What’s really hilarious about last Saturday’s protests is how tiny the numbers are. Perhaps 25000 people on the streets. Anywhere else, protests short of a hundred thousand will barely be noticed. But Russian democracy has been ‘managed’ so well, that even a few thousand demonstrators can constitute a shock to the system.
I find it hard to tell how much Runet has migrated towards twitter. You’d certainly think so from the international media coverage — but that can partly be blamed on the journalistic bad habit of only reporting tools the hacks themselves use.
Global Voices does provide a list of tweeple:
@MiriamElder, @ioffeinmoscow, @shaunwalker7, @A_Osborn, @oflynnkevin, @agent_Alka, @courtneymoscow, @PeterGOliver_RT, @mschwirtz, @markmackinnon, @tonyhalpin, @Amiefr_Reuters, @RolandOliphant, @niktwick are tweeting live in English from the big protest rally that is taking place at Bolotnaya Square in Moscow right now; @agoodtreaty is monitoring Russian-language Twitter coverage of the protests in Moscow and elsewhere in Russia.
But Livejournal, even in senility, still seems a far more potent location of protest. It’s where Navalny hangs out. It’s where Vladislav Surkov, Kremlin insider and puppetmaster of “Managed Democracy“, popped up to propose an urban liberal party.
But I can’t tell if LJ really is still important, or if I’m just noticing things there because of familiarity.
The formation of the latest coalition among the Russian opposition seems to have inspired little other than cynical pessimism. The men behind it — Mikhail Kasyanov, Boris Nemtsov, Vladimir Ryzhkov and Vladimir Milov — are reasonably prominent, and seem potentially capable of working together, but nobody seems to hold out much hope for them.
The so-called pro-democracy forces are uniting for the 127th time. We still see the same figures, and it is at least too early for them to start looking for supporters the very next day, or at least to demand loyalty. At first they need to produce results: register their party, form its list (of candidates), and at least enter the parliamentary campaign with this list, not to mention subsequent actions in the form of putting forward a single candidate (for the presidential election). [via JRL]
Meanwhile a pundit interviewed in Russia Today has this to say:
Nemtsov and Ryzhkov will fiercely criticize Putin, as well as Medvedev to a lesser degree. They are also going to bash the ruling United Russia. Chances are the administration might need just that. After all, if there is no conflict in a play, there is no action. A play without “bad guys” always flops with viewers. This is why “bad guys” may come in handy. If they are registered, the election campaign will go like this: they will bark at Putin, while others will bark at them. They will be the sort of whipping boys, which is good for them as well, as it attracts more attention. A party like that would give an edge to the entire campaign. Their worst enemy will be the Yabloko party, as this is a matter of survival for Yabloko, which currently monopolizes the liberal flank.
I don’t think that today anybody in the United States believes that these people can become a serious political force. I think that there are fewer Americans who believe in that than members of our own administration. I also think that at the moment Russia’s present rulers who will continue to stay in power are suiting the United States.
Tyler Cowen, of [Marginal Revolution](http://www.marginalrevolution.com/) has an [excellent article](http://www.wilsoncenter.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=wq.essay&essay_id=517090) arguing that the United States, despite being the epicentre of the financial crisis, will probably survive it better than many other countries:
>Its size is one reason why the United States has such a robust polity and economy. In bad times, international cooperation tends to break down, which increases the relative influence of larger economic and political units. Smaller countries, such as Belgium, are generally more dependent on international trade than the United States. And in truly dire situations, military power counts for more—and the United States accounts for almost half of the world’s defense spending.
Going by these reasons (Tyler has others which don’t apply), you might think Russia is also in a good position. Small CIS countries which had gambled on free markets — Georgia, Estonia — will end up in hard times as falling demand cuts them off from foreign markets, while the Russian military has not lost its ability to dominate them. Russia, its stock market relatively insignificant, is also insulated from the financial downturn, except insofar as it affects energy prices. Hardline Russia-fearers such as [Edward "New Cold War" Lucas](http://edwardlucas.blogspot.com/) will still be able to terrify us with tales of Kremlin power-games in the coming years.
I generally buy that narrative. But in the other side of the balance is the hint that [Russia will continue to be a whipping-boy](http://www.eurasianet.org/departments/insightb/articles/eav040809a.shtml) for its neighbours:
>As its economy sinks and social tensions portend a summer of discontent, several mass media outlets in Tajikistan are busy identifying culprits for the Central Asian nation’s problems. By all appearances, the chief scapegoat is shaping up to be Russia. Local newspapers recently have blamed the Kremlin for everything from stoking the 1992-97 civil war in Tajikistan to drug trafficking, economic woes and even a possible future coup d’etat
I wouldn’t suggest this as marking a larger trend, given that Europe and the EU are equally plausible scapegoats for Central Asia. But if economic hardship encourages xenophobia (and it often does) then the easiest targets are expatriate workers. In Central Asia, that mainly means Russians, and to a lesser extent Chinese. They could well find themselves in awkward position, even if Russia turns out to be, like the US, a ‘counter-cyclical asset’.
I did think of writing something about South Ossetia today – but it’s all guns and nationalism and games of chicken. I’m still hoping it’ll blow over in a few days, since even Russia isn’t stupid enough to get drawn into a full-scale war over this (are they?). Or will this be one of the times when public opinion is cheering on the army, and everybody has to keep on doing ridiculous things because they’ve started and don’t want to back down? Too grim to think about it; best go elsewhere for sensible comment.
Sometimes I hate the world.
>So here’s a trick: A first step toward understanding Russia would be to read the press and academic accounts on China — and then substitute the word “Russia” for “China.” (This works in reverse as well.)
[New York Times]
Something I should have noticed years ago: ‘Moscow Echo‘, commonly described as Russia’s only (or only significant) independent radio station, is majority owned by Gazprom Media. Gazprom Media is a subdivision of Gazprom. The chairman of Gazprom is Dmitri Medvedev, the President-elect.
Next time I stop being cynical about the entire world, somebody please punch me. Hard.
One of Vladimir Putin’s creepier achievements is his success in setting himself up as a sex symbol. The funniest example of this was in 2002, when the Kremlin created a girl-band to sing “I want a man like Putin” (audio, [BBC report](http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/2212885.stm).
My boyfriend is in trouble once again: Got in a fight, got drunk on something nasty I've had enough and I chased him away And now I want a man like Putin
Now his ever-adventurous PR department have come up with these [charming T-shirts](http://putin.su/show_article.php?aid=70) – slogan “I want Putin….for a third term”:
How did all this strangeness come about? Maybe Putin really does seem incredibly sexy, but maybe it’s just that – unlike plenty of other Russian politicians – he lacks obvious personal vices. I’ve heard it explained along the lines that “he’s not an alcoholic or a wife-beater; isn’t that enough?”
When [Radio Free Europe](http://www.rferl.org/featuresarticle/2006/11/678c546b-425c-450c-ae5a-cfd9879a166d.html) report that “Georgian parliament speaker Nino Burjanadze today slammed the [Commonwealth of Independent States](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Commonwealth_of_independent_states)“, they’re missing the point slightly. The news isn’t that Georgia dislikes the CIS (we know that already), but that they aren’t doing anything about it. ‘Slamming’ is a de-escalation, not an escalation, compared to their other options.
If Georgia wanted to cause trouble, they would be trying to leave the CIS. That’s [what the opposition want](http://civil.ge/eng/article.php?id=13874), and what Russia is afraid of: this summit was due to be held last month, at the height of Georgian-Russian anger, but Russia arranged a [postponement](http://mosnews.com/news/2006/10/10/cissummit.shtml) to avoid a rash pullout by Georgia.
Leaving the CIS is one of the few weapons Georgia has against Russia: the organisation represents the last vestige of Moscow’s control over its ‘near abroad’, but is being held together with chewing gum and bits of string. To the East it’s being eclipsed by the [Shanghai Cooperation Organization](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shanghai_Cooperation_Organization), and to the West by [GUAM](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/GUAM). Since these can fulfil most of the functions of an international talking shop, nobody except Russia has an interest in keeping the CIS running. If Georgia left, it could plausibly bring down the whole house of cards.
But the Georgians are being smart. If they actially leave the CIS, they lose a barganing chip and don’t gain much beyond the joy of watching Russia suffer. Much better to turn up, [refuse to pay membership fees](http://www.itar-tass.com/eng/level2.html?NewsID=10988607&PageNum=0), grandstand about Russia’s crimes, and [keep that threat on the table](http://www.regnum.ru/english/740070.html):
>“We are here to make sure once again if we have any reasons to stay in the organization, or it has no future,” Burjanadze announced.
Along with the recent replacement of the Defence Minister, this seems to be part of a very sensible pattern of de-escalation by Georgia.
In lieu of content about Georgia, here’s some of what other people have been saying…
- Russia’s anti-Georgia measures have cost Georgia 1.5% of its GDP, and 17% of its export markets, according to the Georgian Prime Minister. That’s including the wine ban earlier in the year – but presumably not including the remittances sent home by Georgian workers in Russia, which would push the figure much higher.
- The media always faithfully reports diplomatic visits like the time Georgian foreign minister Gela Bezhuashvili spent in Moscow this week, but I find it pretty hard to get excited about them. Anyway, Putin refused to meet Bezhuashvili, who in turn went on the radio and threatened to veto Russia’s WTO entry.
- Russia is threatening to double the price of gas supplies to Georgia (RFE/RL,BBC)
- Eurasianet reports on Georgia’s attempts to accommodate the deportees
- Foreign policy carries a surprisingly lightweight article from Jon Sawyer. He argues that the US “has helped to fuel this crisis: by showering Georgia with cash and praise, by extending the promise of NATO membership, and by standing silent as Saakashvili and his government made ever rasher attacks on Russia“
Vilhelm Konnander had an excellent post on Georgia a fortnight ago. He turns up a recent opinion poll saying that 61% of Russians consider Georgia “a bandit state”.
The Kommersant Daily speculates that Andrei Illarionov, ex senior advisor and an outspoken critic of Putin’s economic policies (which include arrest of Mikhail Khodorkovsky), might become the next economics advisor for the president of Georgia.
Illarionov, who recently has been hired by Cato Institute, a US libertarian economics think-tank, visited Tbilisi a few days ago to participate in “Freedom, Commerce & Peace: A Regional Agenda” international conference and, according to Kommersant, was invited for a dinner with president Saakashvili.