Patrick Armstrong is a former political counselor at Canadian Embassy in Moscow
IN A WORD. Some time ago – on Victory Day. Putin says tests of the S-500 are almost complete and that 85% of commanders of "of large military formations and regiments” have received combat experience in Syria.
NUKES. According to Moscow, as of 1 March, Russia had 517 ICBMs, SLBMs and strategic bombers with a total of 1456 warheads and the USA had 651 with 1357 warheads. I seem to remember a study years ago that said that something like 400 would be more than enough for each; here’s one that says 100 is the number. Anyway, you can see that with these two having these numbers why Beijing (with a few hundred) is not interested in three-way talks until Russia and the USA come way down.
NORDSTREAM. Washington has lifted sanctions on German companies involved with the pipeline but imposed new ones on Russian entities. What are we to make of this? A realisation that Berlin is determined on completion combined with face-saving meaningless toughness. Amusingly Biden’s now being called "Putin’s $5 million man” (because of the supposed payout by the pipeline to the supposed Russian supposed hackers). Nordstream was a "key Putin goal", giving power to Putin, what does he have on him? Hilarious, isn’t it? Biden loved it then: here he is calling Trump Putin’s puppy.
POLLS. In Levada’s presidential stakes Putin is well out in front as usual, most of the rest (especially Navalniy) are in the margin of error. Maybe Zhirinovskiy has edged out Zyuganov for a distant second (both of them were around in 1996!).
MINSK AND RYANAIR PLANE. The story gets fishier by the minute. First the simulated and hypocritical outrage when Minsk is accused of following the example of the keeper and guardian of the Rules-Based International Order (suspiciously rapid and uniform). Calling this coup specialist a "journalist” is pretty creative: yes he did fight with the nazis; more on Protasevich and more still. There has been a sustained – and unsuccessful – anti-Lukashenka operation for some time, is this the next try? The real key to the story is the fake bomb threat: who did it and when? If it did come, as Lukashenka says, from some source in Switzerland (don’t be fooled by the time stamp – they are in different time zones), then everything took place as it should have and the rules required the pilot to land in Minsk; and the threat did say the bomb would be set off in Vilnius. Incidentally, this is the third time (!) a Ryanair plane has been forced to land by armed fighters after a bomb hoax: 2017 and 2020. Fighter interception is normal behaviour. The people who stayed in Minsk were not sinister operatives but people headed there anyway. Did the Belarusan authorities only know he was on board because of this tweet as Petri Krohn wonders (see comment 6)? Maybe we’ll read about it years later in the WaPo – remember Ukraine’s Joan of Arc? So, the question that they should be asking is: who originated the bomb threat? Answer that and you’ll know whether it was another anti-Lukashenka provocation (vide Vovan and Lexus) or something Lukashenka did to get Protasevich. But, anyway, it’s time for Lukashenka to get closer to Moscow; maybe he will.
MACRON says sanctions against Russia aren’t working and "I think that we are at a moment of truth in our relationship with Russia, which should lead us to rethink the terms of the tension that we decide to put in place.” Every now and again he says the unsayable, but nothing happens afterwards.
FAKE NEWS. Don’t toss your NYT subscription! Eventually the news will fit. Steele dossier is junk!
RUSSIA/CHINA. It’s only an opinion, but the Global Times carries weight: "So Beijing and Moscow must keep close coordination to handle the upcoming situation, including how to establish a new order to replace the US-dominated one once the latter gets totally dysfunctional, Yang Jin said.”
© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Canada Russia Observer