Patrick Armstrong is a former political counselor at Canadian Embassy in Moscow
CORRUPTION. I haven’t written much on the subject lately not because corruption in Russia has stopped, but because I haven’t seen much to comment on. But there are some things this week that are worth reporting. An official has been charged with fraud: in essence taking money for something that wasn’t done. Another more complex case combines organised crime, officials, embezzlement on state projects and incomplete plea bargains made earlier by a defendant. The third case involves a traffic accident and the collusion of a forensic expert to get the guilty party off. Further investigation revealed the fake forensic report but the punishment of the expert appears to be trivial. Details are at Southfront. Probably the most interesting case is that of Ivan Golunov. a reporter specialising in corruption stories. He was arrested on drug charges on Friday; immediately his lawyer said the drugs were planted. On Saturday a court released him into house arrest. On Monday three newspapers came out in his support and the Interior Ministry said several different DNA signatures were on the drugs. On Tuesday the prosecution dropped the case, he was freed, the police who arrested him were suspended and an investigation into their conduct opened. Two senior police generals were fired today. Two things strike me: how quickly it happened, and the fact that the Interior Ministry swiftly produced evidence suggesting the drugs were planted. (RFE/RL amusingly spins it as if Putin had personally been behind every step until forced off by public pressure.) My conclusion from all this: plenty of fraud, embezzlement and police misbehaviour but also a system that is, at the very least, making it more difficult for the bad guys.
PUTIN POPULARITY. Also from RFE/RL is this: "Russians’ Trust In Putin Sinks To New Low". The reference is to a May VtsIOM poll. But there were two questions: in the question of approval of institutions, "President of Russia” scored 65.8%; in the open question of which politician do you trust, "V.V. Putin” scored 31.7%. The Kremlin asked VtsIOM to explain how twice as many people could "approve” as "trust” and the answer was the difference between closed and open questions. I’m a bit confused myself (can there be anybody in Russia who doesn’t know that Putin is President?) but I don’t think that Putin & Co have much to worry about. (And the poll showed that his pedestal party was still well in front. Contrary to what you’d think if you believed the Western media, as customary, the KPRF is second and Zhirinovskiy third; Navalniy is lumped in with the pack sharing 10% support).
SPIEF. Just wrapped up; each year’s bigger than the last. 19 thousand participants from 145 countries, 650 agreements worth 3.1 trillion rubles ($48 billion).
RUSSIA/CHINA. Putin and Xi spent quite a lot of time together: Putin: "truly comprehensive partnership and strategic interaction”; Xi: "high level of bilateral relations and close strategic cooperation”. Putin’s spokesman says it would be wrong to think they were "coordinating efforts” against Washington. Well… not perhaps in exactly those words: maybe they’re just making plans, or taking action.
DOLLAR. "International financial organisations need to adapt and reconsider the role of the dollar, which, as a global reserve currency, has now become an instrument of pressure exerted by the issuing country on the rest of the world.” Said Putin at SPIEF, after much talk with Xi Jinpeng. Neither engages in empty talk or boasting: I think they’re ready to roll. Once Washington started using SWIFT as a weapon it stopped being convenient.
D DAY. Rather curious guest list but this is the rationale. Russia (and other former USSRs) not invited; sets off usual fuss. But two balanced Western takes: AFP and New Statesman. This interesting set of polls show that the Russians do have some reason to feel neuralgic. I will have something soon on SCF arguing that many Russians underestimate the importance of D Day even if Westerners over-hype it. It was an essential part of the 20%.
NUGGETS FROM THE STUPIDITY MINE. "How British spies smuggled secrets about Putin’s new supersonic bomber out of country…” Yeah, sure; then they boasted to the DM. Sounds like the sort of story the Integrity-Challenged Initiative would invent thinking it was a wizard jape.
EUROPEANS ARE REVOLTING. According to a Spanish newspaper, Washington is demanding closer integration in weapons manufacturing between the USA and Europe. American LNG is now "freedom gas", almost twice the price of Russian gas (but, as we all know "freedom isn’t free”:) And Ankara has until 31 Jul to drop the S400 purchase or no F35s (a threat or a promise? Latest F35 catastrophe). Erdoğan remains defiant. Trump mulls sanctions over NordStream 2. "From now on, the US will put might over market” and Europe may have to choose between the two.
© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Canada Russia Observer