Demonstrations. The opposition movement is losing steam. As we have seen before in post-Soviet Russia, it is one thing to agree on dislike of the present regime but quite another to agree on what comes next. An association of former ins wanting to get back in, communists, nationalists and “new young people” do not have very much in common. The two pre-eminent leaders (or actors: are there any “leaders”?) now appear to be the hard left Sergey Udaltsov and the anti-corruption (and rather nationalistic) Aleksey Navalniy. They agree on their dislike of Putin &Co and people from Central Asia and the Caucasus. Is that enough to make a match? Perhaps, nationalism and socialism have co-existed before. Meanwhile the anti-Putin demos are getting smaller and, in some cases we see a return to the provocative demos (ie no permit or breaking the permit) that characterised opposition protests in the Luzhkov days. Western reporters breathlessly write these up and diplomats huff but, really, now that it is clear that protesters can assemble in the tens of thousands so long as they do what they apply to do, what is the point of provocative demos? Udaltsov is calling for “a march of millions” for the day before Putin’s swearing in but it seems very unlikely that anything like that will turn out. It’s over for the moment: a VTsIOM poll indicates interest is waning. And, the basic premise that the Duma elections were stolen has still not produced any convincing evidence. And even less so in the case of Putin’s victory. Amusingly, some media people have set up a mock Facebook group “Journalists Against Demonstrations”. Presumably if they hold a “Demo against Demos” they won’t cover it.
NATO. Now that Pakistan is less willing to be NATO’s base for its Afghanistan operations, there is a scheme to build a transit base in Ulyanovsk. The KPRF is demanding a referendum be held first and there has been a small demo against the idea in Ulyanovsk. I remember writing lots of briefing notes in the 1990s for the higher-ups saying you can kick Russia when it’s down, but it won’t always be down.
Syria. The flapdoodle about Russia sending troops to Syria, first reported by RIAN and then picked up by other outlets, seems to have been rather thinly based. The official Russian line is that an auxiliary tanker is at the Russian Navy base at Tartus as part of the support for anti-piracy operations off Africa (in which the Russian Navy has been engaged for some years). The ship, although civilian-crewed, has some Armed Forces personnel on board. The Western media is in an all-Syria-all-the-time mode (strange that we don’t hear much about Libya these days. Or Kosovo) and such stories are grist for the excitement mill. For something that goes deeper than “Putin is nasty; therefore he likes nasty people”, the assumption behind so much Western coverage, I recommend reading this: Moscow has practical reasons, realpolitik, in not seeing NATO topple someone else and leave a bigger mess behind. Russian concerns about blowback are never much understood in the West: I believe it to be a major worry affecting Russian-Georgian relations.
Russia’s mighty arms buildup. The Air Force is to receive the first six (6) Sukhoy Su-35 (prototype 1988) fighter jets by the end of the year. 30 Su-30SMs (prototype 1989) are expected by 2015. We hear a lot about plans to re-equip Russia’s Armed Forces but what happens is still rather small.
Pussy Riot. 2 members of this band were arrested last week and a third a couple of days later and charged with “hooliganism”. They performed an anti-Putin song at Christ the Saviour in Moscow. Some Western reaction here and here. Blasphemous hooliganism or political protest? Here’s the video, dear reader; you decide (PS the church is Russia’s equivalent of St Peter’s Basilica).
Corruption. Last week the Deputy Chairman of Vnesheconombank was charged with large-scale fraud. Some officers of the Federal Drug Control Service were busted for theft in Vologda Oblast. On the 10th a man was arrested in Kazan and died in custody. 5 police officers suspected of torturing and killing him were arrested on the 13th; the head of the local police department was fired on the 15th and the entire police squad was disbanded, with most of the officers to be fired, on the 16th. A faster reaction than we usually see in such cases.
History. Never goes away. A Latvian court overturned the parliamentary ban on a march of Latvian veterans of Nazi forces and the march duly took place. Somehow I doubt we will see any commemoration of the Latvian Rifle Regiment: that’s not part of Latvian history as now remembered. But seriously, the populations of the Baltic countries were vacuumed up by whichever army got to them first; they have no real heroes of the war: all were on the “wrong side”.