Arizona Senator John McCain has wrapped up the Republican nomination for President
Last week was a typically schizophrenic one for U.S.-Russia relations. On one hand, we saw outgoing Presidents Bush and Putin agree to meet in the Russian resort city of Sochi in order to address their differences over a proposed American missile defense system in Europe. On the other hand, we saw Arizona Senator John McCain, the Republican candidate to succeed President Bush, argue that Russia should be kicked out of the G-8 club of industrialized nations.
In a speech delivered to the World Affairs Council of Los Angeles on March 26, McCain acknowledged both Russia and China as nations "that wield great influence in the international system". But while McCain made a point to emphasize that the U.S. and the China were "not destined to be adversaries", the Senator's stance versus Russia was decidedly more confrontational.
Presidents Bush and Putin at the White House in 2005
Presidents Bush and Putin became good friends at the beginning of their terms and it looks like both of them are trying to save this friendship despite many negative trends in U.S. -- Russian relations. The recent Moscow trip of the two key figures in the Bush cabinet, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and State Secretary Condoleezza Rice did little to soften Russia's tough stance on further NATO expansion and elements of the NMD systems in Eastern Europe. Therefore, Bush decided unexpectedly as the last resort to make another try by going to meet his pal Vlad in Sochi. The meeting between the two leaders will take place April 6 as Bush is wrapping up a trip to Ukraine, Croatia and the NATO summit in Bucharest, Romania.
This looks like a desperate attempt by Bush to do something about his legacy. Given his remarkably low popularity ratings hovering around 30 percent, the appalling situation in Iraq and Afghanistan, the financial crisis, and pretty dubious image of the United States in the world, a radiant picture of Bush's legacy is hardly plausible. So it is extremely important for him to show a thing or two to climb at least a few points higher, to move away from the rock-bottom rating among all U.S. presidents where he is solidly stuck at present.
U.S.-RUSSIA RELATIONS The atmosphere seems to have improved in recent weeks. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Washington offered "confidence-building measures" which will apparently allow the Russians to inspect, in some manner not specified, American missile defense installations in Europe to assure Moscow that the system will not be directed against Russia. Bush and Putin are to meet next week in the Russian resort of Sochi after the NATO meeting and we will no doubt learn more then.
Kids walking home from school in Gudermes, Chechnya (Photo by the New York Times)
Many positive political and economic developments are taking place in Moscow. Russia Blog has noticed that many of these events have been ignored since the election of the new Russian President, Dimitry Medvedev. The doom-and-gloom scenario predicted by many Washington think-tanks did not take place, and many scholars and journalists hostile to Russia ran out of negative steam relatively fast.
Serious news reporting about the war-torn Caucasus region of Chechnya has disappeared from the Western media coverage as well. Chechnya and its capital city of Grozny are in far better shape today than they were just three years ago. Nearly half a million Chechen refugees have returned to their homes and nearly 100,000 private businesses have been started in the recovering region. However, terrorism remains a problem, and minor attacks on Chechen and Russian security forces still take place on a weekly basis.
For more detailed reporting and analysis of the terrorist attacks happening in the region, please visit the website of the Russia-Eurasia Daily Watch.
When it comes to Russia, the differences among the US presidential candidates are so slight that there is little reason for Russians to prefer one over another.
Senator McCain's foreign policy advisory team mixes "realists" Robert McFarlane, Brent Scowcroft, Stephen E. Biegun, Lorne W. Craner, Richard Armitage, and Henry Kissinger with neo-con "hawks" Max Boot, R. James Woolsey, Niall Ferguson, Robert Kagan and William Kristol.
This combination is likely to produce the same sort of intellectual schizophrenia that it did at the outset of the Reagan administration. During its first two years initiatives were generated opportunistically within the NSC and the CIA, culminating in the spectacular but ultimately pointless sabotage in June 1982 of the new trans-Siberian gas pipeline. Ronald Reagan eventually put a stop to these dangerous shenanigans in April 1983 and dramatically changed his thinking, thanks in no small part to Suzanne Massie, who helped him develop an appreciation for the culture and religiosity of the Russian people.
Telegraph: Ronald Reagan allegedly told his close aides on a number of occasions that he felt his opponent during the Cold War was a "closet believer." Mr Gorbachev, 77, was baptised into the Russian Orthodox Church and his parents were Christians.
US-Russian talks. The US foreign and defence ministers were in Moscow this week for talks mostly about the missiles and radars the US wants to put into Eastern Europe. There is much speculation about what happened but the atmosphere seems to have been good.
Yavlinskiy and Yabloko. Lots of rumours. First the arrest of Maksim Reznik in St Petersburg and other pressures against the party. Rumours I have heard:
1) the authorities are pushing the opposition around;
2) an attempt to lever Yabloko out of desirable real estate; and a distant third, a Yavlinskiy-authored attempt to crack down on dissidents in Yabloko. Yavlinskiy confirmed that he did meet with Putin and Medvedev but has said nothing about what was said other than that Putin promised to "look into" the Reznik case. Rumours are going around that Putin offered him a Deputy PM post in the next government. Meanwhile some in the Yabloko structure, already irritated at Yavlinskiy's leadership, are calling on him to resign as leader. Stay tuned.
Tuesday, March 18 2008, Condoleezza Rice shakes hand of President Dmitry Medvedev during her visit with Robert Gates to Moscow (Photo by ITAR-TASS)
Since the presidential elections of March 2, Russia has almost disappeared from the Western news media. Both liberal and conservative think tanks apparently decided to take a "moment of silence" concerning Russia. No wonder! So much money and effort had been spent trying to brainwash Americans and Europeans into believing that Putin would stay for a third term - or at least, if Putin did not do so, then Russians, like a herd of sheep, would vote 99% for his hand-picked successor with a siloviki background; that Garry Kasparov would run for president, but most likely get killed by the evil KGB; and even if none of the above took place, something else very bad and undemocratic would most definitely occur in Russia.
None of the above happened, and good news from Moscow apparently does not merit column space. Only the Financial Times published a stunningly honest article "Let the Russians Sort out Russia," and the New York Times wrote a wonderful profile of Metropolitan Laurus, who healed a decades-old rift in the Russian Orthodox Church, and died on March 17 at the age of 80 in Jordanville, New York.
Before reading the article itself, we strongly recommend looking at the letter to the editor
"End Putinphobia and Try to Normalise Relations" that was sent by Professor Padma Desai to the Financial Times on March 14, 2008. Prof. Desai's letter is reproduced below:
Sir, Rodric Braithwaite's article "Let Russians sort out Russia" (March 12) marks a refreshing departure from the knee-jerk bashing of President Vladimir Putin of Russia in the Western media and think-tanks, and in several policy decisions of the Bush administration. Even pronouncements by American presidential candidates (although marginal) on the likely course of US-Russian relations under the recent leadership change in Russia reflect this counter-productive bias.
I have long argued, in virtual isolation, that such Putinphobia misses Sir Rodric's reminder that Mr Putin's policies have enjoyed a huge popularity in Russia, and that the Russian parliamentary and presidential elections, although flawed, reflect a thumbs-up support from the Russian people. Mr Putin has certainly profited from the oil boom; and that is the luck of the draw. But he has also avoided the "oil curse" and used the oil largesse productively by putting in place important policy measures that stand to benefit the Russian economy.
NYT: Metropolitan Laurus, Who Healed Rift in Russian Orthodox Church, Is Dead at 80
By DOUGLAS MARTIN
Metropolitan Laurus, who led the overseas branch of the Russian Orthodox Church to a historic rapprochement with the Moscow mother church, from which it split after the Communist revolution in 1917, died Sunday at a monastery in Jordanville, N.Y. He was 80. Nicholas Ohotin, a church spokesman, said no cause had been determined. News reports from Russia made much of the day of his death: it was the Feast of Orthodoxy, when those who have given greatly to the church are venerated.
Metropolitan Laurus's most historic moment occurred last May in the great rebuilt Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow, which Stalin had once destroyed to build a swimming pool. As leader of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia, he exchanged kisses on the cheek with the Patriarch of Moscow, Aleksei II.
This music video is by one of the most popular bands in Russia, Lyube. The song is about two childhood friends - one who grows up to become a businessman, and the other a Spetsnaz commando. This track is from Lyube's new album Rossiya (Russia). You can listen to a live recording of the title track here.
The Transfer of Power in Russia Russia Election Analysis
By Graham Allison (Belfer Center, Harvard Kennedy School)
Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev wave to their supporters in Moscow's Red Square on March 2, 2008.
Though the outcome of the presidential election in Russia was a foregone conclusion, many questions remain about when and how which powers will be transferred from whom to whom. Partial answers to some of the questions about Russia's presidential succession are provided in the March 7 article in The Moscow Times, "Kremlin Enters Uncharted Waters."
Also included below are speculations from Russian colleagues about what the new administration and cabinet may look like.
Key questions about the Russia's presidential succession:
1. When will Medvedev actually assume the Russian presidency?
By law, Vladimir Putin remains president until May 7, 2008, four years to the day of his inauguration. On this day, president-elect and first deputy prime minister, Dmitry Medvedev will officially become Russia's new president.
To The Point News reports on something that would have made Khrushchev take both shoes off and bang along with the Red Army Choir to "Sweet Home Alabama." Prepare yourself for this one - maybe with a Stoli martini or two.
Back in the days of the Soviet Union, the Soviet Red Army had an official choir composed of male soldiers and musicians. It still exists. The Red Army Choir performs throughout Russia to this day. Now consider the Finnish rock band called The Leningrad Cowboys. A little while ago, they held a concert in Russia, in which - to the screaming applause of Russkie teenagers - they got the Red Army Choir to join them on stage for a performance of "Sweet Home Alabama." In English. You couldn't make this stuff up.
We're talking seriously off the wall here. Better have that Stoli ready when you watch it:
President Putin and the next Russian President, Dimitry Medvedev
Peter Finn's Washington Post article on Kremlin efforts to polish Russia's image abroad provides a pretty accurate and balanced description of various projects in this field, funded either directly by the government or by the private sector, when the latter gets a nod from the top. Unfortunately, so far this investment has brought only a few and rather modest results. The Western media bias regarding Russia is so overwhelming that even if the Kremlin increases its PR budget by one or two orders of magnitude, little will change.
Take, for example, the Washington Post's editorials. Contrary to their Moscow bureau chief Peter Finn's objective and neutral news reporting, the Post editorials are saturated with such vicious anti-Russian rhetoric that one wonders if the people who write them have some personal problems.
Eduard Limonov, Garry Kasparov's opposition partner
The plan unfolds. My current take on the possibilities for the future division of power in Russia is here but it's still too early to place bets. But a few tiny indications of my fifth hypothesis are floating around at the moment. The political problem with Russia is that it is still a one-man band; a band which all true lovers of power earnestly seek to join. Putin himself has spoken about how United Russia "needs rejuvenation and reorganisation" and of its other deficiencies.
There has been some speculation lately that he and Medvedev are trying to create a "loyal opposition" (a phrase, by the way, that is perfectly meaningful in Westminster-system countries). He and Medvedev met with Duma leaders (including Yavlinskiy interestingly, who, while not in the Duma, is the leader of the oldest liberal party) and apparently spoke about this. There is a story that Putin tried to get Yavlinskiy to unite with the other liberals two elections ago but he wouldn't. The opposition in Russia today is stunt groupings like Other Russia (and its NatBolfriends), the geriatric communist party or Zhirinovskiy's personal vehicle.
I haven't been able to find English-language coverage of this, so all I've got is this Le Monde article. But it's worth mentioning because it looks to me like a potential sea change waiting to happen.
Two days ago, Russia's Foreign and Defense Ministers came to Paris for annual bi-lateral talks. The meeting resulted in a solid agreement from Russia to contribute 6-8 helicopters to the EUFOR Chad mission, as well as a potential accord with NATO to lift restrictions on logistical shipments bound for Afghanistan through Russian territory, which had been limited to non-military supplies.
Russian Elections -- Affirming Democracy or Confirming Autocracy?
Nicolai N. Petro
It is important to distinguish between the electoral process, the electoral campaign, and the electoral outcome. Those who fail to do so seek to disparage the choice of the Russian people, rather than to understand it.
Few observers have challenged the election process itself, which was marred by glitches of the kind one routinely encounters in national elections. Instead, most of the criticism has been leveled at the electoral campaign, and while there is always room for improvement, they lack certain credibility since the same criticisms could just as easily be leveled at any European country.
For example, all countries regulate the participation of political groups by applying filters to their ability to participate in the elections process. Some, like the United States, apply these filters at the local level, through a complex set of fifty different state electoral standards. Typically, states require somewhere between 5 and 10 percent of the voters from the previous elections to register a party in the next ballot. This has reduced the people's options to two.
Five Hypotheses About the Future of Power in Russia
Saying "Goodbye" to the presidency...
A consensus appears to be developing that Putin has contrived a means of staying in power indefinitely. The idea is that, one way or the other, Medvedev will be a dummy President and Putin, as Prime Minister will retain the real power. However, the accounts that argue this point -- for example Christopher Walker at RFE -- fail to consider one salient fact.
And that is that, had he wanted, Putin could easily have been elected President for a third term on Sunday. No one can doubt that one or two years ago Putin and his machine could have secured the necessary majorities to have removed Article 81. 3 of the Russian Constitution ("One and the same person cannot hold the office of President of the Russian Federation for more than two consecutive terms"). This is, after all, what the leaders Walker cites have done. It would have been by far the easiest way for Putin to stay in power: the Presidential machinery of power that Putin spent so much time building up would remain without change and with the same man in the chair.
But he didn't. Therefore, any argument that Putin is staying in power has to explain why he didn't take the easy route to that power.
Editor's note: The Russian government is investing to renew its leadership position in technology. In this first part in a series of four articles, venture capitalist Thomas Nastas discusses the role of governments in technology creation. This and subsequent opinion pieces published in Vedomosti are from Mr. Nastas' article "The Go Forward Plan to Scaling Up Innovation" published in The Harvard Business Review, Russian edition, June/July 2007 and Hungarian edition, October 2007.
While companies are responsible for innovation in their enterprises, the creation of knowledge based economies can't happen without the political will and investment of governments. Knowledge creation touches on so many of their duties like education, R&D, IP (intellectual property), policies in innovation, trade and investment and the enabling environment. Achieving political consensus on the mission and the funding to execute is controversial, so some governments take smaller but achievable steps to knowledge creation.
One strategy is to make more capital available for investment. The 'Yozma' fund-of-funds was an investment company with $100 million from the Israeli Government, $80 million for investment into the creation of new VC funds and the remaining $20 million for direct investment into Israeli technology companies. Yozma invested $8 million into a private VC fund with $12 million invested by Israeli and foreign investors. Yozma let fund managers 'buy-out' the Government's equity stake after five years.
Click on the extended post to read more of this article and to view the Russian version. You can read the original article in Vedomostihere.
Oleg Deripaska is the richest Russian with a fortune of over 28 billion dollars
Forbes reports: Moscow has overtaken New York City as home to the most billionaires, according to Forbes magazine, with 74 of the super-rich elite now counting the Russian capital as their home. By contrast, 71 billionaires live in New York, according to the magazine's annual list, which placed London in third place with 36.
"Russia is again the dominant story in (Europe) this year. Its billionaires are just fast and fearsome. What's fascinating is that every single one of them is self made," said Forbes senior editor Luisa Kroll. "We're not going to get into exactly how they got it but none of them inherited it and their average age is 46," she added.
Russia now counts a total of 87 billionaires, ousting Germany in second place but still trailing the first-placed United States, which has 469. Russian oligarchs have made seen their fortunes rise in recent years thanks to booming commodity prices. Among the top-placed Russian figures were aluminum magnate Oleg Deripaska, valued at 28 billion dollars and Chelsea football club owner Roman Abramovich, said to be worth 23.5 billion dollars.
Russia: Weekly News from Patrick Armstrong March 6, 2008
By Patrick Armstrong
Election. As everyone expected, Medvedev won handily receiving in the seventies on a turnout in the high sixties. There are the usual reports of ballot-stuffing and some improbable results from the North Caucasus (but nothing quite as bad as in the Duma elections). But, there can be no doubt that Medvedev represents the popular choice. And no surprise: after the ups and downs of the last couple of decades, Russians want peace and quiet and more money in their pockets. That is what Medvedev/Putin promise.
Continuity and stability. If there has been one theme of Putin's and Medvedev's recent speeches, it is "stay calm, nothing will change, the same team will be in place carrying out the same program". There was a good deal of speculation about interest groups fighting "under the rug" over the succession but, thus far, it has been very smooth, thanks one assumes to Putin's actions. We will see what the next steps in The Plan are.
`Those seeking to categorise Dmitry Medvedev, the presumptive next president of Russia, have quickly settled into two camps: pessimists, who dismiss him as a puppet of Vladimir Putin, and optimists, who cling to the slim hope that he might someday develop his own agenda.
A careful reading of his more than 2,000 public pronouncements over the past seven years, however, suggests that neither of these descriptions is accurate. His record suggests that Medvedev - after the presidential election of 2 March 2008 and the transfer of power in May - will indeed pursue a concerted liberalisation of Russian politics: but as the next logical stage in the strategy of democratic modernisation known as the "Putin plan", rather than as an alternative to it.
Russia Blog presents up-to-date news, facts and commentary on the state of events in Russia and the former Soviet Union. The blog is managed by Yuri Mamchur, Director of Real Russia Project. The blog is edited by Charles Ganske.