SAAKASHVILI AND RUSSIAN OPPOSITION. Remember when Moscow said a Georgian politician had secretly met with Russian oppositionists? Remember when everyone laughed? (“risible charges” details “immediately suspicious” “political”) Well, Saakashvili just admitted it. Once again, Moscow turns out to be closer to the truth than the others.

DISAGREEMENT. It’s a common assumption in the West that no one dares disagree with Putin. Not so. Lawyers from 80 firms have issued an open letter protesting the proposal to merge the Supreme Arbitration Court into the Supreme Court. The billionaire and politician Mikhail Prokhorov has joined many others against a proposal to modify the rules on tax investigations. We shall see.

REPORTING. If anyone thinks there’s much difference between reporting on Russia and outright propaganda, compare these stories. Anti-gay laws bar Selena Gomez from Russia. Elton John will perform despite homophobia. They can’t both be true, can they? Does anyone actually spend an instant thinking before they squash things into the anti-Russia mould of the moment?

LITVENENKO. A British court has ruled that national security demands secrecy. Remember what a simple case this was sold to you as: enemy of Putin murdered by Russians? What do you suppose they’re trying to hide?

GREENPEACERS. The last one has been granted bail and maybe they will be let go. But, again, I am fascinated by the hostility to GP shown in comments to puff pieces like this one. Again, dear readers, I notice there no campaign in the Western media on this one. Is it because the campaign-funder-in-chief is no more? Or do people not like GP? But they wouldn’t have liked Pussy Riot if they’d known what it actually was

CORRUPTION. Putin vowed to continue to struggle against official corruption, regardless of rank or party membership, reminding his listeners of the fate of Vyacheslav Dudka, former governor and member of United Russia, now in prison.

SERDYUKOV. Charges of negligence have been brought against him. The investigation grinds away.

AT LAST. After years of delay, the carrier INS Vikramaditya (Admiral Gorshkov as was) has been handed over to the Indian Navy and sailed for there. India is a large arms customer for Russia and likely to continue to be.

UKRAINE AND EU. At the last moment, Kiev walked out of the EU association agreement. Despite the PM’s explanation that IMF’s conditions were “the last straw”; despite the official statement that the EU did not pay enough attention to “Ukraine’s needs”; despite fears that an agreement would put costs up; despite concerns about Ukraine’s independence; despite the EU’s interfering demands; the MSM has concluded that it knows the real reason: Russia. This piece actually describes the years of insults and goalpost-moving Kiev endured from Brussels before it puts the blame on Russia. The arrogance of the West is astonishing: whatever we want is, ipso facto, in your best interests too. Kiev is playing its suitors for the best deal possible from its perspective and the bidding is still open: Azerov just said that this does not mean the Ukraine will join the Customs Union. Curious that Kiev might see Moscow as a more trustworthy partner but, after replacement of governments in Greece and Italy and bank raids in Cyprus, perhaps it has reasons to fear for its independence as a small player on the edge of the EU. Thanks to the great psychic divide between east and west in Ukraine, there are large protests. Canada just negotiated a free trade deal with the EU and it is a member of NAFTA. Is it impossible for Ukraine to have some of both?

IRAN. The agreement was announced but there is already disagreement about its meaning. Doesn’t look good.

GEORGIA. Giorgi Margvelashvili was inaugurated as President last Sunday, Saakashvili did not attend and is still out of the country (bet he doesn’t come back). Irakli Garibashvili is the new PM. True to his word, Ivanishvili announced he was leaving politics but will remain “active” (I still think Putin should have done that). Some Western players are starting to worry that Saakashvili may be charged with crimes – well, all I can say is that they should have paid closer attention to what they were supporting in the first place. Remarks by the US Ambassador have caused some excitement in Tbilisi: “Abkhazians and Ossetians were treated by Georgians in the same way as Russians had treated Georgians and Georgia will have to apologize for the mistakes of the past”. Is Washington starting to see reality, or is this just a blip?

© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Ottawa, Canada (


CHICKENS ROOSTING 1: CHINA. It was fun to rant on about the “energy weapon” and how Russia had to be cut out of pipelines: it was weak, getting weaker and had no other market. But it isn’t, didn’t and hasn’t. Rosneft’s CEO says annual oil sales – 7 million tonnes – to China ought to bring in US$2.4 billion a year in export duties. Russian energy sales to China can only get bigger because it suits each country’s interests. Why sell to a market that accuses you of evil intent when there’s one that doesn’t?

CHICKENS ROOSTING 2: EGYPT. It was fun to expand NATO and push Russia around: it was weak, getting weaker and had no friends. But it isn’t, didn’t and hasn’t. Washington’s stunningly incompetent – but still arrogant – policy is turning Cairo towards Moscow and Moscow is happy to reciprocate. A Russian warship is in Alexandria and Lavrov and Shoygu are about to visit. Much talk of close relations and arms sales. Given the excitement about its trivial presence in Tartus, just think of the ventricular fibrillation when the Russian Navy gets a base in Alex. And, keeping up the impression of revival, Russia’s snazziest-looking warship is now in the Med.

SNIPPETS. Not everyone is shunning Russia. Moscow and Tokyo have agreed to (finally) hold peace treaty talks in 2014. Italy and Russia have held a joint naval exercise in the Aegean. The King and Queen of the Netherlands visited. It’s been slower than I expected, but I do believe that reality is gradually taking hold: Russia is a “normal” country: it has its own interests and peculiarities to be sure, but shunning and excoriating it doesn’t get anyone anywhere. It’s neither going away nor fading away. And it’s not anybody’s enemy either.

ATTITUDES. VTsIOM has completed a series of surveys showing how life in Russia has changed in the past 10-15 years. In the process some hoary myths are dispelled. Russians feel their finances are OK, are reasonably happy, half the households have cars, they save more, support conscription (!), happy to stay in Russia and lots more. (Machine translation) (details in Russian). In short – contrary to the standard Western reportage – Putin & Co don’t have to cheat to get elected: they are actually doing those things that governments are hired to do. It’s really quite simple.

POLICE REFORM. The Interior Minister announced that lie detector tests will be required upon hiring or promotion. At the time it was evident that Medvedev’s big effort had started well enough but had fizzled out.

ANOTHER OTHER RUSSIA. As a reminder of the Russia that you don’t hear much about: a procession of an important icon in St Petersburg attracted about 50,000 people.

UNPANIC!VLADIMIR PUTIN IS AFRAID OF HER”. Tolokonnikova has not been disappeared into Siberia: she’s been moved closer to home and her accusations against her former prison are being looked at. But, hey, it’s Russia: write whatever you like. And no, he’s not afraid of her: the US anti-Russia lobby is very ignorant.

THE MILLS GRIND SLOWLY. The Serdyukov investigation has been extended. Galina Starovoytova was murdered 15 years ago. Two shooters were convicted in 2005 and an organiser in 2006. On Friday, former LDPR Deputy Mikhail Glushchenko was charged with organising the murder. In the Politkovskaya trial, the entire jury has been dismissed, presumably taking things back to square one. This case is interminable. The first attempt failed; a key witness confessed but the re-trial has been cursed with endless delays.

SYRIA. Another reason to thank Putin: apparent dissent in the US intelligence community.

GEORGIA. President Margvelashvili says he won’t live in Saakashvili’s preposterous presidential palace and suggests it could become a university. Ivanishvili is holding to his intention to quit politics (at least visibly) and has named the Interior Minister, Irakli Garibashvili, to succeed. Under the new Constitution the PM will have the bulk of the power. Saakashvili appears to still be out of the country: I wonder if he will return? Ivanishvili observed that there were many charges that could be brought against him.

GAS WARS. Unfortunately Kiev wasted the decade of cheap gas not reducing Soviet-era waste and the next half decade in NATO-inspired fantasies. Now that Russia charges something like the real price it is forced to economise because it is having trouble paying and its own resources cannot take up the slack. So it says it will buy no more from Gazprom this year. The Prime Minister insists that Kiev wants good relations with Moscow. Thus, one hopes, the current dispute will stay economic rather get the “Orange Revolution” politicisation.

© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Ottawa, Canada (

Russian “non-systemic” opposition and U.S. Foreign Policy

JRL/2013/ 202/31

Certainly there is a section of the Russian population that does not like Putin and any of his works. Numbers can only be guessed at but the percentage is probably not more than fifteen and not less than five. This opposition is very diverse – it ranges from super nationalists who don’t like his statements about the multi-ethnic nature of Russia to those who want him to do everything their (idealised) West wants him to do. Of these, a certain percentage is nurtured and encouraged – and until the new NGO law, funded – by outside interests.

Some of these outside interests are governments – the American NGO industry, now virtually a wholly-owned subsidiary of the present Administration – is an important engine of funding and propaganda but there is also a section of opinioneers who believe Russia to be the principal enemy of the West; a feeling that appears to be stronger in the Anglosphere than elsewhere. Some of these outside interests are individuals who, while they might march in step with and cross-fertilise the government interests, are self-actuated.

The Russian opposition can be distributed along two axes: one ranging from wholly home-grown to wholly foreign-created, the other from super-nationalist to super-liberal (“liberast” as some call it). Generally, foreign support goes more to the liberast end of the spectrum than the nationalist although Navalniy is an interesting exception. (And, I believe, the first of the foreign-boomed oppositionists to have a foot in each camp. Which thought is worthy of another essay.)

Internally the opposition is waning for several reasons. First pro-gay rights campaigners co-exist uncomfortably with super-nationalists: they may agree to dislike Putin but they disagree about everything else. Second, it is clear that the overwhelming majority of Russians support Putin, his team and their general course (and don’t have much regard for the protesters, either). Third, protesting, in the absence of real political organisation – and when you are a fraction of a fraction you must operate inside the system – is clearly a waste of time. And, let us not forget that the Russian NGO law has had the success that its American model had in forcing things out of the shadows.

Whatever trivial damage this inchoate opposition is doing to Putin & Co inside Russia, it is very important to the outside anti-Russia campaign. We are now at the point where Putin’s name cannot be said without the “ex-KGB, jails opponents, steals elections, kills reporters” modifiers. And there are plenty of Russian oppositionists (oddly free to speak and move around) to corroborate these charges.

External support for the anti-Putin fractions in Russia has received two heavy blows. First was the suicide of Berezovskiy. He was instrumental in organising and funding the important Politkovskaya, Litvinenko and Pussy Riot memes (“Putin kills or imprisons his opponents as shown by…”). But he is gone and there is no one to replace him. Washington suffered humiliation on Syria – ready to go a-bombing with media campaign up and running, Moscow pulled the casus belli out from under it. The only thing for Washington to do was to pretend that that’s what it meant all along (which it did). Suddenly the “Putin is anti-gay” campaign shut down: just as suddenly as it had started when it became clear Snowden was staying in Russia. So, the two biggest anti-Russia meme generators have been switched off.

And off they are: consider the Greenpeace case. Total silence from governments, NGOs and the media (not total actually: the Netherlands and Greenpeace itself; but otherwise….). No campaign on this one.

Another interesting by-product of Washington’s Syrian flop is a growing respect for Putin. This phenomenon has been remarked on by others but it bears watching. Thanks to a decade of innuendo and falsehoods, people do not like Putin but they are coming to recognise that he is a very effective leader and stands up for his country’s interests.

So we might (might) be seeing the end of the anti-Russia propaganda machine. A machine that has, I believe, been operating with only very brief pauses, since the 1830s or 40s.