former political counselor at Canadian Embassy in Moscow
SYRIAN PROPAGANDA WAR. A week of hysteria – Russia is selling S-300s; they’re here; they’re not here; they’re coming; they’re game-changers. Huge flap (97 million Google hits). What was the evidence for any of it? S-300s date from 1979 (although many improvements) and are not some hitherto unknown super weapon. BTW Syria has lots of Soviet/Russian AD systems and none seems to hamper the Israeli Air Force. In any case Putin has just said no. Like most of the news out of Syria this is misdirection away from something that actually was happening. What would that have been? Assad’s successes(only a year ago he was a goner)? The EU arming the opposition? Ah, this must be what we weren’t supposed to see: the US is deploying its equivalent system in the neighbourhood and may keep it there. And fighter planes too. Well, well, those nasty Russians make useful distractions.
NGOs. The polling company Levada is saying that it is being told to register as a foreign agent under the new law and that it may have to close down. Its director says it receives a trivial amount of its budget – a couple of percentage points – from foreign sources. It is also reported that VTsIOM is hearing similar things. I find this a little fishy. One, who’s telling it? Two, why would it have to close down? Three, take this to court and see what happens and then complain. Four, while Levada is independent (and its boss no fan of Putin), VTsIOM is government-owned; why would the government want to "shut down” both? It’s also worth saying that both come up with similar results – I see no bias in either. As I say, something doesn’t sound right.
POLITKOVSKAYA. The authorities are trying again. They are sticking with the same story: one Lom-Ali Gaitukayev organised the murder at the request of an "unknown mastermind” for $150,000; he hired three relatives and a former policemen to do the actual killing. The trial failed the last time around but the prosecutors are confident they can bring it off it now. The difference presumably is that another former policeman, Dmitry Pavlyuchenkov, hired as the "spotter” for the killers, cut a deal for a reduced sentence in return for telling what he knows. I have always believed that she learned something some powerful player didn’t want known (perhaps without realising it) and that the murder had nothing to do with the authorities. Who’s the "unknown mastermind”? Berezovskiy was always a popular candidate but there is no proof. But now that he’s dead maybe we’ll find out. (I still wish Putin would tell us what was in the letters).
LITVINENKO. We have never had an official finding in the cause of his death and we may never: the coroner has agreed to allow the British intelligence establishment to keep its information secret. But he is now asking for a public inquiry, so it’s not over just yet. We’re told MI6 was paying him money (maybe not – his wife said no in 2007 but yes in 2012). If so, what for? Golly! There sure is a lot more to this story than we were fed originally, isn’t there?
INTERNET. Penetration is approaching the limits in Moscow and St Petersburg and high overall. A remainder that, despite all the perennial assertions that media freedom is crushed, Russians are quite able to find out what’s going on at home and abroad.
MAKHACHKALA MAYOR. Arrested and charged with murder. Clearly some interesting background there.
MOSCOW MAYOR. Has just announced he will resign. The reason seems to be that he wants to run and be elected. He had previously been appointed but now that the system for selecting regional heads (Moscow and St Petersburg count as these) has been changed (again) to election rather than appointment, I guess he wants to legitimate himself this way (and add some time to his term too). I expect that others will do the same.
GEORGIA. The former PM and very close Saakashvili ally, Vano Merabishvili, was arrested last month and charged with numerous crimes including election fixing. Lots of developments in Georgia which are causing cognitive dissonance among Saakashvili’s former shills (Response to that one from Georgian Minister of Justice). (My bit of schadenfreude is here).
CUSTOMS UNION. The Ukrainian government has approved a memorandum applying for observer status in the Customs Union (Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan). This will be welcomed and likely approved. Probably the final nail in the coffin of the "Orange Revolution” fantasy.