MAN OF THE WHATEVER. Putin is topping a lot of year-end lists these days and I find it amusing. First because he isn’t doing or saying anything new but also because of the “Occido-centric” take. Three things are usually mentioned as where Putin is said to have got the better of Obama: Snowden, Syria and Ukraine. Well, Snowden just arrived and it’s not clear that it was an extraditable offence; we should all thank Putin for stopping another military adventure founded on another piece of questionable evidence; Ukraine was neither the West’s to gain nor his to keep. But, evidently, the West is still locked in a zero-sum (dare we say “Cold War”?) fixation. More interesting, however, is the admiration that he is starting to attract from conservatives. It’s amusing to watch. But, as I said, he hasn’t changed; only the perceptions have.
JIHADISM. Much activity lately in addition to the two suicide attacks in Volgograd. A group arrested in Tatarstan on suspicion of attacks on churches in Tatarstan. Several gunfights in the North Caucasus. Bombs in Pyatigorsk and Dagestan. Three planning an attack killed in the Kabardin-Balkar Republic. Connected I suppose with the Sochi Olympics – among the “Lands of the Jihad”, much effort is put into getting publicity in order to raise money. My deduction would be that a direct attack on the Olympics is unlikely because it is a defended target: a train station – or, really, anything else – is much easier and gets the publicity.
DEBTS. In light of what I said last Sitrep, it is announced that Moscow has finally paid off the Soviet-era debts (US$3.7 billion) to the Czech Republic, Finland and Montenegro. I’ll bet that’s more money than it got back from all the USSR’s debtors.
KHODORKOVSKIY. Pardoned and in Germany. Intelligent discussion here by Alexander Mercouris. And, as a reminder that before he became a tribune of democracy Khodorkovskiy was called a criminal, this from Foreign Affairs in 2000. Amusing to realise that Khodorkovskiy then was a reason why Russia is horrible and that he still is. But Khodorkovskiy had to be differently spun so as to maintain the continuity of the propaganda line during changing realities. After all, did not Putin actually “rein in a dangerous posse of plutocrats riding roughshod over the country” as the author recommended? Poor Putin: all this conflicting advice from Americans; maybe he’s better off to just ignore it altogether.
THINGS YOU WON’T HEAR ABOUT. The government submitted a draft law to the Duma to give convicts with HIV equal rights with other prisoners.
ISKANDER MISSILES. A German paper claimed Iskander-M missiles were deployed in Kaliningrad and an MoD spokesman confirmed some were deployed in the Western Military District but not, said Putin, in Kaliningrad. “Destabilising” huffed NATO. Yes it is: Russia feels destabilised by NATO expansion, missile defence and so on. None of this is necessary.
RELIGION. Levada has come out with a poll comparing declared religious belief now with 1989. 68% call themselves Orthodox Christian today (17% then) but only 17% are even occasional church-goers. 7% call themselves Muslim (1% then). An indication of the rather conservative society Putin describes.
GEORGIAN WINE. Georgian wine has had a very good year in Russia: the first small shipment arrived in June and this year nearly half of the sales were into Russia (22 million bottles out of 45 million). It will be extremely interesting to see, now that Georgia has an arrangement with the EU, how well its sales do in Europe. My bet is that there will still be mysterious obstacles to big sales. Russia and the former USSR will be the principal market for the foreseeable future.
UKRAINE. Yanukovych in Moscow secured an agreement for discounted gas price and Moscow’s agreement to buy some Ukrainian bonds; the PM said this saved Ukraine from “bankruptcy and social collapse”. Anyway, the protesters are still there so it’s not over yet (not, of course that it will be – Ukraine is deeply divided on these issues and, as long as the West keeps trying to force it to choose – first NATO and now EU – the division will continues to bleed and irritate). Meanwhile, in another example of Eurodemocracy, Latvia has joined the Eurozone despite the opposition of more than half the population.