February 23, 2008
By Patrick Armstrong
Yevgeny Adamov was sentenced to 5Â½ years in prison
CORRUPTION AND STATE CORPORATIONS. Yevgeny Adamov, the atomic energy minister from 1998 to 2001, was convicted by a Moscow court of embezzlement during his term and sentenced to 5Â½ years. This raises the issue of corruption at the highest levels. In his final press conference Putin was asked which of Russia's problems had he found the most wearying and difficult to resolve; "corruption", he immediately answered. Very true: corruption, all the way from the oligarch acquisitions to rapacious traffic police, gums up everything in Russia. And some things have been done about it, although one can suspect that they are rather selective.
But I'm not sure that blurring the distinction between say, a 1st Deputy PM and the Chairman of the Board of one of the world's largest companies is the right way to fight it, although I can see why such a thing might have been thought the only way to get a grip on the company. But, to me, the problem is: from where do these government officials on state boards receive the larger remuneration? In his press conference, Putin explained that he believed state corporations to be necessary "when there is a need for major long-term investments that private business is not yet ready to incur" but that the time would come when this was no longer the case and "we will gradually list these companies on the stock market and make them part of a market economy". Something to watch in the transition is whether these state company positions remain with the individual or the office. The only indication so far is that Medvedev has said he will give up the Gazprom position.
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KOSOVO. Kosovo declared independence on Sunday and appears to be on the way to formal recognition by Washington and some other major powers. One of the most idiotic memes of the current coverage of Russia is the assumption that a warning from Putin is a threat by Putin. What Putin said, for example in his press conference, was "if Europe applies a set of rules in one place and other rules in another, and does so in the interests of any one country or group of countries, then we will have chaos and it will be awful.". This is a warning that recognising Kosovo will have consequences. And already South Ossetia, Abkhazia and the Chechen Republic-Ichkeria have taken courage from it. On the other hand, the EU could not produce a unified response because Spain and Cyprus are queasy about blessing UDI. We will see what the fallout will be. I do not expect Moscow to recognise South Ossetia or Abkhazia: Moscow has its own potential UDI areas.
OTHER RUSSIA. Other Russia didn't follow its usual stunt of trying to march down a main street when permission hade been withheld so as to provide fodder for the press. It held a permitted protest in a central location. Fewer than 200 showed up.
MOSCOW'S LATEST OFFENCE. Moscow has denied entry visas to 3 officials from Human Rights Watch. Moscow's story is that they gave false reasons for their visits: first they claimed to be tourists and the second time to be business consultants. I don't know whether the Russian story is true or just an excuse to keep potential embarrassing visitors out, not but I bet the Western coverage of the story makes no attempt to mention the Russian version of the story or to test its validity. If the Russians are telling the truth, then the applications were, to put it gently, disingenuous.
CHECHNYA. President Kadyrov is urging Moscow to issue an amnesty. His argument is that times have changed. Many of the incarcerated were "Young people, aged between 18 and 30 who were reared in the years of power void and who were deceived by extremists and terrorists from dozens of countries under the cover of Islamic slogans"; many of the verdicts were unjust given that "When the counter-terrorist operation was under way, punishment was the most preferred choice".
My guess is that he will get it. I reiterate my suspicion that Kadyrov continues his father's line from 2000: "We have been fighting for independence by military means for 400 years and have attained nothing. I am urging the Chechen people to spend at least 100 years trying to win independence by other means." IF anything, events since 2000 have proved the elder Kadyrov's point. So, not an independent Chechnya per se, but one that acts rather independently. But not by war and not by inviting, to quote Kadyrov senior again: "an ideology alien to that of the Caucasus peoples brought in by all kinds of outsiders".
GEORGIA. The standoff continues: there was an opposition protest in Tbilisi last week that drew a crowd variously reported as between 10,000 and 40,000. Another is promised tomorrow. The opposition is also planning a series of hunger strikes across the country starting tomorrow.
Patrick Armstrong received a PhD from Kings College, University of London, England in 1976 and began working for the Canadian government as a defence scientist in 1977. He was Political Counsellor for the Canadian Embassy in Moscow from 1993 to 1996. He has been a frequent speaker at the Wilton Park conferences in the UK.