former political counselor at Canadian Embassy in Moscow
CORRUPTION. The OboronServis scandal expands with former Defence Ministryofficial(and, some say, former Minister Serdyukov’s girlfriend) Yevgeniya Vasilyeva charged with large-scale fraud and placed under house arrest. A spokesman for the Investigative Committee said that companies controlled by the Ministry had embezzled more US $250 million this year; not, it appeared, just from this particular swindle. No charges have been laid against Serdyukov but they may be coming pending investigation. It is also reported that the new Minister has so far brought with him 14 senior people from his previous jobs which suggests that he wants people around him whom he can trust to be clean. In other investigations a case has been opened against two military officers in the Far East for embezzling ration money; a former officer of the Federal Drug Control Service was sentenced to jail for drug trafficking and an ex-FSB officer was arrestedfor fraud. We’re definitely touching the organs of state security here. Stay tuned.
DUUMVIRATE. Levada finds a slow decline in Putin and Medvedev’s ratings, although each remains at over 50%; on the other hand VTsIOM finds United Russia is back to where it was a year ago – just under 50%. Still, by world standards, pretty high but another indication that Putin’s return might not have been such a good idea. He was the right man for the job then but is he now? The population seems to be coming to think not.
MAGNITSKIY BILL. The bill has taken a step forward by passing theUS House of Representatives by a strong margin. What I find particularly idiotic about this is how are the names for the blacklist to be discovered except as a result of the Russian investigation?
PARTY RIOT.The Justice Ministry is chewing away at the pile of political parties that want to be registered. "Against All” was just registered (№ 38 on the list of 212). This party stands against those who stand against the Church but will, no doubt, attract votes from those who remember the old "against all” ballot option. One of the effects of Pussy Riot, I suspect, is the creation of pro-Church groups. As is this poll showing increased support for the Russian Orthodox Church. What the Western typists missed was that Pussy Riot’s stunt was much more anti-Church than anti-Putin and the cross cuttings and other things are creating a reaction.
INTERNET. According to a survey by Levada, nearly 60% of the population "use” it. News and information is a predominant use. Apart from the new law (resembling those in other countries) shutting down child porn sites, it is open to all.
MOSCOW HELSINKI GROUP. With the cessation of US government funding, this organisation is having trouble raising money. We will find out, as time goes on, how many so-called Russian human rights organisations have support from actual Russians. The new NGO law came into effect a week ago.
POLICE REFORM. I don’t know if anyone would call this very exciting progress but, last year 2.3 times as many people did not trust the police as did; nowadays it’s only 1.8 times as many.
DEPT OF IRONY. Two aircraft from Russia’s Emergency Ministry delivered relief supplies, mostly blankets, to US victims of Hurricane Sandy. One would have thought that FEMA would have plenty of blankets in storage. Fortunately, Russia does.
GAS WARS. It’s that time of year again and this time Kiev wants to reduce the amount of gas it will buy from Russia. Technically this violates the contract but my guess is that, after some huffing and puffing, Gazprom will accept. It’s not as if Ukraine can pay for it anyway. Thanks to Europe’s problems, Russia is looking at lower demand from there too.
GEORGIA. A potentially explosive question: how did Zurab Zhvania die? has re-opened with a new investigation. Meanwhile PM Ivanishvili says he will not push for President Saakashvili’s impeachment but he does want to cut his powers particularly by bringing in the new constitutional arrangement earlier than the scheduled October.In his turn, Saakashvili warns "more and more people in Georgia realize that our country is in danger”. Dual power: never a happy situation.