former political counselor at Canadian Embassy in Moscow
Corruption. Well, there sureare a lot of investigations going on and they reaching levels within sight ofthe top of the power heap: after all Serdyukov was appointed by Putin who stuckby him for years against the resistance of the generals. This blogentry enumerates some of the biggest corruption investigations: it mentionsthe Defence Ministry property scandal (the new Minister has just fired anotherofficial, but probably not for that connection); RosTelekom; a formerAgriculture Minister; GLONASS; a big one in St Petersburg and a swindle in Perm Region. Kommersant estimates the total bill at 57 billion rubles (about US$1.8billion). And maybe more from the Defence Ministry: there are reported to be 60,000 emptyapartments for military retirees. A fraud case has opened in Yekaterinburg. Arrests for mistreatment of convictsand perhaps morecoming after the prison riot in Chelyabinsk last month. Typically, a lot of Western coverage sticks to its favourite meme – everything in Russia is otherthan it seems – and tries to paint this as an internal power struggle (ieSerdyukov’s father-in-law). But this is a lot and it’s getting fairly high up. Here’s a website’s list ofthe "topten” convicted officials. Russia’s high level of corruption stands in theway of many of the Team’s goals: attracting foreign investment, modernising theeconomy, improving infrastructure, pinching pennies. Putin’s speech yesterday ("Hold your applause, you may not like whatis coming”) called corruption "athreat to national development prospects” and laidout the next level. While we still haven’t seen someone close to him ledaway to prison (but theinvestigators aren’t finished with Serdyukov), the tumbrils are in theneighbourhood. It’s will be long campaign and one that is never completed in anycountry. The best we can hope is that a big bite will be taken out of it.
Opposition. Last week there was a commemoration oflast year’s protest which attracted a hundred or so people, including Navalniy. A lot of the steam has gone out of the protest movement. The Western MSM remainswelded to its meme that repression has crushed it but I would suggest thatlarger causes are the undeniable fact that Putin & Co are much more popularthan anyone else and, most important, the fatal incoherency of a movement thatseeks to unite chauvinists, communists and liberals. Nonetheless, somethingreal happened a year ago even though its effects have not yet appeared. Perhaps "civil society” is the place to look rather than declining street protests. TheInvestigative Committee claims evidence that a Georgianhelped fund and organise the protests. (My view is that I have no view yet: Ido not dismiss it out of hand – by now it must be clear to the meanestintelligence that Saakashvili will do just about anything – but I don’t believeeverything Moscow says either, especially not when it fits the official line: Iawait evidence.)
Litvinenko. The inquest creeps along with thefirst stages beginning today. Many interesting rumours and possibilities. Hiswidow who, it transpires,has been on Berezovskiy’s payroll (surprise!) is appealing for funds nowthat Berezovskiy has to pay Abramovich’s substantiallegal bills. Two comments: this is very far from being the open and shutcase that we’ve been told it was and my suspicion that Berezovskiy is gettingto the bottom of his purse is strengthened. I have neverbelieved the conventional account: my suspicion is that Litvinenkocontaminated himself handling the stuff, that it was headed south to his friendsin Ichkeria, Berezovskiy and his minions created the story and the mediapassively re-typed it. It has become a major prop of the Putin-as-monster memeand a serious investigation is to be welcomed.
Politkovskaya. The policeman who spotted for themurderers is facing12 years: sentence tomorrow. He testified against five others: their trialsto come. The man behind it is either not known or not yet identified.
GabalaRadar. The Foreign Ministry confirmsRussia will no longer rent the station: a new one in Russia will replace it. This doesn’t fit very well with Clinton’s assertion that Moscow is trying to "re-Sovietizethe region”.
Georgia. Ivanishvili’s special representative for relations with Russia hints that the twocould resume dialog without preliminary conditions; Moscow is listening. Inshort, take Abkhazia and Ossetia off the agenda and do what can be done toimprove things. Good idea. In the meantime,the Prosecutor General says his office has received thousands of complaintsabout the Saakashvili regime and its treatment of people it didn’t like.