PUTIN SPEECH. At the St Petersburg Forum. On a recurrent theme, he said that the economy must reduce its dependence on hydrocarbons and that foreign investment was necessary: “This is why we feel that creating an investment climate that is not just favourable, but truly better and more competitive, is a key issue in state policy.” A commissioner for entrepreneurs’ rights, Boris Titov, has been named (he immediately said he would press for pardons for the many in jail for economic crimes – including Khodorkovskiy. I wonder how that will play out). The government will reduce its holdings in state-owned companies. Medvedev received much attention at the start of his presidency for talking about Russia’s “legal nihilism”; well, here’s Putin: “Unfortunately corruption is without exaggeration the biggest threat to our development”. Same team, same program. In fact there are those who think Putin came back as President because only he has the muscle to take on corruption. There is a hint in the speech that he takes the G20 more seriously than the G8. An important speech to read and not read about: making Russia a more attractive place for foreign investment will be a high priority. He’s not naïve: “a fairly difficult and ambitious goal, given our position today”.

TODAY’S VIDEO. Putin is a believing Christian. I heard that a long time ago and here’s a video collection.

PARTIES. The 1995 Duma election had 43 parties contending and 4 crossed the 5% threshold (I was an official observer and well remember the gigantic ballots – size of a newspaper sheet). In 1999 there were “only” 30 and five made it over the barrier (two merged into today’s United Russia pedestal party). Putin’s new rules made it harder to register and raised the barrier, Medvedev’s rules made it easier and lowered the barrier. So we’re back to the 1990s. 23 new parties have been registered and there are more on the waiting list. But, over these elections and different rules, one thing stands out: only four tendencies get into the Duma, whatever number of parties there may be. The Communists and Zhirinovskiy (who have some overlap of appeal) make it and so does the pedestal party (gone through several iterations but the same in essence). Then there is a “liberalish” party (used to be Yabloko – and probably could be today if Russian liberals had cooperated with each other) but today the United Russia-lite Just Russia fills the position (will it carve a place for itself? Seems to be doing so). I would be surprised if the addition of other 20 – or 200 – parties will make much difference to this breakdown which well reflects political opinion in the country. One of the great defects of Russian politics to my mind is the refusal of the “liberal” tendency (which probably has 10-15% of the electorate) to unite. Good piece on their failures here. As an observer of the 20 years, I find it interesting just how long it takes a real party system to evolve. We’re not there yet and I have no idea when we will be.

FEDERATION COUNCIL. Yet another re-arrangement. Now gubernatorial candidates (again to be directly elected) must nominate their representative on the Federation Council (and 2 spares) as part of their campaign. Russia’s upper house therefore resembles the US Senate before 1913 – direct representatives sent by the regions.

POLL. For those who think Russian polls that show Putin is popular are fixed and that they can therefore make up their own numbers, here’s a German/US one that shows the same thing (graphic). By the way Navalniy, the West’s current darling, is not especially popular. I also notice that 43% say they have 2 or more children.

NATO. Moscow has given approval for NATO to use a base in Ulyanovsk as a transit hub to Afghanistan. This is not going to be a popular decision.

THE EMPTINESS OF FORMER FLAPS. A DND study says that Russia’s activities in the Arctic pose no threat to Canada: “Russia is following the same process prescribed by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea to define its outer jurisdictional limits as other coastal states”. (See this) That’s not what we heard at the time: Russia claims North Pole. But the damage was done and it was affixed to the “charge sheet”. And another: one of the Russian amphibious ships supposedly enroute to Syria never went anywhere near it.

ISRAEL. Putin’s trip to Israel is a reminder that Russian-Israeli relations are actually pretty good. Gas too maybe.

GEORGIA. Shevardnadze is reported to have said his “biggest sin to the people and the country was the fact that he had transmitted power to Saakashvili” whom he calls a dictator, Apparently Ivanishvili has hired his own PR firm in Washington. I foresee the amusing scene of Lobbyist A entering a US Congressman’s office and saying “Saakashvili is a great democrat and should be supported” to be immediately followed by Lobbyist B saying “Saakashvili is a great dictator and should be opposed”. Cognitive dissonance indeed.

© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Ottawa, Canada (see