Luzhkov. The number one story in Moscow these days is the future of Mayor Luzhkov. It is highly probable that the present campaign against him is blessed by the Kremlin. It is rumoured that the object is to get him to go quietly. Luzhkov is a powerful man but that’s a lot of pressure. I expect that he will “retire at his own request for personal reasons” as they used to say (vide Ilyumzhinov). There is a style to the way the Team handles these problems: Nazdratenko was ousted as governor in 2001 with the excuse of poor handling of power failures and appointed head of the State Fishing Commission (where he served at Putin’s pleasure); that pleasure ended in 2003. The Team evidently agrees with Lyndon Johnson’s advice on tents. Nazdratenko is still in the tent, but far off in the corner. What’s happening here I think (most commentators didn’t notice Ilyuzhinov’s departure) is that, bit by bit, the Team is getting rid of people who thought they had jobs for life (and, of course, who aren’t as loyal as they might be. But that’s politics and power the world over.)
Bureaucracy. The Finance Minister said the other day that the number of federal bureaucrats was to be reduced by 100,000 over the next 3 years. World experience shows that this is much easier to say than to do. By the way, one of the many wrong things repeated by the Kommentariat is that Russia’s bureaucracy is bigger than it was in the Communist days. Not so: they forget the enormous CPSU structure that paralleled and directed the government structure. The overall total of state functionaries is surely much lower today. There was a sort of coup that took place in the 1990s in which the local GorIspolKoms (ie “government”) took over the local GorKom (CPSU) building. This can be seen in towns all over Russia if you look: the huge building on Lenin/October/Revolution Square that used to be the local Party HQ is now the City government. Vide Smolniy in St Petersburg.
NATO. NATO has officially invited Medvedev to attend the NATO summit in Lisbon in November. To its surprise, NATO now finds Russia useful. I wonder what will come of this: it’s a significant gesture but NATO is a pretty dead tree organisation these days, capable of little more than platitudes.
Military Chaplains. The Patriarch says that priests will soon appear in military units to serve as chaplains. This (a little like rumours of Cossack units) keeps being announced but never seems to actually happen.
Iran. Medvedev signed a decree Wednesday banning the sale of many weapons systems (including the S-300 SAM) to Iran; he was also reported to have placed restrictions on movement through Russia of “a number of Iranian nationals” connected with Iran’s nuclear program. Moscow has held out the S-300 carrot for years now; I believe as part of its (unsuccessful) attempt to influence Tehran. It has now given up. And another staple of the “charge sheet” against Russia bites the dust. Where does this leave Bushehr? The billion dollars or so that Russia received for completing the reactor is chump change to Russia Inc these days. But, we are told, there’s no effect on it.
Poison. The Ukrainian Prosecutor General’s Office is taking another look at the Yushchenko poisoning story. This story, which was a major component of the “Orange Revolution” narrative, is very fishy indeed. I always found it significant that, during Yushchenko’s presidency, we never heard anything more about it. Perhaps now we will. A complete fake in my opinion.Georgia. A bomb went off close to the US Embassy in Tbilisi on Wednesday. This may or may not mean something. Probably not, but something to keep an eye on.