OPEN MIKES. Everyone by now has heard about what Obama said to Medvedev. A cynic would say that Obama could have done all that in his first two years when his party had a majority in Congress, or even now while it still has one in the Senate. But, here we are, back where we started. Romney’s response was preposterous but it appears that all the standard memes about Russia-the-Eternal-Enemy are firmly embedded in his mind. If he is elected, there will be bad times ahead for US-Russia relations. My fuller response will appear at Russia Profile Experts’ Panel on Friday.
POLICE. Clearly Medvedev’s police reform was, to put it mildly, incomplete. After the murder of a suspect in Tatarstan, the Russian Investigative Committee spokesman told regional units to check all complaints about police misconduct. Almost immediately, 66 more cases were revealed there. And still more elsewhere. A police accountant was charged with stealing payroll money and the head of a regional traffic police department with accepting a bribe. The “performance review” accepted 90%; too many.
CORRUPTION. After an investigation, the Prosecutor General’s Office concluded that about US$84 million of state money had been embezzled in North Caucasus, with next to none recovered, That’s about 1%. Even if the investigators are off by a factor of ten that strikes me as a gigantic reduction from former times when it was closer to 100%. Charges of financial wrongdoing against the former head of the Moscow subway have been dropped. Russians are sceptical that Putin can significantly reduce corruption (His “most wearying and difficult to resolve” problem said he in 2008): only 25% think he can. Some observations are relevant. Corruption is not, of course, a Russian invention although it’s often reported as if it were; we all have it in varying degrees and styles. Second, the worst corruption is invisible because insiders steal the money before it leaves the Treasury; the most visible is small-time shake-downs. And third, it is a serious problem in Russia, but arrests are made and convictions obtained. And fourth, perceived corruption is very dependent on what an individual sees and what he hears about (which is why I don’t take TI’s ratings very seriously).
END OF AN ERA. Sergey Shoygu is the new Governor of Moscow Region, replacing Boris Gromov, who, rumour has it, will go to the Federation Council. Shoygu has served as the head of Russia’s emergency services for the incredible term of 20 years, outlasting a multitude of ministers; fascinating to think of what he has seen pass by in the government and all the changes he has observed from his office. By all accounts he has done a superb job: he had people on the ground in the 2004 tsunami, for example, the next day.
TRAVEL. A Levada poll tells us that about a quarter of Russians have been outside the FUSSR. That, when you think of it, is quite a large number and is part of the psychic changes happening in the country: I suspect most have done their travelling since 2000.
CARS. Putin has urged all government structures to buy vehicles made in Russia, Kazakhstan or Belarus. I seem to recall an earlier Yeltsin decree to that effect. Mind you, Russian cars are better today. But, still, there’s nothing like a big, black Merc, with a cluster of little Mercs scampering around you. Maybe that will change.
CIRCASSIANS. After Russia conquered the North Caucasus in the Nineteenth Century, many Circassians left for the Ottoman Empire and are now found all over its successor states. A number of those in Syria apparently want to leave and return to their ancient homeland: it is said that they feel Assad was their protector and guarantor of their security. Their cause has been taken up by a Federation Council Deputy from the Kabardin-Balkar Republic. More here. It will be interesting to see what happens.
GEORGIA. Some years ago, Russia cut off imports of Georgian mineral water, claiming problems with forgery and adulteration. But, after extensive re-tooling, the Borjomi plant is up to standards and Russia’s health organisation has approved it for import. Russia is a very large market and the water is a significant export earner for Georgia.
THE EMPTINESS OF FORMER FLAPS. The Ukrainian Prosecutor-general says that the Yushchenko poisoning case should be closed for lack of evidence. Lots of the usual nudge-nudge wink-wink stuff implicating Russia at the time which helped to boost the “Orange Revolution”. Doubts at the time got little coverage. Another piece of typing masquerading as reporting. More on the Ukrainian prosecutor’s views.
© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Ottawa, Canada (see http://www.russiaotherpointsofview.com/)