Corruption. Ella Pamfilova gives the most intelligent discussion of what she calls Russia’s “systemic corruption” I’ve seen so far, neither the extreme of “nothing is happening” nor that it’s all under control. (JRL/2010/216/2). Formerly human rights council head, she now heads the Russian branch of Transparency International (it is reported that she will receive the Order of Honour “for her longstanding productive government activity”). She said that before changes in 2008, Russian law had been completely inadequate. For her the principal problem is people “ensconced within the regime” feeding off state contracts. She was insistent that there must be the possibility of bottom-up action: media freedom is essential; informers must be protected; elections give the possibility of removing corrupt officials whereas, if appointed from above, “there is absolutely nothing that people can do”. The Web will also help. (“If you can electronically enrol your child in a kindergarten, who are you going to pay -- the computer?”). Visible arrests of important people are necessary: the effort has to be seen to “draw blood”. Worth a read.
Political competition. There isn’t much in Russia. “Liberals” only quarrel with each other, Zhirinovskiy and the Communists have a comfortable existence inside the status quo, and the pedestal party sweeps up those who want to be in tight with Power. As for Just Russia, it exists, but I don’t see how there can be two parties of power with slightly different flavours. United Russia is reported to support Medvedev’s initiative to encourage political competition. Of course the Pedestal would never be seen to disagree with the Statue, but UR members have little interest in sharing the fruits of obsequiousness. Political pluralism cannot come from the top and there isn’t a lot of evidence, over the past 15 years, to suggest that it is coming from the bottom.
Infrastructure. Medvedev worries about infrastructure, saying “According to estimates, over 60% of the public utilities infrastructure has outlived its service life”. Fortunately Russia these days has the money to do something about it. I keep thinking that Eisenhower’s highway development is a model of how Russia can grow. It can be done mostly with internal resources, it creates wealth as it is done and creates wealth when it is finished. But investment is happening: see below.
Factories. I was intrigued with the pictures of this pipe-making plant in Chelyabinsk. A reminder that, while the foreign MSM obsesses with Medvedev v Putin speculation, many more important things are happening. The pipe plant reminded me a bit of this ultra-modern VW plant in Dresden. Also see this small lumberyard (although they could use some protective equipment) and a plethora of modern equipment at Domodedova. Most of the equipment appears to be foreign, but that’s an indication that energy revenues are not being squandered. (Thanks to Arthur Vanzetti).
Politkovskaya. It is reported that Russian investigators are looking for her killers in Belgium. The investigators have all along said the person who ordered the killing is in Europe.
Georgia. On Tuesday Saakashvili told the European Parliament “that Georgia will never use force to restore its territorial integrity and sovereignty, that it will only resort to peaceful means”. Moscow and Sukhum are sceptical. As am I: he wouldn’t be saying this if his attempt to use force had succeeded two years ago. It’s a stunt. Unless it’s a declaration to South Ossetia and Abkhazia witnessed and guaranteed by everyone else; but I’d be very surprised if he did that. Meanwhile the opposition has started up again.
Kyrgyz Republic. The trial of former President Bakiyev and other officials for ordering the violence against the protesters in April has begun. He, still in Belarus, denies responsibility.