Bombings. As the world knows, there were two bombs on the Moscow Metro on Monday and another two in Dagestan two days later. The use of suicide bombers in both cases makes it clear to the meanest intelligence who is responsible. Even so, despite the other suicide bombings in the last week (two in Afghanistan, one in Pakistan), there remain those who cannot make the connection and insist that jihadist attacks in Russia are sui generis and unrelated to anything else. Nonetheless, the Western MSM coverage was generally more understanding of reality than it has been. Thus it may be that a result of these events will be an increased understanding that jihadism is a worldwide phenomenon and that practically everyone on earth – Shiites or Sufis in Iraq, Sunnis in Pakistan, Buddhists in Thailand, Hindus in India, Christians in Nigeria – is a target. Note that security in the New York and Washington subways systems was stepped up suggesting some sort of apprehension of an attack on the USA.
Jihadists. The bombings were no doubt attempts to gain revenge for the successes of the security forces in the last couple of weeks. One of the original Arab jihadists who helped Khattab ignite the second war in Chechnya was killed 2 weeks ago; on the 22nd the “Emir of Grozny" was killed in Makhachkala; another leader was killed in Kabardin-Balkaria on the 25th; on the 30th a raid in Ufa captured the local leader. Together with the killing of Buryatskiy earlier in the month, the jihadist leadership in Russia has been hard hit in March.
Protests. The “opposition” held its much-advertised “Day of Anger” protests across Russia two weeks ago. The largest turnouts were in Kaliningrad and Vladivostok where the organisers were greatly helped by the well-organised Russian car-owners federation. Western MSM reaction was mixed: some, following their predilection for decision-based evidence making, made them out to be much more significant than they were; others were more balanced. These protests remind me of the Yeltsin era where one could see supporters of Nikolay II side-by-side with supporters of his murderers. It makes little rational sense to call them “the opposition” as if to imply there is something that really unites them. Most of the time, the majority, when not communists, are rent-a-thugs from the National Bolsheviks; not, generally speaking, a group anyone would want to associate with and hardly “democratic” or “liberal” by anyone’s definition.
People power. The above having been said, Russia does have genuine protests. The car-owners federation has the potential to grow into something real – although its objects are in line with the stated aims of the government. The other protests that are real – and have effects – are those against rising utility prices. There was one in Saratov and another in Arkhangelsk and Medvedev has reacted. He ordered a freeze in utility price increases and also ordered an inquiry into unjustified hikes. This is a difficulty for the government: the utility prices have to rise to reflect economic reality, but the process is painful and unpopular.
“Compatriots”. The government has prepared a law that will reduce the number of “compatriots abroad” (соотечественники за рубежом). When the USSR broke up, Moscow agreed to give citizenship to any former USSR citizen who could not or would not have citizenship otherwise. The rest of us, it should be understood, were profoundly grateful: Moscow’s offer ensured that the disappearance of the USSR would not create any stateless persons (as had happened, for example, after the breakup of empires in 1919). This provision was necessary in the cases where local citizenship was not automatically granted to residents (Estonia and Latvia) and where the locals did not agree with Stalin’s mapmaking (Abkhazia, Transdnestr et al). This particular provision ended some time ago. Then there were the “compatriots” who were ethnic Russians in the new countries who might not want to remain there. The new law will greatly reduce this vague category and restrict it to self-identifiers. The connection will be now largely cultural.
Jackson-Vanik. On her visit to Moscow, Clinton said Washington wanted to lift the Jackson-Vanik Amendment. Well, what’s stopping it? It is an unnecessary slight and promising to lift it and not doing so will irritate Russians and make the suspicious believe that Washington is ultimately hostile. Enough already do.Troubles in Paradise. Lukashenka has just complained that Belarus cannot get “transparent and fair terms of mutual trade” with Russia. Probably not unconnected with the relative vectors of the two economies but another illustration that the “Belarus-Russia Union” is mostly for show.