May 29, 2008
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev poses for a group photo with students at Peking University in Beijing, capital of China, on May 24, 2008. Dmitry Medvedev delivered a speech at Peking University on Saturday. (by Xinhua Photo)
Medvedev visits. Medvedev made his first trip as president to Kazakhstan and China. Does this mean anything? Is it a statement of some sort? I don't know. Many countries have a tradition that the new leader visits his neighbours first. Putin, on the other hand, is in France.
Demographics. More signs that the situation is becoming less desperate: RosStat estimates the population as of 1 April to be 141.9 million. This is down 80,900 from the start of the year but this year's decline is rather less than 1st quarter figures from previous years (118,200 in 2007 and 200,800 in 2006). I am amused to note that some , even in the mainstream media, have started to notice the turnaround (although others have not).
Russia has made some small progress in demographics, but can it whip inflation now?
Economy numbers. The good news is that Russia's GDP grew 8.3% in the first four months of the year. The bad news is that inflation is creeping up. In the same period - it's up 7.5%. That's high: nearly 25% for the year. The budget estimate was 7-8.5% and the revised estimate 9-10.5%. The Russian Central Bank has just put out its estimate of 10.5% which sounds optimistic: "Pleasant surprises could await us in the third quarter" says the Chairman. The Russian Economic Development and Trade Ministry is similarly hopeful: perhaps even deflation by this fall.
Corruption. The Prosecutor General's Office website now allows businessmen to file complaints over the Net which, one assumes, will improve data collection if nothing else.
Relief. The only toilet in the International Space Station, in a Russian module, has been repaired. The large Russian contribution to the ISS is a reminder that it is still a major player in a very high-tech business.
Apartment bombing. There was an explosion in an apartment block in Khabarovsk yesterday which killed two people. The authorities seem to think it was a bomb of some sort but have not issued any speculation. A "bizness" dispute is the most likely reason.
Security Council. Medvedev announced the composition of the Security Council on Sunday. He is Chair and Nikolay Patrushev, FSB Director from 1999 to a couple of weeks ago, is Secretary. There was an enormous amount of flapdoodle about the Council being "the new Politburo" when Sergey Ivanov headed it in 1999-2001 but, when he left, it seemed to become a parking spot for people who lost their jobs (Putin seemed to be very unwilling to altogether dismiss people from power: Yevgeny Nazdratenko is the only one I can think of and even he got a second chance). We will see whether anything has changed under the new management. The membership is what one would expect from the name and, it would appear that many of its functions could be covered by the government presidium.
WTO. Tbilisi has a sort of veto over Russian membership in the WTO and the Georgian Economic Development Minister has stated that it would approve Russian membership only if Medvedev were to repeal Putin's presidential decree establishing direct economic relations with Abkhazia and South Ossetia. So, if this be an authoritative statement, Moscow has a clear and distinct demand on it.
Black Sea Fleet. The Russian Black Sea Fleet lives in Crimea and the Moscow-Kiev agreement of 1997 says that it must be out by the end of May 2017. Some Russian spokesmen seem to be baulking at this which is not a very productive approach. Since 2003 Moscow is supposed to have been building a new fleet base in Novorossiysk.
Ukraine and NATO. Another poll in Ukraine shows, once again, a high level of opposition to NATO membership: 61% against, 21% for. In another question that asked if Ukraine were to join a security arrangement which arrangement would people prefer, showed 30.0% continuing to insist that Ukraine should be neutral and join nothing, 24.4% favouring a Russia/CIS grouping, 18.7% wanting to join NATO, 13.3% wanting something new that included the EU, Russia and Ukraine, but excluded the USA. 61% thought the NATO issue "provokes increasing tensions and is splitting society". So Ukrainians prefer Russia/CIS over NATO 1.3 to 1 and neutrality over NATO 1.6 to 1 and something else 3.6 to 1. But what do ordinary Ukrainians know about their own interests? I can't think of an issue better calculated to split Ukraine than NATO membership.
Georgian UAV. The UN observation mission in Georgia says its examination of the video and radar tracks (does it have its own radars?) has convinced it that a Russian fighter shot down the UAV in April. Moscow continues to deny this and Sukhumi insists that all (7 claimed so far) UAVs have been taken down by its own resources.
Patrick Armstrong received a PhD from Kings College, University of London, England in 1976 and began working for the Canadian government as a defense 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.