NATO Expansion. Ukraine and Georgia were not offered a path to NATO membership - yet. People like to say that "Moscow has no veto on NATO membership". This has always struck me as fatuous: who says that it has one? It also implies that NATO's purpose is to do the opposite of what Moscow wants. Which is a rather foolish modus operandi. If NATO has any purpose, it is surely to ensure the security of its members. That security will not be increased by treating Russia as an enemy.
US-Russia Relations. The atmospherics continue to sound good; Putin's press secretary is hinting that some sort of document will be signed when Bush and Putin (and the next Russian President, Dimitry Medvedev, apparently) meet in Sochi on Sunday, other sources say that some over-arching deal is in the works. We'll see: the principals have said nice things before but their bureaucracies don't seem to make things happen.
Russian Army soldiers on parade during Victory Day celebrations in Moscow
Next Army Boot About to Drop? The Soviet Armed Forces had huge conscript manpower and enormous amounts of weaponry to fight the very large war that Moscow expected. For some years in the Yeltsin period the skeleton of this large force was kept although most formations were empty. One by one the empty formations disappeared (often being re-labelled as "storage bases") and gradually the proportion of volunteer troops (Russians call them "contract troops") increased. But there is still a commitment to conscription and its underlying assumption that a big-war force should be maintained. But, as of Tuesday, the conscription period is down to one year. One question is whether one year is enough time to train and get any use out of a conscript: other armies found that it isn't.
Another issue is, does this mean that the Armed Forces will spend even more of their time as a training establishment? The Defence Minister has just said there are too many weapons and they should be reduced "to a level sufficient for fulfilling possible real tasks, not for a global war" and there are too many officers (not enough NCOs, he should have said). But he still talks of having one million troops. Meanwhile the Duma Audit Chamber says that the Ministry of Defence is by far the worst at spending money for non-authorized purposes. (Several years ago the Russians introduced audit systems to check whether budget money was spent for the intended purpose).
More Mysteries. There have been several suspensions and dismissals in the Investigative Committee. This 6-month old organization is said to be a sort of Russian FBI. We hear all the usual speculation: it's more corruption in high places; it's an outward sign of the same power struggle under the blanket. We might learn in ten years.
Anna Politkovskaya Case. The Prosecutor General's Office said her killer had been identified and placed on the wanted list. Komsomolskaya Pravda, citing "unofficial sources", said the suspect is a 30-year old Chechen already wanted for kidnapping and that he is outside of the country. I have always thought that Politkovskaya was murdered because she learned something some Chechen criminal didn't want known. For what it's worth (something? nothing? in between?) one of the suspended officials from the Investigative Committee says exiled oligarch Boris Berezovsky was behind the murder.
Russian Corruption. Prosecutor General Yuriy Chayka told the Federation Council that "the number of registered crimes" had declined for the first time in five years. On the other hand, he cited figures that "corruption-related crimes" were down 3% but didn't believe them: "This situation does not correspond to reality at all". So one set of figures is to be believed and the other not. What we can conclude from this, however, is that corruption will be a big theme, at least rhetorically, in new Russian President Dimitry Medvedev's term.
New Media in Russia. Medvedev, who is said to be Internet-savvy, told the Russian Internet Forum that the state should assume "assume a calm and liberal position" about the Net. The Old Media, especially TV, may be heavily influenced by the state and its myrmidons, but the blogosphere in Russia is active and free.
National Bolshevik Party. The Supreme Court upheld the ruling that the National Bolshevik Party is extremist and should be banned. Will this be spun as:
1) Moscow cracking down on extremist groups?
2) an attack on the opposition (given that the NatBols are a major part of Kasparov's Other Russia)?
Or will it simply be ignored because it can't be fitted into any pre-conceived notion?
Yabloko Party. There are reports of dissention in the St Petersburg Yabloko structure. There have been rumours that Yavlinskiy's leadership was being challenged (under his leadership, Yabloko has lost chance after chance) and this may be connected with it. The opposition is (again) going to try to unite at a congress in St. Petersburg on Saturday and these reports may be connected with disagreement about Yabloko should participate: Yavlinskiy has always kept a distance from Kasyanov, Kasparov, the NatBols and all the others.
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.