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aleksievich-nobel I don’t make any claims to being some kind of hifalutin literatus. To the extent I read any fiction at all it is almost inevitably either sci-fi or fantasy. I am woefully uncultured when it comes to “Big L” Literature, and looking at the postmodernist dreck that seems to dominate the modern scene, I am frankly content to continue wallowing in my ignorance.

So I was not very surprised to find myself completely ignorant of Svetlana Alexievich when she was announced the winner of the 2015 Nobel Prize in Literature. What was more surprising is that this ignorance was widely shared amongst my Russian acquaintances. It is not particularly the case that my acquaintances are cultural troglodytes. As Western journalists have recently confirmed, she really is pretty unknown in the Russosphere.

The pathos of Alexievich’s situation is that, while some of her books have been successful—War’s Unwomanly Face reportedly sold two million copies—today, the humanist writer is nearly unknown in her dehumanizing homeland, and is of little interest to its people. Her print runs are modest. There are virtually no comments or votes on her books on Ozon.ru (link in Russian), Russia’s answer to Amazon.com, and most of the books are not even in stock. By contrast, the previous five Russian-language winners of the literature Nobel—Ivan Bunin, Boris Pasternak, Solzhenitsyn, Mikhail Sholokhov, and Joseph Brodsky—are all still household names.

Below is a graph I compiled using Google Trends comparing online chatter about her compared to some other prominent Russian language writers from multiple genres and sides of the political spectrum. The graph runs from 2004 to September 2015, to avoid the artificial spike coinciding with the announcement of Alexievich’s Nobel Prize this October.

Dmitry Bykov is a poet and essayist, Viktor Pelevin is a postmodernist but does some truly original and profound things with it, and Boris Akunin is a bestselling historical detective fiction writer. Perhaps more importantly to the sorts of people who decide on whom to give awards to, all three are strongly anti-Putin and pro-Maidan. The exception here is Sergey Lukyanenko, whose urban fantasies have probably made him into modern Russia’s internationally best known writer.

nobody-reads-svetlana-alexievich

What all four of them have in common though is that not in a single month have they had their names mentioned online less often Svetlana Alexievich. As one can see from the bar graph, any one of them is an order of magnitude more popular. None of them would have been an unworthy Nobel Prize winner. There are dozens of other Russian language writers well ahead of her, to say nothing of the rest of the world. So her Nobel Prize certainly couldn’t have been the result of prominence and popular acclaim.

Was she then selected on the basis of the Swedish Nobel committee’s deep level of understanding and appreciation of Russian literature? Was she the diamond in the dirt that ain’t been found, the underground queen that ain’t been crowned?

Fortunately, blogger (and one of my regular commentators) Lazy Glossophiliac looked into this question in some detail, doing the work that lazier journalists wouldn’t. The book he looked at was The Chernobyl Prayer: Chronicles of the Future (published in 2006), which is available online in Russian here: http://www.lib.ru/NEWPROZA/ALEKSIEWICH/chernobyl.txt

Even for a non-literary kind of person – Lazy Glossophiliac is a technical person – it quickly becomes obvious her work is second rate.

She has a blithe indifference to facts. Numerous bold claims are made that are either unsubstantiated or flat out statistically false. Some are pretty minor (she says Belarus is a majority rural county; in reality, it stopped being so in the mid-1970s). Others are cardinal, such as her remarkable claim that radiation from Chernobyl was the most important reason for Belarus’ demographic decline. In reality, it was not the first or even tenth most important reason. In Belarus as in Russia and the wider USSR, mortality remained relatively low thoughout the late 1980s – recall that Chernobyl blew up in 1986 – due to Gorbachev’s anti-alcohol campaign. In Belarus as in Russia and the wider USSR, it soared after 1991 – that is, 1991 – 1986 = 5 years after Chernobyl – as the economy collapsed and the state lost its former monopoly over vodka production.

Such sins might be forgiven for a truly “literary” writer, but she was an expressly nonfiction writer. The first such, for that matter, to be awarded a Nobel Prize since Winston Churchill in 1953, who got his Nobel Prize in Literature for, amongst other things, his “mastery of historical and biographical description.” I haven’t read Churchill but I would imagine he got his basic historical facts right.

Perhaps she made up for it with beautiful, sublime prose?

Here is Lazy Glossophiliac on that.

At the start of the next section Alexievich tells us that the Chernobyl accident was “the main event of the 20th century, in spite of all the terrible wars and revolutions for which that century will be remembered”. I’m chalking that up to chick logic. A certain quantity of pseudo-profound nonsense follows. I’m finally up against this year’s Nobel prize winner’s own voice. It’s boring and pompous: “Chernobyl is a secret which we will still have to uncover. An unread sign. Perhaps a mystery for the twenty-first century. A challenge to it.” Of course she’s not talking about anything technical here – it’s all hot air.

“The facts were simply not enough anymore, one was drawn to look beyond the facts, to get into the meaning of what was happening.” Oh really? The carelessness she showed with the “facts” which she quoted at the start of this book suggests that she’s simply bored by them instead.

She says that Chernobyl left everyone confused because throughout the ages the measure of horror was war. “We are in a new history, a history of catastrophes has begun.” She is utterly devoid of any sense of historical perspective. Floods, earthquakes, hurricanes, epidemics – never happened. She goes on and on about the revolutionary newness of radiation’s invisibility, but viruses have always been invisible too, and much more deadly.

svetlana-alexievich-hyperbole

No Brodsky, Pasternak, or Solzhenitsyn is she. They might have been anti-Soviet, and justifiably so, but all of them produced real literary masterpieces (well, just One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, in Solzhenitsyn’s case, but even that is still one more than I am aware of Alexievich ever writing).

Also… HOW MANY ELLIPSES DOES SHE USE?… a Ctrl-F reveals 4,196 of them… out of 78,000 words… I can’t even!… that is like… MORE THAN ONCE EVERY TWENTY WORDS!

As I said, I do not pretend to be any sort of expert on the sense of style. In fact, I am downright awful at it. (Just look at that weasel phrase at the beginning of the last sentence. And putting this in brackets. And starting sentences with “and”).

Even so, should I ever find myself peppering my texts with an ellipse or two every other sentence, I will take it as a cue to wrap up my writing forays and spare the world any more of my inchoate ramblings.

But perhaps she got her Nobel Prize not on the basis of popularity or even style but on account of the, erm, human truths – telling truth to power – living not by lies – insert Soviet dissident slogan of your choice – that she revealed in her writing.

That is what Philip Gourevitch * ventures in his panegyric of her for Human Rights Watch:

But although her work is often hot with the passion and outrage of independent witness, it is wonderfully free of any polemical or activist agenda. She serves no ideology, only an ideal: to listen closely enough to the ordinary voices of her time to orchestrate them into extraordinary books.

This is a message that was echoed by the Nobel committee itself. Ostensibly, she was rewarded for “her polyphonic writing, a monument to suffering and courage in our time.”

In literature, polyphony as defined by Mikhail Bakhtin refers to a style of prose in which the author refrains from making his characters sockpuppets for some idea or ideology. Instead, he makes them vie for power and influence in a world where the only truth is that there is no truth. Dostoevsky was the primary example for Bakhtin’s definition of polyphony. Who can say which Karamazov brother was right: Ivan or Alyosha? George R. R. Martin would be a good modern popular example, in which the principle heroes and heroines tend to represent distinct moral codes and values, none of which are obviously superior to that of any other except to the extent that they are blessed with varying amounts of luck, dragons, and shadowbabies.

You have to have very high social intelligence and psychological astuteness to be able to convincingly write this kind of prose.

But there is no indication whatsoever that this describes Alexievich.

To the contrary, there is a clear polemical agenda at the very start of the book that we decided to analyze. My translation of its second opening paragraph:

For little Belarus (population: 10 million), Chernobyl was a national catastrophe, even though the Belorussians themselves don’t have a single nuclear power station. This is still an agrarian country, with a mostly rural population. During the years of the Great Patriotic War,the German fascists destroyed 619 Belorussian villages together with their inhabitants. After Chernobyl, the country lost 485 villages and settlements… In the war, every fourth Belorussian died; today, every fifth Belorussian lives on contaminated land.

Relativizing the unique horrors of the Nazi occupation bymaking flimsy and hyperbolic comparisons to the Soviet record is a favored approach of the post-Soviet intelligentsia, but very few Russians (and Belorussians) buy into it because of its inherent selectiveness and dishonesty. And probably not so much because:

The powers that be behave themselves as if I don’t exist. I don’t get printed in the state publications, I am not allowed on the radio or TV, I am only published in the opposition media.

Published in the opposition media? No wonder she came back to live in Belarus in 2013, after a decade of sojourning about Europe where no media – that is, neither state nor opposition – seem to have cared about her writings.

Indeed, a perusal of her interviews and speeches (aggregated here and here), in particular their polemical and activist agenda, is actually the single biggest clue as to why she got her Nobel Prize. Far from creating any sort of literary polyphony, she comes off as a proficient recycler of 1970s-80s Soviet dissident stock of tropes about Russia that nobody there apart from a tiny self-styled intelligentsia in the capital cares the least about. In short, she is a marginally saner and much less entertaining version of the late Valeriya Novodvorskaya.

I recently returned from Moscow, having partaken of the May festivities there. For a whole week the air was filled with the rumbling of tanks and orchestras. I felt that I was not in Moscow, but in North Korea.

Hysterical Russophobia? Check.

One Italian restaurant owner advertised that Russians are not welcome at his establishment. This is a good metaphor. Today, the world once again begins to fear what is in that hole, that abyss, which combines in itself nuclear weapons, mad geopolitical ideas, and lack of respect for international law. I live with a sense of defeat.

One is tempted to wisecrack on whether she is describing the US here, but that will certainly not improve your chances of getting a Nobel.

We have to preserve this fragile peace established after the last war. We are talking about the Russian man, who in the past 200 years has spent 150 years of them at war. And never lived well. For him, human life is worthless, and his conception of greatness is not in the sense that people should live well, but that the state should be great and armed to the teeth with rockets. This gargantuan post-Soviet landscape, especially in Russia and Belarus, where the people were first lied to for 70 years, then looted for the next 20, has bred very aggressive people, who are very dangerous for the entire world.

I do so wonder why Russians and Belorussians aren’t rushing to buy her books! It must be the little Putin in all of them…

Of course Russian TV corrupts you. What the Russian media says today – they simply have to be prosecuted for it. For what they say about Europe, about Donbass, about Ukrainians… But this isn’t all. The problem is that people actually want to hear this. We can talk today about a collective Putin, because there is a Putin sitting in all Russians. The Red Empire has vanished, but its people have remained.

And, naturally, this people of vatniks and sovoks has to be dissolved, and another elected, as per Bertolt Brecht and the time-honored Russian liberal tradition of taking him so very literally.

The Nobel Prize is one of our world’s equivalents of dragons and shadowbabies.

As an ethnic Ukrainian with Belarussian citizenship writing in the Russian language, whose output mainly seems to consist of poorly disguised political polemics, she is an ideal tool to project Western soft power into the Russian world. Not just Russia itself, but also Ukraine and Belarus, the latter of which – quite coincidentally, surely – is having its Presidential elections a mere several days after the announcement of the Nobel Prize in Literature. From this perspective, she is in fact a very good candidate.

With a Nobel under her belt, a formerly second rate journalist and polemicist will be able to pontificate on her favorite themes with the authority of a secular prophetress.

There is nothing to be done about this, since neither Russia nor any other non-Western power has the soft power or cultural autonomy to offer a credible alternative to the Nobel Prize. It does however confirm that, much like the Peace Prize, the Literature Prize can be definitively ticked off as having anything to do with real human accomplishment in that sphere and instead be seen for what it is: As just another tool of Western political influence.

* EDIT 10/27/2015: As has just been brought to my attention, Keith Gessen is not the author of the quoted HRW piece, as was previously credited. That accolade belongs to Philip Gourevitch. Keith Gessen is her translator. I mistakenly got the impression he was the author because his byline appeared at the bottom of the page, but in my skim through of the piece, I failed to notice that Gessen’s byline merely referred to the translation at the end, whereas the editorial content that formed the bulk of the HRW page had been produced by Gourevitch. Sorry for the error.

 
• Category: Ideology • Tags: Belarus, BigPost, Literature, Nobel Prize, RealWorld 
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Here it is, for those who read Russian. The May data also has emigration data, which is not included in the prelimary estimates – that is here.

The main points to take away:

  • Births fell 0.3% and deaths fell 0.5%; as a result, the overall natural decrease has fallen from -57,000 in 2012 to -53,000 in 2013.
  • This is amply compensated for by the 101,000 net immigration for Jan-May 2013.
  • Russia’s population is estimated to have risen from about 143.3m at the end of 2012 to 143.4 now, with the fertile summer months still ahead. Overall, we can reasonably expect that as with last year, zero natural population growth and 250,000-300,000 net immigrants will enable Russia to eke out another small if solid population increase to 143.5-143.6m by year-end.
  • In per capita terms, the birth rate remained steady at 12.7/1000 as did the death rate at 13.5/1000.
  • These figures are, of course, for the first half of the year; in the second half, births tend to rise while mortality falls (more Russians die during the winter). In 2012, the birth rate and death rate both converged to 13.3/1000 by year-end. Barring unexpected shocks, roughly the same thing should happen this year.

And now, a brief regional comparison:

  • The situation in Ukraine is significantly worse. For Jan-May, the birth rate was at 10.3/1000 while the death rate was at 15.3/1000. Relative to the previous year, births fell while deaths remained steady.
  • In Belarus the birth rate for Jan-Jun is at 12.0/1000, while the death rate is at 13.8/1000. The death rate increased slightly from the previous year, while the birth rate increased significantly.
  • Caution should be used in interpreting these figures. In particular, Ukraine and Belarus don’t, of course, have vigorous minorities in the Caucasus and southern Siberia as does Russia – who make up a small but certainly non-negligible fraction of its population.
  • In particular, comparing Belarus with Russia’s Central region or Pskov, as would only be fair, it comes off looking very good indeed.
  • Ukraine however is definitely falling behind, especially considering that it too has a vigorous minority (of sorts) in the three westernmost oblasts which have a different demographic pattern to the rest of the country. Basically, there is no equivalent in either Russia (maybe a couple of particularly run down oblasts), Belarus, or probably anywhere else in the post-Soviet space for the very low birth rates and high death rates that characterize most of Ukraine’s eastern and central regions.

Apart from that:

  • The pattern of Russian mortality continues to get better, with deaths from external causes (aka the worst kind) falling most rapidly as has been the pattern of late. But deaths from alcohol poisoning, though still falling, are beginning to fall less rapidly. Could it be tied with more moonshine production in the wake of the big excise rises on vodka seen in the past few months?
  • The only major disease categories that saw increases in mortality are deaths from lung-related disease and from other causes. This might be tied to the unusually harsh winter seen this year (more elderly tend to die in hard winters, of the above causes).
(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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Two Russian travel writers, Natalia Ko and Nikolay Varsegov, share their experiences in Belarus – very positive ones, for the most part – with readers of Komsomolskaya Pravda.

You can Gamble in Belarus, but Seances are Forbidden

The first surprise on detraining in Minsk: The taxi drivers here don’t pester you, shouting, “Where are you going?” No bums can be seen either at or near the railway station. Even after driving throughout virtually the entire capital we had yet to see a bum. Nobody could explain why there aren’t any.

Nor are there any Gastarbeiters, interestingly enough. In our three days in the city we didn’t meet a single Caucasian nor a single Asiatic. What’s more, Minsk is a very clean and well-maintained city, although it isn’t quite clear who sweeps the streets, and plants the trees. There are no spokespersons in official institutions, even big ones, because all questions are settled quickly and directly with the managers. Red tape, according to the managers themselves, is punished. If a citizen complains that such and such a department is tardy in solving his problem, its boss is liable to be fired.

There are virtually no drunk people in the evenings. Instead of guzzling bear in the forest parks, young people ride on roller skates and play football instead.

That said, there is one parasite here: Legal gambling clubs, which we have long done away with. It’s said that Russian gambling addicts fly to Minsk on the weekends. They all return, of course, without any money. On the other hand, psychics, mages, and all kinds of enchanters are banned by a decree of Lukashenko himself, which testifies to the good sense of the Belorussian President.

Incomes in Belarus aren’t very high. The average salary, according to official data, is 18,000 rubles (our rubles). Pensions range from 3,800 to 6,500 rubles, with utility services consuming 10% of that. But food is cheap. A dinner in a cafe comes out to 180 rubles for two people. In the evening we had a hearty meal with meats and beer for two, and paid 1,000 rubles for it. In Moscow this would have cost 4,000-5,000 rubles.

Although all kinds of non-criminal businesses are allowed to operate in Belarus, they are under tight control. As such, the local rich try to keep a low profile. They don’t build themselves palaces or drive expensive cars, so as to avoid the interest of the siloviki. On this control of business also allows Belorussians not to worry about counterfeit vodka or fake goods. This is probably why there are no businessmen in Belarus from the rest of the CIS. The local businessmen, grinding their teeth, are forced to work honestly – while those incapable of such are forced to leave for Russia.

Belorussians love to grumble about their President. We, the simple people, can’t go anywhere freely because of his politics, apart from Russia, oh and Ukraine. And Minsk natives dislike that the roads are closed when Lukashenko’s cortege passes.

Everyone, everywhere speaks Russian. Only on the TV is there occasionally – for whatever reason – a broadcast in Belarussian.

That said, of course our view is quite superficial. What can one take in within three days, after all? Anybody with better knowledge of Belarus can share them with us in the comments below this article.

Reader comments

Гость №9503: I was there this year. Same impressions. Everywhere you feel unusually calm and safe, especially in comparison with some Paris or London. Minsk is comfortable, well-maintained, spacious, and feels like a capital city – but at the same time isn’t overpopulated, and prices for services are reasonable even in the center. There are so many sporting facilities that it’s as if an Olympics is going to be held there. The central avenues are beautiful, and have broad sidewalks, and in general pedestrians have it really good. There is a cycle path of 27km throughout the city – that’s just great. Although true, there are few historic attractions; it’s no Kiev, in that respect. As regards Gastarbeiters – Belarus is the last country in the world with a European population.

бабуля в годах: Yurgen [pro-Lukashenko commentator], shut up! It’s disgusting to read your odes to Luka! You probably have a wad of cash from the KGB? Why don’t you try to live on my pension of $120? He created his apparatus of KGBists and other filth because he is afraid to stand before the righteous people’s court. The Belorussians tolerate a lot, but their tolerance will soon come to an end. And you, Yurgen, will have to learn to live a new life.

бабке —пенсионерке [to above]: Wherever do we have pensions of $120? I don’t know any such people. I get 2,800,000 [Belorussian rubles] – that’s $300. Our cleaning lady, who worked as a cleaner her entire life, gets 2,000,000 – that’s $220. Whence the $120? Even if you never worked you still wouldn’t get such a pension. And by the way, my pension suffices for everything, and besides my savings enable me to travel about and go stay with various people. I do have my issues with Lukashenko, but they end as soon as I pass the Belorussian borders. After the crossing of the border I start to love him very dearly.

Новая белорусска: Living in Minsk the past 2 years (Russian Siberians). To say that Belarus is paradise is, of course, impossible. We experience all kinds of things, if in small doses. Yes there are bums, and drunkards too, but they would never start stealing and killing for a bottle – fortunately, the death penalty remains in force here. The young people here make a big impression – many of them are covered in tattoes (arms and legs, completely), they have their specific hairstyles (I think they are national ones), but on the other hand it’s rare to hear swearing in public, they mostly speak about study, work, salaries. They are completely non-aggressive, and Belorussians are in general a calm people. Altercations on public transport are extremely rare. As regards salaries – true, it’s not a land of milk and honey. No comparison at all to Moscow. But if you were to compare it with some Siberian city, Belorussians can afford a lot more. For instance, quality food at reasonable prices. Transport costs aren’t even in the same league – Siberians need $2,000 just to reach the border with their families. So our Russians (not Muscovites) are much poorer than Belorussians.

(Republished from Russian Spectrum by permission of author or representative)
 
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Just to hammer down the myth of Russian impoverishment one more time (with the help of graphs from Sergey Zhuravlev’s blog)…

In the past few years, in terms of basic necessities (food, clothing, housing) Russia has basically (re)converged to where the Soviet Union left off. Here is a graph of food consumption via Zhuravlev. At the bottom, the dark blue line is represents meat; the yellow, milk; the blue line, vegetables; the pink line, fish; the cyan line, fruits and berries; and azure line, sugar and sweets. At the top, the purple line are bread products, and the dark blue/green line are potatoes.

Meat consumption has essentially recovered to late Soviet levels, although it still lags considerably behind Poland, Germany, and other more prosperous carnivorous cultures. Milk fell and hasn’t recovered, but that is surely because it was displaced in part by fruit juices and soft drinks (which isn’t to say that’s a good thing – but not indicative of poverty either), and the fall in sugar consumption is surely a reflection of the near doubling of fruit consumption. We also see that bread and potato consumption peaked in the 1990′s, especially in the two periods of greatest crisis – the early 1990′s, and 1998. This is what we might expect of inferior goods like bread and potatoes.

There is a broadly similar story in housing construction. The chart left shows the annual area (in m2) constructed by 1,000 people. As we can see, after holding steady from the mid 1950′s to the late 1980′s, it more than halved by the late 1990′s; since then, however, construction has recovered almost to Soviet levels, the recent crisis barely making a dint.

Note that during the Soviet period, however, there were tons of peasants migrating into the cities, whereas today the urban population is more or less stable (after having declined by about 5 million). In general, mass housing construction once it got started in the 1950′s was one of the overlooked but significant achievements of the Soviet era – this, along with population migration controls, allowed urban Russia to avoid the slums you see even in relatively rich Third World places like Mexico or Thailand today. Nonetheless, apartments were cramped, and there were long waiting lines; while prices might be high today, the rationing in the Soviet period was just as real – it just took the form of scarcity and long queues. Today a big chunk of the new construction involves knocking down and replacing the Soviet-era housing stock with better buildings.

As shown in the graph above, also compiled by Sergey Zhuravlev, Russian consumption of food products, meat, fish, milk, and fruit was by 2008 essentially equal to US and West European levels. (Consumption of tobacco and alcohol is unfortunately significantly higher). But spending on clothing, housing, furniture, healthcare, transport, holidays, and restaurants is below 50% of US levels, even after accounting for price differences. (The situation vis-a-vis Western Europe is slightly better). On the one hand, this means that whereas Russians now have full bellies, the country still lags on life’s perks and luxuries – most especially on restaurants and holidays. On the other hand, it may well presage strong growth in the years to come.

The final graph shows the housing area constructed in 2012 per 1,000 people (red, upper axis), and the total number of apartments built per 1,000 residents (green, lower axis). Much maligned Belarus emerges as the star performer, building more housing than any other country listed. Whatever one’s thoughts on Lukashenko’s rule but this along with its (surprisingly good) overall relative economic performance should give one pause before insisting on privatization and deregulation as a sine qua non of socio-economic development. Russia is second after Belarus, followed by Kazakhstan; Poland; Slovakia; Denmark; Uzbekistan (also a socialist economy albeit a very poor one); Azerbaijan; Ukraine; Hungary; Estonia; Latvia; Armenia; Bulgaria; Lithuania; Moldova; Kyrgyzstan; Tajikistan.

This is part of a long list of basic indicators on which Russia in the past few years on which Russia has either caught up with (e.g. life expectancy) or far exceeded (e.g. automobile ownership) Soviet levels.

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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A few months ago I posted a table and map of Russian IQ’s as derived from regional PISA performance. Those figures are based on Jarkko Hautamäki’s slideshow comparing regional PISA performance in Finland and Russia.

That material is a bit inadequate because, as had been my custom up that point, I was only making IQ estimates based on the Math and Science components of the PISA tests, and avoiding Reading to maintain reverse compatibility with my (now disused, in favor of just IQ) Human Capital Index. In light of some realizations that verbal IQ is no less important than numerical, I have updated the figures to include the verbal component as well. This doesn’t create any radical changes – the overall IQ only drops by 0.3 points – so I reuse the same map.

(Note that the legend on the map isn’t converted to IQ. “PISA scores, mean 500, SD 100, have to be transformed into IQ values, mean 100, SD 15, by adding or subtracting the deviation from the mean in the relationship 100 : 15 = 6,67.”)

Commentary

There are any numbers of comments one can make, but I will confine myself to the most important ones:

(1) In some regions, margins of error are high, as samples were low. Nonetheless, it is still possible to identify some concrete patterns. The overall estimate is very accurate because the sample was N=5,308 and representatively distributed across the country.

(2) Moscow pupils performed very well, at the level of the highest scoring OECD countries like Finland, Taiwan, and Korea. This is especially impressive considering the significant numbers of immigrants in that city from the North Caucasus and Central Asia, who come from poorly-scoring countries and rarely have good Russian. This is surely the result of a century of attracting Russia’s (the USSR’s) cognitive elite.

(3) St.-Petersburg and Tyumen oblast performed above the OECD average, while a few other regions performed at or only slightly below the OECD average.

(4) Among ethnic Russian republics, Siberian regions performed well, while the Urals and southern regions performed badly.

(5) Performance in ethnic minority republics differs dramatically. Many of the Turkic and Finno-Ugric regions, such as Tatarstan, Komi, Chuvashia, and Karelia did well; however, Mari El is a big exception. The Buddhist peoples of Asia, such as Chita oblast (now merged into Zabaykalsky Krai) and the Sakha Republic, performed relatively poorly, as did the Muslim North Caucasus region of Dagestan. Chechnya and Ingushetia would probably score around very low – probably in the mid-80′s. We can be pretty confident about that because their unemployment rates are nearly 50% despite tons of federal transfers.

Bear these figures in mind when considering long-term investments into Russia alongside with their business climate, corruption levels, etc.

PISA-derived IQ of Russian regions

The results by each of the 44 Russian regions which participated in PISA are reproduced below:

IQ
Moscow 106.6
Saint-Petersburg 102.6
Tyumen oblast 100.6
Novosibirsk 100.0
Chelyabinsk oblast 99.7
Omsk oblast 99.3
Samara oblast 99.2
Vladimir oblast 98.9
Tula oblast 98.6
Karelia 98.1
Tatarstan 98.1
Komi 98.0
Tomsk oblast 97.9
Primorie krai 97.2
Krasnoyarsk 97.1
Chuvashia 97.0
Udmurtia 96.4
Sakhalin oblast 96.4
Saratov oblast 96.0
Tambov oblast 95.9
Moscow oblast 95.6
Volgograd oblast 95.5
Vologda oblast 95.3
Kemerovo oblast 95.3
Altai krai 94.9
Astrakhan oblast 94.8
Ryazan oblast 94.7
Kursk oblast 94.6
Khanty-Mansijsk 94.2
Bashkortostan 93.4
Krasnodar 93.3
Perm krai 93.3
Rostov oblast 93.3
Nizhnij Novgorod 93.1
Voronezh oblast 92.7
Orenburg oblast 92.7
Kaluga oblast 91.7
Sverdlovsk oblast 91.6
Ulyanovsk oblast 91.5
Adygea 91.2
Stavropol 91.0
Mari El 90.1
Dagestan 88.7
Chita oblast 88.5
Sakha (Yakutia) 87.7
RUSSIA 96.0

Correlation with economic development

Doing the same exercise as I once did with Italy, the exponential correlation between IQ and GDP per capita (adjusted to reflect local prices; 2008) turns out to be R2=0.5262, if we only take into account those regions whose economies aren’t skewed by substantial natural resource sectors.

This is not as good as Italy’s R2=0.7302, but the result is still an amazingly good one in social sciences. In fact in Russia’s case it’s all the more impressive because its economy was for the most part built up under central planning, which isn’t as good as markets at allocating resources efficiently.

Even under a command economy, the principle still holds: Higher average IQ, higher human capital, greater productivity, greater GDP pre capita.

Other data on the Russian average IQ

(1) The PISA-derived IQ is 96.0.

(2) Richard Lynn estimates Russia’s average IQ to be 96.6 in his 2012 book Intelligence: A Unifying Construct for the Social Sciences.

(3) Heiner Rinderman estimates it at 97.3 in a 2009 paper.

The two most comprehensive authorities on international IQ’s, as well as the most comprehensive international standardized test, are all in agreement that Russia’s current average IQ is in the 96-98 range.

Other data on Russian regional IQ

(1) Map of average Unified State Exam (USE) scores among Russians admitted to institutions of higher education in 2010.

This is a biased sample because it only measures those Russians who were admitted to a university in 2010. It is not indicative of average regional IQ.

Data from Межвузовское исследование «Успеваемость студентов первого курсавысших учебных заведений России».

(2) Here is the same data by Federal District. They are, in order: Volga; North-West; Siberia; Central; Urals; Far East; North Caucasus.

(3) The share of “Olympians” (basically students who did really well and get benefits) in the annual university cohort. By region from top to bottom: Northern Caucasus; South; Far East; Volga; Urals; Siberia; North-West; Central.

There is nothing surprising about this. The Central Federal District contains Moscow. The North-West Federal District contains Saint-Petersburg, and I also suspect that ethnic Russians from the North-West region also have the highest IQ potential of all Great Russians because of admixture with Finno-Ugrics. (Finns and ethnic Estonians both have very high PISA scores).

(4) Unfortunately, Russia does not release regional average USE scores. It does this on purpose to avoid inciting ethnic enmity. (Basically, some regions – most of them non-Russian ones – systematically cheat and inflate their USE scores).

(However, I do recall visiting a site showing the number of people from each region who scored a 100/100 on USE subjects such as the Russian language, math, etc. It is a very rigorous exam and getting full marks on a subject like math is exceedingly hard; only a few hundred manage to do it every year if memory serves right. As IQ distributions are bell curves, it should be theoretically possible to get some idea of regional IQ’s by looking at the perfect scorers per capita rate. To do this however I will need to locate that site.)

Other EE Nations

The Ukraine didn’t participate in PISA 2009, but extrapolating from its TIMSS scores, its IQ would be around 93.1. Belarus would probably be considerably higher, because (1) they are basically genetically identical to Great Russians and Poles, and (2) they have done economically better than Ukraine since the 1990′s despite keeping much of their economy state-owned.

This section will be updated with info on other countries in the near future.

Slavic Genetic IQ Ceiling

The Slavic genetic ceiling appears to be around 100 based on the Czechs and Poles. The average height of young Russian men is about 175cm compared to 179cm-180cm among the Central-Europeans (Poles, Czechs, Slovaks). This discrepancy likely arose from the fact that Russia’s (and Ukraine’s) post-Communist transitions were far more catastrophic than those of the Poles and Czechs, involving a major deterioration in quality of nutrition during the 1990′s when the PISA 2009 cohort was growing up.

Russia’s meat consumption per capita (kg).

Russian nutrition has already returned to First World levels however; for instance, meat , fish, fruit, etc. consumption is now basically the same as in Europe or the US. This means that in the next decade I expect the Flynn Effect to kick off in Russia’s favor, raising its average IQ levels to their theoretical peak of 100 by the 2020′s.

(Republished from AKarlin.com 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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Sergey Zhuravlev is a Russian economist who runs a wonky but eminently readable and very useful, interesting blog and writes for Expert (author profile), which I may add is an excellent publication. You have met him previously on my blog as the inventor of a clever – if, in my opinion, flawed – argument that the 2011 Duma elections were marred by 5%-6% fraud, but were clean in Moscow; and if you read the Russia blogs, you may also have come across Mark Adomanis’ translation of one his articles about Russian regional inequality. Now I am presenting a translation of his Feb 13 article on what I called as the end of Russia’s demographic crisis: The Reversal of the Russian Cross. In my opinion, it has a few weaknesses; in particular, he is too cavalier about dismissing the “alcohol hypothesis” about post-Soviet Russia’s “supermortality”. But overall it is a brilliant and deeply informative survey of the origins of the Russian Cross – the crossover of the births and deaths graphs in 1992 – as well as of its recent reversal, to the extent that natural population decline is now almost stabilized and the overall population is able to grow due to net migrants.

The Reversal Of The Russian Cross

Last year our country’s population increased, for the first time in 20 years. Although positive growth in aggregate was only enabled by immigration from the Near Abroad, existing trends in rising fertility and falling mortality were maintained.

If we are to go by Rosstat’s figures, in the past year Russia’s population – for the first time in virtually the entire twenty years of Russia’s existence as a sovereign state – increased, exceeding 143 million people. The maximum population size was reached in 1992, at 148.56 millions, and has since decreased at a practically monotone rate. That said, it should be added that small population growth was previously observed in 1994 and 2009, and that the population fall in 2010 was, most likely, explained by cumulative errors over the period since the 2002 Census, and by the abnormal mortality during that summer’s heatwave [AK: There were c.56,000 excess deaths during the anomalous 2010 heatwave, which is basically equivalent to population decline of 48,300. Furthermore, the 2010 Census showed there to be 143.9 million Russians, which was one million higher than projections based on the 2002 Census; this implied that during the period, net immigration was underestimated by more than 100,000 per year. So its likely that even despite the heatwave, Russia's population still eked out an increase in 2010].

Caucasian Mountains only bested by Urals Mountains

The aggregate growth in our country’s permanent population was 165,000 for the past year [AK: This was a preliminary estimate that seems to have discounted December's migration stats; the final figure is population growth of 189,000]. Although overall positive growth is only enabled by migrants – net immigration is estimated at 296,000 for this year – the rate of natural population decrease continued to decline at a fast pace. Whereas in 2005 there were 828,000 more deaths than there were births, this past year it declined to 131,000.

Russia’s population is substantially affected by the effects of migration from the former Soviet Union. In the 22 years after 1990 – the year when ethnic problems in the former USSR exploded – some 7 million people have moved to Russia for permanent residency. This figure is in net terms, accounting for reverse flows from Russia, and discounting temporary labor migrants. Although net population outflow from Russia into countries of the Far Abroad constituted 80,000 annually throughout the 1990′s – in total, 1,050,000 Russians have officially moved into countries of the Far Abroad for permanent residency since 1990 – it has practically ceased from 2006 [AK: The Far Abroad is the world outside the former USSR, minus the Baltics and (recently) Georgia. Note also that Russia's "brain drain" came to a dripping halt at precisely the time when hacks in the Western media began to propagandize it].

Russia hosts the world’s second largest migrant population, after the US; it slightly exceeds Germany in this respect, and doubly so the next five largest migrant centers: Saudi Arabia, Canada, Great Britain, Spain, and France. A third of Russia’s migrant inflow from 1990 to 2010 from the former Soviet bloc accrued to Kazakhstan. But in the noughties Kazakhstan ceded leadership as a source of migrants to Uzbekistan, and after the Orange Revolution Ukraine caught up with them, and Kyrgyzstan after the Tulip Revolution [AK: Zhuravlev has a separate blog post noting that emigration waves typically accompany revolutions in the former Soviet space. I guess its something to look forwards to if the White Ribbon crowd seizes power.]

The only former Soviet republic with which Russia has had a negative migration balance these past 21 years – in which more people left than came in – is Belarus. That said, it should be noted that starting from 2005 the migration balance with Belarus too has turned positive, albeit it remains modest (net immigration from Belarus constitutes less than 8,000 people over the past six years). It is unclear why more people left for Belarus before this date; perhaps because the Russian provinces neighboring Belarus, such as Belarus, aren’t exactly the richest ones. Maybe it was tied to family reunification – parents returning to their children, or Belorussians returning to their homeland, for instance from Komsomol construction projects. Perhaps for this same reason Russia had a net outflow of migrants into Ukraine in the very early 1990′s.

As regards internal migration, the statistics do not reveal any special revelations that could refute or even complement intuition. There are three main destinations for internal migrants: The city of Moscow and Moscow oblast (in the past year the entire agglomeration absorbed 125,000 people, or three quarters of Russia’s population growth), and St.-Petersburg (33,000 migrants in the past year). There is also substantial migration into the Southern Federal District (in significant part from the neighboring North Caucasus) and into the Urals Federal District.

An important caveat is that in the two latter cases, population growth carries an exclusively point-like character. In the Urals Federal District, it is almost entirely concentrated around Tyumen oblast, the richest province in Russia today. Due to the high levels of social support in Tyumen oblast, fertility is also high: Young families get generous housing benefits, there are special programs for families with children. On its part the situation is similar for the Southern Federal District, which grows entirely thanks to Krasnodar krai, which is also understandable: Sochi.

It is clear that Russia’s demographic situation has improved in substantial part on account of the Northern Caucasus, where a strengthening baby boom started from about 2005. The other more or less demographically balanced Russian region, experiencing positive natural population growth, is the Urals Federal District thanks in turn to Tyumen. But contrary, perhaps, to popular belief, the Northern Caucasus isn’t the main source of migrants to the Central Federal District. In 2010, the most recent year for which internal migration data is available, only 16,000 people from the North Caucasus got permanent residence in the Center. This is but a drop in the ocean to the 19 million population of the Moscow region.

The biggest “donors” to the Moscow agglomeration are the Center itself and the Volga Federal District. These two regions, which constitute the primordial Russia as it developed in the 16th-17th centuries, experience not only the maximum natural population decrease in Russia but also the maximum mechanical loss of population, which in its turn is getting fairly intensively replaced by migrants from Central Asia (and in Siberia, apparently, from China [AK: Here I disagree with Zhuravlev. While there are significant numbers of Chinese labor migrants and shuttle traders in the Far East, very few of them choose to stay. This is not the case for Central Asians.])

Wartime Losses in Peacetime

Russia’s natural population decrease has declined as a result of a significant improvement in mortality, as well as a modest increase in fertility. The fall in mortality, just as its rise earlier in the 1990′s and early 2000′s, for the most part affected men, and substantially affected their expected life expectancy. From a remarkably low level for a civilized country of 58.9 years six years ago (the minimum was 57.4 years in 1994) it has now improved to 63.6 years. This is still far from a result to write home about, but at least it is now almost equal to the best Soviet-era indicators in the early 1960′s and late 1980′s. As for mortality among under 40′s, which has always been the scourge of Russian men, the current curves are even better than the Soviet ones (granted, the share of men living to 35-40 years is now higher mostly thanks to significantly lower infant and child mortality rates).

The phenomenon of “supermortality” from 1991 to 2009 – the 6.24 million excess deaths in the past 19 years, of which 3.2 million accrue to the 1990′s, that would not have occurred had age-specific mortality rates remained fixed at 1990 levels – has yet, in my opinion, to be endowed with a rational explanation [AK: This is the weakest point of Zhuravlev's essay. Yes, there is a rational and very convincing reason: Alcohol. There is a very close correlation between alcohol consumption and mortality since the late Soviet period, when an anti-alcohol campaign reduced consumption and improved life expectancy, to local peaks in consumption - and mortality - around 1994 and the early 2000's, to the past few years, when mortality reductions have occurred in lockstep with less boozing. There are similar correlations between alcohol consumption and mortality by geography, sex, and socio-economic sex; see the evidence here.]

Despite the hugeness of the number itself. It is equal to or even exceeds the “supermortality” caused by collectivization, is almost an order of magnitude greater than the number of victims of the Great Terror, and has the same order of magnitude as the rear losses of the USSR during the Great Patriotic War.

Falling living standards? This fit the maximum in 1994, but not the second local maximum in 2003, when normality was returning. And on the whole, while living standards fell during the transition period and reattained Soviet levels only in 2003-2005, the depth of the fall was nowhere near deep enough to explain this “supermortality” as during the war years with reasons such as malnutrition, poor sanitation, and the unbearable conditions of mobilized labor. The “supermortality” of the past twenty years carried some war front characteristics: Excess mortality among males from 25 to 44 years of age in percentage terms relative to Soviet norms was maximal, at 57%. As if Russia had a war.

To this day another very popular explanation is the “alcohol hypothesis.” Booze became more accessible, people got more free time on their hands, and parasitism was no longer a jailing offense. It is probable that more accessible spirits, and especially drugs – which were little known in the USSR – played their role. However, during the period, people didn’t start to buy fewer spirits; it remained at a constant 9-10 liters of ethanol per capita annually (the contribution of homemade moonshine is purely evaluative, often they add on about 10 liters of ethanol per capital, but who’s doing the counting?).

Be that as it may, the reduction in external (“non-natural”) causes of death in the past few years was very significant and was visibly faster than the reduction in mortality from all other causes. For instance, if aggregate mortality declined by 2.9% in 2011, for non-natural causes – homicides, suicides, alcohol poisoning – it fell by 9%-17%. Albeit, mortality from traffic accidents did increase by 1.3%.

The causes for this reduction in “non-natural” mortality should probably not be sought for beyond rising living standards. Especially revealing in this context is a comparison between large megapolises, especially Moscow, with the rest of Russia. In the capital, the numbers of murders and suicides, not to even mention alcohol poisonings by counterfeit vodka, are many times lower – by up to five to ten times lower – than in the rest of the country.

In aggregate drunkenness, banditry, the increasing number of auto accidents, and the war in Chechnya explain much less than 100,000 of the annual number of abnormal deaths, which in some years have reached up to 600,000 in the past decade. Furthermore the rise in mortality also affected women, albeit to a lesser extent, for whom the chances of meeting one of the deaths described above are much less characteristic.

The melancholy arising from a career loss is surely an important factor, especially when it comes to people near the end of it. But then its unclear why mortality increases afflicted 25 year old youths; there are cases of suicide even among party and Komsomol activists of this age, even though they fit perfectly into the new capitalist economy.

The mere fact of the demise of the state of “Kuzmich” could hardly have caused such an overpowering depression, as to invoke the desire to end it lethally [AK: Кузьмичи refers to a person who grew up on Soviet kitsch and later became disillusioned by it, but was forced to continue living the lie to retain his power. This cynicism and obscurantism described the Soviet nomenklatura by the 1970's-80's.] To be honest, it was sooner the other way round: They had annoyed everyone by then. One final consideration: We may be dealing with a statistical artifact from Soviet times. It’s well known that to a Soviet economic statistics were just rubbish to a significant extent. Is it possible that similar techniques were applies to mortality statistics, even though its more difficult? [AK: I very much doubt it, not only because falsifying demographic stats is more difficult but because the picture they reveal is damning nonetheless: Stagnant life expectancy (an overall decline for men) and an infant mortality rate that actually, unique among industrialized countries in peacetime, that actually increased under the late Brezhnev period.]

Girls, Ask your Girl Friends

The shifts taking place in fertility were no less interesting. In the 1990′s, the quantity of children per woman younger than 25 years nearly halved. This decrease barely affected older women; however, because it was specifically “youth fertility” that was high in the USSR, the aggregate result was dramatic. The total fertility rate (TFR) – the number of children a woman can expect to have in her lifetime – fell from 1.89 children in 1990 to 1.16 (!) in 1999, which is, of course, very far from level required to assure population replacement. Although the noughties observed an increasing TFR on account of more births among older women – in 2009, the TFR reached 1.54 children – the total “shortfall” of births from the reduction in “youth fertility” during the 1991 to 2009 period consisted of 11.292 people.

Up until 2007, the influence of these changes on the crude birth rate – the numbers of births per 1000 people – was slightly offset by the increase in the numbers of women in their childbearing age.

In the graph below, it is clear that in this indicator, adjusted for changes in age-specific mortality, was actually growing in the 1990′s and the first half of the 2000′s. This is not surprising, as fertility was mostly formulated on account of women born in 1975 or younger, when we had a repeat demographic spurt (an echo of the baby boom of the 1950′s). After 2007, the crude birth rate is starting to be affected by the echo of its own collapse in the 1990′s and by population aging. That is why the birth rate has remained almost flat since that year, despite the number of children per woman markedly increasing. This “echo effect” is going to influence fertility in the coming decade, since women from the small 1990′s cohort will be reaching child-bearing age.

It is difficult to say with certainty what caused this fertility shift towards women of greater age. In the Soviet period, a significant contributory factor to early childbearing was that it was figured as a condition for registration for the provision of housing. Apparently, postponed childbearing was enabled by growing income inequality (as a result of which, women began to take more care in choosing a mate, with economic factors playing a significant role in the process), new opportunities for international migration, or something else.

It’s clear that under the Soviet Union, the presence of kindergartens, schools, the Constitution’s guarantee – which was more or less followed in practice – of free housing constituted significant social supports, which enabled high fertility rates. One can also add that many Soviet cities – maybe, all of them – were developed like a “company town”, with social and housing infrastructures closely tied to the town-forming enterprise. When markets were introduced, and it became clear that nobody wanted so many tractors or so many tanks and the revenues of these enterprises dried up, all this infrastructure were left hanging in thin air. There was nothing left to finance the kindergartens and nurseries, no funds to build housing. And the destruction and uncertainty, of course, also influenced decisions on having children.

The economic stabilization of the 2000′s, and especially the new social support measures introduced in 2006-2007 – maternity capital, credit programs, etc. – launched a “delayed fertility” effect, a shift of births towards older women. In general fertility has matured, albeit one shouldn’t exclude the possibility that further concerted efforts to provide social support for families and children will return TFR back to Soviet levels. In any case, more than half of the movement back is already behind us.

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
 
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The Press Freedom Index issues by Reporters Without Borders is a good starting point for assessing journalistic freedoms in global comparative perspective. However, much like all attempts to measure democracy or Transparency International’s assessment of corruption perception, their methodology relies on tallying a number of intangibles that cannot be objectively estimated: Censorship, self-censorship, legal framework, independence. These can barely be quantified and are in any case subject to a wide degree of interpretation based on one’s ideological proclivities; for instance, just how do you go about estimating the degree of self-censorship?

I have decided to strip out these elements and focus only on indicators that can be objectively measured, i.e. the numbers of killed and imprisoned journalists set against the size of the national journalistic pool. Using figures from the Committee to Protect Journalists, I tally the numbers of journalist murders from the past three years – to reflect the fact that journalist killings can have a chilling effect years into the future – and the numbers of imprisoned journalists imprisoned now multiplied by six, so that their aggregate weighting is twice that of journalist killings. The reason I do that is because truly authoritarian regimes typically have a tight clampdown on monopoly violence, including on the various independent criminal elements (e.g. drug cartels, rogue intelligence officers); as such, direct killings of journalists tends to be rare. On the other hand, due to the threat of imprisonment and other harassment, independent journalism is severely circumscribed if at all existent. But instead of just going with this figure, I further adjust it to the size of the national journalist pool, because – for obvious reasons – a few journalist killings in a country the size of India is tragic, but nonetheless qualitatively different from the same number of killings in a country with a far smaller population like Honduras where there is a far bigger chance those journalists would know each other. The resulting figure is the Journalism Security Index; a narrower (but far more objective) measure than the Press Freedom Index, which – by necessity – relies on fallible expert judgments on unquantifiable measures such as self-censorship and journalistic independence.

Scroll down to the bottom to see the full results of the Journalism Security Index 2012.

Some of the rankings will come as a surprise to many people, so let me address those. First, we see a few countries where press freedoms are certainly heavily circumscribed, such as Saudi Arabia, Cuba, and Vietnam, get perfect scores. This reveals the major weakness of the index – it measures not so much press freedom as journalistic security (hence its name). Second, and tied in with this, it only measures the most severe things that can happen to a journalism, i.e. killing or imprisonment. It has no way of accounting for things such as Hungary’s new media laws, the rumored weekly meetings of Russia’s federal TV channel heads with Kremlin officials, or the 42 journalists and counting arrested at Occupy events in the US. Suffice to say that a score of zero on the JSI most certainly does not mean said country is an oasis of press freedom.

This is also not to mention that the CPJ has a fairly rigorous methodology for listing a journalist as imprisoned – it has to be political. For instance, while Turkey “only” has 7 journalists listed as imprisoned, other estimates put the number at more than 70. However, according to Yavuz Baydar, a similar methodology may give a figure of 17 imprisoned journalists in the UK for their part in the News of the World phone hacking scandal. Obviously, a line has to be drawn somewhere.

Third, there may be surprise that Russia is ranked somewhere in the middle, whereas it is near the bottom on most other indices of press freedom. The explanation is fairly simple. Russia does not currently have any imprisoned journalists by the CPJ’s reckoning, and whereas a total of four journalist deaths are recorded for the years 2009-2011, this is both a significant decrease on earlier years and not a catastrophic situation when set against its 143 million strong population (see Gordon Hahn’s Repression of Journalism in Russia in Comparative Perspective from December 2009) or – to be even fairer – the vast size of its journalistic pool, which at 102,300 newspaper journalists is the largest in the world.

On the converse, countries such as Bahrain, Syria, and Afghanistan do really badly because even a small number of journalist killings and imprisonments translate into very high scores because of the hugely circumscribed size of the journalistic pools in those countries. Some may dispute that Israel’s ranking is absurdly low. If so, please take it up with the CPJ. It lists 7 imprisoned journalists; now of them, 3 are under Hamas arrest, so I subtracted them from the Israeli total and gave them to Palestine. Nonetheless, that still leaves 4 Palestinian journalists that are under Israeli imprisonment, all of them without charge.

(In contrast, the sole Russian journalist listed as imprisoned in recent years was one Boris Stomakhin for “inciting hatred” and “making public calls for extremist activity”, writing things such as, “Let tens of new Chechen snipers take their positions in the mountain ridges and the city ruins and let hundreds, thousands of aggressors fall under righteous bullets! No mercy! Death to the Russian occupiers! … The Chechens have the full moral right to bomb everything they want in Russia.” One may dispute the ethics of imprisoning someone for what is, in the end, still an opinion; but one has to note that prosecutions take place in the UK (Samina Malik) and the US (Jubair Ahmad) for essentially equivalent activities).

Whereas countries like Brazil and Mexico have essentially free media, they are – as are Russia and much of the rest of the former Soviet republics – terrorized by the generally high background violence of their societies. In the former, this issue is particularly problematic, as Brazil has a much lower aggregate press pool than Russia; therefore, its three murders in the past three years exert more of a relative effect than Russia’s four.

Please make sure to note the caveats and methodological clarifications that follow below the following table.

Journalism Security Index 2012

Country Impr. Kill. #pop. JSI(p) #journ. JSI
1= Algeria 0 0 37.1 0.0 2,041 0.0
1= Argentina 0 0 40.1 0.0 1,444 0.0
1= Armenia 0 0 3.3 0.0 2,363 0.0
1= Australia 0 0 22.8 0.0 5,416 0.0
1= Bangladesh 0 0 142.3 0.0 2,846 0.0
1= Canada 0 0 34.6 0.0 5,000 0.0
1= Cuba 0 0 11.2 0.0 3,425 0.0
1= France 0 0 65.4 0.0 5,441 0.0
1= Georgia 0 0 4.5 0.0 3,222 0.0
1= Germany 0 0 81.8 0.0 26,000 0.0
1= Hungary 0 0 10.0 0.0 8,661 0.0
1= Italy 0 0 60.8 0.0 8,866 0.0
1= Japan 0 0 127.7 0.0 20,315 0.0
1= Korea 0 0 48.6 0.0 4,034 0.0
1= Poland 0 0 38.1 0.0 32,995 0.0
1= Portugal 0 0 10.6 0.0 4,071 0.0
1= Qatar 0 0 1.7 0.0 136 0.0
1= Saudi Arabia 0 0 27.1 0.0 2,168 0.0
1= Spain 0 0 46.2 0.0 6,745 0.0
1= Sweden 0 0 9.5 0.0 5,392 0.0
1= Ukraine 0 0 45.7 0.0 32,721 0.0
1= UK 0 0 62.3 0.0 13,437 0.0
1= USA 0 0 312.9 0.0 54,134 0.0
1= Vietnam 0 0 87.8 0.0 5,444 0.0
25 Russia 0 4 142.9 0.3 102,300 0.4
26 India 0 1 1,210.2 0.0 16,079 0.6
27 Belarus 0 1 9.5 1.1 6,802 1.5
28 Kazakhstan 1 1 16.7 4.2 11,957 1.7
29 Indonesia 0 4 237.6 0.2 13,634 2.9
30 Azerbaijan 1 1 9.1 7.7 6,516 3.1
31 China 27 0 1,339.7 1.2 82,849 3.3
32 Brazil 0 3 192.4 0.2 6,914 4.3
33 Thailand 1 3 65.9 1.4 7,644 5.2
34 Greece 0 1 10.8 0.9 1,577 6.3
35 Nigeria 0 4 48.3 0.8 6,148 6.5
36 Mexico 0 9 112.3 0.8 13,027 6.9
37 Uzbekistan 5 0 28.0 10.7 6,580 7.6
38 Kyrgyzstan 1 0 5.5 10.9 1,295 7.7
39 Israel 4 1 7.8 32.1 5,585 9.0
40 Peru 0 1 29.8 0.3 1,073 9.3
41 Venezuela 0 1 26.8 0.4 965 10.4
42 Turkey 8 1 74.7 6.6 8,652 10.4
43 Morocco 2 0 32.5 3.7 1,782 11.2
44 Colombia 0 2 46.4 0.4 1,670 12.0
45 Sudan 4 0 30.9 7.8 3,064 13.1
46 Egypt 2 2 81.5 1.7 2,608 15.3
47 Tunisia 0 1 10.7 0.9 589 17.0
48 Myanmar 12 0 48.3 14.9 2,898 41.4
49 Pakistan 0 15 178.6 0.8 3,572 42.0
50 Ethiopia 7 0 82.1 5.1 1,642 42.6
51 Palestine 3 0 4.2 42.9 700 42.9
52 Iran 42 1 76.1 33.2 8,828 48.7
53 Yemen 2 2 23.8 5.9 476 84.0
54 Philippines 0 37 94.0 3.9 4,000 92.5
55 Afghanistan 0 6 24.5 2.4 490 122.4
56 Iraq 0 14 32.1 4.4 1,027 136.3
57 Syria 8 2 21.4 23.4 685 146.0
58 Libya 1 5 6.4 17.2 205 293.0
59 Bahrain 1 2 1.2 66.7 96 312.5
60 Eritrea 28 0 5.4 311.1 108 2592.6

Methodological clarifications: Impr. figures taken from CPJ‘s 2011 Prison Census; Kill. figures taken from CPJ’s numbers of killed journalists from 2009 to 2011; #pop. taken from Wikipedia’s list of official statistics on national populations; #journ. taken from UN data on the numbers of journalists per country.

JSI(p) is the Journalism Security Index calculated only relative to the population; it is more accurate, in narrow terms, than the JSI calculated relative to numbers of journalists (see below why), but suffers from the fact that it underestimates the risks of working in very populous and poor countries where journalists are low as a share of the population and even a few killings can have a chilling effect on their general community.

JSI is the official Journalism Security Index, calculated by (1) tallying the numbers of journalist murders from 2009-2011 and the numbers of imprisoned journalists imprisoned in 2011 multiplied by six so that the aggregate weighting of every imprisoned journalist is twice that of a killed journalist, (2) dividing by the numbers of newspaper journalists in that country, and (3) multiplying that figure by 10,000 to get convenient numbers for the index.

There are two very important caveats to be made about the UN data on journalists. First, it only measures the numbers of newspaper journalists, not the total number of journalists and media workers. As such, it should be viewed as a rough proxy. In some regions, newspapers have a much higher profile relative to TV (e.g. East-Central Europe, Russia, Scandinavia); in others, it is the opposite (e.g. Latin America). Adjusting for this would, for example, narrow the gap between in the JSI between Russia and Brazil. Second, far from all countries have data; many of them are fairly important ones in terms of press freedom issues (e.g. Iran, Israel, Mexico, Bahrain). To fix this, I just extrapolated the per capita figures from other countries with similar literacy and socio-cultural profiles, e.g. I equalized Iran and Mexico with Turkey; Israel and Belarus with Russia; Bahrain with Qatar, and calculated their numbers of journalists by multiplying their population by their estimated journalists per capita figures. Needless to say, this is an extremely inexact method, and may be off by several factors. For that reason, countries with no concrete data from the UN source are marked in italics; note that for them, the JSI may be off by several factors (though most likely not by an order of magnitude).

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
 
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National Library of Belarus. Who says tractors and Bat'ka are all there is to it?

National Library of Belarus. Who says tractors and Bat’ka are all there is to it?

In the vein of my recent posts on the myth of Russian emigration, I am now publishing a translation of Уехать в Белоруссию (“Go Off To Belarus”) by Maksim Schweiz writing for Rosbalt news agency. It is a joint effort by Nils van der Vegte, who blogs with Joera Mulders at Russia Watchers and is now busy propagating Dutch language and culture in the Arctic cornucopia of Arkhangelsk, and myself. Nils translated the section on Belarus, I translated the section on Ukraine.

Introduction

Many pundits have stated lately that Russia is going to experience (or is already experiencing) a large outflow of people who wish to emigrate to other countries because in contemporary Russia, life is supposedly unbearable. However, by looking at the statistics, which we prefer over random quotes, this is not really the case. Also, like some other people pointed out, Russia is not that unique in that a certain percentage has the desire to leave one’s country. Even Russia’s most anti-Kremlin and pro-Western newspapers are fed up with the continuous desire to emigrate. In a recent interview on Echo of Moscow, Konstantin Remtsukov (the editor of the Nezavisimaya Gazeta) commented: “I would like to ask those people who want to “shove off” the following question: just when was it ever better in Russia?” and “Did they want to leave in 1994 and 1993 as well? What aboutin 1998? Do they think they lived better then than we do today?” Instead of doing a serious/academic post on Russian emigration (to counter all these rants) we have decided to translate a rather cynical post by Rosbalt, in which a Russian journalist advises Russians about emigrating to Belarus or Ukraine. – Nils van der Vegte.

Whereas in general terms I have nothing to add to Nils’ comments, I’m not so sure that it’s a “cynical” article. After all, we have to bear in mind that until a few years ago, more Russians left for Belarus than the reverse! This indicates that at least until the country’s recent economic troubles, if you had no special dissident or entrepreneurial proclivities, life was pretty good by ex-USSR standards. That is no longer the case. On the other hand, the Belorussian devaluation does mean that geoarbitrage of the sort I discussed in my last post here is becoming very profitable. The commentator Doug mentioned that Russians are now pouring over the border snapping up Belorussian goods that are now twice as cheap for them as they were a year ago. And property prices in Minsk suddenly look very attractive. So in this sense Russian “emigration” to Belarus doesn’t seem like a bad idea at the moment – just make sure you continue getting paid in Russian rubles! -Anatoly Karlin

TRANSLATION: Time To Shove Off To Belarus!

“Let’s get out”, but where to? In Europe and in the US we are not wanted and the Third World is too far away. For those who are fed up with Russia but who think that Europe and Asia are no alternative, there are two underrated options: Ukraine and Belarus.

There is a popular expression in the Russian blogosphere: “It’s time to shove off” (Пора валить). Usually, Western Europe is the most popular destination. But there are increasingly negative stories about emigrating there: “We are not wanted there”, “All we can do is washing the dishes” and “People are very different and difficult to socialize with” are common mantras nowadays. All of these are true. But if you really want to emigrate to “Europe” there is always Belarus or Ukraine to consider.

The first option is Belarus. Belarus is an ideal country if you want to move out of Russia and live more quietly. The only thing is that, especially now, after the crisis, it is incredibly hard to get yourself a decent living. Even the 200 Dollars needed to pay for a one-or two-room apartment in Minsk are hard to come by. But, as far as other factors are concerned, Belarus can indeed be described as the East-European Switzerland.

Living costs in Belarus are very low. You can buy a bottle of yogurt for 15 Russian rubles, Kefir costs 10 rubles per bottle, a kilo of cooked sausage 10 rubles per kilo and for bread you only pay 12 rubles. An evening in a café or bar in the centre of Minsk costs you about 300-600 Russian rubles.

Belarus has almost completely eradicated corruption: bribes are not necessary when visiting a clinic or during a visit to whatever government agency. Here, the police does not take bribes. If you are caught drunk behind the wheel you have to pay a fine of Moscow-like proportions (1000 Dollars) or lose your drivers license for three years. The latter of these is the more likely outcome, since Belorussian cops are very afraid of taking bribes.

In Belarus, your health will surely improve, and not just because of the famous sanatoriums. For a total of 60-90 rubles you can go ice skating the whole evening. Alternatively, you can also go to the huge “Palace of Water Sports”. In general, the entry fee to all public buildings and the usage of government social services is, by Russian standards, very cheap.

Real estate is very cheap in Belarus. You can get a studio apartment in Minsk for $150 per month, or $200 for a renovated one. Buying a standard one-bedroom apartment will cost you $50,000-$60,000. This is expensive for the locals but not for you Russians, accustomed as you are to “Moscow prices”. Minsk itself is a nice place to live in: it’s full of trees and relatively clean air. Also, Minsk is ideal for couples with children: if you want to send your children to kindergarten it will only cost you 2000 rubles per month.

Now for the minuses. In Belarus, it is very difficult to do business. Even more difficult than in Russia. In Moscow, many issues can be resolved by simply coming to an “understanding” with someone, in Belarus every misstep can lead to confiscation of your property. Also, if you dare to hide your profits and evade taxes, it could put you behind bars for a considerable time. Bureaucratic procedures in Belarus are even worse than in Russia: don’t think that you can register your company within a single day or even within a week. The security services make conducting business here a nightmare, and it is as hard for a businessman to get compensation for his grievances against the state in Belarus as it is in Russia.

For people who are accustomed to Moscow-like entertainment, Belarus is a hard place to live. In Minsk, as well as in the rest of Belarus, there is very little nightlife and if there is, the interior, service and staging is unlikely to be attractive. Belarus does not have a decent amusement park, so don’t think you can somehow organize a nice family day in Minsk. Also, it takes ages before movies from Europe/America arrive in Belorussian cinemas. Don’t expect a Shakira or Madonna here: concerts of world stars almost never happen, prominent sporting events are also absent in Belarus. Belorussians are in general are fond of a quiet, family life. And this is something you have to get used to.

Another decent emigration destination for a Russian, who still hasn’t firmly set his sights on Europe, is Ukraine. This country is the exact opposite of Belarus. You can only really live in two cities – Kiev and Odessa. All others emanate an indescribable sense of gloom and despondency. The Ukraine is dirty, food and entertainment are twice as expensive, and property costs as much or a bit more. There are no affordable gyms or swimming pools. Registration issues are far more inconvenient for Russians than is the case in Belarus, where you can emigrate easily without problems. Healthcare is atrocious, and bribes have to be given for practically everything – even for a consultation in any office. Drunken drivers stopped by the Ukrainian police can buy themselves off for only $200.

On the other hand, Kiev boasts loads of attractions. Here there are always plenty of concerts, many of them free. You can eat lunch in the city centre for only 500 rubles.

There is one unarguably bright side to life in Ukraine – freedom of action. Only in Ukraine will you see signs with “Cafe” or “gas station” on them right in front of ordinary village houses, adjacent to the freeways. Only in Kiev will you see coffee and sandwiches being sold straight out of old, bright-orange Moskvitch cars. You don’t even need a passport to buy a SIM-card. No policeman here will drive out a musician with his guitar and begging cap out of the town centre, or demand to see your passport and registration documents.

People in the Ukraine are responsive and friendly – don’t believe the tales that they dislike Russians. It’s common here to greet fellow customers in the shops and to cut off a piece of cheese for sampling, if you can’t decide which one you want. For all the “backwoods” character and friendliness of Kiev’s townspeople, on weekdays it is full of milling throngs and clonking horns. The tempo of life beats much faster than in Minsk, and is more reminiscent of Moscow – everybody is hurrying somewhere, and getting wound up when they have to stand in traffic jams. And, in contrast to the Belorussian capital, there are certainly plenty of those.

That said, it seems that it’s far easier to do business here, than in Minsk – at least, it’s plainly visible in that there are many home-grown entrepreneurs, who don’t need even a stall to hawk their wares and ply their trades. They do with just an ordinary umbrella.

Summing up, dear Russians, there are many paths of retreat. And if you are firmly set on “shoving off”, then consider that it doesn’t necessarily have to be far away and permanent. There are closer and more humane alternatives.

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
 
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In summary, the excess deaths from the once-in-10,000-years heatwave canceled out most of the increase in births, causing the rate of natural decrease to fall by only 7,400 relative to 2009. Adding in the 82,500 drop in net immigration for Jan-Nov 2009, and we can estimate that Russia’s population will fall by about 50,000 this year (cf. an increase of 23,300 in 2009).

Continuing my tradition of tracking demography across Eurasia generally, let’s take in the wider picture. A fall in births – probably caused by the POR’s austerity policies – caused Ukraine’s natural population decrease to rise from 172,570 in 2009 to 181,505. An increase in net migration from 11,792 to 14,469 means a population loss of about 167,000 in 2010.

Belarus registered a deterioration, with birth rates falling from 11.5 / 1000 to 11.4 / 1000, and death rates rising from 14.2 / 1000 to 14.5 / 1000. This is somewhat puzzling since according to the official statistics, Belarus was hardly affected by the global economic crisis.

But it has nothing on Latvia. In the thrall of a Great Depression-scale collapse, its birth rates have dropped by about 25% relative to 2008. This means that its total fertility rate has collapsed from its post-Soviet peak of 1.45 children per woman in 2008 to around 1.1 today. Its net emigration has risen from 200 / month in 2008 to 700 / month in 2010. All things considered, it’s probably in Europe’s deepest economic hole now.

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
 
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This is a reprint of a post from Arctic Progress.

KnAAPO-Su-35

Back when Iceland tipped over into financial collapse during 2008 and the UK seized Icelandic banks’ assets using anti-terrorist laws as fig cover, Icelandic President Olafur Ragnar stated that Russia could make use of the Keflavik air base in return for a $5bn loan to the insolvent country. However, fevered talk about Russia gaining a military foothold in the Atlantic, including gaining control over the crucial GIUK gap, didn’t end up amounting to anything concrete.

First, Iceland’s status as a NATO member precluded it from offering Russia a true air base in Keflavik; only something like a refuelling and maintenance depot would be allowed. Second, $5bn is not an insignificant amount of money in its own right, being equivalent to about 10% of Russia’s (official) military budget.

But if things couldn’t be worked out with Russia, a private mercenary company would do. Less Red Storm Rising, more Lord of War. TV station Russia Today mailed me a story by Robert Bridge on how Cash-strapped Iceland to host “private army” – and Russian jets. The company, which has a really slick website (and Twitter!), is seemingly flush with cash. They reportedly paid Iceland $160mn to gain rights to Keflavik airbase and plan to acquire 30 Su-27 fighters from Belarus for use in mock war games. If confirmed, this would make it the largest single order for military aircraft by a private investor.

Nonetheless, questions remain unanswered. Are they “mercenaries or market players“? Is their denial of any connections to foreign governments the truth or a smokescreen? Why is BelTechExport, Belarus’ arms export company, denying knowledge of the Su-37 deal that Melville ten Cate, ECA’s Dutch co-founder, has reported as done to the Financial Times? How can they afford the vast costs of buying an airbase, 30 fourth-generation fighters (unit cost: $30mn), and maintenance without the help of a friendly billionaire or foreign government?

In my opinion, there are two other major possibilities.

  • It’s a front company for Russia’s or China’s intelligence services. They have no shortage of cash – and what better way to learn about NATO military tactics or steal military technology than by organizing war games? Though such an operation would be very deniable, how to make sure that the likes of Melville ten Cate don’t go rogue?
  • It is a US military “black project“. In recent years, there has been growing concern amongst Pentagon planners about the proliferation of Sukhoi Flankers and modern IADS to middle-ranked powers like Indonesia or Venezuela, which is beginning to tilt regional power balances away from Western dominance. Providing training and war games for its allies against Russian hi-tech weaponry would be much in Washington’s interests.

What do you think?

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
 
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One of the staples of the neocon-Russophobe narrative is that Russia is alone in the world, utterly bereft of friends, left only with the likes of Nicaragua and Nauru to indulge it in its anachronistic “imperial fantasies”. Not really. Conflating the West with the world won’t change the fact that amongst the peoples of China, India, and most of the Middle East and Latin America – that is, the regions containing the bulk of the world’s population and future economic potential – Russia is actually viewed rather favorably. But what about peoples recently liberated from the oppressive, iron boots of Russian chauvinism – surely they dislike Russia? Not that simple. Some sure do – Estonians, Poles, West Ukrainians, Georgians… But plenty more don’t (Armenians, Bulgarians, East Ukrainians). It’s a complex picture of significant political and geopolitical import.

Back in November 2008, the VTsIOM polling site released some very detailed results about what peoples in the former Soviet Union think about each other. The first graph below asks people which countries they consider to be friends or allies of their country.

And these were the results. Some 74% of Belarussians, 58% of Ukrainians, 49% of Moldovans, 82% of Armenians, and 67-89% of Central Asians named Russia as a friend and ally. In contrast, only 11-17% in Georgia, Azerbaijan and Lithuania like Russia this way, but that is hardly surprising. (The Latvians are rather higher at 26%, presumably because of their large Russian minority, though far higher numbers, almost half of them, orient themselves with the other Baltic states).

The poll below is even more telling. It asks peoples in the former USSR to name which countries or blocs they would like to unite with, the main contenders being Russia, the EU, and “independence”.

Russians are mostly split between those favoring some kind of Slavic or Eurasian bloc (37% – Belarus, 29% – Ukraine, 24% – Kazakhstan), and Russia-as-is (32%); the European Union really isn’t that popular at 15%. This isn’t much different in Ukraine or Belarus. Some 56% of Belarussians and 47 of Ukrainians would like to unite with Russia, while 25% and 22% favor the EU, and 18% and 25% favor independence, respectively. Some 51% of Kazakhs favor Russia and 32% independence.

The Moldovans are equally split between Russia and the EU or independence (which in practical terms would mean the Romanian sphere of influence). The Azeris identify most strongly with Turkey, with 31% expressing a desire to join it, followed by 24% yearning for the EU and 24% for continued independence. Big majorities (65-73%) in the Central Asian nations of Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan would like to rejoin Russia, which is unsurprising given their relative underdevelopment and the relative success of Russification there. Georgia has always had a strong sense of national identity, including during the Soviet period, so by far the majority there wants independence (38%) or the EU (37%); only 10% wouldn’t mind falling back into Russia’s sphere of influence.

Why is this important? Because to some extent, even in semi-authoritarian systems, national leaders are to some extent beholden to popular sentiment. This is not to say, of course, that this is the only factor – an objective assessment of national interests (which are often synonymous with the interests of the ruling elites) almost always trumps anything else. But it does illustrate that the much ballyhooed “Russian resurgence” across the former USSR rests on firmer foundations than just political pressure or economic takeovers – of at least equal importance is that many of the peoples in its path back to regional hegemony aren’t actually that averse to it*.

PS. Another useful survey of attitudes towards Eurasian regional integration by Gallup: “In all countries except Azerbaijan, the median average wants at least an economic union across Eurasia”.

* The big exception is Georgia. This is where there is both a clash of primary geopolitical interests (the irreconcilability of Georgia westward path and Russia’s desire to anchor itself in the South Caucasus) and of civilizational values (AFAIK, the only social grouping in Georgia with a real pro-Russia tendency are the monarchist “People’s Orthodox Movement“). Coupled with simmering border tensions, it is probably not surprising that this developed into a flashpoint for armed conflict.

(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 would like to wish all Sublime Oblivion readers a very happy and successful New Year. One of my major motivations for writing is getting comments and feedback, so please continue – the more you inflate my ego, the more time I will feel compelled to spend on the blog. ;)

Year in Review: 2009

All in all, 2009 was rather less interesting that 2008, which saw three thresholds of portentous significance – the final peaking of global oil production, the discovery of the magnitude of the Arctic methane meltdown, and the collapse (and partial recovery, abetted by prodigious state credit infusions) of the global financial system. Simultaneously, Russia, China, and other rising powers have begun presenting a rising challenge to Western hegemony on an ever broader front. The key trends of 2009, whether leaders and pundits recognized it or not, were about managing the consequences and realities of 2008.

From the American viewpoint, 2009 was the year of Obama. He realized that the “cowboy diplomacy” pursued by Bush alienated key allies on perceived vital issues (Afghanistan, stimulus spending, etc), and sought to reinvigorate relations with its traditional allies and reach out to its enemies. Though publics tended to be enthusiastic, governments were not as moved; the European states continue stalling on commitments to Afghanistan, whereas Russia, China, and the Muslim world have decidedly spurned him on the basis that actions speak louder than words. They have a point. Obama has essentially continued post-2006 Bush policies based on a “realist” appraisal of American interests – prodigal military spending, “occupation” of the Middle East (as perceived by Muslims), support for Israel, resistance against Russian neo-imperial ambitions for the former Soviet space, engaging with China without reference to human rights, supporting sanctions against Iran while leaving “all options on the table”, etc. This creates a certain impression of schizophrenia to the administration’s actions – popular abroad but spurned by friend and foe; repudiating the Bush legacy but continuing it in practice; talking of reforming healthcare and closing Guantanamo, but stymied by discredited Republicans at home. It’s all a muddle.

So is the bind that the US is stuck in regarding Iran. Officially it supports gasoline sanctions, but they are unlikely to have much effect if Russia circumvents them (which it is likely to do given its continued geopolitical jockeying with the US) – and even if Russia acquiesces to the sanctions, enforcing the sanctions will be difficult. Israel is a loose cannon. It cannot allow the possibility of a radical Islamic regime acquiring a nuclear capability, and will do everything – including striking its nuclear installations – to prevent it. As a consequence, the US will be drawn in because of their fears that in the aftermath, the Iranian military will mine the Strait of Hormuz and interdict the Gulf oil shipping which carries 20% of world oil production. This may usher in a general Middle East war whose geopolitical, economic, and financial ramifications may veer wildly out of control, possibly culminating in the fall of Pax Americana itself. In both the US and Iran, domestic forces are driving the two countries to a confrontation. This is a geopolitical predicament that is becoming increasingly clear, with the US issuing greater threats and Iran intensifying its nuclear brinkmanship in the last few months of 2009.

Even as the US was focused on the Middle East, the Kremlin has been using the resultant “window of opportunity” to continue reasserting its influence over the former Soviet space – expanding the scope of the CSTO military alliance, strengthening ties with Ukraine’s Russia-friendly political forces, pressuring Uzbekistan with a new military base in Kyrgyzstan, and making a customs union with Belarus and Kazakhstan. Though its economic crisis was deep, it did not have major negative internal effects either humanitarian or political, which put Russia in a yet stronger position relative to its Near Abroad. With the Kremlin’s simultaneous strengthening of internal control (e.g. over the oligarchs), Russia continued to return to its past-and-future as a Eurasian empire.

Driven by desperate credit infusions and fiscal spending, the US and Europe began to experience an anemic recovery in mid-2009, – but one that cannot be sustained, especially since the resource fueling it (yes, oil) has peaked, and will decline at an accelerating pace after 2010. The price of recovery is massive new debt, transferred from private to sovereign hands, and a widening of the same imbalances that caused the crisis in the first place. Yet a far worse example of eating the seed corn is the debacle of the Copenhagen summit, where the nations of the world failed to agree on emissions cuts to check runaway global warming. We need to limit the temperature rise to no more than 2C, because after that there are numerous tipping points that will make an accelerating Klimakatastrophe inevitable; this implies that at the minimum, global emissions should peak by 2015, and decline by 80% by 2050 over 1990 levels. The commitments made at Copenhagen are feeble, more so even than Kyoto – largely thanks to Chinese sabotage. (Well, at least we didn’t die of swine flu). In related news, the increasing habitability of Greenland has driven it to make further strides towards declaring formal independence from Denmark.

Riding roughshod over Ireland and the Czech Republic, the EU finally passed the Lisbon Treaty, which gives the large, pro-strong-Europe countries like Germany, France, and Italy far more voting power relative to Euroskeptic nations. Should the Franco-German bloc wish, it now has many of the tools to dominate Europe and present an economic and cultural challenge to US hegemony; whether they will manage to do so is very much open to question, given the rising pressures on European unity presented by trends such as: 1) the rising power of France relative to Germany and 2) the deep-grained economic predicaments of the Mediterranean Rim.D

The skylines lit up at dead of night, the air-conditioning systems cooling empty hotels in the desert, and artificial light in the middle of the day all have something both demented and admirable about them: the mindless luxury of a rich civilization, and yet of a civilization perhaps as scared to see the lights go out as was the hunter in his primitive night. – Baudrillard

There is perhaps no better metaphor for the spectacle of Dubai going bankrupt just as it completed the greatest monument to petro-fueled Gulf vanity, the 818-meter tall Burj Dubai.

Though the Gulf states have increased moves to band together in a customs union, and are slowly but surely transferring their alliance to China – the country likely destined to be the last hegemonic power of the industrial age.

Edit 1/5/09 – There is a better metaphor (or personification?), and best of all it was probably unwitting. From Facebook: Vilhelm Konnander has just (LOL) read today’s “The National” about Burj Dubai: “The tallest tower in the world, its feet anchored in the UAE and its crown floating in the clouds, was inaugurated in an eruption of fireworks last night.”

2010 Predictions

1) World economy continues an anemic recovery, though there are significant risks to the downside.

2) Obama’s honeymoon period is over, his approval ratings are on the downslide, and his major domestic and foreign policy initiatives have almost all failed. Republicans will carry the mid-term elections in 2010, but there is a strong mood of apathy and a sense that what is really needed is a new party, a new politics – though this will only start playing a great role in the post-Obama, or post-2012, era. Rising violence in Iraq (perhaps abetted by Iran, to demonstrate to the US the dangers of attacking it); a false quiet in Afghanistan, as the Taleban limit activity to conserve their strength while the US presence in Afghanistan is strong (they know the Americans will retreat the bulk of their forces soon enough anyway).

In the UK, Gordon Brown (New Labour) will almost certainly lose to James Cameron (Conservatives) in the mid-2010 elections.

3) Possible wars. Foremost looms the shadow of Iran and the bomb, of course. I doubt the US will attack in 2010, unless Israel forces its hand. It will first exhaust its options with sanctions, etc, which will almost certainly be ineffective. The Iranian IRGC-linked hardliners in power (figurehead – Ahmadinejad), under pressure from the Rafsanjani / Mousavi clerical clan, will not yield, and will remain defiant internationally to justify increasing their hold on internal power. There will be tension, but no war – especially since the US still needs to develop its Massive Ordnance Penetrator, the next-generation bunker-buster, to have a high level of confidence that a bombing raid on Iranian nuclear installations have truly done their job. (True, postponing the strike to 2011 or 2012 makes the world economy more vulnerable to disruption because oil prices will be higher then and oil supplies tighter, but then again I highly doubt the administration takes “peak oil” into consideration in its strategic planning). Likelihood: 25%; Severity: 6.

What is much more likely to happen is a new war between Israel and Hezbollah. Since 2006, Israel may have infiltrated Hezbollah, aided by internal splits within the organization, and has taken stock of lessons learned during the unsuccessful last war; it may now want to send a signal to Iran and preemptively incapacitate one of its most effective means for retaliating against Israel into the bargain. Israeli special forces are more than capable of producing a false flag, even if Hezbollah refrains from doing it for them. Furthermore, Hezbollah is causing Saudi Arabia trouble by sending fighters and weapons to the Shia insurgency in Yemen fighting the Saudis; SA would appreciate an Israeli crippling attack on Hezbollah, and may give concessions to Israel, such as allowing it to use its airspace in a strike against Iran (the US has said it will shoot down Israeli planes flying to Iran over Iraq). This further increases the incentives for Israel to pummel Hezbollah, this time round with a real, large-scale ground invasion. Likelihood: 50%; Severity: 3.

A new Russia-Georgia war remains a serious possibility, if Saakashvili uses his rapidly rebuilding military forces to make another megalomaniac lunge at reclaiming South Ossetia, or if Russia orchestrates a false flag to give itself the justification to roll in the tanks to Tbilisi and set up a puppet regime. In the latter case, the “new cold war” atmosphere of August 2008 will begin to appear to be distinctly jovial. Likelihood: 10%; Severity: 4.

Finally, we should note that a) Azerbaijan and Armenia have a bitter rivalry, cultural and geographic over the Armenian-populated and -occupied Azeri enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh, b) though it lost a war to Armenia in the early 1990′s, Azerbaijan has been implementing a rapid military modernization since 2006 with the help of oil pipeline transit revenue from the BTC, and its military budget alone is now equivalent to Armenia’s entire state budget, c) Armenia and Turkey are slowly moving towards a reconciliation under Russian brokerage, which threatens Azerbaijan’s strategic position, and d) Armenian-Azeri talks over Nagorno-Karabakh have recently collapsed. The obstacle to war is that Turkey and the US, though friendly with Azerbaijan, are very unlikely to give it direct support; but Armenia is in the CSTO military alliance with Russia. An Azeri attack will almost certainly lead to a decisive Russian response, furthermore there is a large Russian military base in Gyumri, Armenia. Unlike Saakashvili, Aliyev is a rational leader, and for now Russian and Turkey have a mutual interest in keeping things contained. That said, the possibility of a new war cannot be fully discounted – especially if it is simultaneous with the chaos unleashed by a US-Israeli war with Iran and its proxies.

Expect instability, but not collapse, in Pakistan, Egypt, Mexico, some or all of the Baltic states. Despite the occasional rhetoric, there is very little chance of a new Korean war, a Venezuela-Colombia war, or an Israel-Syria war.

4) Given that Russia’s demography has continued improving even in 2009, a year of deep economic contraction and scare stories (false) of an abortion apocalypse, it is almost certain that it will continue improving further in 2010 and that the year will see the first year of positive population growth since 1994 (or 2009). Birth rate = 12.5-13.0 (reasons), Death rate = 13.5-14.0 (a reason), Net Migration = 1.5-2.0, all / 1000. Economic growth of around 3-5% of GDP sounds reasonable. Lots of privatizations and corruption investigations as part of the Surkov clan’s struggle against the siliviki and “their” state companies. Ukraine under Yanukovych will join Eurasec or the Russia-Belarus-Kazakhstan customs union, but is yet unlikely to join the CSTO or give Russian 2nd language status.

5) Oil production in 2010 will be around the same as 2009 – increased demand will collide with geological depletion to keep output stable. Oil prices in H1 will remain at 70-90$, and will rise to 90-110$ in H2 on the basis that background geological depletion will be cancelled out by OPEC going back on its 2009 production cuts to fuel the ongoing global recovery. Of course, if there are serious confrontations with Iran, the oil price will veer right off the historical charts.

6) No major AGW-related physical events (except for a heatwave or two), given that solar irradiation remains at an unusually long trough – expect the fireworks by 2012-15. AGW skepticism will become more popular in the wake of Climategate. China and its proxies will prevent any more significant action being taken at the next UN climate change summit in Mexico, than was “achieved” in Copenhagen. By year-end the performance of the world’s top supercomputer will exceed 3 petaflops (repeat of 2009 prediction).

7) China’s growth will slow from around 8% in 2009, to perhaps 5% in 2010 as it cuts back on the loose credit in recognition of the problems this is going to create further down the line (this is already happening). Otherwise, expect China to continue keeping a low profile as the US insists on shooting itself in the foot.

What about the 2009 Predictions?

How did my previous set of 2009 predictions go?

1) Correct about the American H2 2009 stimulus-boosted recovery, though too pessimistic about its strength. That said, doesn’t change the fact it’s unsustainable, even in the medium-term.

2) Correct about the end of deflation, resumption of credit flows, and rebounding commodities.

3) I was completely, 100%, totally right on my oil price predictions.

However, an incipient global recovery in the second half will result in a rebound in oil prices from around 40-50$ per barrel in the first half, to 60-80$ in the second.

Not so much on food, admittedly.

4) Right on Germany’s and Japan’s steep GDP declines, not so much on China’s anemic growth – massive credit expansion and fiscal stimulus in the People’s Republic has resulted in the building of ever more unneeded capacity, resulting in a growth rate of around 8% instead of the predicted 2%. Correct on rising protectionism, and the economic collapses in the Baltics and Ukraine.

5) The “flight to safety” ended, and as predicted the US $ weakened relative to the Euro (1 Euro = 1.41$ on Jan 1st 2009, = 1.46$ on Jan 1st 2010, now with an upward rather than a downward trend). The pattern for the yen has been similar. The latest CBO figures suggest that the US budget deficit will be 9.9% of GDP for 2009, within my predicted band of 8-13%.

6) Very wrong on Russia’s GDP growth – instead of 1%, it will decline by around 7-9%. I misunderestimated the depth of its consumers’ and companies’ reliance on credit, and the extent of its credit crunch. Nonetheless, the core of what I predicted, such as the declining influence of the oligarchs and the lack of any significant fall in real wellbeing, has been correct. There have been no serious political challenges to Putvedev, as Russia’s ruling tandem retain extremely high approval ratings. And as predicted, the RTS has recovered to above 1000 (to around 1500 in fact).

7) Wrong that Yushenko and Saakashvili would not survive 2009 as political leaders. Well, Yushenko will almost certainly (95%+) be kicked out of the Presidency in the coming Ukrainian elections, probably in favor of Yanukovych. Saakashvili, with his deepening megalomania, has managed to hang on, despite spirited defiance from the opposition and an attempted military coup. If he survived 2009, most likely he will survive for a few years more.

8) My optimistic forecasts on Russia’s demography, which bucked the conventional “wisdom”, have been fully validated, and in the case of the death rate even substantially superseded.

In Russia, the birth rate will be between 11.5 and 12.5 / 1000, the death rate at 14.5 and 15.5 / 1000 and net migration will fall substantially to 0.5 / 1000. For comparison, the figures for the first ten months of 2008 were 12.1, 14.8 and 1.7 respectively.

According to Rosstat figures for Jan-Nov 2009, the birth rate was 12.4, the death rate was 14.1, and the net migration rate actually rose to 1.8 / 1000 during Jan-Oct.

9) No major new wars.

10) Slightly wrong on supercomputer performance, totally correct on oil production fall. Contrary to prediction, no major AGW physical “event”.

(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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За нас за вас и за десант и за спецназ! The Red Army was the single greatest contributor to the defeat of Nazi Germany sixty-four years ago, a truly evil empire based on slavery and oppression, and responsible for the genocide of millions of Slav civilians, Jews, Soviet POW’s and Roma by gas, bullets and starvation.

Yet ever since the first days of the Cold War, there has been a concerted campaign to whitewash the Wehrmacht of participation in war crimes and to rehabilitate the generals who participated in it as enthusiastically as Hitler and the upper echelons of the Nazi Party. This resulted in the promulgation of many poisonous myths about the Eastern Front that are only now being laid to rest. I already wrote about several of these myths in my Top 10 Russophobe Myths

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.

Rüdiger Overmans in Deutsche militärische Verluste im Zweiten Weltkrieg estimates that from the Polish campaign to the end of 1944, 75-80% of all German armed forces personnel died or went missing in action on the Eastern Front up to the end of 1944. According to Krivosheev’s research, throughout the war, the vast majority of German divisions were concentrated against the Soviet Union – in 1942, for instance, there were 240 fighting in the East and 15 in North Africa, in 1943 there were 257 in the East and up to 26 in Italy and even in 1944 there were more than 200 in the East compared to just 50 understrength and sub-par divisions in the West. From June 1941 to June 1944, 507 German (and 607 German and Allied) divisions and 77,000 fighters were destroyed in the East, compared to 176 divisions and 23,000 fighters in the West. The two pivotal battles, Stalingrad and El Alamein, differed in scale by a factor of about ten.

This is not to disparage the Western Allied soldiers who fought and died to free the world from Nazism. In particular, the seamen who enabled Lend-Lease, at high risk of lethal submarine attack, to transport indispensables like canned food, trucks and aviation fuel to Russia, possibly played a crucial role in preventing its collapse in 1941-42. And the bomber crews massively disrupted Germany’s war potential at the cost of horrid fatality ratios, significantly shortening the war (albeit it is currently fashionable to castigate them for killing 600,000 people who by and large had no problem with waging a war of extermination responsible for tens of millions of deaths on the Eastern Front).

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. The Soviet to Axis loss ratio was 1.3:1 and the USSR outproduced Germany in every weapons system throughout the war.

According to meticulous post-Soviet archival work (G. I. Krivosheev in Soviet Casualties and Combat Losses), the total number of men (and in the Soviet case, about 1mn women) who passed through the armed forces of the USSR was 34,476,700 and through Germany’s was 21,107,000. Of these, the “irrevocable losses” (the number of soldiers who were killed in military action, went MIA, became POWs and died of non-combat causes) was 11,285,057 for the USSR, 6,231,700 for Germany, 6,923,700 for Germany and its occupied territories, and 8,649,500 for all the Axis forces on the Eastern Front. Thus, the total ratio of Soviet to Nazi military losses was 1.3:1. Hardly the stuff of “Asiatic hordes” of Nazi and Russophobic imagination (that said, also contrary to popular opinion, Mongol armies were almost always a lot smaller than those of their enemies and they achieved victory through superior mobility and coordination, not numbers).

The problem is that during the Cold War, the historiography in the West was dominated by the memoirs of Tippelskirch, who wrote in the 1950’s citing constant Soviet/German forces ratios of 7:1 and losses ratio of 10:1. This has been carried over into the 1990’s (as with popular “historians” like Anthony Beevor), although it should be noted that more professional folks like Richard Overy are aware of the new research. Note also that cumulatively 28% and 57% of all Soviet losses were incurred in 1941 and 1942 (Krivosheev) respectively – the period when the Soviet army was still relatively disorganized and immobile, whereas for the Germans the balance was roughly the opposite with losses concentrated in 1944-45.

The idea that there were two soldiers for every rifle in the Red Army, as portrayed in the ahistorical propaganda film Enemy at the Gates, is a complete figment of the Russophobic Western imagination. From 1939 to 1945, the USSR outproduced Germany in aircraft (by a factor of 1.3), tanks (1.7), machine guns (2.2), artillery (3.2) and mortars (5.5), so in fact if anything the Red Army was better equipped than the Wehrmacht (sources – Richard Overy, Why the Allies Won; Chris Chant, Small Arms).

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.

One of the greatest crimes in Western Europe was the massacre of Oradour-sur-Glane, in which 642 civilians were murdered by a Waffen-SS battalion. But just one region in the East, Belarus, with 20% of France’s population, experienced the equivalent of more than 3,000 Oradours – some 2,230,000 people were killed in Belarus during the three years of German occupation, or a quarter of its population. At least 5,295 Belorussian settlements were destroyed by the Nazis and more than 600 villages like Khatyn were annihilated with their entire population under the cover of anti-partisan operations.

A poignant memorial to Nazi genocide in Khatyn – the one flame among three birch trees symbolizes the quarter of the Belarussian population who died in 1941-44.

Furthermore,

The Russian Academy of Science in 1995 reported civilian victims in the USSR at German hands, including Jews, totaled 13.7mn dead, 20% of the 68mn persons in the occupied USSR. This included 7.4mn victims of Nazi genocide and reprisals; 2.2mn deaths of persons deported to Germany for forced labor; and 4.1mn famine and disease deaths in occupied territory. There were an additional estimated 3.0 million famine deaths in the USSR not under German occupation.

This was all part of a Nazi scheme, Generalplan Ost, which called for the extermination of the Slavic intelligentsia and most of their urban populations, as well as the helotization or exile to Siberia of their peasants. Confirmed by internal documents and numerous quotes from high Nazi officials:

The war between Germany and Russia is not a war between two states or two armies, but between two ideologies–namely, the National Socialist and the Bolshevist ideology. The Red Army must be looked upon not as a soldier in the sense of the word applying to our western opponents, but as an ideological enemy. He must be regarded as the archenemy of National Socialism and must be treated accordingly. — General Hermann Reinecke

We must break away from the principle of soldierly comradeship. The communist has been and will be no comrade. We are dealing with a struggle of annihilation. — Adolf Hitler

Some 3.3mn Soviet POWs died in the Nazi custody out of 5.7mn (USHMM), the vast majority of them from July 1941 to January 1942 (i.e. when the Germans still thought they’d win quickly so no consequences for their own POW’s). This death rate of around 60% can be contrasted with the 8,300 out of 231,000 British and American prisoners who died (3.6%) in Nazi hands, or even the 580,548 out of 4,126,964 Axis servicemen who died as Soviet POW’s (Krivosheev), that is around 15%. (The question of how many German POW’s died in Western camps is hotly disputed. Though they ostensibly followed the Geneva conventions and cited numbers are typically low, of the roughly 1,000 U.S. combat veterans that historian Stephen Ambrose interviewed, roughly 1/3 told him they had seen U.S. troops kill German prisoners. The controversial historian James Bacque claims that Allied Supreme Commander Dwight Eisenhower deliberately caused the death of 790,000 German captives in internment camps through disease, starvation and cold from 1944 to 1949, and that 250,000 perished in French camps in similar conditions).

The Red Army gets bad press for its behavior during the final invasion of Prussia, in which they are frequently described as drunk looters and rapists. The consensus seems that although formal orders were against such activities, in practice most turned a blind eye to it. Yet while tragic, it is completely understandable and does not deserve the centrality placed on it by too many anti-Communist (or frequently plain Russophobic) pseudo-historians.

Consider what the typical Red Army soldier experienced before getting to Berlin: years of brutal fighting with a very high risk of death and almost certain to be wounded one time or another; hearing the stories of murdered Soviet POW’s; the sight of thousands of burned villages and massacred women, children and old men in Western Russia, Belarus, Ukraine and Poland; the death camps of Auschwitz and Treblinka; and finally, the (seemingly) decadent luxury of the conditions in which German citizens themselves lived (who, let us not forget, democratically elected Hitler and who with just a few honorable exceptions like the White Rose passively or even enthusiastically accepted Nazism).

This was, in the words of German leaders themselves, a war of extermination. Set against German atrocities in the East, or even the frequently brutal postwar ethnic cleansing of millions of Germans from countries like Poland and Czechoslovakia, it is at best wrong-headed and at worse racialist in the Nazi style to give such centrality to the rape of Berlin.

One more myth. Many accounts allege that the Soviets sent all their returned POW’s to the Gulag, if they didn’t shoot them for treason. Actually, according to Krivosheev, 233,400 were found guilty of collaborating with the enemy and sent to Gulag camps out of 1,836,562 Soviet soldiers that returned from captivity.

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.

I’ve long been skeptical about the way Russians were portrayed in accounts of WW2. Although some (generally recent) work is sympathetic and appreciative of the combat capabilities of the Red Army (e.g. Chris Bellamy), most stress the German side of the conflict. The latter typically distinguish themselves by traits like: admiration for the supposed brilliant of German generals like von Manstein and Guderian, who’d have won if not for Hitler’s interference; constant reference to the supposed vast numerical superiority and callous disregard for casualties of the Soviets; emphasize “Russian” war crimes (offensives, etc, are however “Soviet”), while attributing all German crimes to “Nazis”, usually focusing on groups like the Einsatzgruppen and SS and avoiding discussing Wehrmacht complicity, etc.

Thankfully, two authors, Ronald Smelser and Edward J. Davies, recently wrote a book, The Myth of the Eastern Front: The Nazi-Soviet War in Popular Culture, which finally collates and authoritatively confirms these strong suspicions about the objectiveness of Western popular historiography on the subject into an accessible, well-argued narrative. Most of what follows is drawn directly from the book, in chronological order.

1) Deep Ambivalence. Before WW2, many Americans had deeply ambivalent attitudes towards the Soviet Union. Though bloggers generally consider the Russophile-Russophobe dichotomy in contemporary terms, this division was as stark and relevant in the 1930′s – John Scott in Behind the Urals (BTW, though considered by some a Soviet apologist, it is in fact fairly objective and certainly not a pro-Soviet propaganda tract by any stretch of the imagination) writes, “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”. So basically there was (much like today?) a hardcore Communist / Russophile fringe, a sizable anti-Communist bloc and a majority that were mostly apathetic but overall disapproving.

2) War and Friendship. The exigencies of war against a common enemy, Nazi Germany, necessitated a rehabilitation of the Soviet Union in American eyes. In contrast to the “dirty, ignorant, brutalized peasants of Nazi mythology” and traditional stereotypes of Russians as “mechanically inept and stupid”, Americans began to emphasize the scale of industrial modernization in the Soviet Union, their growing religiosity (helped by Stalin’s rehabilitation of the Church) and their focus on family – according to Life Magazine, Russians now “look like Americans, dress like Americans and think like Americans”. The Red Army was lauded for its growing technical and operational competence, with its soldiers portrayed as decent, ordinary folks defending their families and Motherland from Nazi depredations, who did not want to die but were not afraid to do so if called upon. Americans built “bridges” to ordinary Soviet workers such as writing letters to people in similar occupations and organizing humanitarian relief efforts to supply food and consumer durables to needy Russians. As the war drew to a close, even the American population, which suffered relatively few war casualties and whose homeland remained untouched, thirsted for vengeance. Tentative plans (Morgenthau Plan) were drawn up for the coercive deindustrialization of Germany and its fragmentation into several demilitarized states – according to the aforementioned James Bacque, parts of this plan were actually carried out after 1945 though gradually eased in the late 1940′s as the US realized it needed a strong German ally during the Cold War.

3) Inversion of History during the Cold War. Aided by traditional American ambivalence towards Bolshevism and Slavs in general, memories of Russian friendship froze over under the emerging Cold War, to be “replaced by a pro-German version, one that stressed Russian atrocities, German heroism, and even a superhuman sacrifice to defend Western culture from the Eastern hordes”. From the 1950′s Americans became very receptive to the German view of the conflict (as constructed by the German officers who wanted to rehabilitate the Wehrmacht from complicity in war crimes so as to set the new Bundeswehr and the Western alliance in general on firmer footing), viewing the German soldier as a simple patriot in a Romantic “lost cause” defense of family, Church and Fatherland from red tyranny. Though the prospect of a land war with Russia is long gone, this romantization continues unabated, little affected by academic research from the 1970′s which questioned the myth of the “clean Wehrmacht” and the opening up of Russian archives and personal accounts in the 1990′s.

However, as covered above much of this narrative was simply false. As early as November 1942 the USSR assembled the Extraordinary State Commission to examine German war crimes, with early trials held in Kharkov and Krasnodar. The complicity of the German generals in atrocities emerged in the postwar Nuremberg Trials, in which military men Keitel and Jodl were hanged for planning aggressive war and participating in crimes against humanity, incriminated by their signatures on things like the Commissar Order (immediate execution of all captured Communist military commissars), the Jurisdictional Order (suspending traditional military laws on proper conduct of troops in the Eastern Front), the Hostage Order (allowing for the killing of 50-100 hostages for every German soldier killed by Soviet partisans), the Night and Fog Order (allowing for disappearance of undesirable elements in the occupied territories) and the Commando Order (immediate execution of captured commandos behind German lines).

According to Rode, major-general of the Waffen-SS, “the military commanders…were thoroughly cognizant of the missions and operational methods of these units. They approved of these missions and operational methods because, apparently, they never opposed them”, and admitted that it was clear to him that “anti-partisan warfare gradually became an excuse for the systematic annihilation of Jewry and Slavism”. To the US prosecutor Rapp, who was conducting trials of German military personnel, a key concern was the “prevention of legends” about the non-complicity of the German military in war crimes, lest they again retain their reputation, as after WW1, as “gracious, old, highly educated fine gentlemen”. Ironically, this is exactly what happened in the 1950′s.

Many Americans found it hard to rationalize German atrocities. The original US GI’s who liberated Western Europe were replaced by new soldiers who hadn’t fought Germans, loved the German hospitality, generally held them blameless and even accused their superiors of anti-German propaganda. This fed into deep-seated American attitudes, which were common to much of the West, of anti-semitism, antislavism, and cultural prejudices against the East in general. Germans with their Church, families and similar material culture looked more wholesome than the Russians, who were perceived to be arrogant and crude unlike the newly subservient Germans. The Germans reinforced these perceptions with stories of Russians as cruel, bestial sexual predators. Policies on interacting with German civilians were gradually loosened in the US, whereas in the Soviet occupied zone they were tightened from 1947 when Red Army soldiers in East Germany were confined to their barracks.

With the Cold War heating up, first with the Berlin airlift and then with the Korean War, the Americans realized they needed the Germans as friends instead of as prostrate slaves or even clients. Similarly, the former Wehrmacht officers wanted to rescue their careers, continue the good struggle against Bolshevism to preserve Western civilization, and to salvage the reputation of the German officers corp. Under American auspices they started re-writing history with three main goals – 1) establish a “lost cause” myth of the German military as honorable, apolitical and supremely competent, serving Fatherland not Führer, 2) advise the Western Alliance on how to win a land war with the USSR and 3) dehumanize Russians in the interests of Cold War solidarity.

This process can be illustrated in the life story of Franz Halder, a German general who became chief of the Operational History (German) Section, a project that collated some 2,500 lengthy manuscripts from 700 former Wehrmacht officers that were tightly edited to fit the three goals above. In his 1949 work Hitler als Feldherr, Halder made the following points: a) he didn’t support war against the USSR, b) didn’t lay plans for an attack on the USSR before Hitler ordered him to, c) was concerned about a pre-emptive Soviet strike, d) was unaware of the racial nature of the war as envisaged by Hitler, e) didn’t participate in POW or civilian genocide and f) was skeptical about Hitler’s assumptions of easy, early victory. Yet his personal war diaries tell a somewhat different tale.

a) The German military had been thinking of expansion and continental hegemony since at least the middle of the First World War. See the “Great Plan” of 1924-25 which called for Teutonic hegemony in Europe, albeit it had not yet been based on explicitly racialist terms. It was resurrected after the Sudetenland crisis of 1938.

b) After the defeat of France in May 1940, Hitler was considering large-scale demobilization, but Halder wanted a war with the USSR and had his staff draft “Operation Otto”, a precursor to Barbarossa, on his own initiative in June 1940.

c) In February 1941, Halder felt a Soviet attack was “completely improbable”.

d) Under a heading in his diary tellingly entitled “Colonial tasks”, he wrote, “We must forget the concept of comradeship between soldiers. A Comrade is no friend before or after the battle. This is a war of extermination. If we do not grasp this, we shall still beat the enemy, but 30 years later we shall against have to fight the Communist foe…This war will be very different from the war in the West. In the east, harshness today means lenience in the future. Commanders must make the sacrifice of overcoming their moral scruples.” In the margin, he added, “embody in the ObdH (Army High Command) order”.

e) The reality of the war in the East became clear after the invasion of Poland, when the SS and Security Police started annihilating the Polish intelligentsia. Though many German officers expressed reservations, non were forthcoming from Halder or von Brauschitsch. Later, he actually negotiated responsibilities for maintaining order in the front and rear with Einsatzgruppen commanders, and knew of and was completely indifferent to Soviet POW deaths. His own staff drafted the aforementioned Commissar Order and Jurisdictional Order – in effect, the German military high command translated the views of leading Nazis into policy. Though some officers like Hassell objected, the vast majority went along with the generals.

f) Halder more than shared Hitler’s optimism, considering the Germans would need just 80-100 divisions against an estimated 50-75 Soviet. (Ultimately, 152 German divisions were unleashed in Barbarossa against what were actually more than 300 Soviet divisions). Since progress was initially smooth, he constantly revised the timescale of victory down – “not even Hitler was as confident as his generals”.

You can tell you’re damning yourself when you give off such a strong impression of mendacious duplicity that you almost portray Hitler in a good light. And funnily enough the Führer presumably shared this impression – he bribed his generals by secretly doubling their salaries, conditional on their loyalty and obedience. Though a mitigating factor is that Halder was arrested for suspected involvement in the July 1944 bomb plot against Hitler, it should be noted his accommodations and provisions were quite OK (certainly far from death camp rations) and it was only in January 1945 that he was formally dismissed from the military. One gets the idea that the opportunist was simply hedging his bets, for by that time the war was already obviously lost. According to Smelser / Davies, “Franz Halder embodies better than any other high German officer the dramatic difference between myth and reality as it emerged after World War Two, particularly with regard to the war in the east”.

Though under suspicion of being a war criminal, he was officially released from Western Allied custody in 1947. He ingratiated himself with the US Army and was made chief of Operational History (German) Section in summer 1948 – the aforementioned project to rewrite history by rehabilitating the Wehrmacht and cementing Germany into the Western alliance (not to mention rescuing the careers of former Wehrmacht officers). In October 1948 he was tried by a German denazification court and was cleared. The prosecution then got hold of his incriminating war diaries and demanded a retrial, but by then the Americans had taken him under their wings, claiming him as indispensable. The court was forced to throw out all further charges in 1950.

As director of this project, he solicited and vetted some 2,500 manuscripts from 700 former Wehrmacht officers, by now a mix of serving Bunderwehr officers, celebrity veterans and suspected war criminals. Many of them transliterated Nazi mythology on Russians for an American audience – Halder himself wrote, “frequent insensate cruelty is found coupled with attachment, fidelity and good nature under proper [presumably Germanic?] handling”; many were worse, citing the supposed bestial, cruel, morose, instinctual and primitive nature of the Red Army soldier (though they lauded him for bravery). The more important part of the project however was teaching how to win, or at least not lose, a land war to the Soviet Union. German officers criticized American plans to mount a line defense on the Rhine, instead stressing the “mobile defense” concept developed by von Manstein in 1943-44. They also pointed to the importance of military education, training and officer independence to their military successes.

Given such valuable information and propaganda material, the Americans gave the former Wehrmacht officers leeway to further their careers and whitewash their war records. Einsenhower flip-flopped from writing things such as “the German is a beast” to his wife in 1944, to apologizing to Wehrmacht officers for defamation, claiming by the early 1950′s that “I do not believe the German soldier as such has lost his honor”. General Matthew Ridgeway urged pardons for war crimes committed on the Eastern Front (only!), with the curious justification that he had issued the same orders in Korea for which the German generals were rotting in jail for. And although the Red Scare was passing away by the mid-1950′s, by this time the myth of the “lost cause” – patriot Germans fighting for family and Heimat against the Bolshevik hordes – was fast becoming entrenched.

German officers networked with Americans. German generals, gracious, old, highly educated fine gentlemen like Guderian and von Manstein (both of whom knew of Hitler’s plans for the Soviet peoples), published self-serving memoirs. From the 1970′s, they would be further supplemented by popular accounts of the Eastern Front from ordinary German soldiers, showing their human side. Reenactments became popular, in which enthusiasts combined a painstaking attention to historical detail like uniforms and ranks with a plain painful minimal attention to placing their heros in the larger historical context of Wehrmacht complicity in Nazi crimes.

Though academic historians from the 1970′s increasingly challenged this narrative, the popular culture was unaffected, having long since been taken hostage by images of Stuka dive-bombers and Tiger tanks and the writings of the German generals. It took until the last ten years or so, with the popularization of this more academic work, as well as the opening of the Soviet archives and accounts from the Russian side, to add greater perspective. Yet as the myths above prove, there is still lots of work to do – not least, fully exposing the distorted historiography of the Great Patriotic War to the general public.

To close this with an idea – there are many, many Russian accounts and memoirs of the war, but too many of them remain untranslated into English. This is unacceptable and we should look into ways to change this state of affairs. Suggestions?

Sources
R. Overmans. Deutsche militärische Verluste im Zweiten Weltkrieg
G. I. Krivosheev. Soviet Casualties and Combat Losses
R. Smelser & E.J. Davies. The Myth of the Eastern Front: The Nazi-Soviet War in American Popular Culture.

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
 
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The Next 100 Years by George Friedman, published in 2010. Rating: 3/5

George Friedman at Stratfor is one of my favorite analysts on world geopolitics. This is because he tries to look at the world as it is, without the pointless moralizing, neoliberal ideologizing and end-of-history triumphalism that clouds too much American geopolitical thinking. Hence whenever I come across new and substantial material from him, although I might not agree with some (or most) of what he says, I nonetheless adjust my beliefs (in a good Bayesian fashion).

And lo and behold!, he comes out with a new book – The Next 100 Years. Funnily enough, it is about the next 100 years, or more specifically, the interplay between technological and demographic trends and geopolitical dynamics that will shape the twenty-first century.

I was originally going to copy out its entire first chapter, Overture (which is available online) and just comment on it. Unfortunately this makes it far too long and I had problems publishing it. So I’ll headline and summarize Friedman’s main points instead and leave my original commentary largely unchanged.

1. The future is unpredictable: “Be practical, expect the impossible”.

Friedman starts off by summarizing the history of the last century in twenty year chunks. Thus we got from the globalized idyll of 1900, through the chaos of 1940, the gathering storm clouds of 1940, the American dominance in 1960, the rising Soviet challenge in 1980 and culminating in the renewed globalized idyll of 2000 – only to be again disrupted by 9/11.

Completely agreed – most commentary is about the short-term, or at best linear extrapolations of short-term things. Good futurists think in terms of differentials, exponents and tipping points.

2. However, some trends are dominant and can be foreseen.

It was possible to forecast European wars on the basis that a newly united and powerful Germany was in an insecure position in between France and Russia; it would have been harder to predict how devastating these wars would have and that they’d have led to the dissolution of the European empires.

Interestingly, one of the best seers in this respect was Friedrich Engels. As early as 1887, he envisaged “a world war of never before seen extension and intensity…eight to ten million soldiers will slaughter each other…the devastations of the Thirty Years War condensed into three or four years and spread all over the continent; famines, epidemics, general barbarization of armies and masses…collapse of the old states and their traditional wisdom in such a way that the crowns roll in the gutter by the dozens and there will be nobody to pick them up…general exhaustion and the creation of circumstances for the final victory of the working class”. He even got the casualties and timeline correct! Other great prophets were the Warsaw banker Ivan Bloch, Moltke the Elder and Colmar von der Goltz.

Friedman sees the United States as the dominant pivot of the twenty-first century due to its unrivaled economic, military and political power. This was due to its overwhelming naval power and strategic position that allow it to control both Atlantic and Pacific trade. Because of its wealth and the vast resources needed to build a comparable blue-water fleet, it’s continued dominance is assured.

Although ostensibly overwhelming, American naval dominance is going to be challenged by new developments in military technology such as supercavitating torpedoes, UAV’s and advanced cruise missiles. As its own war games from 2002 demonstrated, the age of the aircraft carrier battle-group is drawing to an end even against relatively unsophisticated foes.

The inherent power of the United States coupled with its geographic position makes the United States the pivotal actor of the twenty- first century. That certainly doesn’t make it loved. On the contrary, its power makes it feared. The history of the twenty- first century, therefore, particularly the first half, will revolve around two opposing struggles. One will be secondary powers forming coalitions to try to contain and control the United States. The second will be the United States acting preemptively to prevent an effective coalition from forming.

As Friedman points out in the book, “declinism” has been a recurrent feature of American history, mostly recently in the 1970′s and 1980′s when stagflation, oil shocks, the growing power of the Soviet Union, deindustrialization and soaring crime rates and perceived social and moral collapse led to feelings of despair over the future of the American empire.

On the other hand this does not mean that there won’t be potential setbacks. After abating somewhat in the 1990′s, the above trends returned in force during the 2000′s. Meanwhile, the national power of China and Russia have soared and are projected to continue doing so, at least in the medium-term. Nowadays the US can only afford plentiful butter and guns because of the flood of cheap credit it gets from abroad (due to the now disappearing “American alpha” and the status of the $ as the global currency reserve). It’s industry has been hallowed out and now faces the real risk of a debt-and-currency crisis within the next few years. Should that come to pass the strain of maintaining a superlative global military presence will become economically and politically unbearable.

3. The US will do its best to prevent the emergence of a Eurasian hegemon or hostile coalition is spot on.

If we view the beginning of the twenty- first century as the dawn of the American Age (superseding the European Age), we see that it began with a group of Muslims seeking to re- create the Caliphate—the great Islamic empire that once ran from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Inevitably, they had to strike at the United States in an attempt to draw the world’s primary power into war, trying to demonstrate its weakness in order to trigger an Islamic uprising. The United States responded by invading the Islamic world. But its goal wasn’t victory. It wasn’t even clear what victory would mean. Its goal was simply to disrupt the Islamic world and set it against itself, so that an Islamic empire could not emerge.

The United States doesn’t need to win wars. It needs to simply disrupt things so the other side can’t build up sufficient strength to challenge it. On one level, the twenty- first century will see a series of confrontations involving lesser powers trying to build coalitions to control American behavior and the United States’ mounting military operations to disrupt them. The twenty- first century will see even more war than the twentieth century, but the wars will be much less catastrophic, because of both technological changes and the nature of the geopolitical challenge.

True. It has a superb geographical location that is practically invulnerable, economically optimal and is still underpopulated (in comparison with Asia or Europe, though not from an ecological perspective). Therefore it will certainly remain one of the leading Great Powers, unlike Britain during the last century.

4. Russia will reconstruct its empire in the 2010′s, but will collapse irrevocably in the 2020′s.

As we’ve seen, the changes that lead to the next era are always shockingly unexpected, and the first twenty years of this new century will be no exception. The U.S.–Islamist war is already ending and the next conflict is in sight. Russia is re- creating its old sphere of influence, and that sphere of influence will inevitably challenge the United States. The Russians will be moving westward on the great northern European plain. As Russia reconstructs its power, it will encounter the U.S.- dominated NATO in the three Baltic countries—Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania—as well as in Poland. There will be other points of friction in the early twenty- first century, but this new cold war will supply the flash points after the U.S.–Islamist war dies down.

The Russians can’t avoid trying to reassert power, and the United States can’t avoid trying to resist. But in the end Russia can’t win. Its deep internal problems, massively declining population, and poor infrastructure ultimately make Russia’s long- term survival prospects bleak. And the second cold war, less frightening and much less global than the first, will end as the first did, with the collapse of Russia.

Friedman has a lot of (fairly convincing) theories on how Russia’s geostrategic position influences it to “anchor” its position in Central Asia, the Caucasus and Ukraine, and expand as far west as possible on the North European Plain (see The Geopolitics of Russia: Permanent Struggle). However, this “imperial overstretch” alarms the European and oceanic powers, who interpret these moves as aggressive and threatening to their own national interests. They seek to contain Russia, which must bear occupation costs and devote more resources to maintaining a military balance. Eventually a breaking point is reached and centrifugal forces tear the country apart in periodic “times of troubles”, in which Russia in encircled and preyed upon by predatory Powers.

Viewing things from this perspective, a lot of things start to make sense, from the conflict in Georgia to its distracting the US by complicating its position in the Middle East and Latin America with arms sales, pursing friendly relations with regimes unfriendly to Washington, pushing for the creation of a common Eurasian (read: non American) security space, etc. He terms this the Medvedev Doctrine.

According to Friedman, Russia faces long-term collapse due to “deep internal problems, massively declining population, and poor infrastructure”. I would dispute both the severity and validity of this. “Deep internal problems” is simply too ambiguous. Population decline is unlikely to be massive; at worst, it will fall at a slow pace. As for infrastructure, even the Economist collates projections that Russia will invest heavily in infrastructure, accounting for some 10% of infrastructure spending among emerging markets from 2008 to 2017 (this is especially impressive when considering that unlike other heavyweights like China or India, Russia already has most of the physical infrastructure of a developed economy in place albeit it is dilapidated; and that it is a leader in per capita spending).

But even if demographic and development trends do not work out as I expect above, this would not necessarily lead to its collapse. For that to happen, a whole lot of other things must come into play simultaneously and for a prolonged period – ethnic discontent, violent insurrections, loss of national faith, economic sclerosis, unbearable social and military burdens, collapse in energy prices, etc.

No real trends indicate that this will be the case, however. The reality of peak oil will mean energy superpowers like Russia will be courted by all major industrial powers, at least until (and if) they wean themselves off it – the plausibility of which I very much doubt given the fluidity and “net energy” of oil and gas. It also has strong positions in nuclear technology and space technologies, and is devoting huge resources and effort into developing hi-tech clusters in areas like nanotechnology and microelectronics. What I expect to see is countries like China and Germany getting guaranteed energy supplies in return for transfers of machinery and know-how, which will lead to Russia’s rapid convergence to developed country income levels around about 2020. Meanwhile, global warming will be opening up new hydrocarbons deposits, shipping routes and fertile land in Siberia and the Arctic. I’ve been writing about this since quite a while back.

Re-ethnic discontent, firstly, it is unlikely, though not impossible, that the resurrected Russian empire will be of the old school variety (i.e. completely integrated politically). What both Friedman and I think more likely is that institutional ties like Eurasec (economic) and the CSTO (military) will become much more visible and all-encompassing, perhaps culminating in some kind of structure, let’s call it the Eurasian Union, that will lie somewhere in between the EU and the US in political integration. The member states will have a great deal of latitude in dealing with domestic issues, but their military-industrial, defense and foreign policy will be tightly linked and co-ordinated.

Secondly, even as Russia’s softer neo-imperial intentions become clearer this does not seem to have any effects on the popularity of its leaders in the countries that matter (i.e. the Near Abroad). Far more Ukrainians approve of Putin than of their own President (who languishes in the single digits) or any other Ukrainian leader. Same goes for Belarus, and the Central Asians too.

Some kind of confederation between Belarus, Kazakhstan, Russia and Ukraine enjoys the support of silent majorities in all four countries. If that were to happen, the population of the dominant Eurasian power will increase from 142mn to about 215mn and the combined industrial product will increase by at least 50%, due to both greater quantity, greater economies of scale and the restoration of severed supply chains from the Soviet era. The military-industrial complex will especially benefit.

Central Asia is an important geostrategic focus (part of the Heartland, in Mackinder’s geopolitics), a promising energy source and demographic reservoir. Although their immigration north and west will exacerbate tensions with Slavic peoples, this should not be critical since they are generally appreciative of Russian culture and are not prone to the radical Islamism prevalent further south or even in Caucasian Russian republics like Chechnya. Their inclusion would complete the basis for a superpower.

The major obstacle would be the Balts, Georgians and Poles. Extending the Russian empire to them would be costly, unproductive and undemocratic (since unlike the central Asians and Orthodox Slavic states, they do not want to partake of this enterprise). Thus the appropriate policy regarding them would be to insist on mutual cooperation and neutrality. Russia has levers against them – ethnic Russians in the Baltics, the pragmatism of ordinary Georgians towards Russia and gas and oil supplies to Poland. They are all of ultimately marginal economic significance, and are acceptable as neutral buffers against Western encroachment.

Thirdly, violent revolt is also becoming ever more unlikely. The economy will probably be expanding rapidly and populations throughout this empire will certainly be aging – hardly recipes for bloody wars of national independence. In the cases of the Slavic states or even Central Asia, it is next to inconceivable. Even the Caucasus will quieten down. One of the unremarked things about the 1990′s and the 2000′s is the region’s demographic transition to sub-replacement fertility levels (2.1 children per woman), including by this time even such places like Ingushetia and Daghestan. The only major exception is Chechnya, which today has a fertility rate of 3.1 children per woman. I think the fact that it was also the only region to flare up into open revolt was not coincidental. As the eXile‘s War Nerd points out, the only countries willing to fight bloody guerilla battles today are poor and have lots of children.

I could go on and on, but in summary I think Friedman’s vision of a new Russian empire is grounded in reality – he predicts that Russia will regain most of its old Soviet frontiers within the next decade, and will by the mid-2010′s be extending its influence back into the Baltics, the Balkans and Visegrad. However, I’m not so certain of his prognostications of its end – which is based on far less evidence.

Which is not to say its not going to happen. One possible scenario: growth of internal corruption and institutional dysfunction; slowdown or cessation of growth due to economic convergence being achieved, and an eruption of spillovers from bad loans as happened in Japan in the 1990′s which paralyze the economy; unchecked growth in entitlements; social and political strains; reduced European reliance on Russian natural gas due to new supplies from North Africa and the Middle East and effective energy conservation; and renewed pursuit of Prometheism on the part of the US, Polish proxies and perhaps some West European allies; and perhaps a temporary commodity crash.

Friedman predicts in his book that Russia and the US will be in a full-fledged New Cold War by the mid-2010′s; perhaps the onset of so many difficulties, simultaneously, will open up a “window of opportunity” for the US to break up the Russian empire to eliminate a strategic competitor and open up access to its natural resources. Far-fetched? Yes. But possible. After all, every great Atlantic / sea power tries to form alliances and undermine powerful Eurasian / land empires. Possible, because history hasn’t ended and won’t end for a long time if ever.

5. China will fragment in the 2010′s due to internal pressures and foreigners will recreate spheres of influence in it.

There are many who predict that China is the next challenger to the United States, not Russia. I don’t agree with that view for three reasons. First, when you look at a map of China closely, you see that it is really a very isolated country physically. With Siberia in the north, the Himalayas and jungles to the south, and most of China’s population in the eastern part of the country, the Chinese aren’t going to easily expand. Second, China has not been a major naval power for centuries, and building a navy requires a long time not only to build ships but to create well-trained and experienced sailors.

I find the emphasis on physical land barriers to be quaint in an era of railways, air transport and massive merchant marines. China already has the industrial capacity and (through economic acquisitions and espionage) the technological capability to rapidly create a powerful blue-water fleet. Although the German Empire had no naval tradition to speak of, the Kaiserliche Marine went from being a small coastal defense to the world’s second largest fleet with better ships and better training than the Royal Navy, all just in the twenty years prior to the First World War.

Third, there is a deeper reason for not worrying about China. China is inherently unstable. Whenever it opens its borders to the outside world, the coastal region becomes prosperous, but the vast majority of Chinese in the interior remain impoverished. This leads to tension, conflict, and instability. It also leads to economic decisions made for political reasons, resulting in inefficiency and corruption. This is not the first time that China has opened itself to foreign trade, and it will not be the last time that it becomes unstable as a result. Nor will it be the last time that a figure like Mao emerges to close the country off from the outside, equalize the wealth—or poverty— and begin the cycle anew. There are some who believe that the trends of the last thirty years will continue indefinitely. I believe the Chinese cycle will move to its next and inevitable phase in the coming decade. Far from being a challenger, China is a country the United States will be trying to bolster and hold together as a counterweight to the Russians. Current Chinese economic dynamism does not translate into long- term success.

He expands on this in the book. Still, I disagree. China’s industrial production is real enough and it is moving rapidly up the technology ladder (its export basket is far more advanced than its still low per capita income would normally indicate). China is now going to focus on creating its “harmonious society”, improving social services in rural areas and expanding domestic consumption. The period of maximum danger has already passed. What happened in the psychologically demoralized and mentally backward China of the nineteenth century is not really relevant to what will happen to it in the twenty-first.

That said, China does face some very real challenges – above all, resource depletion, environmental destruction and climate change. It has the resources to lock in energy supplies from abroad and has plentiful (but dirty) coal reserves. There’s also plenty of “coal gas”, an unfairly neglected but I suspect soon to become very important energy source (“There are also reports of Asian reserves of around 2,100 tcf – including 1,000 tcf in China, where the government is looking to rapidly increase production.” – Oil Drum). However, it faces severe environmental pressure as desertification and urbanization eat up agricultural land and water tables fall precipitously. Chinese grain production peaked in the mid-1990′s and has slowly fallen since. It possesses a fifth of the world’s population with just 7% of its arable land. Agricultural production is going to decline in traditional exporting breadbaskets like the US, Australia and Latin America with global warming, and competition for food will increase. Rising seas will threaten to inundate superdense settlements on its south-eastern seaboard and deserts will encroach from the northwest. This is going to be the crux of China’s challenge this century.

6. After 2030, three Great Powers will emerge to challenge the US: Japan, Turkey and Poland.

In the middle of the century, other powers will emerge, countries that aren’t thought of as great powers today, but that I expect will become more powerful and assertive over the next few decades. Three stand out in particular. The first is Japan. It’s the second- largest economy in the world and the most vulnerable, being highly dependent on the importation of raw materials, since it has almost none of its own. With a history of militarism, Japan will not remain the marginal pacifistic power it has been. It cannot. Its own deep population problems and abhorrence of large- scale immigration will force it to look for new workers in other countries. Japan’s vulnerabilities, which I’ve written about in the past and which the Japanese have managed better than I’ve expected up until this point, in the end will force a shift in policy.

I agree it will become more militarized and I suspect it will tackle its population troubles with increasing robotization. However it cannot match the military power of true superpowers like the US, China or a new Russian empire, largely for the reasons Friedman himself cited, and I believe it will bandwagon with the dominant Power in the region, China.

Then there is Turkey, currently the seventeenth-largest economy in the world. Historically, when a major Islamic empire has emerged, it has been dominated by the Turks. The Ottomans collapsed at the end of World War I, leaving modern Turkey in its wake. But Turkey is a stable platform in the midst of chaos. The Balkans, the Caucasus, and the Arab world to the south are all unstable. As Turkey’s power grows—and its economy and military are already the most powerful in the region—so will Turkish influence.

Considering that education is the elixir of growth, and that Turks (unlike Europeans, Americans and East Asians) aren’t the sharpest tools in the box according to international standardized tests of math / science literacy, I do not see them as a true Great Power any time soon. On the other hand I grant that Friedman’s scenario in the book in which Turkey melds the Arab nations into a new Caliphate and expands north into the Caucasus and the Balkans (the vacuum left over by the collapse of the Russian empire) is a distant possibility.

Finally there is Poland. Poland hasn’t been a great power since the sixteenth century. But it once was—and, I think, will be again. Two factors make this possible. First will be the decline of Germany. Its economy is large and still growing, but it has lost the dynamism it has had for two centuries. In addition, its population is going to fall dramatically in the next fifty years, further undermining its economic power. Second, as the Russians press on the Poles from the east, the Germans won’t have an appetite for a third war with Russia. The United States, however, will back Poland, providing it with massive economic and technical support. Wars—when your country isn’t destroyed—stimulate economic growth, and Poland will become the leading power in a coalition of states facing the Russians. Japan, Turkey, and Poland will each be facing a United States even more confident than it was after the second fall of the Soviet Union. That will be an explosive situation. As we will see during the course of this book, the relationships among these four countries will greatly affect the twenty- first century, leading, ultimately, to the next global war. This war will be fought differently from any in history—with weapons that are today in the realm of science fiction. But as I will try to outline, this mid-twenty-first century conflict will grow out of the dynamic forces born in the early part of the new century.

This is the “Promethean” scenario, in which the US helps in the collapse of the Russian empire using Polish proxies. Given his demographic emphasis, however, this is extremely unlikely since Polish demography is little better than German and worse than Russian (if measuring by total fertility rates); at just 40mn people, its population is simply too small to support a big arms burden and this will be true even if it were to recreate the old Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth by incorporating Western Ukraine (20mn), Belarus (10mn) and Lithuania (5mn) to make a total of 75mn – less than Germany, lots of old people, and poorer.

Frankly, the idea of Japan, Turkey and Poland challenging the US for global primacy around 2050 is ridiculous – even if we follow Friedman’s advice to “expect the impossible”.

7. Space-based solar technologies will substitute for hydrocarbons.

After a damaging, hi-tech but very low casualty war between the US and the above Powers, the “concepts developed prior to the war for space-based electrical generation, beamed to earth in the form of microwave radiation, will be rapidly translated from prototype to reality” and the world’s energy will start coming from space-based solar installations, kicking off a massive economic boom.

The trend towards ever fewer casualties in the last century was not because of any moral or technological reasons, but because there were simply no wars between Great Powers – a nuclear conflict between the US and the USSR would have killed far more people than World War Two. I think future Great Power wars will be very bloody and intense as soon as mobilization for total wars occurs, and will be quickly return to megadeath levels if some of the combatants are all out virulent totalitarianisms. Such a possibility should not be excluded.

I find Friedman’s focus on space-based solar technologies narrow (there are many other emerging technologies) and believe that the most transformatory changes will come from the GNR Revolution (genetics 2010-2030, nano 2020-2050 and robotics, including superintelligent AI by 2030-2050.

8. End of the population explosion and competition for immigrants.

After two centuries of rapid growth, the world population will level off by 2050 and advanced industrial nations will have rapidly falling populations. There will be incentives for immigrants to come and there’ll be more research into genetics and robotics so as to prolong productive lifespans and automate simpler tasks.

Agreed on the key role of robotics and genetics, though it would be nice if Friedman covered them in more detail. I also believe that due to the effects of global warming and resource depletion, which Friedman totally dismisses, it is more likely that rich northern countries will intensify attempts to keep immigrants out instead.

9. Mexico will emerge as a competitor to the US in North America by 2080.

Mexico will become economically developed and much of the US South-West will become de facto Mexican-ruled, thus threatening the territorial integrity of the US.

Disagree. Mexico will sooner become a failed state because of global warming, plummeting oil production and lack of advanced technologies and human capital. The prospect of tensions and unrest between Mexicans and Americans in the South-West are real, but will not pose a threat to US sovereignty because of Mexican weakness.

10. Philosophical ruminations on geopolitics – although details are hard to predict, the overall picture can be discerned based on history and current trends.

…Geopolitics applies the concept of the invisible hand to the behavior of nations and other international actors. The pursuit of short- term self- interest by nations and by their leaders leads, if not to the wealth of nations, then at least to predictable behavior and, therefore, the ability to forecast the shape of the future international system. Geopolitics and economics both assume that the players are rational, at least in the sense of knowing their own short- term self- interest. As rational actors, reality provides them with limited choices. It is assumed that, on the whole, people and nations will pursue their self- interest, if not flawlessly, then at least not randomly. Think of a chess game. On the surface, it appears that each player has twenty potential opening moves. In fact, there are many fewer because most of these moves are so bad that they quickly lead to defeat. The better you are at chess, the more clearly you see your options, and the fewer moves there actually are available. The better the player, the more predictable the moves. The grandmaster plays with absolute predictable precision—until that one brilliant, unexpected stroke.

Nations behave the same way. The millions or hundreds of millions of people who make up a nation are constrained by reality. They generate leaders who would not become leaders if they were irrational. Climbing to the top of millions of people is not something fools often do. Leaders understand their menu of next moves and execute them, if not flawlessly, then at least pretty well. An occasional master will come along with a stunningly unexpected and successful move, but for the most part, the act of governance is simply executing the necessary and logical next step. When politicians run a country’s foreign policy, they operate the same way. If a leader dies and is replaced, another emerges and more likely than not continues what the first one was doing.

…Geopolitical forecasting, therefore, doesn’t assume that everything is predetermined. It does mean that what people think they are doing, what they hope to achieve, and what the final outcome is are not the same things. Nations and politicians pursue their immediate ends, as constrained by reality as a grandmaster is constrained by the chessboard, the pieces, and the rules. Sometimes they increase the power of the nation. Sometimes they lead the nation to catastrophe. It is rare that the final outcome will be what they initially intended to achieve.

Geopolitics assumes two things. First, it assumes that humans organize themselves into units larger than families, and that by doing this, they must engage in politics. It also assumes that humans have a natural loyalty to the things they were born into, the people and the places. Loyalty to a tribe, a city, or a nation is natural to people. In our time, national identity matters a great deal. Geopolitics teaches that the relationship between these nations is a vital dimension of human life, and that means that war is ubiquitous. Second, geopolitics assumes that the character of a nation is determined to a great extent by geography, as is the relationship between nations. We use the term geography broadly. It includes the physical characteristics of a location, but it goes beyond that to look at the effects of a place on individuals and communities. In antiquity, the difference between Sparta and Athens was the difference between a landlocked city and a maritime empire. Athens was wealthy and cosmopolitan, while Sparta was poor, provincial, and very tough. A Spartan was very different from an Athenian in both culture and politics.

…The twenty- first century will be like all other centuries. There will be wars, there will be poverty, there will be triumphs and defeats. There will be tragedy and good luck. People will go to work, make money, have children, fall in love, and come to hate. That is the one thing that is not cyclical. It is the permanent human condition. But the twenty- first century will be extraordinary in two senses: it will be the beginning of a new age, and it will see a new global power astride the world. That doesn’t happen very often. We are now in an America- centric age. To understand this age, we must understand the United States, not only because it is so powerful but because its culture will permeate the world and define it. Just as French culture and British culture were definitive during their times of power, so American culture, as young and barbaric as it is, will define the way the world thinks and lives. So studying the twenty- first century means studying the United States.

This is perhaps the biggest point of disagreement. The twenty-first century will be unlike all previous centuries. As I’ve argued here, it’s a make or break century. Either we overcome limits to growth and survive long enough to usher in a technological singularity / Green Communism, or our industrial civilization tumbles into the dark depths of the Olduvai Gorge. The outcome will depend on three things – resource depletion and environmental degradation; technological development; and perhaps most importantly, our politics and values.

If there were only one argument I could make about the twenty-first century, it would be that the European Age has ended and that the North American Age has begun, and that North America will be dominated by the United States for the next hundred years. The events of the twenty-first century will pivot around the United States. That doesn’t guarantee that the United States is necessarily a just or moral regime. It certainly does not mean that America has yet developed a mature civilization. It does mean that in many ways the history of the United States will be the history of the twenty- first century.

The US will certainly dominate North America – its neighbors are geopolitical basketcases and even if catastrophic global warming occurs, it will conquer Canada and tranfer its population north. However, the pivot of the twenty-first century is as always before going to be on the Eurasian landmass, which has 70% of the world’s population and is the focal point of almost all new social ideas, wars and revolutions.

You might have gotten the impression that I criticize Friedman so much that my praise for him at the beginning was not genuine. That’s wrong. His short-term geopolitical analysis is superb. It is also a lot more nuanced when he gets more space to write down his views. I find the writings on Russian geopolitics, as well as things like his series of monographs on the geopolitics of Israel, Iran and China, to be of the highest caliber and essential for understanding geopolitical dynamics in Eurasia.

Nonetheless, he has four critical failings as a serious futurist. Firstly, he discounts the role of non-geopolitical factors (economics, ideologies, culture and religion, etc) in driving history – as such, just like the realist, clash of civilizations, or idealist / end of history theses in international relations, the analysis is revealed as one-dimensional when stretched far enough into the future. Secondly, there is a near total lack of attention to ecological issues, as well as unrealistic projections of energy usage and technological development. Thirdly, far too much stock is put into semi-mystical “cycles” of history for particular countries, such as America’s 50-year cycles of transformation and China’s cycles of expansion, isolation and collapse. Never precise to scientific to begin with, they are ever more irrelevant in the accelerating world of today. Fourthly, there is too much emphasis on territorial and geographical features from a conventional military perspective, especially in the case of nuclear armed Powers – with next to nothing on the potential use of WMD’s, be it by nation states or terrorists and malcontents. As such, I would treat his long term prognoses in The Next 100 Years with a pinch of salt.

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
 
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America’s desire to have Ukraine and Georgia accede to MAP foundered on European opposition from Germany, France and (somewhat surprisingly) the UK, despite Saakashvili’s implicit comparison of this to Nazi appeasement. Nonetheless, this is good for NATO as an alliance (as we’ve covered previously, the European desire for a rapprochement is linked to Russian logistical help on Afghanistan), as well as in line with public opinion about the importance of good relations with Russia amongst the Ukrainian and Georgian publics. This is not to mention Russia itself, where 64% think Georgian accession to NATO is a security threat and where Ukrainian accession could result in restrictions in territorial revisionism and new visa controls.

However, this was most certainly not a Russian victory, as RFE noted:

There would be no MAP at this time, that was true. But there would be what sounded like a pretty firm commitment of eventual membership. Not a firm commitment for MAPs — but actual membership. All the key players who famously opposed the MAP this time around were on board, including Germany and France. Moreover, NATO foreign ministers have been instructed to assess Kyiv and Tbilisi’s progress in December 2008 and have authority to issue formal MAPs as early as then — provided the progress was sufficient. It would all be in an official protocol by the evening, we were told. The mood in the Georgian and Ukrainian delegations pivoted on a dime, from bitter disappointment to unexpected elation. Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko said Ukraine had “broken the sound barrier.” Georgia’s Mikheil Saakashvili called the announcement a “geopolitical coup.” One top Georgian official, speaking on background, told my colleagues from RFE/RL’s Georgian Service that the decision was even better than getting a MAP. They would be admitted to NATO after all. The only question was when.

The US also got an agreement with the Czech Rep. on the radar station for their missile defence system. Meanwhile, east European countries led by Poland and Estonia have pressed for even more anti-Russian measures.

Yet at its core, the dispute within NATO is about the renewed threat from Russia. Members of “old Europe” may hope to avoid a clash with the Kremlin, but many countries of “new” Europe say the struggle has already begun. For them security lies in expanding the frontiers of what was once the transatlantic alliance to the Black Sea and ultimately to the Caspian.

Even its strongest advocates recognise that such expansion raises questions about the purpose of the alliance: should it be mainly a military organisation, or a political club of democracies? Radek Sikorski, the Polish foreign minister, questioned whether the promise of mutual defence from armed attack enshrined in Article 5 of NATO’s charter was becoming “diluted”.

Mr Sikorski wants NATO to move military infrastructure east. He complains that NATO hesitates even to make intelligence assessments of perils from Russia. Others want more attention to non-conventional threats, given last year’s cyber-attack on Estonia, blamed on Russia. Not that they ever bothered producing evidence. “We do a disservice to Russia by not taking it seriously,” said Toomas Ilves, Estonia’s president.

Putin opted for a pragmatic response, repeating Russian concerns about NATO expansion and missile defence (“an attempt to neutralise, whether immediately or in the future, its nuclear arsenal”), and recommended that a) the radar in Czechia be cemented into the ground, b) switching on the system only when an Iranian or other threat materializes, c) integrating early-warning systems and d) maintaining a constant Russian military presence at the sites. It would be interesting to see what the West, always accusing Russia of non-coperation, will make of these, but the augurs aren’t promising – the eastern Europeans have already objected to the last proposal.

According to rumors, Putin unloosed the rhetoric behind doors, hinting that Russia work to break up Ukraine and extend recognition to Abkhazia and South Ossetia, citing the Kosovo precedent.

President Vladimir Putin hinted at last week’s NATO summit in Romania that Russia would work to break up Ukraine, should the former Soviet republic join the military alliance, Kommersant reported Monday. Putin “lost his temper” at the NATO-Russia Council in Bucharest during Friday’s discussions of Ukraine’s bid to join NATO, Kommersant cited an unidentified foreign delegate to the summit as saying. “Do you understand, George, that Ukraine is not even a state!” Putin told U.S. President George W. Bush at the closed meeting, the diplomat told Kommersant. After saying most of Ukraine’s territory was “given away” by Russia, Putin said that if Ukraine joined NATO it would cease to exist as a state, the diplomat said. Putin threatened to encourage the secession of the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea and eastern Ukraine, where anti-NATO and pro-Moscow sentiment is strong, the diplomat said, Kommersant reported.

Not surprising, Timoshenko and Ukraine’s ambassador to Russia were not impressed. Nonetheless, the fact remains that pro-Russian sentiment is strong in Eastern Ukraine, Crimea was given away to Ukraine by Khrushev in 1954 and NATO expansion closer to Russia’s border cannot be allowed.

Russian Soviet-era dissident novelist Solzhenitsyn took a break from writing his glybs (a joke for those who’ve read Moscow 2042) to launch a diatribite against Bush for honoring the so-called Holodomor and ignoring the fight against fascism:

The interview came after Solzhenitsyn unleashed a memorable broadside last week against US President George Bush who, during a two-day visit to Ukraine, laid a wreath at a monument to victims of the great famine of the 1930s, in which millions of Ukrainians died. Ukraine’s pro-Western government has dubbed the catastrophic 1932-33 famine holodomor (literally, ‘death by hunger’). It claims that it was a genocide.

In a vituperative piece, however, Solzhenitsyn dismissed the claim as ‘rakish juggling’ and said that millions of non-Ukrainians also perished in the famine, which was engineered by the Soviet Union’s leadership. ‘This provocative outcry about “genocide”… has been elevated to the top government level in contemporary Ukraine. Does this mean that they have even outdone the Bolshevik propaganda-mongers with their rakish juggling?’ an incensed Solzhenistyn wrote. Bush had been duped by a ‘loony fable’, he added.

And from Russia Today,

This provocative outcry of genocide was voiced only decades later. At first, it thrived secretly in the stale chauvinist minds opposing the “bloody Russians”. Now it has got hold of political minds in modern Ukraine. It seems they’ve surpassed the wild suggestions of the Bolshevik propaganda machine. “To the parliaments of the world” – a nice teaser for the Western ears. They have never cared about our history. All they need is a fable, no matter how loony it appears.”

Just proves how the West, its rhetoric to the contrary, behaves just like any power – it uses you for its own interests, before casually discarding you when you become a political embarassment – a fan of President Vladimir Putin with an increasingly nationalist anti-western tone (perish the thought!). As they say, the Moor has done his duty, he can now go.


Russian govt. expects proposals to improve 2020 development plan, in particular “property rights protection, the development of corporate management, an environment of competitiveness, financial markets, and measures to enhance efficiency of state-owned companies”. As we’ve already reported, “Russia’s president-elect Dmitry Medvedev, who held his first State Council Presidium meeting in the West Siberian city of Tobolsk on Thursday, proposed a ban on unauthorized checks of small businesses”.

Russia should shift highly qualified people from industry to the innovation sectors. Russian banks flooded by foreign billions, forcing efficiency increases on domestic banks and improving access to credit. Russian firms ditch London for Asia for their listings due to booming economies and less stringent disclosure requirements. British supermarket chain Tesco has announced plans to expand in Russia. Increasing numbers of people in Britain are putting their pensions in Russia and other emerging markets – risks are perceived to be higher, but so are returns.

On 6th March the Nikitsky Fund released its always excellent Truth and Beauty (… and Russian Finance), Against Respectability. Here’s a few succulent quotes and comments from their article
Against Respectability – A Rant:

  • Viewing the media, we find that respectable commentary follows a well-defined pattern. Anyone who fails to respect an entire herd of sacred cows is quickly consigned to the lunatic fringe. Unlike the Soviet System, modern capitalism silences its critics not with gags and gulags, but by drowning them out with a cacophony of well-targeted info-tainment, asystem far more pernicious than anything Soviet censors could have aspired to (for, unlike the BBC, hardly any educated person believed what he read in Pravda).
  • Western-style corruption involves ownership of media by financial interests, government influence over editorial boards, state co-option of senior editorial figures, and occult financial flows. The end result is more pernicious – a well-orchestrated campaign of convergent disinformation, which most readers are too lazy or complacent to penetrate.
  • In the BBC/Economist world, there is a select group of countries (Iran, Cuba, Russia…) about which one can say virtually anything – from unbalanced criticism of real ills, to outright slander. A second group (e.g. Singapore, Brazil, Georgia) is susceptible to moderate criticism which must, however be kept credible; finally, even the most savage criminality by a third group (UK, US, EU) if it criticized at all, is discussed in the mildest and most balanced possible terms.
  • Why? 1) outright corruption, 2) an attempt to ingratiate themselves with the information-bearers (political leaders, etc) and achieving a sense of belonging to the inner circle that
    these hacks so desperately crave
    and 3) making up for past mistakes, e.g. the BBC on challenging Blair on Iraq.
  • BBC – made a hero out of Khodorkovsky and the Yukos/Menatep gang, claiming they have a massive following in Russia – even going so far as to interview Misha’s parents (but not the parents of those the organization murdered, obviously – that would spoil the mood).
  • Financial TimesThe FT is caught in the same terrible bind as much of the Western Press – is Russia a weak, spent force to be pitied, or instead, a deadly, looming colossus, to be feared? Unable to decide, they risk ridicule by alternating back and forth between the two… (and yes, it was terribly rude of those Russians to succeed when their betters thought they should fail). Lambasts its agitprop article Why Putin’s rule threaten’s Russia and the west, which fails by proving Godwin’s Law in its first sentence. Then it fails some more by contrasting Russia’s supposedly low growth with other former Soviet countries – an argument I demolished here (funny how all Russophobe articles all trot out the same points. So much for Western “media diversity”. Still, it makes my job easier. Shoot a few holes in one, and they’re pretty much all dead). Next on the list comes Kazakhstan – a thriving, Western style democracy (well, Dick Cheney likes it…maybe ‘cause it smells of oil). Belarus follows (another fine example of democracy in action), then come Tajikistan (don’t you wish you were there?), and the Balts.
  • Wolf – predictably – employs the oldest trick in the journalistic book: why bother trying to substantiate a weak argument when you can simply find someone to say it for you –quoting him gives it an aura of “fact” – reporting that is, not mere editorializing! Wolf thus approvingly quotes that “superb scholar” Ander Aslund (he who fatally discredited the Carnegie Endowment by soliciting a large bribe from Khodorkovsky, then shilling for Yukos so egregiously that in the end, even Carnegie had to force him out), the mad, Russophobic Lucas (he who in 1998 predicted, that Russian GDP would collapse, the rouble would go to 10,000/$, while Russia broke up into 4 warring regions), and tired old McFaul, who under Yeltsin was so important, and is now routinely and cruelly ignored. Wolf even stoops to quote the Neocon Freedom House, the home of such luminaries as Wolfowitz, without mentioning that it is a Washington-funded propaganda center.
  • While denying Russia’s success becomes exponentially harded year on year, these tools now resort to the myth that a) Russia was doing just fine in 1999 and b) all positive developments since then were despite, not because of, Putin (but heck, even Illarionov disagrees with that last bit!, at least when talking with other Russians). Not to mention that their likes were writing articles like Russia is Finished back in those good old days!
  • As anyone who lived here at the time will tell you, this is patent nonsense. At best, Russia had reached some slight degree of stabilization. Save for currency overvaluation, all of the problems which gave rise to the August 1998 collapse were still present – predatory oligarchs, regional Balkanization, budgetary chaos, and a dysfunctional tax system. If one simply reads the stories in Western press from that period, not one of them suggests that Putin would be any more a success than Yeltsin – he was to be nothing more than Berezovsky’s puppet – and Russia was receding back into the third world…so unfortunate that journalists are not obliged to defend their track records!…Eight years later and Russia is stable, wealthy and growing three times as fast as anyone else in the G8; average incomes have increased fivefold, poverty has fallen by 60%, the middle class has more than doubled. Since 2006, birth rates finally started to rise as people finally have enough trust in the future to risk having children.
  • Outside the smug and self-centered world of the sunset Western powers, Russia is respected and envied, if not always loved. Much of this was due to one man – “providential” hardly seems too strong a word. And whatever misery T&B still has to endure at the hands of the local bureaucracy, as Russophiles, we are deeply grateful to Vladimir Vladimirovich.

In geopolitics, Russia challenges US in the Islamic world. The Muslim world is no longer a good card for Washington to use against Moscow, in fact it has flipped. Russia is far more popular amongst Muslims than the Great Satan and with just a very few exceptions, no Muslim country recognized Kosovo. This positions it in good stead to build bridges between Islam and the West, or to lever the former against the latter, as it chooses. This is reflected in Russia constructing Saudi Arabian railways, building nuclear plants in Egypt and developing Iraqi oil fields, as well as selling arms to everyone.

As covered in previous News, Russian weapons sales to China fall due to rapid indigenous Chinese progress and Russia’s strategic concerns. Iran: Russia, China Unlikely To Welcome Tehran Into SCO - as long as SCO-US relations don’t deteriorate too much, anyway. Meanwhile, Russian intelligence sees U.S. military buildup on Iran border. The prelude to the Iran Plans, as uncovered by Seymour Hersh; or more posturing? Realistically speaking, however, Iran’s ADGE (Air Defense Ground Environment) is sparse and outdated; the USAF will face few problems conducting surgical strikes on nuclear facilities.

A very cold war indeed – the Guardian has awoken to the new Great Game about to be played out at the top of the world as Canada, Russia, Denmark and the US increase their military presence and claim territory suspected to be rich in hydrocarbons. Meanwhile, Russia has also extended its claims on the Sea of Okhotsk.

In addition to credit and sub prime woes, we are also facing the spectre of the oil peak. I must remind myself to write a more detailed exposition on the topic once the Demographics project is finished and time is freed up; otherwise, read the Futurist’s optimistic take on it and my response.

Meanwhile, we are also facing the end of cheap food, as wheat, corn and rice prices explode, triggering food riots and social unrest throughout the world. This is linked with China’s growing apetite for meat, oil price rises and adverse weather (driven by climate change – my predictions may already be coming true). But preventable and unnecessary factors include America’s biofuels splurge, which a) is very energy inefficient, b) diverts food from the global poor to SUV owners and c) accelerates climate change in a vicious circle.

Disappointing jobs figures offer yet more proof that America is in recession. The Nikitsky Fund report mentioned above has an entertaining (at least for non-Americans) description of the hole it’s in:

Welcome to The Wall Street Mortgage Meltdown

Like the mythical frog lured into complacency as he is slowly boiled to death, Investors are becoming accustomed to a daily flow of news which would have seemed utterly outlandish just a year ago; indeed, T&B was routinely mocked for predicting some of the current carnage – though by no means either the speed of the unwind, nor the extent of the damage.

1. The term “collapse” is being used with increasing frequency when referring to the
world’s erstwhile reserve currency, which – after meeting the initial resistance we predicted at the $1.45 level, the dollar now heading for our second support level – $1.57- 1.60. A classical currency crisis involving the dollar no longer seems outlandish. Investors would do well to treat the constantly renewed reassurances that it has “finally bottomed” with great caution.

2. The Chairman of the US Fed has just warned of the likelihood of collapse of some of the “smaller US banks” (we agree, but fear that for one or more of the bigger ones, it is just a matter of time)

3. When the credit crisis began last August, terrifying stories of overall losses to the banking sector ranging up to $50bn began to circulate. A few months later, Goldmans shocked the market by speaking of eventual losses ranging up to $200bn. Yesterday, UBS (and they should know!) warned that losses to the financial system would total $600bn. We await the next estimate with some trepidation.

4. Large segments of the US credit market have simply shut down – structured finance, high yield, CLOs, and much of the corporate and municipal loan markets. The solvency of the banking sector is no longer taken for granted. Frighteningly, it appears that only a small fraction of the expected damage has already been recognized – a collapse of the conduits and the CDS markets could yet bankrupt much of the financial system.

5. The US housing market is heading into a depression. The famous “nationwide
housing prices have never fallen on a year-on-year basis” has been firmly debunked. Goldmans estimates that prices are crashing at an annualized rate of 18%. As more supply continues to come onto the market due to completions and repossessions, a crisis is developing. According to RMS, if housing prices fall another 10% (ed: and they certainly will) – 20 million US homes will have negative equity value. We are utterly amazed by the inability in Washington to cobble together some sort of a viable rescue plan, as the crisis continues to worsen.

6. Having been aggressively pro-cyclical during the good times, the Bush administration’s legacy will be a Federal Deficit ranging up to $800 bn (source: Bill Gross, Pimco). As further structural factors kick in (lower returns on assets, retiring baby-boomers, underfunded state pensions, increased medical costs) huge cuts in
expenditures and increased taxation are inevitable.

7. The rating agencies have been fatally compromised. Corrupted by the easy money to be made in sweetheart deals with Wall Street Banks, they actively helped to stuff
toxic waste into every corner of the global financial system. By continuing to rate the soon-to-be bankrupt bond insurers triple-A (they must currently pay 1400 bp over Libor for their borrowings, i.e. deeply distressed levels); the agencies have forfeited any last remaining pretense to independence or credibility.

8. The childlike faith of international financiers in the safety and stability of the US dollar and US financial assets in general, has now imperiled the very survival of some of their institutions. This faith will not be restored. The dollar-centric system is dead. The ability of the US to run a trillion dollar military while maintaining domestic consumption and investment on other people’s dime is now history.

9. The fate of the global economy and of the G7 economies in particular, is almost
entirely dependent upon the ability of a select group of emerging countries to maintain their recent rapid economic growth. The tail now wags the dog.

10. As long warned by eco-crazies, numerous countries are seriously threatened not just with ecological havoc but with imminent famine due to explosive growth in food prices, driven by unsustainable population growth as well as the criminally irresponsible craze for Northern hemisphere biofuels.

11. Oil prices have broken through $100, wheat prices have more than doubled in one year, and gold is heading for $1000 (alas, we missed this last trade). Global inflation is being driven not primarily by excessive demand, nor by monetary madness, but by the uncontrollable increase in cost of commodity inputs – which are not amenable to control by monetary means. Supply is becoming the major issue. Competition for resources from emergent “Chindia” has fundamentally altered the relative positions of producers and consumers…to the benefit of the former.

12. Quite extraordinarily, amidst all the devastation – Russia is increasingly assuming the role of a safe haven! No subprime, virtually no structured finance, reasonably profitable banks, and a rouble seeing gradual appreciation. Add in the huge twin surpluses, political stability and sustained economic growth (8.1%), along with good domestic liquidity (with a little help from the Central Bank.) Only inflation
(largely commodities-driven) is a substantial issue. Doomsday scenarists and survivalists should take note of Russia’s self-sufficiency in energy, food and metals.

Russophobe developments include Tim Bell going to work for Lukashenko to polish his image. If his relationship with Berezovsky is anything to go by, the West will soon by lining up to lick dear old Batka’s boots. The West reveals its innate hypocrisy – Russia slams acquittal of Kosovo war crime rebel as biased. Slanderous serpent Aslund sells an asinine story, Putin’s last stand, venom practically poring out from its text. Loco Lucas scares us with a piece on Russia’s alleged SIGINT activities. Robert Service (We provoke Russian paranoia at our perilBy agreeing to place an American defence system in Eastern Europe, Nato has given the Kremlin the perfect excuse to further cement its autocratic rule) has the right idea, but for the wrong reasons.

Thankfully Russophiles balance out the picture somewhat. The excellent Russia scholar Nicolai Petro has a piece on the Russian elections, which makes the point that all the allegations levelled against Russia in electoral performance can equally be made against most European countries and the US, and that their cardinal sin was in making the “the wrong choice by voting in favor of a continuation of the present political course”, as in Palestine or Venezuela. His other article, Should Moscow Root for Obama?, comes to the conclusion that all the candidates are dinosaurs.

For now, the dinosaurs are firmly in control of US foreign policy toward Russia, on both the Republican and the Democratic side. Senior advisors from all three campaigns took part in the March 2006 Council on Foreign Relations report, “Russia’s Wrong Direction,” co-chaired by Jack Kemp and John Edwards. Criticized by Russian commentators as hopelessly out of touch with today’s Russia, it remains,
nevertheless, the touchstone of US thinking about Russia. So long as that is true, the only thing to expect from US policy toward Russia is a further slide into irrelevancy. The initiative for change, it seems, will have to come from Russia.

Note that both these pieces confirm the views expressed on this blog here, here (under The Myth of Sham Elections) and here (although I did say Clinton may be the least worst).

Russophile blogger colleen shows up Lucas, if indeed it isn’t obvious by now, for the incompetent lunatic he is.

Edward Lucas used to think and say that German Chancellor Angela Merkel hated
Russia, loathed it from birth, and will lead a strong European Union against Russia. I’m not sure exactly in which way, but Lucas could have easily contemplated economic embargoes and public slanders and stuff like that. He is a very fantastic and imaginative writer, no less. lol

But he does hate Russia a lot, no doubt, so maybe when it came to writing about ways a German-led E.U. would stick it to Russia, he would have thought of something clever.Anyway, something must have happened in the hot summer days of 2007, while I was probably at a beach in the still-affordable Hampton Bays, which led Lucas to change his mind. Did Angela Merkel telephone Lucas threatening a lawsuit for libel? Was The Economist scared that such a phone call was forthcoming and decided to pull the plug? Did the FSB pressure Lucas, or was it the KGB??? Was David Miliband in on it, perhaps trying to resuscitate British-Russian relations?Or, did Lucas himself decide to end the outlandish, misguided, and ill-conceived allegation himself?

Maybe, just maybe, Lucas realized that he’s just making things up after it became more and more apparent that the Russian-German strategic partnership forged between Putin and Schoeder is simply being reinforced during Merkel’s reign. This signifies that strong Russian-German relations are not reliant on any one political party in Germany and reflect more of a state-policy.

An Economist writer admits the obvious fact Russian is the world’s best language. A new feminine vodka brand was launched, thus joining the sovereign vodka Putinka and masculine Grazhdanskaja Oborona (Civil Defence), its supposed Nazi imagery criticized by the human rights folks and praised by the far right “White Pride” movement.

Topping off the ludicrous, Abramovich plans a bridge from Chukotka to Alaska. Then again, the source for this is “speculation within the Russian press”…so maybe not.


Following my introduction to Levada, I’m presenting a few more polls from their archives.

NATO poll – the number of Russians thinking that Ukraine joining NATO represents a threat to Russian national security increased from 60% in 2000 to 74% in 2008. For Georgia, it was 77% in 2008.

Can Western criticism of Russia on democracy and human rights be considered interference in Russia’s internal affairs? – 51% say yes, while only 27% say no. Take that, Russophobes of the world! You’re not needed, least of all by Russians!

Internet poll – the number of individuals saying they possess a mobile phone increased from 2% in 2001 to 19% in 2004 and 71% in 2007. The number of people whose families possess a computer increased from 4% in 2001 to 10% in 2004, 17% in 2006 and 28% in 2008, while the number of people saying they use one everyday increased from 9% in 2001 to a quarter in 2008. Weekly Internet use has expanded to 18% in 2008 from 3% in 2001. (Internet penetration in Russia as of 2007 is estimated from 20% to 25%.)

Electronics poll – From 2003 to 2007, the percentage of Russians saying they have access to a computer increased from 26% to 43%, Internet access increased from 15% to 29%.

How did things change in Russia in the past ten years? The percentage of people saying respect for the state has strengthened rose from 10% in 2000 to 44% in 2007, respect for marriage from 5% to 17%, respect for the law from 4% to 29%, personal responsibility from 11% to 33%, the work ethic from 12% to 26%, belief in God from 67% to 64%, concern for social outcasts from 16% to 31% and tolerance for others from 25% to 26%.

Two comments. Firstly, while more people said most of these situations got worse rather than better, it needs to be borne in mind that people generally mistake these questions for current perceptions rather than conduct a real analysis of trends. For instance, there are many cases when crime goes down but people say it increased. Secondly, goes to show that, if it isn’t already obvious to everyone who is not a religious nutjob, that belief in God does not necessarily correlate with more morality.

How would you rate Putin? – 70% are positive on living standards, 85% on foreign policy, 64% on security and 62% on democracy and human rights. As of 2008, his main achievements are judged to have been economic and social, while his greatest failures were in the war against corruption and crime.

Which country would you prefer to live in? – From 2000 to 2008, the percentage of Russians who’d like to live in a Great Power or in a small, cosy country increased from 63% to 75%; those who’d like to live in a country which actively defends its culture and traditions as opposed to a completely open country increased from 62% to 77%; the percentage of Russians who’d prefer to live in a country heavily influenced by religion as opposed to secular state decreased from 33% to 27%.

What do Russians believe in? – 45% believe in the Afterlife, 40% believe in the Devil, 45% in Heaven, 40% in Hell and 49% in religious miracles. Worryingly high figures.

According to this poll, Communists are by far the most pessimistic people in Russia, while those who are pro-Putin and pro-United Russia have the most confidence in tomorrow. The Liberal Democrats (ultra-nationalists) are in between.

(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.