Corruption. A reasonably big fish was hooked yesterday: the head of the CIS anti-organised crime bureau (!), Alexander Bokov, was arrested in Moscow on embezzlement charges. The case seems to be that he extorted a large bribe and then trousered it. A couple of days earlier a case opened in Altay in which several officials were charged with hunting endangered animals two years ago. The former Mayor of Barnaul was charged with what looks to be a privatisation swindle six years ago. Last week the Interior Minister said that “Criminal proceedings were launched against some 10,000 officials, one-third of them were started for taking brides”. The tax Service has opened a 24/7 phone line and e-mail address so that citizens can report corruption examples. This is not nothing; gradually the campaign is starting to bite.
People power. Russia has its own “WikiLeaks” site: RuLeaks.net. Allegedly shut down for its photos of “Putin’s Palace”, I was able to get on the site without difficulty. The “palace” is surely a state-owned guest house and not Putin’s personal property. As in other countries, high state officials spend their time in elaborate facilities without paying rent. But the story is here (although the source is the Washington Post which never misses a chance to take a shot at Russia).
BP and RosNeft. The two companies have struck a deal to explore oil deposits in the Kara Sea and exchanged blocks of shares to cement their apparent alliance.
Spiridov. Saturday’s rallies in St Petersburg and Moscow commemorating his murder passed off mostly peacefully although police arrested some people they suspected were participants in the riots. An informed summary of what is known and what is speculated about the murder and the immediate police reaction is here.
Where does the money come from? A Duma Deputy has asked the Prosecutor General to investigate whether Boris Nemtsov is being funded by foreign sources (illegal under Russian law). I also wonder.
Protests. Now that they are getting demonstration permits, there will be two things to watch. First, is there any point to the “31” rallies protesting their inability to hold rallies? But more interestingly, I suspect we will see a split between the “liberal” protesters like Alexeyeva and Limonov. The fissure is visible already.
North Caucasus investment. The Presidential Envoy to the North Caucasus has announced that 37 investment projects worth US$13 billion are planned for the area. Given the difference between plans and reality and the “corruption tax”, I wonder how much of this will actually hit the ground.
Mistral. As expected, Moscow chose the French ship. Two will be built in France and another two in St. Petersburg and delivery of the first is expected in three years. Latvia and Lithuania are not best pleased: this should lead to some entertaining encounters in the corridors of NATO.
Khodorkovskiy. A book of writings and interviews has just been published in Moscow. For someone buried deep in the Russian penal system, he seems to be able to get his words out rather easily.
Poverty. In what he says is a protest against poverty in Russia, a Yekaterinburg student says he will attempt to live for a month on the official minimum food cost. His blog is said to be here (but I can’t open it). I wonder who will be the first to opine that this is comparable to Mohammed Bouazizi’s suicide and heralds the (long-predicted) end of the “Putin system”.
Kaczynski crash. Last week the Russian committee published its report (Eng Rus); the crew was blamed. This has not pleased the Polish side. The Interior Minister thought Russian air traffic controllers had some responsibility while Kaczynski’s brother’s reaction is much stronger. President Komorowski and PM Tusk are also critical, although the latter added that opposition members who were calling it “murder” or a “terrorist attack” were wrong to do so. In response, the Russian side announced it will publish complete transcripts of all the conversations. I do not fully understand what is happening: I suspect national embarrassment and internal politics. Personally I think Lech Walesa is right when he said, admitting it was “difficult” to do so: “everything they've done in regard to the Smolensk case deserves recognition and thanks, not sputtering”.
Ukraine. Former President Yushchenko was summoned to the Prosecutor General’s Office to discuss the poisoning story. I have always thought the standard story very fishy and am glad that the case is still open.