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Russia Reform Monitor - No. 1805

Putin fires his defense minister;
U.S. Congress to vote on normalized trade relations bill

Edited by Amanda Pitrof
November 12, 2012


November 2:

According to the New York Times, representatives for Russian President Vladimir Putin are working overtime to downplay rumors that the sixty-year-old Putin is starting to feel his age. After a slew of announcements postponing events including state visits to Turkey, Bulgaria, and India, as well as his annual question-and-answer session, reports began to circulate that the President suffered from a serious back problem that might require surgery. Dmitri Peskov, a spokesman for Putin, insisted that although the president pulled a back muscle in September, and suffered a “painful reaction for a couple of days,” there are no lingering effects from what he called “just a mismovement.” As for the president’s recent trend of working from home, the Kremlin press secretary attributed the decision to a concern for “traffic congestion.”

November 4:

This year’s “National Unity Day,” a Putin-era replacement for the anniversary of the Bolshevik revolution, was dominated by thousands of nationalists who marched through Moscow voicing hostility to ethnic minorities. Although analysts blame Putin’s undertones of ethnic nationalism for the rise of such groups, the six thousand protesters who gathered this year for the far-right rally clearly advocated the causes of Russia's opposition movement, shouting slogans like "Russia without Putin." “Our democratic system is ruined,” one protester said. “The Russian people need to unite and create their own civil society.” Reuters reports that National Unity Day commemorates the November 4th anniversary of a Moscow uprising against a Polish-Lithuanian occupation in the seventeenth century.

November 5:

In a surprisingly bold move, a Russian attack submarine was detected a mere 200 miles off the east coast of the United States. The sub’s presence is consistent with a February 2012 promise by the Kremlin to resume patrols of the world’s oceans, reports the Washington Free Beacon, which most analysts view as an effort to re-establish Russia as a global naval power. What’s troubling about the report is that at the same time American officials were picking up signals from the Sierra-2 class submarine, a Russian electronic intelligence gathering ship was granted safe harbor in Jacksonville, Florida, which lies within range of a submarine base in Kings Bay, Georgia. The U.S. military uses the base as a home port for several nuclear missile submarines—a known target of Russian attack subs. The incident was downplayed by the U.S. military, which took a similar attitude toward the appearance of a Russian fighter jet in the airspace over Alaska on July 4th of this year.

November 6:

Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov was fired from his post after his ministry became embroiled in a corruption scandal. Kremlin officials reported that the firing was necessary to allow police to pursue an ongoing investigation into reports that the ministry was engaged in selling off government assets at prices lower than market value. During his tenure as Defense Minister, Serdyukov made a number of enemies in the military through unpopular policies intended to alter the “egg-shaped” hierarchy of the country’s army to resemble the more typical pyramid form. Since his appointment in 2007, Serdyukov fired or forced into retirement 40,000 officers, and nearly halved the number of active-duty generals and admirals. Despite his unpopularity among the armed forces, however, the New York Times reports that analysts were surprised by the announcement. Serdyukov held a position in the inner circle of President Putin, a group which the President is typically unlikely to rebuke. Serdyukov was replaced with Sergei Shoigu, a former emergencies minister and another loyal ally of Putin.

November 7:

The Kremlin hasmade it clear that Moscow expects U.S. President Barack Obama to follow through on his promises of “greater flexibility” over the proposed NATO missile defense shield now that he’s been re-elected. Soon after President Putin sent Obama a telegram expressing “hope that the two countries’ relations would improve further,” the Associated Press reports, Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin added that “We hope that President Obama after his re-election will be more flexible on the issue of taking into the account the opinions of Russia and others regarding a future configuration of NATO’s missile defense.” Analysts noted that the Kremlin’s reaction to Obama’s re-election was far more enthusiastic than Washington’s following Putin’s election to a third presidential term. Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev made his relief clear that “the man who considers Russia its No. 1 geopolitical foe won’t be the president of this very large and important country.”

November 9:

Despite Russia's initiation into the World Trade Organization in August, U.S. businesses have yet to see the perks. The House of Representatives is expected to finally vote on the bill that will restore permanent normalized trade relations with Russia by the end of next week, reports the Associated Press, after a coalition of over 500 companies and business organizations urged members of Congress to approve the bill quickly. Normalizing trade relations will allow U.S. companies to benefit from the regulations attached to WTO membership, which include rules related to services, science-based animal and plant health, and intellectual property protection. For months, the bill has been stalled by various concerns, including Russia's dogged support for Syria and Iran. After lengthy debate, the bill is also expected to include legislation to punish Russian human rights violators.


Related Categories: Russia; Russia Program

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