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.
Litvinenko again. A New York Sun article by Edward Jay Epstein rationally discusses the case. Mr. Epstein's conclusion is that Moscow had nothing to do with Litvinenko's demise and he correctly points out the role of Berezovskiy and his myrmidons as the source of the accusations. What is new in this piece is that Epstein saw the evidence London passed to Moscow and found it "embarrassingly thin " - just as the Russians always said. But the damage is done and the assumption that Putin had Litvinenko killed has been added to the "charge sheet" (see the New Yorker's Why are Putin's opponents dying? for a sample of the genre).
Elections. Nezavisimaya Gazeta, unaware as always that there is no freedom in Russia to criticise the authorities, has published a piece by Andrey Buzin, chairman of Interregional Association of Voters and member of the Moscow City Election Commission in which he terms the recent elections "a national spectacle". A Russian NGO, Golos, said that violations were so widespread that it was impossible to know the real results. An exaggeration: it cannot be suggested that, without cheating, Zyuganov would have been elected: what it means is that the results are known, but the numbers are not.
TNK-BP. The offices of this UK-Russia joint venture were searched on March 19th. Two Russians have been charged with industrial espionage and there is said to be a connection. As usual, Moscow's statements do little to clarify matters.
Biofuels. Making fuel out of vegetative matter is the new fad and the Russians are getting into it: Prime Minister Zubkov outlined plans to construct 30 new biofuel plants using, presumably, wood waste as the raw material.
Human rights. Russia's human rights ombudsman, Vladimir Lukin, issued his annual report . He said that Russia's greatest problem was the "arbitrariness of the law-enforcement organs" and that half the complaints his office received involved actions of the police, prosecutors or courts.
Corruption. Clearly this is going to be a big emphasis in Medvedev's term. Yesterday he met with members of the Public Chamber and opined that, in addition to changes in the laws, there should be some sort of incentive system for officials not to take bribes. A curious notion, to be sure, but corruption is such a gigantic problem in Russia that maybe strange ideas might work.
Christians. Yesterday, at the tomb of St Francis, Mikhail Gorbachev announced that he was a Christian and had always been. Putin is also a believer -- that's a cross he's wearing around his neck, not dogtags. The role of Russian believers in the changes of the last 15-20 years is, I think, unexplored.
Transit rights. It is reported that NATO and Moscow are negotiating over-flight rights in support of NATO operations in Afghanistan.
The past. Former Waffen SS members held a rally in Riga and the Russian Foreign Ministry couldn't resist the temptation to protest. As I've said before the Baltic states were victims in the Second World War and young men were vacuumed up into their armies by whichever side could get at them. To some degree, the national myth in Estonia and Latvia holds that the Nazi side was the better. But I do wish Moscow would stop reacting (the reaction being, of course one of the purposes of the rallies): in a decade or so this problem will disappear by itself.
Caucasian rumors of wars. The leader of the White Legion has threatened to start attacking Russian peacekeeping forces in Abkhazia.
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.