Starting this week, PRAVDA.Ru's Consulting Editor Patrick Armstrong presents is "SITREP" report on Russia and the CIS
Duma election. The campaign for the Duma has formally opened although manoeuvring has been going on for some time. To my mind the outcome is pretty sure: Putin will get another Duma that supports him most of the time. The reason is the same as it was the last time: as a consequence of developments that have little to do with the Kremlin, as the extremes wither, opinion in Russia is now fairly centrist. Added to which, Putin is careful to consult. For my money, the only question worth betting on is whether United Russia beats the Communists on the party vote portion of the election.
Carelessness. Anyone who's spent much time in Russia has noticed the carelessness of Russian men - I remember vignettes: guys changing tires in the middle of heavy traffic, casual maintenance on aircraft, spectacularly foolish driving habits and so on. Defence Ivanov - who is definitely not a careless or sloppy man - has blamed the recent sinking of a decommissioned submarine and the resulting deaths on it: "frivolous Russian reliance on chance". It's an interesting issue that I haven't seen anyone raise before.
Berezovskiy. Berezovskiy has just been granted political asylum in the UK. Curious how, in a couple of years, he has changed from being the "godfather of the Kremlin" into, according to the BBC a "main backer of a fledgling liberal movement in Russia". Ex Russia semper aliquid nova.
What do Chechens want? A recent poll of about 1000 Chechens has indicated that 78% wanted to remain part of the Russian Federation. I do not believe that the correct way to interpret this poll is at face value; I still believe most Chechens want independence - they have resisted Russia/USSR for a very long time - so the findings need interpretation. About ten years ago Jokhar Dudayev opted for 1) independence and 2) Chechnya as the core of a re-created Mountaineer Republic. He stated at the time that freedom had to be bought in blood. And there’s been an ocean of blood. I believe this poll really indicates, as did this year's referendum, that most Chechens are sick of this attempt, sick of the gunmen, the foreign mujahaddin, the atrocities and the rest. If that means pretending to be part of Russia, that's a smaller price. The pollsters found the largest determinant in the respondents' answer was their experience of Chechnya's de facto independence in 1996-1999. But the gunmen determine - the present war was started by Wahhabi jihadists and they didn't have popular support either.
Change of command in Chechnya. Moscow has formally transferred control of the war, now rebranded as an "operation to protect law and constitutional order", to the Interior Ministry from the FSB. The fact that the new commander is a former FSB officer has made many commentators argue that nothing has changed. That's an over-simplification: apart from the fact that these are two different organisations (and bureaucracies always war with each other), it is another advance in "Chechenising" the struggle. Increasingly Chechnya is administered by Chechens and lately a lot of the heavy fighting is being done by Chechen militia forces.
Chechnya election. Is the fix in? Polling evidence suggests that Chechens want someone who is a Chechen but has not been involved in the decade-long nightmare- in short, a "Moscow Chechen". But Ruslan Khasbulatov, after saying he was interested, dropped out; Husein Jabraylov withdrew; Duma Deputy Aslanbek Aslakhanov today said he had accepted Putin’s offer to become a Presidential Aide and won't run; and it has just been announced that Moscow businessman Malik Saydullayev’s registration has been annulled by a court in Chechnya. And then there were none…
Russian Federation-Belarus. The Russia-Belarus union always plays on the rhetorical level at election time and then founders on the details. The obstacle now and for several years, is currency union. The only rational solution is that the Russian ruble replace the Belarus ruble and the Central Bank of Russia run the show. But not even Lukashenka is willing to accept that. Last month he asked "Are we once again… to crawl on our knees [to] the Russian Central Bank, and beg for money to pay wages?" (showing his usual sophisticated grasp of economic reality). On the 6th, the Russian Prime Minister said the agreement would not be signed in the near future. Nor the far future either, although no one wants to be the one to pronounce the body dead.
Iraq. Moscow is putting out rather cooperative sounds in response to Washington's proposed UNSC resolution in Iraq. Is this a change?
Important Disclaimer: The above is a personal view to keep interested readers up-to-date with the latest developments in