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Alexei Navalny

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navalny-vs-strelkov

H/t Eduard-456.

Navalny has accepted Strelkov’s call for a debate from June 15. Get hype? At any rate, this is probably the closest things to politics that has happened in Russia this year.

There are going to be the main topics of discussion in the debate next week, which may be hosted by Echo of Moscow:

  • How can Navalny beat corruption, if he’s President?
  • His position on Russia’s Western partners?
  • What is he going to do about Crimea and the Donbass?

This has been met with general surprise from all quarters.

The former commander of the LDNR militias is as much an object of hatred for Russian liberals – Navalny’s core constituency – as he is an idol for Russian nationalists.

sip-game-of-russian-=spring

Famous Sputnik i Pogrom designed banner from 2014 that still adorns many pro-Novorossiya sites.

As such, many Russian liberals and Ukrainian nationalists (but I repeat myself) are already squealing and kvetching about Navalny agreeing to appear with the “war criminal” Girkin.

One need only read some of the top responses to Navalny’s Facebook post announcing the debate to get a flavor of their fury:

  • Pavel Khmelnytskyi: You guys are so cool in Russia… a debate between a Presidential candidate and an international terrorist. On the right path!
  • Denis Zatsepin: Alexey, I’m a strong supporter of yours, but in this case I consider it a mistake to appear in the same frame as a bandit and killer. Debates with him are only possible in the form of interrogations about his war mongering, murders, illegal arms transfers, mercenary work.
  • Alexey Karpov: A great opportunity to publicly disavow your phrase that “Crimea is not a sandwich” [i.e., as an object to be haggled over]. And if you fail to do this, I will consider the ensuing crash of your political career to be perfectly justified.

That said, there is a logic to Navalny appearing with Strelkov.

The only half-way conceivable way in which the Putin government could be overthrown would be through an overarching alliance between liberals and nationalists, as in the Ukraine itself in 2014, or in Serbia in 2000.

Navalny could either comfortably occupy the “liberal niche” that constitutes no more than 10% of the Russian electorate – the one that Prokhorov filled in 2012 – or he could try to convince the patriotic-nationalist crowd to sign up with him, which would cut into Putin’s own support base.

The price of his gamble is the risk of alienating his diehard liberal supporters, and consequently fading away into the limelight. Then again, as pro-Donbass blogger El Murid points out, there is, in any case, only so much fuel left in Navalny’s anti-corruption engine; the engine on which he rose to prominence. After the film about Medvedev, one can hardly generate any political excitement over exposing the corrupt machinations of one more CEO of a state firm or regional governor; everybody is waiting for the “Big Film” starring “The Main Hero.” Anything else would be a let-down. After the failure of the June 12 protests, one can make a good case that Navalny needs to do something bold and unexpected to turn around a negative trend in publicity and get people talking about him again – and going head to head against Strelkov is perhaps not the worst idea.

However, this is going to be an opportunity for the patriotic/nationalist crowd to make their mark as well.

Navalny, at least, enjoys access to Gazprom-funded Echo of Moscow and TV Rain. Since returning from the Donbass, Strelkov has been blacklisted from appearing on federal MSM – a not atypical fate for repatriated war heroes with harsh words for the leaders who “abandoned” their cause. Shorn of media resources – no radio or TV mass media to speak of, their main website blocked, and reliant on blogs and social networks to spread their messages – this will be a good opportunity for nationalists to remind Russians that there are choices beyond Putin and Navalny.

The main danger for them is that Strelkov performs poorly. Although he has a poor grasp of issues beyond his pet theme of corruption, as demonstrated in his recent interview with Sobchak, Navalny more than makes up for it as a demagogue. And whereas Strelkov might be an inspirational battlefield commander, his sartorial style and rhetorical skills… leave much to be desired.

strelkov-not-inspiring

 

Another interesting question is to what extent this debate has been cleared with the Kremlin.

The ideal outcome for Kremlin Inc. would be for Navalny to destroy Strelkov, a minor nuisance for them, while affirming his pro-Western and pro-Ukrainian positions on Crimea and the Donbass (that is, a second referendum in the former, and withdrawal of support from the latter). This would also close off any lingering prospects for a liberal-nationalist alliance against Putin.

In this scenario, it is even feasible that Navalny would be allowed to run in the Presidential elections. Without any significant support from the patriotic-nationalist camp, Navalny would be more or less safely bounded at a maximum of 10-15% of the vote, while the fact of his participation in the electoral process – as the most prominent figure in the non-systemic opposition – would serve to “legitimize” Putin’s inevitable victory in the West.

Best of all, there is probably nothing quite as good for burnishing one’s questionable credentials as a Russian nationalist or even patriot for the domestic audience as running against an outright Ukrainian nationalist and Western representative.

 
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The Russia wide protests organized by Navalny on June 12 were a flop.

This was not unexpected, given the lack of enthusiasm on social networks – in Moscow, there were 20% fewer people expressing interest in going to this event relative to the March 26th protest on Facebook. The earlier event had translated into 8,000 people, which is pretty much a “fail” so far as a 13 million population metropolis is concerned.

In the smaller Russian cities, where the June 12 protests went ahead as agreed with the local authorities, turnout was unimpressive, typically numbering in the low 100′s.

Pavel Gladkov has collected some photos (h/t melanf):

The protest in Novosibirsk, the third biggest Russian city (1.5 million) and unofficial capital of Siberia, gathered 2,000 people, which is about the same as in March.

Turnout has in general been similar to the March 26 rallies. This implies Navalny’s support on the streets – as in the polls – hasn’t improved since then.

Which, I suppose, explains why Navalny decided to sabotage his own protests in Moscow and Saint-Petersburg.

Quick recap:

The Moscow city authorities gave Navalny permission to stage a meeting at prospekt Sakharova, a relatively central and spacious location. In Saint-Petersburg, they offered a location at Udelnaya, which is less central, but still spacious and easily accessible by metro.

In the last few hours before the protests, Navalny made a location change, to Tverskaya in Moscow and The Field of Mars in Saint-Petersburg, both of which are at the very centers of those cities. Moreover, Tverskaya in particular was already hosting a massive historical reconstruction festival.

sakahrov-speakers Before the protests, many observers, including myself, had expressed skepticism about Navalny’s claims that stage and sound suppliers had been pressured not to service his event. Navalny used this “insult” as the formal explanation for why he was moving the location of the protest.

However, the only evidence he provided was a phone conversation between two anonymous people. Moreover, as the liberal blogger Ilya Varlamov pointed out, why couldn’t he have bought speakers at a store and then returned/resold them?

Then on the day of the event itself it emerged that a sound and speaker system did emerge on prospekt Sakharova anyway, which should blow up anyone’s suspicion meter through the roof.

The weight of the evidence thus indicates that the sound and speaker blockade reason was bogus.

The likeliest alternative explanation is that Team Navalny, aware that attendance numbers were going to be unimpressive – in the event, an accurate assessment – decided that the only way to get into the news cycle would be to create an interesting spectacle for make benefit of Western cameras.

Unfortunately, due to the very low quality – or malicious competence – of the Western media, he largely succeeded in this, as RT’s Bryan MacDonald points out:

macdonald-crap-russia-journalism Then there were the blatant misrepresentations. Such as when New York Times’ bureau chief Neil MacFarquhar and Financial Times’ Eastern Europe Editor Neil Buckley both attempted to depict barriers clearly erected as props for the military history show as “traps” to impede protesters. Tweets they later deleted, in fairness. Nevertheless, this particular “fake news” tweet by the anti-Russia activist Alex Kokcharov has been shared hundreds of times, enjoying retweets from the likes of Economist magazine editor Edward Lucas and Anders Aslund of NATO’s Atlantic Council adjunct.

Almost every correspondent refused to tell followers how the event was “unsanctioned” and “illegal,” instead preferring to act as cheerleaders. Some examples included hacks from Foreign Policy, the Guardian, BBC and the Moscow Times. Meanwhile, Associated Press, the Washington Post, ABC and Fox all managed to omit any mention of the history festival in their reaction to the change of location.

And then there was CNN, always good for a laugh on this beat, breathlessly telling its viewers that hundreds of thousands of demonstrators could be mobilized. When in reality it was around 5,000 in Moscow.

Unfortunately for Navalny, the Russian electorate are not Western audiences, and these stunts are unlikely to work out well for him.

The March 26 meeting was an essentially harmless affair, perhaps a minor inconvenience to some Muscovites, but one that was adequately compensated by the entirely voluntary personal risk the protesters took by participating in an unauthorized gathering.

It was the protesters’ choice to come there and effect non-violent resistance (for the most part) in service of a cause they believed in. It was OMON’s choice to uphold the letter of the law and clear out an unsanctioned protest; they are well-compensated for their trouble. It was my own choice to risk arrest by covering it as a “citizen journalist” of sorts; as with Vincent Law, my greater fear is not getting arrested per se, nor the fines, nor a day or two in detention; it’s the fact of getting arrested *at a Navalny protest*.

The important thing is that the risk of innocent passersby getting caught up was minimal.

This time round, Navalny and his crew purposefully crashed a separate event where people wanted to cosplay historical battles, not participate in an actual one against the police. This would have been irresponsible and unethical course of action for anyone with pretenses to serious politics. That this was very likely based on a lie makes it outright disgraceful. These are the actions of a two bit rabblerouser.

For instance, here is one account of how Navalny supporters ruined the day of one reconstructor who wanted to show Muscovites how medieval Russians made decorative beads (h/t E for partial translation):

They [the liberals] yelled into the faces of myself, the musicians and historical reconstructionists that we were “traitors”, that what we’re doing is useless sh*t, that we should instead be having meetings, that we are paid-off varmints who were placed there in order to disrupt their meetings. To our protests that we’re teaching people crafts and history, we received the reply: “Nobody needs any of that sh*t! We need to have meetings and create a revolution!”. I really wanted to bash these people’s faces in, but people were yelling at us that we shouldn’t give in to provocation, because EVERYTHING was CONSTANTLY being filmed by dozens of cameras.

In the end, the programme continued after a several-hour interruption. Of course, I didn’t make any more beads, because I needed to heat up my oven again and there wasn’t much time left.
In one of the camps, they took down and broke a pavilion, and broke the tent in another. But the reconstructionists, having armed themselves with shields, saved the most important places from total destruction. I understand how difficult it must have been not to grab the spears and axes, as well.

By all rights, this should finally finish off Navalny’s portrayal of himself as a champion of honesty and transparency in politics.

As his recent interview with Ksenia Sobchak confirmed, this is a non too bright man who does not know elementary facts and figures about the state of the Russian economy or public health. He is a one-trick pony who is only any good on corruption, or at least coming up with catchy slogans about it. However, even on corruption, it just so often happens that Navalny’s demonstrated behavior is at odds with his purported principles and beliefs, with this latest episode being just the latest example.

That said, Navalny is undoubtedly extremely talented at playing the democratic martyr for the Western cameras.

Therefore, the main part of his constituency – Western consumers of CNN and Buzzfeed – will have to keep on wondering why the collapse of the Putin regime keeps failing to pan out for the nth time.

 
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Navalny has just moved the planned June 12 protest from Prospekt Sakharova, a fairly central and very spacious location, to Tverskaya, which is minutes away from the Kremlin, at the last minute.

The former event was officially sanctioned by the city authorities.

The new one is *not*.

Navalny claims that this was done because the Moscow city administration pressured sound and stage suppliers not to participate in his event. This makes it impossible for him to give a speech to a large crowd. As evidence, he attached a recording between one of the suppliers and what is presumably one of his staff members, in which the supplier sheepishly explains that he has received instructions from on high not to service the event.

This is his version of the story.

There is however an alternate theory.

The Tverskaya protests on March 26 were unsanctioned, meaning that the more timid and “respectable” avoided showing up. Attendance at a sanctioned meeting, all other things equal, should be considerably higher (the middle-aged office plankton who form a considerable percentage of Navalny’s support base aren’t keen on risking arrest by participating in illegal gatherings). But with less than 12 hours to go, the the number of people saying they are “going” on Facebook stands at a modest 4,000. In contrast, 5,200 say they “went” to the Tverskaya protest in March, which translated to an actual turnout of about 8,000. Assuming the correlation holds, we are looking at similar figures this June. This is decidedly embarassing, especially in light of the anti-khrushchevki demolition protests this May, which gathered 20,000 people – and at the very place where Navalny was supposed to hold his meeting, to add to the humiliation.

Ordinary Muscovites evidently care more about their khrushchevki – and for that matter their summer sojourns to their dachas – than staying behind in Moscow to hear more about Navalny’s latest beef with Uzbek oligarchs. Not good!

So this is where the alternate explanation comes in. Since the original protest looked like it was going to be a flop anyway, why not make a last minute change to “illegalize” it, inviting a potentially heavy police response for the delectation of Navalny’s YouTube fans and Western videocameras?

preobrazhensky-polk

There is an additional fact that makes this version of events both more plausible, and more potentially dangerous. June 12 is a national holiday (Russia Day), and there is already another event planned for the Tverskaya location – the last day of a 12 day historical reconstruction festival that has been advertised for weeks, and is expected to draw up to 150,000 visitors.

The last day of the reconstruction festival will be dedicated to the defense of Sevastopol in the Crimean War.

So imagine the spectacle of Preobrazhensky Regiment riflemen coming from all over Russia and abroad to support Navalny – and having to pit their “reconstruction skills” against the truncheons of the OMON.

headlines-ready As noted by one Twitter user: “Cameras and headlines are ready.

Not a lot more to add. Now we wait and see.

Hopefully, the Russian police exercise appropriate restraint, so that we don’t actually have to find out whether the bayonet is a fine lad. They are well funded and quite professional these days, so I don’t think it’s likely things will get out of hand.

It is also worth underlining that it is grossly irresponsible and unethical for someone who pretends to be a serious politician to push his agenda on people who didn’t ask for it, and who only want to watch pretend battles, not risk being caught up in a real one. This applies tenfold if Navalny misrepresented the situation with the stage and sound suppliers to justify his planned hijacking of the reconstruction festival (if so this would not be the first time that he has bent the truth to serve his own narrative).

Though who cares about any of that when there is clickbait to be written about the latest crimes of the Putler regime.

EDIT June 12, 1330 Moscow time: On Reddit (1, 2) a couple of people have criticized me for not using VK.com attendance data. I copy my response:

What matters is not absolute numbers who say they are going to attend, but relative numbers from event to event.

Assuming that a similar multiple of Facebook “goings” translate into visitors from event to event, then comparing the previous event to the later event on just one social media platform is legitimate.

Anyhow, there is a banal reason I didn’t include VK – while this current protest does indeed have 15K, I was simply unable to locate the VK event page for the March 26 protest.

Moreover. List of event pages for the March 26 protest. But Moscow links takes us here, which now advertises today’s event. This is not an event page, but as I understand a group page.

Was the counter actually reset to zero after the last event? This is a critical question that I don’t know the answer to (I don’t use VK much and am not very familiar with its fine workings), so using VK data would have been doubly unrealistic.

Anyhow, if anybody can’t answer the two questions above – whether or not the counter reset to zero after the March event, and if it did, what was the peak “going” figure for it – that would be much appreciated.

EDIT 2: It now emerges that a sound & stage system *was* installed at prospekt Sakharova after all (1, 2), which would appear to invalidate Navalny’s claim that suppliers were forced to pull out.

 
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There have been three significant political protests in Moscow in the past few months, and each in their own way – and in their relation to each other – say a lot about the state of Russia today.

It’s not that great for the Kremlin.

But not for the reasons the Western media would have you believe.

moscow-protest-tverskaya-4

“He Is Not Dimon” / Navalny, March 26

This unsanctioned protest in response to Navalny’s video about Medvedev’s corruption gathered about 8,000 people, mostly young people and university students, with some seasoned color revolution veterans sprinkled in.

It also got by far the most Western coverage, even though 8,000 people is less than 0.1% of Moscow’s population.

This is reflected in Navalny’s poll numbers, which remain very low – firmly in the single digits, though in an election – on the off chance he is allowed to run – I suspect he might eke out as much as 10%, if he overperforms expectations as he did in the 2013 Moscow elections.

I am not going to write much more about Navalny and his protests, since I already have several blog posts about that. My goal here is to look at the alternatives on offer.

enough-protest

“Enough” / Khodorkovsky, April 29

That Navalny is head and shoulders above any other Westernist liberal figure is proved by the embarassingly low turnout at the “Enough” protests called for by Khodorkovsky’s “Open Russia” NGO.

There were perhaps 200 people there. As RT’s Bryan MacDonald noted, “I have honestly seen bigger crowds at bus stops in Russia than what has assembled for Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s march today.” Their guerilla advertising strategy – the graffiti in the photo above appeared on the sidewalk close to my apartment – evidently didn’t work out.

Khodorkovsky himself was quite sad about this, whining on May 1 that it is dangerous to “have a monopoly on opposition” in a transparent dig against Navalny. My advice to him would be just stick to what he does best, such as inserting anti-Putin op-eds into English language papers and single-handedly providing a living for about half the world’s Russia-specialized neocons.

Anyhow, the bottom line is that if Navalny’s anti-corruption populism at least enjoys some degree of mass appeal, Khodorkovsky doesn’t even have that. There just aren’t that many Russians outside a 100 meter radius of Echo of Moscow HQ willing to rise up on hearing the clarion call for more sanctions against their own country on the pages of Politico and The World Affairs Journal.

There wasn’t that much coverage of this protest in the West. I suppose it was just too humiliatingly small for it to be worth giving any further exposure.

khrushchevki-protests

Credit: George Malets, martin_camera

Anti-Khrushchevki Demolition Protest / Evgenia Vinokurova, May 14

In 1955, Khrushchev began a massive program of urban housing construction – an urgent priority at the time, what with the massive influx of peasants into the cities. On the plus side, the program succeeded, and the USSR consequently avoided the slums typical of the urbanizing Third World. On the negative side, these “khrushchevki” were cramped and poorly constructed, both by the standards of Stalinist housing (which mostly catered to the elites) and even of the later Soviet apartment blocks of the 1970s-80s.

Moscow’s mayoralty has recently announced that renovating this housing stock is unfeasible, and it will instead be demolished over the course of the next ten years at a cost of 3.5 trillion rubles ($60 billion), or twice the city’s annual budget income. The current residents will be compensated with more modern housing, of which there is a surplus in the wake of the last construction bust. On paper, everyone will benefit: People will get apartments with working plumbing and internal wiring; the politically connected real estate lobby won’t lose money; and many officials will doubtless be enriched.

But not everyone is happy with this deal. Some have invested considerable amounts of money into renovating their apartments. Others have grown attached to their neighborhoods. Although khrushchevki are bottom tier housing stock, the districts that contain them do tend to have a certain verdant vibrancy to them. They are walkable, they have plenty of greenery, and ecosystems of shops, schools, and other services have long evolved around them. In contrast, the new blocks tend to be massive, gray concrete monoliths on flat, gray plains criss-crossed with asphalt and more concrete.

What’s more, they tend to be farther from the nearest metro station, and at the outskirts of Moscow, if not entirely outside it. Moscow property prices depend far more on location than on building quality, and since the exchanges are square meter for square meter, not ruble for ruble, it is easy to imagine cases where people would stand to actually lose asset value in absolute terms.

And some of those people reacted. Around 20,000 people protested on Sakharov Avenue on May 14 against the khrushchevki plans – more than twice as much as at Navalny’s protest, and a couple of orders of magnitude more than at Khodorkovsky’s.

Moreover, these protesters weren’t kreakl hipsters, or professional revolutionaries, or Ukrainian nationalists, or the assorted other weirdos that tend to fill out Moscow protests against the regime. They were pensioners, housewives, and office plankton, many of them with children, who made their voice heard about a matter of real world concern to them. In other words, they and people like them are the closest thing there currently is to a genuine Russian civil society – and though the situation is currently fluid, it currently appears that officials are seriously engaging with their demands.

And of course the Western media pretty much ignored them.

Incidentally, as Maxim Kononenko points out, Navalny’s response to this protest is also very telling as to his agenda.

Initially, Navalny and his staff largely ignored the anti-demolition campaign, unable to believe that political nobodies campaigning on some boring socio-economic issue could be more successful than the undisputed leader of the “real” Russian opposition with its cult following, massive online presence, and lack of any serious competitors in the professional color revolution industry. But once it emerged that this protest was going to be a big hit after all, Navalny hurriedly dressed up as a very concerned khrushchevka resident and set off for the protest meeting. (As one online wit commented, “Whom hasn’t Navalny roleplayed as?: An owner of a mortgage in foreign currency; a Moscow stall owner; a Dagestani truck driver; a Chechen gay. Now he is a khrushchevka resident”).

Navalny proceeded to request a speaking slot at the meeting. The organizers refused, for the understandable reason that Navalny had no part in organizing them. Shocked by their impudence, Navalny and his acolytes decided to blame this epic zrada on Evgenia Vinokurova, one of the dozen largely female organizers of the protest. She made for an easy target: She has ties with both Putinist patriot-conservatives (she is friends with Kris Potupchik, a former spokeswoman for the youth movement Nashi) and more hardcore nationalists (she is an open Sputnik and Pogrom reader, Russia’s premier nationalist publication), all of which makes her completely “unhandshakeworthy” in the respectable Westernist circles to whom Navalny owes his ultimate loyalty.

So Navalny got an excuse for his failure there – he was sabotaged by a Putler agent. Still, the old problem of said respectable circles remains as acute as ever: Their inability to get any significant number of Russians out into the streets.

 
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The other day a Levada poll was released showing an apparently lackluster performance by Navalny in a hypothetical Presidential race against Putin and the other candidates.

If there were elections on the coming Sunday, who would you vote for? (The figures below exclude those said they don’t know, or don’t intend to vote).

Apr13 Apr14 Apr15 Jan16 Apr17
Putin 64 81 82 83 83
Zhirinovsky 7 6 5 4 5
Zyuganov 13 7 9 6 4
Shoigu 3 2 <1 3 2
Navalny <1 <1 1 1 2
Medvedev 3 <1 <1 <1 1
Mironov 1 1 1 1 1
Prokhorov 4 1 1 1 <1
Other 4 2 1 2 2

This seems very bad for “Alexey 2 Percent,” as he was just styled by the great Paul Robinson.

On the one hand, he is certainly correct in his main point that one shouldn’t be rushing to buy the hype around Navalny generated by the Western media.

OTOH, I don’t think it’s quite as catastrophic for Navalny as the professor makes it out to be. For instance, in February 2012, (adjusted for non-voter’s/don’t knows) about 6% of Russians intended to vote for Prokhorov. In the event, he got 8%, which would have been closer to 9% without electoral fraud.

Of perhaps greater relevance, Levada and VCIOM opinion polls were giving the Kremlin-backed candidate Sobyanin about 70% versus 9-13% for Navalny in the Moscow mayoral election of 2013. In the event, Sobyanin only narrowly avoided a second round with 51% to Navalny’s 27%.

navalny-voting-intentions Even more worrying for the Kremlin though is that the percentage of Russians saying they were “probably” or “definitely” going to vote for Navalny increased from the 5% level he enjoyed from March 2012 to February 2017 (i.e. encompassing the period of the Moscow elections) to 10% in March 2017 following the release of the Medvedev corruption video.

Now just to make it clear I am not implying that Navalny is any sort of serious electoral threat to Putin – at least for now. In particular, the President’s ratings are at a consistent ~80% since Crimea, whereas during the 2012-13 period they were hovering at a nadir of ~60%.

Putin’s relatively greater popularily will, presumably, mostly or even wholly cancel out Navalny’s momentum.

And, of course, the question of whether Navalny will even be allowed to run is still an open one. Just a few hours ago a Russian court upheld the five year suspended sentence given to Navalny for the Kirovles Affair, which might be grounds for formally barring him from the Presidential race – though as in 2013, it is possible that it will not be enforced. Still, I’m not going to bet on that. Navalny is far more charismatic than Prokhorov, he is the only liberal candidate with a reasonable chance of making inroads into the (considerably bigger) nationalist electorate, and the recent attack on him by kremlin-affiliated thugs – which threatens to make him blind in one eye, if his own assertions are true – might create a martyr effect for him (as the murky dioxin poisoning of Viktor Yushchenko in 2004, which helped drive Ukrainians to stage the Orange Revolution). It would not be wise for the kremlins to risk a Navalny run.

One other very interesting, and even more interesting development, is the complete collapse of Zyuganov’s (Communist) support – he has gone from 13% in April 2013, to just 5% today; practically level pegging with the nationalist Zhirinovsky, who has also declined, but by a far more modest degree, despite losing part of his nationalist base to Putin after Crimea.

russia-elections-2016-party-support-age-group As I have long pointed out, the Red base of pensioners is dying out – there are three times fewer Communist voters in the youngest age group versus the oldest, whereas the LDPR’s share, conversely, doubles – and the demographics are now fast translating into electoral politics.

What this means in practice is that in the unlikely scenario that Navalny does run, I strongly suspect that he and Putin will between them compress the two fossils of Russian politics – that is, Zyuganov and Zhirinovsky – into the single digits, and will manage to come a distant second, perhaps 15% to Putin’s 70%.

 
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Probably unintentionally, but still.

The video, subtly titled “Hitler 1945/Navalny 2018,” basically argues that if you oppose Medvedev’s corruption and the importation of infinity Moslems into Russia then you are Hitler.

Its current Dislikes to Likes ratio is at around 10.

According to Navalny himself, the man behind the video is Sergey Kiriyenko, the First Deputy Chief of Staff of the Presidential Administration.

The kremlin connection is probably true.

First, it obviously has a high production value, and has many of the stylistic features of the My Duck’s Vision studio, known for its goofy hyperbolic rhetoric and CGI overkill, which nobody really uses nowadays apart from the kremlins.

Second, the video has been shown to [edit 4/20: as has just been brought to my attention by Alexey Kovalev, they were actually shown another video, about Navalny's involvement in the Kirovles affair (an alleged corruption scandal for which Navalny had been convicted), not the one about how he is Hitler; in his post on the matter, Navalny had implied otherwise, which serves as a good reminder that what Navalny says should be fact checked as well] students of Vladimir State University, some of whom had allegedly been forced to go there as punishment for participating in the protests against corruption on March 26.

After the video, the head of the regional law school’s department for counter extremism outreach amongst youth, one vibrantly named Alla Byba lectures the disgruntled students for their temerity in asking her that she also show some of Navalny’s videos – for example, on how Dmitry Peskov wears watches worth three times his annual salary – in the interests of academic neutrality.

“You all know there that is an information war against the Russian Federation,” she informs the students, “No wonder that terrorist organizations are intensively recruiting across the Internet.”

So the basic takeaway is that as we well know actual terrorists have no religion or nationality, discussing Medvedev’s corruption and opposing infinity Moslems in Moscow makes you an extremist, a supporter of Adolf Hitler, and a member of the sixth-column ala Dugin.

You can hardly find a better way to inflate Navalny’s otherwise very modest approval ratings and smother away his real failings, such as a lack of knowledge about policy.

Indeed, as Egor Prosvirnin argues, calling Navalny a Russian fascist is perhaps the one thing that can save him – because it is evidently false to just about everyone who is not in the over 50, no Internet connection, sub-90 IQ demographic. But by attacking him on the basis of his supposed nationalism, the kremlins may well actually end up forcing Navalny to (re)adopt Russian nationalism. In the current climate, that could well increase Navalny’s popularity by a factor of of two or three, making him a real political threat to the kremlins.

All of which begs Milyukov’s classic question: Is this treason, or stupidity?

Well, judge for yourselves.

Some biographic data on Kiriyenko from the English Wikipedia (no mention of this in the Russian version, incidentally):

Sergei Kiriyenko’s grandfather, Yakov Israitel, made his name as a devoted communist and member of the Cheka, and Vladimir Lenin awarded him with an inscribed pistol for his good service to the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.

Sergei Kiriyenko, son of a Jewish father, was born in Sukhumi, the capital of the Abkhazian ASSR, and grew up in Sochi, in southern Russia. He adopted Ukrainian surname of his mother.

He was also one of the Gaidar’s “young reformers” responsible for the theft-ridden privatizations of the 1990s, and was Prime Minister during the 1998 default. After that, he spent the next seven years in inconsequential posts, until Putin plucked him out of obscurity to head Rosatom, the state nuclear power behemoth.

There have also been rumors in the press (which he denied) that he attended Scientology seminars in his hometown of Nizhny Novgorod.

Speaking of weird quasi-Masonic associations… Kirienko’s direct boss now is Anton Vaino, a descendant of Estonian communists. On becoming head of the Presidential Administration, the Internet quickly discovered his dissertation about the “nooscope,” a theoretical device that tracks “the collective conscience of mankind” thought a system of “spatial scanners” that monitor “changes in the biosphere.”

Many Russians expressed the hope that Vaino had paid someone to write it, because having an academic fraud in a position of power is par for the course in Russia, and far preferable to him being the deranged madman who wrote many dozens of pages about this pseudoscientific nonsense.

Apart from “treason” and “stupidity,” I suppose there is also a 666D chess explanation, a “mnogokhodovka” so to speak. If the kremlins could get nationalists to hop back aboard the Navalny bandwagon – meme Navalny into becoming a Russian Richard Spencer, as one Twitter user just suggested to me – then perhaps the kremlins could use the opportunity to shut down Russian nationalists along with Navalny himself in a future crackdown (for instance, if it coincides with the surrender of Donbass).

However, I don’t think that’s true, because I don’t think the kremlins are any smarter than Trump.

 
• Category: Ideology • Tags: Alexei Navalny, Politics, Russia 
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Almost two weeks since the street protests against corruption, the first poll results have started to trickle in, and the provide a mixed picture.

(1) Politician Approval Ratings

Putin’s approval rating remains at 82% as of this March, almost unbudged from February’s 84%. On the other hand, the approval rating of Prime Minister Medvedev, the main target of Navalny’s anti-corruption video, have plummeted from 52% to 42%.

(2) Navalny’s Video

7% of Russians claim to have seen Navalny’s video, which tallies well with the 17.7 million views it has received on YouTube as of the time of writing. Another 11% haven’t seen it but claim to be familiar with its contents, and another 20% have heard of it but without many details. 60% haven’t heard of it.

Of this 38% of Russians who are somewhat familiar with the video, some 27% are confident that it is entirely true, and another 45% believe that it is likely to be true, although accept that the accusations might not be entirely reliable. 16% think it is entirely false, and 13% don’t have an opinion.

However, 75% of respondents aware of the video think that it is a typical phenomenon amongst the Russian elites, whereas only 12% think it is an unusual case.

Questioning all Russians, some 17% believe that neither Putin nor Medvedev are involved with corruption; 30% think that the accusations against Medvedev are true, but that Putin is clean; while 38% think that all the country’s leaders are involved in corruption. 14% are unsure.

(3) Navalny’s Ratings

Awareness of Navalny has been increasing through the period fo the 2011-12 protests and peaking at around the time of the 2013 Moscow elections. It waned a bit during 2014-16, but in the past month, he has fully regained all the lost ground.

navalny-awareness-rating

Moreover, the share of Russians who had both heard of Navalny, and who said they were “certainly” or “possibly” going to vote for Navalny, doubled from a stable 5% during the period from from 2012 to February 2017, to 10% in March 2017, after the release of his video on Medvedev.

navalny-voting-intentions

That said, Navalny retains a significant “antirating” – that is, Russians who say they are “probably” or “definitely” not going to vote of him – of 40%. This high antirating, which is probably linked to his outspoken opposition to the Crimean referendum and the Novorossiya project – which alienated most of his nationalist base – will be difficult for Navalny to overcome. Ultimately, while Russians are cynical about the moral qualities of their elites, this same cynicism limits the extent to which you can run a political campaign in Russia based just on anti-corruption.

Nonetheless, the kremlinites have no good reason to be particularly complacent either. For instance, a 5% voting intention in March 2013 still translated into a 27% share of the vote in the Moscow mayoral elections against United Russia functionary Sergey Sobyanin, who has the reputation of a competent and reasonably clean bureaucrat (by Russian standards). Now one certainly shouldn’t generalize to Russia, because Moscow is by far Russia’s most “liberal” region; for every Muscovite hipster, there are ten Uralvagonzavod vatniks. Nonetheless, the discrepancy does imply that a lot of the undecideds and those who haven’t heard of Navalny are partial to his message.

 
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navalny-2018

Instead of speculating about what Navalny’s program involves, let’s just look at his website: https://2018.navalny.com/platform/

I summarize the main points and provide some brief comments on each of them:

A Satisfactory Life for All, and Not Riches for the 0.1%

  • Oligarchs that live on reselling oil and resources should pay a windfall tax (as in the UK in 1997).
  • Massively reduce bureaucracy
  • Individual entrepreneurs with small incomes should be freed from taxes, regulations, and accounting requirements.
  • Minimum wage of 25,000 rubles per month. [~$400]
  • Removing construction regulations will hugely decrease housing prices. Subsidize mortgage rates.

This mostly sounds good, since Russia does genuinely have too much bureaucracy and regulations, but Navalny is having his own work out for him. Russia is now 40th in the World Bank’s Ease of Business rankings, sharply up from 112th in 2013 (the first full year of Putin’s third term).

A high minimum wage is a great idea both out of economic justice concerns and to disincentivize low skilled labor migration. Russia’s current minimum wage is entirely symbolic.

The UK’s Windfall Tax produced £4.5, almost pocket change by national standards, so this is probably just a way to legitimize past illegal privatizations under the mask of populism.

Time to Fight Corruption, and Not to Make Peace with Thievery

  • Bureacrats should live in accordance with their salaries. If there’s a mismatch, either they explain it, or they answer it in court.
  • Anti-corruption processes should be public and transparency, not hushed away like with Serdyukov and Vasilieva. [The Defense Minister dismissed for corruption]
  • Transparency in state corporations.
  • If MSM publishes facts about a bureaucrat’s corruption, he should refute them or give up his post and be prosecuted.
  • Uncovering the end owners of all companies that provide goods and services to the state and to state companies.

Navalny claims that even his detractors recognize him as the leading anti-corruption expert in Russia, which gives him the qualifications necessary to root it out.

I agree that if anything will improve under Navalny, it will likely be corruption.

However, there are good reasons doubt it will be the revolutionary change he promises for two reasons. Russia is “naturally” corrupt, like most of the rest of South/Eastern Europe; places like Italy and Hungary remain considerably more “corrupt” than the countries of “core Europe” despite decades of institutional convergence under the EU. This goes back to millennial factors revolving around culture and possibly selection for beyond-kin altruism in core Europe, that didn’t operate so much outside it.

Second, Navalny is not going to be able to pick his cadres from scratch. He will have to draw heavily from the ranks of the liberal elites, and they are only less corrupt than the people currently in power to the extent of their own distance from the feeding trough. Whenever they did have access to power, the likes of Kasyanov, Belykh, Ponamarev, etc., proved adept at translating it into wealth for themselves.

Time to Trust People, and Not to Decide Everything in Moscow

  • All but the smallest decisions are made in Moscow… All of Russia should develop, not just Moscow.
  • More taxes should be kept in local budgets, instead of going to Moscow
  • Local administrations should receive more rights and resources for solving the problems of people “on the ground.”

This is just a mix of things that have already been done and unworkable populism.

Moscow is central to Russia, and is much more developed, primarily because it has by far Russia’s highest concentration of human capital – not because it concentrates resources (it is a massive net donor).

Second, responsibility for education and healthcare has long been largely under the purview of local authorities. In fact, Navalny’s demand that the federal government should be responsible for not only guarding the borders and maintaining order, but also “building roads and hospitals,” would be a move towards centralization. I.e., his rhetoric is not even internally consistent.

Perhaps Navalny means decentralization more in a political sense. This will be a disaster, since Russia has no substantive experience of local self-government devoted to the commonweal. This is a product of Anglo civilization that it spent centuries developing and that has no chance of working in Russia. When local bigwigs acquire too much autonomy, as in the 1990s, corruption and nepotism increase, if anything.

Economic Development, Not Political Isolation

  • Russia should use its unique location between Europe and Asia to become a respectable partner for everyone.
  • The hundreds of billions thrown away on the wars in Syria and Ukraine, and on helping far-off countries, are better spent on improving life at home.
  • Our country would profit from moving politically and economically closer to European countries.
  • Visa regime with Central Asia and the South Caucasus. Labor migrants should come on work visas, and not in an uncontrollable flood, like today.
  • Russia should be the leading country of Europe and Asia, expanding its influence through economic might and cultural expansion, including worldwide support for the Russian language.

Navalny has been consistently strong on immigration, much more so than Putin, if less so than Trump. That said, he does not clarify his stance on illegals currently in Russia, nor even on precisely how many work visas he intends to give out to Uzbeks and Tajiks, nor details on how those long borders would be secured. Nonetheless, apart from his record on corruption, the immigration question is Navalny’s other major ace against Putin, especially now that the recent terrorist attacks in Saint-Petersburg and Astrakhan have brought it out into the limelight.

Navalny’s foreign policy is a trainwreck that will unilaterally any influence Russia still has over Ukraine and rule out the reunification of the Russian nation, the largest divided nation on the planet, most likely forever. This should be read in conjunction with his public statements on holding a second referendum on Crimea’s status. Even though the pro-unification side will undoubtedly win under a fair vote, this will still functionally be a retreat from the Russian government’s position that the incorporation of Crimea is a fait accompli and non-negotiable. With Donbass unilaterally surrendered to the tender mercies of the anti-Russian regime in Kiev, the status of the peninsula will become a leverage point against Russia by a vengeful Ukraine, and possibly even by the West as a whole, if Navalny’s hoped for “reset” with Europe and the US doesn’t pan out.

Navalny’s comments on global economic and soft power are populist nonsense that a quick glance at Russia’s share of global GDP should instantly dispel.

Justice for All, or Impunity for Siloviks

  • Justice reform. Courts must be respected and truly independent.
  • The police should be trusted, not feared; service there should be prestigious and well compensated.
  • Siloviks should be stripped of excessive authority, which allow them to enact levies upon entrepreneurs.

All well and good, though short on details, which we absolutely need to know if we are to assess whether the rate of improvement under Navalny is likely to be higher than under Putin.

For instance, according to the World Bank’s Enterprise Surveys, the percentage of Russian firms expected to give gifts in meetings with tax officials fell from 55% in 2002 to 7% by 2012, which hardly hints at soaring silovik banditry that he implies is happening under Putin.

 
• Category: Ideology • Tags: Alexei Navalny, Liberalism, Nationalism, Russia 
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With a bit less than a year left to Russia’s Presidential elections in 2018, the general contours of this cycle’s protest movement against Putin are already coalescing.

Alexey Navalny has called a march for tomorrow along Tverskaya Street, a central boulevard that leads to the Kremlin. The Moscow mayoralty refused to allow it, and Navalny in turn refused its offer of alternative venues, so the march is going to be unsanctioned. These events tend to come with a high journalist to protester ratio, because Navalny’s office plankton constituency doesn’t like events where there is a non-negligible chance they’ll be roughed up by the police. So I don’t expect much to come out of it. But we’ll see. I’ll probably go myself to observe it first hand.

As in 2011-2012, when he coined the term “The Party of Thieves and Scoundrels” to describe United Russia, the brunt of Navalny’s attacks are going to be on corruption in the Kremlin. It appears that the centerpiece this time around is going to be a massive investigation carried out by Anti-Corruption Fund on Russian PM Dmitry Medvedev, and released early this March:

In Russia, even amongst liberals, Medvedev has a reputation as a cuddly, affable, and absent-minded sort of fellow, often nodding off at meetings, but endowed with a hip, modernist outlook that will take “Russia forwards” into the clean, prosperous, sponsored content clicking future. This expresses itself in things such as appreciation for Deep Purple, support for the Skolkovo technology hub, and an obsession with hip electronic gadgets – the latter of which earned him his nickname, iPhonchik. Another of his nicknames is his diminutive, “Dimon,” which became very popular after his press secretary told Russia’s bloggers, commenters, and online trolls not to use that name: “He is not Dimon to you.” That worked on the Internet! (Not).

medvedev-scheme-simple

But according to Navalny’s investigation, which builds on earlier work by Russian journalists, the nice, professorial teddy bear is a mere mask for a deeply corrupt swindler; not so much a fan of hi-tech Apple gadgets as of big money and elite properties. Piecing together documents, his team constructed a convoluted web of charitable funds directed by Medvedev’s friends, classmates, and even relatives that don’t seem to do much in the way of genuine charity work, but do maintain a sprawling network of elite real estate for make benefit of the Prime Minister.

This includes an elite estate in Moscow’s Rublevka district and a luxury ski resort in Krasnodar, each of which is valued at about $100 million; a big estate and agro holding compnay in his ancestral homeland of Kursk oblast; two yachts, both named after the Orthodox version of his wife’s name; an elite apartment in Saint-Petersburg; and even a wineyard and villa in Tuscany, Italy, bought in 2012-13 for $120 million. There is strong evidence, including from Medvedev’s Instagram account, that he has stayed at many of these properties, and partaken of his yachts.

These “charitable funds” are sponsored by a bevy of Kremlin-friendly oligarchs and state banks. For instance, one of them was funded by Novatek’s Simanovsky and Mikhelson, who contributed $500 million. The Uzbek oligarch Alisher Usmanov, who spent six years in a Soviet prison in the 1980s for financial fraud, appears to have funded the acquisition of the Rublevka property. Gazprombank is on record giving a loan of $200 million in 2007. Its Deputy Chairman at the time? Ilya Eliseev, a classmate of Medvedev’s from his time at Saint-Petersburg State University, who also happens to be listed as the current chairman of most of these charitable funds. In total, documented “contributions” run to about 70 billion rubles, or more than $1 billion.

Even a small fraction of this would sound the death knell for any politician in a country within the Hajnal Line.

In Russia, however, this is not atypical for the elites. Everybody knows that they are stealing, and if Russians didn’t move to overthrow them in 2011-12, in the aftermath of massively fraudulent elections in Moscow and at a time when Putin was at a trough in his popularity, they are certainly not going to do so now; not when Putin’s approval rating remains north of 80% in the long afterglow of the Crimea euphoria. Moreover, Navalny’s own reputation has since become tarnished, due to his own corruption scandal (which might disqualify from running for the Presidency entirely), and due to his ardent pro-Ukrainian rhetoric, which has driven off most of his former nationalist supporters.

This, at least, is my impression.

Anyhow, March 26 will be an opportunity to more directly gauge his support at the level of the streets.

 
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According to a roundup of all the major exit polls by Kommersant, it appears that although Navalny’s performance was massively better than expected, Acting Mayor Sobyanin still managed to avoid a second tour.

Exit Polls are Pubished for the Moscow Elections

In Moscow, voting has finished for the new Mayor. According to exit polls carried out at the doors of the election stations by Alexei Navalny’s supporters, the oppositionist candidate got 35.6% of those queried. “According to the exit polls, there will be a SECOND TOUR of mayoral elections. Alexei Navalny – 35.6%, Sergey Sobyanin – 46%,” according to their Twitter. According to the Foundation of Public Opinion, the majority of Muscovites extended their sympathies towards Sergey Sobyanin – he got 52.5% of the votes, Alexei Navalny – 29.1%. The Center of Political Technologies provides the following data: 56% to the Acting Mayor of Moscow Sergey Sobyanin 56%, Alexei Navalny – 29%.

Sergey Sobyanin is leading in the Moscow elections with 53% of the votes, according to data from VCIOM’s exit polls. Alexei Navalny, according to the exit polls carried out by the organization’s workers, got 32%. “According to the results of the exit poll, the Mayor of Moscow, chosen in the first round, is Sergey Sobyanin (53% of the vote). His closest adversary, Alexei Navalny, got 32% of the vote. The other candidates’ results were far more most modest: Ivan Melnikov – 8%, Sergey Mitrokhin – 3%, Nikolai Levichev – 1%, Mikhail Degtyaryov – 1%. Some 1% of the ballots were spoiled. 27% of the respondents refused to answer,” according to VCIOM’s communique.

(Republished from Russian Spectrum by permission of author or representative)
 
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It is wrong to glamorize a political hustler with five criminal cases against him, says the National Bolshevik leader – who claims street cred on account of having done real time.

You Guys Need to Go and See a Shrink!

Eduard Limonov on why Navalny became a hero of the bourgeoisie.

I pay a lot of attention to Navalny. I do.

In so far as this Navalny phenomenon appears as a hitherto unknown symptom of our time.

The hysterical affection of the Moscow intelligentsia for this man is mysterious and has no rational roots: all causes of affection are irrational.

Well, yes, I do have personal reasons for treating Navalny negatively.

How is possible for me to be nice to him when I’ve been given time and done it? After doing only one night behind bars, Navalny was magically released from gaol the following morning.

In 2011, I said that I would be a candidate for the Russian presidential elections in March 2012.

What happened next was that the annex of the Hotel Ismailovo, where, on the initiative of a group of a people a meeting was to have taken place as regards nominating me as a candidate, was surrounded by the police, who allowed nobody to enter the room.

I still held a meeting there on the hotel car park. As was expected, more than five hundred people came with their passports; they registered themselves in a bus, and the meeting took place.

The Central Election Commission did not register me as a candidate.

In order to have Navalny registered as a candidate for the post of Moscow Mayor, municipal deputies from the “United Russia” party, about which Navalny has spared few expletives over all these years, chipped in and provided him with 55 votes out of the 110 votes needed.

He was registered, and now he’s conducting his election campaign as though nothing had happened.

This is a man who has been branded with five criminal cases for fraud and embezzlement – five! And you have the nerve to say that all five of them were just dreamed up by the Investigative Committee? So as to suck at a finger you need to have at least a finger.

However, for some years now this man has been shamelessly engaged in private investigation – in investigation into corruption. And now he is presenting himself to Muscovites as a candidate for the post of their mayor.

In their yearning for a hero, the Moscow bourgeoisie does not want to notice the thickness of the crust of dirt that is stuck to this character.

After all these years, I should really like them to find their hero.

Do you remember how they rejoiced in ecstasy over the “musician Yuri” {Translator’s note: Soviet/Russian poet, rock musician, protester, critic of Putin}; all right then: Shevchuk – and how they all flocked around him for a whole season? By the way, the musician Yuri turned down the role that they were about to foist on him.

They so much wanted their very own hero, did the bourgeoisie! They have been waiting so passionately that they have accepted the first comer, and quite wrongly; for in a sense he is totally the opposite of the hero that they need.

They have taken on board an energetic rogue and a swindler.

But that’s just not possible!

No matter who promoted him and for whatever purposes, this is just not on, because this character is so unsuited to the role that he has been playing with pleasure.

In fact, they have taken on a petty thief, a businessman, and he has been almost elevated to the rank of saviour of the Fatherland.

His history is clear. He comes from an adept and skilled family of New Russians, in which everyone is a Jack of All Trades. Dad retired after serving 25 years in the army. (He must have been a good administrator in the Army.) The family comes from one of the richest districts of the Moscow region, Odintsovo.

The family did some buying and selling, got into any swindles that were in the offing, wove and plaited willow cane (Reminds you of Ilf and Petrov’s “Barnyard” office!) {Translator’s note: The “Barnyard” office appears in the novel “The Golden Calf” by I. Ilf and Petrov (1931), where a dummy firm is organized for fraudulent transactions. “Barnyard” has become a byword for the one-day firms and similar organizations established for a criminal purposes}, gets into any money making operations that are in the offing – from a subcontract with Russian Mail for delivering for the firm “Yves Rocher”, to Cypriot offshore companies. There are such families and such families continue to take pride in themselves operations.

The law tolerates them as long as they keep out of gaol.

However, a politician has no moral right to have such shady scams in his CV: he ought not to have them.

All the values in society have been violated because of the hysteria that surrounds Navalny.

And the values of democracy take priority. Democracy means equality of opportunity. But what kind of equality is there? None. 32 candidates got no help from the members of “United Russia”, but Navalny and Mitrokhin did. And Gudkov did as well in the Moscow suburbs.

When chance smiled on Navalny, the newly elected governor Belykh took him on board. Navalny happily clung on to to the source of his wealth. And arising out of this period in his life, we have at least three criminal cases: one involving “Kirovles”, another a distillery and the total disappearance of millions from the “Union of Right Forces”.

And you support him?

Well, you guys need to see a shrink!

(Republished from Russian Spectrum by permission of author or representative)
 
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Battle of the hacks! In response to Alexei Pankin calling him an anti-Semite in The Moscow Times, Oleg Kashin pens a tongue in cheek response telling him to imagine a kitten dying every time he abuses an overworn cliche.

On the Horrors of Anti-Semitism

In which Oleg Kashin gives some advice to the politologists.

The editors asked me to reply to a columnist in the English-language Moscow Times who accused Svobodnaya Pressa of – wow, wow! – anti-Semitism. I don’t even know how to object to this dear fellow – I love the way he holds that pipe in his mouth in his avatar; as for the rest of his remarks, I will only recycle what one of my friends has already noted: The Jewish question in Russia ended when those standard (which is to say, fascist) ads for apartment rentals marked “For Slavs only” started to encompass Jews, together with Russians, Ukrainians, and Belorussians. This was unimaginable even back in 1990 – you know, the era of Pamyat, and all that. Today – be my guest! Even the lumpenproles, ready at take part in some ethnic cleansing at the first opportunity, no longer consider Jews to be foreigners. In reality, it’s stupid to ponder on the differences between Ivan and Abram when Dagestan is in the foreground; those differences are negligible.

If there was any “social thought” whatsoever in the Russian Federation, beyond what we see at Svobodnaya Pressa and at one and a half other sites, there would have long been a flood of books, lectures, exhibitions, and films meditating upon the end of Russian anti-Semitism. But social thought, sucking away on his pipe, prefers to flog 20-year old stereotypes, whose authenticity somewhat resembles Intourist stories about bears and balalaikas.

Every time I have to speak before some foreign audience – well, not even “some” audience, but one that is prepared, and interested in Russian affairs – I am forced to answer questions about the threat of a Communist comeback in my country, about Moscow’s repressive policies towards the Chechen people, and even about the possibility that Russia could try to reconquer the Baltic countries. Patiently answering these questions (“No, ladies and gentlemen, the Communist Party is part of the political system”; “Excuse me, but Mr. Kadyrov himself represses whomsoever he wants”; “If they attack Europe, they will have nowhere to keep their money”), I can see despondency in the eyes of my interlocutors – they do not believe me, because the word of some unknown Russian can’t outweigh the terabytes of nonsense issued by all these veterans of the Valdai Clubs and Pugwash Conferences from both sides of their mutually beloved Iron Curtain.

Though it’s too late to do anything about Alexander Rahr or Nikolai Zlobin, I would however like to give some friendly politological advice to their less famous colleagues, who are easier to recognize by pipe than by name. Friends, next time you’re about to reproduce your typical analytical klyukva – imagine that a little kitten dies somewhere in Russia. Imagine that the kitten dies because he simply can’t bear to watch how credulous English-language readers are fed tales of Russia’s unreadiness for democracy, the popularity of “Ethnic Slurs” among the Russian opposition, and similar bears and balalaikas. Don’t think about about visitor views, reposts, and honorariums – think of the kittens. Maybe this will seem like an unserious argument to you, but it is surely – for all that – a more serious one than what you’re scribbling.

Mazel tov, friends!

(Republished from Russian Spectrum by permission of author or representative)
 
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There has been some confusion about Navalny’s poll ratings due to the varying timing, phrasing, and options in the polls on the matter. The Russian Spectrum tries to clear things up.

Navalny Gaining, Sobyanin Dominant

Below is a summary of comparable polls on this subject by date from two of Russia’s three biggest polling agencies: The private Levada Center, and state-owned pollster VCIOM.

Levada, June Levada, 4-8 July VCIOM, 9-10 July VCIOM, 20-21 July
Sobyanin 68.2% 81.0% 78.3% 77.1%
Navalny 4.5% 9.5% 11.6% 12.9%

The Levada polls asked, “Which of the following candidates are you prepared to vote for in the Moscow mayoral elections of 8th September?” It divided the respondents into three groups: “All Muscovites,” “… of which prepared to vote,” and “… of which have made their decision.” Though figures were given for all three, I am listing only the first group (“all Muscovites”) to make the Levada figures comparable to all the other polls, which had no such division.

The VCIOM polls asked their respondents who they were going to vote for if the elections were held this Sunday.

All polls were adjusted to exclude those who don’t have an opinion, didn’t intend to vote, or planned to spoil their ballot, just as would happen in a real election.

The jobs agency SuperJob and the company Synovate Comcon also carried out polls.

Synovate Comcon, 27 Jun-3 July Synovate Comcon, 4-10 July Synovate Comcon, 11-16 July SuperJob, 16 July
Sobyanin 77.9% 78.% 76.2% 62%
Navalny 10.8% 10.7% 14.4% 26%

Should Navalny start celebrating that bump at the end? Probably not. The SuperJob poll only asked the “economically active” parts of the population. It is not exactly a secret that many of Navalny’s supporters are younger people, so their 26% likely overstates his actual level of support. Furthermore, pensioners tend to have higher turnout rates in Russian elections, a factor which is likely to favor Sobyanin.

There is definitely an upwards trend coinciding with the recent furor over Navalny’s conviction, and his release on bail the day after. But catching up with Sobyanin, who remains dominant, is a tall order.

PS. I did not bother include polling numbers for the other candidates. Suffice to say all the polls have them all down in the single digits. Amusingly, the Fair Russia candidate Nikolay Levichev got an absolute 0.0% in the last two Synovate polls.

(Republished from Russian Spectrum by permission of author or representative)
 
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With the registration period over, there are now six candidates left to compete for the position of Mayor of Moscow in the coming city elections. Who will Muscovites vote for?

Moscow on the Eve of the City Elections

Which of the following candidates are you prepared to vote for in the upcoming Moscow elections on 8 September?

Out of all Muscovites

…who intend to vote

… & have made their choice

June

July June July June

July

Sergey Sobyanin

45

34 61 53 67

78

Alexei Navalny

3

4 3 5 3

8

Ivan Melnikov (KPRF)

-

2 - 4 -

6

Sergei Mitrokhin (Yabloko)

1

1 2 2 2

3

Sergey “Pauk” Troitsky

1

1 1 1 2

1

Nikolai Levichev (Fair Russia)

-

<1 - <1 -

1

Mikhail Degtyaryov (LDPR)

-

<1 - 1 -

1

Alena Popova

-

<1 - 1 -

1

Gleb Fetisov

-

<1 - <1 -

1

Svetlana Peunova

-

<1 - <1 -

1

will spoil ballot

2

2 1 1 1

1

hard to say

18

42 9 33 -

-

won’t participate

14

14 - - -

-

(Republished from Russian Spectrum by permission of author or representative)
 
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Moskovsky Komsomolets’ Dmitry Katorzhnov takes a walk around Moscow to ask people what they feel about Navalny. The impressions he gets don’t promise anything good for his campaign.

MK’s Poll: Most Muscovites don’t Want to Vote for Navalny

Half of the respondents do not intend to go to the polls anyhow.

On Wednesday, July 10 Alexey Navalny will carry a Moscow City Election Committee paper for registering himself as an independent candidate. His powerful support organization is already prophesying his victory at the polls. The opinions of Muscovites themselves is not so clear. “MK” has talked to passers-by about Navalny and his chances of winning.

For this simple experiment, we took a completely non-representative sample of 36 people. They were all doing something: one was walking along the street, another was hurrying home, another was buying an ice cream at a kiosk. There was no filtering of the respondents: amongst them were young and old, poor and rich, men and women.

The results:

Votes
Navalny 3
Sobyanin 5
Any candidate 9
Won’t vote 19

The clear tendency: the older the respondent, the more retrograde the choice. Many of them would prefer Luzhkov.

Oksana, a graduate of Moscow University: “To be honest – for no one. It makes no sense whatsoever. No matter how many mayors there have been, the most normal was Luzhkov. And now? Look, I have friends living in the Southern District. All around where they live has been dug up and my friends joked: Is Sergei hunting for treasure? Generally speaking, there is a problem that all politicians face: as soon as they can smell money, all their opposition somehow disappears.”

Some passers-by refused to answer the question. Among them were employees of the local social security department and the police force.

The defenders of law and order said: “Young man, are you a little kid or what? They’ll tell us who to vote for, where to put our tick. It won’t start yet. They’ll say you are an oppositionist and will hunt you down.”

The social security workers: “Can’t you see we’re busy? Which Navalny, eh? We’re from social security!”

Indeed, such political engagement amongst government officials is predictable.

But amongst ordinary passers-by the general opinion wasn’t so divisive. Most believe that Navalny is a crook and a thief. Sobyanin has been mayor, so one clearly knows what to expect off him.

Alla Leonidovna, retired, a former employee of the Presidential Administration: “As Vysotsky used to say: a thief should sit in gaol. From the point of view of the election, this is probably not very important: I have already distanced myself from these matters, but my friends and I will vote for Sobyanin.”

Four builders vied with one another: “For Prokhorov! For Sobyanin! For anyone! For Luzhkov!”

A boxing coach and his colleague: “Well, he’s better than Putin. We are for Navalny. Well, as far as “we” goes, Sasha is not registered in Moscow. Generally speaking, though, we are fully behind of Sobyanin, if that is of any importance. It doesn’t mean much.”

The views of citizens:

“I’ve already voted for the grey haired one. It’s all the same to me whoever wins.”

“No, I’m not going to vote for a mayor: They are all crooks.”

“No, I will not vote for Navalny. I am voting for Sobyanin. I am a pensioner – so don’t bother me.”

“Navalny? Mayor? He’s a thief. And has been thief his whole life, of course.”

“I’m not going to vote. They are all thieves.”

“If he gets through the first stage of voting, Navalny will win. He’s a good bloke. I’m impressed by him. For Alexei and the future.”

“I’m not going to vote for anyone. The choice for an honest citizen is to boycott the election. They are all crooks, Navalny and all the rest of them.”

That’s it. It should probably lower the bar of expectations. People unfamiliar with the protest movement continue to give their vote to state nominees. Navalny fans, please do not take offence. Alas, I too was hoping for a different picture.

(Republished from Russian Spectrum by permission of author or representative)
 
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It’s been a great year! To recap, in rough chronological order, 2011 saw: The most popular post (with 562 comments and counting; granted, most of them consisting of Indians and Pakistanis flaming each other); Visualizing the Kremlin Clans (joint project with Kevin Rothrock of A Good Treaty); my National Comparisons between life in Russia, Britain, and the US; my interview with (now defunct) La Russophobe; interviews with Craig Willy and Mark Chapman; lots of non-Russia related stuff concerning the Arctic, futurism, Esperanto, and the Chinese language; possibly the most comprehensive analyses of the degree of election fraud in the Duma elections in English; TV appearances on RT and Al Jazeera; and what I hope will remain productive relationships with Al Jazeera and Inosmi. Needless to say, little if any of this would have been possible without my e-buddies and commentators, so a special shout out to all you guys. In particular, I would like to mention Alex Mercouris, who as far as I can ascertain is the guy who contributed the 20,000th comment here. I should send him a special T-shirt or something.

In previous years, my tradition was to review the previous year before launching into new predictions. I find this boring and will now forego the exercise, though in passing I will note that many of the defining traits in 2010 – the secular rise of China and of “The Rest” more generally; political dysfunction in the US; growing fissures in Europe, in contrast to Eurasian (re)integration; the rising prominence of the Arctic – have remained dominant into this year. The major new development that neither I nor practically anyone else foresaw was the so-called “Arab Spring”, as part of a pattern of increasing political stress in many other states: Occupy Wall Street and its local branches in the West; the Meetings for Fair Elections in Russia; Wukan in China and anti-corruption protests in India. I don’t disagree with TIME’s decision to nominate The Protester as its person of the year. However, as I will argue below, the nature of protest and instability is radically different in all these regions. I will finish up by reviewing the accuracy of my 2011 predictions from last year.

tsar-putin 1. There is little doubt that Putin will comfortably win the Presidential elections in the first round. The last December VCIOM poll implies he will get about 60%. So assuming there is no major movement in political tectonics in the last three months – and there’s no evidence for thinking that may be the case, as there are tentative signs that Putin’s popularity has began to recover in the last few weeks from its post-elections nadir. Due to the energized political situation, turnout will probably be higher than than in the 2008 elections – which will benefit Putin because of his greater support among passive voters. I do think efforts will be made to crack down on fraud so as to avoid a PR and legitimacy crisis, so that its extent will fall from perhaps 5%-7% in the 2011 Duma elections to maybe 2%-3% (fraud in places like the ethnic republics are more endemic than in, say, Moscow, and will be difficult to expunge); this will counterbalance the advantage Putin will get from a higher turnout. So that’s my prediction for March: Putin wins in the first round with 60%, followed by perennially second-place Zyuganov at 15%-20%, Zhirinovsky with 10%, and Sergey Mironov, Mikhail Prokhorov and Grigory Yavlinsky with a combined 10% or so. If Prokhorov and Yavlinsky aren’t registered to participate, then Putin’s first round victory will probably be more like 65%.

2. I will also go ahead and say that I do not expect the Meetings For Fair Elections to make headway. Despite the much bigger publicity surrounding the second protest at Prospekt Sakharova, attendance there was only marginally higher than at Bolotnaya (for calculations see here). So the revolutionary momentum was barely maintained in Moscow, but flopped everywhere else in the country – as the Medvedev administration responded with what is, in retrospect, a well balanced set of concessions and subtle ridicule. Navalny, the key person holding together the disparate ideological currents swirling about in these Meetings, is not gaining ground; his potential voters are at most 1% of the Russian electorate. And there is no other person in the “non-systemic opposition” with anywhere near his political appeal. There will be further Meetings, the biggest of which – with perhaps as many as 150,000 people – will be the one immediately after Putin’s first round victory; there will be the usual (implausibly large) claims of 15-20% fraud from the usual suspects in the liberal opposition and Western media. But if the authorities do their homework – i.e. refrain from violence against peaceful protesters, and successfully reduce fraud levels (e.g. with the help of web cameras) – the movement should die away. As I pointed out in my article BRIC’s of Stability, the economic situation in Russia – featuring 4.8% GDP growth in Q3 2011 – is at the moment simply not conductive to an Occupy Wall Street movement, let alone the more violent and desperate revolts wracking parts of the Arab world.

3. Many commentators are beginning to voice the unspeakable: The possible (or inevitable) disintegration of the Eurozone. I disagree. I am almost certain that the Euro will survive as a currency this year and for that matter to 2020 too. But many other things will change. The crisis afflicting Europe is far more cultural-political than it is economic; in aggregate terms, the US, Britain and Japan are ALL fiscally worse off than the Eurozone. The main problem afflicting the latter is that it suffers from a geographic and cultural rift between the North and South that is politically unbridgeable.

The costs of debt service for Greece, Portugal, Italy, and Spain are all quickly becoming unsustainable. They cannot devalue, like they would have done before the Euro; nor is Germany prepared to countenance massive fiscal transfers. The result is the prospect of austerity and recession as far as the eye can see (note that all these countries also have rapidly aging populations that will exert increasing pressure on their finances into the indefinite future). Meanwhile, “core Europe” – above all, Germany – benefits as its superior competitiveness allows it to dominate European markets for manufactured goods and the coffers of its shaky banking system are replenished by Southern payments on their sovereign debt.

The only way to resolve this contradiction is through a full-fledged fiscal union, with big longterm transfers from the North to the South. However, the best the Eurocrats have been able to come up with is a stricter version of Maastricht mandating limited budget deficits and debt reduction that, in practice, translates into unenforceable demands for permanent austerity. This is not a sustainable arrangement. In Greece, the Far Left is leading the socialists in the run-up to the April elections; should they win, it is hard to see the country continuing on its present course. On the other side of the spectrum, the Fidesz Party under Viktor Orbán in Hungary appears to be mimicking United Russia in building a “managed democracy” that will ensure its dominance for at least the next decade; in the wake of its public divorce with the ECB and the IMF, it is hard to imagine how it will be able to maintain deep integration with Europe for much longer. (In general, I think the events in Hungary are very interesting and probably a harbinger of what is to come in many more European countries in the 2010′s; I am planning to make a post on this soon).

Maybe not in 2012, but in the longer term it is becoming likely that the future Europe will be multi-tier (not multi-speed). The common economic space will probably continue growing, eventually merging with the Eurasian Union now coalescing in the east. However, many countries will drop out of the Eurozone and/or deeper integration for the foreseeable future – the UK is obvious (or at least England, should Scotland separate in the next few years); so too will Italy (again, if it remains united), Greece, the Iberian peninsula, and Hungary. The “core”, that is German industrial muscle married to Benelux and France (with its far healthier demography), may in the long-term start acquiring a truly federal character with a Euro and a single fiscal policy. But specifically for 2012, I expect Greece to drop out of the Eurozone (either voluntarily, or kicked out if it starts printing Euros independently, as the former Soviet republics did with rubles as Moscow’s central control dissipated). The other PIGS may straggle through the year, but they too will follow Greece eventually.

I expect a deep recession at the European level, possibly touching on depression (more than 10% GDP decline) in some countries.

4. How will Russia’s economy fare? A lot will depend on European and global events, but arguably it is better placed than it was in 2008. That said, this time I am far more cautious about my own predictions; back then, I swallowed the rhetoric about it being an “island of stability” and got burned for it (in terms of pride, not money, thankfully). So feel free to adjust this to the downside.

  • The major cause of the steep Russian recession of 2008-2009 wasn’t so much the oil price collapse but the sharp withdrawal of cheap Western credit from the Russian market. Russian banks and industrial groups had gotten used to taking out short-term loans to rollover their debts and were paralyzed by their sudden withdrawal. These practices have declined since. Now, short-term debts held by those institutions have halved relative to their peak levels in 2008; and Russia is now a net capital exporter.
  • I assume this makes Russia far less dependent on global financial flows. Though some analysts use the loaded term “capital flight” to describe Russia’s capital export, I don’t think it’s fair because the vast bulk of this “flight” actually consists of Russian daughters of Western banking groups recapitalizing their mothers in Western Europe, and Russians banks and industrial groups buying up assets and infrastructure in East-Central Europe.
  • The 2008 crisis was a global financial crisis; at least *for now*, it looks like a European sovereign debt crisis (though I don’t deny that it may well translate into a global financial crisis further down the line). There are few safe harbors. Russia may not be one of them but it’s difficult to say what is nowadays. US Treasuries, despite the huge fiscal problems there? Gold?
  • Political risks? The Presidential elections are in March, so if a second crisis does come to Russia, it will be too late to really affect the political situation.
  • Despite the “imminent” euro-apocalypse, I notice that the oil price has barely budged. This is almost certainly because of severe upwards pressure on the oil price from depletion (i.e. “peak oil”) and long-term commodity investors. I think these factors will prevent oil prices from ever plumbing the depths they briefly reached in early 2009. So despite the increases in social and military spending, I don’t see Russia’s budget going massively into the red.
  • What is a problem (as the last crisis showed) is that the collapse in imports following a ruble depreciation can, despite its directly positive effect on GDP, be overwhelmed by knock-on effects on the retail sector. On the other hand, it’s still worth noting that the dollar-ruble ratio is now 32, a far cry from what it reached at the peak of the Russia bubble in 2008 when it was at 23. Will the drop now be anywhere near as steep? Probably not, as there’s less room for it fall.
  • A great deal depends on what happens on China. I happen to think that its debt problems are overstated and that it still has the fiscal firepower to power through a second global crisis, which should also help keep Russia and the other commodity BRIC’s like Brazil afloat. But if this impression is wrong, then the consequences will be more serious.

So I think that, despite my bad call last time, Russia’s position really is quite a lot more stable this time round. If the Eurozone starts fraying at the margins and falls into deep recession, as I expect, then Russia will probably go down with them, but this time any collapse is unlikely to be as deep or prolonged as in 2008-2009.

new-eurasia 5. Largely unnoticed, as of the beginning of this year, Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan became a common economic space with free movement of capital, goods, and labor. Putin has also made Eurasian (re)integration one of the cornerstones of his Presidential campaign. I expect 2012 will be the year in which Ukraine joins the Eurasian common economic space. EU membership is beginning to lose its shine; despite that, Yanukovych was still rebuffed this December on the Association Agreement due to his government’s prosecution of Yulia Tymoshenko. Ukraine can only afford to pay Russia’s steep prices for gas for one year at most without IMF help, and I doubt it will be forthcoming. Russia itself is willing to sit back and play hardball. It is in this atmosphere that Ukraine will hold its parliamentary elections in October. If the Party of Regions does well, by fair means or foul, it is not impossible to imagine a scenario in which accusations of vote rigging and protests force Yanukovych to turn to Eurasia (as did Lukashenko after the 2010 elections).

6. Russia’s demography. I expect births to remain steady or fall slightly (regardless of the secular trend towards an increasing TFR, the aging of the big 1980′s female cohort is finally starting to make itself felt). Deaths will continue to fall quite rapidly, as excise taxes on vodka – the main contributor to Russia’s high mortality rates – are slated to rise sharply after the Presidential elections.

7. Obama will probably lose to the Republican candidate, who will probably be Mitt Romney. (Much as I would prefer Ron Paul over Obama, and Obama over Romney). I have an entire post and real money devoted to this, read here.

The US may well slip back towards recession if Europe tips over in a big way. I stand by my assertion that its fiscal condition is in no way sustainable, but given that the bond vigilantes are preoccupied with Europe it should be able to ride out 2012.

8. There is a 50% (!) chance of a US military confrontation with Iran. If it’s going to be any year, 2012 will be it. And I don’t say this because of the recent headlines about Iranian war games, the downing of the US drone, or the bizarre bomb plot against the Saudi ambassador in the US, but because of structural factors that I have been harping on about for several years (read the “Geopolitical Shocks” section of my Decade Forecast for more details); factors that will make 2012 a “window of opportunity” that will only be fleetingly open.

  • Despite the rhetoric, the US does not want to get involved in a showdown with Iran due to the huge disruption to oil shipping routes that will result from even an unsuccessful attempt to block of the Strait of Hormuz. BUT…
  • While a nuclear Iran is distasteful to the US, it is still preferable to oil prices spiking up into the high triple digits. But for Israel it is a more existential issue. Netanyahu, in particular, is a hardliner on this issue.
  • The US has withdrawn its troops from Iraq. In 2010, there were rumors that the US had made it clear to Israel that if it flew planes over Iraq to bomb Iran they would be fired upon. This threat (if it existed) is no longer actual.
  • The US finished the development of a next-generation bunker-busting MOP last year and started taking delivery in November 2011. But the Iranians are simultaneously in a race to harden and deepen their nuclear facilities, but this program will not culminate until next year or so. If there is a time to strike in order to maximize the chances of crippling Iran’s nuclear program, it is now. It is in 2012.
  • Additionally, if Europe goes really haywire, oil prices may start dropping as demand is destroyed. In this case, there will be an extra cushion for containing fallout from any Iranian attempt to block off the Strait of Hormuz.
  • Critically, the US does not have to want this fight. Israel can easily force its hand by striking first. The US will be forced into following up.

The chances of an Azeri-Armenian war rise to 15% from last year’s 10%. If there is any good time for Azerbaijan to strike, it will be in the chaotic aftermath following a US strike on Iran (though the same constraints will apply as before: Aliyev’s fears of Russian retaliation).

world-crude-oil-prodcution-and-fitted-growth-oil-drum

[Source: The Oil Drum].

9. Though I usually predict oil price trends (with great and sustained accuracy, I might add), I will not bother doing so this year. With the global situation as unstable as it is it would be a fool’s errand. Things to consider: (1) Whither Europe? (demand destruction); (2) What effect on China and the US?; (3) the genesis of sustained oil production decline (oil megaprojects are projected to sharply fall off from this year into the indefinite future); (4) The Iranian wildcard: If played, all bets are off. But I will more or less confidently predict that global oil production in 2012 will be a definite decrease on this year.

If investing, I would go into US Treasuries (short-term) and gold to hedge against the catastrophic developments; yuan exposure (longterm secular rise) and and US CDS (potential for astounding returns once SHTF). Property is looking good in Minsk, Bulgaria, and Murmansk. Any exposure to Arctic shipping or oil & gas is great; as the sea ice melts at truly prodigious rates, the returns will be amazing. I do think the Euro will survive and eventually strengthen as the weaker countries go out, but not to the extent that I would put money on it. Otherwise, I highly agree with Eric Kraus’ investment advice.

10. China will not see a hard landing. It has its debt problems, but its momentum is unparalleled. Economists have predicted about ten of its past zero collapses.

11. Solar irradiation was still near its cyclical minimum this year, but it can only rise in the next few years; together with the ever-increasing CO2 load, it will likely make for a very warm 2012. So, more broken records in 2012. Record low sea ice extent and volume. And perhaps 100 vessels will sail the Northern Sea Route this year.

12. Tunisia is the only country of the “Arab Spring” that I expect to form a more or less moderate and secular government. According to polls, 75% of Egyptians support death for apostasy and adultery; this is not an environment in which Western liberal ideas can realistically flourish. Ergo for Libya. I can’t say I have any clue as to how Syria will turn out. Things seem strange there: Russia and Israel are ostensibly unlikely, but actually logical, allies of Assad, while the US, France, the UK, and the Gulf monarchies are trying their best to topple him. These wars are waged in the shadows.

I've got some ways to go before I reach Navalny's demagogic stature.

I’ve got some ways to go before I reach Navalny’s demagogic stature.

13. As mentioned in the intro, 2011 has been a year of protest. As I argued in BRIC’s of Stability, in countries like China, Russia, or Brazil they will remain relatively small and ineffectual. Despite greater scales and tensions, likewise in Europe (though Greece may be an exception); these are old societies, and besides they are relatively rich. They won’t have street revolutions. I do not think Occupy Wall Street has good prospects in the US. By acting outside the mainstream (as part of a “non-systemic opposition”, to borrow from Russian political parlance) it remains irrelevant – the weed smoking and poor sartorial choices of its members works against its attaining respectability – and municipalities across the US are moving to break up their camps with only a few squeaks of protest. (This despite the arrests of 36 journalists, a number that had it been associated with Russia would have cries of Stalinism splashed across Western op-ed pages). I say this as someone who is broadly sympathetic with OWS aims and has attended associated events in Berkeley.

The nature of protest in the Arab world is fundamentally different, harkening back to earlier and more dramatic times: Bread riots, not hipsters with iPhones; against cynical and corrupt dictators, not cynical and corrupt pseudo-democrats; featuring fundamental debates about reconciling democracy, liberalism and religion, as opposed to weird slogans like “Occupy first. Demands come later.” Meh.

14. The world will, of course, end on December 21, 2012.

What about the 2011 Predictions?

1) My economic predictions were basically correct: “Today I’d repeat this, but add that the risks have heightened… The obvious loci of the next big crisis are the so-called “PIGS” (Portugal, Italy, Greece, Spain), and Ireland, Belgium and Hungary.”

2) Neither the Iranian war (chance: 40%) or an Azeri-Armenian war (chance: 10%) took place. If they don’t happen in 2012, their chances of happening will begin to rapidly decline.

3) Luzhkov still hasn’t been been hit with corruption charges, but merely called forth as a witness. Wrong.

Prediction of 3.5%-5.5% growth for Russia was exactly correct (estimates now converging to 4.0%-4.5%).

With headlines this December cropping up such as “End is nigh for Russia’s ‘reset’ with US“, my old intuition that US – Russia imperial rivalry couldn’t be set aside with a mere red plastic button may have been prescient: “In foreign policy, expect relations with the US to deteriorate.”

4) Pretty much correct about the US and the UK, though I didn’t predict anything drastic or unconventional for them.

5) “Oil prices should stay at around $80-120 in 2010 and production will remain roughly stable as increased demand (from China mostly) collides with geological depletion.” Totally correct, as usual.

6) China will grow about 9.4% this year, well in line with: “China will continue growing at 8-10% per year. Their housing bubble is a non-issue; with 50% of their population still rural, it isn’t even a proper bubble, since eventually all those new, deserted apartment blocs will be occupied anyway.”

7) 2011 was the warmest La Nina year on record, so in a sense thermometers did break records this year.

“Speaking of the Arctic, as its longterm ice volume continues to plummet and sea ice extent retreats, we can expect more circumpolar shipping. I wouldn’t be surprised to see up to 10 non-stop voyages along the Northern Sea Route from Europe to China, following just one by MV Nordic Barents in 2010.” If anything, I low-balled it. 34 ships made the passage this year! Sea ice cover was the second lowest on record, and sea ice volume was the lowest. So in the broad sense, absolutely correct.

“Likewise, expect the Arctic to become a major locus of investment.” This year, plans were announced to double the capacity of the Port of Murmansk by 2015.

8) Wrong on the Wikileaks prediction. The insurance file was released by The Guardian’s carelessness (whose journalists, David Leigh and Luke Harding, then proceeded to mendaciously lie about it), not by Assange. And the extradition proceedings are taking far longer than expected, though my suspicions that his case is politically motivated is reinforced by US prosecutors’ apparent pressure on Bradley Manning to implicate Assange in the theft of the State Department cables.

9) On Peter’s enthusiastic reminder, I did get my Russia Presidential predictions for 2012 wrong. Or 75% wrong, to be precise, and 20% right (those were the odds that I gave for Putin’s return back in May). I did however cover it separately on a different post, here. That said, I do not think the logic I used was fundamentally flawed; many other Kremlinologists ended up in the same boat (and most didn’t hedge like I did).

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
 
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Anatoly Karlin
About Anatoly Karlin

I am a blogger, thinker, and businessman in the SF Bay Area. I’m originally from Russia, spent many years in Britain, and studied at U.C. Berkeley.

One of my tenets is that ideologies tend to suck. As such, I hesitate about attaching labels to myself. That said, if it’s really necessary, I suppose “liberal-conservative neoreactionary” would be close enough.

Though I consider myself part of the Orthodox Church, my philosophy and spiritual views are more influenced by digital physics, Gnosticism, and Russian cosmism than anything specifically Judeo-Christian.


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