At the moment this post was published, the oil price, according to Bloomberg, was $114.85 per barrel. Russia has profited handsomely from higher world energy prices, but has also experienced inflation as a result of the flood of petrodollars
Putinology Outgoing Russian President Vladimir Putin is now Chairman of United Russia, the political structure (I'm not sure I would call it a real "party") that dominates Russia. But, oddly enough, he hasn't formally become a member. While we still can't be sure what Putin's Plan is, this would seem to point in the direction of my fifth hypothesis. He also apparently said he would become the Prime Minister of Russia if (!) asked. The next five or eight months will tell us more about what he has in mind.
Peak Oil?. The Financial Times quotes a vice president of LUKoil as saying that Russian oil production has peaked this year. Maybe so, but the End of Oil has been predicted many times and historically, this has been a bad bet. I believe that the first prediction that the world would run out is over a century old and the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency famously predicted in the 1980s that Soviet production had peaked. Post Soviet Russia, separated from oil rich republics like Kazahkstan and Azerbaijan, briefly surpassed Saudi Arabia as the world's largest oil producer in 2006.
Car wrecks, often involving alcohol and high speeds, are one of the leading causes of death in the Russian Federation
Anna Politkovskaya Murder Case Russian investigators are circulating a photograph of the man they say killed the reporter for Novaya Gazeta. The suspect is believed to be a Chechen residing not in Russia, but possibly in London.
Preventable Accidents. Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev said this week that the per capita number of people killed in road accidents in Russia is 2.5 times higher than in developed countries, even though the number of cars is two or three times lower; fully one-third of Europe's traffic deaths take place in Russia. This very high number is, of course, a great contributor to Russia's demographic problem and is certainly reducible.
Good Word, Bad Word Russian Defense Minister Serdyukov has announced that he is bringing order to the Armed Forces, not reform: "There is no reform. We are just doing our best to put everything in normal and logical order. There is no reform, and no one should use this word...we are not going to pull down or reconstruct anything. We are just putting everything in order". Got it. Maybe, as rumor had it, there were protests in the General Staff.
Republic of Ingushetia. One of the mistakes of the Putin era, I think, was the removal of Ruslan Aushev as President of Ingushetia in 2001, a sacking in which Kremlin pressure is widely suspected. The Ingush republic hasn't been quiet since. The opposition there is organizing a rally for May 2008 that will demand his return to power.
People Power. Kirsan Ilyumzhinov has been running the Republic of Kalmykia for more than 15 years. On Friday, representatives of United Russia, the KPRF and other political groupings began a series of demonstrations in the capital demanding his resignation. It is an interesting coalition and an interesting development. It's very hard to know whether he is popular there or not.
Chechnya. Something happened in Gudermes on Monday. Version one: Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov's motorcade ran into some of Sulim Yamadayev's men and shooting started. Version two: Kadyrov's motorcade was blocked by some of Yamadayev's people but the situation was peacefully defused; and the reported shooting was an earlier and unrelated shootout with some jihadists. Version three: there was no shooting but some "sabre rattling". They report, we decide.
Russia-Ukraine Gas Wars. Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko said this week that Kyev and Moscow need to produce a long-term agreement to make a gradual switch to market prices for supplies to Ukraine and transiting to Europe. She said a tentative agreement about this was reached on her last visit to Moscow and that the arrangement should be straightforward without any shadow intermediaries. What she says makes good sense, and as far as I can see this is what Moscow has been calling for all along. But, who knows what will happen: there seems to be yet another political crisis brewing in Ukraine.
Transdniestr. There are optimistic reports about the results of a meeting between Moldovan President Voronin and Transdniestr leader Smirnov (the first in several years). It is reported that Moscow is brokering a deal whereby Transdniestr will become an autonomous republic within Moldova and, for its part, Chisinau will agree not to join NATO. Moldova was one of the first post-Soviet states to defuse a separatist issue with its granting of autonomy to the Gagauz, so there is some precedent here. I can't help but think that, if this one were defused, the problem of the other unrecognised mini-states left over from the USSR might be easier to remedy.
Russo-Japanese Relations. The two foreign ministers met to discuss the territorial problem in the Far East; no agreement was announced. The Japanese Prime Minister will be visiting Moscow in a couple of weeks so maybe we will hear more then. It's high time that this lingering issue leftover from World War II was resolved.
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.