CORRUPTION. Well, there sure are a lot of investigations going on and they reaching levels within sight of the top of the power heap: after all Serdyukov was appointed by Putin who stuck by him for years against the resistance of the generals. This blog entry enumerates some of the biggest corruption investigations: it mentions the Defence Ministry property scandal (the new Minister has just fired another official, but probably not for that connection); RosTelekom; a former Agriculture Minister; GLONASS; a big one in St Petersburg and a swindle in Perm Region. Kommersant estimates the total bill at 57 billion rubles (about US$1.8 billion). And maybe more from the Defence Ministry: there are reported to be 60,000 empty apartments for military retirees. A fraud case has opened in Yekaterinburg. Arrests for mistreatment of convicts and perhaps more coming after the prison riot in Chelyabinsk last month. Typically, a lot of Western coverage sticks to its favourite meme – everything in Russia is other than it seems – and tries to paint this as an internal power struggle (ie Serdyukov’s father–in–law). But this is a lot and it’s getting fairly high up. Here’s a website’s list of the “top ten” convicted officials. Russia’s high level of corruption stands in the way of many of the Team’s goals: attracting foreign investment, modernising the economy, improving infrastructure, pinching pennies. Putin’s speech yesterday (“Hold your applause, you may not like what is coming”) called corruption “a threat to national development prospects” and laid out the next level. While we still haven’t seen someone close to him led away to prison (but the investigators aren’t finished with Serdyukov), the tumbrils are in the neighbourhood. It’s will be long campaign and one that is never completed in any country. The best we can hope is that a big bite will be taken out of it.
OPPOSITION. Last week there was a commemoration of last year’s protest which attracted a hundred or so people, including Navalniy. A lot of the steam has gone out of the protest movement. The Western MSM remains welded to its meme that repression has crushed it but I would suggest that larger causes are the undeniable fact that Putin & Co are much more popular than anyone else and, most important, the fatal incoherency of a movement that seeks to unite chauvinists, communists and liberals. Nonetheless, something real happened a year ago even though its effects have not yet appeared. Perhaps “civil society” is the place to look rather than declining street protests. The Investigative Committee claims evidence that a Georgian helped fund and organise the protests. (My view is that I have no view yet: I do not dismiss it out of hand – by now it must be clear to the meanest intelligence that Saakashvili will do just about anything – but I don’t believe everything Moscow says either, especially not when it fits the official line: I await evidence.)
LITVINENKO. The inquest creeps along with the first stages beginning today. Many interesting rumours and possibilities. His widow who, it transpires, has been on Berezovskiy’s payroll (surprise!) is appealing for funds now that Berezovskiy has to pay Abramovich’s substantial legal bills. Two comments: this is very far from being the open and shut case that we’ve been told it was and my suspicion that Berezovskiy is getting to the bottom of his purse is strengthened. I have never believed the conventional account: my suspicion is that Litvinenko contaminated himself handling the stuff, that it was headed south to his friends in Ichkeria, Berezovskiy and his minions created the story and the media passively re-typed it. It has become a major prop of the Putin-as-monster meme and a serious investigation is to be welcomed.
POLITKOVSKAYA. The policeman who spotted for the murderers is facing 12 years: sentence tomorrow. He testified against five others: their trials to come. The man behind it is either not known or not yet identified.
GABALA RADAR. The Foreign Ministry confirms Russia will no longer rent the station: a new one in Russia will replace it. This doesn’t fit very well with Clinton’s assertion that Moscow is trying to “re-Sovietize the region”.
GEORGIA. Ivanishvili’s special representative for relations with Russia hints that the two could resume dialog without preliminary conditions; Moscow is listening. In short, take Abkhazia and Ossetia off the agenda and do what can be done to improve things. Good idea. In the meantime, the Prosecutor General says his office has received thousands of complaints about the Saakashvili regime and its treatment of people it didn’t like.