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The Year in Review

newyear123108.jpgLast night Moscow closed the books on a very eventful 2008 – and in traditional Russian style, I have no doubt everyone rang it in with tremendous style as though it were still the halcyon days of July.

Russia finished the year with a much stronger share of the international spotlight than last year, assisted by the war in Georgia, the economic crisis, constitutional rearranging, and not to mention the confirmation that gas supplies to Ukraine were indeed cut today.  But President Dmitry Medvedev remained ebullient during his New Year’s speech to the local revelers:  “I am sure that no matter what difficulties we face, we will cope with them. And the government will do everything necessary to achieve this.

Who can say what 2009 will bring?  I don’t believe there will be any shortage of events for us to discuss in this space.  However, instead of looking forward, let’s just take a moment to absorb the year in review – as told by this blog anyways…


January:  Right away we had the famous Belkovsky rumor that Vladimir Putin was one of the world’s most wealthy men, Gazprom made a move for Nigerian gas, things were looking shaky in Georgia, Eni helped Moscow takeover Serbia, Voice of Beslan became a target, a fight with the British Council takes over the media, Amnesty finally asks Russia to let Vasily Alexanyan go, politics got even messier in the Mikhail Khodorkovsky case, former spy Sergei Tretyakov dropped a few bombs, and a big time mobster connected to the Ukrainian gas trade gets arrested.

February:  Nobody wants to talk about Yukos, Bill Clinton got in trouble in Central Asia, Super Tuesday was super boring, Pasko does some interviews, more abuses of the legal system, Deep Purple rocks the Kremlin, we got censored and uncensored by YouTube, Kosovo declared independence and set a dangerous precedent, Medvedev acknowledges major legal problems, Lukoil cut supplies to Germany, velvet re-privatizer Oleg Shvartsman had not yet been forgotten, Ken Roth of HRW is not allowed to enter Russia, the clan wars continue, Mario Vargas Llosa pledges his support to Khodorkovsky, Hillary can’t pronounce Medvedev, and nobody really pays attention to suspected rigged elections.

March:  We were proud to be the first media source to announce Medvedev’s victory in the presidential election, Lev Ponomarev talks with us about human rights double standards, sovereign wealth emerges as an issue, Pasko tries and fails to observe an election, the Nashi get humorous, Oleg Kozlovsky finally gets out of the army, human rights abuses proliferate in the gulag, the U.S. gets into a spat with Belarus, Medvedev puts a mole in Rosneft, Russia may not care as much about the missile shield as we think, Bolivia loves Gazprom, police raid the offices of TNK-BP, we love the legal nihilism speech, the brothers Zaslavsky get arrested for corporate oil espionage, defending against expropriation in Latin America, the new president meets the press, the birth of corporate foreign policy, and why today’s Russia is a lot like Fujimori’s Peru.

April: We propose an energy prescription for Europe, debates over Russophobia in the U.S. campaign, Germany gradually turns into a Kremlin shill, former Putin supporter William Browder finds himself a target, why Yukos was a success, an interview with Vladimir Milov, Anatoly Chubais stays always survives, lawyer Boris Kuznetsov comes under attack, an interview with Yuri Schmidt, Silvio Berlusconi returns to power to the delight of Russia, Alexei Kudrin had problems even in the good days, journalist Michael Idov hits the scene, Putin wins a fake nobel prize, Russia shoots down a Georgian drone in their territory, Gazprom gets a big energy deal with Libya, Boris Yeltsin dies and is unexpectedly celebrated, getting to know John McCain’s Russia team, Gazprom tries to hire the former PM of Italy, everyone ignores Georgia’s requests for help, and “SNOB” magazine is launched for Russia’s ultra-wealthy.

May:  How to confront resource nationalism, the war on lawyers continues, the May Day protests, a history of show trials from the archives, Dmitry Medvedev is inaugurated with a bang, former Stasi run Germany’s energy, McCain’s Russia policy looks like a two-headed beast, my podcast on the inauguration, everything you need to know about Russian politics explained by Star Wars, Russia uses football as diplomacy, Igor Sechin takes over the shipbuilding sector, former PM Fradkov gets moved over to head of spies, the shared legacy of Bush and Putin, Khodorkovsky gives a rare interview in the Times, Nigeria rides the petro wave, Chelsea comes to Russia, the lovefest with China, a letter from Nekrasov, Russia wins Eurovision, Belgian company Distrigaz looks like a potential target for Russia, civil society gets a rare win, the “Kadet” case returns, China has a legitimacy crisis, and BP continues its fight.

June: the resource nationalism checklist, some still talk about burying Lenin, a speech on energy investment in Venezuela and Nigeria, who benefits from BP’s Russia crisis?, one-third of the state budget goes to corruption, learning from Shell’s withdrawal from Nigeria, Medvedev gives a major speech at the WEF, the eXile begins to get crushed, Herve Mariton of France supports Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Kozlovsky talks about preferential problems, Bush makes a twilight tour of Europe, Gerhard Schroder makes $390,000 a year from Gazprom, Gennady Timchenko of Gunvor goes public, Alexei Miller thinks oil will hit $250 a barrel (whoops!), an inconvenient person is erased from television, Stalin and Russian patriotism is becoming a problem for history, Gazprom and China fight over Nigeria, a satirical newspaper gets shut down, Henry Kissinger becomes a vocal Medvedev supporter, early warnings on the ruble, Marshall Goldman publishes “Petrostate,” Russia threatens war with Georgia, a suggestion to put the missile shield in Lithuania, Pasko writes a lot about Nord Stream, I review Steve Levine’s new book, Russia benefits from sowing instability in energy markets, and why Europe just doesn’t stand a chance to negotiate with Moscow.

July: Russian prosecutors mount rehashed and recycled charges against Khodorkovsky, the MBK case is seen as a test for Medvedev, Henry Paulson goes hat in hand to Putin, more discussion on the old-new charges, Russian media lays the groundwork for war against Georgia, U.S. Rep Curt Weldon gets in trouble for dealing black market Russian arms, Gazprom inches closer to the gas OPEC alone, the Spanish handle Gazprom way better than the rest of Europe, we publish our 3,000th post, Russia and Venezuela use each other, a scandal erupts over Putin’s intervention on mining company Mechel, Sergei Storchak is still imprisoned but publishes a pleading letter, Russia leaks stories of missiles in Cuba to see what happens, the beginnings of Barack Obama’s vague Russia problem, Radovan Karadzic is found, and authorities deal with a doomsday cult which had sealed themselves in a cave.

August:  In case you had not heard, there was a little war with Georgia and a lot of aftermathA complete mess.  But before that Alexander Solzhenitsyn died, and Rupert Murdoch predicted that investors should sell everything in Russia.  Later in the month I was not surprised to see Khodorkovsky’s request for parole denied – just take his word for it. Russia somehow also thought that China would sign up for the recognition of the breakaway territories.

September:  Igor Sechin concludes his summer vacation in Latin America, journalist Magomed Yevloyev is murdered in police custody while Putin rescues a group of journalists from a tiger, some thoughts about disaggregating Russia, we get a major win in Guatemala against tax evading and money laundering plutocrats, while everyone studies Georgia, Ingushetia roils, the stock market crash begins, Svetlana Bakhmina is denied parole, the Kremlin would prefer McCain to win the election, the ridiculous Sarah Palin debuts and brings Russia to the foreground, Le Figaro talks to MBK, both Obama and McCain support Khodorkovsky, Russian media reports on a commission formed by Medvedev dedicated to improving relations with the West, Dick Cheney gets humiliated in Azerbaijan, and Alexander Lebedev and Gorbachev announce a new party to challenge Putinism.

October: The Union of Right Forces collapses, Oleg Deripaska can’t pay for his stake in Magna, the Kremlin wants to extradite former Russneft owner Mikhail Gutseriyev, Putin releases a Judo DVD, the first podcast of a Russian president, neither Obama or McCain are very impressive on Russia in the debates, Khodorkovsky does an interview with Boris Akunin in Esquire and then gets thrown into solitary confinement, Turkey becomes a hotspot in the global pipeline race, understanding the Karinna Moskalenko incident, Russia-Georgia talks go no where, we join the legal defense team for Singaporean dissident Dr. Chee Soon Juan, Gorbachev asks for Bakhmina to be released, Sergei Storchak is released, and the courts convict Alexei Frenkel of murdering Central Bank head Anderi Kozlov.

November: We talk with Fredo Arias-King about lustration in Russia, a blame game starts over the economic crisis, a holiday parade ends in beatings, a Libyan despot feels oddly comfortable during a visit to Moscow, Obama wins a historic election and is then threatened by a jealous Russian leader, negotiating Nagorno-Karabakh reveals a legitimacy deficit, another Gazprom scandal in Serbia, Khodorkovsky pens an article on global perestroika, a key figure in the clan wars can’t get out of jail, 100 business deals in Venezuela, Europe again falls into Rumsfeldian new and old categories, Russia makes a move on Spanish energy, Polish historian Adam Michnik visits Russia, a lawsuit for $50 billion, the Politkovskaya trial is rocked by a brave juror, mining company Uralkali fights for survival from expropriation, and the Kremlin appears to fear history.

December:  Vasily Alexanyan is released on a very expensive bail, Stalin comes in third for the popularity contest, the economy collapses, presidential terms are fast-tracked for extension, and Russia cuts off the gas supply to the Ukraine.

Happy new year everyone – and thanks for reading. – Bob Amsterdam

Photo: A Christmas tree rises just outside the Moscow Kremlin, backgroundright, Tuesday, Dec. 30, 2008. Shown from right in the background are:the Kremlin’s St. Nicholas Tower, the Historical Museum, and themonument to Soviet Marshal Georgy Zhukov. New Year’s is the biggestholiday of the year in Russia, and is followed by the OrthodoxChristmas on Jan. 7. (AP Photo by Mikhail Metzel)