THE CARDS ARE RE-DEALT. After the usual considerations, negotiations and calculations, the re-shuffle is probably complete. There is a new government with many new faces. A new Security Council – most positions ex-officio. Defence is unchanged (many thought Serdyukov was going to go) but there is a new Interior Minister (police reform has proved to be somewhat unfinished). Sergey Lavrov continues as Foreign Minister. True to his habit, Putin has sent no one into the darkness; many of the old faces being “kicked upstairs”. Neo-Kremlinologists are scrying the auguries but as far as I can see, we have the same Team, with new people moved up from the “farm teams”. What ought to be apparent, after more than a decade’s observation, is that Putin has created a remarkably collegial, discreet and effective team. He’s had a few former insiders join the opposition but (I can’t resist) nothing like Saakashvili who has seen almost every former minister, associate and ambassador go into the opposition. Further thoughts coming Friday here.

DEMOGRAPHICS. More good numbers: births up and deaths down and a fertility rate that is rising into the middle of developed countries. Anatoly Karlin has a discussion and summary of the first quarter’s numbers. The improvement is clearly not a “blip” but it’s not yet clear whether it is long-term. I have a question. We know that fertility rates can change suddenly (vide the “baby boom” in Canada and the USA after the war and the dramatic drop in Quebec in a few generations). All kind of personal factors come into play: national pride, hope (or not) for the future, affluence, education, religious beliefs and many more – millions of individual decisions that are mysteriously in step. My speculative question is this: might it be possible that positive factors are coming together in Russia and that its fertility rate might continue to grow? A few generations of Europe with negative fertility and Russia with positive would make a different world Something to watch.

THE NEW WANDERERS. Various “Occupy” wannabes are wandering around Moscow, chased by the police, trying to set up a protest camp. And why not? The originals were such successes. A world-wide phenomenon, come to think of it, that we will likely see more of.

MOSCOW MURDERS. Businessman Mikhail Kravchenko was murdered last week; the police claim to have the organiser in custody and are looking for the buttonmen. The next day a former Georgian general, who turned against Saakashvili, was assassinated.

CORRUPTION. A Moscow traffic policeman is charged with large-scale theft and a case has been opened against two Krasnodar entrepreneurs for fraud.

GDP GROWTH. RosStat gives 4.9% year-on-year growth for the first quarter; the EBRD predicts 4.2% for the year. Pretty good by today’s standards; number two in the G8 I believe.

UNITED RUSSIA. Four days after joining it, Medvedev was unanimously elected head of United Russia. Vladimir Pozner observed that this reminded him too much of CPSU congresses and challenged Medvedev to appear on his program and explain himself. Will he take up the challenge? I wouldn’t rule it out.

POLICE. More brutalities in Kalmykia. Tatarstan and elsewhere. We will see if the new Minister can do better.

PARTIES. A party I expected to do better than it did in the 1990s, Women of Russia, has just been registered.

SANCTIMONY FLAME WARS. The Foreign Ministry, no doubt enjoying every moment, expressed its concern about “aggressive arrests of peaceful demonstrators in Chicago and in Montreal”. The US State Department huffed about human rights in Russia. I wish this nonsense would stop. But it won’t.

NOT RUSSIA BUT SIGNIFICANT NONETHELESS. A consortium (24% LUKoil) has discovered a major oilfield in Egypt, which previously didn’t have much. Something that may have some significant effects in time.

G8 AND NATO. Summits were held and everything is Just Fine. First prize goes to the G8: “We recognize the particular sacrifices made by the Libyan people in their transition to create a peaceful, democratic, and stable Libya.” I sometimes think that they have hired former Warsaw Pact staff to write their communiqués. The ability to bludgeon reality into silence with hundreds of wooden words takes skill and practice.

GEORGIA. Maybe (maybe) the opposition to Saakashvili has found a focus. Bidzina Ivanishvili has been working away to create an opposition force and it held its first rally on Sunday attracting a large crowd

© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Ottawa, Canada (see


VORSTAND RESHUFFLE. Putin was inaugurated on Monday and, as promised, immediately nominated Medvedev as PM. He was confirmed by the Duma the next day (Communists and Just Russia voting against). I was intrigued by their first reported actions: Putin ordered the creation of a business ombudsman to defend “the rights of entrepreneurs” showing that improvement of Russia’s business climate is a high priority. Medvedev called for a new system of state defence orders. This last has been notoriously opaque; many complain the money is not wisely spent and Russian-made weapons are over priced and not modern. Note that each of these touches on corruption: there are those who think that Putin returned to the Presidency because only he has the political muscle to attack this pervasive problem. Perhaps so, we will see. I still think that we need to see someone in an office close to the two led away in handcuffs for an anti-corruption drive to really bite.

FOREIGN POLICY. Putin quickly issued a host of decrees, one on foreign policy. The first priority is “to assist in creating favourable external conditions for the Russian Federation’s long-term development, modernisation of its economy, and strengthening its positions as an equal partner on global markets.” The second is “to seek to assert the rule of law in international relations, to advocate the leading role of the UN in global affairs and the fundamental principles of the UN Charter that require the development of friendly relations between nations on the basis of equality, respect for each others’ sovereignty and territorial integrity…” This is a country that wants a quiet life so it can develop its economy.

DEMOS. The “March of Millions” on the 6th was nowhere near “millions”; more like 20K. That day a similar number turned out on behalf of Putin. Clearly the steam has gone out of the protests and they are returning to the usual immiscible assemblage of communists, ultra-nationalists and former politicians with an element ready to play to the biases of the ever-gullible Western press corps. As they were intended to, Western headlines focussed on the attempt to rush the Kremlin and the police response rather than the peaceful protest. But it’s not news: tens, hundreds, of thousands can protest against Putin so long as they follow the rules that they agree to. Yavlinskiy, on the other hand, knows it was a stunt; now is the time to “to start serious politics, winning elections and taking power” (not that he’s shown much skill…).

LITVINENKO. Read this. The West was fed a line and swallowed it whole.

POLITICAL CHANGES. Medvedev’s last act as President was to sign into law some of the political changes that have been in the works for a while. Direct election of regional heads returns in June and it will now be much easier for political parties to be registered. The Republican Party was just re-registered: there are now 8 registered parties and another 171 in application. I remember the giant ballots of the 1995 Duma election; I guess we’ll be seeing them again. Only the dimmest would attempt to argue that Putin does not support these changes.

MISSILE DEFENCE. Moscow reiterated all its points at a conference in Moscow: in extremis, Moscow could see it as such a threat that it might have to attack the sites; the refusal to give “legal binding guarantees” makes Moscow more mistrustful of the ultimate purpose. Predictably the Western media stripped the context out and reported it as a threat. No: Moscow is the side that feels threatened. And, having been burned before, it no longer trusts mere assurances. It’s not that complicated.

RUSSIAN SHELF. In another result from the new tax regime, Rosneft and Norway’s Statoil have formed a JV to explore Russia’s offshore reserves in the Barents and Okhotsk Seas.

PUTIN DERANGEMENT SYNDROME. The newest victim is Miriam Elder in The Guardian. Her loss of her dry-cleaning receipt illustrates the essential evilness of Putin as does a blog on RT. No matter how apparently unconnected some event may be, the afflicted can always twist it into an anti-Putin rant. PDS is gradually becoming the sole content of Western reporting; Stephen Cohen points out the cost to us here. If only, in 1999, Western reporters had bothered to go to St Petersburg rather than asking their usual Moscow contacts who Putin was, we might have a more balanced view today.

© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Ottawa, Canada (see