Patrick Armstrong is a former political counselor at Canadian Embassy in Moscow
RUSSIAN MEDIA. Anatoly Karlin has opened a website translating stuff from the Russian media into English. It’s intended to counter the notion that Russian media is drearily pro-Putin and show its actual variety.
DIRECT LINE. Putin gave his annual marathon phone-in session a couple of weeks ago. Far too many questions of the nature "Little Father, my roof leaks, please repair it”. Two conclusions, I suppose. One is that Russians are most concerned with mundane issues (a large portion of which seem to involve unresponsive government structures) The other is that, despite the anti-Russia crowd’s conviction that he controls everything, Putin spends a lot of time pushing on ropes. There was a pretty frank explication of disagreements on economic strategy and a respectful exchange with Kudrin. Those who think these things are staged should read the exchange with Aleksey Venediktov who challenged Putin on "Stalinist control methods”. By the way, Venediktov seems to thrive despite the dark premonitions in this New Yorker piece from four years ago. Ah well, another prediction gone bad; never mind, no one remembers, time for another one.
OPPOSITION. An authorised opposition march on Moscow pulled 20K or so and passed off withoutincident. The anti-Russia mob likes to see the cause of the decline in protests as machinations of the evil government but a poll gives better guidance. Levada (no government stooge) asked its respondents which of 11 opposition leaders they trusted. 65% said "none” (8 points more than a year ago). None of the 11 got better than 3%. Yavlinskiy and Prokhorov warned them months ago that they had to come up with something more than mere opposition. They haven’t.
NAVALNIY TRIAL. Live coverage in English. Not many watching I’m told. Mind-numbing minutiae.
BEREZOVSKIY. Putin confirmed that he had received two letters. Asked what they said, all he would say is: "he wrote that he had made a lot of mistakes and caused great damage, and asked for forgiveness and the opportunity to return to his homeland…Some of my colleagues wanted me make the letter public immediately. I am very grateful to the Lord for keeping me from doing that.” I wish he had: there’s lots to be learned about Berezovskiy’s influence on a multitude of anti-Putin stories; Litvinenko and Politkovskaya in particular.Maybe if the Litvinenko inquest ever happens we will learn about his (extensive) involvement in that. We are told that the full investigation of his death could take another couple of months, although no suspicious circumstances have been found.
GOLOS. Golos continues to refuse to call itself a "foreign agent”. It has been fined and may be forced to close. Of course it could just agree that it is foreign-funded but evidently its principle seems to be that "human rights” organisations don’t have to obey the laws of the land in which they operate if they don’t want to. I have little sympathy with Golos and I do believe that "foreign agent” is an appropriate descriptor.
CORRUPTION INVESTIGATIONS. Fewer new ones started it seems; but there is a lot to digest already. The law Putin just signed prohibiting certain officials from holding foreign assets is also a move to reduce corruption.
SPIES. True? False? Haven’t a clue. Strange story but the equally silly-sounding "spy rock case” did turn out to be true. Interesting that whatever it was seems to have concerned Chechnya and the North Caucasus. But Washington could have got good information closer to home from my colleague Gordon Hahn: everything he has been saying for years was validated in Boston.
SYRIA. Has Moscow won its point at last? Or is it just a change of command at the US State Department? Moscow has always called for no preconditions, while Washington and its followers have always insisted that Assad must go. Now Kerry and Lavrov have agreed to call for talks with the participation of the government. It won’t make any difference on the ground of course: the fantasy that outside powers have any influence short of joining in on one side is puzzling to me after so many disastrous interventions.
GEORGIA. I’ll be writing about this elsewhere but the question of whether Saakashvili was supporting jihadists against Russia has come up. From the PM no less. Even the US Ambassador thinks an investigation would be good. Of course the Boston bombing provides another learning experience for Washington.