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Muh reparations! Muh slavery!

The justice ministers of the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania declared that it’s time to calculate the losses the three countries suffered as the result of the Soviet occupation and demand that Russia, as the legal successor of the USSR, take responsibility and pay compensation. Yet, other members of the Estonian Government say the declaration, signed on Thursday, was not discussed in cabinet meetings.

This is nothing new. Demands for reparations have been issuing from the Baltics since the 1990s, the most energetic party typically being Latvia. Nothing will ever come of them, not least because Russia could always send them the bill for Soviet-era infrastructure and subsidized gas.

Even so, cringeworthy whining regardless, do the Balts actually “deserve” reparations in a moral sense from Russia for Soviet crimes against them?

Allow me to indulge in some modest russplaining, and present a better question: Does Russia deserve reparations from the Balts?

Contrary to Russophobes who claim the USSR was nothing more than an expression of Russian imperial chauvinism, and anti-Semites who ascribe it all to the Jooz, the fact of the matter is that the Bolsheviks were also greatly aided in their designs by the many the other small nationalities of the former Soviet Union.

Moreover, as a general rule, the more they helped out the Bolsheviks, the more they have been lionized by Western neocons and East European diaspora nations, and the harder they have worked to airbrush their roles out of the Soviet project: From stronk Polish Hussars to True Aryan Ukrainians and “Stalin planned a second Holocaust” Jews to the “plucky” Balts and Georgians of the conventional Western imagination.

The Latvians in particular are the very distillation of this pheonomenon. This nation of less than two million people, thanks to the Red Latvian Riflemen, provided the firepower to disband the Constituent Assembly – the product of the only free elections in Russia until 1990, in which the Bolsheviks got less than 25% of the votes – before being redirected to quell anti-Bolshevik uprisings in the Russian cities of Moscow and Yaroslavl.

No Latvians serving as Varangian Guards to the Bolsheviks, and its feasible that there would not even have been a Soviet Union.

The first leader of the Cheka, the Soviet secret police, was Felix Dzerzhinsky, an ethnic Pole (and Nobel Prize winner Svetlana Alexievich’s hero back when being pro-Red Terror was politically correct). His key deputies were a couple of Latvians, Yakov Peters and Martin Latsis.

The heavily Jewish nature of the early top Bolshevik ranks, and of the pre-purge NKVD, is now as much a matter of confirmed historical record by the most impeccably academic and indeed Jewish sources, as is the fact that after 1938 control shifted to what was essentially a Georgian-Mingrelian mafia headed by Stalin.

Considering the critical role of Latvians in foisting the Bolsheviks to power and committing atrocities against Russians, it is if anything Russia which should be demanding reparations from Latvia for its crimes against the Russian people, nation, and culture. Further invoices can be sent to Saakashvili and the Beltway “Now We Call Ourselves Neocons” Trotskyists later.

Of course, as a somewhat self-respecting Great Power with a rich history and culture independent of the Soviet experienece, Russia has no particular need or urge to engage in such antics to confirm its status as a European nation. It is if anything pluralist enough for support an entire ecosystem of ideological Atlanticists and Yuropcultists who insist on taking exclusive ownership of the crimes of a long dead Georgian gangster and flaggelating themselves for it. This “pathological altruism” is a quintessentially European trait. To the contrary, even pro-Russian foreigners in as “reformed” and Yuropean a small East European country as Estonia – look, they have e-democracy! – get deported as “Russian agents of influence.”

This, in a nutshell, is the difference between Russia and the small aboriginal cargo cults whose sense of nationhood boils down to the East European equivalent of muh oppressions and gimme gibs.

 
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The Latvian President has signed a law allowing Latvians to have double citizenship with other countries… except Russia. Moscow cries foul and calls on the EU to take action. Maria Efimova has the story.

Latvia Signs a Citizenship Law

Latvian President Andris Bērziņš signed the law “On Citizenship,” adopted by the Sejm on 9 May. This law allows Latvian citizens to have passports from other countries. Russia is not included in this list. Going against the recommendations of international organization, the law likewise doesn’t include the automatic conferral of Latvian citizenship to the children of “non-citizens,” which would have set a prospective endpoint to the phenomenon of “non-citizenship.” Moscow considers the law discriminatory, calling it an “ethno-political experiment” that is “unprecedented by modern European standards.”

According to the document signed by President Bērziņš, the list of countries whose citizenship can be obtained without loss of the Latvian passport include the member states of the European Union, NATO, the European Free Trade Association, Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, and some other countries with which it has agreements on double citizenship. Russia, the other countries of the CIS, and Israel are not on the list.

In addition, the law tightens the naturalization rules: People older than 45 now have to prove that they were permanently resided in the country for the past five years.

Although the new version of the law doesn’t provide for the automatic acquisition of citizenship for the children of non-citizens, as recommended by international institutions – including the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights and OSCE’s High Commissioner on National Minorities – the procedure for doing this was simplified. Now, citizenship can be granted at the request of one of the parents right after birth.

The law was signed by President Bērziņš despite the request of the biggest opposition group Harmony Center, which represents the interests of Latvia’s Russophone residents, to return it to the Sejm for further work. However, according to ITAR-TASS, the President soon after the signing of the law sent a letter to parliament calling for its further improvement, so that the list of states with which Latvians are allowed to have double citizenship can be expended in the future.

“The Latvian authorities continue to exacerbate the self-created problem of mass non-citizenship, which is unprecedented by modern European standards, and to ignore Riga’s international obligations,” according to Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, commenting on the adoption of the law “On Citizenship” by the Latvian Sejm. “This latest ethno-political experiment by Riga, which turns national minorities into permanent outcasts of a country in which they were born and lived all their lives, clearly demonstrates the democratic deficit in Latvia. We hope that the Europe Union, which took upon itself the responsibility to safeguard human rights and ethnic minority rights in Latvia upon the latter’s accession, can give its objective assessment on this.”

Reader comments

From Facebook:

Nicolas Borissov: Some countries exist only to engage in petty spitefulness. And not only towards Russia. There are these small slavering dogs, which bark all the time and strive to sneakily bite you the heels – they bear a strong resemblance to some countries.

Karina Kurchan [replying to above]: And of course it’s better not to do things the petty way, but to slam them with an Iskander straight away.

Tatyana Shunto: How long can one bear a grudge? Against whom? The government isn’t the people. How did Russia hurt them?

Karina Kurchan [replying to above]: Tatyana, it’s not about grudges. Tomorrow, Russia will say that it wishes to defend its citizens, and will start to “force them to peace,” carry out ethnic cleansing, insert military bases. It will say that it is on the request of Russian citizens. This has all happened before…

Yani Petkov: Wages are now higher in Russia anyway, so who cares.

(Republished from Russian Spectrum by permission of author or representative)
 
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Continuing from my previous post (which focused mostly on trends), this one focuses exclusively on international comparisons as per the results of Transparency International’s Global Corruption Barometer survey of 2010-11. The graphs represent affirmative answers to the question of whether the respondent had paid a bribe in the past 12 months to each of 9 institutions if he had come into contact with them.

Is Russia the most corrupt of the BRICs?

This is the conventional wisdom, both as per the widely cited CPI as well as numerous pundits. Is it correct? Well, going by the best possibly objective measure of corruption – asking people whether they (or a member of their household) paid bribes in the past year – no, it isn’t. The honor goes to India. China is modestly less corrupt than Russia, while Brazil is basically a First World country in this respect.

brics-corruption-chart-institutions

Is Russia especially corrupt by Central-East European standards?

No, it isn’t. While it’s certainly more corrupt than average, that particular honor has to go to Azerbaijan. The Ukraine is systemically more corrupt than Russia, with a higher percentage of respondents reporting bribing all nine institutions. Even Lithuania is, on average, more corrupt than Russia. (So much for the pro-Western democracy automatically leading to cleanliness and transparency thesis).

cee-corruption-institutions

On the other hand, for the sake of honesty and consistency, one has to acknowledge that Saakashvili’s campaign against corruption in Georgia was a genuine and astoundingly successful achievement. In fact, if these polls are perfectly accurate, Georgia now has less “everyday” corruption than the US!

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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One of the standard memes about Russia’s demographic trajectory was the “Russian Cross.” While at the literal level it described the shape of the country’s birth rate and death rate trajectories, a major reason why it entered the discourse was surely because it also evoked the foreboding of the grave.

russian-cross

But this period now appears to have come to a definitive end. Russia’s population ceased falling around at about 2009; in the past year, it has increased by over 400,000 thanks to net immigration.

Meanwhile, against all general expectations, the birth rates and death rates have essentially equalized. Whereas in 2011 natural decrease was still at a substantial 131,000, preliminary figures indicate that it has subsided to a mere 2,573 for this year. It could just as easily turn positive once the figures are revised. For all intents and purposes, the “Russian Cross” has become the “Russian Hexagon.”

russian-hexagon

This is a momentous landmark in many ways.

(1) More than anything else, Russia’s demographic crisis during the past two decades has been advanced as a quintessential element of its decline. Phrases such as the aforementioned “Russian cross”, the “demographic death spiral”, and “”the dying bear” proliferated in respectable journals and books. Until a few years ago, some entirely serious demographic projections had Russia’s population falling to as low as 130 million by 2015. This “deathbed demography” imagery was in turn exploited by many journalists to implicit condemn the rottenness of the Russian state in general and Putin in particular. Will they now rush to trumpet Russia’s demographic recovery, which was only possible through directed state intervention to improve the population’s health, cut down on the alcohol epidemic, and provide generous benefits for families with second children? For some reason I suspect the amount of ink that will be spilt on this will be but a tiny, minuscule fraction of that used to herald Russia’s demographic apocalypse. They will predictably move on to other failures and inadequacies – both real or perceived.

(2) For many years there has existed the notion among some demographers that once a society’s total fertility falls to a “lowest-low” level, there can be no return. It was theorized that the social values of childlessness and small families would spread, and that the resultant rapid aging would make it impossible for young families to have many children anyway. Russia’s total fertility rate fell to a record low of 1.16 children per woman in 1999, but rose above 1.30 in 2006, reached 1.61 in 2011, and rose further to an estimated 1.70 in 2012. It is thus so far the biggest and most important exception to this “lowest-low fertility trap hypothesis.” In reality, what was actually happening was that many Russian women were postponing the formation of families – a process common to most nations that reach a certain level of development. This in turn laid the foundations for the mini-baby boom that were are now seeing.

(3) There was likewise widespread pessimism that Russia’s life expectancy would ever significantly improve for the better. In the best case, it was assumed it would creep upwards, reaching 70 years or so in another few decades. However, the experience of other regions with Russia’s mortality profile, such as North Karelia in the 1980′s or the Baltic states in the 2000′s – very high death rates among middle aged men who drank too much – suggested that rapid improvements are possible with the right mix of policy interventions. This has happened. Russia’s life expectancy in 2012 was about 71 years, still nothing to write home about; however, it was higher than it ever was in the USSR, where it reached a peak of 70.0 years at the height of Gorbachev’s anti-alcohol campaign in 1987, and equal to Estonia’s in 2002, Hungary’s in 1998, and Finland’s in 1973. If it were now to follow in Estonia’s mortality trajectory – and this is not an unreasonable supposition, considering Russia is now passing the tough anti-alcohol and anti-smoking taxes and regulations typical of developed countries – it would be on track to reach a life expectancy of 75 years by 2020 (Putin’s goal of 2018 is however probably too optimistic).

russia-deaths-from-external-causes

In particular, it should be noted that the worst types of deaths – those from external causes – have been cut down the most radically. Though they only account for a small proportion of total deaths, they tend to happen at earlier ages and thus have a significant impact on the workforce and overall life expectancy out of proportion to their actual prevalence. A calculation from 2005 showed that the effect of a 40% decline in deaths from external causes would be as good as a 20% decline in deaths from all circulatory diseases at extending male life expectancy. This has been achieved; as of 2012 it was at 125/100,000, down from an average of about 250/100,000 during the “demographic crisis” period but still far, far short of the 40/100,000 rates more typical of developed countries with no alcoholism epidemics. But as I’ve said before and will say again, while Russia’s “hypermortality” crisis isn’t anywhere near as severe as it once was, it is nothing to write home about; a great deal remains to be done. But the trend-lines are pointing firmly down, and the economic crisis of 2009 had zero effect on the underlying processes. This is extremely encouraging, as it implies that Russia has now become a “normal country” in which improvements in health and mortality steadily advance regardless of economic fluctuations.

I have anticipated many of these developments, and indeed, ventured forth with projections of my own. Here are some predictions made on the basis of my research and analysis from 2008:

  1. Russia will see positive population growth starting from 2010 at the latest. CHECK.
  2. Natural population increase will occur starting from 2013 at the latest. CHECK.
  3. Russia’s total life expectancy will exceed 68 years by 2010 and reach 75 years by 2020. Looks increasingly LIKELY.

There is no need for false modesty. I put my neck on the line and came out best against most of the established expert opinion.

But this is no time to rest on laurels and reminsce on past glories. The 2010 Census is out. Demographic data up till 2012 is available. It’s been a long four years since I wrote that model. It is high time to update it. I’ve been planning to do that for my book anyway, but now that I think about it, why not publish a paper at the same time? I have long been a fan of open access anyway, especially as regards academia.

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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And just as the Guardianistas and K.F. & Co. bury their heads ever deeper in the sand, real world statistics show confirm my thesis from the beginning of this year that Russia’s demographic crisis has for all intents and purposes come to an end. As of May there was a y-y increase of 17% (!) in births, a 2% increase in deaths, and virtually zero natural decrease; accounting for the entire Jan-May period, there was a 7.6% increase in births, a 2.2% decline in deaths (including an 18% decline in deaths from alcohol poisoning), and an overall population decrease of -57,000. However since natural decrease is typically biggest in Jan-May (see graphs here) the rest of the year may well see continuous natural population growth; it is also not beyond the realm of possibility that overall natural population growth, i.e. before accounting for immigration, will be positive in 2012.

Still instead of the usual dry demographic update post I want to do something different here and delve into comparative and historical issues. For instance, now that we can pretty confidently say it has ended, how ultimately “bad” were Russia’s two lost decades?

The Russian population peaked at 148.5mn in 1992. After that it declined at an increasing rate, especially after 1998 when the supply of ethnic Russian emigrants coming back from the Near Abroad dried up; then, in the mid-2000′s, it began to slow as core demographic indicators improved, and Russia started getting substantial numbers of Gastarbeiter. In retrospect stabilization was achieved in 2008, and since then Russia’s population rose for 142.9mn in 2010 to 143.0 in 2011 and 143.1/143.2mn this year. Peak to nadir this was a decline of less than 4% (or in chronological terms, 1985), with recovery already in motion. How does this compare with other transition countries?

The Baltics. Estonia peaked at 1.57mn in 1990 and stabilized at 1.34mn in the late 2000′s according to estimates (decline of 15% and reversal to 1969); however, the 2011 Census showed that the actual Estonian population was 1.29mn (-18%; 1965). Nor was this just the effect of Russian “occupiers” leaving; native Estonians declined to 890,000 versus 963,000 in 1989 (-8%), or 970,000 in 1922 (in other words, the ethnic Estonian population hasn’t grown in a century).

The statistics for the other Baltic states are worse. Latvia declined from 2.67mn in 1989 to 2.07mn according to the 2011 census (-23%; 1958). Again just to show that this isn’t an artifact of occupiers finally leaving the numbers of ethnic Latvians fell to 1.28mn from 1.39mn (-8%), and the current ethnic Latvian population is lower than it was in 1925. However what’s worse is following the global financial crisis Latvia’s demographic situation has become the worst in Europe.

In Lithuania the population fell from a peak of 3.70mn in 1989 to an estimated 3.2mn; however, this estimate was as in Latvia’s and Estonia’s case proved to be far too optimistic by the 2011 Census, which showed a preliminary result of 3.05mn (-18%; 1967).

Ukraine. Declined from a peak of 52.7mn in 1993 to 45.8mn in 2011 (though the Census, which was postponed to 2013, might show a different figure especially if emigration was underestimated as is quite possible). This translates into a decline of 13%, or a reversal to the population level of 1967. While it has shown promising signs of recovery in the late 2000′s its natural decrease of -162,000 in 2011 is higher than Russia’s -131,000 even though Ukraine’s population is three times smaller.

Belarus. Declined from a peak of 10.24mn in 1993 to 9.47mn in 2011 (-8%; 1977). Not bad all things considered. It could have been Ukraine.

Poland. The Polish population peaked around 38.7mn in the late 1990′s (it did not undergo a Soviet-style mortality shock because it is a very alcoholized nation) and since declined to 38.1mn in the late 2000′s before recovering slightly to 38.2mn by 2011 (presumably because of many emigrants coming back). As such the Polish population today is virtually unchanged from 38.1mn in 1990. Nonetheless these results are not based on Censuses and as well saw with the Baltics domestic statistics agencies may well have underestimated Polish emigration post-Schengen. Furthermore with a TFR that is steadily at around 1.3 for over a decade an acceleration in population decline would appear likely.

Hungary. Declined from a peak of 10.7mn in 1980 to 10.4mn in 1990, 10.2mn in the 2011 Census, and an estimated 10.0mn today (maybe lower; we’ll know with the next Census). This is a decline of 4% since 1990, or 7% since 1980. It’s population was last at this level in 1961. Its TFR is currently at a “lowest low” level of 1.24, so for all of Orban’s exhortations, a quick reversal of this trend – evidence for over thirty years now – doesn’t seem probably.

Bulgaria. Declined from 8.98mn in 1988 to just 7.64mn according to the 2011 Census (unlike most countries in this sample, the Census results showed a slightly higher result than predicted). This decline of 15% translates into population levels last seen in 1957. (Counting only ethnic Bulgars you have to go before WW2 to get the same population as now). Fortunately, like Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus (but unlike Poland, Latvia, Romania, and Hungary) the TFR has been recovering in recent years breaking 1.5 in 2009.

Romania. Declined from 23.2mn in 1990 to an estimated by 21.4mn by 2010, this however was far too pessimistic as the 2011 Census showed the actual population to be 19.0mn presumably due to mass emigration post-Schengen. This is a decline of 19% to levels last seen in 1965.

Czechoslovakia. As the richest and most successful of the transition economies, the Czech population has actually risen; it stagnated from 10.30mn in 1991 to 10.2mn in the early 2000′s, however since then it rose to 10.56mn presumably as a result of migration, an overall rise of 2.5% since socialism. Slovakia’s population from 5.27mn in 1991 to approximately 5.44mn by 2011, a rise of about 3%.

Below is a quick and dirty summary:

Peak pop (yr) Pop now Decline (yr) TFR (latest)
Czechia 10.3 (91) 1991 10.56 3% n/a 1.42
Slovakia 5.27 (91) 1991 5.44 3% ? n/a 1.4
Poland 38.7 1998 38.2 -1% ? 1991 1.31
Russia 148.5 1992 143 -4% 1985 1.61
Hungary 10.7 1980 10 -7% 1961 1.24
Belarus 10.24 1993 9.47 -8% 1977 1.5
Ukraine 52.7 1993 45.8 -13% ? 1967 1.46
Bulgaria 8.98 1988 7.364 -18% 1953 1.51
Estonia 1.57 1990 1.29 -18% 1965 1.52
Lithuania 3.7 1989 3.05 -18% 1967 1.55
Romania 23.2 1990 19 -19% 1965 1.3
Latvia 2.67 1989 2.07 -23% 1958 1.14

(?’s next to some of the declines above indicate that the change from peak is calculated from estimates based on the results of Censuses that have been conducted a decade ago and as such may not be accurate, especially in the cases of countries such as Poland which saw a lot of emigration post-Schengen.)

Taking a fairly comprehensive survey of transition countries, we notice that Russia had the fourth smallest decline relative to its peak at less than 4%; only Poland, with a decline of 1% (albeit may rise as its been almost a decade since the last Census; the decade in which they entered Schengen), and the Czech Republic and Slovakia which showed overall population growth since 1991, beat it. What’s more Russia’s current TFR is actually higher than that of all the other countries in the survey and on current trends will rise to 1.70-1.75 this year accentuating the gap even further.

How is it still feasible to talk of “drastic decline“? How is it still feasible to pretend that its demographics are a complete mess? It is not, of course. Not when the trends and figures most indicative of demographic potential are now better than almost all of East-Central Europe, as well as Germany, Japan, and the Mediterranean states.

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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Two weeks back, the distinguished Estonian poet and linguist Jaan Kaplinski in a comment on this blog linked to his article in the Russian-Estonian paper День за Днем lamenting the state of Estonian – Russian relations, especially as they were apparently really good back in the Tsarist days. In that article from От противостояния к примирению (From Confrontation to Reconciliation), which is translated below, Jaan argues that it is long past time to bury the hatchet.

In my view, it is a very good article as it avoids the moral preening and victimization complexes typical of Baltic nationalists while also decisively calling out hardcore Russian Stalinists for their lies and mendacity. I also note with approval that he uses the historically correct term “annexation” to describe the coercive incorporation of the Baltics into the USSR as opposed to the propagandistic term “occupation”.

From Confrontation to Reconciliation

Jaan Kaplinski

I know of no Estonian who defected to the Germans during the First World War. On the other hand, I do know the names of many senior Estonian officers, who fought valiantly against the Germans in the ranks of the Tsar’s troops.

Later many of them became commanders in the newborn Estonian Army. Without their knowledge, acquired in the Imperial Nicholas Military Academy and other higher military schools, Estonia’s victory against the Red Army and the German Landeswehr would have hardly been possible.

I remember a conversation long ago with an old man, who participated in the Liberation War. He told me that when it came time for Estonian guys like him to fight against the Reds on Pskov territory, they did so without enthusiasm, and sometimes even expressing discontent: It had nothing to do with them, fighting Russians in Russia. At that time there was no Russophobia among Estonians. There was however an age-old hatred towards the German landlords, about which, by the way, one can read aplenty in the memoirs of the Estonian-Finnish writer Hella Wuolijoki. This hate flared up in 1905, when Estonian peasants burned down many German myzy [AK: Gutshof, or manor houses, specific to the Baltic region].

“The manors are burning, the Germans are dying”

Memories of these events were still very fresh in 1919, when Estonian formations clashed with Landeswehr elements formed from local Germans and “soldiers of fortune” from Germany. Some historians believe that these clashes began spontaneously, against the wishes of the Estonian high command: The Estonian soldiers couldn’t wait to open fire and wreck vengeance on the “barons”. And as these soldiers routed the German troops, they sang, “The manors are burning, the Germans are dying, the forests and lands will be ours…”

There was no anti-Russian sentiment, let alone pro-German, on the home front either. My mother, then a schoolgirl at the erstwhile Pushkin Gymnasium in Tartu, told me the girls in her class corresponded with Russian frontline soldiers, knitted them woolen socks, and visited the wounded in Tartu’s infirmaries to sing them Russian songs and read poems. When I was a child, she too sang to me the “Cossack lullaby” in Russian on some of the evenings. How then could I not get mad at the words of the current President of Estonia, who says that Russian is the language of the occupation!?

Summing up these examples, which are far from singular, one begins to appreciate that pre-revolutionary relations between Estonians and Russians, and in fact all the way up to Estonia’s annexation by the Soviet Union in 1940, were friendly, and that Estonian attitudes to the Russian Empire were loyal. And the Estonians had perfectly good reasons to be loyal subjects: The reforms of Alexander III greatly reduced the power of the German nobility here, and the introduction of Russian language instruction made it possible for Estonian youth to have a career, learn, and get good jobs in Russia, where, in contrast to the Baltics, there were no racial prejudices against them. Not a few prominent members of the nascent Estonian intelligentsia were educated in St.-Petersburg, Moscow, and Kiev, where they often lived and worked.

Forgotten parallels

It’s clear that since then a lot of things have changed in Russian – Estonian relations, and not for the better. These changes continue to strongly influence bilateral relations. How and why did this happen?

From a historical point of view, the mail culprit behind the current tensions is, of course, the “brilliant” policies of Stalin, as a result of which for many Estonians the Germans went from being hated oppressors and invaders to liberators from the Bolshevik nightmare. For before that time, even as conservative a politician as Jaan Tõnisson was trying to query Soviet diplomats on whether Estonia could get military aid from Soviet Russia against Nazi Germany…

In 1940-41, the Estonians received confirmation of what Russian writers such as Ivan Bunin, Ivan Shmelev, and Lev Gumilev were already convinced of, not to mention the mutinying Kronstadt sailors, the Tambov peasants, and the Izhevsk workers: Russia was ruled by a gang of fanatics and terrorists. Almost everything that came after flowed on from this.

In my opinion, there are a lot more commonalities in our history, than many politicians and journalists in both Estonia and Russia want to admit. In both those information spaces there are too many myths, distortions, and attempts to artificially create enemies. Few write about the parallels in our histories, and sometimes, they do not even know about them.

True, many Estonians fought in the German SS. But the vast majority of them were conscripts, and they found themselves in the SS because only German citizens could serve in the Wehrmacht. And on this note: How many Russians and Ukrainians fought in the ranks of the German troops? About 200,000 men, and they all voluntarily entered the ranks of the Russian Liberation Army and other similar units. Yet during the First World War, there were no Russian formations fighting under the German banners, just as there were no Estonians or Latvians. On the other hand, there was a Polish Legion and Finnish Riflemen [AK: fighting for the Whites]…

One conclusion we can draw: The Stalinist regime, as opposed to the Tsar’s reign, itself very much contributed to what was considered treason in Soviet times. There is a lot of food for thought here. And people do think – as in Estonia, so too in Russia, where one can also hear voices saying that perhaps the Vlasovites too were fighters for a free Russia…

They also write about the Estonian “forest brothers” – most often portraying them simply as bandits, stymieing the restoration of civil life after the war. This so-called banditism is considered justification for the deportation and exile of 10,000′s of peaceful citizens into Siberia. The deportation is called “resettlement”. I dare ask, were the Tambov peasants who rose up against the Bolsheviks also bandits? Were the families of Russian kulaks likewise “resettled” on the empty banks of some big Siberian river, where they had to live – and often, die – without food and shelter?

Reconciliation is impossible without knowledge

Nonetheless, despite all these distortions, Estonia’s portrayal in the Russian media isn’t anywhere near as simplified and tendentious as Russia’s image in the Estonian media. Among those Estonian readers unable to read Russian websites and newspapers – unfortunately, the level of our Russian language skills is constantly decreasing – there appears this impression that there is no freedom of speech and systematic killings of journalists in Russia (that is, “Putin’s Russia”), which it is claimed is ruled by some kind of neo-Stalinist clique.

In our press you will not find positive information about Russia with a torch in broad daylight. Our readers would be shocked to find out that Russian schoolchildren study Solzhenitsyn, Bunin, and Ivan Shmelev’s “The Sun of the Dead”, with its no holds barred depictions of the ruthlessness of the Red Terror in the Crimea. Medvedev’s speech, in which he said that Stalin’s crimes have no justification, was not covered in our press, even though the speech was recognized and honored with an award from the Unitas Foundation, which was founded by Mart Laar.

Attempts to reevaluate the White movement and their leaders (Kolchak, Denikin, Wrangel), undertaken in the interests of national reconciliation, are either unknown to our public or interpreted as a manifestation of Great Russian chauvinism. When I watched a documentary film by Nikita Mikhalkov about Kolchak, I could not help but recall that, according to family lore, my great-uncle too fought against the Bolsheviks under the command of the Admiral…

Whether we like it or not, our history is closely intertwined with Russia’s, and it would be reasonable to learn from this, and perhaps, participate in the process of transition from confrontation to reconciliation – as between Estonians and Russians, so too between our two countries. Reconciliation is impossible without knowledge, and knowledge is incompatible with the stereotypes and myth-making that should have long since been rejected.

***

A few translations of select comments from readers:

ближе к делу: An excursion into ancient history, from the Tsars to the First Republic and the Stalinist period, distracts us from more important issues – the history of the past twenty years and the essence of the current regime and its ideology.

тартуский обыватель (in reply to above): … And do you not think, that this is exactly what the authoritarian powers seek from you: Do not study your past, it is enough to know it in its simplified form from official ideologues: From Mart Laar in Estonia, to multiple Filippovs in Russia? [AK: Filippov is the author of a textbook on modern Russian history, whose controversial "pro-Stalinist" chapter I translated here]

ближе к делу [in reply to above]: You didn’t catch my point. I’m not against studying history. But I am against treating Stalinist crimes as if they occurred just yesterday, and treating those crimes, which occurred yesterday and are still occurring today, being considered fine and dandy. I do not think there should be a difference in attitudes towards the repressed kulak, and the repressed Gray Passporter. [AK: i.e., alien]

12 баллов (in reply to above): Oi-oi, what have we got here, a “victim of repressions”. I’ll cry any minute now! They were so cruelly repressed: Freed from military service, given the opportunity of visa free travel all over the world. Oh, bloodthirsty Ansip, you are so cruel!

ближе к делу (in reply to above): A job in government (in fact,, almost the only place of work that offers decent pay and stability in modern Estonia)? And what visa-free travel prior to accession into Schengen are you talking about? In the 90′s a great many countries flat out refused to give visas to Gray Passporters (due to documents status). Apart from that, if its so good having a Gray Passport, why did you Estonians personally not take it, and that same Ansip? If that were the case then your story, about how we live so well, would be a bit more convincing.

т.о (in reply to ближе к делу, a few comments later): Listen, when we are talking of millions of lives destroyed because of differing views, origins, faith, and nationality, and equating it with restrictions on Russian language instruction – only a person who principally refuses to know his own history would do this. Furthermore, what Stalin didn’t finish, his successors attempted to. Recall, what was implied in the realization of the concept of the “one Soviet people”. Thank God oil prices fell, otherwise they’d have brought this into fruition. In that case, to your satisfaction, there would be no questions about the status of Russian language education in Estonia whatsoever. Is that so? Or am I still misunderstanding you?

ближе к делу (in reply to above): … The concept of “one Soviet people” didn’t envision remaking Estonians into Russians, neither did it envision the destruction of higher education in the Estonian language or the transition of middle school education to 60% in Russian neither by 1980, not 2000, nor 2020, nor any other year. Not a single Estonian became Russian and rejected his language. The mergence of nations was envisioned in the far future, under Communism, that is after 500 years. That is a theoretical construct, no practical measures to this end were envisioned. Therefore, to equate this with Estonian neo-Nazism (in which the destruction of education really was embodied) is impossible.

бла-бла-бла: Russians never made Estonians second-class citizens. But the Estonians do this to Russians – AND CONTINUE TO INSIST ON THIS. Is it really that this holds no significance for the “thinker” Kaplinski?

вениамин: So what’s the issue about. All these wars are long ended. But Estonian agitprop still hasn’t died down, they still haven’t realized, that we fought and made up, and it’s time to go forwards. Again they start ranting on about their integration… What a bunch of vomit.

Hayduk (in reply to above): True, in that case integrate with the Tajiks, Chechens, if Estonians make you vomit. [AK: I.e., go back to Russia]

….: On the matter of kulak families. Does the author know what the Bolsheviks did to the kulaks? Complete dekulakization, and either shootings, or exile to Siberia! Russians suffered a lot more at the hands of the Georgian mafia of schizophrenics. No need to make oneself out to be the most downtrodden and miserable victims!

villi: Respect.

бабарашка: Why isn’t this article in the Estonian press? Why in the Estonian language press we can only find the “pearls” of Anchutka Iegokodla?

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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Once again, a picture that’s worth a thousand words, courtesy of Alex Kireev: A map of how Russians abroad voted in the 2012 elections (see below).

Quantitatively, they split into three main groupings, each accounting for about a third of the votes from abroad: (1) Residents of Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Pridnestrovie; (2) Other republics of the former USSR, or the “Near Abroad”; (3) the “Far Abroad”, which is basically the rest of the world. Each of these have specific electoral patterns.

1) Here support for Putin is overwhelming: 91.1% in Abkhazia, 90.4% in South Ossetia, and 87.2% in Moldova. Though very high, practically North Caucasus-like, I do not consider these figures suspicious. All of these states – most of the Moldova voters are from Pridnestrovie – owe their de facto independence to the Russian Army, and to the Kremlin’s foreign policy. Russian military, security, and diplomatic officials stationed in these areas would also be largely pro-Putin.

2) In the former USSR, Putin too has dominant support among Russians (more so than in Russia itself): 92.6% in Tajikistan, 90.7% in Kyrgyzstan, 88.5% in Armenia, 80.9% in Uzbekistan, 76.1% in Ukraine, 77.5% in Kazakhstan, and 66.4% in Belarus. It is ironic that his lowest score would be in Belarus, ostensibly the post-Soviet country with which Russia is closest integrated: Could it be an indirect protest vote against Lukashenko, or is that Belorussian TV’s propaganda campaign in 2010 against Putin as a thief has taken root? The Baltics follow the same pattern: 89.1% in Latvia, 85.4% in Estonia, and 75.7% in Lithuania. It is perhaps indicative that the more Russians are oppressed in a Baltic country, the greater their support for Putin.

Blue: Putin wins; Darker blue: Putin wins in first round; Darkest blue: Putin wins with more than 75%; Green: Prokhorov wins. [click to enlarge]

3) In the Far Abroad, there is a real contest, but not between Putin and Zyuganov – who is unpopular practically everywhere – but between Putin and Prokhorov. There are a few further subdivisions here.

(A) In countries where the Russian presence is dominated (in relative terms) by diplomatic and/or security staff, Putin is dominant. This describes much of Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East.

In the BIC’s countries, where there are also many business-types, there is more of a contest with Prokhorov but Putin still wins: China (VVP 40.7%, MDP 34.3%); Brazil (VVP 45.1%, MDP 28.4%); India (VVP 46.2%, MDP 24.5%). (India is also curious in that Mironov performs very well there, by his standards, getting 16.6%; I wonder if @FarEasterner was one of his voters there?).

In the South-East Asian emerging markets, where the non-official presence is probably dominated by businesspeople, it is a close race between Putin and Prokhorov: Indonesia (VVP 41.3%, MDP 39.4%); Malaysia (VVP 35.2%, MDP 32.6%); Thailand (VVP 38.3%, MDP 39.7%). However, Russians in Singapore almost give Prokhorov a first round victory with 48.8%. In most other emerging markets, however, Putin wins comfortable: 63.6% in Turkey, 55.8% in Argentina, 54.3% in Mexico, 53.5% in Egypt, 51.1% in Venezuela and Colombia, 43.8% in South Korea, 43.1% in South Africa.

Putin is dominant in Orthodox and Russia-friendly Greece (84.1%), Macedonia (81.6%), and Serbia (68.0%), but one of the most popular locations for Russian relocating abroad, Cyprus, gives a lower score, 56.8%.

(C) In the Western countries, Putin is either level-pegging with Prokhorov, as in much of post-socialist East Central Europe, the Med, Scandinavia, and the Germanic lands; or decisively behind him as in the Anglosphere.

In the following Western countries, Putin would have to fight a second round with Prokhorov: Hungary (VVP 49.9%, MDP 27.9%); Poland (VVP 48.5%, MDP 30.2%); Italy (VVP 48.3%, MDP 32.1%), Israel (VVP 48.1%, MDP 38.8%), Finland (VVP 44.0%, MDP 36.2%); Spain (VVP 40.8%, MDP 37.0%); Sweden (VVP 37.0%, MDP 36.5%).

In the Anglosphere, and a few other Western countries, Prokhorov leads Putin: Japan (VVP 38.2%, MDP 36.2%), France (MDP 41.2%, VVP 31.3%), Czech Republic (MDP 43.4%, VVP 36.0%), Australia (MDP 43.5%, VVP 33.1%), Canada (MDP 43.8%, VVP 36.2%), Switzerland (MDP 44.8%, VVP 32.0%), and the Netherlands (MDP 46.4%, VVP 27.8%).

In the two major Anglo-Saxon countries, Prokhorov would win the first round outright: The US (MDP 52.4%, VVP 30.0%), and Great Britain (MDP 58.0%, VVP 28.1%).

Looking at the map, there is a striking correlation – especially for the Far Abroad nations – between the level of Russophobia (especially in the media) and Putin’s result.

In a place like Germany, though the media is highly critical of Putin, coverage is however on the whole far more balanced and sophisticated than elsewhere in the West; that might be why Putin won. The French media is highly anti-Russian – on Runet discussions, the “глюк” is used as a unit of measurement for Russophobia, inspired by André Glucksmann – however, from the comments, my impression is that the French aren’t quite as taken in by the propaganda as the British or Americans. Broadly similar things may be said of Italy.

As for the UK, it hosts people like Zakayev, Berezovsky, and Chichvarkin (him on Putin voters: “Zombies, who wake up after drinking beer and vodka and switch on the first (state-controlled) TV channel. They don’t want to think, they don’t want to work, they don’t want to learn”). It is also the global center of the radical anti-Putin opposition, represented by people like Andrei Sidelnikov, who was along with Berezovsky’s PR man Alex Goldfarb the driving force behind the establishment of the anti-Putin campaign Strategy-31 Abroad. Practically all of its major newspapers without exception take a hysterically anti-Putin tone, and in the case of the Guardian actively censor people who argue otherwise (or who question their censorship for that matter). So no wonder that the UK Russians love the robber baron Prokhorov so much, the one who got a mere 6% in Norilsk, the Russian town where he is the major employer, and whose people presumably know him well – too well, perhaps. One can only hope that Prokhorov will leave for Britain to join his oligarch buddies there, to answer his true calling in life which is to be President of Londongrad.

Needless to say, the US media is also highly Russophobic, though perhaps not quite as vitriolic as the British press (for instance, the New York Times is certainly a lot better in that regard than any major British paper). No surprise then that Putin got the second least amount of votes in the US.

The results at the polling station of the San Francisco consulate (where I happened to vote) were 57.1% for Prokhorov and 26.7% for Putin, the biggest discrepancy in all the Russian polling stations in the US. My experience is that of the people from Berkeley, votes were split evenly between Prokhorov and Zyuganov (what do you expect? It’s a leftist place), with Putin taking up third place. However, in the wider Bay Area, the electorate is dominated by Silicon Valley types, who tend to be people who emigrated from Russia during the Soviet era and who associate it with backwardness, anti-Semitism, etc., and coupled with the libertarian / bourgeois nature of their views, Prokhorov is a perfect fit for them.

In the BIC’s nations, and most of the emerging markets, where the media environment is fairly neutral as far as Russia goes – as opposed to its highly Russophobic nature in the West – Putin ends up winning comfortably, including in countries that everyone accepts to be liberal democracies like India, Brazil, Turkey, etc. In fact they are very close to the results in Russia itself, especially when one adjusts for the types of people who are likely to be abroad (richer, well-educated) to their equivalents in Russia. This is evidence that whatever supposed pro-Putin bias the media may have in Russia (and I would say that on average it is now more negative than positive) it is far, far outweighed by the anti-Putin and Russophobic bias of the Western, and especially Anglo-Saxon, media, as testified to by the fact that Russian voters in the US and the UK would rather vote for a confirmed Yeltsin-era thief and oligarch than Putin.

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
 
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After peaking in 2007 at the height of its oil boom, the Russian economy slid off the rails, with GDP collapsing by 25% from peak to trough. Attempts to stem the decline by arresting pessimistic economists failed. Its image as a tiger economy, heavily promoted by Kremlin ideologues, was revealed to be a sham. Though anemic, growth returned this year; but little of it trickles down to ordinary Russians. Unemployment is over 16%, birth rates have collapsed, and millions of citizens are voting with their feet and migrating to work as laborers in affluent Western Europe.

This demographic free fall threatens to dash any remaining hopes of Russia ever converging to European living standards. Birth rates have fallen by 25% since the post-Soviet era peak in 2008, and the total fertility rate – the average number of children a woman can be expected to have over her lifetime – is now one of the lowest in the world, surpassed only by a few small, rich Asian states like Taiwan and Singapore. And with young professionals rushing for the exits, this situation is unlikely to be reversed any time soon. Last year, half a million people out of Russia’s 143 million population left for greener pastures; this figure has already been exceeded in the first half of this year. Already falling at an alarming 840,000 in 2009, population decrease further rose to 1,220,000 in 2010 and on current trends will approach 2 million this year. This demographic death spiral is the epitome of Putinism’s failure. The Leon Arons and Nicholas Eberstadts of this world were correct all along. Having been a Russophile shill all these years, it is time for me, like Johann Hari, to admit to my failures, apologize to the readers I misled, and go back to journalism school.

Oh wait, I almost forgot. I was actually talking about Latvia.

That is, Latvia adjusted for Russia’s population, and replacing “oil” with “cheap European credit” and taking out the arrested economist story and a few other details. All figures are from the Latvian statistics agency.

Above is a graph of the number of births per month in Latvia; note the collapse in the past three years, which shows no signs of abating. Even at its peak in 2008, the Total Fertility Rate – the number of children a woman can be expected to have – was at 1.44, which is well below replacement level rates (but nothing out of the ordinary for East-Central Europe). It fell to 1.31 in 2009, and according to my rough calculations, to about 1.17 in 2010. If the further decline observed in the first seven months of this year continues, then Latvia’s TFR will approach 1.1 in 2011. That would return Latvia to its post-Soviet nadir reached in 1998-99, and if prolonged will put its chances of convergence to West European living standards under serious question. Especially since…

Many more Latvians are leaving the country! As shown above, net emigration is soaring – almost 2,000 are now leaving per month, which is not insignificant out of a total population of 2.2 million. Many of these migrants are young professionals, the people who would otherwise be at the head of modernizing Latvia’s economy. In the past three months, more Latvians have left than were even born!

The contrast with Russia, a frequent object of scorn and ridicule among the Western commentariat, is far-reaching. Russia’s population stabilized in 2009, and has remained flat since. In the first half of this year, it received an influx of 143,000 net immigrants (of whom 498 happen to be from Latvia, incidentally). The migration balance has turned positive even with some rich countries that traditionally took in many Russians, such as Germany and Israel. The only major countries to which Russia is still sending more people than taking in are the US, Canada, and Finland. Not that one would could glean any of this from reading the Western media’s awful Russia coverage.

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
 
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As we’re now approaching mid-2011, I suppose its time to give my traditional update on Russia’s demography. So here’s the lay-down:

1. In February, I predicted a population decline of c. 50,000 in 2010 (after a 23,000 rise in 2009). This was due to the excess deaths of the Great Russian Heatwave of 2010, and a substantial fall in immigration. The latest figures confirm it: population declined by 48,300. As of January 2011, it stood at 142,914,136 people (this is by the new Census estimates).

2. Three years ago, I predicted – going against 90%+ of “experts” – that the medium-term future of Russia’s demography is stagnation or small increase. In late 2009, I wrote that even under undemanding assumptions, “the population size will remain basically stagnant, going from 142mn to 143mn by 2023 before slowly slipping down to 138mn by 2050.” To give an example, the 2008 World Population Prospects of the UN Population Division predicted Russia’s population would fall to 132.3mn in 2025 and 116.1mn in 2050. As of their 2010 Revision, Russia’s population is projected to be 139.0mn in 2025 and 126.2mn in 2050 (High: 144.5mn in 2025; 145.3mn in 2050). What a difference two years make! In any case, “official” predictions are now beginning to converge with my own (not to mention Rosstat’s).

2010 UN population projection for Russia.

2010 UN population projection for Russia.

In large part, the pessimism of the earlier projections had a lot to do with the fact that the “experts” were slow to react to real-life trends, such as the improving healthcare and rising confidence that began reversing Russia’s demographic decline. For instance, going back to that same 2008 UN Population Division report – I’m not even going to talk of professional doomers such as Nick Eberstadt – note that they assumed a TFR of 1.47 for 2010-15 and 1.53 for 2015-20 (when it was already 1.49 in 2008, and 1.54 in 2009), and a life expectancy of 67.9 for 2010-15 (when it was already at that point in 2008, rising to 68.7 in 2009 and 69.0 in 2010). Though its effect was pretty minor, their assumptions for infant mortality were truly hilarious: they predicted it would only drop to 7.3/1000 by 2045-50, whereas in fact it is already below that level at 7.1/1000 for Q1 2011.

3. Speaking of 2011, the outlook is mixed. Net immigration in the first quarter slightly increased from 52,000 in 2010 to 61,000 in 2011 (but below 2009). According to the latest data for January-April, births fell from 572,000 to 557,900 (-2.5%) but deaths fell from 679,000 to 658,700 (-3.4%). This carries a number of implications. First, is the fall in births a blip or a trend? Quite possibly, it’s now the latter. The effects of the big post-Soviet fertility fall-off are now being felt in rapidly decreasing numbers of women entering their childbearing years – in 2010, there were 1.68mn 17-year olds, 1.84mn 18-year olds, 2.23mn 20-year olds, and 2.56mn 22-year olds which means that there will be a growing downward pressure on birth rates (though to some extent this is dampened by the rising average age of motherhood). OTOH, the continuing fall in mortality is encouraging; in fact, it will in all likelihood – barring a repeat of last year’s apocalyptic drought with its 44,700 excess deaths – accelerate in summer due to the effects of a higher base. According to my back of the envelope projections, it is basically a coin flip as to whether Russia will see slightly positive or slightly negative population growth this year.

4. A roundup of demography news from the rest of the former USSR (use this post as reference). Reflecting its economic crisis, births fell and deaths increased in Belarus for Jan-Apr. In Ukraine for Jan-Mar, deaths fell slightly and births remained stagnant (after falling in 2010). Those pundits who keep focusing on Russia’s imminent demographic apocalypse may find better targets elsewhere. The recent Lithuania Census indicated that the Baltic country’s population declined by about 10% in the past decade. But even that’s normal news compared to Latvia…

In the wake of its economic crisis, Latvia has seen a faster collapse in its demographic indicators than even in the years following the Soviet Union. In the first four months of 2011, a quarter fewer Latvians were born relative to the same period in 2008. That year marked the post-Soviet peak of its TFR at 1.45 children per woman, meaning that it is now at around 1.1 children per woman. In the meantime, deaths only fell by 5%. As a result, the rate of natural decrease rose from 7,100 in 2008 to 10,000 in 2010, and may register a small rise again this year. And that’s not all. Net emigration rose from 4,700 in 2009 to 7,900 in 2010, and has already reached 4,400 as of this April. From this February, more than a thousand Latvians have been leaving their country each month.

5. Check out Russian Demographics – Something Stirring in the East by Claus Vistesen at demography.matters and related discussion.

6. The past two years have been good ones for censuses. India’s population rose to 1.21bn in 2011 (181mn increase since 2001), with a worsening in the child sex ratio to 109 boys per 100 girls and a rise in literacy from 65% to 74%.

China’s population rose to 1.34bn in 2010 (74mn increase since 2000), a less than expected increase that implies its fertility rate has shrank to about 1.4 children per woman in the last decade. Furthermore, the continually big child sex disparity – there are 118 boys to 100 girls – means that the effective fertility rate is even lower. Literacy is now practically universal at 96%, the share of the population with a college degree doubled to 8.5%, and there is now an even divide between rural and urban inhabitants.

The 2010 US Census had no surprises or matters of particular interest, you can read about it here.

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
 
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In a recent post, Mark Adomanis pointed out that the Russian economy has done significantly better than many other East European nations during the recent crisis and is now mounting a strong recovery. He also speculated on the effects of the crisis on the demography of badly-affected countries such as Romania, Bulgaria, and the Baltics, on the basis that “Russia’s experience during the 1998 debt default amply demonstrates that cutting healthcare budgets and pensions in the midst of an economic catastrophe causes a lot of excess deaths among vulnerable sectors of the population”.

Now I’ve never really worried about the consequences on mortality of an economic recession, because I don’t buy into The Lancet‘s arguments that it was the reduction in Russian social spending in 1998 that contributed to the mortality wave of 1999-2002, since the increasing affordability of, and consumption of, alcohol was by far the more convincing factor. (Also, in industrialized states, recessions tend to correlate with falls in mortality rates). On the other hand, hard recessions – especially ones which result in reduced public spending on social welfare – usually are associated with substantial reductions in fertility. In this post I’m going to take a look at how valid these observations and theories are in light of the recent economic crisis in Eastern Europe.

Russia. At the start of the crisis in late 2008, I expected Russia’s fertility rate to fall slightly – though nowhere near the magnitudes predicted by Russia’s “demographic doomers”, of course. (Though even for that I got a lot of flak). Yet ironically even my predictions turned out to be too pessimistic, probably because increased government spending meant that Russians’ social welfare hardly suffered at all during the crisis. Even Russia’s fertility rate continued to climb, reaching 1.56 in 2009 (2008 – 1.49, 2007 – 1.41, 2006 – 1.30), a level last seen in 1992. And like I said, Russia’s trends towards falling mortality actually accelerated, with life expectancy for both genders hitting 69.0 years in 2009 (2008 – 67.9, 2007 – 67.5, 2006 – 66.6, 2005 – 65.3) – a level that was only ever previously observed in 1963-1974 and 1986-1991. Most encouragingly, Russians’ mortality from “vices” – homicide, alcohol poisoning, and suicide – have fallen back to their late Soviet levels. The decline in alcohol poisonings is particularly good because much of Russia’s “hyper-mortality” (including the high rate of heart disease) is tied to excessive alcohol consumption.

[Source: Rosstat].

Demographic improvements relative to the same period last year continued in Q1 2010, with the birth rate up another 1.3% and mortality rates falling by 2.0% (inc. by about 10% for external causes). (The figures on fertility are particularly significant when you recall that Russia reached the nadir of its economic crisis in H1 2009). According to Sergey Slobodyan’s demographic model, the data indicates that a projection of 1.9-2.0mn deaths and 1.8-1.9mn births in 2010 is feasible, meaning that natural population decrease will almost cease (the total population should grow, as last year, due to immigrants).

Conclusion – contrary to hysterical predictions of economic and demographic apocalypse propagated about Russia in late 2008, the real impact on social welfare was very marginal and the demographic situation actually continued to improve. This year, Russia’s life expectancy will probably approach 70 years (still very low for an industrialized country) and its total fertility rate will hit around 1.6 children per woman (as in Canada). Although the mortality rate remains very substandard relative to the industrialized world, current healthcare and anti-alcohol initiatives are helping usher in rapid improvements.

PS. There has been a small update to Rosstat‘s demographic projections. Its middle projection now indicates a population of 140.9mn and its high projection a population of 146.7mn in 2025, relative to 141.9mn in 2009; in the last few years, Russia’s demography has tracked between the High and Medium projections. (This is in line with my own forecasts).

Ukraine. Mark Adomanis claims that Ukraine has a “much more serious demographic crisis than Russia”. But much as one can condemn Orange mismanagement of the economy and social relations, it can’t really be said in good faith that its demography is a lot worse. Whereas its birth rates are lower and its death rates are higher than Russia’s, this is in large part because Ukraine has a marginally older median age than Russia.

Let’s instead use measures that cancel out the effects of specific population age structure. Ukraine’s life expectancy (68.3) was marginally better than Russia’s (67.8) in 2008 (World Bank), and its big mortality reductions in 2008-09 indicate that it kept the lead. Similarly, Russia’s fertility rate (1.49) is not awesomely bigger than Ukraine’s (1.39) in 2008, and may be partly or wholly explained by the fact that Russia’s demographic collapse in the 1990’s was both quicker and sharper than Ukraine’s. Finally, both countries have been displaying very similar demographic dynamics in recent years, despite their political differences – a moderate recovery in fertility rates (from a low base), and plummeting death rates (from a very high base).

[Source: World Bank Development Indicators. Note that for all the vast differences in the political economy and post-transition success of Russia, Latvia, Belarus, and Ukraine, their fertility (and overall demographic) dynamics are remarkably alike].

Now what about the crisis, which hit Ukraine much harder than Russia? (Ukraine’s GDP declined by 15% in 2009, compared to Russia’s 9%, and it wasn’t cushioned by increased government spending on social welfare). Ukraine’s birth rate increased ever so slightly from 11.0/1000 in 2008 to 11.1/1000 in 2009 (but fell from 11.2/1000 in Jan-Feb 2009 to 10.7/1000 in Jan-Feb 2010). Meanwhile, its death rate decreased from 16.3/1000 in 2008 to 15.2/1000 in 2009 (and from 17.2/1000 in Jan-Feb 2009 to 16.4/1000 in Jan-Feb 2010). In crude terms, Ukraine had a higher rate of natural population decrease than Russia (-4.2/1000 versus -1.7/1000 in 2009), and its overall population is still falling fast because unlike Russia it does not have many immigrants.

Nonetheless, the Ukrainian crisis is now easing and the new government seems to be moving from concentrating on historical grievances to modernization and stability. Given the inherent similarities between and increasing integration of Russia and Ukraine, their demographic dynamics will probably be likewise similar – a recovery of fertility rates to 1.7-1.8 within a few years, a rise in life expectancy to 75 years within a decade, substantial net migration to Russia and zero net migration to Ukraine. The result would be a slowly rising or stagnating population in Russia, and a stagnating or slowly falling population in Ukraine.

Conclusion – Ukraine is experiencing a demographic recovery, with particularly impressive gains in life expectancy during the crisis. Though its fertility rate remained more or less stagnant, it now again shows signs of improvement – a good sign, since nine months ago Ukraine was still at its economic nadir.

Belarus. Thanks to its isolation from the global financial system, Belarus did not experience much of an economic crisis at all. It’s GDP even grew by 1.5% in 2009, and has since expanded by 6.1% in Jan-Apr 2010 relative to the same period last year. But ironically, its demographic improvements have been modest.

The birth rate rose from 11.1/1000 to 11.6/1000 and the death rate rose from 13.8/1000 to 14.2/1000 from 2008 to 2009*. (In Q1 2010 relative to the same period last year, the birth rate fell from 11.3/1000 to 11.2/1000 and the death rate fell from 15.3/1000 to 15.1/1000). The rate of natural increase eased slightly to -2.5/1000 in 2009, from -2.6/1000 in 2008.

This means that Belarus retained a fertility rate of about 1.45-1.5 children per woman in 2009, compared to Russia’s 1.56 and Ukraine’s 1.4-1.45, and its life expectancy was somewhat higher than both at 70.5 years in 2008 (very slightly lower in 2009), compared with Russia’s 69.0 years in 2009 and Ukraine’s 68.3 years in 2008 (maybe a year higher in 2009).

Conclusion – despite emerging from the crisis largely unscathed, the demography of Belarus showed no significant improvement (or deterioration).

Latvia. Latvia saw a catastrophic decline of GDP of 18% in 2010 and its welfare state has been decimated to a degree unparalleled anywhere else in Europe (at least so far). From 2008 to 2009, births fell by 9.5% and marriages, a very rough indicator of future fertility, fell by a truly stunning 23.3%. The decline continued into 2010, with births in Jan-Mar falling by 11.6% and marriages declining by 22.4% on the same period in 2009. Since Latvia’s total fertility rate was a not too healthy 1.45 back in 2008, this means that it is now in one of the deepest demographic chasms in Europe.

[Source: Latvijas Statistika].

On the positive side, Latvia did see modest improvements in its mortality rates, which fell by 3.6% from 2008 to 2009 (though they’ve remained almost stagnant so far in 2010). Unsurprisingly, after a period of demographic recovery in the 2000′s, Latvia’s rate of natural population decrease has started opening up again, rising from a loss of 7058 people in 2008 to 8220 people in 2009, and almost certain to increase further this year.

Small consolation. Going by the experiences of other countries in the region, the falling marriage rate in Latvia should have been accompanied by a simultaneously falling divorce rate, so the post-2008 annual decline in net couple formation should have been less than 20%.

Estonia. Estonia’s had a milder recession than Latvia with a GDP fall of 14% (it’s all comparative!) and it did not decimate its welfare state to quite the same extent. It also started from a position of significantly greater affluence and its fertility rate was at 1.66 children per woman in 2008. The number of births fell by 2.6% from 2008 to 2009, and by a mere 0.9% in the first four months of 2010 relative to the same period last year. This decline was outpaced by improvements in longevity, with mortality rates falling by 3.7% in 2009 relative to 2008, and a further 3.5% in the first four months of 2010 relative to the same period in 2009. Since it now shows signs of mounting an early recovery, the crisis should not make a big dent in Estonia’s long-term demographic prospects.

Lithuania. Their situation seems to have become somewhat worse, based on the monthly estimates of the population size for 2009. But their national statistics site is bad and doesn’t have detailed recent data so I can’t really say much more than that it is worse than in Estonia but far better than in Latvia.

Conclusion – the crisis has been a demographic disaster for Latvia, with its total fertility probably falling to a “lowest-low” rate of around 1.2 children per woman by 2010. Since its economic crisis seems to be deep and long-lasting, with deleterious effects on social welfare, we can expect a resumption of demographic free fall and perhaps a rise in ethnic Russian emigration to (fast recovering) Russia. In contrast, Estonia’s stronger foundations weathered the crisis well and its total fertility rate, now at perhaps 1.6 children per woman, is still relatively healthy by East and Central European standards.

Caucasus. In Armenia, the crude death rate remained unchanged at 8.5/1000 from 2008 and 2009, while the birth rate rose from 12.7/1000 to 13.7/1000, despite its big decline in GDP during the crisis. Given that its total fertility rate was at 1.74 in 2008, it is doing fine. Georgia is probably doing OK, since their population actually rose in 2009 – the only other post-Soviet year in which Georgia experienced population growth was in 2006, which happened to coincide with Russia’s deportation of illegal Georgian immigrants.

Moldova. Doesn’t have vital stats for 2009. Its overall population fell by five thousand people in 2009 relative to 2008, which is lower than usual, since on most years it falls by around ten thousand. I don’t think this was due to demographic improvements – don’t forget that many Moldovans were returning from their work in Russia during its recession in 2009.

Rest of post-Soviet space. Azerbaijan and Central Asia don’t need to be considered since they have healthy demographics anyway.

The Balkans. Birth rates and death rates seemed to have remained essentially stable from 2008 to 2009 in Bulgaria and Romania, with a slight improvement overall. Crisis hasn’t affected them much – at least, not yet.

Final conclusion – overall, the crisis did not greatly affect the demography of the Eurasian region. There continued to be modest improvements in the two most populous nations, Russia and Ukraine. The death rate has fallen rapidly during the crisis almost everywhere, the sole exceptions being Belarus and Romania where it increased by a tiny amount. On the other hand, birth rates have either risen slowly (e.g. Russia), stagnated (e.g. Ukraine), or fallen slowly (e.g. Estonia). The major exception is Latvia, where birth rates have collapsed at an amazing rate from regional average to “lowest-low”. This reflects the particular severity of the economic crash in Latvia.

* The real rise in the birth rate and the death rate from 2008 to 2009 are actually slightly exaggerated. That is because from 2009, Belarus lowered its total population (on the basis of which birth and death rates / 1000 people are calculated) to correlate with the preliminary results of the 2009 Census. The actual number of births rose from 107.9 thousand to 109.8 thousand and the number of deaths rose from 133.9 thousand to 135.0 thousand.

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
 
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I enjoyed the egg-throwing scenes from Ukraine’s Rada on the ratification of the gas-for-fleet deal with Russia as much as anyone. It also reflected the polarized commentary on the interwebs. The Ukrainian patriot-bloggers get their knickers in a sweaty twist. The academic beigeocrat Alexander Motyl (he of “Why Russia is Really Weak” fame some four years back) now warns of the “End of Ukraine”. Ukraine’s (self-styled) intelligentsia writes open letters condemning the Kharkov deal and Yanukovych’s sellout of the national interest. 2000 protesters stage a demonstration against his pursuit of closer ties with Russia in Kiev, a city of three millions. Alexander Golts, liberal Russian military analyst, argues that the asymmetric nature of the exchange – “with the lower gas prices to take effect immediately, Ukraine can now save roughly $4 billion annually, whereas the lease extension will only take effect only after the current agreement expires in 2017″ – means that Russia was duped. In my view, these screeds are ideologized, or approach the issue from a set of false or incomplete assumptions.

Let’s start from the “banderovtsy” who despise the “sovok” Yanukovych for selling out Ukrainka to the Moskali Horde. (Yes, I’ve grossly caricatured three complex groupings in that sentence). Their problem is that they believe the “Ukrainian people” share their own rigid conception of Ukraine as a rigid nation-state, rejecting opposing views that stress its civilizational commonalities with the Orthodox, Slavic, or Eurasian spheres. This manifests itself in a particularly antagonistic attitude to Russia and Russianness, which are perceived, not inaccurately, as the greatest enemies of Ukrainian nationhood yesterday, today and tomorrow. Their biggest problem and frustration – indeed, their predicament – is that by and large, the Ukrainian people simply do not buy into their efforts to imagine into being a narrow, militantly Ukrainian vision of Ukraine*.

I’m not saying this as a Russian chauvinist**, but as someone who actually bothers to find out what Ukrainians themselves believe, as mediated through opinion polls. And the Ukrainian nationalists would not like the lyrics Ukrainka is singing. As of April 2010, some 63% of Ukrainians supported Ukraine joining the Union of Russia and Belarus, while only 27% spoke out against. This is not the whole picture, of course: 53% would also like to join the EU, although 63% speak out against NATO membership. But it does destroy the Orange myth-making that seeks to portray Yanukovych’s policies of deepening relations with Russia as some kind of treasonous, nefarious plot against the Ukrainian people.

How can they be, when 56% of Ukrainians themselves support keeping the Russian Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol? In direct opposition to the opposition’s narrative, only 28% of Ukrainians support their accusations that Yanukovuch betrayed the interests of Ukrainians, while a much larger majority of 63% disagree. Still denying what Ukrainians are saying for all to hear? Then explain why if elections were held today, the Party of Regions and its allies would take 42% of the vote, while the combined opposition forces would net just 32%. Or try to rationalize Yanukovych’s 12% point jump in approval ratings during the first four months of his (pro-Russian) Presidency.

[Source: Approval ratings of Ukrainian politicians - Yanukovych; Timoshenko; Tihipko; Yatsenyuk; Simonenko from 2007 to 2010. Note Yanukovych's sharp jump from December 2009 to April 2010].

Second, what about the analysts like Golts who claim that Russia has been duped? On the surface, it does have a great deal of credence. Neither Russia nor Ukraine has a history of keeping their promises to each other. As Craig Pirrong pointed out:

So, my view is that this is just an interlude in the ongoing battle of bilateral opportunism between two fundamentally corrupt and unprincipled states. Remember the old Soviet joke: “We pretend to work and they pretend to pay us”? Well, I’d characterize this deal as “We pretend to give them a price break, and they pretend to extend our lease.” All this deal does is create more promises to be broken. And broken they will be.

And too bad for Russia its 4bn $ in effective annual gas subsidies kick in immediately, whereas Ukraine’s obligations to not kick out the Russian fleet in 2017 can be annulled by the next administration, should an Orange coalition come back to power.

However, this all rather misses a vital point. The process of Eurasian reintegration is, in my view, a self-sustaining process. Once it passes a critical point, it cannot go into reverse, even should politicians like Tymoshenko or Tihipko “win back” the country.

Take the example of the Baltics. Despite their substantial Russian minorities, the indigenous populations were strongly pro-Western and this was reflected in their foreign policies. They joined Western institutions like the EU and NATO, their economies were integrated with Europe, and their financial systems taken over by Swedish and German banks. As a result, they successfully “anchored” themselves into the Euro-Atlantic world and Russia can do nothing about it, short of a military intervention whose consequences cannot be foreseen. Much the same can be said of Ukraine, but in reverse. It’s cultural, economic, and political ties to Russia didn’t snap even during the Russia’s period of collapse and relative weakness. Now Russia is resurgent, while the Atlantic world order faces fiscal ruin and imperial overstretch. The conditions are in place for a rollback of Western influence across the post-Soviet space. It is already proceding at an accelerating pace. Ukraine lies at the center of this rollback – and the majority of Ukrainians are either supportive or apathetic about it.

Say what you will of them, but Putin and Medvedev are not idiots. They would not agree to a deal so ostensibly unfavorable to Russia, unless their thought processes were governed by calculations outside the mainstream purview. My instinct is that they do not view negotiations with Ukraine in terms of a set of rational exchanges between two sovereign nation-states. Instead, they view it as a soon-to-be assimilated territory. Not direct political control in the style of a “neo-Soviet Union”, mind (though the possibility cannot be 100% excluded). But what we are looking at is Ukraine becoming a certain type of client state, similar to Belarus, that will enlarge the scope of the Eurasian economic-industrial system back to Soviet levels and provide a lengthy buffer against Western encroachment by anchoring Russia’s effective borders in the Carpathian Mountains. These considerations may explain why the Russian state, now sure of its permanent influence over Ukraine, may not feel particularly nervous about the severely asynchronous nature of the Kharkov agreement.

Besides, by piecing together the other Russo-Ukrainian deals in this period, the gas-for-fleet agreement no longer looks anywhere near as one-sided as it appears on paper. Yanukovych needs the cheap gas to ease Ukraine’s fiscal situation, which is in dire straits. Russia on the other hand is proceeding with a series of initiatives to “lock in” Ukraine into its sphere of influence, such as its proposals to merge their nuclear, aviation, and gas industries.

Not all of them have been met with enthusiasm even by the heavyweights in the Party of Regions. They must recognize that should it be allowed to proceed, the marriage of Russian and Ukrainian economic interests will be near irreversible, and cannot fail to produce political consequences that will lead to a dimunition of Ukraine’s sovereignty, as observed in Belarus or Armenia. But it should be stressed that this is not a new development under Yanukovych. Russian corporations were busy buying up Ukrainian industrial assets, such as the Industrial Union of Donbass steel giant, even under the Orange administration. Whatever the personal reservations of Ukraine’s leaders, this process can only accelerate under a Ukrainian government that is overtly friendly with Russia.

And this brings us to the third class of analysts who I don’t believe have it quite right – those who recognize Russia’s growing influence over Ukraine, like Alexander Motyl, but couch it in the negative and ideologized language of “Russian imperialism” and “democratic rollback”, with all their dark connotations. Their approach conflates democracy with liberalism, economic pragmatism with anti-market neanderthalism, and Eurasian reintegration with Ukrainian subjugation.

If anything, Ukrainians are even less liberal in their views than Russians. This is not surprising considering that it is an economic disaster zone, essentially a post-Soviet fragment that never left the Yeltsin-era state of “anarchic stasis”. Twenty years on, Ukrainians are tiring of it all. They now just want a leader who can get things done. (Interestingly, and very tellingly, even the Ukrainian nationalists tend to respect Putin and wish they had someone like him at the helm). What about the lower gas prices perpetuating Ukrainian industrial backwardness – is it not a short-term fix that will only benefit Yanukovych’s oligarch allies in the Donbass? But Ukraine’s industry won’t flourish at “market” gas prices; the post-Soviet experience suggests much of it will simply collapse, and Ukrainians do not want that. Or in another words, as so often happens to the dismay of Western chauvinists, the people’s choice, as channeled through democracy, clashes with both liberal and market ideals.

Finally, the process of “Eurasian integration” cannot simply be reduced to slogans like “Russian revanchism” or “neo-imperialism” (though this is not to say that they are wholly false). Ukrainian attitudes towards this are actually rather contradictory. The opinion polls indicate that while most are supportive of entering into an economic union with Russia and Belarus, a similar majority insists on maintaining Ukraine’s political sovereignty. But herein lies the contradiction. Economics and politics are inextricable linked, especially in that part of the world. Economic reintegration cannot help but result in a certain level of political integration, and considering Russia’s position of economic dominance in Eurasia, it cannot help but result in “a regathering of the Russian lands” (or what Motyl calls a “creeping re-imperialization”). This circle cannot be squared.

Some Russia-watchers like Nicolai Petro believe that Ukraine Can Have Them and Us.

Few, however, seem to see that there is a third option — embrace Ukraine and turn it to the West’s advantage. Replace the misguided “divide and conquer” strategy that the West has been pursuing in the region with a new one that aims at the simultaneous integration of the Slavic cultural component of Europe into pan-European institutions. Make Ukraine Europe’s indispensable partner for bringing Russia into the European Union. Rather than placing the two countries on different tracks, reward them both for moving along the same path.

Although I respect Petro as an analyst, I think this assessment is pollyannish, a dream that can only be realized if history truly ends. But history never ended. “Divide and conquer” is the way of states and this remains the case to this day, even though it is now far better concealed and fought with money, not motor rifle divisions. This will become clearer in the next few years. Burdened by an increasingly untenable debt load and global commitments, the US and its allies and proxies cannot help focusing inwards during the next decade; even in the unlikely event that it should it tilt sharply back Westwards, the “Ukraine fatigue” that Pfifer warns about is all but inevitable in Western capitals.

In the meantime, Russia is resurging and seemingly set to become a developed nation by the 2020′s. Despite the popularity of EU membership amongst Ukrainians, it is unreachable. Not only are European countries against Ukraine’s accession, but the EU itself now shows more signs of disintegration than further expansion. On the other hand, Ukraine would always be welcome in Eurasia, and as pointed out above even more Ukrainians want to join the Union of Russia and Belarus than the EU. The attractions of joining (ailing) Europe will diminish, while the pressures propelling Ukraine back into (dynamic) Eurasia will intensify.

[Source: A (feasible) geopolitical forecast from the Italian magazine Limes. Though the details will probably be wrong, the general trends correlate with reality].

In his Presidential campaign, Yanukovych told America that Ukraine would be a bridge between East and West. In the coming age of post-peak oil “scarcity industrialism”, one of the surest predictions I can make is that the world will see the retreat of liberal globalization, more protectionism, and the rising preeminence of regional economic blocs. If Ukraine were to follow Yanukovych’s or Petro’s vision, its bridge would not survive; it would get sucked into a geopolitical black hole. And empires rarely tolerate vacuums on their borders.

Hence the contradictory views of many Ukrainians on how to reconcile Ukraine with a Russified Eurasia, and the profound challenges its rulers face in balancing national interests against the imminent return of history.

* To be achieved by glorifying freedom-fighting pogromists, making an anti-Ukrainian genocide out of a Stalinist democide, changing the Great Patriotic War to World War Two in history textbooks, etc.

** Personally, I am a moderate “Eurasianist” and support (non-coercive) economic, political, and military integration between Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan. As I’ve argued on this blog, it would provide manifold benefits to the majority of Eurasian people. Does that make me a “Russian chauvinist”? In my own (unavoidably biased) view, probably not, though that really depends on who you ask.

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
 
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paul-goble Mark Adomanis, who recently burst into the Russia-watching blogosphere like a fluffy pink grenade, has a series on “Who is the world’s worst Russia analyst”? (So far Stephen Blank and Leon Aron are in the running). Personally, I think that Ed Lucas would “win” hands down. However, since he’s already been exposed and discredited on this blog, – and I don’t have the time or will to flog dead horses – let’s instead take a closer look at Paul Goble, the oft-cited “Eurasia expert” whose output seems to consist entirely of recycling stories from marginal Russian commentators about the country’s imminent demographic apocalypse, breakup along ethnic lines, and takeover by Muslims. If one fine day some random Tatar blogger on LiveJournal decides to restore the Qasim Khanate, we’ll certainly hear about it on his blog… and guess what, we do!

Sure, he might be a fact-challenged Russophobe propagandist who worked for the CIA, Radio Liberty, and “democracy-promoting” NGO’s. Yes, he has extensive professional links to the Baltic nations and Azerbaijan. True, he is essentially an agent of a latter-day Promethean Project, the interwar Polish strategy to preempt the reemergence of a Eurasian empire by stirring up ethnic separatism in the Soviet space, a project now pursued by Washington and its proxies. That is all understandable and commendable – he serves US geopolitical aims, and geopolitics is profoundly amoral, so what’s the problem? Why am I writing a hit piece on Paul Goble? Simple. The utter hypocrisy and double standards I encountered in his Jan 2010 ‘No Ordinary Year’ for Azerbaijan article, in which the guy who incessantly condemns Russia’s human rights, takes to advising Western countries to refrain from reprimanding authoritarian Azerbaijan because the “level of anger about such criticism is so great” that it could lead to a “rebalancing of Azerbaijan’s foreign policy away from the West”. Or translated from quackademic neocon-speak into English, “They might be bastards – though nowhere near as bastardly as the Russians, I mean they even pay me my salary!, – but they are our bastards!”

Ali Novruzov, an Azeri human rights blogger, condemns this duplicity, characterizing Goble’s viewpoint as: “Don’t criticize Azerbaijan, no matter how many Emins and Adnans are beaten and jailed, how many grams of heroin are found in shoes of Eynulla Fatullayev, how many villages like Benaniyar is ransacked by government militia and its residents detained en mass, shut up you, Amnesty International and State Department, otherwise Azerbaijan will get angry, turn away from you and befriend Russia”.

He certainly has reason to be concerned. Even Freedom House, a “democracy measuring” organization that gives freedom cookies for being friendly with the US (bonus points if you have oil) and takes them away for being “anti-Western”, rates Azerbaijan as “unfree”, on the same level as despised Russia. Given that Azerbaijan hits the Full House in that it is 1) relatively pro-Western, 2) oil-rich, and 3) nestled in a crucial geopolitical region, there is cause to suspect that it would perform a lot worse on any objective analysis of political freedoms. We don’t even have to suspect this, we can just head over to Polity IV, – a vast research project that attempts to quantify levels of democratization in different countries since World War 2 – and observe that Azerbaijan scored -7 in 2008, on a scale from -10 to 10. This makes it a formal “autocracy”, the same as China (-6) or Iran (-7), – and far worse than its neighbors Russia (5), Armenia (5) or Georgia (6). No wonder, since unlike in Russia there is not even the simulacrum of political competition, and the Presidency is passed down along hereditary lines.

However, as alluded to at the beginning, hypocrisy, double standards, and Western chauvinism aren’t Goble’s only talents – they’re just the ones that roused my ire enough to write this piece. The fact of the matter is that article after article, Goble demonstrates the most fact-challenged, non-sequiturial, inane claptrap – and manages to get himself cited and listened to by major institutions which determine Western policy towards the region. Debunking his drivel is thus in any case long overdue.

1. Let’s start with this article (October 2008) on how the financial crisis was supposed to “compound” Russia’s demographic decline. It conveniently illustrates Goble’s OM – seek out the most sensational (and wrong) opinions in the Russian language media and reproduce them in his articles. By adding his label/name to them, they become citable to the rest of the Cold Warrior clique and even some respectable institutions that are ignorant of Goble’s incompetence and bias.

The financial crisis in the Russian Federation has pushed up the already high rates of mortality from heart and circulatory diseases there to third world levels, according to medical experts.

This sentence is wrong on so many levels. First, in Third World countries, mortality from heart/circulatory diseases is typically LOWER than in industrialized nations (since there are few older people and the population continues dying from infectious diseases, particularly amongst younger ages). Second, Russia has had one of the world’s highest levels of mortality from heart/circulatory diseases SINCE AT LEAST the 1980’s – it is NOT a recent development, as implied by Goble! Third, how the financial crisis figured into this I have absolutely no idea, since it only began to affect most Russians in October (the same month Goble’s article was written), and at which time the latest Russian demographic statistics only covered AUGUST 2008!

Yevgeny Chazov, one of Russia’s senior specialists on heart disease, told a Duma hearing that as a result of the difficult psycho-social circumstances and stresses from instability in the country, 1.3 million people – 56 percent of the total number of deaths there – now die from heart disease.

As has been the case FOR THE PAST 60 YEARS – i.e., a pattern of mortality heavily tilted towards heart disease – ever since the epidemiological revolution from 1930-50. And instability has been a feature of Russian life for the PAST 20 YEARS. Chazov was misquoted, or is a dummy; Goble, in any case, is certainly a dummy.

But if many speakers blamed the financial crisis or personal behavioral choices like smoking or alcohol consumption, one, Aleksandr Baranov, the vice president of the Academy of Medical Sciences, was prepared to blame the Russian government. Medical science knows how to lower mortality, he said, but we haven received an order from the powers that be.

There is a lot of investment in newly-equipped hospitals and clinics since 2007, and positive results are already showing. The current situation is far better than under Yeltsin or the early Putin years, when healthcare and social spending in general were cut and neglected, back when Russia’s robber barons wallowed in their ill-begotten billions with Western connivance. Baranov either lives under a rock, or wants to score rhetorical points. The financial crisis is irrelevant. Excessive alcohol consumption is what causes 1/3 of all Russia’s deaths. Reducing it is should be by far the #1 priority of any harm reduction strategy for Russia, and the “powers that be” have indeed recognized this and launched an anti-alcohol campaign. Nor surprisingly, Goble fails to mention any of this.

Finally, and most importantly, REAL LIFE HAS PROVED GOBLE TOTALLY, 200% WRONG. Contrary to the vision of demographic doom he peddled, deaths from cardio-vascular disease fell by 4.6% in 2009. Furthermore, RUSSIA SAW ITS FIRST POPULATION INCREASE IN 15 YEARS! And Goble’s predictable response to his utter failure at prediction?… “Russia’s Population Stabilization Only Temporary“.

2. Now let’s move on to the more general theme of Goble’s thesis on Russia – as an imperialistic country in rapid decline (demographic, cultural, etc), afflicted by an imminent, sub-Saharan scale AIDS epidemic, it will break up along its ethnic faultlines (Tatars, Bashkirs, Finno-Ugric peoples, Caucasians) and become majority Muslim by 2050. For instance, see a 2006 briefing he gave to Radio Liberty, which they summarized thus:

But Russia’s Muslims are bucking that trend. The fertility rate for Tatars living in Moscow, for example, is six children per woman, Goble said, while the Chechen and Ingush communities are averaging 10 children per woman. And hundreds of thousands of Muslims from Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan have been flocking to Russia in search of work. Since 1989, Russia’s Muslim population has increased by 40 percent to about 25 million. By 2015, Muslims will make up a majority of Russia’s conscript army, and by 2020 a fifth of the population. “If nothing changes, in 30 years people of Muslim descent will definitely outnumber ethnic Russians,” Goble said.

Goble’s comments to RFERL made their way into the wider commentariat in 2006-07, such as this article in SFGate, Daniel Pipes, and certain plain demented Russophobe bloggers.

Unfortunately for Russophobes, Islamophobes, and Islamists alike (quite an adorable grouping, isn’t it?!), Goble’s projections are complete twaddle. In 2005, the year before Goble started spouting off about Russia’s Islamification, the homeland of Russia’s Tatars, Tatarstan (1.26), had a LOWER total fertility rate than the Russian average (1.29)! Where did Goble get the figure of 6 women per children amongst Tatar women in Moscow? Stormfront Russia?!

Likewise, the figure of 10 children per women amongst Muscovite Ingush and Chechen women is risible and should be laughed off by anyone with the smallest knowledge of demographic history. Not only did Ingushetia (1.56) and Chechnya (2.91) themselves have far lower figures in 2005, a total fertility rate of 10 children per woman HASN’T BEEN OBSERVED IN PRACTICALLY ANY COMMUNITY, EVER!! (Even in PRE-INDUSTRIAL times, the fertility rate typically flunctuated between 4-8 children per woman, depending on factors like urbanization and food affordability. The idea that it could be 10, or anyone near that number, in a modern metropolis, is ludicrous in the extreme).

As for the Muslim-takeover-by-2050ish claim, this is the usual bogus fallacy of linear extrapolation of the worst-case trends with total, cavalier disregard for positive trends (e.g., the convergence of ethnic Russian and Muslim fertility rates) and current day facts (e.g., that ethnic Russians still make up nearly 80% of the population, WHEREAS ONLY 4-6% OF THE POPULATION CONSIDER THEMSELVES TO BE MUSLIMS in opinion polls; that the fertility rates of the biggest Muslim ethnicities, Tatars and Bashkirs, is little different from the national average; and that Russia’s Muslims are far less religious than their counterparts in the Middle East and Western Europe alike).

In fact, sometimes I wonder if Goble really works for the CIA/Azerbaijan, or Russian Slavophile nationalists. He is certainly willing to cite the propaganda of the latter when it suits his purposes.

3. Now what about the imminent AIDS apocalypse, that will further decimate the ranks of Russia’s vodka-swilling, impotent hordes, making them too sick and too few to prevent Russia from disintegrating “into as many as 30 pieces by the middle of this century” (March 2009)? In his ominous-sounding article February 2009 article Russia’s HIV/AIDS Epidemic Enters New and More Dangerous Phase, Goble wrote:

In his briefing yesterday, Onishchenko did not provide much context for the numbers he reported. But in an interview with “Nauka i zhizn’,” Boris Denisov, a demographer at Moscow State University, suggested that figures like those Onishchenko provides are more disturbing than the public health chief in fact suggested (www.nkj.ru/archive/articles/15097/). …

The Moscow State researcher pointed to three aspects of the situation which suggest Russia has reached the tipping point regarding HIV/AIDS and that the epidemic is likely to result in an increasingly large number of deaths, something that will have a serious impact on the over-all demographic picture of that country.

First and foremost, 63 percent of the new cases in the Russian Federation last year were the result of sexual contact rather than intravenous drug use, a pattern that means the disease has now passed into the general population where it may spread more slowly but could potentially touch far more people and where an increasing share of its victims will be women.

This Eurasia “expert” can’t even copy from his Russian sources correctly. If you look at the source Goble cites, what Denisov actually said was that 63% of new FEMALE infections came from sexual contact in 2007, whereas 34% of OVERALL new infections came from heterosexual contact. If he’s so wrong on such basic facts, why should we have to listen to anything he says on Russia’s AIDS problem?

4. And it goes on and on. One of his most amusing/ridiculous articles was about how Putin was starving his miserable subjects (December 2009):

After seeing an improvement in caloric consumption since the 1990s, Russians are again consuming an average of only 2550 calories a day, an amount comparable to the amount provided by the diet given German POWs in Soviet camps at the end of 1941 and one that casts a shadow on that country’s demographic future. …

“According to the estimates of international experts,” the Russian leader said in striking language, “if the population goes hungry for two or more generations, a situation that in fact is quite characteristic for a large group of countries, then processes of physiological and intellectual degradation at the genetic level arise.”

What a load of claptrap even by Goble’s dismal standards. First, the recommended caloric intake for not very active adult men is around 2500 and around 2000 for adult women. Averaging it and taking into account children and the elderly, and the optimal for a nation where most people do office jobs is around 2100-2200 calories. In this respect Russia is far better off at its quoted 2550 calories, than the US is at 3700.

This is not to deny that there are problems. During crisis-wracked 2009, some 10% of Russians had difficulty buying food – slightly up from 9% in 2008, but massively down from the glorious prosperity of 1998-99, when some 36% of Russians could barely afford this privilege. (Incidentally, in the “free” Ukraine of 2009, the hungry indigent made up 35% of the population – i.e., the same as Russia ten years ago!).

But it gets worse. I simply have no words to describe the sheer inanity of the comparison between 2009 Russia and 1941 German POW’s. Really – how the fuck can he even take himself seriously after writing shit like this? Unless he means to say that during the 1990′s, when Russia’s economic policies were directed by a neoliberal cabal from Washington and many people really did go hungry, Yeltsin’s government treated Russians worse than Stalin treated soldiers who were fighting a war of extermination against Russians. So is Goble also a crypto-Stalinist, or just an asinine idiot?

(Not that Medvedev is the sharpest tool in the box either, if he actually spewed that insane drivel about genetic degradation. Since most of humanity has spent 99.9%+ of its entire history at near-subsistence levels of food consumption, why the hell isn’t everyone intellectually degraded like Goble or Medvedev?)

And the same shit goes on and on, Goble’s never-ending Groundhog Den’. All of Russia’s negatives are made apocalyptic, all its positives made into negatives.

Two examples of the latter. Take his befuddling assertion that the “Russian Federation will be more profoundly and negatively affected by global warming over the next 40 years than will any other country”. Come again? Sure the melting of Siberian permafrost might collapse a few buildings and fuck up some gas pipelines, but ALL serious analyses of global warming suggest that Russia will suffer FAR LESS than almost all other nations in a warmer world, and may even make big bank under moderate warming as its agriculture expands into Siberia, new energy and mineral deposits become accessible, and the Arctic becomes the world’s major trade region.

Second example. Medvedev declared a need for modernization and more accountability, and guess what – Russia is therefore a failing, decrepit state about to embark on perestroika 2.0! Ok, if you want (superficial) historical comparisons for Putvedev’s Russia, you could justify making it with Stolypin’s reforms, with Peter the Great’s “revolution from above”, even with the “Great Break” of 1929 if you’re feeling really bold and unafraid of being accused of reducing everything in Russian politics to Stalin. But the late 1980′s = today = WTF? Back then, the Soviet state truly was in a profound state of “imperial overstretch”, its citizens were disillusioned, and its mounting fiscal obligations were outrunning the resources and foreign currency at its disposal. Today’s Russia is a confident, rising Power, its elites are united, and a firm and consistent majority of Russians uphold the Putin system of illiberal statism (and if anything the main complaint you will hear from them is not that there is too much illiberality and statism, but too little!). Given such a tectonic shift in the very foundations of the Russian state during the past two decades, such vapid analogizing is superficial in the extreme, and indicative of an ideological decrepitude amongst the neocons that is every bit as profound as the one which afflicted the late Soviet Union.

So what is Goble’s game? He seems to be genuine in his bizarre beliefs – for instance, in an interview shortly after the 2008 South Ossetia War, he stated that Russia’s “illegal” violation of Georgia’s borders is “not in the interest of continued existence of the Russian Federation”, which will lead to “a more authoritarian and hence a more unstable and poor Russia in the future”. (Of course, how letting regional upstarts like Saakashvili rip off chunks from Russia’s southern underbelly would HELP the continued existence of the Russian Federation is not at all clear). Nonetheless, this kind of analysis seems highly favored by the lowest common denominator in the Russia-watching world – Paul Goble is, at least according to the number of tags assigned to him (“43 topics” at the time of this article’s writing), is the most popular outside authority at the infamous hate blog La Russophobe. He is also highly regarded at his former place of employment, the corrupt Radio Liberty.

Why? All these institutions are, in some way, and whether they realize it or not, pursuing a script first written in 1918 Poland – the Promethean Project to break up Russia and forever forestall its reemergence. What few of them realize is that 1) they are utterly ineffectual in this endeavor, and 2) their overt Russophobia, and close association with Russia’s “liberal” West-worshiping ass-lickers, ACTUALLY REINFORCES THE VERY SIEGE MENTALITY that the Kremlin shares with ordinary Russians. In other words, the lies and double standards espoused by people like Goble strengthen the very same “retrogressive” tendencies in Russia that they profess to loathe.

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
 
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This is a summary of opinion polls conducted by the Levada-Center, Russia’s Gallup, since February 2009, and continues on from the first post. Along with the original post Lovely Levada, this series constitutes a unique English-language reference for social trends under late Putinism as expressed by the Russian people themselves, rather than the limousine liberals, pro-Western ideologues, and Kremlin flunkies who claim to speak for them. Unless stated otherwise, all opinion poll data refers to 2009.

2009, Dec 28: Around 60% of Russians are against the building of a sleek 400-meter skyscraper, the Okhta Center, in central St.-Petersburg, while only 21% are for. Myself, I’m of two minds about it. Though I like skyscrapers, I don’t want to see any public money going to Gazprom ego-building.

Dec 24: The Western tradition of celebrating Christmas on December 25th is not catching on in Russia, with only 4% of Russians saying they will do so this year.

1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009
Yes 13 12 17 16 18 18 19 16 6 4 6 6 4

Nor are perceptions of the reform era getting any better. In 2009, only 29% of the population considers the post-1992 period to have been good for the country, whereas 49% disagree. Furthermore, only 23% feel they personally benefited from those reforms, while 50% disagree. However, a majority feel, nonetheless, that some kind of “perestroika” was necessary to reform the Soviet regime.

Today, the majority of the population – 51% – would like to see more state involvement in the economy and social protections, though only 15% would like a return to the Soviet model (down from 20-30% before 2006), and an even smaller 10% favor a course of reducing government and focusing on creating on more opportunities for entrepreneurs.

Summing up 2009, although Russians considered the year to be worse than 2007 or 2008, there is no evidence the economic crisis had an inordinate effect on their subjective perceptions of success.

Year Summary 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009
Successful 36 37 42 47 51 42 47 49 52 46 43
Not Successful 51 51 38 37 34 37 34 29 28 32 37
N/A 14 12 20 16 15 21 19 22 20 22 20

Dec 21: There remains a strong nostalgia for the Soviet past, or what I like to call an “imagined past of a bright socialist future”. Around 60% of Russians still regret its collapse, so no wonder it is returning to its future.

Regret? 1992 1994 2000 2002 2004 2006 2007 2008 2009
Yes 66 66 75 68 67 61 55 60 60
No 23 19 19 25 26 32 36 30 28
N/A 11 15 6 7 7 7 9 10 12

Furthermore, the majority believe that Soviet collapse was not inevitable (a viewpoint backed by some theoretical work).

Inevitable? 1998 2001 2004 2006 2007 2008 2009
Yes 24 29 24 27 30 30 28
Could have been avoided 58 58 65 59 56 55 57
N/A 18 13 11 14 14 15 15

Proposed remedies for the future include closer, voluntary ties between the post-Soviet republics (27%), a Eurasian EU-like confederation (22%), a neo-USSR (16%), independent coexistence amongst the former Soviet republics (14%), and the continuation of the CIS in its current state (13%).

Dec 17: Putin and Medvedev continue dominating the political scene, and retain very high approval ratings. On the question of “tandemocracy”, 55% believe Medvedev is merely continuing Putin’s policies, and 48% believe power is shared equally between Medvedev and Putin (while 30% believe Putin is the more powerful player pulling the strings).

Dec 16: A stuffy, but insightful, and non-Kremlin-friendly, essay by Lev Gudkov, Levada’s founder, on The Nature of Putinism (in Russian).

Dec 15: Attitudes towards the West remain in a deep rut, its conduct during the South Ossetian War having left an irreparable cleft. Regarding the US, despite the election of Obama, Russia’s attitudes towards the US are today about as favorable as in November 1999, after the NATO bombing of Serbia (however, the depth of the animosity should not be exaggerated; for real anti-Americanism, one can do little better than stroll through the “Arab street” in the Middle East”).

Attitudes towards the EU are also on a long-term secular decline, though the slope is much less steep than for the US.

Attitudes towards Georgia remain highly negative, which is not surprising given the Georgian President Saakashvili’s deepening megalomania. Equally not surprising is that Belarus under Bat’ka remains far more popular than Ukraine, as demonstrated in this comedic song about “cutting off Ukraine’s gas“.

Dec 7: A majority of Russians support, to some extent, the slogan “Russia for Russians!“, though there hasn’t been any major upward trend in the past decade. So the theme about the uniquely prevalent nature of Russian racism should not be overplayed.

“Russia for Russians”? Aug.98 Nov.01 Aug.03 Dec.04 Jun.05 Nov.06 Aug.07 Oct.08 Nov.09
Yes – it’s about time we implemented this! 15 16 21 16 19 15 14 15 18
It would be a good idea to implement this within reasonable bounds 31 42 32 37 39 35 41 42 36
No – this is real fascism! 32 20 18 25 23 26 27 25 32
I’m not that interested 10 11 7 12 9 12 11 12 9
Haven’t thought on this 5 6 14 5 7 8 -* - -
N/A 7 5 8 4 3 4 7 6 5

Also, 61% believe the state should check unrestrained migration into Russia, and 35% do not feel too comfortable about the influx of foreign laborers from the “Near Abroad”. Neither of these have seen major changes in the past decade.

Nov 26: Very detailed historical information on approval ratings for Russia’s political forces – as of November 2009, President Medvedev had 74%, PM Putin had 79%, and the government had 50%. The economic crisis made nary a dent.

Furthermore, more Russians than not think Russia is moving in the right direction – again despite the crisis. This should all give pose to those who say that Putin’s popularity and Russia’s recent turn towards greater self-confidence was based exclusively on high oil prices and economic growth.

Nov 25: 63% of Russians think the situation in the North Caucasus is tense, but 64% believe it will remain stable during the next year. On the 15th anniversary of the First Chechen War, 43% think the Russian government was correct in its use of force to bring it to heel, whereas 11% believe it should have been granted full independence.

Nov 20: Russia extends its moratorium on the death penalty, despite that most Russians support it.

Death Penalty Feb.00 Feb.02 Mar.06 Apr.07 Jun.09
Should be resumed on early-1990′s levels 54 49 43 39 37
The current state of affairs (moratorium) should be preserved 15 12 23 19 20
Death penalty should be completely abolished 12 12 12 19 14
Death penalty should be expanded 10 19 8 14 16
N/A 10 8 14 10 13

What is the main point of the death penalty for Russians?

Why death penalty? Jul.07
Only as an extreme measure for punishing irredeemable felons 27
To deter others from committing crimes 18
Lawful measure for punishing especially severe crimes 18
To cleanse society of irredeemable criminals 10
Exacting vengeance on the criminal is justice 10
I don’t see any valid justification for the death penalty 7
To heal society and restore moral values 4
Other 6

However, for some classes of crimes support for the death penalty is significantly higher than when the question is asked in a more general way.

Death penalty for… Jul.07
Serial murder? 71
Child rape? 65
Premeditated killing? 48
Selling of drugs? 39
Terrorism, preparation for revolution? 32
Corruption? 16
Treason & espionage in peacetime? 13
Armed robbery? 11
Attempted murder of head of state? 9
Death penalty is always unacceptable 8
Other 1
N/A 4

Some 47% of Russians would feel personally safer if they reintroduced the death penalty, whereas 39% disagree.

Nov 18: Perceptions of subjective wealth have improved in Russia over the past decade, along with salaries and pensions. Today, far more shopping is done in big stores and supermarkets than a decade ago, whereas buying stuff on the streets is rarer. Again, not surprising given its economic growth.

Quality of life? Dec.99 Nov.09
Well-off 6 24
Middle-class 46 62
Barely make ends meet 35 10
Poor 10 3
Very poor 3 >1

Below is a more detailed breakdown.

Which group do you belong to? 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009
Barely make ends meet – not even enough money for food. 22 19 15 18 15 12 14 9 10
Can buy food, but getting clothes is a problem. 44 42 45 41 37 35 33 27 30
Can buy the basics like food and clothes, but durable consumer goods (TV, refrigerator) present more of a problem. 27 32 31 31 37 40 37 48 48
Can easily get durable consumer goods, but truly expensive things are less accessible. 7 7 8 9 10 13 15 15 12
Can make really expensive purchases like apartments, dachas, etc, without problem. <1 <1 1 <1 1 <1 1 1 <1

Nov 6: Russia’s attitudes on the 20-year anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall – 63% are positive, and only 11% are negative.

Nov 5: The Russia-Ukraine relation in detail, at the level of peoples rather than governments.

What should Russia-Ukraine relations resemble? Russia Ukraine
Jan. 09 Jun. 09 Jan. 09 Jun. 09 Oct. 09
As is usual for states – closed borders, tariffs, visas 29 25 8 10 11
Independent but friendly states, characterized by open borders without visas or tariffs. 51 55 68 65 67
Russia and Ukraine should unite into a single state. 12 14 23 23 19
N/A 8 6 1 2 3

What do Russians think about Ukraine, and Ukrainians about Russia?

What do you think? Russians about Ukraine Ukrainians about Russians
Mar.08 Jan.09 Jun.09 Sep. 09 Apr. 08 Feb.09 Jun.09 Oct.09
Good / very good 55 29 33 46 88 91 93 91
Bad / very bad 33 62 55 44 7 5 4 6
N/A 12 9 11 10 5 4 3 3

However, given the choice most Ukrainians would prefer (re-)integration into Eurasia than Westernization. Only 17% of Ukrainians would have voted to join NATO in October 2009, whereas 63% were against. Furthermore, 55% of Ukrainians prefer a union with Russia and Belarus, compared to 24% who would prefer accession to the European Union.

EU or Union of Russia & Belarus? Ukrainians
certainly EU 12
sooner EU 12
sooner Russia & Belarus 30
certainly Russia & Belarus 25
N/A 21

This is one of the main reasons why it is likely that some kind of Eurasian Empire – be it an EU-like confederation or neo-Soviet Union – will be slowly but surely resurrected in the near future (as is indeed already happening).

Nov 5: What is your opinion on the October Revolution for Russia’s peoples?

1990 1997 2004 2005 2009
Opened a new era in Russian history. 23 23 30 26 28
Gave a push towards social and economic development. 26 26 27 31 29
It put a brake on development. 18 19 16 16 16
It became a catastrophe. 12 16 14 15 10
N/A 21 16 13 12 17

Oct 29: Only 4% of Russians celebrate Halloween.

Oct 27: Most Russians believe Putin represents the interests of the siloviks (27%), middle class (24%), oligarchs (22%), simple folks (21%), and his close friends (18%).

Oct 23: 71% of Russians believe they need a serious opposition party, while 47% believe that no such parties currently exist (38% disagree).

Oct 15: Russians on democracy – a series of very detailed and telling graphs.

33% believe Russia has some kind of democracy, another 33% think its democracy has not yet become firmly grounded, while 20% believe it is regressing. As of June 2009, some 57% believed Russia needs democracy, while 26% disagreed – these figures are changed from 66% and 21% respectively in June 2005.

According to the polls below, it seems that Russians have recently come to truly believe in “sovereign democracy“.

As of 2006, around 63% of Russians are basically “statists” – they believe the state should care about all its citizens and guarantee a fitting standard of living, whereas only 25% subscribe to the classical liberal position that the state should limit itself to setting and enforcing the “rules of the game”, and an even smaller 4% take the neoliberal view that government should minimize its involvement in its citizens’ economic affairs. These figures are changed from 71%, 19%, and 6% respectively, in 2001.

Most Russians support a strong, centralized Presidency, and in contrast to the late Soviet period, support for what could be called “authoritarianism” has risen.

The share of Russians believing that Russia’s rulers only look out for their “material wellbeing and career”, which once hovered at 50-60%, has since 2007 fallen to 20-30% – nearly equalizing with those thinking it is a “strong team of politicians, leading the country along the right road”. This is yet another illustration of Russia’s recent, quasi-spiritual transition from “poshlost” to “sobornost”.

At the same time, the number of Russians considering themselves to be “free” in their society has increased under the Putin years. In 1990, 38% of Russians felt society had too little freedom, 30% enough freedom, and 17% too much freedom; in 1997, these figures were 20%, 32%, and 34%; in 2008, they were 18%, 55%, and 20%, all respectively. Ironically, the (perceived) decline in liberalism since 1998 has been accompanied by greater democratization, in that the state has moved closer to the “people’s will”.

Only a tiny minority of Russians, 2-3%, – interestingly, the same percentage that voices approval for Russian “liberals” like Kasparov and Illarionov – have ever regarded Western-style democracy as a necessary “savior” of Russia – many have the practical attitude that it has many useful things to offer (45% in 2008), or that it is not suitable for Russia (30%) or outright dangerous (12%).

All in all, this is all in stark contrast to the Western media theme that Putin, the tyrant, is forcefully re-submerging an unwilling populace back into its totalitarian past. See Armageddon, Putvedev is Russia’s White Rider, and Russia’s Sisyphean Loop for detailed discussions of these phenomena and trends.

Oct 9: Russia’s opinions on the US BMD program (ballistic missile defense). Whereas only 8% think the European installations are being built to defend against Iran, some 69% of Russians believe that it is to ensure its military superiority over Russia, pressure Russia geopolitically, or defend against Russian nuclear attacks.

Regarding America’s plans to postpone the European BMD sites, some 41% think it is a temporary concession, 16% think it’s just a move in a geopolitical “trade” between Russia and the US – while only 21% consider it a “victory” of Russia. The vast majority of Russians believe that the US will continue with its ABM program.

In other words, Russians are cynical about US intentions – and almost certainly correct to be so.

Oct 1: Russians have a great deal of skepticism towards the 1993 bombing of the Duma in Moscow – they perceive it as being evidence of purely inter-elite struggles, a sign of national decline, etc. Some 81% of Russians say both were wrong, both were right, or N/A.

Sept 8: After a peak in 2002, TV viewership is on a slow decline in Russia, especially amongst the young who have the Internet. However, it remains extremely prevalent, with 86% watching it daily or almost daily.

Sept 4: A slim majority of Russians do not consider Stalin to be a “state criminal”, or mostly responsible for the repressions of the 1930′s-50′s. Around half consider the USSR had some resemblances to Nazi Germany, whereas another half disagree. This illustrates the highly binaried view of Russian society towards Stalin – the despotic Messiah who led and ruled them like the God of the Old Testament.

Whereas 55% of Russians think it important to improve relations with Japan, especially in the sphere of hi-tech, most of them (82%) are against doing this by handing over the southern Kurils.

Sept 3: Around 70% of Russians support 1) the teaching of subjects at elementary schools in non-Russian languages and 2) the teaching of the controversial course “The Foundations of Orthodox Culture”.

Aug 31: A majority of Russians continue going out to pick mushrooms at least once per year.

Aug 26: The best Russian films of the last decade: The 9th Company, The Barber of Siberia, Admiral, Island, Twelve, Taras Bulba, Night Watch, The Turkish Gambit, The Irony of Fate 2, Brother, Love – Carrot, Bastards.

The 63% of Russians expecting a “second wave” of the economic crisis during autumn 2009 were wrong.

Aug 24: In July 2009, some 34% of Russians supported the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact (the August 23, 1939 non-aggression treaty between Nazi Germany and the USSR), 23% condemned it, and 44% didn’t really know or care. Attitudes towards it seem to correlate with those towards Stalin.

Aug 17: Russians are thoroughly disillusioned with the events of the August “Putsch” of 1991, in whose aftermath the USSR collapsed – 42% think it was nothing more than an intra-elite struggle for power, 33% consider it a tragic event with ruinous consequences for the country and people, and just 9% believe it to have been a victory of democracy over the Communist Party.

Aug 7: The increasing penetration of electronic devices in Russia. Do you have a cell phone?

Jan.01 Jan.02 Jan.03 Jan.04 Jan.05 Jan.06 Jan.07 Jan.08 Jan.09 Jul.09
Yes 2 5 9 19 32 45 58 71 78 78
No 98 95 91 81 68 55 42 29 22 22

Do you use a personal computer? (yes if once a month or more; no if less than once per month).

Jan.01 Jan.02 Jan.03 Jan.04 Jan.05 Jan.06 Jan.07 Jan.08 Jan.09 Jul.09
Yes 4 6 6 7 13 13 16 23 30 31
No 96 94 94 93 87 87 84 77 70 69

The latest Levada figures show that 25% of Russians use email.

Jul 27: On the 10-year anniversary of Putin’s power, Russians credit him most with: increasing life quality, salaries, and pensions (22%); economic development (17%); raising optimism about the country’s future (9%); restoration of order and political stability (8%); and the strengthening of Russia’s international standing (5%).

Jul 20: Contrary to some opinions, around 67% of Muscovites approved of the closure of the Cherkizovsky market (20% disapproved).

Jul 1: Putin is most popular in Russia, India, China, and Ukraine; and unpopular in the West and “moderate” Islamic nations.

Jun 30: Some 45% of Russians are opposed to selling Iran nuclear and missile technologies, while 29% don’t mind. As for North Korea’s nuclear program, 70% of Russians prefer to curtail it via diplomatic negotiation or sanctions.

On the occasion of Barack Obama’s visit to Moscow, 57% of Russians thought relations hadn’t improved from the Bush-era nadir, and 55% are against cuts in their nuclear arsenal (bearing in mind that Washington is working on ABM).

Jun 25: Though only 5% of Russians tried drugs and 18% know of friends or relatives who tried drugs, almost all – 97% – consider it to be a serious problem in Russia. Another 65% believe that trying a drug just once may have the potential to create an addiction. (However, Russia’s drug laws are surprisingly liberal, given the conservative attitudes described above).

Jun 19: Why were Soviet losses during the Great Patriotic War significantly higher than Germany’s?

1991 2001 2006 2009
The suddenness of the invasion 21 35 31 35
Stalin’s administration didn’t care for losses 33 22 26 21
German military and technological superiority 16 19 18 19
Weakness and incompetence of Soviet command 12 11 11 10
Nazi cruelty 5 8 9 9
N/A 13 5 5 7

Jun 10: Russia’s friends and enemies – countries scoring more than 30% are highlighted. Friends: Belarus, Kazakhstan, China, Germany, Armenia, India, Cuba, Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, France, Tajikistan, Bulgaria, Venezuela, Italy. Enemies: Georgia, USA, Ukraine, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Poland, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Germany, Japan, Israel, China, Romania.

May 18: Russians’ opinions about the Unified State Exam.

May 5: 63% of Russians celebrate Victory in the Great Patriotic War, and the same percentage think the USSR could have won the war without Allied help (27% disagree).

Apr 29: Another 57% celebrate May 1st, the labor holiday.

Apr 17: The 2008-09 economic crisis had a far smaller effect on Russians’ wellbeing than the 1998-99 crisis. While the percentage of the population barely making ends meet went up from 29% in July 1998 to 40% in December 1998, this figure remained stable at around 10% throughout the recent crisis.

The main shift occurred amongst Russia’s “consumer class” (the ones who buy cars, PC’s, etc), whose percentage of the population tumbled by a quarter from 19% to 14%, and perhaps explains the reason for its large drop in GDP for 2009. The silver lining is that this implies inequality has decreased during the crisis.

Mar 30: Opinions are highly split regarding conscription and the Army. 47% of Russians would like to retain mandatory military service, whereas 43% would prefer a full transition to a contract army.

Jan.00 Jul.00 Jan.02 Feb.05 Oct.05 Feb.06 Feb.07 Feb.08 Mar.09
Conscription 30 34 27 31 39 32 41 45 47
Contract army 63 58 64 62 52 62 54 48 43
N/A 8 8 9 8 9 6 5 7 9

If someone in your army was obligated to perform mandatory military service, would you rather they served, or searched for ways to avoid it?

Prefer him to serve in Army 50
Prefer him to try to avoid service in the Army 35
N/A 15

Rather surprising, perhaps, considering the Russian Army’s reputation for hazing (dedovschina). However, its severity may have declined in the past few years, what with the shortening of the term of service from 2 years to 1 year by 2008 – this automatically removed the “grandfathers” from the barracks (conscripts doing their last half-year of service), who tended to be responsible for the worst abuses. Add in the increase in patriotic propaganda and the start of efforts to repress hazing, and this may explain the recent social “rehabilitation” of military service.

Mar 3: More military questions and answers. Does Russia face a military threat from other countries?

2000 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009
Yes 48 42 47 37 44 40 49 52 50
No 45 42 45 55 44 51 43 38 41
N/A 8 16 8 8 12 9 8 10 9

Is the Russian Army currently capable of defending the nation in the case of a real war threat from other countries?

2000 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009
Yes 60 56 55 60 52 62 65 73 73
No 31 30 38 32 38 28 27 17 17
N/A 9 14 7 8 10 10 8 10 10

Hope you enjoyed browsing through these! ;)

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
 
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On the 70th anniversary of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of non-aggression between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, signed on August 23, 1939 (also my birthday!), historians, ideologues and everyone in between inevitably fall into a game of recriminations, revisionism and relativism. The anti-Soviet side maintains that the Pact gave Germany a free hand in the west and contributed to the onset of war, as represented by OSCE’s recent recognition of Nazi-Soviet equivalence in their culpability for the Second World War. On the other hand, most Russian historians stress that the Pact was a) justifiable on the basis of the Western betrayal of Czechoslovakia at Munich in 1938, and b) gave the USSR valuable time to build up its military-industrial potential for the coming war with Germany.

The “Westerners” (and their liberast Russian allies) tend to impute sinister motives to the Russian leadership’s recent efforts aimed against the “falsification of history” – seeing in them a revival of totalitarian and expansionist thinking, whereas the Russians see this as Western-sponsored “revisionism” whose aim is to impose a sense of historical guilt on the nation. Considering that a glorified version of the Great Patriotic War is fast becoming Russia’s national myth, any acceptance of responsibility for its outbreak is ideologically unacceptable, an a priori anathema. This pits Russia directly against the Visegrad nations of the former Soviet bloc, whose occupation and repression under Soviet / Russian rule – yes, they view the two as interchangeable – is a staple of their national myths, and consequently also brings Russia into a new ideological conflict with the wider West.

Given the huge role of these underlying emotional, ideological and spiritual factors, there is little space left for objective history. But one can try by hi-lighting the kind of international environment the USSR faced during the period and the sense of insecurity that the Western nations instilled in its government through their actions… I’ll start by translating, summarizing and expounding on a timeline meticulously compiled by Sergei Fedosov [my additions] – please see link for his sources:

The Soviet Story: The Timeline

1933 – At the World Disarmament Conference, the British PM proposed to allow the doubling of the German Army and the reduction of the French army by a similar amount.

January 1934 – German-Polish Non-Aggression Pact [caused by Józef Piłsudski's (Poland's authoritarian ruler) concern that a) the French building of the Maginot line implied it would take a defensive pose in the next war and would not come to Poland's aid, b) to reduce the likelihood Poland would become a victim of German aggression, perhaps as part of a Great Power deal (e.g. the Four Power Pact) and c) his perception that Hitler was not as stereotypically-Prussian anti-Polish as his predecessors, going back to Gustav Stresemann (!), and far less dangerous than the USSR - to the point where he opposed French and Czech attempts to include the Soviet Union in a common front against Nazi Germany.]

May, 1935 – Franco–Soviet Treaty of Mutual Assistance; yet the coming to power in France of Léon Blum in June 1936 torpedoed its effectiveness, as they prevented the formation of a military convention stipulating the way in which the two armies would coordinate their actions in the event of war with Germany [in addition to its other onerous conditions, one of which was that military assistance could be rendered by one signatory to the other only after an allegation of unprovoked aggression had been submitted to the League and only after prior approval of the other signatories of the Locarno pact (Great Britain, Italy and Belgium) had been attained].

June, 1935 – Anglo-German Naval Agreement [fixed a ratio where the total tonnage of the Kriegsmarine was to be 35% of the total tonnage of the Royal Navy on a permanent basis, well above the limits of the Treaty of Versailles and concluded without consulting France or Italy].

March, 1936 – Remilitarization of the Rhineland. Amongst other consequences, this was supported by Poland, causing France to dilute its commitments to it. Great Britain took a neutral position. Later Poland also supported the Anschluss with Austria.

19 November, 1937 – During his visit to Obersalzburg, Lord Halifax suggests making an agreement between the Four Powers (excluding the USSR): he says, “I and the other members of the British government are under the impression that the Fuhrer not only achieved a lot in Germany, but with his extirpation of Communism in his own country, he blocked its advance into the rest of Western Europe, and as such Germany can rightfully consider itself as a bastion of the West against Bolshevism”.

End-April, 1938 – Halifax informed the German representative Kordt that Great Britain would not commit to additional military obligations to France, let alone Czechoslovakia.

18 May, 1938 – The president of Czechoslovakia, Edvard Beneš, told the English ambassador: “If Western Europe should lose interest in Russia, Czechoslovakia will lose it too “.

20 September, 1938 – In reply to his pleas, the Soviet government answered Beneš that it would assist Czechoslovakia, should France join in. However, Poland categorically refused the passage of Soviet armies through its territory, even at the request of France. [At around this Poles are saying: "With the Germans, we lose our land. With the Russians, we lose our soul].

21 September, 1938 – At 2am an Anglo-French ultimatum to the government of Czechoslovakia, demanding acceptance of the German demands, was issued. After the signing of the Munich Agreement, the US President sent congratulations to Chamberlain. Neither the USSR not Czechoslovakia was consulted about any of this.

[There was firm evidence of Soviet intentions to coordinate with the Western Allies to contain and if necessary fight Germany over Czechoslovakia (evidence lifted from commentator rkka here):

To start with, Soviet intentions to militarily aid Czechoslovakia are indicated by the delivery of Soviet-built combat aircraft in August and September 1938 through Romanian airspace, Soviet willingness to set aside the issue of Bessarabia in discussion of Soviet forces transiting Romania in the event of a German attack on Czechlslovakia, the mobilization of 10 Tank and 60 Rifle Divisions in the fall of 1938, and the diplomatic note to the Polish government warning that hostile Polish action against Czechoslovakia would void the Polish-Soviet Nonaggression Pact. The Czech leader Benes makes it clear that Soviet support was unstinting:

In September, 1938, therefore, we were left in military, as well as political, isolation with the Soviet Union to prepare our defense against a Nazi attack. We were also well aware not only of our own moral, political, and military prepardness, but also had a general picture of the condition of Western Europe; as well as of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, in regard to these matters. At that moment indeed Europe was in every respect ripe to accept without a fight the orders of the Berchtesgaden corporal. When Czechoslovakia vigorously resisted his dictation in the September negotiations with our German citizens, we first of all recieved a joint note from the British and French governments on September 19th, 1938, insisting that we should accept without amendment the draft of a capitulation based essentially on an agreement reached by Hitler and Chamberlain at Berchtesgaden on September 15th. When we refused, there arrived from France and Great Britain on September 21st an ultimatum accompanied by emphatic personal interventions in Prague during the night on the part of the Ministers of both countries and repeated later in writing. We were informed that if we did not accept their plan for the cession of the so-called Sudeten regions, they would leave us to our fate, which, they said, we had brought upon ourselves. They explained that they certainly would not go to war with Germany just ‘to keep the Sudeten Germans in Czechoslovakia’. I felt very keenly the fact that there were at that time so few in France and Great Britain who understood that something much more serious was at stake for Europe than the retention of the so-called Sudeten Germans in Czechoslovakia. The measure of this fearful European development was now full, precipitating Europe into ruin. Through three dreadful years I had watched the whole tragedy unfolding, knowing to the full what was at stake. We had resisted desperately with all our strength. And then, from Munich, during the night of September 30th our State and Nation recieved the stunning blow: Without our participation and in spite of the mobilization of our whole Army, the Munich Agreement – fatal for Europe and the whole world – was concluded and signed by the four Great Powers – and then was forced upon us.

Dr. Eduard Benes “Memoirs”, Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, 1954, pgs 42 – 43.

I do not intend to examine here in detail the policy of the Soviet Union from Munich to the beginning of the Soviet-German war. I will mention only the necessary facts. Even today it is still a delicate question. The events preceeding Munich and between Munich and the Soviet Union’s entry into World War II have been used, and in a certain sense, misused, against Soviet policy both before and after Munich. I will only repeat that before Munich the Soviet Union was prepared to fulfill its treaty with France and with Czechoslovakia in the case of a German attack.

Benes, pg 131.]

[Following the Munich Agreement, Stalin concluded that the West was fully content to sell the countries of Eastern Europe down the river in the future, including the USSR, and as such decided to reorient his foreign policy away from the West towards reaching a rapprochement with Nazi Germany.]

1 October, 1938 – The Germans occupy the Sudetenland, Czechoslovakia.

2 October, 1938 – Polish armies move into the town of Těšín in Czechoslovakia and the adjoining territory. The implication is that Poland, in conjunction with Nazi Germany, freely participated in the occupation and partition of Czechoslovakia, and as such the Soviet invasion of Poland on 17 September, 1939, was neither a unique nor the first such action during this period.

November 1938 – The Hungarian armies occupy part of Slovakia, including its (now Ukrainian) Zakarpattia region. At the time, Slovakia was a semi-independent nation after the partition of Czechoslovakia in the previous month. Meanwhile, the American ambassador in Paris said, “It would best for the democratic nations if all these Eastern problems came to be solved by a war between Germany and Russia… There is a strong belief in the US, England and France that in the next few months there will begin a great settling of these problems in the East”.

9 March, 1939 – The British ambassador to Berlin, Nevile Henderson: “It appears clear to me that Germany wants to tear off this rich country, Ukraine, from the huge Russian state. We cannot blindly give Germany a carte blanche in the East. Yet it is not impossible to reach an agreement with Hitler, assuming it is limited to reasonable conditions, whose observance by Hitler we can expect”.

10 March, 1939 – Stalin declares the main warmongers to be England and France, not Germany.

14-16 March, 1939 – Bratislava declared full independence, Germans occupy all the remaining Czech regions and Hitler declares the Czech lands to be a Reich Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia.

18 March, 1939 – The USSR sends a protest note to Germany condemning the aggression against Czechoslovakia and announcing its non-recognition of its partition and occupation.

27 March, 1939 – The British Minister for Foreign Affairs, Halifax, tells the ambassador in Warsaw, Kennard: “It should be clear that all our attempts to consolidate our position will be invalidated, should the Soviet government openly take part in this plan”. (Concerning the Soviet offer to call a conference to discuss giving help to Romania).

14 April, 1939 – The British government proposed to the Soviet Union to give unilateral obligations to Germany’s neighboring countries – however, these obligations did not cover the USSR itself.

17 April, 1939 – The Soviet government answers that the conclusion of a tripartite agreement between England, France and the USSR is desirable.

3 May, 1939 – The moderately pro-Western Soviet FM Litvinov is replaced by Molotov.

8 May, 1939 – The government of England and France reject the Soviet offer of alliance, and repeat their memorandum from 14 April [which is a poisoned chalice].

28 May – 15 September, 1939 – Soviet-Japanese conflict around the Khalkhin-Gol river; at the same time, England concludes a [trade] agreement with the Japanese government.

7 June, 1939 – British Cabinet meets to discuss the Soviet offer of a military alliance. The FM Lord Halifax is opposed, citing the US ambassador in Warsaw, Bullitt, to “not give the impression that England is cooperating with the Soviets”.

[The signing of the German-Latvian Non-Aggression Pact between Germany and Estonia & Latvia].

12 June, 1939 – Halifax rejects a Soviet invitation to go to Moscow.

4 July, 1939 – In a foreign policy Cabinet meeting, Lord Halifax suggests the British avoid stalling negotiations and conclude a simple three-way agreement, saying: “There is no need to set Soviet Russia against us, because the main goal of our negotiations is to prevent a Russian agreement with Germany”.

18-21 July, 1939 – Secret meetings between Chamberlain’s close advisor Wilson and the British trade minister Hudson, and the high-ranking German bureaucrat G. Wohltat. The English were offered a rapprochment, including a pact of non-aggression and non-interference, arms reduction treaties, their return of former German colonies, economic cooperation and the recognition of a German sphere of influence over Eastern and South-Eastern Europe. The USSR and China were to become German markets in the new global division of trade. Information about these meetings fell into the hands of the German ambassador in London, von Dirksen, and were conveyed to Berlin, but they did not develop into formal negotiations because of the lack of any reaction from Berlin. News of these British feelers to Germany reached the Soviet Union. [See London and Berlin Plotted Second “Munich Agreement” by Yuri Nikiforov].

29 July, 1939 – The British Labour MP Buxton in conversations with the German diplomat Kordt again stressed the necessity of conductiong secret diplomacy, agreeing to spheres of influence and halting the current debates about concluding a pact with the Soviet Union.

3 August, 1939 – Wilson and von Dirksen had a discussion, about which the latter wrote (in addition to Wohltat’s reports) it could reasonably be concluded that Wilson viewed these talks as an official British feeler towards the Germans, requiring a German response.

7 August, 1939 – Confidential meeting between Goring and a British representative at Shleswig-Holstein, in which the following was mentioned: “Should Germany lose the war, it would result in the spread of Communism and gains for Moscow”.

11 August, 1939 – A minor English delegation arrives in Moscow, going there by slow steamship instead of plane, as was typical for the time. It is uncovered they have no official authority to carry out negotiations. The British and French military missions offered to discuss common principles, but without any consideration of real military plans.

There was a secret meeting between the High Commissioner of the League of Nations in the Free City of Danzig, the Swede Burkhardt, and Hitler, who invited him. At the end of the meeting, Hitler expressed his wish to meet with a high-ranking person from the British government. The sources say that Halifax wrote a letter to Hitler, but never came round to sending it.

At the end of the meeting, Hitler said, “Everything I undertake is aimed against Russia. If the West is so blind and stupid that it can’t understand this, I will be forced to make an agreement with the Russians. Then I will strike against the West and after its defeat, I will unleash my combined strength against the Soviet Union. I need Ukraine…” (this passage is not present in official British publications, the only reference to it lying in Burkhardt’s memoirs).

19 August, 1939 – The signing of a trade and credit agreement between Germany and the USSR in Berlin.

23 August, 1939 – The signing of the notorious German-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact in Moscow. This was a typical non-aggression pact, except for the inclusion of additional secret protocols outlining a division of spheres of influence.

[Fedosov's note - there's a problem with these protocols, because copies of them cannot be found in either the Russian or German archives, but were published on the basis of photocopies present in Germany. One disturbing fact about them is that Molotov's signature appears in the Latin alphabet, which is surprising since he never signed his name in this way. That said, the fact there were no mass clashes between German and Soviet armies in their invasion of Poland, and because of their apparent cooperation with each other in bombing operations and their halt at clear demarcation lines after meeting each other in the middle of Poland, etc, one can conclude that in all likelihood these protocols really did exist.]

Meanwhile, up till the day of the signing the Poles had continued to categorically resist any consideration of Soviet troops crossing Poland in their diplomatic communications. [See Fedosov's document for full details].

25 August, 1939 – Telegram of French ambassador in the USSR to the French ambassador in Poland: “If we could have gotten acquiescence from Poland at the start, this would have prevented the halt in military discussions [with the USSR]… It’s hard to imagine how we could have convinced the USSR to take on obligations against Germany, even despite our best efforts, if the Poles and Romanians we guaranteed did not want to hear anything about Russian help. Hitler unwaveringly made the decision which Józef Beck [the Polish Foreign Minister], having our guarantees, refused to do – he reached an accomodation with Stalin…”

31 August, 1939 – The Soviet Foreign Minister Molotov said in a speech to the Supreme Soviet, “On the one hand, England and France demanded military help from the USSR in the case of aggression against Poland… On the other hand, that same England and France released Poland onto the scene, which categorically rejected military help from the USSR. Now try reaching an agreement on mutual assistance in these conditions, when any Soviet help is from the start judged unneeded and constrained in its options… They blame us because the pact contains no clause providing for its renunciation in case one of the signatories is drawn into war under conditions which might give someone grounds to qualify that particular country as an aggressor. But they forget for some reason that such a clause and such a reservation is not to be found either in the Polish-German Non-Aggression Pact signed in 1934 and annulled by Germany in 1939 against the wishes of Poland, nor in the Anglo-German declaration on non-aggression signed only a few months ago…”

In the same speech Molotov expounded on the reasons for the agreement with Germany at length, “…The point of the German-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact, in which the USSR is not obligated to come to the assistance of neither Germany, nor England or France, in the event of war between them… the USSR will undertake its own, independent foreign policy… if they have such a huge desire to fight, let them fight amongst themselves, without the Soviet Union”.

28 September, 1939 – The signing of a German-Soviet Agreement on Friendship and Borders, which was a formal agreement about their borders, while the only mention of friendship was in Article IV of the agreement: “The Soviet and German governments view the aforementioned changes to be a firm foundation for the future development of friendly relations between the two peoples”.

October 1939 – Britain’s military chiefs discuss the question of “positive and negative aspects of a British declaration of war on Russia” (Fedosov’s note – this is BEFORE the Winter War!).

30 November 1939 – 12 March 1940 – The Soviet-Finnish Winter War. Britain’s decision to disembark troops into Norway, if the war continued (despite both Norwergian and Swedish opposition!). The planning of such actions on the eve of war with Germany were called madness by Churchill.

12 January, 1940 – French ambassador’s memorandum about the outlines of a compilation of Anglo-Franco-Soviet negotiations, prepared by the English side: “On reading these documents there appears the firm impression that from the start to the end of these negotiations the Russian government strongly pushed for this agreement to have the most maximal and all-encompassing character. This Soviet policy of closing all possible doors to German aggression, irrespective of whether it was really genuine, was always rebuffed by Anglo-French reservations and desire to constrain the sphere of possible Soviet intervention… As a result, the publication of the documents will confirm the arguments of those who, genuinely or not, insist that the Soviet government only went over the German side because of England’s and France’s waverings and their refusal to support Moscow without reservations… This English “Blue Book” threatens to unleash the most undesirable, in our current circumstances, polemics”.

18 January, 1940 – Discussion of the question of whether or not to publish the Blue Book. Halifax is against. As a result, the Cabinet decides that it would be a bad idea to publish this book about negotiations with the USSR from the summer of 1939.

January-April, 1940 – On 19 January, the French government, with the approval of the British government, suggested General Gamelin and Admiral Darlan prepare a plan for a direct invasion of the [Soviet] Caucasus. Plans made for a two-pronged attack on the USSR from the Middle East and Scandinavia / Finland. Anglo-French plans for bombardment of Baku, Grozny and Batumi. On 16 March, Gamelin presents a detailed plan for the invasion of the Caucasus and tentative ideas are floated for the construction of airfields in Syria to carry out air strikes on the USSR.

Even during the “phony war” between the German invasion of Poland and its attack on Norway, there is evidence the British continued to see the USSR as the greater threat. The British ambasaddor in Finland: “It is likely the winner in the next European war will not be Hitler, but Stalin, and as such he presents the greater danger… Since our main question now is how to inflict the greatest amount of damage on the USSR, I would suggest making maximum efforts to reach an agreement with Japan, whose natural antipathy towards Bolshevism will draw her towards making a sudden strike on the USSR”.

[Interestingly, during the period after Germany invaded the Soviet Union in July 1941, the Western Allies acknowledged Stalin chose the right strategy by delaying an armed confrontation with Nazi Germany. For instance, the British ambassador in Moscow, Cripps, to the FM Eden on September 27, 1941:

...There's no doubt, that the direct cause of this Pact, as constantly cited by the Soviet leadership, was their wish to stay out of the war. They saw this as possible through an agreement with Germany, at least for a while... Not only did this policy give the USSR a chance to stay out of the war, but also allowed them to acquire those territories from its neighbors, which they saw as being valuable in the case of German aggression against the USSR...

The first step was to seize half of Poland, for the alternative was German occupation of its entire territory. The peace deal with Finland in March 1941 only resulted in the USSR acquiring territory it had originally demanded from them anyway. There's no doubt in my mind that they seriously considered helping out France [in May 1940], but as it became clear the German advance was rapidly leading to France’s utter collapse, they were dissuaded from the idea and decided to keep to an entirely different tactic…

Conclusion: the Nazi-Soviet Pact as Second Munich Agreement

A typical counter-argument to the above narrative is Seventy Years of Shame by Craig Pirrong, encompassing all possible criticisms for the Pact and reiterating all the necessary ideological foundations for waging a New Cold War against Russia.

For instance, the allegation is made that the Soviet Union hedged its way out of any firm commitments to Germany’s East-Central European neighbors, and that Stalin wanted, and did everything he could, to embroil the “imperialist powers” in a war – according to his August 19, 1939 Politburo speech:

We must accept the proposals of Germany and diplomatically discard the British and French delegation. The destruction of Poland and the annexation of Ukrainian Galicia will be our first gain. Nonetheless, we must foresee the consequences of both Germany’s defeat and Germany’s victory. In the event of a defeat the formation of a Communist government in Germany will be essential . . . . Above all, our task is to ensure that Germany be engaged in war for as long as possible and that Britain and France be so exhausted that they could not suppress a German Communist government.

EDIT 2013/01/29: THIS SPEECH WAS A FORGERY LOL.

Both points make sense and are probably true. B ut the exact same applies to the Western Powers, which according to the evidence brought forth in the timeline above a) wanted to tie up Germany and the USSR in a war, regarding the latter as the greater threat to Western civilization, and b) did not treat Soviet proposals for joint inter-Allied obligations against German aggression seriously. The point is that both sides were engaged in a brutal game of Realpolitik – the West wanted the two totalitarian powers to duke it out, while the USSR would have much preferred the capitalist powers to destroy themselves in yet another World War One-like struggle of attrition. In other words, there was a fundamental symmetry between the West and Russia prior to the outbreak of the Second World War, which is now being adamantly denied by the former and asserted by the latter.

As such, the German-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact cannot be construed as a crime – everybody was in on the game, its just that the USSR played it more skilfully than most, at least until Operation Barbarossa. It was a cause of Second World War, but no more than Munich previously, and as such ascribing the USSR joint responsibility for starting the Second World War, as recently done by OSCE, is just one more example of hypocritical Russophobia and “double standards” – cliche though these terms might be, that does not mean they do not apply. And if it really were the case that the Soviet Union shares guilt with Germany for the outbreak of the Second World War, then so do Britain, France and Poland, each in equal measure. Where are the self-righteous condemnations of their antebellum conduct?

Was the Pact a mistake? This is a more complicated question. On the one hand, the Soviet Union provided Germant with valuable stocks of rare earth metals that would contribute to sustaining its war effort for longer than it otherwise could have without resorting to harsh, total-war mobilization and ersatz production (as increasingly happened from 1943). On the other hand, it delayed the war for the USSR by nearly two years, allowing it to a) build up its military-industrial potential (not without the help of German machinery imports!) and b) begin the war from borders 600km farther away from Moscow than they would have been otherwise. The Soviet victory was a close-run thing in 1941 and even 1942, and without the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact the USSR may well have been defeated, paving the way for total Nazi domination of the entire Eurasian continent.

The next point the “Westerners” bring up is that Soviet methods were just as brutal as Nazi ones in their occupied territories. However, there are two major weaknesses with this. First, this is not an argument against the rationality of Soviet motives in acquiring buffer space against the eventuality of German aggression in 1939-41, nor is this an argument proving the moral equivalence of Germany and the USSR in starting the war. The fact is that it was Germany that was the one and only driving force behind a general European war. The Western Allies and the USSR alike, through their mutual distrust of each other and long-term myopia, merely enabled German aggression.

Second, to those East Europeans and Western Russophobes who like to see Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia as two sides of the same coin: if the USSR had lost the Great Patriotic War, this would have resulted in the partial extermination, Siberian exile and helotization of the entire Slavic and Jewish populations of Eastern Europe, as envisaged under Generalplan Ost, Nazi Germany’s genocidal scheme for acquiring Lebensraum in the East, and indeed within the four short years of German domination of Europe some 20mn Slav civilians, 6mn Jews, 3-4mn Soviet POWs and up to a million Roma were killed (it should be noted that the Poles and Baltic peoples were highly complicit in the extermination of their Jews, something they remain loath to recognize – much easier to talk of their sufferings under Soviet repression). While the USSR undeniably repressed wide swathes of East European societies, neither its bloodthirstiness nor its levels of economic coercion ever came anywhere near equalling their experiences under Nazi occupation.

Finally, these New Cold Warriors argue that Russia’s defense of the past augurs its repeat in the future. SWP concludes:

To criticize the Pact is to deny Russia recognition of its legitimate right to dominate “its” space. Molotov-Ribbentrop divided eastern Europe in 1939. Russia wants to divide eastern Europe in 2009. To condemn the former is to delegitimize the latter. So, you can expect even more robust defenses of M-R, and more hysterical attacks against those who criticize it, on this anniversary and in the days to come. For to criticize Stalin and the revisionist USSR is, by extension, to criticize Putin and the revisionist Russia. Their means may differ, but their worldview, and their strategic objectives, are largely the same.

Perhaps. But in my view a far more likely interpretation is that Russia is tired of having a sense of historical guilt imposed upon it, especially since it is later used as a pretext to arrogantly dismiss all its concerns about NATO expansion and foreign policy views on everything from Kosovo to missile defense. Even though it did not lose the Cold War, it is getting the same sort of deal Germany got after the Treaty of Versailles – sole “war guilt” (Cold War) and sole responsibility for Soviet repressions (bypassing the contributions of Georgian spooks, Latvian Riflemen, etc), thus enabling Western justification for alternately bullying, undermining and ignoring Russia.

One thing I agree with SWP on, however, is that the past and present really is prolog to the future. Since it is a hostile organization – proved if anything, by its unbalanced rhetoric during the Georgian-instigated South Ossetian War in 2008 – Russia will try to undermine NATO in favor of more equitable (from its perspective) arrangements, such as European collective security agreements. It is laying the groundwork by courting states such as Finland, Turkey and most importantly, Germany, while trying to marginalize the East Europeans and their main champion, the US. This runs contrary to the constant American interest in preempting the emergence of a Eurasian hegemon, hence the low-key the US reversion to a Cold War policy of containment and strangulation of any resurgent Russian superpower – as demonstrated by Biden’s rhetoric during his July 2009 visits to Ukraine and Georgia, and his (questionable) assertions about Russia as a country in long-term economic and demographic decline.

One thing is clear. The ideological struggle will continue and intensify between Western universalist chauvinism and East European national nationalisms on the one side, and Russian imperial nationalism on the other. History goes in spirals, after all.

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
 
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This is a list of common Russophobe myths about Russia and its people, and the successor to a March 2008 post on a similar theme. Please be sure to check the supporting notes at the bottom before dismissing this as neo-Soviet propaganda. Also partially available en français & на русском thanks to Alexandre Latsa’s translation.

1

MYTH: Life has only improved for a few oligarchs, while the poor and everyone outside Moscow remain impoverished.

REALITY: During Putin’s Presidency, poverty rates more than halved and wages nearly tripled, fueling an on-going consumption boom shared across all regions and social groups.

2

MYTH: Russia is in a demographic death spiral that has gotten worse under Putin and which will soon sink its economy.

REALITY: The birth rate has increased, the death rate has fallen and mortality from murder, suicide and alcohol poisoning has plummeted. Projections of Russia’s future dependency ratios are no worse than for China or the G7.

3

MYTH: Putin abused human rights, personally murdered 200 journalists and returned Russia to its totalitarian past.

REALITY: Too bad that only 3% of Russians agree, despite having easy access to such views via the press, cable TV and the Internet. The number of journalists killed under Putin (17) is less than under Yeltsin (30), and only five of them can be definitively linked to their professional work. Elections have been mostly free and fair.

4

MYTH: Russia’s economy is one big oil bubble, and the severity of Russia’s recession in 2009 confirms this.

REALITY: The extractive industries contributed a negligible amount to Russia’s real GDP growth during the Putin Presidency and the big collapse in output at the end of 2008 was mostly due to Western banks cutting off the credit flows on which many Russian companies had unwisely come to rely upon during the boom years. Russia exports few manufactured goods because its comparative advantage lies in resource extraction.

5

MYTH: Heroic Americans with their British sidekicks won World War Two, while the Russians just threw billions of soldiers without rifles in front of German machine guns and raped every last Prussian wench when they finally arrived in Berlin.

The vast majority of German soldiers were killed, taken POW or otherwise incapacitated on the Eastern front. The Soviet to Axis loss ratio was 1.3:1 and the USSR outproduced Germany in every weapons system throughout the war. The number of alleged rape victims is vastly inflated for propagandistic purposes, and in any case does not come close to the scale of German barbarism which resulted in the deaths of fifteen to twenty million Soviet citizens.

This popular myth appeared because self-serving former Wehrmacht officers wanted to rehabilitate the German Army after World War Two and their goals were shared by American policy-makers in the strained atmosphere of the Cold War.

6

MYTH: Russia brutally invaded Georgia, a beacon of freedom and democracy in the Eurasian darkness.

REALITY: Hours after President Saakashvili promised friendship to the Ossetian people, his forces were invading South Ossetia and raining down indiscriminate rocket fire on sleeping Tskhinvali. Russia’s retaliation was a just and proportionate response to the murder of its citizens and UN-mandated peace-keepers.

The beating of opposition protesters and the shutdown of anti-regime TV networks are serious blemishes on Georgian democracy.

7

MYTH: Russian liberals are altruistic campaigners for justice and the true voice of the oppressed Russian people.

REALITY: The Russian “liberals” (or liberasts, as they are often called) get low single-digit approval ratings from the Russian population, which is not at all surprising given their reputation for mendacious hypocrisy, Bolshevik-like rhetoric and dogmatic support for the West regardless of Russia’s national interests.

8

MYTH: Russians are sexists and xenophobic racists who hate the West.

REALITY: Russian women live longer and are better educated than men, enjoy full abortion rights and participate extensively in the economy. Few Russians are predisposed against the US and there are far fewer anti-Semitic incidents in Russia than in France, Germany and the UK.

9

MYTH: Russia is an aggressive state which is hated by its neighbors.

REALITY: Unlike some superpowers, the Russia Federation has yet to invade another country unprovoked. Most of its neighbors view Russia favorably and a plurality of Ukrainians would be happy to join it.

10

MYTH: The barbarous state of Muscovy arose in the sixteenth century when Ivan the Terrible climbed out of the trees.

REALITY: The more than 1000-year old civilization of Kievan Rus’ was literate, affluent, governed by a legal code that abhorred cruel and unusual punishments (including the death penalty) and accorded women extensive property and inheritance rights.

11

MYTH: Russia is soon going to see a sub-Saharan scaled AIDS epidemic, causing mortality rates to soar and plunging its demography into utter oblivion.

REALITY: These “pessimistic” models rely on assumptions that HIV transmission patterns in Russia will be similar to those prevailing in Africa. This is patently ridiculous given even a cursory acquaintance with differences in their host populations and epidemic dynamics.

The percentage of pregnant women testing HIV positive reached a plateau in 2002 and tended down ever since. Furthermore, since few Russians are malnourished they have greater immune resistance than Africans. Unlike the case in sub-Saharan Africa, in Russia medical equipment tends to be sterilized and having many sexual partners is socially unacceptable.

12

MYTH: Russians are a pack of uncultured illiterates.

REALITY: Russia leads the world in literacy, level of tertiary attainment and the quality of its mathematicians and programmers. It possesses a world-class literary, musical and artistic heritage and to claim otherwise is in fact to admit oneself ignorant and uncultured.

13

MYTH: A nation with European birth rates and African death rates cannot have a future.

REALITY: Sure it can. The post-Soviet collapse in fertility rates was a result of childbirth postponement caused by the transition shock, not a fundamental values shift, and as such can be expected to reverse itself in the next decade. Meanwhile, Russia’s “hypermortality” primarily affects older Russian men who do not directly contribute to population reproduction.

14

MYTH: Russia has fallen to Tsarist levels of inequality and is plagued by endemic, African-level corruption. Both of these have become much worse under Putin.

REALITY: Russia’s level of income inequality and of corruption is average by world standards. Under Putin, they have registered a slight deterioration and slight improvement, respectively.

15

MYTH: Chechnya’s heroic freedom fighters deserve their independence and will soon get it, Insha’Allah!

REALITY: When they had de facto independence, the Chechens created a criminalized, Wahhabi state, practiced ethnic cleansing against local Russians and launched armed raids against border regions. Much as the Russophobes and jihadists may wish otherwise, it is difficult to see how Chechnya could repeat this considering that the region is stabilized, reconstruction is in full swing and the war officially ended in 2009.

16

MYTH: All Soviet space programs were developed by German prisoners of war, who are still kept in labor camps in Siberia.

REALITY: Sorry, but wrong country. All German leading hi-tech professionals, including rocket scientists, surrendered to the Americans and many worked on their space program.

17

MYTH: The Western media is accurate and objective in representing Putin as a ranting autocrat and Medvedev’s puppeteer.

REALITY: Putin is frequently mistranslated, quoted out of context and censored by the Western press in its efforts to portray him as a neo-Soviet fascist overlord. The tandem’s relationship is based on cooperation and they share a longterm goal of transforming Russia into a liberal, affluent society.

18

MYTH: Chinese settlers are taking over the rapidly depopulating Russian Far East and the region is under increasing threat from the People’s Liberation Army.

REALITY: A few hundreds of thousands of Chinese seasonal labor migrants pose no demographic threat to the more than five million Russians in the region. Even if China abandons its traditional focus on south-east Asia and the unthinkable happens, a Chinese conventional attack on Russia will be repelled by tactical nuclear weapons.

19

MYTH: Russia’s industrial base is hollowed out and obsolete, and the stationary bandits who rule it have no interest in making long-term investments into areas like hi-tech. As such, it is doomed to remain a resource appendage of the West.

REALITY: Russia has seen healthy manufacturing expansion aided by a weakened ruble, the creation of special economic zones and a robust industrial policy geared towards gradual import substitution. State funding for education, nanotechnology and other hi-tech ventures has soared in recent years.

20

MYTH: The Soviet Union was doomed to collapse because of its internal contradictions and dependence on oil exports.

REALITY: Theoretical work shows that the Soviet system was fundamentally stable, albeit stagnant. Output collapse was precipitated by Gorbachev’s abandonment of central planning in the absence of evolved market mechanisms, which simply led to ruinous insider plunder and political crisis.

21

MYTH: Russia has proven itself uncooperative and untrustworthy as a Western partner.

REALITY: Bearing in mind the USA’s record of broken promises and undisguised aggression towards Russia coupled with arrogant dismissal of Russian protestations (as seen on Kosovo, NATO expansion, Georgia’s aggression, missile defense, color revolutions, Jackson-Vanik, etc), perhaps the question of just who is uncooperative and untrustworthy should be reconsidered.

22

MYTH: Russia’s youth is liberal and pro-Western, and will soon kick Putin and his KGB goons out of the Kremlin.

REALITY: The most pro-American section of the Russian population are the middle-aged. Russian children and youth are at least as skeptical as their grandparents, despite that – and because – they are the most sophisticated and globally-minded age group.

23

MYTH: New schoolbooks aim to rehabilitate Stalin, steeping the next generation of Russians in the glories of sovereign democracy.

REALITY: The controversial textbook in question had a very limited print run and is in any case one of a huge number of other permitted textbooks. Nor does it leave out Stalin’s repressions and liquidation of entire social classes. Its main “sin” is that it also dares to point out Stalin’s positive achievements and refuses to unequivocally condemn him in the belabored, moralizing way commonly expected of such textbooks.

24

MYTH: Ethnic Russians invent grievances about how they are being discriminated against in Estonia and Latvia,

REALITY: Many human rights organizations have documented that the Russophone minority in Estonia is subject to severe language and citizenship laws. This results in the disenfranchisement of around a quarter of their populations and discrimination against Russophones in employment and education. SS veterans proudly march through the streets of Riga while anti-fascist conferences and protests are brutally broken up.

25

MYTH: Ten million Ukrainians died from the organized famine-genocide of 1932-33, which Russia continues to deny. Understandably most Ukrainians yearn to break free from Russia’s baleful orbit.

REALITY: The famine was caused by the misguided collectivization campaign and aggravated by poor harvests. Though there were around two million excess deaths in Ukraine, overall losses in the Soviet Union were twice as high because South Russia, the Volga region and Kazakhstan were also badly affected. Russia’s position is that the famine was directed against the kulaks (the social class) and not Ukraine (the nation), which is an academically valid point of view; Ukraine on the other hand illiberally criminalizes “Holodomor denial”.

The hardline position on Russia and the Holodomor is exclusively pursued by the discredited Orange elites. In stark contrast, the vast majority of Ukrainians like Russia and Putin would probably win if he could run for the Ukrainian Presidency.

26

MYTH: Russia’s military technology is obsolete, its doctrines are outdated and its armed forces are increasingly decrepit. It will get crushed if it goes to war with China or NATO.

REALITY: Russia is developing fifth-generation capabilities in fighters, surveillance, electronic warfare, information warfare and precision weapons. Upgrading old Soviet platforms with modern electronic technology multiplies their effectiveness. It has major strengths in asymmetric counters like air defense, anti-ship cruise missiles and submarines. Russia retains its Soviet-era military-industrial complex, massive mobilization capacity and huge nuclear forces.

27

MYTH: Stalin killed 62 million innocent souls, making him a far worse tyrant than Hitler.

REALITY: During the entire 1921-53 period, some 4.1mn people were condemned for counter-revolutionary activities, of them 0.8mn to death and 1.1mn of whom died in camps and prisons. After adding the 3.5-5.0mn excess deaths from the collectivization famines, it is hard to see how Stalin could have been responsible for more than ten million deaths at the absolute maximum. Figures in the tens of millions have no basis in physical evidence or demographic plausibility.

Even in just the occupied territories of the USSR, there were there were 13.7mn deaths due to Nazi reprisals, labor requisitioning and famine. Even excluding the vast war casualties, the deaths of about 20mn Slav civilians, 6mn Jews, 3-4mn Soviet POWs and up to a million Roma can be attributed to the Nazis during the far shorter period 1941-45. If Nazi plans had come to fruition, then all the Slavs of eastern Europe would have been exterminated, helotized or driven into Siberian exile. As such, it is hard to see how the latter could be construed as being worse except by the most diehard Russophobes and fascists.

28

MYTH: Putin instigated a vicious clampdown on judicial independence and assaulted Russian civil society with restrictive NGO laws.

REALITY: Under the Putin administration the number of plaintiffs seeking redress through Russian courts increased sixfold and acquittal rates soared from 0.8% to 10%, mainly thanks to the introduction of jury trials, and claimants win 71% of cases against the state. There is now a system of free legal aid, more privacy protections and increased accountability.

The infamous NGO laws merely required the registration of all NGOs, simplified the registration process and extended their rights against bureaucratic interference.

29

MYTH: People have been saying Russia will be great in the future for nearly a thousand years. And every year, Russia keeps getting worse.

REALITY: Popular perceptions of Russians were always bifurcated in the West between optimistic and pessimistic viewpoints, with little room for nuance. However, Russia tends to perform best soon after Russophobe rhetoric reaches its peak and it has indeed improved by almost all meaningful metrics since the late 1990′s.

30

MYTH: Because of the above, Russia is doomed to continued stagnation culminating in collapse and disintegration.

REALITY: Only in your dreams…and in the Economist‘s, which predicted fifteen of the past zero Russian collapses.

It is far more likely that its impressive human capital, macroeconomic rationalism and energy windfalls stand Russia in good stead for convergence to First World living standards by the 2020′s.

31

MYTH: Khodorkovsky was a progressive entrepreneur who is being prosecuted by the evil siloviks for pursuing transparency and democracy. Even if he did steal state assets in the 1990′s, every other oligarch was doing the same so this is selective political persecution.

REALITY: Khodorkovsky transgressed against Putin’s early deal with the oligarchs to leave their ill-gotten fortunes alone in return for halting their meddling in the country’s politics. He bribed Duma members and tried to stack it with his own people in an effort to lower his taxes, which he was already evading on a massive scale. He subverted Russia’s security by insisting on his own pipeline route to the east, maintaining close contacts with Washington neocons and trying to merge his oil company YUKOS with Exxon. There is strong evidence that Khodorkovsky’s employees murdered those who got in his way.

32

MYTH: Yeltsin was a heroic democrat and hero of the people.

REALITY: He might have posed on a tank after checking the hardline Communist coup in 1991, but just two years later those same tanks were bombarding a Duma which dared object to his corrupt privatizations and assault on social welfare. He prosecuted a criminally incompetent war in Chechnya, used administrative resources to win the 1996 elections and surrounded himself with nepotistic cronies. Despite this – or more likely because of this – he was praised and supported by the West.

33

MYTH: Russia uses energy blackmail to intimidate its neighbors and exploits its energy clout to project political influence.

REALITY: It has full rights to charge its neighbors whatever it pleases for its gas, so this is not blackmail. The second part is true enough, but ignores that this is common to all Great Powers – as demonstrated by Western control of international trade and finance organizations and energy imperialism like the Iraq War.

34

MYTH: The Russian Empire was a backward despotism populated by illiterate peasants.

REALITY: Not really a myth, but this perception was becoming increasingly dated during the last years of Tsarism. By 1913 Russia had near universal primary schooling enrollment, a (rapidly growing) literacy rate of 41% and the fastest industrial growth rate in Europe.

35

MYTH: Russia is ruled by the neo-Tsarist Slavophile Soviet-nostalgic Eurasianist ultra-nationalist Orthodox-theocrat quasi-fascist statist Stalinist corporatist gangsta-capitalist Putin

REALITY: And perhaps the fact that he has so many ideologies ascribed to him actually means that he is extremely pragmatic, rational and post-ideological.

36

MYTH: Russia will become an Islamic Caliphate by 2050.

REALITY: Ethnic Russians still account for 80% of the Federation’s population, and since the fertility rates of all major Muslim ethnic groups have declined to below replacement-level rates it is certain that Russians will retain a firm majority into the foreseeable future. And even if Russians and Tatars magically swap demographic places, almost nothing will change because vodka has long since dissolved away the Koran in Russia.

37

MYTH: Stalin wrecked the Red Army by purging all its officers, did not anticipate his buddy Hitler’s attack and blundered by concentrating his forces on the Soviet borders instead of conducting defense in depth. This resulted in the huge casualty disparities between the Wehrmacht and the Red Army in 1941.

REALITY: Though the purges were detrimental to the Red Army, the main reason it experienced officer shortages was its massive expansion from 1.2mn to 5.0mn men during 1938-41. Stalin fully anticipated an eventual German attack, but Soviet intelligence was far from unambiguous about its timing.

Defense in depth at the strategic level would have led to defeat in detail and catastrophe; the policy of mounting constant diversionary attacks on the German flanks, though costly, distorted the shape and sapped the strength of Barbarossa. This ultimately saved Moscow and averted total defeat in 1941.

Though heavily skewed, Red Army loss ratios in 1941 were no worse than those of the Poles or the French when pitted against the Wehrmacht.

38

MYTH: By teaming up with Nazi Germany in the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, the Russians were just as culpable for the outbreak of World War Two as the Germans.

REALITY: Munich. The USSR had been pressing for an alliance with the Western democracies to contain Hitler as early as the 1930′s, but they repeatedly sold it down the river – most notably by betraying Czechoslovakia in 1938, which was partitioned between Germany, Hungary and Poland soon after.

Realizing the West was most interested in having Germany and the USSR duke it out between them, Stalin stalled for time by cautiously cooperating with Hitler while rapidly building up Soviet military-industrial potential.

39

MYTH: Unlike Germany’s reconciliation with its Nazi past, Russia has never apologized for its Soviet past.

REALITY: Why should modern Russians apologize for policies pursued by the small clique that ruled them a long time ago, and many of whom were non-Russians to boot?

No European state has made much effort to fully account for its imperial legacies; the main feature of German exceptionalism was that you were supposed to confine your genocides to colored peoples in hot, sticky places, and in any case a) the Nazi regime was not morally comparable to the Soviet Union and b) even so the only reason Germany apologized so much was because it was occupied. Turkey criminalizes affirmation of the Armenian Genocide, Japan brushes off complaints about its brutal conduct in China during the Second World War and the Baltic states whitewash their involvement in the Holocaust.

Speaking of whom, apologies imply acceptance of responsibility and unleash demands for reparations… Latvia has already set up a commission to calculate a bill for “Soviet-era losses” to present to Russia, which ironically had to be disbanded recently because of the economic crisis.

And yet despite all this, Russia did apologize profusely under Yeltsin. The main difference under Putin is that he dares to chart a more objective course on historical truth, acknowledging past wrongs but refusing to one-sidedly smear Russia’s proud Soviet legacy, unlike his alcoholic predecessor in the Kremlin.

40

MYTH: The difference between a “russophobe” and a “russophile” is that while both “love” Russia, they define “love” differently: the “russophile” does everything he can to destroy the country, while the “russophobe” does everything he can to save it from destruction.

REALITY: The difference between a “Russophobe” and a “Russophile” is that while both “love” Russia, they define “love” differently: The “Russophobe” does everything she can to smear and condemn the country and those who defend it from within her own blinkered frames of reference, while the “Russophile” does everything she can to understand Russia on its own terms.

41

MYTH: Berezovsky is a heroic crusader for democracy.

REALITY: General Lebel said of him, “Berezovsky is the apotheosis of sleaziness on the state level: this representative of the small clique in power is not satisfied with stealing–he wants everybody to see that he is stealing with complete impunity”. He died in a plane crash.

The journalist Paul Khlebnikov christened him, “Godfather of the Kremlin”. He was gunned down on the streets of Moscow.

Berezovsky was involved in multiple scams during the 1990′s and there are strong links tying him to several unresolved murders in the 1990′s. With friends like these, the Russophobes need no enemies.

42

MYTH: The FSB goon Lugovoi assassinated the heroic dissident Litvinenko in the heart of London using ultra-rare polonium only produced in a few reactor cores in Russia. Putin’s refusal to extradite Lugovoi makes him complicit in nuclear terrorism.

REALITY: There are many, many things that don’t fit in this kitschy feel-good (for Westerners) account. Usual claims to the contrary, plutonium is not that rare and is usually a major byproduct in early nuclear weapons development programs. Nonetheless, it would have been much more convenient, easy and reliable to kill him with a gun or knife.

There is also evidence that Litvinenko was in prolonged contact with polonium before the fatal ingestion. One of his associates, the shady Italian, Scaramella, became contaminated before meeting Lugovoi or Kovtun, the two main suspects. Hence only Litvinenko could have contaminated him. (Scaramella was later imprisoned in Italy for attempting to plant incriminating evidence on a suspected nuclear-component smuggler). Russian requests for actual evidence as to the guilt of Lugovoi were stonewalled by the British, who nonetheless arrogantly insisted on extradition in contravention of the Russian Constitution.

Litvinenko could have been an MI6 pawn tasked with investigating a nuclear smuggling ring. Or he could have been complicit himself, either for profit or to incriminate certain Russians. There are many possible interpretations and the James Bond-like version of evil FSB spies silencing dissent abroad expertly spun by Berezovsky and his acolyte Goldfarb is far from the most likely one.

43

MYTH: Human rights abuses and authoritarian trends in Russia are transmitted top down from the Kremlin.

REALITY: If anything, Putin is more liberal than 70% of the Russian population. Russia is a post-totalitarian society with many features of the old order still hanging around in institutions like the police, the penal system and the bureaucracy. It is fully capable of evolving its own brand of democracy, but that requires time and a measure of political consolidation.

44

MYTH: Russia is Mordor.

REALITY: Scratch a Russophobe, and you find a talentless fantasy writer. Sorry to disappoint you folks, but there aren’t billions of orcs beneath the Ural Mountains preparing the final phase of their assault on the West. Not as far as I know, anyway.

45

MYTH: Rising up against the crony pro-Moscow Communists who rigged the elections in Moldova, masses of heroic young democrats tried to Tweet their their nation back into the light of Western iCivilization.

REALITY: The Communists enjoy a broad level of support across all age groups, run a fully democratic country and always steered a course between Moscow and the West. Of their biggest electoral opponents, one was a pro-Romanian nationalist and admirer of fascist dictator Antonescu, and the other had a reputation as the biggest thief in Moldova. The unruly protesters were an unholy mix of Romanian nationalists, common hooligans, and liberast provocateurs with shadowy connections to Atlanticist “pro-democracy” outfits.

46

MYTH: The Kremlin supports Hamas and aids Iran in its pursuit of nuclear weapons.

REALITY: Putin has never met with Hamas and Foreign Minister Lavrov made it clear they would be treated as “undeveloped teenagers” until they recognize Israel. Russia’s relations with Iran are complex – on the one hand, it strongly opposes nuclear enrichment on Iranian soil and refuses to rule out economic sanctions. On the other hand, Iran’s gas reserves pose a substantial long-term threat to Russian energy influence in Europe and it is in Russia’s interests to keep tensions between Iran and the West high.

47

MYTH: A radar and ten interceptor missiles in central Europe will have absolutely no chance of stopping Russia’s huge nuclear arsenal, so it’s just using the issue as a bargaining chip to further its imperial ambitions.

REALITY: Should the US acquires the capability to decapitate Russia’s leadership and destroy its decaying nuclear arsenal in a first strike, then even a small ABM system could mop up any Russian retaliation. Furthermore, once the basic Air Defense Ground Environment is built up, massively expanding the system becomes much cheaper. Though this is a paranoid way of looking at things, only the paranoid survive. Especially in the military.

48

MYTH: Nations that have embraced the West like Georgia and Ukraine are much more economically dynamic than Russia, which proves the bankruptcy of the Kremlin’s economic model.

REALITY: Since Georgia and Ukraine are much poorer than Russia and collapsed farther after the dissolution of the USSR, they are supposed to have higher growth rates. But they actually don’t. Ukraine’s growth rate of 7% was similar to Russia’s during the boom years from 2000-2008 and its year on year GDP collapsed by a stunning 20%+ in Q1 2009. Though Georgia’s growth rate of 9-10% under Saakashvili’s market fundamentalism was substantially higher, it started from a much lower base and was accompanied by rising social iniquity, deindustrialization and the removal of the social safety net.

49

MYTH: Since most Russians are lazy, irresponsible and submissive sovok sheeple, they will remain backwards and under the thumbs of Kremlin thugs for a long time to come.

REALITY: Ushering in the new era of legality, markets and social activism is the so-called Putin generation, which has vastly differing values from those of older generations – initiative, boldness, hierarchy, individualism, cosmopolitanism and patriotism. Furthermore, many Soviet-era values like love for the Motherland, confidence in tomorrow, community spirit, social justice, courage, tolerance and skepticism remain highly respectable.

50

MYTH: Russians are extremely pessimistic, unhappy and spiritually doomed. A people who don’t believe in a better tomorrow can’t have one.

REALITY: After a long period of disillusionment, at the end of 2006 more people began to believe Russia was moving in a positive than in a negative direction, and from early 2008 more people felt confident in tomorrow than not. Though the economic crisis dented confidence, social morale is still far higher than during the Time of Troubles in the 1990′s.

Notes:

1. According to Rosstat, from 2000-2007 poverty rates have more than halved (from 30% to 14%). In real terms during 2000-2007, pensions have grown by a factor of 2.3 and wages by a factor of 2.6 (while the Gini index of inequality has remained roughly steady). A consumption boom has seen soaring automobile ownership, greater average living spaces and cell phone and Internet penetration by 2008 exceed 100% and reach 28%, respectively.

2. From 2000-2008 per thousand people, the birth rate has increased from 8.7 to 12.1, while the death rate has fallen from 15.3 to 14.8 – thus, natural population growth has improved from -6.6 to -2.6. Similarly, infant mortality has tumbled from 15.3/1000 to 8.5/1000. (In fact, increased migration meant the total population fall in 2008 was just -0.09%, i.e., virtually flat and not substantially different from Japan, Germany or just about any central-east European nation). During the same period, mortality from alcohol poisonings, suicide and murder has nearly halved.

However, all of this misses the point that in economics what matters isn’t the population or its growth rate per se, but the dynamics of the working age population as a percentage of the whole population – in this respect, Russia’s projected decline is no more severe than that in the the G7 or China (see pg.8 of this Goldman Sachs report). Fiscal problems will occur only if a) the old-age dependency ratio is high and b) old age social security systems are too generous or improperly structured. Russia’s old-age ratio is not projected to get excessively high even by 2050, while the World Bank believes long-term fiscal sustainability will be assured if the primary non-oil budget deficit remains below 4.7% of GDP.

For more on Russia’s demography, please see my articles Rite of Spring: Russia Fertility Trends and Through the Looking Glass at Russia’s Demography.

3. The Western notion that Putin has strangled Russia’s nascent democracy is not one shared by the silent Russian majority. 64% of Russians think Putin has had a positive influence on democracy and human rights, while only 3% think it was ‘very negative’ (see recent BBC World Service poll and Fedia Kriukov’s excellent commentary on it). The data on journalists is taken from the Committee to Protect Journalists‘ database and Fedia Kriukov’s audit of it. See also Nicolai Petro in Russia through the looking glass and Russian democracy: a reply to Mischa Gabowitsch.

No election watch-dog has been able to point out anything other than vacuous allegations that I’m aware of. For instance, on the topic of the 2008 Presidential elections, please consult the response of independent Russian election monitor GOLOS (here):

GOLOS Association observed that the Election Day was held in a relatively quiet atmosphere in contrast to the State Duma election day. Such large-scale violations observed then as campaigning next to polling stations, transporting of voters, intimidation of voters and others were practically non-existent. Polling stations were better prepared and the voting process was better organized. At the majority of polling stations voters’ lists were properly bound, there were fewer representatives of administration at inside polling stations. In general the process of opening of the polling stations went well without any major incidents.

4. To take 2007 as an example, Russia’s economy grew by 8.1%, driven by construction (16.4%), retail (12.0%), finance (10.4%) and manufacturing (7.9%) and weighted down by the extractive industries (a meager 0.3%) (source). This pattern has held since 2005, and even in the 2000-2004 period only a third of growth was due to increasing hydrocarbons production according to Rudiger Ahrend of the OECD. See also the Economist Intelligence Unit’s (which unfortunately the Economist itself ignores) Russia’s booming economy, which illustrates the bankruptcy of several conceptions about Russia’s economy, including a) its hydrocarbons dependence and b) supposed stagnation in investment and manufacturing. Continuing increases in oil prices during 2003-2008 masked volume growth in non-hydrocarbons exports. Before the crisis, Russia had a healthy current account surplus, 600bn $ in foreign currency reserves and healthy budget surpluses intended to break even at 65$ / barrel oil.

For an insight into the vital importance of Western intermediation towards funneling credit into the Russian economy and its problems stemming from lacking an indigenous financial system, check my The Importance of Self-Sufficiency.

During the fat years, Russia bought up foreign currency reserves (e.g. T-Bills, US state-guaranteed mortgage securities, etc) to prevent an excessive ruble strengthening, which would have hurt manufacturers and exporters. However, this starved the local market of capital, thus forcing the domestic corporate sector to access foreign debt finance – therefore the rapid rise in official reserves were matched by a corresponding rise in private indebtedness, albeit the latter proceeded at a slower pace and allowed Russia to remain a large net creditor nation. This was a conservative and pricey choice, since the interest on the borrowing was substantially greater than the yields on Russia’s sovereign assets, thus forcing Russia Inc. to pay a ‘very substantial “spread” between the yield on its assets and the cost of the private debt in return for this foreign intermediation’. In light of the global credit crunch, it ended up providing only an ‘illusory degree of security’ for a ‘hefty price’. This is because now the Russian corporate system faced a triple whammy as credit availability dried up, existing creditors demanded repayments and and the commodity prices on which their balance sheets depended plummeted.

5. This can actually be said to encompass four myths, which I comprehensively refuted in The Poisonous Myths of the Eastern Front. I will quote summaries; please see the post for supporting notes:

MYTH I: Heroic Americans with their British sidekicks won World War Two, while the Russian campaign was a sideshow.

REALITY: Although Western Lend-Lease and strategic bombing was highly useful, the reality is that the vast majority of German soldiers and airmen fought and died on the Eastern Front throughout the war.

MYTH II: The Russians just threw billions of soldiers without rifles in front of German machine guns.

REALITY: The vast majority of German soldiers were killed, taken POW or otherwise incapacitated on the Eastern front. T he Soviet to Axis loss ratio was 1.3:1 and the USSR outproduced Germany in every weapons system throughout the war. [For comprehensive stats on the matter, check out Colonel-General G. F. Krivosheev's authoritative book Soviet casualties and combat losses in the twentieth century; another good source / summary is Sergei Fedosov's article поБеда или Победа: как мы воевали].

MYTH III: Though the Wehrmacht fought with honor and dignity on the Eastern Front, the Russians killed all the German POW’s and raped and looted east Germany when they conquered it.

REALITY: The Great Patriotic War was an absolute war that was more brutal than anything seen in the West by orders of magnitude throughout its entire length. The hundreds of thousands German civilian and POW deaths at Soviet hands, though tragic, pale besides the up to 15-20mn Soviet civilian dead and the 60% mortality ratio of Soviet POW’s in German camps. Set against these numbers, the Red Army rapes in east Germany seem almost irrelevant. [See Fedia Kriukov's refutating comment about the validity of "megarape" estimates attributed to the Red Army].

MYTH IV: The mainstream Western narrative on the Eastern Front during the Second World War was formed by academic historians and is fundamentally fair and objective.

REALITY: The exigencies of the Cold War, coupled with traditional US anti-Communism, meant that many Americans sympathized with the German narrative of the war. In particular, the Wehrmacht officers talked, networked and wrote about how the German military was not complicit in Nazi war crimes so as to cement West Germany (not to mention their own careers) into the Western alliance on equal terms. The complexities and compromises of military involvement in genocide in the East was whitewashed into a kitschy image of the German soldier as a patriot braving the odds to defend family and Heimat from the Bolshevik hordes. The US military and politicians were just fine with this, because they faced an ideological struggle and possible land war with the Soviet Union. Though there is serious and reasonably objective Western academic work on the Eastern Front, popular culture is still dominated by German memoirs and a-historical romanticizers.

6. There is a wealth of evidence for the position that Georgia initiated the 2008 Ossetia War. For a summary, see Spiegel‘s A Shattered Dream in Georgia: EU Probe Creates Burden for Saakashvili: Other key articles include my The Western Media, Craven Shills for their Neocon Masters; How to Screp up a War Story by Mark Ames; and this BBC documentary about the evidence of Georgian atrocies – What really happened in South Ossetia?

There are many articles even in the Western media covering Saakashvili’s strong-arm tactics against the opposition, though the difficult issue of Western complicity (through silence) in it – especially when contrasted against the howls and cries whenever an unsanctioned protest in Russia is broken up – is rarely raised. Because it would reveal the moral bankruptcy behind the West’s support for Saakashvili, of course.

Read Russia’s Limousine Liberals (Anatol Lieven) and Why Russian Liberals Lose (Nicolai Petro).

8. For abortion laws, see Wikipedia. For other stats, see the WEF Gender Gap Index 2007 Russia section, according to which women are better educated, healthier and constitute 38% of decision-makers and 64% of professional workers. (Admittedly, the political subsection isn’t as good, though it should be noted that since the last Duma elections, the percentage of women in parliament has increased from 10% to 14% and two women have entered the Russian Cabinet). Only 8% of Russians view Americans very negatively (an attitude not shared by most people in Latin America and the Middle East). In 2006, a typical year, there were 136 violent anti-Semitic incidents in the UK, 97 in France, 74 in Canada, 38 in Germany and 34 in the Ukraine, compared to just 30 in Russia (according to the Stephen Roth Institute for the Study of Contemporary Anti-Semitism and Racism).

9. 81% of Ukrainians, 78% of Bulgars, 59% of Slovaks and 54% of Chinese view Russia favorably (in each country, that’s more than those who view the US in a positive light). These opinion polls are from the 47-nation PEW survey Global Unease with Major Powers. (Ok, admittedly the same cannot be said for Poles and the Czechs). Some 54% of Ukrainians are positive about joining the Union of Russia and Belarus, while only 24% are negative (see this poll). More Ukrainians would prefer to join the Union of Russian & Belarus (43%) than the European Union (30%) (see Levada poll here), and this is still the case as of 2009 – see Would the real Ukraine please stand up?

A Ukrainian public opinion study recently published by the Kiev-based Research and Branding polling institute found that top Russian politicians, including Dmitry Medvedev and Vladimir Putin, enjoy sky-high public approval ratings—much more impressive than those of their Ukrainian counterparts. Moreover, the number of Ukrainians who want a union state with Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan is greater than the number of those rooting to join the European Union.

According to Gallup polls in recent years, all the former Soviet countries except Armenia and Georgia massively approve of the Russian leadership and in all post Soviet nations except Azerbaijan pluralities want at least an economic union. Though some might quibble with the assertion that Russia has not invaded any sovereign states in the post-Cold War period, citing Georgia. This is unfair and disingenuous – please see Myth #6.

10. Read the Kievan Rus’ wiki and consult its sources for confirmation and more information. Just to pre-empt any confrontations, I am aware that some Ukrainian nationalists consider the history of Rus’ to be exclusively theirs, dating the emergence of the Russian state to the late medieval expansion of Muscovy. This is a ridiculous viewpoint. Firstly, Kievan Rus’ also covered modern-day Belarus and most of European Russia west of the Volga. Secondly, even Muscovy can trace its ancestry from the principality of Vladimir-Suzdal’, which was nearly as old as Kiev or Novgorod.

11. See my article Myth of the Russian AIDS Apocalypse:

In 2007 [Russian government anti-AIDS crusader] Pokrovsky believed that there were “as many as 1.3mn” people infected with AIDS, very far from the multi-million rates he was predicting just five years ago, and not a catastrophic increase from “expert estimates” of 0.8mn in 2000. [Comprehensive] Russian government data shows that the percentage of pregnant women testing HIV positive reached a plateau in 2002 and tended down ever since. The models used by Eberstadt and co. are themselves critically flawed, because according to the international research program Knowledge for Action in HIV/AIDS in Russia, they assume that “the epidemic would be essentially heterosexual in nature and follow trends observed in sub-Saharan Africa”, which is “not borne out by current surveillance data from Russia”. (They are also not borne out by the slightest acquaintance with comparative development and sociology. Few Russians are malnourished and hence have greater immune resistance, their medical equipment tends to be sterilized and it is socially unacceptable for them to have many partners or engage in anal sex; all this cannot be said for sub-Saharan Africans).

12. Russia has universal literacy (see World Bank). Statistics on the percentage of the population with tertiary education from the OECD. In PIRLS 2006 (Progress in International Reading Literacy Study), Russia came first in the world on the average combined reading literacy score. In mathematics, 17% of all Fields Medal winners (and 36% since the RF came into existence) have been Russian/Soviet nationals (see Wikipedia). Programming prowess is indicated by articles such as these (The next Silicon Valley: Siberia) and reflected in things like Maths Olympiad and programming competition results.

13. See, in particular, the short intro Through the Looking Glass into Russia’s Demography.

…First, fertility expectations today are little different from those of the late Soviet era, when the TFR was still relatively healthy. According to numerous surveys since the early 1990’s, Russians consistently say they want to have an average of 2.5 children. This is broadly similar to respondents from the British Isles, France and Scandinavia, who have relatively good TFR’s of around 1.7-2.1. This suggests Russia’s post-Soviet fertility collapse was caused by “transition shock” rather than a “values realignment” to middle-European norms, where people only want 1.7-1.8 children.

Second, a major problem with the TFR is that it ignores the effects of birth timing. A more accurate measure of long-term fertility is the average birth sequence (ABS), which gives the mean order of all newborn children. If in one fine year all women in a previously childless country decide to give birth for some reason, the TFR will soar to an absurdly high level but the ABS will equal exactly one. In Russia the ABS remained steady at 1.6 children per woman from 1992-2006, little changed from Soviet times, even though the TFR plummeted well below this number. This indicates that many women were postponing children until they settled into careers and improved their material wellbeing – a hypothesis attested to by the rising age of mothers at childbirth since 1993. Though this may be a false positive if many women remain childless, the 2002 Census indicated that only 6-7% of women did not have any children by the end of their reproductive years. This indicates that childlessness is not in vogue and worries about widespread sterility are overblown.

Third, a new confident conservatism has recently taken hold in Russian society. After two decades of disillusionment, at the end of 2006 consistently more Russians began to believe the nation was moving in a positive than in a negative direction. It is likely no coincidence that it the TFR began to consistently rise just then – from 1.3 in 2006 to about 1.5 in 2008, though generous new child benefits helped.

High mortality rates only have a direct impact on replacement-level TFR when significant numbers of women die before or during childbearing age, as in Third World countries. Russia’s infant mortality rate of 8.5 / 1000 in 2008 is close to developed-country levels and not statistically significant. Though tragic and unnecessary, its “hypermortality” crisis mainly affects older men and as such has negligible direct effects on fertility.

For a more in-depth explorations of these issues, consult my Rite of Spring: Russia’s Fertility Trends (recommended by Thomas PM Barnett), Russia’s Demographic Resilience (what the economic crisis means for Russia’s demography) and Faces of the Future (my own models of future Russian demography).

14. Russia’s income Gini coefficient (a standard measure of income inequality) of around 41.3 as of 2007 is high only by the standards of socialist European countries. It is lower than in the US, China and the vast majority of developing countries. It has remained almost completely constant from 1994-2003, and by projection, to 2007 (see HDR05 RF: Rusia in 2015, p.33). Only 17% of Russians paid a bribe to obtain a service in 2007 (see Transparency International’s GCB) – putting them into the same quintile as Bulgaria, Turkey and the Czech Republic, i.e. slap bang in the middle of world corruption rather than at the end. Even according to the World Bank (control of corruption 16.5 in 2000; 24.3 in 2006) and Transparency International (CPI of 2.1 in 2000; 2.3 in 2007), which crucially rely on foreign perceptions of corruption in Russia, transparency has slightly improved under Putin. I have already discussed issues of inequality and corruption (in particular the problem with CPI) here and here. To quote A Normal Country (Andrei Shleifer & Daniel Treisman, Foreign Affairs, Mar/Apr 2004) in extenso:

Yet what about sources less dependent on the perception of outsiders? In the summer of 1999, the World Bank and the EBRD conducted a survey of business managers in 22 postcommunist countries. Respondents were asked to estimate the share of annual revenues that “firms like theirs” typically devoted to unofficial payments to public officials “in order to get things done.” Such payments might be made, the questionnaire added, to facilitate connection to public utilities, to obtain licenses or permits, to improve relations with tax collectors, or in relation to customs or imports. Respondents were also asked to what extent the sale of parliamentary laws, presidential decrees, or court decisions had directly affected their businesses, in the hope of measuring the extent to which policymakers were co-opted by business.

On both the “burden of bribery” and “state capture” dimensions, Russia ranked right in the middle of its postcommunist peers. On average, Russian firms reportedly paid 2.8 percent of revenues on bribes, less than in Ukraine and Uzbekistan, and far less than in Azerbaijan (5.7 percent) and Kyrgyzstan (5.3 percent). The percentage who said it was “sometimes,” “frequently,” “mostly,” or “always” necessary for their firms to make extra, unofficial payments to public officials in order to influence the content of new laws, decrees, or regulations was also about average: 9 percent, compared to 24 percent in Azerbaijan, 14 percent in Latvia and Lithuania, and 2 percent in Belarus and Uzbekistan. In both cases, Russian responses were very close to what one would predict given Russia’s relative level of economic development.

How does corruption in Russia affect individuals? The UN conducts a cross-national survey of crime victims. Between 1996 and 2000, it asked urban residents in a number of countries the following question: “In some countries, there is a problem of corruption among government or public officials. During [the last year] has any government official, for instance a customs officer, a police officer or inspector in your country asked you, or expected you, to pay a bribe for his service?” The percentage of positive responses in Russia was about average for the developing and middle-income countries surveyed. Some 17 percent of Russians said they had been asked for or had been expected to pay bribes in the preceding year, fewer than in Argentina, Brazil, Lithuania, or Romania. Again, Russia’s relative position was almost exactly what one would expect given its per capita income.

15. See the Chechnya section from my old article What we Believe.

Re-allegations of “Russian genocide”. Note that from 1989 to 1994, the 250,000 ethnic Russians living in the two Chechen regions of the River Terek were reduced to just 20,000, i.e. they were ethnically cleansed from the area under the kind attentions of “free Chechnya”. Meanwhile, from 1989 to 2002, according to the census results of those respective years, the Chechen population in the Russian Federation increased by 42% from 957,000 to 1,360,000. If this is an anti-Chechen genocide, then it must have been the most incompetent in history.

16. See Brother Karamazov’s comment from the original Top 10 Russophobe Myths post:

All German leading hi-tech professionals, including rocket scientists, surrendered to Americans. Many of them were working in the USA; for some time as half-prisoners, e.g. Wernher von Brown’s team. Wernher von Brown was placed in charge of American space programmes in the end of 50s in order to close the gap with the soviets. He successfully completed the task by landing Americans on the Moon. In contrast, soviet space research was lead by ethnic Russian Sergei Korolev. Boris Raushenbakh, the highest ranked ethnic German in the soviet rocket program, was born to an ethnic German family settled in Russia well before the revolution. He grown up and was educated entirely in the USSR. He was imprisoned in a soviet labour camp in the very beginning of his professional career during the war alongside with many other ethnic Germans who lived in the USSR, similar to the detention of ethnic Japanese in the USA.

17. See The Unfathomable Depths of Western Hypocrisy and Is CNN Getting Kicked Out of Russia? by Yasha Levine for the full story of CNN’s odious censorship of its Putin interview. Basically, it transformed his coherently argued points about the historical origins of the Georgian-Ossetian antagonism, the justice of Russian intervention and inconvenient questions about US involvement in the affair, to seem like a crazy rant about global neocon conspiracies and embargoes on dead chickens (in contrast Saakashvili got regular 5-10 min slots at CNN, unedited).

Another good example is the famous Putin speech from 2008 stating that, “крушение Советского Союза было “крупнейшей геополитической катастрофой века” , which translates as “the greatest geopolitical disaster of the century”. True enough. But now for the all-vital context: Putin was acknowledging the fact that there was some good in the USSR (e.g. values of fairness, idealism, etc), and that its collapse was brought about in corrupt and incompetent ways that ended up making the whole thing catastrophic for many folks (as confirmed by a myriad of socio-economic statistics). Yet during that 2005 speech he also stressed that “the development of Russia as a free and democratic state to be our main political and ideological goal”, and praised the steps taken towards that even amidst the chaos and disintegration of the Yeltsin era. So this is hardly the ravings of a Russian chauvinist dead-set on resurrecting the Soviet empire. Another example – the (in)famous Munich speech in 2007, in which his (rather measured and rational) criticism of US military unilateralism was reinterpreted to sheer absurdity by the neocons.

Re-Putin and Medvedev, their old relationship is one of Putin the mentor and Medvedev the protege. As such it is not surprising that it is generally still Putin who takes the international limelight, but this will presumably change as Medvedev finds his own feet – much as Putin remained in the shadow of the oligarchs in the first few years of his Presidency. More sources about the dynamics at the heart of the Putin circle include The Great Transformation: How the Putin Plan altered Russian Society and The Medevedev Moment by Nicolai Petro and Eric Kraus’ critique of ideas that Medvedev is a stooge / threat to Putin.

So in conclusion, it pays to be extremely wary of Western media reports on anything Putin, or Russian officials in general, say.

18. See my Myth of the Yellow Peril.

19. Russia saw a vigorous manufacturing revival during the 2000′s, with soaring domestic production of consumer goods substituting those previously imported. The ruble was kept artificially weakened, special economic zones were created and foreign firms carrying out assembly work in Russia were given incentives to draw their supplies from domestic producers. Automobile production rose from 1.2mn in 2000 to 1.8mn in 2008 (OICA), the company Power Machines (Силовые машины) is one of the world’s leading producers of turbines and the country has successfully joined in supplying the regional jet market with the Sukhoi SuperJet.

Though it is undeniable that there is still a large degree of unproductive rent-seeking and corruption in the Russian economy (that it has its share of “stationary bandits”, to use Mancur Olson’s terminology), it is folly to deny the obvious progress in manufacturing production made and the improvements in the business climate that made it possible. After all, unlike the “roving bandits” of the 1990′s, their stationary counterparts actually have incentives to improve their assets and profit from them, instead of stripping them down and making with the proceeds to Miami Beach or Londongrad. Furthermore, as proved by successful emerging markets like South Korea such economic policies can indeed work (see Putvedev is Russia’s White Rider). Finally, if there’s one thing that the economic crisis revealed is that Westerners should not be so complacent about the absence of rent-seeking and corrupt parasites in their own economies.

To gauge the seriousness with which Russia is pursuing an innovation economy, check out Russia’s Nanotechnology crash program and this forum thread about Russian nanotechnology investments, developments, etc. Though one can argue this is a waste of state resources, the historical evidence suggests that some level of state support is necessary for incubating successful hi-tech industries. This is especially the case in Russia which has traditionally pursued state-backed modernization programs.

20.See Are command economies unstable? Why did the Soviet economy collapse? by Mark Harrison.

21. Just a few examples would include: NATO broke its early guarantees disavowing eastern expansion in return for German reunification; criminally attacked and dismembered Serbia on false pretenses of genocide without listening to Russian concerns; encouraged enmity against Russia throughout the post-Soviet space; possibly allowed Georgia to go ahead with its criminal assault on South Ossetia; unilateral abrogation of the ABM (Anti-Ballistic Missile) Treaty in 2002; financial and moral support for color revolutions throughout the post-Soviet space; pushing a Russophobic agenda from the highest political levels; pushing Georgia and Ukraine into NATO, despite the fact that Georgia has outstanding territorial claims and most Ukrainians are firmly opposed to joining NATO, the retainment of the Jackson-Vanik amendment penalizing trade with Russia despite the fact that it is no longer a Soviet Union which restricts Jewish emigration, the blocking of WTO entry, etc, etc, etc…

That said Russia can certainly cooperate with Washington in an atmosphere of mutual respect, e.g. work towards containing nuclear proliferation, combating terrorism in Central Asia (Moscow recently allowed transport of goods, including military goods, across its territory to support military efforts in Afghanistan).

22. The social group most disillusioned with the West are young Muscovite university-educated men. Susan Richards in Russians don’t much like the West:

The obvious response to these findings is that attitudes will change over time, as people get richer. But this study appears not to bear out these hopes. For where you might have expected young Russians to like the West more than their parents, in fact, the opposite is true. The youngest respondents (20-year-olds) showed the same degree of dislike of the US as their grandparents, while the 35-45 year olds were less hostile to the US.

This is not, however, because of Putinist brainwashing – contrary to what one might believe. Nicolai Petro in Russia’s New Cyberwarriors:

…unlike their elders who were uncomfortable dealing with the outside world, today’s young Russians are not about to let insulting stereotypes about their lives and their values pass totally unchallenged. To earn their respect, one has to give it.

Until recently, Russians rarely ever saw what was said about them in the Western media. When they did, language barriers and scarcity of internet access meant they had no way to respond in a timely manner, and to set the record straight.

But now that a quarter of the population has regular internet access, they can read what is being written about their country in real time on Russian translation sites, and they are finding out, as Daniel Thorniley, Senior Vice President of the Economist Group recently put it, that it is “95 percent rubbish” (true, he was talking about business–an area where the coverage is still relatively favorable).

For the first time in history, the global reach of the internet is allowing large numbers of Russians (and others within the former Soviet Union) to talk to the West directly, rather than only through the filter provided by visiting journalists and pundits. This means the free pass given by Russians to those who write about them, something that most of us here have long taken for granted, is rapidly coming to an end. We already see the first signs of the new era in the blistering comments from outraged Russian readers that now appear regularly on the web sites of major British newspapers…

There attitudes are becoming prevalent even amongst Russian schoolchildren, but unfortunately the West has no-one but themselves to blame (see #21).

23. See my translation of the controversial chapter in question The Case of the “Stalinist” Textbook, as well as a summary of my arguments about the textbook and the Western media’s malevolent approach to it in Manipulating Russia’s Manipulation of History.

24. According to the Amnesty International report Estonia: Linguistic Minorities – Discrimination must end, Russophones who arrived after Estonia’s incorporation into the USSR, and their children, were denied citizenship except upon the completion of strict language proficiency exams. This is unrealistic for the many older folks who arrived in the 1950′s- 1960′s and helped build up the Estonian industrial economy, who have now been discarded as worthless detritus. They are unable to vote in national or European elections. Unemployment is two to three times higher amongst Russophones than ethnic Estonians, and many of the former have left to find work in other countries of the EU or returned to Russia. All public sector jobs and the vast majority of non-manual private sector jobs, even in almost completely Russian cities like Narva, require certificates of language proficiency in Estonian. There is a lot of petty discrimination against Russians on the part of ethnic Estonian nationalists. The ominously-named outfit the “Language Inspectorate” goes about making unannounced visits to workplaces to check up language skills and fine employers and fire workers who do not show the requisite Estonian-language abilities. The Polity IV project has given Estonia a democracy score of 6/10, making it only marginally democratic by their definition. The LSE study Discrimination against the Russophone Minority in Estonia and Latvia characterizes the two Baltic states as “ethnic democracies” who place “extensive policy regimes of discrimination” based on restrictions on Russophones under three policy pillars – citizenship, language, and participation. This is despite the fact that the vast majority of Baltic Russians, perhaps naively in terms of their own interests, supported the independence of their newly-adopted nation, not knowing that it would refuse to reciprocate the favor.

Nicolai Petro in Russian rights and Estonian wrongs:

…The government’s discriminatory policies have included: the passage of laws requiring that all political meetings and private businesses be conducted by “fluent” speakers of Estonian, the removal of the popularly elected mayor of the town of Sillamae for not speaking Estonian well enough, the prosecution of elected officials in the town of Narva under hate-crimes statutes for taking part in a World War II memorial service under the slogan “Narva is against fascism!” and the abrupt cancellation of all 25 Russian television channels by cable operators in the capital, Tallinn (watched by a quarter of city’s population).

In the early ’90s it was deemed more important to encourage the disintegration of the Soviet Union. Later, in the mid-’90s, during the debates over expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, it was said that security concerns should be paramount. At the turn of the century, European Union expansion was given precedence. At each turn, non-native residents were assured by Western leaders that Estonia’s inclusion in these organizations would soon take care of all their problems. Instead, however, Estonian leaders have taken approval of membership in Western organizations as proof that they can safely ignore the civil rights of their non-native minority…

Given this history, it is scarcely surprising that minority sensitivities registered so little with the government that a monument to the fallen of World War II was dismantled nearly on the eve of Victory Day, the one holiday universally revered by former Soviet citizens of all nationalities.

…How can anyone take human rights seriously if Western politicians scream bloody murder at the detention of a few score demonstrators in Moscow, but then try to sweep the arrest of more than 1,000 and the injury of several hundred in Estonia quietly under the rug .

These issues came to the fore when the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was dismantled, resulting in vigorous Russophone protests against discrimination that were brutally crushed. To add insult to injury, Russia was also baselessly accused of conducting “cyberterrorism” against Estonia and a NATO cyberwar center is being built in that country.

Latvia also prosecutes “economic saboteurs” who suggest it may have to devalue its currency.

25. Serious estimates of Ukrainian deaths range from 3.0-3.5mn (Stanislav Kulchytsky), who is championed by those claiming it as genocide (thus 3.5mn is the absolute upper limited). A more modern estimate is 2.2mn (Jacques Vallin). Declassified Soviet statistics indicate excess deaths in Ukraine from 1932-33 numbered 1.5mn, out of 3.2mn deaths across the whole Soviet Union – though they have problems of reliability. The statistical distribution of famine’s victims among the ethnicities closely reflects the ethnic distribution of the rural population of Ukraine. Though Ukraine was undeniable one of the regions most affected, areas like Southern Russia, the Volga region and Kazakhstan also suffered greatly. As such, there is no grounds for calling this a Russian-chauvinist organized famine-genocide against Ukrainians (especially since Russians were even not that prominent amongst the Soviet leadership, e.g. Stalin and Beria were both Georgians).

In 2008, Russia condemned the Soviet regime’s “disregard for the lives of people in the attainment of economic and political goals”, along with “any attempts to revive totalitarian regimes that disregard the rights and lives of citizens in former Soviet states.” yet stated that “there is no historic evidence that the famine was organized on ethnic grounds.” This is a valid position to take that is not at odds with academic views on the subject; on the other hand, Ukraine’s criminalization of “Holodomor denial” by ” a fine of 100 to 300 untaxed minimum salaries, or imprisonment of up to two years” – pushed through the Rada by a slender-thin majority in 2006 – is extremely anti-historical and ideological in nature.

In reality the Holodomor was caused by willful negligence, poor climatic conditions and an ideological fervor against kulaks in the midst of the collectivization campaign which aimed to produce a food surplus to fund industrialization. That said, it was overall ineffective since it was followed up by a halving of livestock numbers, losses of the most experienced farmers and a 66% fall in grain exports in 1933-34 from 1931-32, which kind of defeated its purpose of increasing foreign currency earnings to fund industrialization (though it was partially made up by increasing electrification and mechanization by the late 1930’s).

As for the alleged Ukrainian dislike of Russia, please see Myth #9.

26. New Russian versions of Integrated Air Defense Systems are able to counter all aircraft in the US fleet except the F-22 Raptor and B-2 heavy bomber, which are reliant on prohibitively expensive stealth features, and are highly mobile and survivable; in any case, even they will become increasingly vulnerable. Russia is rapidly developing / stealing / implementing stealth technologies, resulting in that upgraded Russian fourth-generation fighters:

the notion that contemporary production Russian fighters are inferior in technology, performance and overall capability to their US/EU peers is largely not correct, and predicated on assumptions about Russian technological capabilities which ceased to be true a decade or more ago.

On the high seas, US aircraft carriers – the bedrock of US maritime supremacy – are under increasing threat from new developments in supersonic anti-ship cruise missiles, silent diesel submarines armed with supercavitating torpedoes, UAVs / drones, and modernized fourth-generation fighters like Flankers. Not only can Russia manufacture and use these things itself, but it can also sell them on to unfriendly nations like Iran. In the long run this may spell the end to global US military hegemony.

It is true that Russia is hobbled by a lack of a professional, motivated army, organizational inefficiencies and the lack of great power projection capabilities. Nonetheless, it is in the middle of major military reforms that aim to address these problems by decreasing the numbers of officers in the ranks, moving to a brigade rather than divisional system and instituting a state of permanent readiness amongst its military units.

Russia continues to have one of the world’s two greatest nuclear arsenals and fully independent military-industrial complexes (along with the US). Should there be severe international tensions, it can return to the permanent war mobilization footing of the USSR, for it retains a “dormant structurally militarized potential” (Russia in the 21st Century: The Prodigal Superpower, Steven Rosefielde). Though no-one will win, it will destroy its enemies at least as thoroughly as it is destroyed itself in the case of a nuclear war.

27. Archival evidence here. Note also that a) not all sentences were carried out due to the system’s inefficiency and b) the death rate in the Gulag labor camps never exceeded 10% a year except in the dearth years of 1934 and 1943-44 – so in total out of the c.3.3mn imprisoned, around 1.1mn or a third died.

As for the scale of Hitler’s democide, consult Myth III in The Poisonous Myths of the Eastern Front.

28. See Russia through the looking glass and The Great Transformation: How the Putin Plan altered Russian Societ y by Nicolai Petro. Note that the high conviction rates are not unique to Russia: Japan is infamous for forced confessions and 99%+ conviction rates. As for the NGO laws, see Russia through the looking glass (Nicolai Petro):

For example, registration can no longer be denied on the whim of local officials; and without one of four specific reasons, registration has to be granted within thirty days. The proposal also limits review of NCO activities to once a year, and stipulates that any administrative actions have to be done under court supervision. The much-touted issue of the closing of foreign organisations is a red herring, since the proposed legislation specifically deprives bureaucrats of the ability to act on their own in this regard.

29. A few quotes to illustrate the point.

At present, all we see is chaos, struggle, economic collapse, ethnic disintegration – just as the observers of 1918 did. How could they have foreseen then that a decade or so later the USSR would have begun to produce chemicals, aircraft, trucks, tanks, and machine tools and be growing faster than any other industrialized society? By extension, how could Western admirers of Stalin’s centralized economy in the 1930’s know that the very system contained the seeds of its own collapse? [ Preparing for the Twenty First Century, Ch. 11, ‘The Erstwhile USSR and its Crumbled Empire’, pp. 249, Paul Kennedy (1993) ]

And from John Scott in Behind the Urals, who spent a few years living and working in the USSR during the 1930′s:

In talking with people in France and America I was impressed by the interest in the Soviet Union and the widespread misinformation about Russia and all things Russian. Everyone I met was opinionated [aren't we all lol!]. The Communists and their sympathizers held Russia up as a panacea…Other people were steeped in Eugene Lyons’ stories and would not concede the possibility that Russia had produced anything during recent years except chaos, suffering and disorder. They dismissed the industrial and material successes of the Russians with an angry wave of the hand. Any economist or businessman should have been able to see that the tripling of pig-iron production within a decade was a serious achievement, and would necessarily have far-reaching effects on the balance of economic and therefore military power in Europe.

30. Re-The Economist, from Press Review: Press Review: The Economist’s Three Stooges by Kirill Pankratov:

Of course, its Russian coverage is far from the only of magazine’s bloopers. The list is long. There’s the famous March 1999 cover story predicting an “endless era of cheap oil,” which appeared the same week that oil prices began their steady ascent from the lowest point in a quarter century. Perfect timing! Then there were The Economist’s strident editorials in favor of Bush’s invasion of Iraq in 2003.

First up is Edward Lucas, the Moscow correspondent who in the annual glossy “The World in 1999″ issue, issued this prediction for Russia, at once gloating and apocalyptic:

“1999 will be the year of Russia’s disintegration… Trade between Russia’s regions will plunge at least until they hit on a stable, trusted currency in which to do business. That is hardly likely to be the rouble, and the planned coupons and currencies which some regions have been planning look equally unattractive substitutes… foreign invasion, albeit of a peaceful and benevolent kind, is exactly what Russia’s regions should want… The probable decline in Russia’s wealth in 1999 will be around 10%… expect yet another bleak and miserable year”.

For why I am bullish on continuing high growth in the future, see my own article Kremlin Dreams sometimes come true and Goldman Sachs thinks that Russia is the only member of the BRICs (Brazil, Russia, China, India) with the potential to reach Western levels of GDP per capita in the foreseeable future.

31. Lots of sources on this on the Internet. Re-murders, I’d mention Former YUKOS Security Chief Gets 20 Years for Murder. Also from Russia Blog in 10 Western Media Stereotypes About Russia: How Truthful Are They?

YUKOS was practicing tax evasion on a massive, multi- billion-dollar scale. A deeper investigation is now underway, and Khodorkovsky’s aides face charges of murder and attempted murder in the process of conducting company business. They were also charged with unlawful business practices, such as tax evasion, fraud and money laundering. In addition, Israeli lawyers are working with Russian prosecutors to extradite Khodorkovsky’s former partner Leonid Nevzlin, as many political circles in Israel find his presence harmful to their country’s image. Israeli lawyers are investigating allegations that Nevzlin fraudulently obtained his Israeli citizenship in 2003 after Russian prosecutors indicted Mikhail Khodorkovsky. In March 2005, Alexei Pichugin, the former chief of security for YUKOS, was sentenced to prison time for multiple counts of murder. Many oligarchs do face prosecution, but not because of their political beliefs; rather, they face punishment for actual crimes they have committed

32. E.g. see Remembering Yeltsin for a hard look at Yeltsin’s real, anti-Russian character. He won the 1996 elections despite losing a war and having approval ratings in the single-digits, which were immediately endorsed by Western election observers like OSCE. See Who Killed The OSCE? by Alexander Zaitchik and Mark Ames.

Well, that’s one way of looking at it. Another way is that the recent Russia-OSCE door-slamming episode is the inevitable outcome of years of cynical Western manipulation of an organization that once held enormous promise and impeccable credentials, but is now with good reason considered a propaganda tool for the West.

If that last sentence sounds like the paranoid rant of a Putin-era silovik revanchist, then think again. It’s the view held by none other than the man who headed the OSCE’s 1996 election mission in Russia, Michael Meadowcroft. “The West let Russia down, and it’s a shame,” said Meadowcroft, a former British MP and veteran of 48 election-monitoring missions to 35 countries.

In a recent telephone interview with The eXile, Meadowcroft explained how he was pressured by OSCE and EU authorities to ignore serious irregularities in Boris Yeltsin’s heavily manipulated 1996 election victory, and how EU officials suppressed a report about the Russian media’s near-total subservience to pro-Yeltsin forces.

“Up to the last minute I was being pressured by [the OSCE higher-ups in] Warsaw to change what I wanted to say,” said Meadowcroft. “In terms of what the OSCE was prepared to say publicly about the election, they were very opposed to any suggestion that the election had been manipulated.” In fact, he says, the OSCE and the West had made its mind up about how wonderfully free and fair Boris Yeltsin’s election was before voting even started.

Though it is true that Putin also probably abuses administrative resources to win elections – though the extent and scale are small and should not be exaggerated, as I point out in Lying Liars and their Lies and More Reflections on Election Fraud, a) OSCE and the West now condemns him for this because Putin is not their stooge and b) it doesn’t matter nearly as much because Putin has the overwhelming support of the people and would win in any case.

33. Yes, Russia uses (at times underhanded) means to tie up world energy sources and uses its energy clout to exert economic and political pressure. But the US and all other Great Powers do the exact same thing, in ways ranging from the Iraq War to support of economically-subordinate theocratic or authoritarian regimes like Saudi Arabia to the Chiquita Banana case. Note that the counter-refutation to the Iraq War as energy imperialism thesis – that US companies did not particularly benefit from new contracts – doesn’t really hold water, because the whole point was to unlock Iraq’s oil supplies into the world market and to establish a firm military presence in the critical (for energy) Middle East region.

34. Re-education, see National Literacy Campaigns (By Robert F. Arnove, Harvey J. Graff). Re-industry, the fast rate of late Tsarist growth is pretty well known to economic historians.

35. Western treatment of Russia signifies an erosion of reason (Vlad Sobell) – argues that Western views on the “post-totalitarian” society of Russia have ossified since the end of the Cold War and are no longer able to recognize that it has embarked on its own path to liberal democracy.

Or as noted by Gregor in Deformable Mirror,

What type of political ideology privatises land, nationalises petroleum, introduces a flat tax, uses soldiers to verify tax accounts, enforces protectionism, celebrates diversity, celebrates patriotism, celebrates science, introduces state protection for the National Church, supports the NATO war in Afghanistan, opposes the war in Iraq, is strongly democratic but largely authoritarian, takes power from an atheist, alcoholic Communist apparatchik and leaves it in the hands of a devout, prissy lawyer? For want of a better word we could call it ‘reactionary’… or maybe Putinism? This somehow highlights one of the oddest paradoxes about British Russophobia. Putin is only called a ‘reactionary’ because British ‘intellectual’ culture has frozen to such an extent that we have no real word for his ideology.

Hence commentators like John Dimbleby resort to calling Russia a “totalitarian regime in thrall to a Tsar who’s creating the new Facist empire”.

36. Consult the Myth of Dhimmitude part of my Rite of Spring: Russia Fertility Trends article.

37. See this post and comments at Fedia Kriukov’s blog.

Re-army purges, there are revisionist arguments that they did not have a major effect in absolute terms, e.g. from this book review (although it is true they contributed to greater rigidity in military thought prior to the war, which would have been damaging – that said, its effects should not be overstated):

Stalin’s Reluctant Soldiers makes two fundamental points about the history of the Red Army, as well as several important observations. The first fundamental point is that the impact of the political terror of the 1937-38 was, in absolute and relative terms, less than it is generally taken to have been. A number of newly uncovered sources, notably General E.A. Shchadenko’s report of May 1940, make it possible to conclude that net losses of officers and commissars (taking into account reinstatements) was some 23 000. Reese also reassesses the size of the total officer corps, making it 150 000 in 1937. Previous historians have estimated higher losses and assumed a much smaller officer corps, and Reese convincingly shows a smaller percentage loss.

The second fundamental point is related to the first. The basic reason why the Red Army fought so badly in 1941. Reese argues, was not the purges. What really mattered was the army’s incohesiveness, which resulted from shortcomings across the interwar years, but especially the too rapid expansion in the late 1930s. The crucial weaknesses of the Red Army were inadequately trained junior officers and poor platoon-level organization. Both weaknesses were accentuated by a lack of career NCOs. This general point is developed especially well by Reese in an archivally based case study of the Kiev military district.

Re-unanticipated attack of Hitler. Stalin did not dismiss intelligence reports. Note that Soviet intelligence did not unambiguously predict the German attack – there were many contradictory reports and sophisticated German disinformation. He was understandably cautious about trusting British sources given their past duplicity and latent interest in drawing the USSR into the war. Second, Stalin finally erred on the side of caution and authorized the forward deployment of the second operational echelon around June 17, which however did not reach their destinations when the war broke out. “Moreover, on June 21 Stalin signed a directive (which later came to be known as Directive No 1) authorizing all formations deployed along the border to take up defensive positions (in effect, partially implement covering plans). Unfortunately, when the war started, this directive was still stuck being decrypted somewhere at the MD and army level.”

Re-defense in depth. It’s a somewhat overused cliche nowadays.

First, we need to look at what it is exactly. At the tactical level, it means creating a cluster of strong-points separated by gaps filled with mines, dragon’s teeth, and other obstacles, such that enemy would be channeled into assaults on the strong-points one by one. But the Red Army of 1941 was too unwieldy and unprepared for this, and the question of why? should be directed more towards the military establishment than to Stalin.

And not only for them, but to the militaries of all countries. No rifle formation of the time, the Wehrmacht included, had the ability to repulse a single Panzer division concentrated on a narrow front. It would inevitably be sliced up and the (slow) remnants enveloped and destroyed by mobile enemy forces (i.e. the ones which spearheaded Barbarossa – though it is true as you say that the bulk of the German army was relatively immobile, it was still much more so than the Soviet in 1941 and its mobile elements were extremely well trained with plenty of RL experience).

This was the major bane of Soviet forces which was only significantly reversed in Kursk, two years into the war, when the Soviet Army reached a level of competence and organization an order of magnitude higher than was the case in 1941. (it should be noted also that it was only after 1943 that Axis-Soviet losses on the Eastern Front equalized).

But if you’re talking of the operational level (which is a question that relates more directly to Stalin’s role), “defense in depth” is utterly bankrupt since the depth to the defense can only be provided at the tactical level, and trying this on the operational scale implies splitting up your divisions and suffering defeat in detail.

“Against such an army, trading space, defending in depth, was the appropriate method. Eventually the Soviets learned this, and implemented it at Kursk in 1943.”

And from above, we see it would have led to utter disaster in 1941 and it is to their credit that the Soviet military leadership recognized this (unlike all prior German opponents). Thus they instead pursued an “active defense” based on constant initiative-seizing counterattacks, which although predictably a failure on the tactical levels distorted the shape and flow of Barbarossa by forcing the Germans to reinforce their flanks at the cost of their points – and was a much better idea than simply throwing rifle division after division against armored spears that would just effortlessly slice through them.

At the time, encirclements were inevitable because the German Panzer divisions were quicker than Soviet rifle divisions, and stopping them was hopeless (no country had managed that before, and it was not until 1943 that the Soviets first managed to contain a German armored assault). The idea rather was to launch constant counter-offensives to blunt and divert the overall German attack, which though a failure at tactical and operational levels succeeded at the strategic level.

“Stalin effectively did the same thing by massing near the border. It was necessary to trade space for time. Space was what the USSR had in abundance.’

On this point, I would repeat the above point that a) intelligence was highly contradictory about German intentions, especially since the latter mounted a well-planned disinformation campaign, and b) most fortifications near the border were in the stage of construction – again, because the Soviet leadership genuinely believed that Hitler was not ready to attack until 1942 at the earliest (and more likely the mid-1940’s) and c) you can’t really say they were that massed at the border, when the earliest really big encirclements took place in Minsk / Kiev (places which are gateways to the Soviet heartlands and really needed to be defended for strategic and political reasons).

I would also note that even with constant Soviet counter-attacks and diversions, the Germans still managed to reach the gates of Moscow, and again got uncomfortably close to cutting off the Caucasus oil supply in 1942. Russia’s has a lot of space but it’s not infinite.

38. See here at Sergei Fedosov’s site for a full account of the diplomatic events in the run-up to World War Two.

Specifically re-Munich and the sincerity of Soviet intentions to coordinate with the Western Allies to contain and if necessary fight Germany over Czechoslovakia (all quoted from commentator rkka here):

To start with, Soviet intentions to militarily aid Czechoslovakia are indicated by the delivery of Soviet-built combat aircraft in August and September 1938 through Romanian airspace, Soviet willingness to set aside the issue of Bessarabia in discussion of Soviet forces transiting Romania in the event of a German attack on Czechlslovakia, the mobilization of 10 Tank and 60 Rifle Divisions in the fall of 1938, and the diplomatic note to the Polish government warning that hostile Polish action against Czechoslovakia would void the Polish-Soviet Nonaggression Pact. The Czech leader Benes makes it clear that Soviet support was unstinting:

“In September, 1938, therefore, we were left in military, as well as political, isolation with the Soviet Union to prepare our defense against a Nazi attack. We were also well aware not only of our own moral, political, and military prepardness, but also had a general picture of the condition of Western Europe; as well as of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, in regard to these matters.

At that moment indeed Europe was in every respect ripe to accept without a fight the orders of the Berchtesgaden corporal. When Czechoslovakia vigorously resisted his dictation in the September negotiations with our German citizens, we first of all recieved a joint note from the British and French governments on September 19th, 1938, insisting that we should accept without amendment the draft of a capitulation based essentially on an agreement reached by Hitler and Chamberlain at Berchtesgaden on September 15th. When we refused, there arrived from France and Great Britain on September 21st an ultimatum accompanied by emphatic personal interventions in Prague during the night on the part of the Ministers of both countries and repeated later in writing. We were informed that if we did not accept their plan for the cession of the so-called Sudeten regions, they would leave us to our fate, which, they said, we had brought upon ourselves. They explained that they certainly would not go to war with Germany just ‘to keep the Sudeten Germans in Czechoslovakia’. I felt very keenly the fact that there were at that time so few in France and Great Britain who understood that something much more serious was at stake for Europe than the retention of the so-called Sudeten Germans in Czechoslovakia.

The measure of this fearful European development was now full, precipitating Europe into ruin. Through three dreadful years I had watched the whole tragedy unfolding, knowing to the full what was at stake. We had resisted desperately with all our strength. And then, from Munich, during the night of September 30th our State and Nation recieved the stunning blow: Without our participation and in spite of the mobilization of our whole Army, the Munich Agreement – fatal for Europe and the whole world – was concluded and signed by the four Great Powers – and then was forced upon us.”

Dr. Eduard Benes “Memoirs”, Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, 1954, pgs 42 – 43.

“I do not intend to examine here in detail the policy of the Soviet Union from Munich to the beginning of the Soviet-German war. I will mention only the necessary facts. Even today it is still a delicate question. The events preceeding Munich and between Munich and the Soviet Union’s entry into World War II have been used, and in a certain sense, misused, against Soviet policy both before and after Munich. I will only repeat that before Munich the Soviet Union was prepared to fulfill its treaty with France and with Czechoslovakia in the case of a German attack.”

Benes, pg 131.

39. No European state has made much effort to fully account for its imperial legacies; the main feature of German exceptionalism was that you were supposed to confine you genocides to colored peoples in hot, sticky places (e.g. the Belgians in the Congo, the “Victorian Holocausts” under the British Raj, the Irish Potato Famine which was no different from the Holodomor except that the ideology that it was conducted under was laissez-faire capitalism…)

The Baltic states whitewash their involvement in the Holocaust, Turkey criminalizes affirmation of the Armenian Genocide and Japan brushes off complaints about its brutal conduct in China during the Second World War. The only reason Germany apologized was because it was occupied, and in any case the Nazi regime was not morally comparable to the Soviet Union. And apologies imply acceptance of responsibility and demands for reparations…Latvia had already set up a commission to calculate a bill for “Soviet-era losses” to present to Russia, which ironically had to be disbanded because of the economic crisis.

One example of Russia’s apologies: “When President Yeltsin visited the Czech Republic in 1993 he was not speaking just for himself, he was speaking for the Russian Federation and for the Russian people. Today, not only do we respect all agreements signed previously – we also share all the evaluations that were made at the beginning of the 1990s…I must tell you with absolute frankness – we do not, of course, bear any legal responsibility. But the moral responsibility is there, of course.”

For Russian attitudes to their history under Putin, I recommend my article Manipulating Russia’s Manipulation of History and Airbrushing History by Patrick Armstrong.

40. See my Responses to common Russophobe arguments for an insight into the sheer intellectual bankruptcy of the Russophobe worldview.

41. See the seminal Forbes article Godfather of the Kremlin (Paul Khlebnikov) or read the book of the same name.

42. The Specter that haunts the Death of Litvinenko (Edward Jay Epstein) and The Alexander Litvinenko Story Revisited (David Habakkuk) are vital primers on the very murky circumstances of his death.

Before the extradition dispute, Russian investigators, in theory, could have questioned relevant witnesses in London. Their proposed roster of witnesses suggested that Russian interest extended to the Russian expatriate community in Britain, or “Londongrad,” as it is now called. The Litvinenko case provided the Russians with the opportunity for a fishing expedition, since Litvinenko had at the time of his death worked with many of Russia’s enemies, including Mr. Berezovsky; his foundation head, Mr. Goldfarb, who dispensed money to a web of anti-Putin websites; his Chechen ally Akhmed Zakayev, who headed a commission investigating Russian war crimes in Chechnya (for which Litvinenko acted as an investigator), and former owners of the expropriated oil giant Yukos, who were battling in the courts to regain control of billions of dollars in its off-shore bank accounts.

The Russian investigation could also have veered into Litvinenko’s activities in the shadowy world of security consultants, including his dealings with the two security companies in Mr. Berezovsky’s building, Erinys International and Titon International, and his involvement with Mr. Scaramella in an attempt to plant incriminating evidence on a suspected nuclear-component smuggler — a plot for which Mr. Scaramella was jailed after his phone conversations with Litvinenko were intercepted by the Italian national police.

The Russians had asked for more information about radiation traces at the offices of these companies, and Mr. Lugovoi had said that at one of these companies, Erinys, he had been offered large sums of money to provide compromising information about Russian officials. Mr. Kovtun, who also attended that meeting, backs up Mr. Lugovoi’s story. Such charges had the potential for embarrassing not only the security companies that had employed Litvinenko and employed former Scotland Yard and British intelligence officers, but the British government, since it had provided Litvinenko with a passport under the alias “Edwin Redwald Carter” to travel to parts of the former Soviet Union.

The British extradition gambit ended the Russian investigation in Londongrad. It also discredited Mr. Lugovoi’s account by naming him as a murder suspect. In terms of a public relations tactic, it resulted in a brilliant success by putting the blame on Russian stonewalling for the failure to solve the mystery. What it obscured is the elephant-in-the-room that haunts the case: the fact that a crucial component for building an early-stage nuke was smuggled into London in 2006. Was it brought in merely as a murder weapon or as part of a transaction on the international arms market?

There is little, if any, possibility, that this question will be answered in the present stalemate. The Russian prosecutor-general has declared that the British case is baseless; Mr. Lugovoi, elected to the Russian Parliament in December 2007, now has immunity from prosecution, and Mr. Scaramella, under house arrest in Naples, has been silenced. The press, for its part, remains largely fixated on a revenge murder theory that corresponds more closely to the SMERSH villain in James Bond movies than to the reality of the case of the smuggled Polonium-210.

After considering all the evidence, my hypothesis is that Litvinenko came in contact with a Polonium-210 smuggling operation and was, either wittingly or unwittingly, exposed to it. Litvinenko had been a person of interest to the intelligence services of many countries, including Britain’s MI-6, Russia’s FSB, America’s CIA (which rejected his offer to defect in 2000), and Italy’s SISMI, which was monitoring his phone conversations.

His murky operations, whatever their purpose, involved his seeking contacts in one of the most lawless areas in the former Soviet Union, the Pankisi Gorge, which had become a center for arms smuggling. He had also dealt with people accused of everything from money laundering to trafficking in nuclear components. These activities may have brought him, or his associates, in contact with a sample of Polonium-210, which then, either by accident or by design, contaminated and killed him.

To unlock the mystery, Britain must make available its secret evidence, including the autopsy report, the comprehensive list of places in which radiation was detected, and the surveillance reports of Litvinenko and his associates. If Britain considers it too sensitive for public release, it should be turned over to an international commission of inquiry. The stakes are too high here to leave unresolved the mystery of the smuggled Polonium-210.

43. Re-the first sentence. This is one rare thing on which Khodorkovsky and I are in perfect concord. See Putin’s political reforms need not be viewed as anti-democratic by Vlad Sobell and Nicolai Petro’s work on the subject for more.

44. This last myth is a bit tongue in cheek, although on the topic of Mordor I’ve actually managed to find a Russophobe who makes the comparison explicitly.

But as time since 1991 passed and the two countries drifted in their development further and further away from each other, the city was increasingly attached to Estonia because of the dark presence of its evil twin, Russian Ivangorod (right). …

Crossing the river bridge into Ivangorod makes those numbers quickly grow in flesh and obtain form in miriad of differences, which set Russia apart from Europe, starting with sickening public toilets and ending with the hopelessness in the people’s eyes.This is why looking again at the crude limestone fortress almost invisible at night with only the howling of wild beasts giving away the presence of life on the other side of the vast body of water I can’t help it but recollect the following verse:

…to bring them all and in darkness bind… in the land of Mordor, where the shadows lie.

I have a feeling that this attitude could be just one of several things uniting myself and many decent Narva inhabitants. And this feeling is good.

And then there’s this gem (or rather, a Ring) from dear old Ed Lucas, who explicitly compares Russia to Mordor, Putin to Sauron and the his silovik henchmen to the Orcs.

But as the skies darken once again over the European continent (or Middle Earth if you prefer) , the temptation to find analogies in the Lord of the Rings trilogy is overwhelming. Mordor is clearly the Russian Federation, ruled by the demonic overlord Sauron (Putin). His email address, to give a contemporary note, might be sauron@gov.morder.me (the suffix is for Middle Earth). The threat from Mordor—symbolised by the Ring—is the combination of dirty money and authoritarian political thinking.

And Sauron’s henchmen the Orcs are clearly the murderous goons of the old KGB. The new twist—the Uruk-Hai, is the mutation of the old Soviet intelligence service with organised crime and big business. Sauron’s allies—the Nazgul—are the Siloviki, the sinister chieftains of the Kremlin’s authoritarian capitalist system. Like the Nazgul, we seldom see their faces.

…Picking out the cast on the bad side runs the risk an encounter with England’s ferocious libel laws. It is not too hard, however, to see candidates to be Wormtongue, the slimy propagandist for Mordor who weakens the will of the King of Rohan, Theoden. His kingdom could be almost any country in Europe, but had better be Germany. And it is easy to think who might count as Germany’s foremost expert on Russia and a biographer of Sauron. Saruman is more difficult still—a hero of past wars who has switched sides to disastrous effect. He could be any one of the top West European leaders who have so disastrously forgotten the lessons of the Cold War and have been seduced by Mordor’s dirty money

45. Read my article Twitter Terror in Moldova for insight into just how convuluted, murky and “virtual” the events in Moldova really were.

46. Re-Hamas, see 10 Western Media Stereotypes About Russia: How Truthful Are They? from Russia Blog. Re-Iran, see The Medvedev Doctrine and American Strategy from Stratfor. The US potentially faces a trade-off between “a hegemonic threat from Eurasia and instability and a terror threat from the Islamic world”, and the keys to these threats are Russia and Iran, respectively. It is in Russia’s interests for the US to keep focused on the Middle East, so as to give itself a freer hand in Eurasia – and inflaming relations between Iran and the West is an excellent way to do it.

47. See the classic Foreign Affairs article The Rise of US Nuclear Primacy (Keir A. Lieber and Daryl G. Press).

Re-Russian ICBMs would be launched over the North Pole, so central Europe wouldn’t play a role argument. Not really, because the US has radar installations at Thule, Greenland, and has substantial numbers of ground based interceptor missiles at Fort Greely, Alaska. It also has rapidly increasing sea-based ABM capabilities. This is not to say that the US has plans to launch a debilitating first strike on Russia or other strategic competitors, but ABM is certainly a destabilizing force in world security and risks unleashing an arms race in which countries like Russia are forced to upgrade the penetration capabilities of their nuclear delivery systems.

48.The nations of the former USSR are still very much economically integrated with Russia, meaning that they are subject to Russia’s cycles; furthermore, almost all of them are significantly poorer so they should grow faster because of their greater potential for economic convergence.

See the Georgian Economy under Saakashvili, which asserts that much of Georgia’s growth was one-off based on state asset sale and government lay-offs, which were accompanied by accelerating deindustrialization, continued emigration and poverty, the destruction of all remaining safety nets and the pressure put by the government on independent businesses to provide “voluntary contributions” in return for not bankrupting them under prosecutions for corruption.

Stats on growth rates taken from IMF.

49. Ushering in the new era of legality, markets and social activism is the so-called Putin generation, which has vastly differing values from those of older generations – initiative, boldness, hierarchy, individualism and Westernized patriotism (consult Economic Modernization and System of Values by Evgeny Yasin for an interesting study that shows that the values of the new Russia differ much more from traditionalist / Tsarist and Soviet values, which are surprisingly similar).

Also as I once pointed out, there are plenty of good sovok attributes…and even some of the bad ones aren’t actually all that bad upon closer examination.

50. I’ve aggregated Levada’s measures of Russia’s social mood since the late 1990′s here. My letter to the Moscow Times cites recent opinion polls, again from Levada, to disprove the contention that morale during this crisis has collapsed back to 1990′s / pre-”oil boom” levels.

The notion that Putin has strangled Russia’s nascent democracy is an exclusively Western one. 64% of Russians think Putin has had a positive influence on democracy and human rights, while only 3% think it was ‘very negative’ (see recent BBC World Service poll and fedia’s excellent commentary on it). For more information, please consult this blog’s stated position on HR in Russia and my appearance on Al-Jazeera. The data on journalists is taken from the Committee to Protect Journalists‘ database and fedia’s audit of it. Finally, on the topic of the election, no election watch-dog has been able to point out anything other than vacuous allegations that I’m aware of. For instance, on the topic of the 2008 Presidential elections, please consult my blog post on it (including the Western media’s shameless manipulation of the response to the Moscow protests) and the response of independent Russian election monitor GOLOS (here):

GOLOS Association observed that the Election Day was held in a relatively quiet atmosphere in contrast to the State Duma election day. Such large-scale violations observed then as campaigning next to polling stations, transporting of voters, intimidation of voters and others were practically non-existent. Polling stations were better prepared and the voting process was better organized. At the majority of polling stations voters’ lists were properly bound, there were fewer representatives of administration at inside polling stations. In general the process of opening of the polling stations went well without any major incidents.

PS. After publishing this, I noticed that rather appropriately this post is the 100th in the Da Russophile blog. So perhaps I should have done 100 myths, but I only have so much time and patience! ;)

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
 
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Ever since the publication of Filippov’s (in)famous textbook A History of Russia 1945-2006 in 2007, the state of Russian history teaching drew a fair degree of negative commentary in the West, some of it reasonably lucid, most of it superficial or hysterical. What the latter have in common is that they almost invariably haven’t read the actual, controversial chapter in question (Debates about Stalin’s Role in History), let alone the textbook itself, and as such can do little more than spout inane rhetoric about the imminent “rehabilitation” of Stalinism. As such I thought it fitting to do what the pundits should have done long ago, but couldn’t be bothered to – actually translate the chapter in question so that Anglophone readers could make up their own minds. Now that I’ve done so (scroll below), and bearing in mind the recent furor over Medvedev’s commission to battle the falsification of Russian history, I would like to make several comments of my own:

First, it is flat-out wrong to say that this textbook is the new standard of history teaching in Russia. It is just one of dozens of merely “approved” history textbooks (whereas the vast majority of Russian schools use a few “recommended” texts), has had only a very limited print run and was being trialled in only a few schools in four Russian regions as of the 2008-2009 academic year. Nor is it true that it received approval from the Presidential administration – in 2007 when it came out, Putin’s aide Dzhokhan Pollyeva criticized it for unprofessionalism (and I quite agree with her – the text is turgid and belabors its points using questionable examples). The most controversial authors, Filippov and Danilin (the latter of whom wrote the chapter on sovereign democracy), were not present at the meeting when Putin aired his views on how Russia was unfairly castigated for its history by professors and Westerners whose heads were filled with “porridge”.

Second, the book’s major sin is one of presentation – not omission. Dark chapters in Russia’s history like collectivization, the Gulag and political repressions are covered in both this chapter, and the preceding ones on Stalin’s postwar rule. As such, it is either dishonest or ignorant to focus on out-of-context sound bites like how Stalin was an “effective manager” or the “greatest Soviet leader”. The main issue the more serious critics have with it, is that instead of issuing blanket condemnations, it seeks to “rationalize” Stalin’s decisions within the as Filippov himself replies to this charge, “I was always annoyed by the belabored moralizing foisted on us in Soviet textbooks. I wanted to avoid this. And it seems I’ve over-succeeded in this, seeing as folks are now accusing me of amorality. I really wanted to avoid phrases like, “and this is the lesson we must take from this episode”, and it seems I may have tried too hard”. Though its inherent patriotic bias and you-can’t-be-neutral-on-a-moving-train-like approach is undeniable (in this respect, Filippov actually jumped Putin’s gun), it constantly urges its readers to make their own conclusions – an attitude far less Stalinist than that of some of his liberast and Western critics. Also, as Sean Guillory pointed out, many of its eyebrow-raising claims can act as good springboards for class discussion.

Third, contrary to Western claims, the fact of the matter is that history is politicized everywhere – and I’m not even talking of Japan’s reluctance to acknowledge its war crimes in the “East Asia Co-prosperity Sphere”, or Turkey’s de facto criminalization of Armenian genocide affirmation. Closer to home, as argued in Patrick Armstrong’s essay Airbrushing History, the Visegrad nations, Ukraine and the Baltics are busy rewriting their histories to create national victimization myths based on Russian occupation – while airbrushing prominent local Communist collaborators and anti-Semitism out of their rosy, kitschy paintings of the past. An example is Latvia calculating a bill of Soviet-incurred losses to present to Russia, while eliding over the contribution of the Latvian Rifles and non-Russian internationalists to the establishment of Communism in Russia; or Ukraine’s criminalization of denying the genocidal nature of the Holodomor, a risible view in light of the fact half its casualties were in non-Ukrainian black earth regions. Even in Western nations there is a strong prevailing belief in the absolute validity of their historical missions that frequently diminishes their less positive manifestations (though it is true that they are modulated by anti-colonialist, Marxist and postmodern views on the part of some of their intelligentsia, they do not present an existential spiritual threat as in Russia).

Since every country needs a national belief to flourish, this (limited) “patriotic reaction” in Russia to fifteen years of liberal indoctrination on the part of Western-funded ideologues, that seeks to deny it an honorable history, foist feelings of guilt on its people and invalidate its geopolitical interests, is completely understandable and to be expected. Despite being a murderous maniac, Stalin did industrialize the country and played an important role in securing Victory in the Great Patriotic War (and thereby saved Europe’s Slavs from extermination and slavery). Contrary to anti-Stalin ideologues, even on purely objective grounds choosing which of these to emphasize is an immensely difficult undertaking in moral terms. Yes, it would be nice if history were to be left to the historians everywhere, but it’s not. The Western-liberals have staked out their position – unambiguous condemnation of Stalinism, while relaying its achievements to the margins, and arrogantly insisting that Russians toe their line, while consigning to oblivion the (more positive) memories and attitudes of their grandparents to Soviet power. In a sense, Russia’s choice was thus forced – narrowed down to participation in the info-war, or spiritual suicide. For better or worse, it has embarked on the former with the mass support of its population.

TRANSLATION: Alexander Filippov on ‘Debates about Stalin’s Role’ in A New History of Russia 1945-2006

(http://www.prosv.ru/umk/istoriya/index.html; accessed May 25, 2009)

Information for reflection: Debates about Stalin’s Role in history

Iosif Vissarianovich Stalin (Jughashvili) remains one of the most polarizing figures in the politics and history of our country; it is difficult to find another personality in Russian history who is subjected to so many contradictory interpretations, both during his rule and after. For some, he is the hero and orchestrator of Victory in the Great Patriotic War; to others, he is the embodiment of evil itself.

One of the most famous views on the historical significance of Stalin was held by Winston Churchill, the Prime Minister of Great Britain during World War Two, a man hardly known for his pro-Stalin sentiments: “Stalin came to Russia with a wooden plough and left in it possession of nuclear weapons”. The other point of view is represented by Anton Antonov-Ovseyenko, the son of a major participant in the 1917 Revolution and Civil War who was repressed under Stalin: “bloody tyrant”.

During Stalin’s life the first view predominated; after his death the second became conventional wisdom, primarily because of revelations about Stalin’s organizational role in the political repressions of the 1930’s and 1940’s. Evaluating Stalin’s historical significance requires looking at him in a wider historical context, beyond just the chronological framework of the Soviet period. This approach reveals many similarities between Stalin’s policies and those of preceding Russian sovereigns.

Analysis of the historical evolution of the Russian state over the past 500 years through three different forms of statehood – Muscovite Tsarism (15th-17th centuries), the Russian Empire (18th century to the start of the 20th century) and the Soviet Union – reveals a certain continuity in political characteristics, albeit with significant changes in external form. The similarities between these states could be explained by the historical constancy of the political-organizational principles on which they were built.

The guiding light of these principles was concentration of authority in one center and strict centralization of the administrative system. The power of Russia’s paramount leader was traditionally absolutist, drawing in all resources and subordinating all political forces to itself.

Adverse conditions for the development of the Russian state required the concentration of resources, including executive, in one center and their centralized distribution in key sectors. As such, people capable of forcing through such centralizations repeatedly came to power. However, it’s necessary to note that these centralizations were inevitably accompanied by distortions, the most important of which was the transformation of the real need for strong authority into a habit for its own sake, and to such an extent as to be beyond all necessity. This interpretation holds equally for the reigns of Ivan the Terrible, Peter the Great and Iosif Stalin. Even during the 19th century, the famous Russian thinker Konstantin Kavelin remarked, “Peter’s Tsarism was the continuation of Ivan’s Tsarism”. Stalin saw himself as the heir to his Tsarist forebears on the Russian throne; he knew Russian history well and respected the aforementioned men, regarding them as his teachers and consciously using their ‘historical recipes’.

It is thus erroneous to restrict our search for the causes of power centralization to the characters of Russia’s rulers (though this does not mean we should ignore the influence of their personalities on the formation and function of their states) and to explain the stability of Russian political traditions exclusively in terms of the personal and psychological idiosyncrasies of the Russian princes, Emperors and Secretary-Generals. Or as the famous philosopher Blaise Pascal put it, “Cleopatra’s nose, had it been shorter, the whole face of the world would have been changed”.

One interesting perspective on Stalin’s policies comes from the famous Russian philosopher Ivan Ilyin, a convinced opponent of the USSR’s historical continuity from imperial Russia: “The Soviet Union is not Russia…not one achievement of the Soviet state…qualifies as an achievement of the Russian people,” Ilyin wrote. A hard-line opponent of Communism, Ilyin supported the rebirth of the Russian Empire, which he believed possible on the fulfillment of three conditions: Orthodoxy, monarchy and a unitary state guaranteeing the unconditional equality of all peoples within the Empire. Paradoxically this is exactly what Stalin created. He resurrected the monarchy under the guise of his cult of personality. He strengthened belief – not in God, but in a new, red faith: Communism in the early Soviet period became a new religion with its own symbols and martyrs. And it was he, Stalin, who in opposition to the Leninist concept of the right of nations to self-determination instead created a state close to the unitary ideal.

A significant factor behind the strictly centralized nature of the econo-political administrative system during the Soviet period was the already obvious inevitability of a big war with Germany in the 1930’s, the war itself, and the accelerated pace of postwar reconstruction. It is this that defined the forced rates of antebellum industrialization and economic resurgence in the postwar period. No wonder foreign observers labeled the 1930’s as a ‘race against time’. The concept of accelerated modernization amidst a deficit of historical time was voiced by Stalin in February 1931: “We are 50 to 100 years behind the advanced countries. Either we make good the difference in ten years or they crush us”. Events in summer 1941 would confirm his prescience.

The ‘race against time’ in connection with the threat of war not only meant a time deficit as regards carrying through industrialization, but also exacerbated the problem of inadequate existing means of modernization – for that required an exceptionally high share of the national economy be devoted to both capital investment and military spending. Regardless, according to the then People’s Commissar of Finance, Arseny Zverev, even during the Great Patriotic War the USSR continued accumulating gold reserves, refusing to sell a single gram. All this implies that just as with Peter the Great at the beginning of the 18th century, the state forced development, through the total mobilization of everything at its disposal, while simultaneously shouldering huge military expenditures and refraining from foreign loans.

Not only was the savings rate extremely high, but so was the pressure on labor and the exploitation of human resources, which were impelled to remain in a state of permanent mobilization.

How things were…

Every director of an enterprise had a package with five wax seals. That in turn was enclosed in another sealed package. This was the so-called ‘mobilization package’. The director was only allowed to open it up during a state of emergency. And inside, there were instructions for what to do in the case of war… These packages detailed where to make your new base: some were to be sent off to the Volga, some to the Urals, some beyond the Urals, as well as who would be producing what during the war,” – remembers A.F. Sergeev, the son of the famous Bolshevik, F. A. Sergeev (Artem). His mother, E. L. Seergeva, a director of a textile factory, had such a packet from as early as 1937.

There is political and historical evidence that when faced with serious threats even ‘soft’ and ‘flexible’ political systems will, as a rule, evolve towards a harsher form of political organization, including towards the restriction of the rights of citizens vis-à-vis the state, just as happened, for instance, in the US after the events of September 11th, 2001.

Therefore, this analysis of external and internal factors allows us to ascertain that the Soviet period saw a recurrence of an older state of affairs that cropped up frequently in Russian history – the necessity of survival and development while in the situation of a ‘besieged fortress’ (threat of foreign invasion coupled with temporal and means-of-development deficits). In these conditions the formation of a harsh, militarized political system emerged as a solution to extreme problems and extreme circumstances, and this system itself was but a modification of those which existed under Muscovite Tsarism and the Russian Empire.

This allowed the renowned Russian philosopher Nikolai Berdyaev to tie up the sources and spirit of Russian Communism with the Russian national idea. In his 1937 book The Origin of Russian Communism, Berdyaev wrote that instead of “the Third Rome, Russia managed to bring about the Third International, on which were imprinted many of the features of the Third Rome… The Third International is not an International, but the Russian national idea”. Therefore the Soviet state represents a transformation of the “ideas of Ivan the Terrible, a new form of the old hypertrophied state of Russian history…Russian Communism is more traditional than people usually think, and is nothing more than a transformation and distortion of the old Russian messianic idea”.

This view was shared by many thinkers in the Russian diaspora. The philosopher Georgy Fedotov, characterizing the rise of the Soviet system, wrote about the similarity of the Soviet and Petrine states, “…the new Russian regime in many ways takes us back” to the 18th century, and viewed the transfer of the capital from Petrograd to Moscow and the government’s relocation to Moscow as a “symbolic act”.

At this point it would be fitting to quote the poets:

What really changed? Just signs and symbols,

Same storms sweep all our myriad paths:

The commissars succumb to fell autocracy,

And fires of revolution consume the Tsarist heart.

– Maximilian Voloshin

Lenin has the spirit of an Old Believer,

Proclaims decrees with abbatial gravitas,

As if the causes of our ruin and collapse

He seeks within the “Pomorian Answers”.

- Nikolai Kluyev

Of course Stalin’s personal qualities informed the intense drama and stresses of the Soviet period. Contemporary accounts and later psychological investigations show that the defining feature of Stalin’s personality was his black and white worldview (which explains his perception of the people around him as either friends and enemies), a perception that he was in a permanently hostile environment, cruelty, and a drive to dominate.

However, the influence of Stalin’s psychological idiosyncrasies was most likely of secondary importance relative to the role of objective factors. Carrying through a program of accelerated modernization required a certain system of power and the creation of an administrative apparatus up to the task. In many ways these reasons explain the scale and spirit of Stalin’s ‘revolution from above’. In their recognition of the Stalinist revolution, authors as different as Leon Trotsky and Georgy Fedotov, or the American political scientists Stephen Cohen and Robert Tucker, were at one despite approaching this subject from highly divergent positions. They noted that though the first decade of Stalinist transformations had historical precedents and roots in Leninist Bolshevism, it was “not its continuation to a predetermined outcome, but a revolution with its own specific features and dynamic”.

In many ways this revolution substantially repeated the political experience of the Petrine reforms. One of the main goals of Peter the Great, together with the development of domestic industry, the Army and Navy, and the attainment of recognized imperial status, was to draw members from all social groups into state service, including the hereditary nobility (i.e. securing ouniversal social obligations before the state), and the maintenance of meritocratic criteria in the formation of the new administrative system.

The realization of universal social obligations before the state in the Soviet period is evidenced, for example, by the fact that not only the offspring of simple families directly participated in military operations during the Great Patriotic War, but also those whom we today would call the ‘golden youth’. Many of them who went off to the front never came back. Stalin’s eldest son Jacob Jughashvili, Mikhail Frunze’s son Timur, one of Anastas Mikoyan’s sons Vladimir, Kliment Voroshilov’s nephew Nikolai Scherbakov died on the battlefields of the Great Patriotic War, just like many other sons of high-placed functionaries. “Many families then living on Rublyovka had funerals,” A. F. Sergeev writes.

As for the measures of control undertaken in relation to the ruling nomenclature, their aim was to mobilize the administrative apparatus so as to guarantee its effectiveness both during the industrialization process and during postwar economic reconstruction. This problem was partially resolved through political repressions, which not only used normal citizens for mobilization, but also the bureaucratic elites.

A good example of elite mobilization can be found in the memoirs of Nikolai Baibakov, Forty Years in Government. In 1942, during his spell as Deputy People’s Commissar of the Oil Industry, he received orders from Stalin instructing him to leave for the North Caucasus, to be ready to blow up Soviet oil installations if the Soviet armies failed to stand fast. Stalin’s framing of the problem is remarkable – he said, “We have to do everything to make sure Germans don’t get a drop of our oil…So I warn you, if you leave the Germans even a single ton of oil, we will shoot you. But if you destroy the oil installations, but the Germans don’t come and we end up without fuel, we will also shoot you…”

The drive to squeeze out maximum effectiveness from the administrative apparatus is further evidenced by the fact that the upper and middle levels of the bureaucracy were one of the groups subjected to repressions.

Practically all members and candidates for membership of the Politburo, selected after the XVII Party Congress, suffered to some extent in the ‘Great Purge’ of the late 1930’s. That the strike was carried out against the nucleus of the Bolshevik Party – the old Leninist vanguard, is confirmed by a multitude of historical sources: “The first to be destroyed were the old Bolsheviks of Lenin’s generation,” Khrushchev recalled. According to the writer Yevgenia Ginzburg, who spent many years in prison, membership of the Communist Party was a “burdening condition”, a point of view that by 1937 had “already firmly seeped into everyone’s consciousness”. Ginzburg’s prison neighbor, the young post-graduate student Ira, firmly insisted on her lack of affiliations, which she thought gave her a colossal advantage relative to Party members.

The political repressions of the postwar era had a similar character. Those swept up in the ‘Leningrad Affair’ at the end of the 1940’s included Second Secretary of the All-Union Communist (Bolshevik) Party and Chairman of Gosplan Aleksei Kuznetsov, Deputy Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the USSR Nikolai Voznesensky, Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the RSFSR Mikhail Rodionov; ministers, secretaries of big Party organizations, other influential managers. There were almost 2,000 victims of the ‘Leningrad Affair’, many of whom were shot. Domestic and international research confirms that the foremost victim of the 1930-1950’s repressions was indeed the ruling class.

How things were…

The historian Roy Medvedev wrote on the following point: “It’s no secret that in the 1940’s many feared promotion to high government posts. Itjustseemeddangerous. Of course…nobody was safe from the Terror during the Stalin years, and it was particularly the upper echelons of the Party apparatus who were subjected to the harshest purges…It was obvious even to the majority of non-Party folks, who in those years slept much better at night than the Communists, that the ‘Great Terror’ was for the most part directed against the Party itself”.

We should also note it was Khruschev’s report to the XX Party Congress which laid the foundations for the interpretation of the Great Terror as an exclusively Stalin-inspired phenomenon, due to his cruelty, arbitrariness, intolerance of other opinions, and so on. Meanwhile, the famous poet David Samoylov wrote: “One would have to be a complete indeterminist to believe that the strengthening of Stalin’s power was the sole historical purpose of 1937, that with the sole force of his ambition, vanity, harshness, he could turn history where he wanted, to individually will through the monstrous happenings of that year”.

Contemporary researchers tend to see rational causes behind the use of violence to ensure the effectiveness of the ruling class, as a means of social mobilization for the fulfillment of impossible tasks. Stalin followed the logic of Peter I: demand the impossible from your subordinates, to get the maximum possible. It was no accident that physical health and the ability to handle high workloads was one of the key things required of People’s Commissars. According to Nikolai Baibakov, prior to his appointment as head of the oil industry, Stalin told him of his requirements of People’s Commissars, the most important of which were – a “bull’s nerves”, optimism and physical health.

The result of Stalin’s purges was the formation of a new administrative class, adequate to the tasks of modernization in conditions of resource deficits – unconditionally loyal to Soviet power and irreproachable in their executive discipline. This was achieved through a tariff-qualification system (a descendant of the Petrine Table of Ranks), which offered significantly differentiated labor compensation levels corresponding to differences in qualifications.

Georgy Fedotov wrote about the importance Stalin staked on quality: “Stalin’s real support came from that class, which calls itself ‘distinguished persons’. They are those who made their careers by their own talent, energy or lack of scruples, rising to the crest of the revolutionary wave. Party membership and past achievements now mean little; personal usefulness coupled with political reliability is all important. This new ruling class is populated with the crème de la crème of the Party, weeded out for their unscrupulousness, commanders of the Red Army, the best engineers, scientists and artists of the country. The Stakhanovite movement aims to draw into this new aristocracy the upper layers of the worker and peasant masses, to declass them, to seduce their most energetic and vigorous with high salaries and place them on a pedestal inaccessible to their former comrades. Stalin tentatively, instinctively repeats Stolypin’s bet on the strong. But since it is no longer private, but state business that is the new arena of competition, Stalin creates a new service class, a class subsumed to the people, thus reliving even the more remote experience of the Muscovite state. Life experience showed him the weak side of serf socialism – the lack of personal, egoistic incentives to work. Stalin searches for socialist stimuli for competition, corresponding to bourgeois profits. He finds them in a monstrously differentiated compensation scale, in material inequality, in personal ambition, in orders and distinctions of merit – ultimately, in the elements of a new class system. The word ‘distinguished persons’ is already a whole class program by itself”.

We can find an example of this set-up for support of the ‘strong’ in the memoirs of Andrei Gromyko, who managed Soviet foreign policy over the course of several postwar decades. Gromyko remembered how he, a commoner from a Gomel village and a graduate of a Minsk agricultural institute and post-graduate study in Moscow, came to work in the USSR Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

How things were…

I never got an ‘understanding’ hand from anyone in the capital; I achieved everything on my own. They harp on about how I was Molotov’s protégé. Sure, I was, since he nominated me for diplomatic work. Itwouldbestupidtodenythat. But it’s important to understand why it was me, along with a few other people, whom the commission picked. Remembering that interview, I am of the firm opinion that it was not my social origin that played the decisive role, but my answer to the question: “What were the last books you read in the English language?” After I casually replied, “Rich Man, Poor Man”, I felt, that they would take me in.

Thus in this fashion, similar to how Chancellor Bismarck through ‘blood and iron’ consolidated the German lands into a united state in the 19th century, Stalin harshly and mercilessly reinforced the Soviet state. He viewed the strengthening of the state, which encompassed the strengthening of its military-industrial potential, as one of the principles of his politics. This attitude is indirectly evidenced in the memoirs of his daughter, Svetlana Alliluyeva, who wrote about how her father, looking over her dress and frowning, always asked her the question: “Is it foreign what you have on?” – and lightened up, when she answered, “No, it’s ours, domestic make”.

One of the most prominent manifestations of the highly-centralized nature of Stalin’s power became his cult of personality. The German writer Lion Feuchtwanger, visiting Moscow in 1937, was struck by the ubiquity of Stalin’s portraits. That said, according to both L. Feuchtwanger, and S. Alliluyeva, these displays of reverence irritated Stalin.

How things were…

Father couldn’t bear the view of the crowds, applauding him and shouting, Urrah!” – his face warped from annoyance… “They just open their traps and holler, like idiots!” he said angrily… When I have to…read and hear, that during his life my father considered himself as something like God, – I find it weird, that people who knew him well could insist on this,” wrote Svetlana Alliluyeva.

And indeed, at the start it is likely Stalin’s relation to his cult was shaped by utilitarian concerns, in that he viewed this mass support as a useful asset in the political struggle. “Bear in mind…that the Russian people spent centuries under a Tsar. The Russian people – they’re Tsarist. The Russians, Russian folks, they’ve gotten used to there being one person in charge,” he said. However, as is well known, power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. There are many examples in Russian history of how degraded a personality could become given a long enough spell at the reins of power. This is partially evidenced by the biographies of rulers even as distinguished as Peter I or Catherine II. Though initially irritated by his cult, in time Stalin became accustomed to it. The Leader’s closest comrade-in-arms, Vyacheslav Molotov, admitted that although at first Stalin battled his own cult, he eventually came to like it: “He was very reserved in the first years, and then…it all got to him”.

We can judge how Stalin remained in people’s memories by consulting a Public Opinion Foundation poll from February 2006: Everything considered, do you think Stalin played a positive or negative role in Russia’s history?

In conclusion, it’s obvious why views on Stalin’s historical role are so contradictory. On the one side, he is regarded as the most successful Soviet leader. It was during his rule that the country expanded its territory, reaching the borders of the former Russian Empire (and sometimes exceeding them), achieved Victory in the greatest of wars – the Great Patriotic War, accomplished industrialization of the economy and brought forth a cultural revolution, as a result of which the percentage of people with higher education soared and the country acquired the world’s best education system. The USSR entered the league of advanced states in the sphere of scientific progress and eliminated almost all unemployment.

But Stalin’s rule had another side. His successes – and they are acknowledged by many of the Leader’s opponents – were achieved through the ruthless exploitation of the population. During Stalin’s rule the country went through several waves of large-scale repressions. The initiator and theorist behind this ‘heightened class struggle’ was Stalin himself. Entire social classes like the landed peasantry, the urban petit-bourgeoisie, the priesthood and the old intelligentsia were liquidated. Furthermore, on occasion many people completely loyal to power suffered from the harsh laws. It is not even worth going into the safety of life during the Stalin years. Quality of life remained low, especially in the villages. All this did not promote the strengthening of the country’s moral climate.

This is the most controversial chapter of the most controversial history textbook in Russia, which critics have accused of trying to rehabilitate Stalinism and justify Russia’s (alleged) drift into authoritarianism. Read and decide for yourself. It should be noted that, to date, it is just one of dozens of “approved” history textbooks (whereas the vast majority of Russian schools use a few “recommended” texts) and has had only a very limited print run.

His other big idea is the concept of “conscience of law” (правосознание), which is a key theme of Medvedev’s thinking.

“новую, красную веру” – lit, “new, red faith”. In Russia, “red” also has connotations of beauty (красота)

керженский дух” – lit, “spirit of a Kerzhak”; refers to a tributory of the Volga traditionally settled by Old Believers, dissenters from mainstream Orthodoxy.

Поморские ответы” – lit., “Pomorian Answers”, a key Old Believer religious text from 1723.

“золотой молодежью” – lit., “golden youth”, referring to the gilded youth / frequently pampered children of the elite.

“знатными людьми”

“мохнатой руки” – lit., “furry arm”, signifying a friendly, helping hand offering to pull you up to higher places.

An oft-quoted phrase typically taken out of context to condemn this textbook.

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
 
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In this essay, I analyze three major areas of concern about the current Russian economy – the debt burden, balance of payments and future fiscal sustainability. Although on paper Russia is comfortably solvent, rolling over debt has been problematic for Russia Inc. because of the shutdown of its traditional financing mechanisms, cheap American credit and foreign direct investment, coinciding with an avalanche of collapsing commodities. The underdevelopment of its domestic financial system forced the government to respond in an improvisatory, but swift and effective, way. Although Russia’s capital account will go deep red, the current account should remain in the black, or will at worst take on a pinkish hue; as such, the balance of payments will remain manageable, given the country’s huge foreign currency reserves. The consolidated budget may run a small deficit due to dwindling oil revenues, a smaller tax base and increased spending, but it will be easily financed out of the state’s rainy day funds. Growth in GDP will be small or stagnant, but the social impact will be mitigated by an expanding safety net. After the crisis, Russia will emerge with a stronger, more self-sufficient domestic financial system – and just in time to enjoy a new oil bonanza.

The fast shrinkage of Russia’s foreign currency reserves, plummeting oil prices and the weakening ruble means that Russophobes1 of all stripes are having a field day. They prophecy the collapse of the currency, soaring inflation, and the disintegration of the ‘Putin system’ as populist unrest undermines it from below and silovik clans fighting over dwindling oil rents rend it apart from above. Relying as they do on unsubstantiated claims fitted to support a flawed narrative of Russia as a virulent kleptocracy governed by economic illiterates, their predictions are once again doomed to come to naught – much like prior auguries of fascist takeover or ethnic disintegration2 after the 1998 crisis. This article will reveal why.

In the new millennium, loose US monetary policy and perverse regulations channeled cheap credit into a massive housing bubble. This explains why the US ‘enjoyed’ a consumer boom, even though the Bush II period was historically unique in that median household incomes never exceeded the peak level attained prior to the last recession3 (the dotcom bust after 2000). The borrowing binge spread to Russia in 2005 and intensified up to 2007. Even as the government shed off its debt with the help of soaring oil revenues and squirreled away 600bn $ in foreign currency reserves, its private banks and national champions gorged themselves at Greenspan’s trough to finance domestic and foreign expansion. But all unsustainable things come to a point where they can not longer be sustained, and by 2007 that junkiest junk, the subprime loan market, began to come apart at its seams.

Amidst the gathering thunderclouds, many believed Russia to be an ‘island of stability’ in the gathering credit crisis4. Not only did Russia now possess enviable macroeconomic fundamentals, it lacked direct exposure to subprime mortgage-backed securities, possessed an underdeveloped mortgage market and Russian households’ leverage remained the lowest amongst Europe’s emerging markets5. Even as the Western banking sector began posting major losses from fall 2007 and the first convulsions began (Northern Rock in November 2007, Bear Stearns in March 2008), the Russian economy went into overdrive because of loose monetary policy amidst soaring oil prices.

An orderly slowdown began from around May 2008 in Russia. Drying global liquidity and uncertainty prompted a worldwide ‘flight to quality’, leading to a reversal of capital flows from Russia. This was reflected in the decline of the RTS, which peaked in May and started on the long decline that would take it from 2500 to around 600 today6. Contrary to conventional wisdom, the chart was roughly linear and suggests that the overriding cause was the credit crunch, not so much the politics of Michel, TNK-BP and the Ossetian War – whose effect was limited to short-term fluctuations.

Although up until recently this was the most visible facet of the Russian economic crisis, it was also the most irrelevant. Share ownership is very limited, so the effects on wealth will be limited outside the oligarchic circles; furthermore, most economic sectors are weakly tied to the RTS, much of whose capitalization could even be described as ‘prestige listings’. (In contrast, a great deal of American savings are locked up in stocks and equity financing plays a key role in the Anglo-Saxon ‘shareholder’ model). Thus, the 35% fall in the US S&P is far more damaging to the American economy than the much larger fall in the RTS. It must also be noted that stockmarkets in most emerging market stocks plummeted as well, although Russia was at the higher end.

The real crisis was unfolding in soaring credit costs and plunging commodity prices due to the incipient global economic crash. During the fat years, Russia bought up foreign currency reserves (e.g. T-Bills, US state-guaranteed mortgage securities, etc) to prevent an excessive ruble strengthening, which would have hurt manufacturers and exporters. However, this starved the local market of capital, thus forcing the domestic corporate sector to access foreign debt finance – therefore the rapid rise in official reserves were matched by a corresponding rise in private indebtedness, albeit the latter proceeded at a slower pace and allowed Russia to remain a large net creditor nation. This was a conservative and pricey choice, since the interest on the borrowing was substantially greater than the yields on Russia’s sovereign assets, thus forcing Russia Inc. to pay a ‘very substantial “spread” between the yield on its assets and the cost of the private debt in return for this foreign intermediation’. In light of the global credit crunch, it ended up providing only an ‘illusory degree of security’ for a ‘hefty price’7.

This is because now the Russian corporate system faced a triple whammy as credit availability dried up, existing creditors demanded repayments and and the commodity prices on which their balance sheets depended plummeted. The peak in the global liquidity and confidence crisis came in September-October and marked the tipping point in Russia’s real economy. In response, the Russian government mounted a ‘swift, appropriate and proportionate’ policy response8 to ensure the continued functioning of the banking system. To assess their chances of success, I will cover three interrelated areas of concern – the debt burden, balance of payments and future fiscal sustainability.

Despite the big debts incurred by Russian companies, overall the country remains very much in the black – its half a trillion US dollars in corporate liabilities are more than compensated for by the private sector’s half a trillion in net foreign assets and another half trillion in the Central Bank’s foreign currency reserves9. Thus the main problem facing Russia, unlike the US, is one of short-term liquidity rather than long-term insolvency10. This implies that the real issue at hand is the repayment structure of Russia’s foreign debt – all those net assets will not be of much use if companies can’t raise the cash quick enough to repay their short term loans. Of the total debt, some 120bn $ is due ‘on demand’ or sometime in Q3 or Q4 2008 – that is, almost a quarter of the total debt is short-term, including more than 40% for private financial institutions.

To counter this problem, the CBR began selling down its foreign assets, starting with US agency bonds (Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, etc), and using the proceeds to inject much-needed liquidity into the financial system. For instance, the CBR placed a 50bn $ deposit at VEB development bank to reduce the rollover risk of short-term external debt and provided 35bn $ in subordinated debt to the three state-owned banks Sberbank, VTB and Rosselkhozbank. (Incidentally, these withdrawals constituted a major part of the 110bn $ fall in the CBR’s foreign currency reserves since September; not defense of the ruble from speculators and Russian bank runners, as some commentators would have it.) These measures are not bail-outs like those of AIG, or even implicit guarantees of debt as with Citibank or Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac; the underlying assets are mostly healthy and Russia saw little of the alchemical debt structuring that plagues the Western financial system. Unlike with the American taxpayer-funded buyup of ‘toxic assets’ – which truly are worth nothing, given the implosion of the US housing bubble, the final fiscal cost is likely to be modest.

The second area of concern is the balance of payments, which consists of the sum of the current account (mostly the trade balance) and the capital account (mostly foreign direct investment, or FDI). Let’s look at each of them in turn. Throughout the past decade, Russia enjoyed a healthy current account due to steadily increasing oil prices, which accounted for the bulk of its exports by value. Their collapse in recent months means that in theory it now runs the risk of a current account deficit, since imports had also soared. At least until recently, most economists were predicting oil prices would remain around 70-80$ per barrel next year; now, some are predicting collapse to 25$11. So let’s assume a median price of 50$.

A quick glance at Russia’s trade balance history and a few quick calculations dispel all the doom-mongery11. The last time the mean oil price was at 50$ per barrel was in 2005, when Russia earned a total of 117bn $ from oil and oil products exports (I assume volumes remain constant – the recent drop off in exports will have canceled out post-2005 gains12). The second major component in Russia’s export structure is natural gas – virtually all of it is sold to Europe on long-term contracts, so let’s conservatively assume it will decline from an annualized 70bn $ in 2008 to 50bn $ next year. The rest of Russia’s exports come to an annualized 156bn $ in 2008. About half of those are metals, which have plummeted along with other commodities; the others are chemicals and machinery, which I assume will remain roughly constant – thus, let’s assume this segment will add up to 78bn $ in 2009, i.e. equal to H1 of 2008 (of course, in practice the weakening of the ruble will boost exports of machinery). Adding up 117bn $ in oil, 50bn $ in natural gas and 78bn $ in other exports, will give us 245bn $ in total exports.

Although total annualized imports in 2008 were 271bn$, they will almost certainly fall next year. Creeping ruble devaluation coupled with credit contraction means that imports of foreign cars – the biggest contributor to Russia’s non-oil trade deficit – will plummet. Global deflation will lower the costs of food imports, amongst other things. Therefore, Russia’s overall trade balance will almost certainly remain in the black – assuming exports of 245bn $ and imports of 223bn $ in 200913, we get a trade balance of 22bn $. Even in the worst scenario of a 10% reduction in export volumes and a collapse to 25$ oil (which would translate to a Urals blend price of around 20$), oil exports will fall to 26bn $ and result in a still manageable trade deficit of 49bn $ – which amounts to about 10% of the CBR’s foreign currency reserves.

The World Bank expects the Russian capital account to go deep red, deteriorating to 50bn $ for 2008 and 100bn $ for the next year14. This is because of the near cessation of FDI inflows (due to global ‘flight to quality’) and debt repayment obligations for 2009. Therefore, Russia’s overall balance of payments will almost certainly go red next year – assuming all the above, to the tune of 78bn $ in the medium scenario (50$ oil) and 149bn $ in the low scenario (25$ oil). Considering the current 450bn $ in the CBR’s reserves, meeting Russia’s import needs will not present a major problem even in the context of a global depression.

Incidentally, the problem with some emerging markets is that they ran up huge current account deficits, paid for by strong but fickle capital inflows. Due to the aforementioned ‘flight to quality’ and debt repayment issues, their capital account went deep red and started draining rather than bolstering their reserves. Furthermore, a sizable chunk of their exports are commodities (Latvian wood products, Ukrainian metals), which have plummeted in value. Borrowing is not a realistic option because of the punitive CDS spreads on their sovereign debts. Suffice to say, they’re not in a good situation and considering the extent to which Latvia and Ukraine are already faltering, it will be hard or impossible for them to avoid a big devaluation, plunge in imports and severe contraction in aggregate demand and GDP.

Talking of devaluation, a fall of the Russia ruble by around 20-35% again the dollar by 2009 is inevitable15 and a creeping correction is already under way, with the CBR gradually widening the ruble’s trading band and giving it room to fall. The conventional wisdom is that the CBR should stop frittering away its reserves in an ultimately futile defense of the ruble that will only benefit speculators, and allow a sudden devaluation. Perhaps. But there are several caveats and good points to the current approach.

Firstly, as pointed out before a major part of the decline in reserves would have been accounted for by the government’s program of quasi-fiscal stimuli. Much of the rest is due to the dollar’s appreciation. Russia’s basket of foreign currency holdings is 45% dollars, 44% Euros, 10% pound sterling and 1% yen. Thus, its dollar-denominated reserves have fallen much faster than if one were to denote them in Euros, for instance. Since early August, sterling and Euros have fallen by around 20% against the dollar16. According to my back of the envelope calculations, the loss in reserves due to this currency effect is around 65bn $ or around 45% of the total17. In practice this figure will be somewhat lower, as I explain in the footnotes, but nonetheless this is an important and often overlooked component to the typica alarmist headlines about plummeting Russian reserves.

I would like to take a moment to debunk one of the more boneheaded predictions of imminent Russian economic collapse. The reasoning goes that because the reserves declined by 25bn $ in the past week, it must mean all of Russia’s reserves will be exhausted in 20 weeks. Firstly, I’d refer them to the fallacy of linear extrapolation18. Secondly, as we showed above, Russia’s total withdrawals from its reserves would have already been mostly accounted for by the government’s anti-crisis measures and by exchange rate effects.

Secondly, as we noted above a lot of debt repayments are scheduled for the last half of 2008 – around 120bn $, or 23% of the total19 of 527bn $, compared with 103bn $ for the whole of 2009. The rest are due later. As such it would make sense to repay foreign creditors now, when the ruble is still strong, and weaken it for the next year when the pressure will slacken. It is true that there are disadvantages to this slow approach – for instance, people know that the ruble will weaken substantially, but they don’t know when or how quickly. This creates uncertainty and hampers investment because of ‘jump risk’20. And the longer the ruble remains strong, the greater the strain on manufacturers and exporters. So I think it is reasonable to expect the CBR to accelerate the ruble’s decline after the New Year, or even fully take the floor from under it if they’re brave.

The final component of my analysis is the effect the crisis and government measures are going to have on Russia’s long-term fiscal sustainability. In this case, there is even less ground for worry that with debt or balance of payments. In their second to last biannual report on the Russian economy, the World Bank concluded that at constant prices of 60$ per barrel Russia would have to keep its non-oil primary fiscal deficit below an estimated 4.7% of GDP to maintain long-term fiscal sustainability21. Despite this year’s record oil windfall, the recent commodity bust and increased government spending may drop this year’s figure below that of 2007, when it was at 2.9% of GDP – but still well below the 4.7% marker, as it has been ever since the 1998 Russian financial crisis.

Obviously, that condition will almost certainly be unfulfillable in 2009. Lower taxes will take a smaller slice of a stagnant GDP. Meanwhile, there will be increased spending on social support for the unemployed, pensioners and homebuyers, as well as on health, education and infrastructure. The Finance Minister Kudrin predicts a possible budget deficit of 1% next year22, which would be met by transfers from a rainy day fund – of which Russia certainly has no shortage of. (The inflation risks of an aggressive countercyclical fiscal policy have receded due to the global deflationary forces unleashed by the credit crunch, although freedom of action is still limited by the inflationary effects of ruble correction.) Thus, barring a very highly unlikely economic collapse, longterm fiscal sustainability is still assured.

Instead of a conclusion, I offer several falsifiable predictions that could be used to assess the overall validity of the views presented herein in the future – though feel free to treat the later, more visceral forecasts with the amount of salt you think it deserves. The US economy will continue deleveraging and will bottom out by 2010 once a critical mass of formerly private liabilities finish being transferred to the public account. Obama will spend deeply on public infrastructure, greater social support and industry bailouts, further accentuating US fiscal imbalances – the budget deficit will exceed a trillion dollars, making up more than 10% of GDP. Economic collapse is postponed, not averted, since the administration will lack the discipline to fundamentally reform spending, encourage savings and address the looming issue of Social Security benefits at a time when many baby boomers start retiring. Growth in China and many other emerging markets, including Russia, returns to a decent clip sometime earlier, perhaps around mid-2009 – albeit badly singed by the credit crunch, their financial systems are fundamentally sound and solvent, and their countercyclical fiscal measures will reignite aggregate demand. Oil prices will remain around 40$ in the first half of 2009, but the incipient recovery starts raising them in the second half and resulting in an average price of 50$ for the year. Oil prices will accelerate upwards in 2010 on the heels of the global recovery.

Russia will recover from a short but sharp recession in the first half of 2009, and overall growth for the year will be at 0-3%; it will accelerate back up to 5-8% in 2010, although unemployment will keep rising into that year. A wave of consolidation will occur in the Russian banking industry, Russia Inc. will close the oil windfall-foreign intermediary-cheap credit loop that was its prior financing mechanism and the country will emerge with a stronger, self-sufficient financial system. The oligarchs, Moscow and the middle classes bear the brunt of the crisis, while the provinces, agriculture and domestic manufacturing benefit, thereby reinforcing already latent tendencies in national development.

All vital demographic statistics, with the exception of the total fertility rate, improve during this period – the expanding social safety net checks mortality increases, but the confidence crisis temporarily dents the former. The overall humanitarian impact is insignificant compared to the Soviet collapse and even 1998. Russia will prune regulatory inefficiencies, enhancing the prospects for long-term growth. Much of the post-Soviet space becomes a ruble zone after 2009. Relations with Ukraine greatly improve after the generous aid Russia bestowed upon its cold, starving multitudes following the utter economic apocalypse that precipitated the peaceful protests that overthrew its Orange regime and replaced it with a friendly administration seeking integration into Eurasian economic and security structures.

The world economy will strongly recover in 2010. With international credit channels once again unblocked, the consequences of the Fed’s liquidity flooding will make themselves felt. In the worst case, we could have dollar hyperinflation. I think it’s more likely that it will simply be highly inflationary, which will ease away the burden on America’s trade deficits and debts. Foreigners become less willing to buy up US debt, the world’s central banks resume moving away from the dollar and the greenback will fall sharply relative to other currencies. Oil prices will accelerate upwards, due to recovering demand and falling supplies (new supply additions from megaprojects are slated to fall from 2008 on, and this will only be exacerbated by current delays in new oil extraction infrastructure due to low prices; meanwhile, the rate of oil depletion in existing wells continues to accelerate23). This culminates in another spike, bringing us 250-400$ oil by 2012-13. The dollar loses its status as a global reserve currency, interest payments on US debt veer asymptotically upwards and the American empire goes into liquidation.

At this point the future splits into two. Down one, the newly-emergent multipolar system continues to mindlessly pursue materialistic growth, in the process straining against the energetic and environmental limits to growth and unleashing brutal, wasteful resource wars that doom humanity into the abyss of the Olduvai Gorge. Down another, there emerges a framework for global cooperation promoting peace, population limitation, conservation and advanced nano-manufacturing and AI technologies, thus ushering in the green Communist utopia that is the technological singularity. The choice, desert or forest, will be ours…


1 In particular, I am referring the economic commentary over at Streetwise Professor and his supporter Michel – although I consider it biased and conservative with the facts, some of their arguments deserve mention. On the other hand not only is La Russophobe insulting and completely devoid of logic, she is also an economic illiterate and as such she and her fawning cyber goons don’t warrant attention, let alone a thoughtful reply.

2 According to several sources (http://www.cdi.org/russia/johnson/7259-10.cfm, http://exile.ru/articles/detail.php?ARTICLE_ID=8518&IBLOCK_ID=35).

3 According to the US Census Bureau, real household median income peaked in 1999 and has stagnated through to 2007.

4 This phraseology was first used by Kudrin at the World Economic Forum in Davos in January 2008.

5 See p.5 of Hope by Eric Kraus’ Nikitsky Fund (http://nikitskyfund.com/files/tnb/Hope.pdf). According to Eurostat and Goldman Sachs, loans to Russian households make up less than 10% as a percentage of GDP, compared to 20-40% amongst most east-central European emerging markets and more than 40% in Latvia and Estonia. Some Googling reveals a figure of about 100% for both Britain and the US.

6 The RTS (http://www.rts.ru/) has an easy function whereby one can view its history for the past day, week, month, 6 months, year and 3-year period.

7 Explanation borrowed from Hope by Eric Kraus’ Nikitsky Fund (http://nikitskyfund.com/files/tnb/Hope.pdf).

8 For a detailed breakdown of the credit crisis in Russia and the government’s response, see the 17th Russia World Bank Report (http://siteresources.worldbank.org/INTRUSSIANFEDERATION/Resources/rer17_eng.pdf).

9 Data from Central Bank of Russia (http://www.cbr.ru/). The 193bn $ liabilities of the banking sector are mitigated by its 114bn $ in assets. Although the total size of Russia’s external debt stock in Q2 2008 was about 527bn $, overall solvency is assured by the financial sector’s net foreign assets of 450bn $ (Q3 2008) and foreign currency reserves that peaked at 598bn $ in August.

10 See p.3 of Things That Fall Apart by Eric Kraus’ Nikitsky Fund (http://nikitskyfund.com/files/tnb/Things_That_Fall_Apart.pdf) for a disturbing insight into the long-term unsustainability of American profligacy.

11 The 70-80$ prediction was made by the World Bank a month ago; as the depth of the global economic collapse became clearer in recent days – including China, on which hinged hopes of a recovery – Merrill Lynch warned that prices may drop to as low as 25$ (http://weblogs.baltimoresun.com/business/hancock/blog/2008/12/merrill_lynch_oil_could_fall_t.html). However, their ‘main scenario’ is still at 50$.

11 Data from CBR. All annualizing is based on data for H1 2008.

12 Russian oil extraction peaked, probably permanently, in 2008. The combination of high taxes on oil exports and plummeting prices have led to a big drop off in export volumes to 2004 levels in November (http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/feedarticle/8110057).

13 CBR. Imports of 223bn $ imply a mere step back to the level of 2007.

14 Again, see 17th Russia World Bank Report (http://siteresources.worldbank.org/INTRUSSIANFEDERATION/Resources/rer17_eng.pdf).

15 Goldman Sachs predicts 20%, while Troika says it could be 35% if oil falls to 30$ per barrel next year (http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601087&sid=aV9a5OPsFqYk&refer=home). It should be noted that such a decline would be comparable to the falls in the Korean won, South African rand or numerous other emerging market currencies that have already occurred.

16 http://finance.yahoo.com/currency has exchange rate data going back 5 years.

17 Back of the envelope stuff. (46+0.8*(54))/100 = 0.892 is the dollar-denominated decline due to currency effects, with the 46 representing the portion in yen and dollars, and the 54 representing the Euro and sterling component. Multiplying that by peak reserves gives us the expected value in the absence of any other transfers in or out of the CBR’s reserves: 0.892*598 = 533bn $, or a dollar-denominated loss of 65bn $. Currently the reserves are at 455bn $, so the total loss has so far been 143bn $, so the loss due to currency flunctuations is around 45% of the total. Note: I make no pretense to precision, of course. Plus in practice the CBR will have continued receiving some transfers, thus ‘diluting’ the figure above. But the point remains that this is a very significant and overlooked component of the decline in reserves.

18 This really should be in any standard list of logical fallacies. They should it there, with me noted as its originator. :) Anyway, let’s demonstrate it with US total public debt. According to Debt to the Penny (http://www.treasurydirect.gov/NP/NPGateway), this increased by about 1tn $ in the last 3 months. Now if I reasoned like a Kremlinologist (or a dim Russian info-warrior), I would immediately start writing about how the debt will explode by 4tn within the year and treble within five years, leading to American economic apocalypse. In practice, those three months covered the period when the Fed was borrowing money for its TARP’s and bailouts. Albeit there’s at least a drip of truth to the above, unlike the case with Russia’s reserves – see footnote 10.

19 See CBR for the payment schedule of Russia’s external debt (http://www.cbr.ru/eng/statistics/credit_statistics/print.asp?file=schedule_debt_e.htm).

20 A good argument from Craig Pirrong, ‘Streetwise Professor’ (http://streetwiseprofessor.com/?p=1053).

21 See Longterm Fiscal Sustainability of the Russian Federation by the World Bank, 2008 (http://siteresources.worldbank.org/INTRUSSIANFEDERATION/Resources/rer16_Che2_Eng.pdf).

22 See http://www.reuters.com/article/marketsNews/idUSLK36695720081120?sp=true

23 See Fig.3 in IEA WEO 2008 – World Oil Forecasts on the Oil Drum (http://www.theoildrum.com/node/4792). There are many reports of expensive projects being delayed due to today’s low oil prices, which makes them risky and potentially unprofitable – not to mention oil companies’ problems in accessing credit. The Financial Times recently had a story on how the rate of oilwell depletion is accelerating, because a larger percentage of oil is coming from small fields that deplete quicker – you need to run quicker to stay still (http://www.reuters.com/article/GCA-Oil/idUSTRE49S0BB20081029).

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
 
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I am being a sarcastic, of course. Ukraine has banned broadcasting of Russian TV channels. Georgia cut access to the .ru domain and banned Russian TV channels (and Euronews!), no doubt to silence any questioning voices over their criminal aggression as opposed to the likes of Fox, CNN or the BBC, which swallowed the psychopathic Saakashvili’s lies hook, line and sinker. Finally, and most disturbingly, Latvia is now arresting those who dare question the stability of its economy on charges of ‘destabilizing the financial system’.

The Western MSM would do well to express greater interest in this instead of endlessly hectoring Russia – the whole specks of chaff and logs and eyes thing, you know. Otherwise, as in the 1930′s, the debris of capitalism could end up once again incubating incipient fascist regimes.

Russia concerned over banned Russia TV in Ukraine regions

MOSCOW, October 9 (Itar-Tass) — Russia is seriously concerned over a ban on broadcasting of Russian TV channels in several Ukrainian regions, spokesman for the Russian Foreign Ministry Andrei Nesterenko said on Thursday.

“As a result a considerable part of the Ukrainian population were deprived of an opportunity to receive information on the native language,” he pointed out. “The ousting of the Russian language and the Russian culture cannot but affect bilateral relations. Numerous letters are coming in the Russian Foreign Ministry from people expressing concerns over the situation in this issue, and we share these deep concerns,” Nesterenko said.

Looks like they’ve decided to take Loco Lucas’s advice to heart (apparently, Russian media is a hotbed of Nazi propaganda), thus following in the footsteps of Georgia which banned Russian TV broadcasts and access to the .ru domain during their criminal aggression against Ossetia.

EDIT 11/26/08:

False Dmitri gives us the breakdown on Latvian information control about the financial crisis. Put’s the Streetwise Professor’s (mostly unfounded) complaints of Russian ‘information management‘ into perspective.

Valter Fridenberg (on the photo), a popular Latvian pop-singer, has been arrested by the country’s security services. Apparently he made a joke during a concert about the state of the Latvian economy. More specifically at the concert given on November 9, 2008 in Elgava he said:

“If anyone wants to run and get their money out of the bank, please at least wait until the end of the performance.”

The young man is now a suspect in the crime aimed to destabilize the financial system of Latvia, according to Mixnews.lv. Mr. Fridberg said that his words were a joke made to introduce the next song, and his fans understood them as such. However, the people at the security services think otherwise. In an interview following his arrest, he said very cautiously: “It looks like now we have a censorship in Latvia.”

A few days ago the Latvian Finance Minister Atis Slakteris informed that several of those responsible for spreading rumors about devaluation of the Latvian currency had been arrested. Another disturbing news concerns an economist working at the Ventsipls University College who has been arrested for an article about the perspectives of the Latvian economy and the banking system of Latvia.

All this confirms that Latvia is experiencing a very serious financial crisis. The days of the “Latvian economic miracle” (and democracy?) are over.

The latter claim is not as outlandish as it might seem. During the Great Depression, civil liberties and the Constitution were suspended in Latvia and power passed to the authoritarian Ulmanis. He pursued a ‘Latvia for Latvians’ campaign (Lettization), which eliminated ethnic minorities from all important positions in the national economy (about 90% of the banks and credit establishments in Latvia were in Latvian hands in 1939, as against 20% in 1933). A dark foreboding of what the future may have in store for already oppressed Baltic Russians…

(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.