CORRUPTION. There are those who believe that one of the main reasons for Putin’s re-appearance in the President’s chair was that only he has the political muscle to really move on Russia’s widespread problem of corruption, especially corruption at the top. I have always said that we won’t know that the anti-corruption drive is serious until it takes down someone in an office near Putin’s or Medvedev’s. Do we start to see this? The OboronServis case is getting bigger. The case concerns skulduggery with the extensive number of military properties. Some charges have been laid and the inquiry has been widened. Last week Putin dismissed Defence Minister Serdyukov (that’s an office pretty near his) and some think that there is a connection and there is a hint in Putin’s words that there is (although, naturally, there are plenty of other theories too). Sergey Shoygu, the popular long-time Emergency Services Minister (Governor of Moscow Region since April) was appointed to replace him. The Chief of the General Staff and other senior military were also replaced shortly after and others today. It’s true that Serdyukov was very unpopular with the generals but Putin had kept him on nevertheless upon his return. Another possible scandal that may emerge involves the defence industries which many accuse of being only able to make ineffective weapons that are also very expensive. On the heels of this comes another scandal in another important and celebrated enterprise: the Russian GPS system GLONASS. For some years it has been promising more than it has delivered and now a case charging embezzlement has been opened. The chief designer of the system has just been fired. These are corruption scandals in important and prestigious parts of the state structure and are therefore much more momentous than another bent cop discovered somewhere in the sticks. More coming maybe. I would observe that, in my opinion, the worst corruption in Russia involves privatisation: public property being transformed into private gain; both of these fit that category.
SLOW JUSTICE. For one reason or another, the Russian justice system is slow. A gang leader has just been sentenced for a string of murders 15 to 20 years ago and one of the alleged masterminds of the Budyonnovsk attack in 1995 is about to go on trial.
HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL. The new Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human Rights exists and held its first meeting with Putin on Monday. I haven’t been able to find a list of members but there are said to be real critics on it. However, many members of the last iteration resigned charging that it’s just for show; we will see whether this is better. But a bad first sign: Putin promised to take a second look at the new treason law, but signed it anyway yesterday. A rather short second look.
THE EMPTINESS OF FORMER FLAPS. Everything you thought you knew about Litvinenko is not so certain.
INTERNET BLACKLIST. There are now 180 websites blocked. They are all supposed to be child porn, drugs or other social ills. An official website claims to give the details (but I can’t figure it out, but no doubt a reader can).
NATIONALIST MARCH. Not all anti-Putin protesters are ones we like. The super nationalists marched on the 4th. Six to ten thousand calling for the end to immigration (ie from the Caucasus and Central Asia) and Russia for Russians. They dislike Putin because he’s not one of them. Reasonably peaceful other than some arrested for wearing Nazi symbols.
THINGS YOU WON’T SEE IN THE WESTERN MEDIA. Putin met with Solzhenitsyn’s widow on the 50th anniversary of Ivan Denisovich. I reiterate that the Gulag Archipelago is required reading (excerpts anyway) in high schools and Solzhenitsyn was given a high award by Putin. But that doesn’t fit the Approved Narrative.
GEORGIA. As expected, things are heating up. PM Ivanishvili asked Saakashvili to vacate the Presidential Palace (a rather elaborate structure for a poor country) and move to cheaper space, Saakashvili refused but agreed to turn the lights off at night. But, more to the point, Bacho Akhalaia, former penitentiary service head, Defence Minister and Minister of Internal Affairs, was charged last week and is now in pre-trial detention and more charges have been added. The Armed Forces Chief of Staff and a brigade commander were also charged. The case concerns abuse of soldiers. This is causing some anxiety in Europe and NATO which for so long regarded Saakashvili as a potential member of their club (I’ve seen nothing yet from Washington). I expect there will be more charges coming on other subjects.