May 2, 2008
The transition. What seems to be happening is that governing powers -- formerly almost all of which were concentrated in the Presidential Administration these past several years -- are being reassigned. A draft law has appeared that will delegate some of the central government's responsibilities to lower levels of government and some powers are apparently being shifted from the Presidential Administration to the government.
Meanwhile there are personnel changes that look like some of Putin's people moving over the government side to be ready for his arrival. I reiterate that it is still too early to know what The Plan is, but all this seems to support the hypothesis that Putin (and company) are setting up a certain division of powers between the Presidential Administration and the government. If (and this is a big if) this works in practice, it would be a good step: separation of powers is one of the secrets of successful governments.
Peak Oil? Or High Taxes?. Two weeks ago I quoted a Russian oil executive saying that Russian production had peaked; this week the CEO of Gazprom Neft says that he expects Russian production to continue to increase until the middle of the century (assuming that the industry gets the tax structure he thinks it ought to have).
The Romanovs were murdered by the Bolsheviks following the Russian Revolution of 1917. The Russian Orthodox Church proclaimed them to be passion bearers in 2000
Russian Imperial Family. A US DNA lab has confirmed that remains found near Yekaterinburg are those of the Romanovs son Alexei and one of their daughters, Maria. All of the bodies have now been located and identified.
May Day. Lots of marches all over Russia. Someone must be making a fortune selling political flags.
Poverty in Russia. The Health and Social Development Minister claims that the number of Russians with incomes under the minimum subsistence level has been reduced by 23% (about 6 million) over the last two years and that real, inflation-adjusted incomes have grown by 25% over the same period. These numbers appear to be more-or-less correct and, of course, provide a strong base for the popularity of Putin and his team.
Republic of Kalmykia. More attempts to pressure Ilyumzhinov out: a Communist proposal to demand his resignation was voted down in parliament but the capital city's municipal assembly endorsed a resolution of no confidence in him. Kalmykia is best known for being a Buddhist majority republic within the Russian Federation and for its chess players.
Another Bungled Investigation? Two men, arrested last fall on suspicion of involvement in the Neva Express bombing last year, have been released from custody. Of the six suspects originally arrested, only one is still in prison.
Chechnya. Pressure on Sulim Yamadayev's Vostok Battalion continues with President Ramzan Kadyrov enumerating crimes allegedly committed by its members; the Chechnya branch of the federal Prosecutor General's Office has reopened a criminal case against Sulim's younger brother. This is a potentially very dangerous situation that so far is proceeding with surprising calm.
Japan-Russia. The Japanese PM was in Moscow but there seems to have been no movement towards settling territorial issues leftover from World War II.
Gas WarsThe Ukrainian Prime Minister, Yulia Tymoshenko, says that Kyev has settled its outstanding debts for Russian gas.
South Stream. Greece has formally joined the South Stream project which is a gas pipeline under the Black Sea into Bulgaria and thence to Italy and Austria.
World Trade Organization. For some reason I'd like to see an explanation of, Georgia was admitted into the World Trade Organisation in June 2000. This gives it a certain veto over Russia's membership, and that veto is one of its few counter-pressures against what it sees as Moscow's bullying. Tbilisi has just suspended talks with Moscow in protest over Moscow's increased interaction with the disputed territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
Caucasian Rumors of Wars. I generally eschew alarmism (there are already plenty of people in the business with their alarms permanently set to 11) but I am beginning to smell a war coming in Georgia. Saakashvili has appealed to the populations of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, inviting them, again, to join Georgia; while the vast majority in the two republics immediately rejected the offer. This has the ring of a last-minute offer. I suspect, in light of the NATO situation, the elections (the opposition still insists Saakashvili is illegitimate but has deferred protests until the results come in) and possible dissension in the ruling party, that a "successful little war" might be seen as an means of changing the subject of political discourse.
Moscow, claiming a Georgian military buildup (but this is not a part of the world where any side's reports can be treated as highly credible) has increased the number of peacekeepers in Abkhazia. I continue to maintain that Moscow is very afraid of a war there (the last time there was a war, it spilled over into Chechnya) and "keeps its thumb on the scale" to try and prevent either side from starting one. Should Tbilisi attack either South Ossetia or Abkhazia, I would anticipate another stinging Georgian defeat. Which would make things even worse.
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.