RUSSIAN FEDERATION SITREP 2 APRIL 2020

COVID AND RUSSIA. As of today there are about 3600 cases and 30 deaths, most in Moscow City. Why so much lower than other places? Some reasons: Moscow ordered travel and flight closures earlier than Western countries; it does not appear to have run down its stockpiles of PPE (as the USA and, apparently, most Western countries did); the war-time/emergency preparedness of a country that knows the cost of not being prepared and the fact that anti-Russia sanctions have made the country very self-sufficient. (As even the NYT admits. A few weeks ago, though, in NYT-land, Russia’s economy was faltering. Hard to keep up with the Party Line it is.) That having been said, Moscow is pretty much locked down and other cities are following suit. Putin laid out the government’s program last week. In essence: a lot of help for the little guy and more taxes on rich people who keep their money outside Russia. In today’s address to the nation, he extended the paid holiday to 30 April. The Constitutional referendum is postponed. Entry has been banned to foreigners, an isolation hospital is being built for Moscow and the military are building more around the country. Russia has enough PPE and ventilators that it can spare them for other countries. Several potential vaccines are being tested. So, perhaps after thinking it had escaped it, Russia is bracing but it seems to be much better prepared than the Western average. Helmer discusses the state of play.

SOFT POWER. The brutal truth is that the “leader of the free world” took 500,000 test kits out of Italy, tried to bribe a German pharmaceutical company to move to the USA and advertises easy immigration for doctors. NATO and the EU have done little to help their worse affected neighbours. Meanwhile Russia, China and Cuba – all bad boys to the “Rules-Based International Order” – are providing assistance. (And to the USA itself! PR? of course it is, but it’s also a teaching moment which the WaPo doesn’t get.) The propagandists leap to their keyboards: Beware of Bad Samaritans” is a classic. It includes the lie that 80% of the stuff Moscow sent Italy was useless (Bryan MacDonald takes the effort to trace the lie back to the the fake newsmakers at the Atlantic Council/”Integrity” Initiative) and manages the logical leap of accusing China and Russia both of giving useless stuff and giving too little of it. Liars have no imagination: all they can do is project their own behaviour.

NEW NWO. Post COVID, things are going to be a lot different. I offer Stephen Walt’s “The Death of American Competence” for your reflection. Pompeo’s boast only six weeks ago that “The West is winning” looks hollow. This 2019 rating of countries best prepared to deal with a pandemic hasn’t worn well (USA and UK first, Russia and China in the middle). 2020 – the year the West lost its mojo.

OIL WAR. Oil is about US$25 a barrel. The story in brief: Russia refused a production slowdown, Saudi Arabia (but why?) started pumping like mad, COVID reduced demand and here we are. Have Putin & Co decided that now is the time to bring down the USA? Or at least its fracking business? Or is it a power play to teach Washington a lesson so it will stop interfering with Russia’s market? Anyway Russia is in a position to outlast either Saudi Arabia or the US frackery.

TRIALS. One of Mueller’s “triumphs” was indicting a St Petersburg company for interference on behalf of the Russian government. (Weepy Maddow flashback). A safe stunt because the Russians wouldn’t show up in court. But they did. The prosecution has dropped the case. Why? Bluster, bluster, but the short answer is that there was no evidence. Let Bernhard, who got the story right from the beginning, take you through it. Oh, and the owner of the company is going to sue. In a similar situation, the judge in the MH-17 trial has demanded the prosecution 1) say whether it did receive the claimed US evidence 2) show it to the judge. Leaks tell us that the JIT has never seen it; not surprising because there isn’t any (that’s an easy deduction: if the US really did “observe it” as Kerry claimed, we would have seen it now.) Sometimes Western courts work the way they’re supposed to.

AMERICA-HYSTERICA. No COVID holiday here: Putin’s virus! Sow discord! Disinformation! Russian sources pushed conspiracy! Disinformation! Hacking of our minds! And not just the USA: Disinformation! Sow panic in West! Weaken Western society! Online disinformation assault! Any deviation from Big Brother’s latest can only be Russian disinformation.

EUROPEANS ARE REVOLTING. Europe sends COVID aid to Iran, Washington adds to the sanctions.

THE EMPTINESS OF FORMER FLAPS. WaPo admits Crimeans happy to be in Russia. WaPo!!?

© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Canada Russia Observer

COMMENTS FROM THE LOCKED WARD

(Miscellaneous comments from pieces dealing with Russia I’ve collected. Most of them anonymous or with pseudonyms. They are chosen to illustrate either rabid hostility to everything Russian or stone-dead ignorance of present reality. I post from time to time when I have enough, spelling mistakes and all.)

Russia sends a planeload of masks and whatnot to the USA. This is the response from  Markos Moulitsas, self described as “Founder of Daily Kos, Co-founder Vox Media. Author of The Resistance Handbook: 45 Ways to Fight US President Trump”.

The US is now a client state of Russia.

This is far, far past mere McCarthyism which at least had a basis in reality. “Crazy” doesn’t really do it any more, does it?

COMMENTS FROM THE LOCKED WARD

(Miscellaneous comments from pieces dealing with Russia I’ve collected. Most of them anonymous or with pseudonyms. They are chosen to illustrate either rabid hostility to everything Russian or stone-dead ignorance of present reality. I post from time to time when I have enough, spelling mistakes and all.)

American elections should be decided by the American people, not by the Russian Government. Retweet if you agree!

Tweet from Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the US House of Representatives and third in line for the presidency, 14 January 2020.

What a completely lunatic state of affairs in the so-called Greatest Democracy.

RUSSIAN FEDERATION SITREP 19 MARCH 2020

(NOTE: away in Feb and recovering from  a severe cold — not/not CV.)

PUTIN 4EVER. (Russian Constitution text.) In January Putin suggested some amendments to the Constitution to be discussed and put to national vote in a referendum. Which is, I suppose, close enough to the amending procedure set out in Chapter 9. A commission was quickly set up and amendment suggestions came in. The final ones reflected the rather traditionalist flavour of Russia – marriage is between a man and a woman, a reference to God, indissolubility of Russian territory and some social guarantees. (Wikipedia list.)

Two proposals reflect what Russia has learned in the three decades since the first version. Russian legislation will now take primacy over international law and office holders cannot have dual citizenship or foreign residency permits. This is understandable: the original text had been written at a time when Russians were much more hopeful about the outside world than they are now: grim experience has taught them that “international institutions” are another stick to beat them with. (And, given the chaos and destruction that the self-proclaimed “Rules-Based International Order” has produced, even laudable.)

Among the changes suggested by Putin and approved was the removal from Article 81.3 of “for more than two terms running”; in short two terms only for a president. So what we were looking at was a slightly less president-dominated system with a two-term president, the end of naïve expectations about the “Rules-Based International Order” and some declarations to make conservatives happy.

(I do not now remember why the term limit was in the Constitution – my vague memory is that Western advisors insisted on it so as to reduce dictatorship possibilities. There was, I remember, much fear of the Communists coming back in those days. But, a term limit is not normal world practice and most countries don’t worry about it – MacKenzie King was PM of Canada for more than 21 years.)

So far so good and all reasonable enough and sensible.

Enter Valentina Tereshkova. Since we’re changing the Constitution, said she, then we should start the presidential term counting clock all over again. In other words, when Putin finishes this term in 2024, he can run twice more. Did she think this up on her own or was she put up to it? No one seems to know. Putin addressed the Duma, said it was OK with him if the Constitutional Court approved. Which it did. At this point it is reasonable to observe that it is hardly “constitutional” if you rule that any president can restart the clock by making a few twiddles to the Constitution, is it?

The full package has not yet been approved by a referendum on 22 April but all indications are that it will be: a recent poll showed that a solid majority was quite happy to have Putin stay in office. Meretriciously the voters will be asked to approve the whole package or nothing.

So, what to say about all this? There are, as usual, several theories. First are those who have said from the beginning that Putin would contrive a way to stay on forever. Well, there isn’t much of a retort to them except to to wonder why he didn’t just amend Article 81.3, is there? Another theory holds that Putin feels he has to stay on because only he can manage things in the dangerous times of the decline of the Imperium Americanum. In his speech to the Duma he referred to Roosevelt’s breaking the two-term custom, adding: “When a country is going through such upheavals and such difficulties (in our case we have not yet overcome all the problems since the USSR, this is also clear), stability may be more important and must be given priority.” Well, that decline is undeniably dangerous and there will be many crisis points; but it will take several dangerous decades and Putin certainly won’t be here when the power earthquake is finally over. And there’s always some crisis, somewhere. Another idea is that what he has really done is leave the possibility of running again thereby avoiding a lame duck period before he does go in 2024. Maybe: Putin is coy in this interview.

But, altogether, the manoeuvre leaves a bad taste in the mouth: manipulative, shabby, slipshod, legal only in the most pedantic sense, arbitrary, second-rate and poorly thought out. Very disappointing to someone who thought Putin did not want to be the Turkmenbashi of Russia.

If the system that he and his team spent 20 years building doesn’t work without him, then it doesn’t work.

© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Canada Russia Observer

COMMENTS FROM THE LOCKED WARD

(Miscellaneous comments from pieces dealing with Russia I’ve collected. Most of them anonymous or with pseudonyms. They are chosen to illustrate either rabid hostility to everything Russian or stone-dead ignorance of present reality. I post from time to time when I have enough, spelling mistakes and all.)

Coronavirus+American liberal+Trump Derangement Syndrome=Putindunnit.

Tweet from someone self-described as “Historian. Author. Professor. Budding Curmudgeon. I study the contrast between image and reality in America, especially in politics.”

I cannot make sense of this. Is he deliberately crashing the American economy and dividing us from Europe? If so, is this Putin’s work, yet again? A final gift as Trump loses control of the country?

RUSSIAN FEDERATION SITREP 30 JANUARY 2020

KREMLINOLOGY. I’ve been at this business for a while and one of the things I’ve learned is that “Kremlinology” is a waste of time: speculating about who’s who and the meaning of personnel appointments is worthless. Why? Because we simply don’t know: we don’t know why X was given that particular job and not another, we don’t know how X and Y get along together and how they interact with Z. In fact we really don’t know very much about X, what he thinks, why he thinks it and how he reacts to new things. It’s all a black box: we see some of what goes in and what comes out and have little idea of what happened inside the box. (We don’t know these things about our own countries – was Freeland promoted or demoted? – so what makes anyone think that we know these things about far-away Russia?) So it’s hardly surprising that Kremlinology has been a complete bust every move, including Putin’s latest, surprises its practitioners. So I don’t waste my time speculating: I don’t know enough; nobody does. (The only worthwhile legacy of years of wasted effort is the HAT.)

NEW GOVERNMENT. That having been said, the new government seems to have a lot of ministers who are specialists in their ministry’s field. We’ll see how that goes. MacDonald gives names and backgrounds, Saker says the “Atlantic Integrationists” are weakened, Doctorow suggests it’s connected with the feeble implementation of the National Projects. I say it’s a step towards The Team’s replacement with younger people who will carry the project on. I still expect that Putin will leave with a successor firmly positioned. Tennison, who met him way back when, thinks so too.

CONSTITUTION. Robinson doesn’t see such a huge change. The usual outlets say Putin forever! (Can we pause a moment for a brief think? If he wanted power forever, all he had to do was drop clause 81.3. Nah, turn off brain and outgas: “some” “reportedly” and so on.) The other thing that we have learned is that Putin wants to make the two term restriction absolute.

DEMOGRAPHICS. A fall in the net population (immigration failed to compensate) because of the decrease in the number of women of reproductive age (fallout from the hard times of the 1990s.) Natural increase is expected to resume in three or four years. This month Putin announced a substantial increase in programs to encourage births and support families.

CORRUPTION. The (ex) policemen who framed Golunov will be charged. Not truly a case of protest forcing a change (although there were strong protests) but the system operating properly pretty quickly.

SANCTIONS. Russia now exports beef. (!)

FAKE NEWS. US Army liberated Auschwitz says the US Embassy in Denmark and Der Spiegel. Israel knows who did it, though. The US won the war; Hollywood told us so.

ANNIVERSARY. Saturday, as I calculate it, marked the day when the US and its minions had been in Afghanistan twice as long as the Soviets were. Record year for bombing, too.

AMERICA-HYSTERICA. “There is … a strong possibility that all Steele’s material has been fabricated.” I always thought it was a complete fake with no Russian input (except maybe Skripal’s). I reiterate: there was no Russian interference and no collusion. It’s a phoney story to explain away Clinton’s failure.

ASSASSINATION. Did Pompeo threaten Russian and Chinese officials with assassination? Misreported say I (Veterans Today and Pravda.ru – not a winning combination); don’t see it in the actual speech.

NOT ON YOUR “NEWS” OUTLET. UNSC meeting on OPCW fakery. Thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands. You decide.

NUGGETS FROM THE STUPIDITY MINE. Schiff: Trump made a ‘religious man’ out of Putin. Pillow man, another of Schiff’s nuggets. Reflect that his present career is based on his “knowledge” of Putin.

US DOLLAR. I’m interested that The Economist gets it (as the Mean Sea Level of conventional opinion, what it chooses to cover is significant): “But it is only under President Donald Trump that America has used its powers routinely and to their full extent, by engaging in financial warfare… They have in turn prompted other countries to seek to break free of American financial hegemony.” If it’s used as a weapon, it’s no longer convenient. This man predicts the collapse of the USD this year. Russia has half a trillion’s worth in its FOREX and gold kitty.

EUROPEANS ARE REVOLTING. UK approves limited use of Huawei; Pompeo not happy.

RUSSIA/CHINA. Donald Trump must split up Putin and Xi, the new odd couple. Not only does the author not realise that train left the station a long time ago, he’s not even sure where the station is.

© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Canada Russia Observer

A NEW YEAR’S FANTASY

(First published Strategic Culture Foundation

History is indeed little more than the register of the crimes, follies and misfortunes of mankind

– Edward Gibbon

Counterfactual history is generally a waste of time because, in the end, it’s just speculation. But it’s fun and it can sometimes illuminate factual history.

For example, take the aborted Soviet-French-British alliance to stop Hitler. It came to nothing for a number of reasons but, had it happened, history would have been very different. (And – dare I say it? – probably better. And not the least of the benefits would be that we would be freed from the endless appeals to “Munich” to encourage us to stand firm and bomb the “Next Hitler”.) But I am not going to explore that counterfactual history in which the UK, USSR and France got together, Poland was convinced to let a million Soviet soldiers in and the German military, seeing the hopelessness of it all, overthrew Hitler and the future followed a different set of possibilities (Poland probably being occupied each time).

I am going to consider a counter-factual post Cold War history. Not because I believe – cynical as I have now become – that there was much of a chance of triumphalist Washington, in thrall to PNAC fantasies, allowing it to happen; I do it to illuminate some of the mess that we are in today.

After the Second World War, Stalin, either because he was a dedicated expansionist enemy of the West or because he was determined that, the next time, invaders would have to start their attack farther away from Moscow, absorbed most of the countries the Soviet Army captured/liberated. Communists – and each country had plenty – were put into power. (I invite the reader to speculate: they were absorbed but which was his true motive?) After the Washington Treaty, Moscow formed the Warsaw Treaty. But while the former was, more or less, voluntary, the latter was not and, the moment the USSR weakened, everybody wanted out. Mikhail Gorbachev, GenSek in 1985, began glasnost and perestroyka, believing that the USSR as it was had exhausted its possibilities; one thing led to another, the Berlin Wall came down, the Warsaw Treaty organisation collapsed: when the USSR’s “allies” realised the tanks weren’t coming, they jumped. The USSR itself then fell apart and a whole new world was there for the making.

This is what happened, now begins my counterfactual speculation.

The Western (=NATO) capitals – none of which had foreseen these events – get together and think about how to profit from the collapse of their enemy and how to build a more secure world. A world that is not just better for themselves but more secure for everybody because the wise people in NATO understand that they cannot be secure if their neighbours are not: they know that security is indivisible.

The wise men and women of NATO ponder – it is their world-historical moment; they will create tomorrow. Alternate futures pass before their eyes, they have the power to choose one and eliminate the others; they will pick, out of all the possibilities, the one road the world will travel. Their challenge, now that a great war has ended, is how to fashion a wise ending to the struggle. Not a triumphant ending but a wise one; not just for us but for our descendants. Not momentary but enduring; not a quick sugar hit but lasting nutrition. Many roads to failure; only a few to success.

They take their place with modesty: while, naturally believing that their “free world” system was and is preferable to Marxism-Leninism, they are wise enough and modest enough to know that reality comes in shades of grey. No triumphalism here: just the pragmatic desire to build stability and peace. No boasting: just an acknowledgement that both sides have won.

They remember other decision points when a few created the future. The French Revolutionary/Napoleonic wars killed and maimed millions and devastated and squandered wealth throughout Europe. The easy end would have been to blame France and try to squash it for all time. But the victors – Britain, Prussia, Russia and Austria – were wiser: they included France in the settlement; and their settlement avoided a great European war for a century. They knew that France would always be an important player and therefore had to be invested in the settlement. If it weren’t invested in the settlement it would be invested in breaking the settlement. It’s the essence of The Deal: everybody gets something and everybody has an interest in keeping things the way they are. When no one wants to tip it over, you have stability. The victors of 1919 forgot this principle and their settlement collapsed into an even worse war in twenty years. The victors of that war remembered the 1814 principle (partially) and integrated Germany, Italy and Japan into the winners’ circle.

The wise ones of NATO know this history; they know that the losers have to be made into winners so that the peace can have a chance of lasting; they remember the terrible example of the 1919 failure. There’s no place for boasting or triumphantasising. They bend their powerful minds in the Great Peace Conference of 1991 (counterfactual fantasy event) to calculate how to accommodate everybody’s security concerns. They know that security is indivisible: if one doesn’t feel secure then, sooner or later, no one will.

They start with two realities: 1) Moscow’s former allies – or at least their current leaders – hate and fear Moscow and 2) Moscow doesn’t trust NATO. The Wise Ones waste no time moralising, they know these are the materials with which they have to work and have to make to fit together.

Expand NATO? No, say the Wise Ones: while it will please people in Warsaw or Prague (at least until they get the bill), it will make Moscow nervous and that violates the principle of indivisible security. If making Warsaw happy makes Moscow unhappy, then, at the end of the day, they will both be unhappy and, if they’re both are unhappy, then we will all be unhappy too. Indivisibility of security is the kernel of wisdom that the Wise Ones hold to. If nobody is unhappy then everybody is happy: it’s the geopolitical version of “happy wife, happy life”.

So, the question is this: how do we make a settlement to the Cold War in which NATO, the former Warsaw Treaty, former-USSR and Moscow all feel secure at the same time? Fortunately, at this unrepeatable moment in world history, the NATO leadership is replete with wise, knowledgeable and thoughtful people, well-informed about past errors, determined to do better, with the vision, modesty and ingenuity to square the circle. (I warned you it was counterfactual). They figure it out:

  1. They tell Warsaw, Prague, Kiev and the rest of them to form an alliance (Central European Treaty Organisation or some such name) grounded on NATO’s Article 5 (an attack on one is an attack on all).
  2. They get a formal, signed, ceremonial declaration from NATO that, should Russia attack any member of the Central European Treaty Organisation, NATO will come to its defence.
  3. They get a formal, signed, ceremonial declaration from Moscow that should NATO attack any member of the CETO, Moscow will come to its defence.

So, between NATO and Russia, there would have been a belt of neither-one-nor-the-other-but-guaranteed-by-both countries. CETO would have lots of weapons and a high degree of interoperability and command structure left over from the Soviet days; therefore they would be able to mount quite effective defences with what they already had. Their weapons, being Soviet and very rugged, would work for years to come so they wouldn’t have to spend much on their defence.

(Note that, we have, as a sort of scale model of something like this, the relationship between Malta and Italy. From 1981 Malta is officially neutral and its neutrality is guaranteed by Italy, a NATO member. The USSR recognised this neutrality soon after.)

If a CETO had been formed, guaranteed by NATO and Russia, wouldn’t everybody be 1) happier and 2) more secure?

But that didn’t happen. We all know what did: the men and women of NATO were not so wise, they missed their world-historical moment and they went for the triumphantasising quick sugar hit.

So I wish you all a happy

New Year

in which you may reflect upon what might have been

but wasn’t.

 

 

 

 

 

RUSSIAN FEDERATION SITREP 16 JANUARY 2020

THE GREAT RESHUFFLE. I do expect Putin to retire and assume him to be working on a succession plan to keep the team’s aims in operation. He’s due to go in about four years. I would not be surprised if we see something à la Kazakhstan where Nazarbayev still has a significant advisory authority.

1. NEW PM. Mikhail Mishustin, head of Tax Service. Is he the chosen one? (Would be a blow to the Hirsute Analytical Tool, though.) (Мишустин bio on Russian Wikipedia.)

2. CONSTITUTION. Putin suggested constitutional tweaks. A ban on any form of dual citizenship for certain positions: they must “inseparably connect their lives with Russia and the Russian people without any assumptions and allowances”. The Duma should appoint the PM and the PM the government although little was said about exactly how responsibilities were to be divvied up. (Did he support removing the two consecutive term rule? Don’t know – depends on what you think “этим” refers to.)

3. PRECEDENCE. Back when the world was simpler and happier and Russians naïve, the Constitution (Art 15.4) said “If an international treaty of the Russian Federation establishes rules other than those stipulated by the law, the rules of the international treaty apply.” Brutal reality has taught Moscow the true nature of the “Rules-Based International Order” and Putin has proposed to reverse the authority.

4. MEDVEDEV. Deputy Chairman of the Security Council. I think it’s a real job and not a sinecure.

WHAT’S IT MEAN? My take. Doctorow. MacDonald. We are broadly in step. Robinson discusses possibilities. Those who see Russia as one man and many robots of course see this as Putin hanging onto power forever. But their predictive track record is pretty pathetic, isn’t it?

FEDERAL ASSEMBLY ADDRESS. In addition to the constitutional matters above, Putin’s address (Rus) (Eng), touched on other subjects. He began with population – the births per woman were 1.5 and he wants to raise that to 1.7 and proposes more day care places and greatly extending existing financial support programs as well as spending to improve healthcare. All this is possible because “The federal budget has had a surplus again” and inflation is low. (Robinson points out, quite correctly, that there’s a gap between what The Boss decrees and what actually happens. Nonetheless I’d say Putin has been much more successful than most leaders.) Foreign matters received the barest mention: situation in MENA threatening, Russia ready to cooperate, “defence capability is ensured for decades to come”.

RUSSIA INC. Awara does a study of Russian and American earnings and demonstrates that, in purchasing power, they’re a lot closer than you would think. It’s not just money: health, housing and education – big expenses in the USA – are negligible costs in Russia.

CORRUPTION. After an investigation, the Russian Academy of Sciences has forced the retraction of hundreds of scientific articles for plagiarism and other forms of fraudulent behaviour.

RUSSIA, SPORTS AND DRUGS. It’s all fakery – Mark Chapman takes the trouble to put it all together.

USN ALWAYS HAS RoW. Again the US accuses the Russian Navy of dangerous behaviour, again it was the USN ship that should have given way. (Give way to starboard vessel.) Speaking of rules-based.

IRAQ. It is reported that that Baghdad is in talks with Moscow on buying S-300 SAM systems. Baghdad orders Americans out; they refuse; Baghdad might need air defence that’s independent of US backdoor programming.

TURKSTREAM. Formally launched by the two presidents in Turkey.

NOT IN YOUR “NEWS” OUTLET. Helmer discusses a German parliamentary report that shows that there really isn’t any evidence that Russia “invaded” Ukraine or controls the rebels: “few reliable facts and analyses aside from the numerous speculations”. It calls it a “civil war” (bürgerkriegs). Which is what it actually is (with assistance from NATO and Russia, to be sure). (Report, German only).

TROUBLE IN PARADISE. A contested presidential election led to pretty strong protests with the Supreme Court changing its ruling. The long and the short is that Raul Khajimba, an important player and President for six years, resigned on Monday. New elections will be held in March. Independent Abkhazia has not been very stable and I don’t have any good sources to guide me on what’s happening. Although I have been told it is determined on real independence, joining neither Russia nor Georgia.

NEW NWO. Iran has just demonstrated it belongs to the rather small club of countries which can precisely strike a target from far away. At least somebody got the message.

© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Canada Russia Observer

RUSSIAN RESHUFFLE

(Also published at Sic Semper Tyrannis, Strategic Culture Foundation, picked up by JRL, Technical Politics, The New Dark Age,

(Written on the evening of. So subject to reconsideration/revision/outright denial as we learn more.)

I didn’t expect any of it. Neither did anyone else, whatever the so-called experts outgassing on the US Garbage Media may be pretending. I don’t know what it all means. Neither does anyone else. (Well Putin & Co do, but they keep their cards close to their chests. As we’ve just seen.)

What do we know? Putin gave his annual address to the Federal Council (Rus) (Eng) and started off with how important it was that the birthrate should be raised. Fair enough: he wants more Russians on the planet, the government’s programs have ensured that there will be quite a few more but there are still more to come. Many programs planned; some of which will work: after all, not everything works out as we hoped does it? He mentioned how dangerous the world is – especially the MENA – and said at least Russia is pretty secure (as indeed it is except against lunatics addicted to the Book of Revelation.)

Then the constitutional stuff. He believes the Constitution needs a few tweaks. Important officials should really be Russians and not people with a get-out-of-jail-card/alternate-loyalty-card in their vests. Reasonable enough: they should “inseparably connect their lives with Russia and the Russian people without any assumptions and allowances.” (Good idea actually. Can we in the West steal the idea? We vote for X but who does he vote for?) Russian law should take precedence over decrees contaminated by the “Rules-Based International Order” (“we make the rules, you follow our orders“). The PM should be named by the Duma. (A pretty big change, actually: let’s have more details on the division of labour please. In some countries the head of state is The Boss – USA, Russia (now), France – in others the head of government is The Boss – Germany, Canada, Denmark. There is a serious carve up of powers question here that has to be worked out in detail.) Constitutional changes should be approved in a referendum. The President either should or should not be bound by the no-three-terms-in-a-row-rule (I personally can’t figure out what “этим” refers to in “Не считаю, что этот вопрос принципиальный, но согласен с этим. Не считаю, что этот вопрос принципиальный, но согласен с этим.” But, no doubt we will soon learn.)

So, a somewhat less presidential republic. Details to be decided. Many details. But I’m confident that it’s been worked out and we will learn. Putin & Co have shown us over 20 years that they don’t make things up on the fly.

Then we learned that the entire government had resigned – but individuals to stay in place until replaced. Then we learned – a fast few hours indeed! – that Dmitri Medvedev was replaced by somebody that no one (other than Russian tax specialists) had ever heard of: Mikhail Vladimirovich Mishustin. (Russian Wiki entry – none in English so far.) Those cheering Medvedev’s dismissal (something predicted and hoped for by a sector of Russianologists) had to then swallow this: not tossed out into ignominy and shame, as they wanted, but something else. Putin says that there is a clear distinction between government and presidential concerns; defence and security are clearly in the latter. But Medvedev has always been closely following defence and security issues and it is suitable and appropriate that he continue to do so. So a new position, deputy heard of the security council, will be created for him. So what are we to make of this? Medvedev has been given the boot and a sinecure? Or he’s been given a crucial job in the new carve-up of responsibilities?

After all, Russia’s problems keep getting bigger but nobody is getting any younger. Especially the problems from outside. For some years Washington, an implacable enemy of Moscow, has been getting less and less predictable. Lavrov and Kerry spend hours locked up negotiating a deal in Syria; within a week the US military attacks a Syrian Army unit; “by mistake”. Who’s in charge? Now with the murder of Soleimani, possibly on a Washington-approved peace mission, Washington has moved to another level of lawlessness and is exploring the next depth as it defies Baghdad’s order to get out. A pirate power. The outside problems for Moscow aren’t getting smaller, are they? Washington is certainly недоговороспособны – it’s impossible to make an agreement with it and, if you should think you have done so, it will break it. A dangerous, uncontrollable madman, staggering around blowing everything up – is any foreign leader now to be assumed to be on Washington’s murder list? Surviving its decay is a big job indeed. The problems are getting bigger in the Final Days of the Imperium Americanum.

So, maybe Moscow needs more people on the job.

So are we looking at a new division of labour in Moscow as part of managing the Transition? (To say nothing of the – what’s the word? – Thucydides trap?). Mishustin looks after the nuts and bolt of Russia’s economy and internal management. Medvedev looks after defence and security – something not likely to get smaller — while Putin looks after the big picture?

But this is only the first step in The Transition and we will learn more soon.

NOTE 16 January. The Presidential website now has the actual words on the issue of defence and security:

There is a clear-cut presidential block of issues, and there is a Government block of issues, even though the President, of course, is responsible for everything, but the presidential block includes primarily matters of security, defence and the like.

Mr Medvedev has always been in charge of these matters. [Дмитрий Анатольевич всегда занимался этими вопросами}. From the point of view of increasing our defence capability and security, I consider it possible and have asked him to deal with these matters in the future. I consider it possible and will, in the near future, introduce the position of Deputy Chairman of the Security Council. As you are aware, the President is its Chairman.

COMMENTS FROM THE LOCKED WARD

(Miscellaneous comments from pieces dealing with Russia I’ve collected. Most of them anonymous or with pseudonyms. They are chosen to illustrate either rabid hostility to everything Russian or stone-dead ignorance of present reality. I post from time to time when I have enough, spelling mistakes and all.)

Yup Russia isn’t a trouble maker,right ok!

What is Russia?

A failing state,built from the wreckage of a failed state and failed system

What does Russia do?

It supports failure,Syria

It supports failure, Venezuela

It supports failure,Iran

It’s oligarchy supports Putin so they can loot Russia!

Russia isn’t going anywhere its just a big lump of Forrest and oil

corrupt state enterprise outfits making crap wiz bangs

which will certainly be well worked out by Israel, and thats why Putin sucks up to Israel, because he doesn’t doesn’t want this known as its very embarrassing

Personally Putin should walk away from Syria but he’s stupid

Tweet on occasion of latest US accusation of Russian Navy dangerous driving, January 2020