Russia Inc. Some reported numbers for the first half of the year. The Finance Ministry reports that the federal budget is running a surplus of about US$8 billion. GDP is up 4.4% and industrial production by 3.2%. By today’s standards, these aren’t bad numbers. Population is reported to have grown by about 85,000 since the beginning of the year although it was immigration that made it into growth: despite improvements, natural increase is still negative. However births are growing faster than deaths. A VTsIOM poll finds that Russians say they are paying more attention to their health.
Popularity. I’m a little mystified by this report that a Levada poll finds a significant drop in Putin’s rating since the election. The Levada site (Google translation) doesn’t show any such thing: if anything his rating has squeaked up a bit. (Mind you the first is referring to an August poll while the site is still in July: but that quick a drop seems improbable). The opinion of whether Russia is going forwards or into a dead end is not much changed either. So as far as I can see Levada data doesn’t show any particular trend this year. However, taking it from August 1999, we do see a downward trend for both Putin and Medvedev but an upward trend in how the country is doing. Putin’s slippage from the heights began gently around the autumn of 2008 but the “index” (approve minus disapprove) only went below 50 at the end of 2010 and he’s still 67:32. (other politicians can, of course, only dream of such numbers). Does this mean anything? Perhaps Russians are getting tired of him (slowly); perhaps they are becoming more healthily sceptical about their leaders; perhaps Russia’s economic performance, which while good by today’s standards is less than it used to be, is affecting them. I still think that Putin’s decision to return was a mistake. We will see.
Space launches. We hear about the failures but less about the successes. Nonetheless the routine reliability of Russian space launch technology (an important money earner and a big percentage of all world launches) has faltered of late. Medvedev made the usual dire threats and ordered immediate roposals and the Director of the Khrunichev Plant, where most of them are made, resigned. One of the more tiresome Russian government traditions is the Boss threatening-demanding a plan tomorrow-firing someone cycle. Seldom has much effect.
WTO. Russia is now formally a member after 18 years of negotiation (is that the world record?). Jackson-Vanik is still in effect in the USA which apparently makes sense to somebody.
United Russia. Medvedev, who leads it, has promised to purge the party. Heard that one before: not an easy job given that United Russia is the party of kratotropes.
Police reform. Medvedev’s reform has to be judged… incomplete. Four police were found guilty of abusing detainees. Charges were laid in the police torture case in Tatarstan. A Moscow police officer was detained with almost 1 kg of cocaine. The idea was that senior policemen would be, as it were, interviewed for their jobs. And juniors would be interviewed by seniors. A good idea, one would think, but the sequencing seems to have been wrong. The first stage should have been done first (a third of the seniors were let got) and then the survivors of that step should have completed the second. Anyway, 90% of juniors were retained. Too many.
Pussy Riot. The Pussy riot defendants were sentenced to 2 years less time served (which counts double) so another 14 months in jail. They will appeal. Thereupon the Church asked the authorities to show mercy. There have been some small protests. And, in this connection, here is a case to watch and see how the authorities in Kiev handle it. My thoughts on the strange unanimity of Western coverage on the case here. Speaking of which, I am interested to see some second thoughts appearing in Western media outlets: here and here. That having been said, I suspect that both PR and the authorities now wish they had taken a different approach: PR pleads guilty, apologises and is fined a couple of thousand rubles. But, maybe they’ll make some money.
North Caucasus. Quite a lot of jihadist attacks reported. I recommend the regular reports by my colleague Gordon Hahn who follows these things much more closely than I do.
Ukraine. Yanukovych signed the law ratifying a free trade zone agreement with the CIS. Kiev is still working on a free trade agreement with the EU.