Eurasian Union. Putin has spoken of his desire to form a “Eurasian Union” and this has attracted some attention. This is hardly the first time, though, that he has spoken of such a thing. We already have the Russia-Belarus union, which doesn’t seem to amount to much; the Customs Union of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan, which is still in its infancy; the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation of Russia, four Central Asian countries and China and several partial members which is largely security-based. And, of course, the CIS which is as yet undead. None of these is especially vibrant. Moscow and Astana have been the prime movers of most of them and they are founded on the remaining common economic/trade and security concerns of the countries involved. Perhaps the Customs Union will be expanded farther; that will depend on how successful it proves to be. There is, therefore, nothing especially new about Putin’s desires. However some things have changed in the 10 to 15 years that these ideas have been floated. The most significant change is that the attraction of the West/European “model” has waned somewhat. The dreams of acceptance, integration and equality that were alive in the 1990s have been replaced with a rather drearier reality. And the reality – unexpected 15 years ago – that Russia is doing best.
Demographics. The Minister of Health and Social Development has made some claims about improvements at the start point of the demographic problem. She says the infant mortality rate has declined about a quarter in the last five years and overall births are up about 14% over the same time. Thus there continue to be improvements. Money is being spent on pre-natal care, better hospitals, trauma centres et al and it’s having an effect. This site allows comparison between Russia and other countries and we can see the improvement. We can also see that Russia’s birth rate is higher than that of most European countries or any western former USSR state. In this respect, I find pieces like this one irritating because there is never any comparison of Russia with anything else. Then there was the flurry of headscratchers about the supposed number of Russians who want to emigrate, again without any comparison: for example the UK, Germany or the Netherlands. Had the writers done any actual research, their headlines would have read “Russians want to stay in their country more than many Europeans want to stay in theirs”. But, it’s Russia: write what you like as long as it’s bad.
Pre-trial detention. Two more deaths in Russia’s terrible pre-trial detention centres. A school teacher accused of taking a bribe on Saturday and a man accused of violating copyright laws on Tuesday. Hardly the sort of crimes to justify being parked in an insalubrious slammer while investigators leisurely go about putting a case together. Investigations are proceeding we are told but, as the Magnitskiy case shows, they can take a very long time.
Berezovskiy. What promises to be a long and expensive lawsuit between Boris Berezovskiy and Roman Abramovich has opened in London. The former is suing the latter over something that happened some time ago: I am not interested in the details so much as in the secrets of the Russian plutocrats at the end of the 1990s that the trial may reveal.
Putin in China. The subject matter seems to be energy and trade. Putin said that the trade total this year should be US$70-80 billion and hoped to reach US$100 billion soon. China is now Russia’s largest trade partner. Energy dominates Russia’s exports and Moscow would like to diversify and that was the subject of several agreements. “I think everyone would agree that given the current difficulties in the world economy, in the United States and in the European Union, Russian-Chinese cooperation plays a stabilising role and benefits both our economies and our nations”. A hint, I think, of where he (and China) may be looking in the future.
Tymoshenko. Former Ukrainian PM Tymoshenko has been sentenced to seven years in prison after being found guilty of abuse of office over the signing of the gas deal with Russia in 2009; the judge also ordered her to pay US$189 million in compensation for losses incurred by Naftohaz. She will appeal. No one is pleased with the verdict. Meanwhile, another case has been opened against her.