Adoptions. Putin would have been wiser to have vetoed the adoption ban and forced parliament to overturn it (Art 107.3): it has become the latest leitmotif of anti-Russia propagandists and has taken attention away from the equally absurd Magnitskiy Bill. But here we are. Protests in Moscow, St Petersburg and some other cities against it on Sunday attracted maybe 20K in total and have given the opposition something new to object to. There is said to be a petition calling for its ban and some opposition deputies are going to attempt to have it overturned in the Duma. And, as always in Russia, it’s far from clear exactly what the ban affects. However it wasn’t just a reaction to the Magnitskiy Bill: 19 adopted Russian children (out of about 40,000) have been done to death by their adopters in the USA (here’s one, another and an abuse trial) and there have been misgivings in Russia for years. (The usual “news” sources pretend the 19 are the total number of adoptees who have died). Putin complained that existing treaties are useless for allowing access by consular officials (federal-state jurisdictions are apparently the problem). So there is some background here.
Malfeasance. The OboronServis case continues with another arrest of a senior official and probably another one to come. Meanwhile the former Defence Minister refused to testify to the Investigative Committee, giving a written response instead. So this case is neither over nor is it being swept under the rug and nor is Serdyukov out of it. The St Petersburg corruption case has seen another arrest. Defence Minister Shoygu dismissed a senior military doctor following the deaths of some soldiers from pneumonia. Another police crime.
Reading. Generally speaking, English-language MSM coverage of Russia is a pastiche of clichés, distortions (see the 19 above for a recent example), outright falsehoods and the lazy re-typing of hostile news stories. The economy is perennially about to collapse, Putin is widely hated, Moscow is ever trying to take over its neighbours and schmoozing with nasty dictators. Allow me to recommend an exception: Mark Adomanis who writes for Forbes. He adopts the unusual technique of actually looking at the facts: here for example on how the Russian economy is not, actually, about to collapse. Lots of people do this sort of thing in the blogosphere, but few in the MSM. By reading his stuff you will be less surprised by reality.
Russian perceptions. Speaking of mere data, it is not uncommon these days to read that there is growing opposition to Putin, Russians chafe under his yoke or something like that. However, reality is quite different. Last Sitrep I mentioned a Gallup poll showing Russians at the average in happiness among their neighbours; here is more long-term data from VTsIOM. Running from the first quarter of 2005, apart from a severe dip in 2009 when the world-wide financial crisis hit, we see a relatively steady gentle improvement in feelings and expectations all round. Russia is not a country trembling on the edge of despair. One should maybe look elsewhere: for the past 12 months more than 50% of Russians have felt their country was heading in the right direction; the comparable US figure is somewhat lower.
“Speakers’ Corner”. Two reasonably central locations in Moscow have been made available for demonstrations. No permit is required, just tell the City that you’ll be using it. Will Limonov, who still likes the street theatre of unauthorised demonstrations and attendant Western coverage, go there? Bet he doesn’t.
Georgia. Saakashvili was re-elected – if that’s the right word: even the normally complaisant OSCE had some reservations – in January 2007 for a five-year term. Last year he quietly got parliament to extend his term to October. A million Georgians are said to have signed a petition calling on him to resign next week when the five years is up. Last year’s election was the first change of power in Georgia in the post Soviet period that was not the consequence of a coup and thus far has remained free of street theatre. We will see what happens; Saakashvili’s rhetoric is getting pretty hot: “destructive political goals” The other interesting development was the release of 190 “political prisoners” (the Georgian parliament’s term, not mine). More prisoners are to be released (Georgia under Saakashvili had one of the highest incarceration rates in the world). And finally, former Defence Minister Okruashvili is likely to have the charges manufactured when he turned against Saakashvili dropped. I can’t help wondering how Saakashvili’s flacks are reacting to all this: certainly the sort of things Putin and Medvedev said about him are acquiring some legs, aren’t they? (Why do I go on about Georgia all the time? Well, dear readers, Georgia has been The Stick with which to beat Russia for 20 years: a “democracy” bravely resisting “imperialistic Russia”. A largely fanciful trope but an influential one).