Format Changes & Russia News Roundup

Even if I were independently wealthy, and could blog all day long, it would still be difficult to keep up with all the relevant news coming out of Russia. But working full-time makes it that much more challenging. So unfortunately I will need to rely on these ‘news roundups’ a lot more, though I’ll try to continue posting in-depth coverage of my ‘pet’ issues (e.g., strategic industries law, corruption, siloviki vs. peterburtsy/civiliki).

  • Obama Kills European BMD – yesterday, Pres. Obama announced that the Bush-era plans for stationing missiles and radars in Poland and the Czech Republic would be scrapped in favor of a naval-based system instead. You have to hand it to the President – just when you think he has taken on every single controversial policy, he manages to pull another out of his back pocket. And I love how random and casual it was, without any of the weeks of hearings, TV chatter, etc. that usually must accompany such a decision in Washington. I wrote way back in November 2008 that neocons were gearing up for a fight on this issue, and also refuted their main arguments in favor of the shield. What has been most interesting, however, is that pretty much the whole political spectrum is against, or at least surprised by, Obama’s decision. In any case, we don’t have all the facts yet – some say Obama already got something from the Russians, the Russians say they didn’t give anything and don’t see the need to give anything, and others say now Russia must cooperate on Iran. I really really really hope that Obama got something from the Russians in advance. Keep in mind that talks on a new nuclear reduction treaty are underway, and that this might very well be connected to the negotiations (BMD has been since Reykjavik). Others are writing today that in fact a deal was made about Russian support for stricter sanctions on Iran (hat tip to Robert Amsterdam Blog).
  • Rankings Season Begins – I’ve voiced my opposition to rankings in the past – especially to politicized rankings from places like Freedom House – but some are better than others and the details on each individual country are always interesting. The two most recent reports are the World Bank Doing Business 2010 and the World Economic Forum Global Competitiveness Report. In the Doing Business rankings, Russia slipped from 118 to 120, and in the Competitiveness Rankings fell from 51 to 63 (woops!). What’s most disturbing is that some of the Doing Business ‘top reformers‘ were Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Moldova, and Belarus[!!!]. My theory is that these countries reformed the most because they were not the recipients of a foreign capital influx over the past few years. Still, another recipient of investment like Russia – Kazakhstan – at least improved by one spot, from 64 to 63. Hopefully now that the free money party is over, Russia will get back to the reforms that its leaders enjoy talking about so much.
  • Siloviki vs. Civiliki/Peterburtsy – noting that the fall political season is now underway, Vedomosti writes that “old conflicts – like ‘siloviki vs. liberals’ – were a thing of the past but have now been revived.” They note that the group of lawyers surrounding Medvedev “have increased their power.” Specifically, “Justice Minister Aleksandr Konovalov and Presidential Envoy to the Urals Nikolai Vinichenko have strengthened the members of their teams, and the powers of the Federal Bailiff’s Service, which Vinichenko previously headed, have been increased.”
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