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 http://www.russiaotherpointsofview.com/)