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