Putin. On the 12th Putin’s address to the Federal Assembly and on the 20th his marathon press conference (not such bad health, after all). Nothing new – principal emphasis on domestic issues: corruption, qualitative growth, infrastructure and transparency. Foreign issues are what we’ve heard for years: Russia will pursue its own interests and resist being pushed around. An understandable pride in the Team’s achievements: from the press conference, in the last ten years “we have nearly doubled the country's GDP… We have increased the real incomes of the population by several fold…. The birth rate is the best in 20 years. We are taking the necessary steps, it is not enough so far, but progress is evident in healthcare, education and so on.” And, as always, slow and steady is what he wants in Russia and in the world. Perhaps it would not be too much of a stretch to say Putin I was about stopping the downward momentum; Medvedev was about loosening things up and starting towards qualitative growth; Putin II will be a continuation of that and, perhaps, (quite a lot in the Federation Council speech) a heavy attack on corruption. But, I say again: same program, same team.
Dima Yakovlev Bill. So named after a baby who died from negligence, the bill passed both houses with heavy support and Putin signed it into law. It’s retaliation for the US “Magnitskiy Bill” (and in my opinion a rather ineffective and misguided one. Although some amusing reactions: “callousness unusual even by Vladimir Putin’s standards” and the US Senate is offended.). There are a number of adoptions already in the pipeline; it’s not clear what will happen in these cases but Prokhorov says his Civic Platform party (ie he) will pay $50,000 to Russian families that adopt one of them.
Crime and corruption. The former director of the Federal Property Management Agency for the Moscow Region was arrested on suspicion of embezzlement. Another piece of financial legerdemain involving the MoD, an illegal landfill in Moscow, is being investigated. The former Defence Minister was questioned by the Investigative Committee. Two businessmen were sentenced for involvement in an arms smuggling case. The head of the prison where last month’s riot occurred has been suspended and will likely be charged with abuse of power. A counterfeiting ring broken up.
Trials. The former policemen who acted as a spotter for Politkovskaya’s killer and turned informer was just sentenced to 11 years in prison. On the other hand, the former deputy chief of the prison in which Magnitskiy died was acquitted of negligence charges. The only other person formally charged had the charges dropped.
Depardieu. Putin has granted him citizenship, apparently at his request. Apparently one must have another citizenship before renouncing French citizenship. Maybe more people will notice Russia’s flat income tax of 13%. And wouldn’t that be something: Russia as the new tax haven for over-taxed Europeans.
Popular. Once again the VTsIOM poll for politician of the year puts Putin firmly in front (54%) followed by Medvedev (16%) and Shoygu (13%). The two pre-eminent oppositionists (pre-eminent at the moment, that is – they do come and go, don’t they?) Navalniy and Udaltsov were 2% each.
Happiness. A Gallup poll finds that Russians are at the average in the post-USSR countries.
Syria. At his press conference, Putin laid out Moscow’s position on Syria: first referring to Libya, he asked: “was this not a mistake? Do you want us to repeat these mistakes indefinitely in other countries?” and went on: “We are not that preoccupied with the fate of al-Assad’s regime… Without a doubt, change is required. We’re worried about something else, about what happens next… Of course we are interested in Russia’s position in this part of the world: it is close by. But our main preoccupation is not so much our own interests, which are really not that much, practically nothing… We advocate finding a solution to the problem which would spare the region and the country from disintegration and never-ending civil war.” Pretty clear I would have said but, dear reader, check what the Western media reads into this. Ever wedded to its memes.
Narcissism. A couple of weeks ago the US State Department spokesman praised the “Magnitskiy Bill” as “normalization of trade relations” and later called on Moscow to “work with the international community to support the Syrian people”. In short: agree with us all the time in everything we do.