BOOK PLUG. Please take a look at this: Putin’s New Russia. A number of us have contributed in an effort to counter the continuous outpouring of slipshod and biased reporting on Russia.

LOCAL ELECTIONS. United Russia dominated; the opposition cried foul. Turnout rather low but better in the five regions electing governors (all five drearily United Russia). But what is the “opposition” anyway? opposed to Putin yes, but agreed on what? See next.

DEMOS. Another large opposition demo passed off peacefully last month. The opposition is becoming more fragmented by the day; an eyewitness tells me about supernationalists yelling at PARNAS: “Russia without Jews!” and insulting gay rights campaigners; anarchists telling the white ribbon people to take up the black flag of anarchy; Udaltsov’s Red Front calling for Lukashenka to head a Russia-Belarus union; Monarchists calling Nemtsov a Russophobe. As if Nazis, Communists, and Occupy people all shared a stage shouting at each other with the occasional ???? appearing.

UDALTSOV. An NTV program ran a film supposedly showing him plotting civic disorder with a Georgian politician: he insists the film is a fake. The Russian Investigative Committee has opened a case. I have nothing intelligent to say: it could be true or it could be a fabrication designed to knock him out.

CORRUPTION. It is reported that corruption investigations totalled 15,800 in the first half of 2012: last year at the same time there were 10,400. The claim is that the increase is due to better investigation.

RUSSIA INC. There is a general agreement that GDP growth is slowing: an official gives 2.8%; the World Bank 3.5% and the IMF 3.7%. Even so, better than either the EU or the USA.

BEREZOVSKIY. Berezovskiy has lost his case against Abramovich: the judge finding him to be an “unimpressive, and inherently unreliable, witness, who regarded truth as a transitory, flexible concept, which could be moulded to suit his current purposes” and must pay the latter’s court costs of £35 million. Hmm, moulding truth to suit his current purposes… maybe the Western media may become less willing to re-type his press releases on deaths and music groups.

RUSSIAN SPIES. The USA claims to have broken up a spy ring that was moving microelectronics to Russia; the Canadian naval officer has admitted he was passing information to Russia and Germany claims to have broken up another ring. Now why on earth would Moscow feel that it had to know what NATO was up to?

USAID. Has left Russia. Given that its main business these days seems to be “democracy promotion”, given that that seems to be little more than the attempt to discredit Putin, I can sympathise with the decision to get it out. More thoughts, and my reasons for saying this, here. Foreign Minister Lavrov said Moscow would not treat European foundations the same way, they, he says, “act on the basis of intergovernmental agreements, well-considered and mutually acceptable ones, which are based on the principles of reciprocity and equality”.

SYRIA. A couple of days after calling Moscow’s position “morally bankrupt”, Washington called on it to help it get rid of Assad. Apart from this being a rather ineffectual way to solicit cooperation, Washington still doesn’t understand Moscow’s position. Which is to keep out of it. Washington is having trouble handling the fact that Assad is thus far not losing. And Washington might wonder where the weapons it’s sending are winding up: even the complaisant NYT suspects they’re not going to future friends. The simple fact is that Moscow’s stance is much more prudent. It’s not as if Washington these days has any reason to be pleased with the overthrow of Khadafy in Libya. Meanwhile another charge of Russia supplying weapons collapses.

UKRAINE. Yulia Tymoshenko may now have murder added to all the other charges.

GEORGIA. Ivanishvili’s Georgian Dream comfortably won the election. Georgia is now in a dual power situation and that has seldom had a happy ending. I am very sceptical that Saakashvili will go quietly when his term ends. More thoughts here.

© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Ottawa, Canada (see

How Will History Judge Putin?

I believe that “history” will judge Putin as one of the best leaders Russia has had in its thousand year history.

Or would have so judged him had he retired.

When he came to power, according to his “Russia in the New Millennium”, he set himself four tasks: to reverse the economic collapse, to reverse the decay of central power, to improve Russia’s status in the world and to institute a rule of law, or at least a rule of rules. On his watch these goals were achieved to a considerable extent (the last, less, to be sure). Most leaders are lucky if they can attain even a few of their goals, partially. Putin did much better.

But he missed one thing: to set an example to his successors that two terms are enough for any mortal.

If he built a system that can’t work without him, then it doesn’t work.

He runs the risk of “history” judging him the Turkmenbashi of Russia.

Election in Georgia

The possibility of the end of Georgia’s post-Soviet nightmare of wars, coups and poverty may be distantly glimpsed with Georgian Dream’s victory. But many questions remain to be resolved before Georgia can get out of the hole. The last of the three famous post-USSR “Coloured Revolutions” has come to its end: like the others, it has ended in disappointment.

The big question is the interaction between the new Parliament and Saakashvili during the remainder of his term. Saakashvili is prone to accuse any opponent of being a stooge of Moscow and has done so with Ivanishvili. Ivanishvili, while he has repeatedly said that he wants a Western orientation, including NATO membership, for Georgia has also repeatedly said that better relations with Moscow are essential. How will Saakashvili behave when the first steps are made?

The constitutional situation is another point of concern. Saakashvili is still President, the President is still more powerful than the Prime Minister: indeed the former appoints the latter. (And whom will Saakashvili appoint?) But, when Saakashvili leaves office in a year, the power relationship will reverse. These year-old constitutional changes, which some saw as an effort by Saakashvili to remain in power will, instead, send Ivanishvili or his nominee into power and Saakashvili into retirement. But, at the moment, it’s dual power and history shows few happy endings to that situation. Saakashvili is unlikely to be a good loser and there are already fears of what he could do to make things hard for Ivanishvili.

Will the new Parliament ask the big unasked question? And that is the disparity between the claimed high economic growth rate and the staggeringly high unemployment rate: 69% in a recent US/Swedish survey consider themselves unemployed. (See page 13). How can both of these be true? I can think of only two ways high growth can be consistent with spectacular unemployment rates: either that the growth is a façade of luxury hotels and other fripperies for visitors or that corruption and cronyism have kept the money locked in a tiny group of connected people. A potentially explosive question.

Another potentially explosive question relates to allegations that Saakashvili has extended support to jihadists fighting in the North Caucasus. Will we hear anything of this?

Is Ivanishvili’s coalition anything more than an ephemeral anti-Saakashvili grouping? Can the coalition hold against likely attempts by Saakashvili to detach members?

The Abkhazia and South Ossetia problems will continue. Ivanishvili’s spokesman reiterates that Tbilisi expects them back and, more convincingly than Saakashvili ever could, insists it will be done through negotiations. That is not going to happen in any future that he or Ivanishvili will see. Conceivably, after years of effort, reconstruction, prosperity, peaceful relations and a serious investigation into Tbilisi’s crimes against these areas (starting in the 1990s, if not in the 1920s) something might be possible. But Abkhazians and Ossetians will take a very long time and a high degree of proof before they will trust Tbilisi. They are not serfs to be passively transferred from one owner to another.

In short, this is a good start, but there is a long way to go before Georgia becomes a peaceful and prosperous land.