Patrick Armstrong is a former political counselor at Canadian Embassy in Moscow
Olympic corruption. Navalniy has put out his corruption report. Not very impressive; mostly assertions. He agrees with Putin that the Olympic facilities, narrowly defined, cost US$6-7 billion. He thinks a 50-km road-rail route in difficult terrain up to the ski centre is very excessive at US$8 billion. (Follow the route yourself on Google Maps: not an easy one). He mentions a couple of occasions where people have been arrested for corruption. Various contractors are said to be Putin’s "friends”. Yes, a lot of money has been spent – US$40-50 billion – but it’s a huge infrastructure operation to create a permanent tourist resort complex, not just a few weeks of winter sports. Anyway, here’s his report, see whether he convinces you that enormous sums have disappeared without a trace. In a week or so you can see for yourself what’s been built: "We have to see that what we did in the Alps we needed 150 years and they had to do it in five years”.
Corruption. Quite a bit in the last two weeks. The nets seem to be catching bigger fish. A deputy chief of police in Moscow arrested for taking bribes. The deputy PM of Dagestan busted for fraud. A former member of the Dagestan parliament (and, for those who think they’re exempt, a stalwart member of Putin’s support party, United Russia) ditto. But, as usual, military-connected events lead the pack. A criminal case was opened against Serdyukov’s brother-in-law (I don’t believe that Serdyukov’s out of the soup yet – passing the loot off to family is a common practice). The DG of an important shipyard "suspected” of embezzlement. The Prosecutor General said inspections of the defence industry had uncovered "a huge number of violations” and 48 criminal cases have been opened. You have to agree that while there haven’t been many convictions, there certainly have been plenty of arrests.
They’re back! Some years ago I was at the Northern Fleet base with a Canadian military delegation and, while admiring Petr Velikiy, noticed two more of the class rotting away across the bay and expected them to stay there. But it has just been announced that the refit of one of them, the Admiral Nakhimov, has begun. Well well. Petr Velikiy is presently in the Mediterranean (exercising with a Chinese warship!) and a second of that class is getting ready. I can’t resist saying that it was fun kicking Russia around in the 90s but was it really worth it? Throughout that time I was writing briefing notes warning that Russia would not always be down and that it would remember the treatment when it recovered.
Demographics. The moment many of the more perceptive observers of Russia have been predicting has happened: last year, for the first time in a long time, natural increase added 20,000 to Russia’s population. Russia’s population has been growing for several years now because immigration has made up for natural decline. But the program instituted some years ago to work at the problem from both ends has paid off and, in 2013 births exceeded deaths. A fact that is unknown to many media outlets still going on about a "dying nation”.
Snowden. A committee of PACE says it will invite him to Strasbourg in April to debate "mass surveillance and whistleblowing” with US officials at public hearings. Interesting to see if they do and what then happens.
Ukraine. The West continues to support the overthrow of the democratically-elected government. (Well, Dear Readers, forget the propaganda, what else could it truthfully be called? Whether you like him or not, corrupt, incompetent, whatever, Yanukovych was elected in an OSCE-blessed election.) Whatever happens, and it’s clearly in play, I predict Ukraine will be no better off in a year’s time. It’s bitterly split (and the West keeps trying to split it further by insisting it choose NATO or EU), it’s economically feeble, it’s running out of money. For example, it’s horribly in debt to Russia for gas deliveries; what do you think the West would do about that? Provide free gas? Tell Kiev to default? Argue the amount? Lend it billions? Expect Russia to keep running the tab? Advise Ukrainians to buy more sweaters? Pontificate about Ukraine’s European destiny? What? There are no white knights and the EU itself isn’t doing all that well. And driving Ukraine into East-West tumult periodically makes the situation worse. Already Ukrainians rate the USA six-to-one over Russia as the greatest threat to peace; what will they think in a year?