BEREZOVSKIY. Suicide after the loss of the rest of his money seems the most likely theory although his “friends” are being as suggestive as possible (See Dunkerley on these nebulous suggestions). But I notice that this time, the Western MSM, ever ready in the past to uncritically re-type an anti-Putin handout, is holding back: maybe the judge’s opinion of Berezovskiy’s veracity has persuaded them not to be so credulous. And so the Western media has lost one of its favourite sources for anti-Putin stories. Perhaps we will now learn more about the many mysteries surrounding Berezovskiy. The murder of Paul Khlebnikov (the ur-source of the “journalists murdered in Russia” theme), connections with Chechen slavers and kidnappers between the wars, funding for Shamil Basayev, the apartment bombings, the shaping of the Litvinenko story (every character in it worked for, or had worked for, him), the murder of Anna Politkovskaya, the shaping of the Pussy Riot story. Then there’s the story that he wanted to go back to Russia. Lots of rumours, few facts. I am amused that this obit by Masha Lipman manages to avoid all these questions.

LITVINENKO INQUEST. Postponed until October – that will be about the seventh anniversary of his death and still no official finding on what happened! They say that MI6 was paying him. Not the open and shut story we were sold and getting less so by the moment.

MAGNITSKIY INQUIRY. This investigation lumbers on (as far as I can see the Russian words used do not have to be translated as “trial”; as in “outrageous trial of a dead man”). It is also looking at Browder, who is not dead. One would think that the opportunity to investigate the whole matter would be welcomed but the West has already decided, on nothing much more than Browder’s assertion, that the charges are utterly false. Here’s the essence of the charges of tax evasion and an interesting side case (Karpov) that may surprise conventional views.

INTERNET. Russian use continues to grow: the latest finding by the Public Opinion Foundation poll is that 43% of Russian adults go on it every day and 55% monthly. And the Russian Internet is the same as ours: including a site that translates selected Western news outlet products into Russian. So they know what’s going on.

CHINA. A happy meeting between Putin and the President of China and then onto the BRICS meeting in South Africa. Some frisson in the USA about the possibilities of Moscow and Beijing getting closer. Well, what can I say? It was fun to kick Russia around over the past few years, but could it really last forever?

IT’S THAT TIME OF YEAR. Latvian SS veterans march in Riga; Moscow hyperventilates. I wish Moscow would stop falling for this every year: it’s part of Latvia’s neuralgic past (Lenin’s bayonets in the Bolshevik coup as well as two SS divisions), and, in a few years, it will be gone.

GEORGIA. An interesting war of letters. Some European Parliament members wrote a letter to Ivanishvili claiming a “democratic backslide” by the new government and intimating that this would “close European doors for Georgia”. It is probably not a coincidence that Saakashvili was speaking to MEPs about the time they wrote the letter. Ivanishvili replied that they were praising a “façade democracy” and the Parliament Chairman warned them not to take the “former regime” as their “standard” (“police regime”, said he). The Swiss Ambassador has weighed in on Ivanishvili’s side. A lot of people placed a lot of bets on Saakashvili and it’s hard to lose and be made a fool. But this attempt by Saakashvili to work the old magic has failed: see below.

GEORGIA DUAL POWER. As readers have known, I have been apprehensive that Saakashvili would attempt a coup rather than depart the scene; perhaps fearing this too, former President Shevardnadze urged him to resign early for the good of the country: “That’s enough, you’ve turned the country upside down”. But perhaps I can relax: the Georgian Parliament unanimously (ie including his party) passed a Constitutional amendment stripping him of the power to appoint a new government without Parliament’s approval. He, to his credit, (or is it Washington’s?) signed it yesterday. So, dual power tensions between now and the end of his term in October are much reduced and we get closer to the miserable, failed terminus of this last “Colour Revolution”.

CYPRUS. It’s evidently OK to steal depositors’ money if they are Russians. But maybe (very likely – let’s face it) the big guys got out in time.

© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Ottawa, Canada (


ELECTORAL SYSTEM. In the beginning, the Duma’s 450 seats were chosen half by party list and half by single mandate with a 5% threshold. Then Putin I changed it to all party list and 7% threshold. Putin II has just sent a bill to the Duma to change it back to the original. So what was the point of all that? The new law forbids electoral alliances – obviously another attempt to force like-minded people to unite. But we have 20 years of observational experience that Russian liberals refuse to sink their (small policy but large personality) differences. On a personal note, I was an observer in the 1995 election when 40-some parties ran. The party vote ballot was the size of a newspaper sheet and few voters had a clue. Are we going back to that?

CORRUPTION. Investigations all over the place. Phoney academic degrees; embezzlement at RusHydro; two frauds in the Penitentiary Service; tax evasion at RUSAL; a former Duma Deputy. And not to forget OboronServis: Prosecutor General Chayka says 25 separate cases have been combined, the total cost of which is now said to be over US$400 million. The MoD is target-rich: a general is suspended, a former financial administrator jailed, a possible rotten rations scandal, and a supplier case. And the Olympics appear on the horizon: cost inflations. Sergey Ivanov has said that no one is immune. The Central Bank has weighed in with a statement that illegal money transfers amounted to US$49 billion in 2012 and that every tenth company making settlements through its payment system dodged tax payments in 2012. Obviously these cases have been in preparation for some time and investigators are digging. Definitely a serious campaign.

DEMONSTRATIONS. The Constitutional Court ruled that the minimum level of fines for violations of laws governing protests should be lowered and the Duma promised to do so soon. A couple of demos on Saturday: a Udaltsov-sponsored one pulled a couple of thousand and a pro-government one two to three times as many although there was a strong smell of fakery about it.

DEMOGRAPHICS. The Health Ministry tells us that infant mortality was 8.7/1000 in 2012 which is a very considerable increase from the 7.1/1000 claimed for 2011. The true reason for the increase is that Russia has now adopted the WHO standard of definition. See Adomanis.

SECURITY CONCEPT. A new one is out but I haven’t read it – I’ve read so many of these impenetrable, repetitive, long-winded and curiously pointless documents in my career that I really have to nerve myself up to tackle another one. Judging from what Vlad Sobell tells me (he has read it) the major changes are a more pessimistic world view (and who would contradict that?) and much smaller expectations of cooperation with the USA (ditto). The main themes of multi-polar, UN, international norms, that have been repeated over and over, remain. I have never understood why Moscow produces these things – Western commentators typically go through them to find a sentence to spin to keep the anti-Russia fire burning. I suppose they are thought to serve some bureaucratic function, but, having laboured in a bureaucracy, my guess is that they are filed, unread.

ASSETS, REAL AND OTHERWISE. Moscow and Havana are a bit closer to dealing with the US $30 billion or so that Havana owes. They say part will be written off and part restructured. I expect Moscow will be lucky to get a kopek on the ruble. This should remind us of a post-Soviet reality. When the Russian Federation took over the USSR’s debits and credits, it took responsibility for debts to groups like the Paris Club that expected to be paid in full and acquired “assets” like Cuba’s debt. Indeed, when we add to these real obligations and worthless credits the capital flight from Russia and the supply of underpriced energy to its neighbours, it’s clear that Russia was actually subsidising people to its west in the 1990s.

MORES. It is often forgotten in the West that Russians are somewhat old-fashioned in their attitudes. We are reminded of this truth when prosecutors issue a warning to a department store decorating its windows with mannequins having sex. What would have happened in London, New York or Toronto in the early 1960s?

GEORGIA-RUSSIA. More progress. Russian inspectors have cleared the way for the resumption of wine and mineral water exports. The two are holding regular meetings about improving relations where they can. Saakashvili, as usual, is spreading disinformation: his latest fable is that his defeat was a made-in-Russia operation. (Will his American flacks pick this up?) But, fortunately, he doesn’t seem to be getting any traction: the Georgian parliament today issued a unanimous statement on the course of Georgia’s foreign policy which greatly toned down the anti-Russia stuff.

© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Ottawa, Canada (