helpfully pointed out by Golos, the so-called independent Russian election monitor. It receives much of its funding from USAID. Maybe it had some interesting communications with US officials with the suggestion of payment for the “correct” results.
Item., the supposed home-grown Russian protest group, appears to have come into existence last October and gives its address as Bellevue, WA 98007 USA. 
Item. Pussy Riot has been declared “prisoners of conscience, sentenced solely for the peaceful expression of their views” by Amnesty International. The new Executive Director of the US branch (appointed in January) is Suzanne Nossel. She worked at the US State Department and in the Clinton Administration. She proudly states that she is “the author of a 2004 article in Foreign Affairs magazine entitled ‘Smart Power’ and coined the term that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has made a defining feature of U.S. foreign policy”. In the article she opined “Unlike conservatives, who rely on military power as the main tool of statecraft, liberal internationalists see trade, diplomacy, foreign aid, and the spread of American values as equally important.” Apparently Pussy Riot fits into this grand design of “the spread of American values”.
So, the tune that is being paid for seems rather obvious: Putin’s election and that of his supporting party is illegitimate; he is creating new “prisoners of conscience”; honest Russians, on their own initiative, are protesting this.
But United Russia’s electoral results were those predicted by many opinion polls over some time, actually a whisker worse: (William of Ockham would suggest that if you are fixing election results, you do not fix them so that your support party does worse). Putin’s victory accorded with numerous opinion polls. Which is very strong prima facie evidence of their legitimacy. (Unless one throws out all opinion polling in Russia in which case the perennial Number Two – the Communists – with a backup from Zhirinovskiy’s party – actually won. Which would be less to Washington’s taste. But who’s being logical here?)
So, what then is the “democracy” that USAID, this not very non-governmental organisation, is pushing? It appears to be one without Putin. Whether Washington likes it or not, Putin is supported by many more Russians than practically any Western leader is by his population. Washington evidently does not like it; but it’s not really “democracy” to try and undermine him, is it? It’s more “the spread of American values” or, perhaps, American interests, isn’t it?
It will be interesting to watch what happens to the Russian opposition. I expect the Communists and super-nationalists to continue – I believe them to be Russian-rooted and Russian-funded. But what will become of Navalniy, Kasparov, Kasyanov and all the other oppositionists so beloved of Western capitals? Will they actually prove to have any Russian funding and support?
I believe the Russians are right on their imitation of the US FARA Act. I believe that, in a “democratic” country (that word again), citizens have a right to know whose money is trying to influence their opinions. The absence of USAID’s money may clarify the situation in Russia.