MAGNITSKIY. Yet another one-sided piece of re-typing has hit the West. The posthumous “trial” of Magnitskiy is being described as bizarre, Kafkaesque, absurd and so on without any background Here is some. A couple of years ago the Russian Constitutional Court ruled that, in cases where the defendant died before the verdict, a trial could/should be held so that the defendant’s name could be cleared (or not, as the case might be). Unusual perhaps, but there is a certain amount of sense. (For example, many of the people condemned by Stalin have been re-tried and exonerated; see here, for example, from 1988). The process in the case of Magnitskiy began about a year ago. For whatever reason, his family does not like the idea. The trial was immediately postponed at the objection of the family, so maybe that’s the end of it. I am informed that British law has a similar procedure which is called a “judicial inquiry” but otherwise proceeds very like a trial. Given all the accusations that have been slung around in the Magnitskiy case, one would think that an inquiry would be welcomed. Or are there parties who only want one verdict? Where is RT in all this, by the way? Isn’t it supposed to give the Russian point of view? But the shape of the story has now been set and it will be added to the indictment.

NOT WASTING THE MONEY. We hear little about how Russia spends all the money it pulls in because, I suppose, it wouldn’t fit the easy meme of corruption and anti-democracy. In Ottawa we take snow removal seriously (230 cms a year) and I was interested in this film of snow removal in Moscow showing an equally serious and capital-intensive operation. Note how much of the equipment is foreign-made.

CORRUPTION. And yet another scandal in the Ministry of Defence has appeared – embezzlement involving contracts in the Missile Forces. In an interview Medvedev said that about 50,000 corruption cases were currently being investigated. I think we can conclude that something is happening.

TIT FOR TAT. The Russians have created a “Guantanamo list” to counter the “Magnitskiy Bill”. How much longer will this nonsense go on?

ADOPTIONS. The Supreme Court ruled that US adoptions with court approval before 1 January will go ahead.

BEREZOVSKIY. More financial troubles: after losing his last case, a British court has frozen some of his assets in a case brought by his former girlfriend. Less money to fund anti-Putin stories.

STRATFOR AGREES WITH MOSCOW (FOR ONCE!). Western activities in Syria are pretty short-sighted.

US-RUSSIA. The new US Secretary of State, John Kerry said he hoped the US and Russia “can find some way to cooperate”. I hope so too, but given observation over the last decade or so, “cooperation” seems to be Washington’s way of saying “complete agreement with us”.

GAS WARS. The essential facts are that in 2009 then-PM Tymoshenko made an agreement on Russian gas that had a “take or pay” clause in it and the price of the gas was tied to oil prices. Prices are up, Ukrainian consumption down and Gazprom is billing US$7 billion for the gas not consumed. Or did Ukraine activate a clause that allowed it, with advance warning, to cut the volume? As always in these things, two stories and, as always, there are claims that it’s political pressure from Moscow. So, how will this be spun? I believe that, the last time around, Ukraine lost a lot of the credibility that it had formerly been awarded but the anti-Russian lobby is always ready. But the other fact is that Ukraine can’t pay – it’s already trying to get loans from the IMF – and Gazprom is not likely to get much for its claims.

INTERESTING. The head of Israel’s Security Council is in Moscow. Connection perhaps with this? The two countries have quite good relations and many common interests.

GEORGIA-RUSSIA. Catholicos-Patriarch Ilia II was in Moscow, meeting with Putin, among others. An obvious sounding-out of chances to improve relations. A Georgian delegation will be there next week to talk about lifting the import bans; successfully I expect. Things are thawing.

BUYER’S REMORSE. One of the principal ambitions of Latvia upon independence was to get into the EU. It did in 2004. President Berzins says adherence to the EU’s directives may threaten its independence.

TYMOSHENKO. The Ukrainian Prosecutor General has accused her of ordering the murder of Yevhen Shcherban in 1996 during Ukraine’s gas wars. Always been rumours of her activities as Ukraine’s “gas princess”.

© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Ottawa, Canada (

Can the West and Russia find a common approach to the Arab Spring?

Note March 2016: I am considerably more sceptical about the independent nature of the “Arab Spring” revolts now than I was then.

The “Arab Spring” is becoming rather wintry. I foresee three end states, varying by country: return to the status quo of military-based kleptocracies tinctured this time with Islamism rather than national socialism; full Islamist takeovers; continual chaos. The revolts are responses to the failure of the “Arab socialism” of Nasser’s coup in Egypt in 1952 and the Baath coups in Syria and Iraq and Gaddafi’s eccentricities in Libya a decade later. Despite the customary fly-blown promises of future happiness, the realities were military dictatorships, corruption, injustice and hopelessness. Mohamed Bouazizi’s suicide in Tunisia lit the fuse.

Outside powers had no causative responsibility: it was a combustible mass awaiting the unpredictable event that would spark it off. The speed of development outpaced all Western reaction and there was nothing Western capitals could do either to speed or slow the flames.

In Libya the “West” (but note that Germany kept out of the operation) was animated by reports of humanitarian outrages, most notably that “Gaddafi is bombing his own people”. (But was he? “No confirmation” agreed US Defense Secretary Gates and Admiral Mullen. So what was a no fly zone supposed to achieve?) But the pressure “to do something” grew and, after seven months and an ever- escalating intervention, Gaddafi was killed: “we came, we saw, he died”. Cynics say oil was the “real” motive, but it would be absurd to argue that Libyan oil exports are more secure today. What national interest was there in overthrowing the eccentric, cruel but harmless (to us) dictator of Tripoli? What motive but transient humanitarian hysteria? That the intervention might make Libyans more miserable; that Libya might remain mired in devastation for years; that turmoil might spread are consequences no one considered in the passionate desire to “do something”. Now we hear similar reporting on Syria and the same demands to “do something”. But what if there is nothing any outsider can do but make it worse?

Moscow and Beijing take a more rational and self-interested position. Moscow is an intensely status-quo power: not only does it need peace and quiet to reconstruct but a historically-grounded pessimism tells it that much change is only change for the worse. China has few interests and has no desire to parade humanitarian pieties. And it too, has seen advertised better futures turn to dust.

The truth is that, short of picking a side and helping it win (something that did not work out well in Libya and would surely be worse in Syria) there is nothing outsiders can do to stop the fighting. Irreconcilable ends are struggling: the regimes are fighting for their lives and the jihadists for their Caliphate; neutrals are ground between these millstones.

Public opinion in the West is easily swayed by biased and hysterical reporting and Western governments feel compelled to “do something” (even without the licence to interfere everywhere given by the “smart power” theory). NATO has now accumulated several “humanitarian interventions” with bad results. Not that the excitable Western media remembers Somalia or Kosovo, let alone Libya. But Russian and Chinese public opinion is not so easily swayed and Moscow and Beijing have a more realistic view of national interest. Thus there will likely not be a meeting of minds on a common approach other than anodyne (and unheard) calls for ceasefires.

And, I can’t help thinking, especially now that intervention in Mali has passed from possibility to actuality, that many a Western government is secretly relieved that it can blame Moscow and Beijing for blocking it from committing to another ill thought out “something” that will create another “something” later on.


ADOPTIONS. Putin would have been wiser to have vetoed the adoption ban and forced parliament to overturn it (Art 107.3): it has become the latest leitmotif of anti-Russia propagandists and has taken attention away from the equally absurd Magnitskiy Bill. But here we are. Protests in Moscow, St Petersburg and some other cities against it on Sunday attracted maybe 20K in total and have given the opposition something new to object to. There is said to be a petition calling for its ban and some opposition deputies are going to attempt to have it overturned in the Duma. And, as always in Russia, it’s far from clear exactly what the ban affects. However it wasn’t just a reaction to the Magnitskiy Bill: 19 adopted Russian children (out of about 40,000) have been done to death by their adopters in the USA (here’s one, another and an abuse trial) and there have been misgivings in Russia for years. (The usualnewssources pretend the 19 are the total number of adoptees who have died). Putin complained that existing treaties are useless for allowing access by consular officials (federal-state jurisdictions are apparently the problem). So there is some background here.

MALFEASANCE. The OboronServis case continues with another arrest of a senior official and probably another one to come. Meanwhile the former Defence Minister refused to testify to the Investigative Committee, giving a written response instead. So this case is neither over nor is it being swept under the rug and nor is Serdyukov out of it. The St Petersburg corruption case has seen another arrest. Defence Minister Shoygu dismissed a senior military doctor following the deaths of some soldiers from pneumonia. Another police crime.

READING. Generally speaking, English-language MSM coverage of Russia is a pastiche of clichés, distortions (see the 19 above for a recent example), outright falsehoods and the lazy re-typing of hostile news stories. The economy is perennially about to collapse, Putin is widely hated, Moscow is ever trying to take over its neighbours and schmoozing with nasty dictators. Allow me to recommend an exception: Mark Adomanis who writes for Forbes. He adopts the unusual technique of actually looking at the facts: here for example on how the Russian economy is not, actually, about to collapse. Lots of people do this sort of thing in the blogosphere, but few in the MSM. By reading his stuff you will be less surprised by reality.

RUSSIAN PERCEPTIONS. Speaking of mere data, it is not uncommon these days to read that there is growing opposition to Putin, Russians chafe under his yoke or something like that. However, reality is quite different. Last Sitrep I mentioned a Gallup poll showing Russians at the average in happiness among their neighbours; here is more long-term data from VTsIOM. Running from the first quarter of 2005, apart from a severe dip in 2009 when the world-wide financial crisis hit, we see a relatively steady gentle improvement in feelings and expectations all round. Russia is not a country trembling on the edge of despair. One should maybe look elsewhere: for the past 12 months more than 50% of Russians have felt their country was heading in the right direction; the comparable US figure is somewhat lower.

SPEAKERS’ CORNER”. Two reasonably central locations in Moscow have been made available for demonstrations. No permit is required, just tell the City that you’ll be using it. Will Limonov, who still likes the street theatre of unauthorised demonstrations and attendant Western coverage, go there? Bet he doesn’t.

GEORGIA. Saakashvili was re-elected – if that’s the right word: even the normally complaisant OSCE had some reservations – in January 2007 for a five-year term. Last year he quietly got parliament to extend his term to October. A million Georgians are said to have signed a petition calling on him to resign next week when the five years is up. Last year’s election was the first change of power in Georgia in the post Soviet period that was not the consequence of a coup and thus far has remained free of street theatre. We will see what happens; Saakashvili’s rhetoric is getting pretty hot: “destructive political goals” The other interesting development was the release of 190 “political prisoners” (the Georgian parliament’s term, not mine). More prisoners are to be released (Georgia under Saakashvili had one of the highest incarceration rates in the world). And finally, former Defence Minister Okruashvili is likely to have the charges manufactured when he turned against Saakashvili dropped. I can’t help wondering how Saakashvili’s flacks are reacting to all this: certainly the sort of things Putin and Medvedev said about him are acquiring some legs, aren’t they? (Why do I go on about Georgia all the time? Well, dear readers, Georgia has been The Stick with which to beat Russia for 20 years: a “democracy” bravely resisting “imperialistic Russia”. A largely fanciful trope but an influential one).

© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Ottawa, Canada (


PUTIN. On the 12th Putin’s address to the Federal Assembly and on the 20th his marathon press conference (not such bad health, after all). Nothing new – principal emphasis on domestic issues: corruption, qualitative growth, infrastructure and transparency. Foreign issues are what we’ve heard for years: Russia will pursue its own interests and resist being pushed around. An understandable pride in the Team’s achievements: from the press conference, in the last ten years “we have nearly doubled the country’s GDP… We have increased the real incomes of the population by several fold…. The birth rate is the best in 20 years. We are taking the necessary steps, it is not enough so far, but progress is evident in healthcare, education and so on.” And, as always, slow and steady is what he wants in Russia and in the world. Perhaps it would not be too much of a stretch to say Putin I was about stopping the downward momentum; Medvedev was about loosening things up and starting towards qualitative growth; Putin II will be a continuation of that and, perhaps, (quite a lot in the Federation Council speech) a heavy attack on corruption. But, I say again: same program, same team.

DIMA YAKOVLEV BILL. So named after a baby who died from negligence, the bill passed both houses with heavy support and Putin signed it into law. It’s retaliation for the US “Magnitskiy Bill” (and in my opinion a rather ineffective and misguided one. Although some amusing reactions: “callousness unusual even by Vladimir Putin’s standards” and the US Senate is offended.). There are a number of adoptions already in the pipeline; it’s not clear what will happen in these cases but Prokhorov says his Civic Platform party (ie he) will pay $50,000 to Russian families that adopt one of them.

CRIME AND CORRUPTION. The former director of the Federal Property Management Agency for the Moscow Region was arrested on suspicion of embezzlement. Another piece of financial legerdemain involving the MoD, an illegal landfill in Moscow, is being investigated. The former Defence Minister was questioned by the Investigative Committee. Two businessmen were sentenced for involvement in an arms smuggling case. The head of the prison where last month’s riot occurred has been suspended and will likely be charged with abuse of power. A counterfeiting ring broken up.

TRIALS. The former policemen who acted as a spotter for Politkovskaya’s killer and turned informer was just sentenced to 11 years in prison. On the other hand, the former deputy chief of the prison in which Magnitskiy died was acquitted of negligence charges. The only other person formally charged had the charges dropped.

DEPARDIEU. Putin has granted him citizenship, apparently at his request. Apparently one must have another citizenship before renouncing French citizenship. Maybe more people will notice Russia’s flat income tax of 13%. And wouldn’t that be something: Russia as the new tax haven for over-taxed Europeans.

POPULAR. Once again the VTsIOM poll for politician of the year puts Putin firmly in front (54%) followed by Medvedev (16%) and Shoygu (13%). The two pre-eminent oppositionists (pre-eminent at the moment, that is – they do come and go, don’t they?) Navalniy and Udaltsov were 2% each.

HAPPINESS. A Gallup poll finds that Russians are at the average in the post-USSR countries.

SYRIA. At his press conference, Putin laid out Moscow’s position on Syria: first referring to Libya, he asked: “was this not a mistake? Do you want us to repeat these mistakes indefinitely in other countries?” and went on: We are not that preoccupied with the fate of al-Assad’s regime… Without a doubt, change is required. We’re worried about something else, about what happens next… Of course we are interested in Russia’s position in this part of the world: it is close by. But our main preoccupation is not so much our own interests, which are really not that much, practically nothing… We advocate finding a solution to the problem which would spare the region and the country from disintegration and never-ending civil war.” Pretty clear I would have said but, dear reader, check what the Western media reads into this. Ever wedded to its memes.

MALI. And, speaking of repeating mistakes indefinitely, the UNSC has taken a step closer to intervention in Mali whose troubles are a direct consequence of the overthrow of Gadaffi.

NARCISSISM. A couple of weeks ago the US State Department spokesman praised the “Magnitskiy Bill” as “normalization of trade relations” and later called on Moscow to “work with the international community to support the Syrian people”. In short: agree with us all the time in everything we do.