Published 2-11-2012, 07:42
former political counselor at Canadian Embassy in Moscow
Opposition vote. The opposition ran an electronic vote to choose their… what? – leaders? most popular figures? coordinators? The results are here (Russian). The top 5 are Navalniy, Bykov, Kasparov, Sobchak and Yashin. What I find striking is, in a supposedly computer-savvy broadly-based movement, that only about 80,000 actually voted out of the 170,000 who registered. One cannot say that the phenomenon is insignificant, but it does not seem to be so very large after all.
Udaltsov. Investigative Committee has opened a criminal case against Sergey Udaltsov (20th on the opposition vote) as a result of a TV program which showed a film allegedly of him conspiring to start disturbances. The Committee then claimed that one of his associates had confessed to organising disturbances bankrolled by Givi Targamadze. Said associate promptly declared that the "confession” had been forced out of him by threats. On Friday Udaltsov was formally charged with plotting mass disorder and released on his promise not to leave Moscow. As I said, I could believe he did it or that it’s a government setup.
Business climate. Improving. But, read the list and ask yourself whether you agree. (All FUSSR states better except Ukraine, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan?)
Putin. He will not give his call-in program but will likely hold a big press conference. Rumours aside.
Muslim Clergy murders. Most Russian Muslims are Sunnis with a strong Sufi influence. Wahhabis despise Sufis, regarding them as contaminated by innovation and idolatry. Influential imams and muftis are therefore obstacles to their aims. A Dagestani imam was murdered on Tuesday. This is the third murder this year of an imam in the North Caucasus that I have noticed (I’m sure there were more) and there was an attempt on the Mufti of Tatarstan in July. Another part of the complete story not often covered by the Western MSM.
Corruption. Managers of the Defence Ministry property management company are being investigated for embezzlement and their offices were raided last week. Moscow police suspect the head of the Duma’s Office of "selling” positions. Two administrators at Moscow State University were arrested for soliciting a bribe from a student.
Internet censorship. A law banning sites, principally those involved in child pornography, has come into effect. As usual, what is common elsewhere (France, UK, Finland, Germany, Australia for example) is spun as uniquely sinister when Russia follows the fashion.
Stalin. On the Day Commemorating the Victims of Political Repression, Medvedev condemned Stalin’s "war against the nation”. Lest anyone take this as a sign of struggles under the rug, Putin on the same day five years ago, at Butovo where about 20,000 were murdered, described the victims as "the pride of the nation”. Same program, same team.
Georgia. Back in the "Rose Revolution” Saakashvili had two allies: Zurab Zhvania, who later died in what was said to be an accident, and Nino Burjanadze who has been in the opposition for some years. The new chief prosecutor says the investigation into Zhvania’s death should be continued. This could open a can of worms: first because the FBI blessed the official story and second because some (Shevardnadze and former Defence Minister Okruashvili for two) suspect he was murdered.
Tbilisi-Moscow. A delicate balance. The new Foreign Minister has declared that there will be no diplomatic relations so long as Moscow has embassies in South Ossetia and Abkhazia. The new parliament speaker has said that Tbilisi "should abandon the role of crusader with regard to ‘undemocratic Russia.’” and "shouldn’t be making pinpricks that gratify us for two days but create two-year problems”. There will likely be steady improvement on bread-and-butter issues but South Ossetia and Abkhazia will remain obstacles: it will be many years before they will trust Tbilisi.
Ukraine election. Parliamentary elections were held on Sunday and President Yanukovych’s party did best winning about 40% of the seats. Western observers condemned the vote as did Washington. Would a cynic be right to argue that because Yanukovych doesn’t support NATO entry for Ukraine, he is not a "democrat” and therefore elections that favour him are fakes? Or would that be too cynical? At any event, that is the reaction – and outcome – that I expected. "Step backwards” is the phrase of the day.