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Not often that you see Russia in some color other than bloody red on a world map of corruption or institutional quality. But according to the Open Budget Index (2012 results), the Russian budget is actually pretty transparent as far as these things go.

Of the major countries, only the UK (88), France (83), and the US (79) are ahead. The other major developed countries in the survey like Germany (71), Spain (63), and Italy (60) are all behind Russia (74), as are its fellow – and supposedly far cleaner – BRICs fellows Brazil (73), India (68), and China (11). Of perhaps greater import, only the Czech Republic (75) edges above Russia in the CEE group, whereas all the others – Slovakia (67), Bulgaria (65), Poland (59), Georgia (55), Ukraine (54), Romania (47), etc. – lag behind it. Also noteworthy is that Russia’s typical neighbors on Transparency International’s CPI, such as Zimbabwe (20), Nigeria (16), and Equatorial Guinea (0), reveal almost nothing in their national budgets.

Now of course the Open Budget Index is not the same thing as corruption. You can have an open budget but still steal from it (and this does happen in Russia frequently), and you can also have a closed budget from which few people steal, at least directly (as was the case in the USSR… or to take a more modern example, while Russia’s OBI is now higher than Germany’s, it is inconceivable that state corruption is even in the same league in these two countries).

Nonetheless, there is surely a very significant degree of correlation between the two. Having an open budget means that it is can be subjected to scrutiny; were Russia’s budget closed like China’s or Saudi Arabia’s, Navalny’s work to expose corrupt state tenders would be simply impossible (as it is, the latest ploy corrupt bureaucrats have been forced to resort to is to sprinkle Latin characters into the Cyrillic texts of state tenders so as to confound search engines).

Second, a high OBI score demonstrates the state’s commitment to fighting corruption. If Putin and Co. really didn’t care and were truly the kleptocrats they are repeatedly labeled as by the Western media, they would instead do everything in their power to hide the budget so as to remove the possibility of scrutinizing it. But they don’t. To the contrary, Russia’s OBI has increased from year to year.

As we can see above, Russia’s budget transparency in 2006 was… about middling; consistently below developed world standards, but higher than plenty of Third World countries and even quite a few CEE countries. But by 2012 it was 10th out of 100 countries. If Russia’s government were truly only committed to stealing as much as it possibly could why would it bother with the legislative and institutional improvements that enabled such a change in rankings?

It is now the most transparent of the BRIC’s, having overtaken both (consistently transparent) Brazil and (also rapidly improving) India in 2012.

Of most pertinence, Russia has massively improved its relative position to other CEE countries; only the Czech Republic and Georgia under Saakashvili have registered such appreciable improvements. To the contrary, both Poland and Romania actually registered declines in their overall levels of budget transparency.

Russia no longer even trails the developed world in this regard.

I would also note that this chimes with the findings of the Revenue Watch Index, which found Russia to be one of the world’s best countries at reporting information about revenue from the extractive sector. This in particular goes against the widespread trope of shady siloviki appropriating all the proceeds from Russian oil and gas and murdering the investigative journalists who go after them.

Conclusions

Once again I would like to emphasize that the OBI does not measure corruption. For instance, China is nowhere near as corrupt as the numbers indicate here; FWIW, my own impressions from perusing various indices and reading comments boards from both countries is that “everyday” corruption is somewhat higher in Russia and elite-level corruption is comparable. Nonetheless, the OBI is an objective measure, drawn from concrete metrics, and that alone makes it superior to Transparency International’s CPI, which is a measure of corruption perceptions.

To remove any possible insinuation that I only castigate the CPI because it ranks Russia abysmally low, I would ask the following question: Is it really plausible that Italy is more corrupt than Saudi Arabia, as implied by the CPI, when there is such a vast gulf in their levels of budget openness and other objective assessments of institutional quality?When we actually pretty much know that a substantial chunk of Saudi Arabia’s budget goes into feeding the country’s 15,000 odd princes… that the very country is named after the family that rules it? I find that very improbable. I would suggest it is somewhat more likely that the “experts” and businessmen asked to assign CPI ratings simply bumped up the Gulf states for their (admittedly) very generous and sumptuous hospitality and their pro-Western policies; all factors that would work in the reverse direction in the cases of countries like Russia, or Venezuela.

Still, all that is speculation. Much like the CPI itself. Back in the world of concrete statistics and facts, I think this further confirms my basic thesis on Russian corruption, which goes something like this:

  1. It was extremely high during the 1990′s.
  2. It declined at a steady if not breakneck rate (media narrative – it keeps getting worse every single year under Putin).
  3. The state itself is moderately but not extremely interested in curbing corruption (media narrative – Russia is a “mafia state”).
  4. Today, Russia is not an outlier or an anomaly on corruption when compared against Central-Eastern or Southern Europe. To the contrary, it is comparable to the worst-performing European countries (e.g. Hungary, Romania, Greece), and about middling in the overall global corruption ratings. (media narrative – “Nigeria with snow”).
  5. It continues to improve at a slow but steady pace.

For more information see my Corruption Realities Index, which I developed in 2010 and takes into account the OBI when computing corruption levels.

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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Here is the article, by Nick Cohen. And below are the two comments (one by myself) that were censored. I have corrected a few grammatical points in this post.

They were eventually restored, wonder of wonders, but only after two days – and therefore all interest – had passed, and after I had sent an email of complaint to the Guardian CiF moderation team.

As already noted, on the Guardian, while comment is free, some comments are freer than others.

SublimeOblivion:

Let us look at this rationally and by the numbers.

(1) How can Karpov afford this? This is doubtless a question that will be examined in great deal in the actual trial. It is not necessarily, of course, his own money. One explanation is that the Russian government is funding it if it thinks there is a high chance that a British court would find Browder’s claims to be libel. After all, it is its reputation that has been hardest than anyone else’s in this entire sordid affair. Another alternative is that the lawyers that Mr. Cohen castigates think the defendant has a good case and are prepared to work on a no win – no claim basis. Both alternatives were suggested by a British lawyer friend of mine with experience in libel cases (no not the ones in the article).

(2) Likewise the question of how Karpov could afford a one million dollar flat will also be examined in detail given the heart of Browder’s allegations is that Karpov and his buddies murdered Magnitsky to prevent him from reporting on Karpov’s own corruption. Needless to say that this is a question of vital interest that is well worth spending public taxpayer money on because in addition to its legal aspects it has also had wide-ranging political and diplomatic ramifications (although, this being a libel case, that would not be the case anyway, as it will be the losing party that will also have to pay any court costs).

(3) Some people are complaining that it is political and it is wrong to let foreign let alone Russian criminals “abuse” the British legal system to suppress Browder’s right free speech. The reality however is that it was always going to be political because of the political nature of Browder’s activities, which were to lobby for the Magnitsky Act and similar legislation in other parliaments. If however one of the key alleged figurants turns out to be demonstrably innocent, that in turn will put major question marks over the rest of Browder’s narrative. To the contrary, if the court finds that the libel claim is baseless, then that will provide some degree of legitimacy to the Magnitsky Act, something which it desperately needs (because the persons it sanctions have not turned up there by way of a legal process, but on the say-so of Browder – who, needless to say, has his own private motives for doing so).

As such, the only people who should logically oppose this case are those who are not interested in helping establish the truth, but either want to fight a new cold war (on which Mr. Cohen qualifies, I imagine) or protect characters like Karpov, whose activities have been undeniably shady, from scrutiny.

Beckow:

Good summary, but I don’t have the same faith in UK courts as many here. Courts are reluctant to go against policy of their country. If no evidence is shown against Karpov, they might avoid embarrassing UK/US Congress, by dismissing it on some technicality or muddling the verdict. That’s the way it usually happens, but it is worth the entertainment.

Regarding Karpov’s money – there are plenty of people in E.Europe who own expensive real estate, but are cash-poor. After 1990, flats/houses were given to may who lived in them and as real estate sky-rocketed, they became wealthy overnight. Could be that Karpov’s mom is one of them. It also matters very little if Karpov is rich or not, it proves nothing. As it would prove nothing in the West.

And finally, as a matter of possible curiosity, the email I sent:

Dear CiF Moderators,

I am the user “SublimeOblivion”. As I have been forwarded to this email by Matt Seaton, could you please explain why my comment at 06 January 2013 10:54 PM to this article by Nick Cohen was deleted?

It did not break any of the Guardian’s “community guidelines” that I could possible see. I did not insult anyone, and my reply was a great deal more restrained than any number of others I can point out there. I did not even disagree with one of Cohen’s main points which was that Karpov’s ability to afford expensive lawyers was suspicious (although of course as I understand, in theory CiF does not censor comments for mere disagreement anyway).

As Rozina said in the last comment to that article as of right now (which I hope you will not likewise delete):

Also I wonder why previous comments by Sublime Oblivion, Beckow, myself and others were moderated. SO’s comment looked reasonable and he questioned Karpov’s ability to pay his legal costs. If there are certain things posters are not allowed to mention because they concern details of the court case, then either the original article should have included a warning that any comments referring to facts about Karpov and Browdler which will be part of the trial’s scope may be subject to moderation, or the article should not have invited comments at all.

I would appreciate it if you could send a copy of my comment with the part that was objectionable in particular marked out so that I can avoid repeating any such mistake in the future.

Finally, I would also like to note the deep irony of a comment being deleted to an article that complains of libel lawyers and Russian litigants purportedly infringing on the right to free speech of British citizens. It would be interesting and deeply appreciated to hear a comment on this too.

Thanks and Best,
Anatoly.

The reply:

Hello,

Thanks for getting in touch.

On review I have decided to reinstate your comment (please see: http://discussion.guardian.co.uk/comment-permalink/20433454).

Thanks for bringing this to our attention.

Kind regards

CIF Moderation Team

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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1. For Russian orphans life is much more dangerous in Russia than in America. Let’s agree to disregard the hidden subtext which implies that any country ought to give over its orphans to foreign nationals should it be ranked safer for children. Let’s first examine if the claim that Russia is 39 times more dangerous for adoptees than the US is even true.

This number most prominently featured in a March 2012 article at the liberal website Ttolk, perhaps (probably?) it originated there. It then spread to the rest of the Internet via Yulia “Pinochet” Latynina at the Moscow Times

According to official government statistics, a child adopted by Russian parents is 39 times more likely to die than one adopted by parents in the West.

… and Victor Davidoff at the St. Petersburg Times.

It is also well-known that the chances a child will die after being adopted by a family in Russia are almost 40 times higher than if adopted by a family in the West.

While it’s no great secret that Western countries are safer than Russia, the differential struck me as absurdly high. Especially when I checked mortality rates, according to which on average Russian children have approximately twice the risk of death as do their American counterparts (or the same as the US in 1980). This is pretty much as to be expected, as Russian healthcare despite intensive modernization in the past decade still lags developed country standards.

So we have a paradox: While Russian children are on average are “only” 2x as likely to die as American ones, adoptees in particular are supposedly 39x more at risk. The differential between the two groups is simply too high to be credible.

Thankfully one gelievna had already done most of the work. Here is what the article in Ttolk wrote:

Already for several years semi-official documents cite the following number: Since 1991 to 2006, i.e. over 15 years, there died 1,220 children who had been adopted by Russian citizens. Of them 12 were killed by their own adopters.

During this same period, from 1991 to 2006, there died 18 Russian children in adopting families in the West. Knowing the number of adoptees there and in Russia (92,000 and 158,000, respectively) we can calculate the relative danger of adoption in these two worlds. It turns out that there is one dead child per 5,103 foreign families, whereas in Russian families this ratio is at one dead child to every 130 families. This means that adoptees in Russian families are in 39 times more danger than in foreign ones.

Well isn’t that shocking? Surely a humanitarian intervention is called for to rescue Russia’s children and place them in American homes. The only problem is that the 1,220 figure doesn’t refer to deaths at all. Here is what the original source, a 2005 report, actually said:

In 2005, the Ministry of Education and Science gathered preliminary statistics for the past 5 years on cases of death and incidences of ill treatment of orphans, adopted by Russians or taken into guardianship or a foster family, according to which:

Out of 1220 children, 12 died by the fault of the adopters and guardians;

Out of 116 children, whose health was for various causes subjected to heavy harm, 23 suffered by the fault of the adopters and guardians

So the article at Ttolk is basically comparing apples and oranges, i.e. the numbers of Russian adoptees who died in foreign countries vs. the numbers of Russian adoptees that were ill treated in Russia. Of course the latter figure is always going to be much, much higher.

What concrete findings we have (assuming the rest of the article is accurate) is that 18 Russian adoptees died in foreign countries (of those we know! there is no systemic tracking) during 1991-2006 vs. 12 Russian adoptees died by the fault of their foster parents specifically during 1999-2004 or so.

So while an exact comparison remains elusive we can know be fairly certain that in fact the risk of murder is broadly similar for a Russian adoptee in both Russia and the US. Basically it is (thankfully) extremely rare in both countries. I would also point out that this is far from a “Russophile” or “Russian chauvinist” conclusion, knowing that a lot of Russians harp on about the supposedly everyday shooting rampages in schools all over America. In reality this is just the usual anti-guns hysteria mixed in with Americanophobia, American schools are actually extremely safe with only 1-1.5% of all violent deaths of children occurring on school premises in any single year. (Even a very “catastrophic” event like the Newtown shooting would only raise this by about one percentage point).

This whole episode strongly reminds me of similar cases in the past when some wild figure was misquoted, spread in Russian liberal circles, and then transferred to the West. E.g. an imaginary spike of abortions in the wake of the economic crisis. Or the wild exaggeration of Russian emigration figures.

2. It was a cynical and pre-planned ploy to “punish” the US for the Magnitsky Act. Mercouris has already very elegantly demonstrated why this is the wrong way to look at it so one can do worse than quote him in extenso:

“I gather the Federation Council has now voted unanimously to support the adoption ban. This is a direct result of the campaign against it.

The adoption ban looks to me like an emotional response not just to the Magnitsky law but also to the way in which the original Dima Yakovlev law was first formulated. This very wisely limited sanctions to US officials who have violated the human rights of Russians. By doing so Russia has avoided the ridiculous situation created by the Magnitsky law by not extending its jurisdiction to US citizens whose actions have nothing to do with Russia. Understandably enough someone decided to name the law after Dima Yakovlev, who is not a Russian whose rights were violated but who as a child makes the ideal poster boy for this sort of law. However by naming the law after Dima Yakovlev the whole subject of the mistreatment of Russian children in the US was opened up and someone (Putin?, Russia’s Children’s Ombudsman?, someone within United Russia?) in what was surely an emotional response decided to tack on an adoption ban to the original Dima Yakovlev law. That this was not pre planned is shown by the fact that the Russian Foreign Ministry was until recently busy negotiating the agreement with the State Department to protect Russian children that I discussed previously. I gather this agreement was reached as recently as last month i.e. November not September as I said in my previous comment. It is scarcely likely that the Russian government negotiated an agreement it planned to cancel, which shows that the adoption ban must have been an emotional afterthought.

Since the adoption ban was almost certainly an emotional afterthought that almost certainly had not been properly thought through the best way to defeat it would have been to try to reason the Russian parliament and government and Russian public opinion out of it. The point could have been made that adoption is a private matter, that the number of Russian children abused by their US adoptive parents is microscopically small, that it is unfair on other intended US adopted parents to discriminate against them because of the bad behavior of a very few bad US adoptive parents and that the problems involving Russian children with the US authorities and with the US courts have hopefully been addressed by the agreement with the US State Department, which should be given a chance to work. It could also have been pointed out that the adoption ban sits uneasily with the rest of the Dima Yakovlev law, which is intended to hit out at US officials who violate the rights of Russian citizens and not at innocent US citizens who want to adopt Russian children.

All of these arguments have been lost by the hysterical and hyperbolic reaction to the adoption ban. Thus critics of the law have accused Russian legislators of cynically acting contrary to the interests of children, which unnecessarily offends those Russian legislators who may genuinely have thought that by supporting the adoption ban they were trying to protect Russian children. They have also all but said that Russia is incapable of looking after its own orphaned children, which must offend patriotically minded people generally. They have even come close to insinuating that Russian children are better off being brought up in the US than in Russia, which must offend patriotically minded people even more. For its part the US has behaved equally crassly by using the Magnitsky law to threaten Russian legislators in a matter that has nothing to do with either human rights or with Magnitsky and by apparently saying that the adoption ban violates the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which is doubtful but which is also crass if it is true as I have heard that unlike Russia the US is one of the two or three countries which have not ratified it.

The totally predictable result is that the adoption ban has not only been overwhelmingly supported by the parliament and is now certain to become law but Russian public opinion has consolidated behind it.”

3. The law meets fierce population opposition within Russia. Here is what the Guardian writes:

But inside Russia the bill has been criticised by opposition figures as “cannibalistic”, with a petition against the act being signed by more than 100,000 people.

The Western media has spread the idea there is huge grassroots opposition to the Dima Yakovlev law. In addition there has been coverage of a petition floating around the White House to place Duma deputies who voted for the adoptions ban to be placed on the Magnitsky list as “human rights abusers” and denied entry to the US.

This image is however almost entirely false.

Laurie Penny hints at it in the Guardian:

Not all the adopted children thrived, as the populations “back home” are painfully aware. In 2008 Dima Yakovlev, a Russian toddler adopted by Americans, died after being left in a sweltering car for hours. His adopted parents were found not guilty of involuntary manslaughter. Russia’s new bill is named after Dima Yakovlev.

Max Fisher in the Washington Post spells it out clearly:

As it turns out, the ban on American adoptions is remarkably popular in Russia. A new Russian survey finds that 56 percent support the ban and 21 percent oppose, a ratio of almost three-to-one. The support seems to stem from a belief that American families are dangerous, cruel, and at times violent to their adoptive Russian children.

Here is the link to the FOM poll. What’s especially noticeable is that a majority of all major social groups support it: 44% of Prokhorov voters; 50% of young people; 48% of people with a higher education; etc.

If one believes that only the scum of the earth like Putin could write the Dima Yakovlev Law, then it would be incongruent not to extend the hatred towards ordinary Russians. La Russophobe is one of the few who gets points for consistency.

4. The Russian government was very enthusiastic about the Dima Yakovlev Law. No, it wasn’t. As Mercouris wrote above, it basically torpedoed months of negotiations with the Americans for Russian officials to get more information about the status of Russian orphans in the US. That is presumably why FM Lavrov was against it as were at least two other Ministers. It was the Duma taking the initiative.

In a further irony, I found an article at the Communist Party website that criticized United Russia for not supporting a similar law back in 2010.

NOTE: The following points are taken pretty much directly from the very разоблачительная article “Orphans Q&A” by gloriaputina.

5. Russia has an inordinately huge number of orphans. The number is 654,355 as of end-2011, however the vast majority are so-called “social orphans” (their parents have been found incapable of parenting). Furthermore, even if a social orphan is adopted, he still remains in the social orphan category. The analogous figure for the US is 3 MILLION.

Ironically, as argued by the blogger, there is an inverse correlation between the rate of orphans and children’s safety. Basically when the state makes children into orphans, the numbers of deaths of children falls (presumably because they are taken away from violent and/or abusive parents). Now yes of course this is not positively good, sometimes there are ridiculous cases, but in Russia at least he is correct in that there is a correlation: As the numbers of parents who had children taken away climbed from 31,000 in 1995 to 53,000 in 2000 and 74,000 in 2008, overall child mortality has plummeted throughout the period (although of course other factors like better healthcare and less alcohol consumption would also play major roles).

Very few Russians abandon their children. They account for 1% of the total number of orphans, vs. 4% both of whose parents died, and 95% “social orphans”.

6. Russians don’t adopt, if there are no kind Americans to take up some of the slack, Russian orphans will be condemned to slow death in state orphanages.

It’s not so much a matter of Russians and Americans not adopting as few people anywhere being interested in adopting children over the age of three. Here is a graph.

In the above graph green represents adoption by Russian citizens, blue by foreign citizens, in 2009. In state orphanages, 90% of children are older than 11 years; 70-80% are older than 14 years. There is a waiting list for adopting children under the age of 3.

7. The majority of Russian orphans have to live in orphanages. Wrong, and this apparently has never been the case.

The yellow bars represent children who are transferred to foster parents (which I think is distinct from “adopted” as in the US), the blue bars represent the numbers of children who are housed in state institutions at any one year. The ratio between the two is steadily increasing and converging to the typical Western model, in which almost all children are taken in by foster parents.

7. Russians only adopt healthy children, while only kind foreigners take those with disabilities. Again, wrong.

30% of the children in the federal database are children with some registered physical disability; the vast majority of them are living with families, only 5% of their numbers live in child institutions.

Now since 1995 about 10% of Russian children adopted by both foreigners in general and Americans in particular were registered as having a disability. In 2011, the US adopted 44 children with disabilities, whereas Russians adopted 188 children with disabilities. In 2009-2011 more than 20,000 orphaned (0-6 age range) children left Russia, whereas as of January 2012, the waiting list for them in Russia was 12,900 long.

8. Russia is alone in being a nasty country that (now) bans American adoptions of children.

Guatemala

Romania

In any case adoptions from Russia had been dropping rapidly since 2004 anyway, constituting less than 1,000 by 2011.

There are in fact quite a number of countries that make foreign adoptions very difficult stopping short of outright bans including many in the ECE area. Russia’s ban is the only one the Western media decides to politicize however (although in fairness it’s a two way street given the absurd association on Russia’s part to portray it as a response to the Magnitsky Act).

9. I think that the Dima Yakovlev Law is a good idea. No, I don’t, I’m just clearing up major misconceptions in this post. While there may be valid grounds to much more stringently regulate foreign adoptions (e.g. ensuring all Russians wishing to adopt have the chance to, and ensure children don’t fall into the hands of pimps/organ traders/etc), the decision to only target Americans and to present it as a response to the Magnitsky Act is crude and idiotic, and just one of the many examples of the Russian government shooting itself in the foot PR-wise.

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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There is a term on Runet, popularized by the satirical “dissident” Lev Sharansky, called “democratic journalist.” Of course, this term is every bit as satirical as its main propagator. In the Russian context, it denotes a journalist who is obsessed with free speech, human rights, democracy, the whole turkey. But they are “obsessed” with them in a rather peculiar way. Namely, when Russia violates these things in some way, real or imagined, they raise a loud howls of protest that reverberate around the globe: Formal condemnations, calls for the persecutors to be banned from Western countries and their financial accounts frozen, trade sanctions against Russia, etc, etc. But when the West does things that are just as bad or even worse, they are either silent on it, or blame the victims themselves (there are of course many exceptions… but then they are not “democratic journalists” in the first place). Those who call them out on their hypocrisy are assailed with the strawman label of “whataboutism.” To these people, the world is built on Manichean principles: There are enemy states, whose victims are “worthy” and deserve unalloyed attention (e.g. Pussy Riot, Iranian protesters); and then there is the West – that is, the US and its allies – which can do no real wrong, and as such, their victims (e.g. Assange, Bahraini protesters) are “unworthy”.

A case in point: In 2010, an RT crew was arrested and detained for 32 hours for covering protests against Fort Benning, the infamous School of the Americas with a dark reputation around its training of Latin American right-wing paramilitaries. With the honorable exception of Ilya Yashin and Boris Nemtsov, Russia’s liberals took a rather different view. For instance, in the comments section to their blogs, one user wrote, “So that democracy can survive in civilized countries, they have to limit the activities of agents of influence of barbaric fascist regimes on their own territory.” This was not a lone voice; to the contrary, at least half the comments reflected similar sentiments. Lyudmila Alexeyeva, who used to sit on President Medvedev’s Council on Human Rights blamed the RT journalists themselves for their own arrests (incidentally that Council, before it was recently – and in my opinion none too soon – restaffed under Putin, also spent much of 2011 compiling a 400 page report on the purported unfairness of Khodorkovsky’s conviction; one would think there were more things worthy of their attention in the evil empire than the fate of a major crook who probably ordered contract murders, and whose conviction was maintained multiple times by the ECHR, but that’s just me).

This phenomenon of “democratic journalists” is however best illustrated by the Russian liberal intelligentsia’s reaction to Wikileaks and Cablegate – which is to say, parroting the US Establishment and their Western colleagues, they started to disparage, loathe, smear, hate on, mock, and condemn Julian Assange. One of these “democratic journalists” is Peter Savodnik. Yet another is Konstantin von Eggert. In his vitriolic, froth-on-the-mouth reactions to Assange’s plight; in his attacks on his critics; in his privileged position in the Russian media (which we are meant to believe is controlled by Putin), he represents all of the hypocrisy of your stereotypical Russian liberal. If there was a holotype specimen for “democratic journalist” he’d be an excellent candidate for it.

As far as I’m aware, Eggert first made his views known in 2010. The title says it all: “The tabloid freedom of Wikileaks.” But first note at the onset that it was published in English at RIA Novosti, the official Russian news agency. Personally, I do not decry that Eggert is employed there. First, it would be hypocritical of me, as I write for Al Jazeera and get money from them for articles that are hardly in line with official Qatari foreign policy (though at this point I should note that Eggert does have a problem with me writing for Al Jazeera, or any MSM outlet for that matter). Second, whenever somebody claims that the Kremlin controls the Russian media, one can simply point to Eggert’s scribblings for its main news agency. So in this regard, Eggert in his own way serves the Kremlin; though not, I think, in quite the way he imagines it.

Assange thinks of himself a some kind of Internet-age messiah, but in fact his worldview is not much different of your average salon leftie from Harvard or Islington, ever ready to believe any smear about the United States and to apologize for any tyrant, as long as the latter claims to be a socialist and dislikes the US. … The “bien pensants” of the Western left think that their governments are wicked – despite leading prosperous and protected lives under those same governments.

Apparently, he is a radical leftist and committed anti-American, stubbornly unwilling to realize how free he really is (to be financially embargoed and effectively imprisoned on trumped up charges for years on end?):

Somehow, I do not expect many cables from the Burmese Foreign Ministry (or Myanmar if you like it) or minutes from North Korea’s Politburo meetings to be revealed any time soon by Wikileaks.

Note that despite being an ardent critic of whataboutism, like many democratic journalists, Konstantin von Eggert feels free to liberally engage in it himself when the occasion calls for it. How dare Assange expose Western dirty laundry without first doing the same for dozens of other nasty regimes? To (very) loosely paraphrase Miriam Elder, another democratic journalist: “It’s unclear what Eggert, or his sponsors, would prefer. That Assange avoid leaking stuff about Western countries until he spills all the beans on Iran, Syria, Burma, North Korea, China, and Russia too?” (Contrary to what Western democratic journalists wrote at the beginning of the saga, of those Russia at least is NOT going to kill Assange for revealing stuff about it).

***

But the shit really started hitting the fan when news emerged that RT (Russia Today) was teaming up with Assange to product a ten-part series of interviews with the world’s movers and shakers, he went on an all-out offensive, publishing a new round of hit pieces at Kommersant (January 26, 2012) and Russian Forbes (January 27, 2012). Let’s start with the latter:

After the news that RT is going to use the services of Julian Assange, I got a phone call from a Reuters correspondent. She asked me whether I knew whether the Kremlin would pay the Wikileaks founder for his program. I don’t have a clue of course. But with RT, this weird Australian might as well work for free. For his alliance with the main organ of Russian state propaganda on the world stage – is an alliance of kindred spirits.

After this, he goes on to criticize RT for its “conspirological” bias, by “interviewing marginal people” and catering to Westerners who are “marginal” and for whom “The Guardian and The New York Times are too leftist.” Is this guy for real? In what universe is The Guardian and the NYT leftist? But I guess to a neocon of his calibre anything that marginally deviates from the US party line is automatically leftist. Furthermore:

… As a rule, [these conspirological audiences] really don’t like Israel. For natural reasons, for Jews are frequently the heroes of various conspiracy theories. For these audiences, RT frequently invites “fighters against Zionism” from the ranks of rather paranoid Western researchers, such as Norman Finkelstein. He is a hero of multiple scandals and for all intents and purposes denies Israel its right to existence.

A bit of background on Norman Finkelstein. True, he does not like the Israeli state, perhaps irrationally so (much in the way that Eggert himself doesn’t like RT, or Wikileaks, or – for that matter – Russia). Unlike Eggert, however, who is given a privileged position in the Russian media, Norman Finkelstein has been hounded out of academia for his views, detained and expelled from from Israel at the airport (recall the uproar when Luke Harding was expelled from Russia for overstaying his visa?), and – the mark of Cain in America – has been branded an anti-Semite, which permanently blacklists him from the US media. Here is another view of him, from Peter Lavelle:

Norman Finkelstein is a hate figure for many of those who know of him in America and for many in the worldwide Jewish community. He is another person who is blacklisted by Western mainstream media for speaking his mind and revealing the frauds of others.

A child of Holocaust survivors – Finkelstein’s father was on a death march in Auschwitz and his mother was a survivor of the Majdanek death camp – he challenges anyone who tries to use his deceased parents’ memory for geopolitical advantage when invoking the Nazi genocide against the Jews.

I understand where Finkelstein is coming from. I lived in Poland for 12 years and visited every Nazi death camp. To this day I am left speechless by how the human condition can succumb to evil. Thankfully we have Norman Finkelstein to remind us that honoring the memory of the Holocaust does not automatically mean supporting Israel and Washington. As someone aware of how ideologies literally destroy people, Finkelstein is worth listening to when it comes of the suffering of the Palestinian people.

When prominent US politicians like Romney say there can be no peace with congenitally violent Palestinians – and are backed up on this in the op-eds of major American papers such as the WSJ – contrary voices like Finkelstein’s are clearly needed for a balanced debate. Konstantin von Eggert, however, would do his best to suppress it; and condemns RT for giving Finkelstein the freedom of speech he does not enjoy in America.

They say, that Assange will interview for RT famous people. I suspect they will mainly be opponents of America and the West, both internal and external. Ahmadinejad and Huge Chavez, Bashar Assad and Evo Morales, Noam Chomsky and John Pilger, Sean Penn and Susan Sarandon, Slavoj Zizek and Robert Fisk…

There is little more left to say here. In the Kremlin-controlled Russian media (according to this democratic journalist, let us not forget, the Russian elites “rule like Stalin and live like Abramovich”), Konstantin von Eggert is basically waging a McCarthyite campaign (“enemies internal and external”???) against supposed Kremlin (China, North Korea, etc) friends. What kind of idiot totalitarianism that allows this does Russia run anyway? (This is sarcastic, of course; I genuinely love the fact that Eggert gets the opportunity to write these things in the Russian media, both in itself (a free media is good) and for mercenary reasons (one can always cite him to the various hacks who claim otherwise). Now as for smearing the child of Holocaust survivors as anti-Semitic, or in bracketing people like Robert Fisk and Assad in the same category of miscreants, I will not dwell on that… I leave it on Eggert’s conscience (if he has any).

There is a paradox that a person around whom is constructed the aura of a global fighter for free information, not sits in one dugout with employees of an organ of state propaganda. On the principle of “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.”

The hypocrisy is oozing out of his every slimey pore. The stench is so nauseating that even the readers of this fairly pro-Western publication, Russian Forbes, call him out on it. Here is one representative comment by alexz105:

Ah, Kostya, Kostya. If you can’t do the job – don’t take it. A fine advert you make for Forbes. The all-encompassing usage and constantly repeated of this juicy little word “marginals” reminds one of the rhetoric about the Weismann-Morganists [AK: Practitioners of "bourgeois" genetics, persecuted under Stalinism]. You’re a sovok bast shoe, even if you do have a “von” in your name.

To which Eggert replied with anti-Semitic accusations.

All as I thought. No relevant comments. Banal fighters with the “Jewish conspiracy” soloing. And, as expected, they mention the “von” thing. … You have nothing to say. It’s boring – noone to argue with.

And so on in the most dismal vein. The commentators started to identify themselves with the “marginals” to piss Eggert off. To which Eggert responded by correcting their spelling mistakes. Now I don’t often agree with La Russophobe (LOL), but she’s right that when have to resort to pointing out spelling or grammar mistakes to attack your critic, you’ve probably already lost the argument.

***

This is a fascinating case study, and there is plenty more to come. Stay tuned. The next part will deal with Eggert’s articles for Kommersant smearing Assange with rape, lying about his release of the unredacted Cables, and repeating the “he’s anti-American!” In fact, I’m half of a mind to translate this gem in full and reprint it my book as evidence of Russian media diversity (I mean he can’t complain, right? I will be making more people aware of his work. I’ll be doing him a favor!). There may also be a third part dealing with his personal attacks on me and other critics of his work.

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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Natalia Zubarevich’s concept of “The Four Russias” is one of the most reasoned and perceptive political analysis from the liberals, and as such I think it important enough to translate it (mostly I disagree with its core assumptions and conclusions though I do think it is a useful way of envisioning Russian politics). As such I am translating Четыре России from Vedomosti (there is also a longer version, translated here).

The Four Russias

Natalia Zubarevich

The events of 2011 demonstrated that the authorities’ habit of looking at the country through a “vertical incision” played a cruel joke on them. In reality, there is not one Russia, but rather three or even four. And this is a reality with which both the government, and the opposition, will have to come to terms with.

The Four Russias: First Russia – urban, educated (white); Second Russia – urban, industrial (blue); Third Russia – rural, apolitical (green); Fourth Russia – ethnic, poor (red).

The First Russia is a country of big cities. They aren’t great in number, but the 12 city-millionaires as well as Perm and Krasnoyarsk, which have close to a million residents, constitute 21% of the country’s population, i.e. every fifth Russian, while Moscow and Saint Petersburg by themselves account for 9%. In the past 20 years, the biggest cities cities ceased being industrial – only in Ufa, Perm, Omsk, Chelyabinsk, and Volgograd do Soviet industrial enterprises continue to dominate the economy. Although the fastest post-industrial transformations are observed in Yekaterinburg, Novosibirsk and Rostov-on-Don, all the city-millionaires have seen a change in employment patterns: The percentage of qualified “blue collar” workers rose, there appeared more employees of small businesses, and even the public sector attracted more qualified workers. There is quick adoption of the metropolitan model of consumer behavior, even though earnings are 1.5-2x lower than in Moscow. It is precisely in the bigger cities that we see a concentration of those middle class “disgruntled urbanites.” Migration flows in Russia are directed towards these bigger cities, so their share of the population is growing. The only difference is that the two federal cities of Moscow and Saint Petersburg, and their adjoining agglomerations, attract migrants from all over the country, accounting for up to 80% of net migration in Russia, while the other big cities for the most part draw migrants from their own regions.

We can also include cities with a population of greater than 500,000 into the First Russia, raising its share of the population to 30%. The most optimistic variant – all cities with a population greater than 250,000, which altogether account for 36% of all Russians, or 51 million people. Of course, these are very different cities – from the progressive university and research center Tomsk, with its half a million people – a fifth of them students, as well as its own independent TV channels and rich cultural life; to Saransk with its 300,000 people, which – as does the entire Republic of Mordovia – votes exclusively for United Russia.

It is in precisely in the big and biggest cities where we see most of the 35 million Russian Internet users and the middle class that wants change. Its animated activity isn’t based on advancing economic crisis, but on the frightening prospect for a multi-year Putinist stagnation that would stall the lifts of social mobility. Although there’s an economic factor too – in a corrupt country, the deficit of investments translates into a deficit of new, quality jobs for urban professionals. The First Russia’s appetite for protest appeared without any stimulus from the crisis; it sprang not from the instincts of homo economicus, but from moral revulsion. In the event of a new crisis, the educated urban class will be hit hard, but the mobility and higher competitiveness of big city residents will enable them to quickly adjust to new circumstances.

The Second Russia is a country of industrial cities, most of them with 20,000-30,000 to 250,000 people, but occasionally bigger: Up to 300,000-500,000 (Cherepovets, Nizhny Tagil, Magnitogorsk, Naberezhnye Chelny) and even 700,000 (Tolyatti). Not all of these middling cities preserved their industrial character in the post-Soviet years, but its spirit remains strong, as are Soviet values and ways of life. In addition to a significant industrial “blue-collar” workforce, there cities also have many public sector workers, most of them with lower qualifications. As a rule, small businesses do not thrive – either the residents’ purchasing power is low, or there are high institutional barriers to entry due to local cronyism. There are of course exceptions – for instance, small business is well-developed and diverse in Magnitogorsk, but it crucially depends on the financial fortunes of its Magnitogorsk Iron and Steel Works; any fall in wages for its metallurgists would collapse demand for services.

About 25% of the country’s population lives in the Second Russia, and its most unstable parts – the single-industry “monotowns” – account for 10%. There are twice fewer of these towns than reported by the Ministry for Regional Development. According to official statistics, there are 334 mono-profile towns, but this number includes a hundred small settlements, two mono-profile villages, and even one mono-Cossack village (a kind of Russian peculiarity). Humming monotowns, with more or less stable working enterprises, account for half the official figure – about 150, whereas in the other towns enterprises already drastically reduced employment rolls way back in the 1990′s, and it no longer makes much sense to consider them mono-profile.

Should there be a second wave of the crisis, it is the Second Russia which will be hardest hit – industry falls more than other sectors of the economy, and the mobility and competitiveness of its population are low. Will there be enough money in the federal budget to raise transfers to the regions by a third, and increase unemployment support many times over, as in 2009? If not, it will be the residents of the industrial cities who will become the main motor of protest with their demands for work and wages, which will increase pressure on the government to make populist decisions. Many of these zombie enterprises should have been closed a long time ago now because of their lack of competitiveness and profitability, but this wasn’t done during the crisis, and most likely, it won’t be done in the next. As shown in 2009, the authorities both realize the dangers of an agitated Second Russia, and know how to quench it. The struggle for employment and wages leaves the Second Russia entirely indifferent to the problems that concern the middle class. The authorities understand this and try to play it off against the First Russia. This, however, has no future; time works against them. When the economy was growing, wages in the industrial cities grew slower, than in the regional centers, and fell into crisis faster. The population of the industrial cities is rapidly shrinking, as young people move to the regional centers. So there’s no point in intimidating the capital with Nizhny Tagil.

The Third Russia is the vast expanse of the periphery, consisting of the residents of villages, settlements, and small towns. They constitute 38% of the country’s population. The Third Russia “lives off the land”, outside politics, for the calendar of agricultural work doesn’t depend on changes of government. Their depopulating small towns and settlements, with their heavily aged populations, are scattered all about the country – but there are especially many of them in Central Russia, the North-West, and in the industrial regions of the Urals and Siberia. The rural population is more concentrated in the Southern and North Caucasus Federal Districts, which account for 27% of Russia’s rural residents. In the other regions, the only viable rural populations are those close to the big cities; their populations are young, more mobile, and earn more. The periphery’s protest potential is minimal, even should a crisis create delays in paying pensions and wages.

There is also a Fourth Russia, which we need to distinguish from the previous three. These are the republics of the North Caucasus and southern Siberia (Tyva, Altai) which accounts for less than 6% of the population. They have big cities, and small cities, but almost no industrial cities. According to statistics, Makhachkala has 580,000 residents, but this figure rises to close to a million with the inclusion of its densely packed suburbs. The urban educated middle class is low in numbers, and transient, frequently migrating to other regions. The rural population is young and growing, but its young people are migrating to the cities. For the Fourth Russia, plagued by local clan wars for power and resources, as well as ethnic and religious strife, it is only important to maintain stable flows of federal aid and investments. In 2009-2010 federal transfers to underdeveloped republics and their people’s income both grew at fast rates, and so they could give the party of power a nice present in the elections. And even if the crisis comes again, nothing is likely to change, for federal spending on them is actually relatively modest: The total volume of transfers to the North Caucasus republics in 2010 was 160 billion rubles, or just 10.7% of all regional transfers from the federal budget, and if we include Tyva and Altai too – then 12%. For comparison, Moscow spent twice as much in 2012 on its transport infrastructure.

It might appear at first glance that the political “carrying pole” – the 30% more educated and modernized population of the big cities and the 38% residents of the village and small towns – consistently leans towards the side of patrimonial mores. And the protest sentiments of the residents of the middling industrial cities of Second Russia can likely be satiated in the event of a new crisis. However, the passing of 2011 should remind us of the laws of physics – the density of brains is higher. Sooner or later, the First Russia will tip the balance.

The author is a director of the regional program of the Independent Institute for Social Policy.

***

Disagreements

Disregarding the obvious ideological slant of the author (“Migrants, of course, can also create problems, by bringing their rural conservatism to a city that suffers enough from this already”)…

First, it treats white-collar professionals in the “First Russia” as irrevocably opposed to (some unchanging and monolithic власть, or authority). In reality we know that even Moscow’s richest precincts favored Putin over Prokhorov in the 2012 elections. Second, the differences between the Russias aren’t anywhere near as radical as she makes out (one can even say she buys into the Kremlin’s strategy to side with Nizhny Tagil against Moscow LOL); your average industrial city resident is only 10% points likelier to vote for Putin than Moscow, and the rural resident – 15% points. Third, it assumes that in the long-term, quantity is on the side of the First Russia; whereas in fact that is far from self-evident as it assumes that migrants there will “modernize” their outlooks. In reality there is no reason for the “heartland” (The Second and Third Russias) not to continue playing a decisive political role; if anything, the influence of their “rural conservatism” may increase as this Russia gets richer, more politically engaged, and wired up to the Internet.

In short, Zubarevich seems to suffer from the common liberal delusion that more wealth and Internet –> more support for her ideological comrades and the West. That is not really how Russia (or the world) works.

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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One of the most common arguments made to explain why Russians don’t finally overthrow the evil Putin in a bloody bunt is that they are brainwashed by the regime’s TV propaganda stations.

This isn’t actually very accurate at all. Russian TV isn’t any more propagandistic than in the West, and on some issues, less so; but that is for another time.

The more relevant issue that is presupposes that there few Russians have means of accessing the “free information on the Internet, which even Western propagandists acknowledge is not controlled in Russia. But today this is no longer actual, as revealed by this history of polls on Internet penetration from FOM.

As you can see, Internet penetration in Russia as of Spring 2012 went over the 50% mark. Those people can read all the Navalny, Snob and Echo of Moscow they want to.

Of those 51%, a much larger proportion access the Internet daily as opposed to the several years ago.

Internet penetration is at basically developed country levels of 70% in Moscow and St.-Petersburg, and in Med-like 50%’s in other urban areas.

The most “connected” regions lead only by 2-3 years.

Finally, a graph of Russia Internet penetration compared to developed countries (Germany, the US, Italy, Greece); BRIC’s; and Ukraine. A few interesting observations can be made:

(1) Internet penetration in Russia increased at very rapid rates throughout the 2000′s.

(2) They have now almost caught up with those of Greece and Portugal, and lag Italy by just 2-3 years. The US and Germany however both reached Russia’s current Internet penetration rates a decade earlier.

(3) Ukraine has the same Internet penetration rate in 2011, at 31%, as did Russia’s rural areas in the same type period – or Russia as a whole in 2009.

(4) Not related to Russia as such, but pertaining to one of the themes over at AKarlin, China is head and shoulders above India.

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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A PR disaster: Five views on Pussy Riot’s war.

Go, read. Comment there if possible.

Just a couple more notes:

  • Since I submitted the article, commentator peter made one of the most convincing arguments against the validity of the sentence against Pussy Riot. I suppose this will be raised in PR’s appeal.
  • Just to clarify, as I said in the piece above, I do not think consider 2 years to be a fair sentence. I’d have given them 50-100 hours of community service. I agree with Kononenko here.
  • But the law’s the law in Russia as elsewhere. On that note, see this story (h/t Jon Hellevig) in which it is said that three German PR supporters who disturbed a service in Cologne cathedral may be liable for imprisonment of up to 3 years.

Other non-MSM line coverage of the PR not mentioned in my Al Jazeera case includes this, this, this, this, this, this.

There is also an active discussion of my Al Jazeera piece at reddit (h/t Sam Bollier).

PS. Also apparently the second link I threw in about Iran(ian universities banning women) isn’t as straightforward as that. h/t Fatima Manji

Addendum 8/24: There have been a number of reactions to this article at AJ, Reddit, Twitter, and other platforms, and it is good to see that a majority of them have been positive even if they picked over some details. I don’t disagree with that. This is a culture war and as such there are going to be vehement disagreements; besides, it’s not exactly like I’m in the “hardline” camp that wants to lock em up and throw away the key either.

That said, a few reactions have been strongly negative, and I want to draw attention to them. Not because I think they’re correct (duh) nor because of my narcissism (at least not primarily so) but because in my opinion they very considerably illuminate the mind frames of Russian liberals and Western journalists in Russia.

Exhibit one: Miriam Elder, Western democratic journalist.

[tweet https://twitter.com/MiriamElder/status/238888198997164033]

Do not see what relevance this has to anything. But as I told her if she dislikes the fact that much, she already knows how to remedy it: Go tittle-tattle to The Guardian.

Exhibit two: Tomas Hirst, Western democratic journalist.

[tweet https://twitter.com/tomashirst/status/238891570135461889]

Aka I don’t like what AK says ban him from the MSM wah wah wah. How very democratic.

Exhibit three: Konstantin von Eggert, Russian democratic journalist.

[tweet https://twitter.com/kvoneggert/status/238939875745873923]

So if you don’t have a higher degree, you’re not allowed to comment. In my experience, people who place a lot of emphasis on someone’s educational credentials tend to be incredibly vapid. Most of this commentary seems to be about praising NATO and smearing Assange.

Eggert, BTW, in his very person also puts the lie to any notion that the Russian media is substantially controlled by the Kremlin, seeing as he regularly writes for state news agency RIA Novosti and newspaper Kommersant.

[tweet https://twitter.com/kvoneggert/status/238941886746857472]

Also as above unlike many “democratic journalists” he is quite explicit about his double standards. That is quite rare though not unheard of.

Exhibit four: Andrey Kovalev, editor of Inosmi and a liberal with principles.

[tweet https://twitter.com/AnatolyKarlin/status/239090147843506176]

That I can respect. Though I don’t really agree with the “undemocratic” aspect. I consider myself very democratic (which is not synonymous with “liberal”).

(Republished from Da Russophile 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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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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Via The Economist, I’ve come across some fascinating research by Orley Ashenfelter and Stepan Jurajda (Comparing Real Wage Rates, 2012) showing how real wages can be meaningfully compared across different regions by taking notes on prices and wages in McDonald’s restaurants.

The methodology seems solid. Big Macs are a very standardized product, hence they are already used in the so-called Big Mac Index to assess international price differences (and whether currencies are undervalued or overvalued) and REAL wage rates (prices tend to be lower in poorer countries, mitigating the effects of lower nominal wages). By combining these two measures, you can derive the quantity of Big Mac a McDonald’s worker can buy through one hour of his labor (BMPH). This in turn is a good proxy for real median wages, i.e. the life of the average Joe and Ivan in comparative perspective. While we might not want to people to buy too many Big Macs it’s a positive thing if they can actually afford to.

The results for Russia are stunning, and no doubt go a very long way why Putin has retained 70% approval ratings since 2000. Russia’s BMPH increased by 152% (!) from 2000 to 2007, and a further 43% through to 2011, leaving all other economic regions in the dust, even despite a sharp recession in the latter period. The only major region with a comparable performance is China. In contrast, the BMPH has stagnated throughout the developed world since 2000; and Not So Shining India joined them from 2007.

During the boom years of 2000-2007, real wages for lower-class workers appear to have risen sharply in Russia, China, and India; while stagnating or declining in Japan, the US, and Canada.

Furthermore, the MBPH continued rising sharply in Russia throughout 2007-2011, despite a very deep recession; and to a lesser extent, in China and the rest of Eastern Europe. Two of the BRICS, India and South Africa, had very deep declines.

The result of this growth is that even by 2007, the Russian BMPH was already at about 50% of West European and American levels; while its wages were still much lower, this was mitigated by concurrently low prices for its Big Macs.

Another noticeable thing is that the effects of higher West European minimum wages disappear as they are mitigated by higher Big Mac prices relative to the US. As a result real wage rates across the developed world seem to be remarkably similar, with Japan’s somewhat higher. But Japan too would converge by 2011.

BMPH 2000 BMPH 2007 BMPH 2011
U.S. 2.59 2.41 2.19
Canada 2.41 2.19 2.06
Russia 0.47 1.19 1.70
South Africa 0.81 0.56
China 0.36 0.57 0.71
India 0.23 0.35 0.30
Japan 3.03 3.09 2.22
The rest of Asia 0.53 0.50
Eastern Europe 0.8 0.86
Western Europe 2.23 2.12
Middle East 0.39 0.39
Latin America 0.35 0.36

Using data on BMPH growth rates from the original publication, I calculated the BMPH for 2000 and 2011 in addition to 2007 to get the figures above.

This shows the BMPH for 2000, 2007, and 2011 for each major economic region. What’s remarkable is that even in many of the countries lauded as “emerging markets” there was hardly any visible progress, and in a few cases, outright decline.

But what’s most fascinating is how Russia, whose economy has never received much in the way of praise, has emerged from Latin American-like destitution in 2000 to perch fairly close to the BMPH of the US, Canada, Japan, and Western Europe by 2011. If that is not an “economic miracle” then I don’t know what is.

This convergence is reflected in many other aspects such as Internet penetration (now equal to Greece and Portugal), new car sales (Czech Republic), GDP in PPP terms (Poland). Furthermore, as the MBPH directly reflects the earnings of lower income workers, it implicitly accounts for the relatively high – but by no means exceptional – levels of inequality in Russian incomes.

That said, the finding that Russian real incomes (as per the BMPH) are now at about 80% of American and West European levels has to be treated with some caution. After all, the Big Mac is domestically produced, but to buy stuff like quality cars or take foreign holidays you have to pay international prices which are far higher than Russian domestic prices. E.g. only 8% of Russians will vacation abroad in 2012 (5% if you just include the ex-USSR Far Abroad), compared to 20% of Americans.

As shown in the graph above, originally compiled by Sergey Zhuravlev, Russian consumption of food products, meat, fish, milk, and fruit is now 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 as Russia during the past decade has laid the base for a rich consumer society.

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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In my nearly 20 years experience as a Russian living in the West, I have found that almost all my fellows can be reduced to five basic types: 1) The White Russian; 2) The Sovok Jew; 3) The Egghead Emigre; 4) Natasha Gold-Digger; 5) Putin’s Expat.

My background and qualifications to write on this topic? My dad is an academic who moved to the UK with his family in 1994, i.e. an Egghead Emigre. Later on, I moved to California. Much of the Russian community in the Bay Area (though not Sacramento!) are in fact Russian Jews, who are culturally distinct from Russians, albeit the boundaries are blurred and there’s lots of intermingling though Russian cultural events. Topping off the cake, I have some White Russian ancestors, and am familiar with many of them as well as more recent expats via my hobby of Russia punditry.

I hope this guide will entertain American and Russian (and Jewish) readers interested in what happens when their cultures interact and fuse, as well as those very Russian Americans who will doubtless see traces of themselves in at least one of the five main archetypes.

***

Arrived in: 1917-1920′s, 1945
Social origins: Clerks, Tsarist officials, aristocrats, White Army officers, philosophers.
Culturally related to: Earlier Orthodox Slavic migrants from the Russian Empire who came from 1880-1914, though White Russians proper are more sophisticated than them as they tended to be high class whereas former were peasants.
Political sympathies (US): Moderate conservatism
Political sympathies (Russia): Putin, Prokhorov

No, I’m not talking about Jeff Lebowski’s favorite cocktail. The White Russians (or “White emigres”) are the officers, officials, and intellectuals who fled their country after the Russian Revolution. Prominent examples included Zworykin (TV), Sikorsky (helicopters), and Nabokov (writer). They did not necessarily come to the US straight away: Many came via the great European cities, like Berlin, or Paris, where in the 1920′s, old White Army officers sat around dinghy bars, drowning their sorrows in drink and spending what remained of their money on cockroach racing. Some took more roundabout ways. One girl I know originated from Russian exiles in Harbin, Manchuria (mother’s side) and Brazil (father’s side) who met up and stayed in the US.

White Russians tend to be well-assimilated into US society, and many of the younger generations no longer speak Russian. However, many of them retain a positive affinity with traditional Russian culture – even if it tends to the gauzy and superficial, an attitude that transitions into “kvas patriotism” when taken to an extreme (kind of like Plastic Paddies). The quintessential White Russian comes from an upper-middle class family, holds moderately conservative views, and goes to the occasional Orthodox service and Russian cultural event featuring zakuski, vodka, and traditional singing and dancing.

To the extent they have detailed opinions on Russian politics, they tend to respect Putin, seeing him as a conservative restorer. Needless to say, they never support the Communists – though the antipathy does not extent to Red Army victories or space race triumphs, of which they are proud. Solzhenitsyn is their spiritual figurehead. Many however are partial to liberal forces such as Yabloko and Prokhorov; especially those who are no longer Russophones, and have to rely on Western coverage of Russia. A few kvas patriots go well beyond the call of duty to their Motherland, “telling it like it is on Trans-Dniester” and exposing “court appointed Russia friendlys.”

***

Arrived in: 1970′s-early 1990′s
Culturally related to: The early wave of Jewish emigration from Tsarist Russia, which included Ayn Rand.
Social origins: Normal Jewish families, with smattering of colorful dissidents and black marketeers/organized crime; also many pretend Jews.
Political sympathies (US): Republicans, neocons, libertarianism
Political sympathies (Russia): Prokhorov, Russian liberals

The Sovok Jew is a very complex figure. At home with American capitalism, he nonetheless continues to strongly identify with Soviet mannerisms (but don’t tell that to his face).

The modern Russian diaspora began in the 1970′s, when many Soviet Jews began to leave for Israel and the US. It accelerated in the late 1980′s, when the Soviet government eased emigration controls (prior to that the US had sanctioned the USSR for limiting Jewish emigration with the Jackson-Vanik amendment; bizarrely, it remains in effect to this day).

Leveraging their intelligence and entrepreneurial talent, many became very rich in the IT (California) and finance (East Coast) sectors. The ultimate example is, of course, Google founder Sergey Brin, who once opined that Russia is “Nigeria with snow.” He is the rule, not the exception. Most Sovok Jews have very poor impressions of Russia, and like to tell funny anecdotes about ethnic Russians’ stupidity and incompetence:

Ivan: What if we have to fight China? They have more than a billion people!
Pyotr: We’ll win with quality over quantity, just like the Jews with the Arabs.
Ivan: But do we have enough Jews?

The above joke courtesy of a Silicon Valley bigwig. He must have assumed I’m Jewish, given my surname. (Reality: I’m not a Jew culturally, though I’ve calculated I’m about 10% Ashkenazi Jewish at the genetic level).

Two further important points must be made. First, while they’re very successful on average, far from all Soviet Jews made the American dream: While many are millionaires, the vast majority still consists of shop assistants, office plankton, and the driving instructor I hired for a refresher lesson prior to my California driving exam. The less successful they are in America, the fonder their recollections of Soviet life. Their biggest enclave, Brighton Beach (“Little Odessa”), used to be a dump; and was the original spawning ground of the so-called “Russian Mafia” abroad, as popularized by Yuri Orlov, the gunrunner antihero from Lord of War.

Second, despite that many famous Soviet dissidents were Jewish (e.g. Brodsky, Dovlatov, – and satirized by the fictional e-persona Lev Sharansky), not to mention their appreciation for capitalism, most Russian Jews regard the USSR in a far more positive light than Russia itself. (Of course, there are exceptions, e.g. Lozansky, and I believe the DR commentator Lazy Glossophiliac). This might sound surprising at first, but one needs to bear in mind that Jews did very well in the early USSR: As Jewish Russian-American author Yuri Slezkine argues in The Jewish Century, the three major homelands of the Jews in the 20th century were the US, Israel, and the USSR, while the traditional Russia of icons and cockroaches was not a homeland, but a pogrom-land.

Furthermore, the USSR’s early philo-Semitism reversed from later Stalinism on, with rhetoric about “rootless cosmopolitanism” and “anti-Zionism” even as the US became highly pro-Israel. In a neat ideological reversal, Soviet Jews in America whose parents had sung Communism’s praises turned to libertarianism and neoconservatism, and in the 2000′s, most became hardcore anti-Putinists.

A controversial assertion, perhaps… But one need only drop a few names: Anne Applebaum (Putin stole my wallet), Miriam Elder (Putin stole my drycleaning ticket), Julia Ioffe (I hate objectivity), Masha Gessen (Putin has no face), Anna Nemtsova (Russian dudes suck)*… Or recall the blood-curdling and frankly threatening responses I got from one Irina Worthey (“Ira Birman”) when trolling a pro-Khodorkovsky Facebook group with inconvenient questions about his actual democratic credentials. Or consider that Prokhorov got 90% of the votes at Palo Alto.

Yet while they harbor little love for Russia, Jewish Russian-Americans continue to speak Russian among themselves, play durak and eat borscht, and recite Radio Yerevan jokes. They remain stuck in the Soviet attitudes and tastes that they brought with them to American shores; arguably, far more so than ethnic Russians (who have co-evolved with post-Soviet Russia). But as the USSR is dead, this Soviet identity has no future; the children of Sovok Jews tend to undergo complete Americanization.

***

Arrived in: 1990′s
Social origins: Academia.
Political sympathies (US): No real pattern.
Political sympathies (Russia): Communists, liberals; but increasingly, some have learned to stop worrying and love Putin.

The third major group are the Egghead Emigres – those Russians, who left during the 1990′s “brain drain”, when the Russian state lost its ability to even pay salaries regularly. There are Jews among them (e.g. Andre Geim, recent winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics), as well as other nationalities, but most of them are ethnic Russians. They cluster around university towns; if there’s a campus, chances are there are a few Russians around. As an in-joke among them goes: “What’s an American university?”, “It’s a place where Russian physicists lecture to Chinese students.”

Though one would think that these Russian academics are entrepreneurial go-getters – after all, they were willing to gamble on a new life abroad, right? – most are actually risk-averse and ultimately limited in their horizons. They are highly intelligent, but their ineptness at office politics limits their chances for promotion – as in companies, so within universities – where far less accomplished but socially savvier native bosses leech off their work. While they are now almost uniformly well-off, the Egghead Emigre lacks the Sovok Jew’s entrepreneurial drive, and as such there are very few truly rich among them. But on second thought this ain’t that surprising. Academia is a very safe environment (in terms of employment) and guarantees a reliable cash flow and career progression but it won’t make you a millionaire. The truly entrepreneurial Soviet academics have long since abandoned academia and made big bucks in the business world.

Many Egghead Emigres seem to be stuck in the 1990′s when it comes to their perceptions of Russia, with which they have very bad associations; after all, they ended up leaving the country back then. They feel genuinely betrayed by the Russian state – which for a time didn’t even pay them their salaries – and at the same time, many also became big fans of their adopted countries. I suspect this is in large part born of their need to justify their own emigration to themselves. After all, many of them still have Sovok mindsets, in which emigration and betrayal are near synonyms; but is it still betrayal to betray a country that betrayed you?

Consequently, some even view any “defense” of Russia, no matter how justified, as a personal attack on themselves and respond ferociously. Furthermore, and logically, the more successful they are in the West, the more anti-Russian they tend to be; whereas many of the least successful Egghead Emigres have already gone back to Russia.

Their views on the Soviet Union are mixed: While most admire it for its educational system, they also criticize it for its politicized idiocies and censorship. Nonetheless, their overall impression of the USSR is far higher than that of Russia; at least in the former, they were paid salaries and socially respected.

There’s also a generational aspect. Whereas the migrant “fathers” tended to indulge in Russia-bashing (out of a genuine sense of betrayal; overcompensating need to justify their emigration; etc), and embraced all aspects of Westernization with the fanaticism of the new convert, the effect of emigration was sometimes quite different on their “sons”. A few followed in the footsteps of the “fathers”; some (perhaps most) are largely indifferent to Russia, and have blended into the socio-cultural mainstream of Anglo-Saxon society; and others appreciate Russia to an extent that the “fathers” find puzzling, annoying, or even intolerable.

As you may have deduced, the Egghead Emigre shares many similarities with the Sovok Jew. Nonetheless, many of them still retain a few patriotic vestiges; and politically, they are considerably to the left, with social democratic, socialist, and even Communist leanings being common (whereas Sovok Jews are right-leaning, ironically, unlike purely American Jews who tend to be more leftist). Though not many are still much interested in Russian politics, those who are typically vote for Prokhorov/Yabloko or the Communist Party. That said, it should be noted that in recent years, opinion about the old homeland has improved, especially as Russia recovered under Putin, and once again started paying researchers decent salaries and courting the Egghead Emigres with generous packages on condition they return. But thus far very few of them have taken up those offers.

***

Arrived in: From early 1990′s
Social origins: Ordinary families
Political sympathies (US): Year 0: Adventurous, naive, wants marriage to nice American guy; Year 2: Wants American betaboy’s nice money
Political sympathies (Russia): ?

Natasha Gold-Digger is the most (in)famous type of Russian American, her image having thoroughly permeated pop culture (e.g. films such as The Russian Bride, Marina Lewycka’s A Short History of Tractors in Ukraine). In practice however, Natasha isn’t only the rarest of the five major types of Russian American; frequently, she is not actually Russian, but Ukrainian or Moldovan.

A common delusion that feeds the “mail order brides” industry is that Russian women are less feminist than their over-entitled Western counterparts, eternally thankful for the opportunity to escape poor, barbaric Russia with its alcoholic Beastmen, and hotter to boot. Sounds like a good deal, no?

But while traditional gender roles are indeed far more prevalent in Russia than in the US or Britain, this does not extend into family relations – Russia’s divorce rate is over 50%, which is only slightly lower than in the US. Furthermore, the type of American man who actually orders a bride online is typically someone who does not have the social skills to compete for America’s admittedly much narrower pool of non-obese women. These Russian brides – strong and adventurous almost by definition, as per their choice to emigrate – don’t respect, let alone supplicate, to these Yankee betaboys.

The customer doesn’t get what he thought he signed up for, as his Russian wife gets her residency papers, empties his bank account, wins alimony for any children they had together, and dumps him to ride the alpha cock carousel. The embittered husbands then go on to vent their resentments to anyone who would listen and many who would not. But they have only their own loser selves to blame.

***

Arrived in: 2000′s
Social origins: Students, businesspeople, rich elites, yuppies
Culturally related to: The expats of all political persuasions who whirled about Europe in the time of Tsarism
Political sympathies (US): Democrat, anti-war, Ron Paul
Political sympathies (Russia): All over – Putin, Prokhorov, Communists

They might not support Putin – though many do. Take the student at Stanford University, son of a senior manager at a Russian tech company; or the Russian financier working working in New York – more likely than not, both would vote for Prokhorov, and maybe even participate in a picket of the Russian Embassy as part of a protest for free elections or the freeing of Pussy Riot. But in a sense they are all Putin’s children, as is the Russian middle class from whence it comes; a middle class that only began to develop beyond a narrow circle of oligarchs during the 2000′s.

In this sense, Russia has become a “normal country”, as this class of global expats – typically consisting of young, upwardly mobile and ambitious people – is common to all developed countries; and just as in Russia, they too tend to have specific political preferences (the US – Democrats; France – Sarkozy/UMP). And unlike previous waves of emigration, which encompassed all the four types of Russian American that I already covered, most of “Putin’s expats” will eventually go back once they finish their course of study or gain work experience in a Western country.

Paradoxically, spending a lot of time in the West does not make these expats significantly more liberal or anti-Putin; even the reverse, if anything. On closer analysis this is not surprising. Even when in Russia, they already have access to what Western “free journalists” write about their country – if not in the English-language original, then translation websites like Inosmi. When spending time in the West, many realize their own country isn’t that bad in comparison; and that typical American perceptions of Russia tend to be irredeemably skewed (“Is it always cold in Russia?”, “Do you drink vodka everyday?”, “What do you think about your dictator Putin?”). Consequently, even someone who may be relatively liberal in Russia not infrequently ends up defending many aspects of Russian politics and society that he otherwise hates when in the West.

In the future, Sovok Jews will almost all Americanize, as will a majority of Egghead Emigres and their progeny. Those Russian-Americans who survive as distinct social communities will be primarily the White Russians (largely through the Orthodox Church), as well as increasing numbers of Putin’s Expats who will continue traipsing across America and the globe even after their namesake retreats into history. And if Russia becomes a developed country, it is easy to imagine that more Russian Americans will become Putin’s Expats… or even, just Russians.

***

russian-american-poll

***

* One thing that really stands out is that it is female Jews who dislike Russia more than anything, at least among Western journalists. As this post has already pushed well beyond all respectable limits of political correctness, I might as well go the full nine yards and outline my theory of why that is the case. In my view, the reasons are ultimately psycho-sexual. Male Jews nowadays have it good in Russia, with many Slavic girls attracted to their wealth, intelligence and impeccable charm (if not their looks). But the position of Jewesses is the inverse. They find it hard to compete with those same Slavic chicks who tend to be both hotter and much more feminine than them; nor, like Jewish guys, can they compensate with intelligence, since it is considered far less important for women. This state of affairs leads to sexual frustration and permanent singledom (pump and dump affairs don’t count of course), which in turn gives rise to the angry radical feminism and lesbianism that oozes out of this piece by Anna Nemtsova bemoaning Russia’s “useless bachelors”. Such attitudes further increase male aversion to them, thus reinforcing their vicious cycle of singledom. And the resulting frustration indelibly seeps into their work…

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

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

From Confrontation to Reconciliation

Jaan Kaplinski

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

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

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

“The manors are burning, the Germans are dying”

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

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

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

Forgotten parallels

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reconciliation is impossible without knowledge

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

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

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

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

***

A few translations of select comments from readers:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

villi: Respect.

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

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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One of the most common tropes against Russia is that critical (independent, democratic, etc) journalists there are dying like flies, presumably because of the “culture of impunity” created by Putin or even on his express orders. It is rarely mentioned that the statistical chances of a Russian journalist dying by homicide is an order of magnitude lower than in several countries widely recognized to be “democratic” such as Brazil, Mexico, Columbia, and the Philippines, or that – unlike Turkey or Israel (!) – Russia does not imprison any journalists on account of their professional work. To this end, I compiled a “Journalism Security Index” to get a more objective picture than the politicized rankings produced by outfits like Freedom House that put Russia on par with Zimbabwe.

As usual in these situations, a few graphs are worth thousands of words.

The graph above shows the numbers of journalists killed in Russia for every year since 1992 as compared with other “democratic” countries like Brazil, Mexico, India, and Colombia. As one can see, the situation has improved greatly in the past three years, with only one journalist (in Dagestan) getting killed in 2011; meanwhile, the situation in Mexico has deteriorated to levels unseen in Russia since the early 1990′s. Does this mean that Felipe Calderón is the next Stalin? Or is it that he is just faced with a drugs war that is rapidly spiraling out of control?

However, even this likely overstates the risks to Russian journalists, because there are simply a great many of them. According to the latest UN data, there were 102,300 newspaper journalists in Russia, far more than in Brazil (6,914) or India (16,079), and while data for the other two does not exist, I will assume that there are as many journalists per capita in Colombia (so 1,670) and three times as many in Mexico (13,027) as in Brazil. You can adjust the latter two figures within the bounds of plausibility but as you will see, this would not make a cardinal difference. So let’s start calculating annual homicides per 100,000 newspaper journalists (latest figure) – a rough but valid proxy for the general level of journalistic peril in any given country.

Wow! You can’t see anything past Colombia! Let’s remove it.

So once you make some necessary adjustments for respective journalist populations, it emerges that Russian journalists have been relatively safe compared to other democratic countries throughout virtually its entire post-Soviet history. They are now safer by orders of magnitude. (The dip in Brazil’s and Mexico’s rates in 2012 are artificial as only half the year has passed).

Finally, homicides per 100,000 journalists are compared with the population as a whole. As one can see from the above graph, Russian journalists were always safer than the average Russian citizen, and are now safer by an order of magnitude. Only one Russian journalist was killed in 2010 and 2011 for a rate of about 0.5/100,000 per year, relative to an overall homicide rate of slightly less than 10/100,000. The average journalist is far less likely to have criminal or binge drinking proclivities than the average citizen (factors that account for the overwhelming bulk of homicides in Russia) so it is right and proper that their homicide rate should also be well below the national average.

The same cannot be said of the other countries we are comparing Russian journalists to. In 2010, the homicide rate in Mexico was 18/100,000 (vs. 77/100,000 for journalists), in Brazil it was 25/100,000 (vs. 14/100,000 for journalists in 2010, but soaring to 87/100,000 in 2011), and in India it was 3.4/100,000 (vs. 12/100,000 for journalists).

It need hardly be mentioned at this point that for most of the “democratic” Yeltsin period, life was riskier for Russian journalists than under “authoritarian” Putin and his “stooge” Medvedev. There were 41 journalists killed in Russia from 1992-1999, compared to 30 from 2000-2008, and 6 from 2009-today (of which 5 occurred in 2009). Does this then mean that Yeltsin, not Putin, was the real Stalin? Of course not. The journalist killings in the 1990′s were a product of the chaos and lawlessness of that time, much like the narco-related killings decimating the ranks of Colombian, Brazilian, and Mexican journalists today. As one can see from the graph above, killings of Russian journalists have always been substantially correlated with the overall homicide rate; the latter began to sustainably decline from the mid-2000′s, and from 2009, journalist killings appear to have followed suit.

Why then does Russia have one of the lousiest reputations for journalist killings in the world, whereas a purely statistical analysis implies that it is in fact now extremely safe relative to several other “democratic” countries like Brazil, Mexico, the Philippines, India, and Colombia, and does not imprison any journalists unlike Turkey or Israel?

Ultimately, I think it has much to do with the unhinged hostility of the Western media to Russia. Case in point, let’s look at The Guardian’s coverage.

When a journalist is killed in Mexico or Brazil, it is reported placidly and matter of factly, the newspaper restricting itself to: Names and identities (four journos from Veracruz; Mario Randolfo Marques Lopes); possible culprits (“the work of the cartels”; “accusing local officials of corruption”); some basic context, e.g. quantity of other journalist killings in the recent past. And apart from a final sentence or two noting that “corruption means it is often difficult to define where the authorities stop and organised crime begins”, that is pretty much the harshest judgment they make.

Now turn to the Guardian’s coverage of the sole Russian journalist killed in the past three years – Khadzhimurad Kamalov, in Dagestan, 2011. The difference begins with the titles. What used to be “Four Mexican journalists murdered in last week” or Brazilian journalist and girlfriend kidnapped and murdered” now becomes “Truth is being murdered in Putin’s bloody Russia.” And it continues in the same vein, with rhetoric being substituted for facts: “Crimes against freedom bathed in slothful impunity”; “Inside Moscow, rulers who pay lip service to human rights parade only an indifference that makes them complicit in these crimes” (is Calderón or Dilma Rousseff complicit in journalist killings in their countries?); “How many more, Mr Putin? How long are we supposed to mourn fellow journalists who died trying to tell us, and their fellow Russians, what a slack, slimy, savage state you run?”

No further comment is necessary.

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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One thing that an observer of Russian politics can’t help noticing is the sheer impossibility of appeasing the Russian liberals. Here are two recent exhibits from the Moscow Times.

First, coming to the end of his Presidency, Medvedev pardoned some people in a list of political prisoners presented by the non-systemic opposition a few months ago. The choice of pardons seem justified on grounds of reason and proportionality although it is unclear to what extent, say, someone convicted to three years in prison for selling 70g of marijuana qualifies as a political prisoner (if that was a criterion for political repression, I wonder how many “political prisoners” are currently rotting in US jails?).

But predictably enough the liberals are far more concerned with Medvedev’s refusal to pardon Khodorkovsky without at least first receiving a petition requesting a pardon from the imprisoned. Of course one would also think that withholding many billions of dollars from the tax authorities and defrauding minority shareholders – as repeatedly established by not only the Russian justice system, but the ECHR – are far more serious crimes than selling weed even in a country as regressive in its attitudes to drugs freedoms as Russia. Not that Russia’s so-called “liberals” see it that way.

The second case concerns the liberalization of party registration laws and the return of direct gubernatorial elections. One would think that after years of demanding these reforms, the liberals would welcome these developments. You’d be wrong. The liberals have condemned the eased registration requirements for providing “unlimited opportunities to multiply fake, pro-Kremlin parties.” The Kremlin can literally do no right. If requirements are tough (40,000+ signatures), it is a ploy to bar access to liberals from the political arena. If the requirements are easy (500+ signatures), it is a ploy to drown out the liberals with fake parties.

Both accusations are, of course, preemptive rationalizations of the liberals never-ending failure to attract support. Never mind that they already have two parties, neither of which ever gets more than a tiny fraction of the vote. The possibility that this could be due to the fact that many Russians simply dislike the liberals – for their lies, self-pitying whining, “Rashka” bashing, and proud association with the 1990′s and foreign interests – most likely never enters their puffed up heads.

Just a few moments of thought would reveal this critique for the sham it really is. Contrary to conspiracy theories, keeping control of fake parties is exceedingly hard, indeed practically impossible. If they are small, they are (electorally) ineffectual anyway. If they gain broad-based popular support, then they de facto break loose of any remaining ties that bind. Case in point is the Fair Russia party, which started off as a Kremlin project but which no even minimally informed observer can now deny is as oppositional as any other, being the driving force between the protests over the mayoral elections in Astrakhan.

Then there is the brouhaha over some fairly minor restrictions over eligibility to participate in gubernatorial elections. Rather than being appointed by the President as before – or in numerous acknowledged democracies like France or India to this day – they will have to have the support of 5%-10% of local legislatures. This sounds like a very modest and not unreasonable requirement.

The real reason that the liberals protest the very “liberalization” they’ve endlessly harped on about is that protest is all there ultimately is to them; the only way they can keep themselves heard, and somewhat relevant. They will not be getting votes from people they regularly insult and dismiss as unthinking, primitive masses. This makes them all the angrier and more vitriolic.

EDIT: This article was translated into Russian at Inosmi (Либералам не угодишь).

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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It’s one thing if Western journalists and Yukos PR henchmen – if there is indeed any difference – shill for all they’re worth about the travails of Khodorkovsky, the former oligarch doing time for fleecing the Russian Treasury to the tune of billions of dollars, charges he sooner boasts about than denies when given the opportunity to address Russians on national TV. It’s quite another when many ordinary Russians begin to lap up their lies, with a disturbing 10% describing him as a political prisoner in a recent VCIOM poll, and opinions are split 50/50 on a Presidential pardon. Congrats to the PR team, I guess.

Fortunately, at least some court systems still keep their judgments partitioned from the demands of self-interested businesspeople, their PR hacks, libertarians who believe that money should be able to buy a Not Guilty verdict, liberals operating under the delusion MBK is a popular and legitimate political opponent of Putin, etc. According to four (by my count) judgments to date, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) is one such institution. The Yukos team managed to get their cases heard at Europe’s highest court of appeal, and they decided that – barring a few administrative irregularities, for which Khodorkovsky was awarded a paltry $35,000 – there was no proof for any of his allegations that the case was politically motivated. This is despite the fact that the ECHR can in no sense be having a Russian government-friendly stance, given the numbers of judgments that have gone against it there.

To wit, despite the swarms of high-profile lawyers batting for Khodorkovsky, they could (1) neither prove that Khodorkovsky didn’t engage in tax evasion – to the contrary, the ECHR sided with Russia’s arguments; (2) not could they evidence their claims that it was a case of selective prosecution, i.e. that MBK’s schemes were prevalent at the time; indeed, the ECHR judges even went so far as to point out that rich businesspeople like MBK have the position and incentive to claim that prosecutions are politically motivated, whereas courts of law need concrete evidence as opposed to the opinions and aspersions that journalists and politicians are free to indulge in.

Nonetheless, op-eds of the WSJ, FT, etc. continue to gloss over the ECHR judgments where they do not ignore them altogether, and paint Khodorkovsky as some kind of principled human rights champion standing up to the dark Chekists who surround Putin (this despite that his right-hand security man Pichugin was convicted to life for contract murders). Masha Gessen, a particularly mendacious piece of work even by the sordid standards of Western journalism on Russia, claimed that the ECHR judgments could even be “read as mandating [Khodorkovsky's] release” in a 5 page hagiography for Vanity Fair.

Since these people seem to feel safe in assuming that no-one will ever read the ECHR judgments (depressingly, it seems to be a valid assumption), I am doing what I can to expose their lies by reprinting the most relevant parts here. Bits of particular interest are bolded.

CASE OF KHODORKOVSKIY v. RUSSIA, 28/11/2011 [AK: As regards whether MBK's prosecution is politically motivated]

VIII. ALLEGED VIOLATION OF ARTICLE 18 OF THE CONVENTION

249. The applicant complained under Article 18 that the State had used the criminal prosecution for a political end and in order to appropriate the company’s assets. Article 18 of the Convention provides:
“The restrictions permitted under [the] Convention to the said rights and freedoms shall not be applied for any purpose other than those for which they have been prescribed.”

A. The parties’ observations

250. The Government submitted that the applicant’s allegations that his criminal prosecution had been politically motivated were not supported by the materials of the case. The Government referred to the judgment delivered in the applicant’s case as proof that the charges against him were serious and genuine. They also described the events which had preceded the start of the investigation into the activities of the Yukos management, especially with regard to the Apatit case.

251. The applicant maintained his allegation that his criminal prosecution had been politically motivated. The applicant submitted that the above materials were powerful evidence of ulterior purposes contrary to Article 18. He had at the very least adduced “prima facie evidence pointing towards the violation of that provision” (Oates v. Poland (dec.), no. 35036/97, 11 May 2000), which the Government had entirely failed to address. The fact that he had been convicted in no way precluded improper motives in bringing the charges. Further, as a matter of Convention law, it was immaterial whether there was evidence justifying the bringing of the prosecution, if, as a matter of fact, it was brought for “other purposes” (see Gusinskiy v Russia, no. 70726/01, 19 May 2004). Indeed, the fact that he had received a long sentence supported the inference of political motivation. The travaux préparatoires for Article 18 indicated that the drafters of this provision were concerned to ensure that an individual was thereby protected from the imposition of restrictions arising from a desire of the State to protect itself according “to the political tendency which it represents” and the desire of the State to act “against an opposition which it considers dangerous”. The applicant maintained his argument that his arrest and consequent detention on 25 October, just a few weeks before the Duma elections on 7 December 2003 and shortly before the completion of the Sibneft/Yukos merger, had been orchestrated by the State to take action against an opposition which it considered “dangerous”, contrary to Article 18.

252. The applicant asserted that those activities had been perceived by the leadership of the country as a breach of loyalty and a threat to national economic security. As a counter-measure the authorities had undertaken a massive attack on the applicant and his company, colleagues and friends.

253. In support of his allegations the applicant submitted reports from international and Russian media, various governmental and non-governmental organisations, the PACE report “On the circumstances surrounding the arrest and prosecution of leading Yukos executives” (published on 29 November 2004 by Mrs Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger, the Special Rapporteur for the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe), the US Senate resolutions on this subject, European Parliament reports, documents of the UK House of Commons, decisions by the UK courts in cases of extradition of several former Yukos managers to Russia, and decisions by the Cypriot, Dutch, and Swiss courts to the effect that the prosecution of the applicant was politically motivated. In particular, the applicant referred to the words of the Swiss Federal Tribunal, which in August 2007 found that the facts, if analysed together, “clearly corroborate the suspicion that criminal proceedings have indeed been used as an instrument by the power in place, with the goal of bringing to heel the class of rich ‘oligarchs’ and sidelining potential or declared political adversaries”. The applicant also quoted public statements by several high-ranking Russian officials who had acknowledged that “the Yukos case” had political overtones (Mr Gref, Mr Illarionov, Mr Shuvalov, Mr Mironov, Mr Kasyanov and some others). The applicant produced witness statements by several former Yukos managers. He further referred to his submissions within the case Khodorkovskiy v. Russia (no. 2), no. 11082/06, which contain a more detailed analysis of his political activities and business projects.

B. The Court’s assessment

254. The Court reiterates that it has already found that, at least in one respect, the authorities were driven by improper reasons. Thus, the Court found that the applicant had been arrested in Novosibirsk not as a witness but rather as a suspect. However, the applicant’s claim under Article 18 is different from his grievances under Article 5. The applicant maintained that the entire criminal prosecution of Yukos managers, including himself, had been politically and economically motivated. The Court reiterates in this respect that “Article 18 of the Convention does not have an autonomous role. It can only be applied in conjunction with other Articles of the Convention” (Gusinskiy v. Russia, no. 70276/01, § 75, ECHR 2004-IV). In the light of the above the Court will consider the applicant’s allegations under Article 18 of the Convention in conjunction with his complaints under Article 5 of the Convention, cited above.

255. The Court reiterates that the whole structure of the Convention rests on the general assumption that public authorities in the member States act in good faith. Indeed, any public policy or an individual measure may have a “hidden agenda”, and the presumption of good faith is rebuttable. However, an applicant alleging that his rights and freedoms were limited for an improper reason must convincingly show that the real aim of the authorities was not the same as that proclaimed (or as can be reasonably inferred from the context). A mere suspicion that the authorities used their powers for some other purpose than those defined in the Convention is not sufficient to prove that Article 18 was breached.

256. When an allegation under Article 18 is made the Court applies a very exacting standard of proof; as a consequence, there are only few cases where the breach of that Convention provision has been found. Thus, in Gusinskiy v. Russia (no. 70276/01, § 73–78, ECHR 2004-… (extracts), the Court accepted that the applicant’s liberty was restricted, inter alia, for a purpose other than those mentioned in Article 5. The Court in that case based its findings on an agreement signed between the detainee and a federal minister of the press. It was clear from that agreement that the applicant’s detention was applied in order to make him sell his media company to the State. In Cebotari v Moldova (no. 35615/06, §§ 46 et seq., 13 November 2007) the Court found a violation of Article 18 of the Convention in a context where the applicant’s arrest was visibly linked to an application pending before the Court. However, such cases remain rare (see, as an opposite example, Sisojeva and Others v. Latvia [GC], no. 60654/00, § 129, ECHR 2007-II). Particularly, the Court notes that there is nothing in the Court’s case-law to support the applicant’s suggestion that, where a prima facie case of improper motive is established, the burden of proof shifts to the respondent Government. The Court considers that the burden of proof in such a context should rest with the applicant.

257. In the case at hand the applicant referred to various sources which confirm his allegations of “improper motive”. First, he invited the Court to consider the facts surrounding his business and political activities, as well as the major policy lines adopted by the President’s administration at the relevant time. Indeed, those facts cannot be ignored. In particular, the Court acknowledges that the applicant had political ambitions which admittedly went counter to the mainstream line of the administration, that the applicant, as a rich and influential man, could become a serious political player and was already supporting opposition parties, and that it was a State-owned company which benefited most from the dismantlement of the applicant’s industrial empire.

258. On the other hand, any person in the applicant’s position would be able to make similar allegations. In reality, it would have been impossible to prosecute a suspect with the applicant’s profile without far-reaching political consequences. The fact that the suspect’s political opponents or business competitors might directly or indirectly benefit from him being put in jail should not prevent the authorities from prosecuting such a person if there are serious charges against him. In other words, high political status does not grant immunity. The Court is persuaded that the charges against the applicant amounted to a “reasonable suspicion” within the meaning of Article 5 § 1 (c) of the Convention.

259. Nevertheless, the combination of the factors mentioned above have caused many people to believe that the applicant’s prosecution was driven by the desire to remove him from the political scene and, at the same time, to appropriate his wealth. The applicant strongly relies on those opinions; in particular, he relies on resolutions of political institutions, NGOs, statements of various public figures, etc. The Court took note of those opinions. However, it must recall that political process and adjudicative process are fundamentally different. It is often much easier for a politician to take a stand than for a judge, since the judge must base his decision only on evidence in the legal sense.

260. Finally, the Court turns to the findings of several European courts in the proceedings involving former Yukos managers and Yukos assets. Those findings are probably the strongest argument in favour of the applicant’s complaint under Article 18 of the Convention. However, the evidence and legal arguments before those courts might have been different from those in the case under examination. More importantly, assuming, that all courts had the same evidence and arguments before them, the Court reiterates that its own standard of proof applied in Article 18 cases is very high and may be different from those applied domestically. The Court admits that the applicant’s case may raise a certain suspicion as to the real intent of the authorities, and that this state of suspicion might be sufficient for the domestic courts to refuse extradition, deny legal assistance, issue injunctions against the Russian Government, make pecuniary awards, etc. However, it is not sufficient for this Court to conclude that the whole legal machinery of the respondent State in the present case was ab intio misused, that from the beginning to the end the authorities were acting with bad faith and in blatant disregard of the Convention. This is a very serious claim which requires an incontrovertible and direct proof. Such proof, in contrast to the Gusinskiy case, cited above, is absent from the case under examination.

261. In such circumstances the Court cannot find that Article 18 was breached in this case.

CASE OF OAO NEFTYANAYA KOMPANIYA YUKOS v. RUSSIA, 08/03/2012 [AK: As regards whether Yukos' prosecution was lawful]

γ. The Court’s assessment

588. The Court notes that in this complaint the applicant company challenged the lawfulness of the Tax Assessments 2000-2003 only in the part linked to the payment of reassessed taxes. The examination will therefore be confined to the question of the lawfulness of the additional tax liability. The Court further notes that the company did not seem to dispute that the relevant laws made it clear what taxes were due, at what rate and when. Rather, the company claimed that in 2000, 2001, 2002 and 2003 it used lawful “tax optimisation techniques” which were only subsequently condemned by the domestic courts in 2004, 2005 and 2006. It also complained that any existing legal basis for finding the company liable fell short of the Convention requirements in respect of the quality of the law and that, in any event, the application of the relevant laws contradicted established practice. Accordingly, the Court has to determine whether the relevant tax arrangements were domestically lawful at the time when the relevant transactions took place and whether the legal basis for finding the applicant company liable was sufficiently accessible, precise and foreseeable.

589. Turning to the first question, the Court would note at the outset that the applicant company disputed the findings of the domestic courts concerning the nature of relations between the applicant company and its trading entities. In view of its conclusion that the tax assessment proceedings in respect of the year 2000 did not comply with the requirements of Article 6 §§ 1 and 3 (b) of the Convention, the Court is required to decide whether the factual assessments made by the domestic courts could be used for the purposes of its legal analysis under Article 1 of Protocol No. 1. In this respect, the Court reiterates that according to its well-established case-law it is not its task to take the place of the domestic courts, which are in the best position to assess the evidence before them and establish the facts. The Court will not, in principle, intervene, unless the decisions reached by the domestic courts appear arbitrary or manifestly unreasonable (see, mutatis mutandis, Ravnsborg v. Sweden, 23 March 1994, § 33, Series A no. 283-B; Bulut v. Austria, 22 February 1996, § 29, Reports of Judgments and Decisions 1996-II, and Tejedor García v. Spain, 16 December 1997, § 31, Reports 1997-VIII) or if the court decisions have been issued in “flagrant denial of justice” (compare Stoichkov v. Bulgaria, no. 9808/02, § 54, 24 March 2005).

590. Having examined the materials of the case and the parties’ submissions and despite its earlier conclusions under Article 6 §§ 1 and 3 (b) of the Convention in respect of the 2000 Tax Assessment (see paragraph 551), the Court has little doubt that the factual conclusions of the domestic courts in the Tax Assessment proceedings 2000-2003 were sound. The factual issues in all of these proceedings were substantially similar and the relevant case files contained abundant witness statements and documentary evidence to support the connections between the applicant company and its trading companies and to prove the sham nature of the latter entities (see paragraphs 14-18, 48, 62-63, 165, 191-193, 212 and 213). The applicant company itself did not give any plausible alternative interpretation of this rather unambiguous evidence, as examined and accepted by the domestic courts.

591. From the findings of the domestic courts and the parties’ explanations, the Court notes that the company’s “tax optimisation techniques” applied with slight variations throughout 2000-2003 consisted of switching the tax burden from the applicant company and its production and service units to letter-box companies in domestic tax havens in Russia. These companies, with no assets, employees or operations of their own, were nominally owned and managed by third parties, although in reality they were set up and run by the applicant company itself. In essence, the applicant company’s oil-producing subsidiaries sold the extracted oil to the letter-box companies at a fraction of the market price. [AK: Here one is tempted to recall Khodorkovsky's open statement on Russian TV, "I’m uninterested in the cosmetic tricks of the judicial bureaucrats. The statement that oil in Siberia has to be sold at Rotterdam prices is too bizarre to comment on."] The letter-box companies, acting in cascade, then sold the oil either abroad, this time at market price or to the applicant company’s refineries and subsequently re-bought it at a reduced price and re-sold it at the market price. Thus, the letter-box companies accumulated most of the applicant company’s profits. Since they were registered in domestic low-tax areas, they enabled the applicant company to pay substantially lower taxes in respect of these profits. Subsequently, the letter-box companies transferred the accumulated profits unilaterally to the applicant company as gifts. The Court observes that substantial tax reductions were only possible through the mixed use and simultaneous application of at least two different techniques. The applicant company used the method of transfer pricing, which consisted of selling the goods from its production division to its marketing companies at intentionally lowered prices and the use of sham entities registered in the domestic regions with low taxation levels and nominally owned and run by third persons (see paragraphs 14-18, 48, 62-63 for a more detailed description).

592. The domestic courts found that such an arrangement was at face value clearly unlawful domestically, as it involved the fraudulent registration of trading entities by the applicant company in the name of third persons and its corresponding failure to declare to the tax authorities its true relation to these companies (see paragraphs 311, 349-353, 374-380). This being so, the Court cannot accept the applicant company’s argument that the letter-box entities had been entitled to the tax exemptions in questions. For the same reason, the Court dismisses the applicant company’s argument that all the constituent members of the Yukos group had made regular tax declarations and had applied regularly for tax refunds and that the authorities were thus aware of the functioning of the arrangement. The tax authorities may have had access to scattered pieces of information about the functioning of separate parts of the arrangement, located across the country, but, given the scale and fraudulent character of the arrangement, they certainly could not have been aware of the arrangement in its entirety on the sole basis on the tax declarations and requests for tax refunds made by the trading companies, the applicant company and its subsidiaries.

593. The arrangement was obviously aimed at evading the general requirements of the Tax Code, which expected taxpayers to trade at market prices (see paragraphs 395-399), and by its nature involved certain operations, such as unilateral gifts between the trading companies and the applicant company through its subsidiaries, which were incompatible with the rules governing the relations between independent legal entities (see paragraph 376). In this connection, the Court finds relevant the warning given by the company’s auditor about the implications of the use of the company’s special fund during the year 2002 (see paragraphs 206-209) and is not persuaded by the applicant company’s reference to case no. A42-6604/00-15-818/01 (see paragraphs 356-357), the expert opinion of its counsel (see paragraph 577) and its reliance on Article 251 (1) 11 of the Tax Code (see paragraph 376).

594. By contrast to the Tax Assessments in issue, the respondent entity in case no. A42-6604/00-15-818/01 was not alleged to have been part of a larger tax fraud and the Ministry failed to prove that it had been sham. The courts established that the entity had some assets, employees and a bank account at the place of its registration and dismissed the Ministry’s claims. As regards the expert opinion and the company’s reference to Article 251 (1) 11 of the Tax Code, the Court finds them irrelevant as they refer to the relations of openly associated companies and not, as was the case at issue, to the use of sham entities fraudulently registered in the name of certain third parties. Thus, the Court cannot agree with the applicant company’s allegation that its particular way of “optimising tax” had been previously examined by the domestic courts and upheld as valid or that it had used lawful “tax optimisation techniques” which were only subsequently condemned by the domestic courts. The above considerations are sufficient for the Court to conclude that the findings of the domestic courts that applicant company’s tax arrangements were unlawful at the time when the company had used them, were neither arbitrary nor manifestly unreasonable.

595. The Court will now turn to the question whether the legal basis for finding the applicant company liable was sufficiently accessible, precise and foreseeable. In this connection, the Court notes that in all the Tax Assessments (see paragraphs 14-18, 48, 62-63, 165, 191-193, 212 and 213) the domestic courts essentially reasoned as follows. The courts established that the trading companies had been sham and had been entirely controlled by the applicant company and accordingly reclassified the transactions conducted by the sham entities as transactions conducted in reality by the applicant company.

596. The courts first decided that the transactions of the sham entities failed to meet the requirements of Article 39 of the Tax Code defining the notion of a sales operation (see paragraphs 48 and 324) as well as Article 209 of the Civil Code describing essential characteristics of an owner of goods (see paragraph 48 and 381). In view of the above and relying on Article 10 (3) of the Civil Code which established a refutable presumption of good faith and reasonableness of actions of the parties in commercial transactions (see paragraph 48 and 382-383), the courts then changed the characterisation of the sales operations of the sham entities. They decided that these were in reality conducted by the applicant company and that it had been incumbent on the latter to fulfil the corresponding obligation to pay various taxes on these activities. Finally, the courts noted that the setting up and running of the sham arrangement by the applicant company resulted in an understating of the taxable base of its operations and, as a consequence, the intentional non-payment of various taxes, which was punishable as a tax offence under Article 122 of the Tax Code (see paragraph 400).

597. Having regard to the applicable domestic law, the Court finds that, contrary to the applicant company’s assertions, it is clear that under the then rules contractual arrangements made by the parties in commercial transactions were only valid in so far as the parties were acting in good faith and that the tax authorities had broad powers in verifying the character of the parties’ conduct and contesting the legal characterisation of such arrangements before the courts. This was made clear not only by Article 10 (3) of the Civil Code relied on by the domestic courts in the Tax Assessment proceedings, but also by other relevant and applicable statutory provisions which were available to the applicant company and other taxpayers at the time. Thus, Article 45 (2) 3 of the Tax Code explicitly provided the domestic courts with the power to change the legal characterisation of transactions and also the legal characterisation of the status and activity of the taxpayer, whilst section 7 of the Law on the Tax Authorities of the Russian Federation granted the right to contest such transactions to the tax authorities (see paragraph 393). In addition, the case-law referred to by the Government indicated that the power to re-characterise or to cancel bad faith activities of companies existed and had been used by the domestic courts in diverse contexts and with varying consequences for the parties concerned since as early as 1997 (see paragraphs 382-393 and paragraphs 428-468). Moreover, in a number of its rulings, including decision of 25 July 2001 no. 138-0 specifically relied upon by the domestic courts in the Tax Assessment proceedings against the applicant company (see paragraphs 384-387), the Constitutional Court confirmed the significance of this principle, having mentioned various possible consequences of a taxpayer’s bad faith conduct.

598. In so far as the applicant company complained that the bad faith doctrine had been too vague, the Court would again reiterate that in any system of law, including criminal law, there is an inevitable element of judicial interpretation and there will always be a need for elucidation of doubtful points and for adaptation to changing circumstances. In order to avoid excessive rigidity, many laws are inevitably couched in terms which, to a greater or lesser extent, are vague and whose interpretation and application are questions of practice (see, among other authorities, Sunday Times, cited above, § 49 and Kokkinakis, cited above, § 40). On the facts, it would be impossible to expect from a statutory provision to describe in detail all possible ways in which a given taxpayer could abuse a legal system and defraud the tax authorities. At the same time, the applicable legal norms made it quite clear that, if uncovered, a taxpayer faced the risk of tax reassessment of its actual economic activity in the light of the relevant findings of the competent authorities. And this is precisely what happened to the applicant company in the case at hand.

599. Overall, having regard to the margin of appreciation enjoyed by the State in this sphere and the fact that the applicant company was a large business holding which at the relevant time could have been expected to have recourse to professional auditors and consultants (see Špaček, s.r.o., cited above, § 59), the Court finds that there existed a sufficiently clear legal basis for finding the applicant company liable in the Tax Assessments 2000-2003.

600. Lastly, the Court observes that the applicant company made a number of additional arguments under this head. In particular, it also alleged that there was no basis in law to deny the repayment of VAT in respect of the export of oil and oil products, that the domestic courts had failed to apply Articles 20 and 40 of the Tax Code, that it should have been dispensed from payment of interest surcharges under Article 75 (3) of the Tax Code and that in respect of the year 2000 the company had been subjected to double taxation in respect of the profits of the sham entities.

601. The Court notes that both Section 5 of Law no. 1992-1 of 6 December 1991 “On Value-Added Tax” governing the relevant sphere until 1 January 2001 as well as Article 165 of the Tax Code applicable to the subsequent period provided unequivocally that a zero rate of value-added tax in respect of exported goods and its refund could by no means be applied automatically, and that the company was required to claim the tax exemptions or refunds under its own name under the procedure set out initially in Letter no. B3-8-05/848, 04-03-08 of the State Tax Service of Russia and the Ministry of Finance and subsequently in Article 176 of the Tax Code to substantiate the requests in order to obtain the impugned refunds (see paragraphs 326-336). In view of the above, the Court finds that the relevant rules made the procedure for VAT refunds sufficiently clear and accessible for the applicant company to able to comply with it.

602. Having examined the case file materials and the parties’ submissions, including the company’s allegation made at the hearing on 4 March 2010 that it had filed the VAT exemption forms for each of the years 2000 to 2003 on 31 August 2004, the Court finds that the applicant company failed to submit any proof that it had made a properly substantiated filing in accordance with the established procedure, and not simply raised it as one of the arguments in the Tax Assessment proceedings, and that it had then contested any refusal by the tax authorities before the competent domestic courts (see paragraphs 49 and 171, 196, 196 and 216). The Court concludes that the applicant company did not receive any adverse treatment in this respect.

603. As regards the company’s argument that Articles 20 and 40 of the Tax Code should have been applied by the domestic courts in their case and that the Ministry’s claims were inconsistent with the above provisions, the Court notes that the Ministry and the domestic courts never relied on these provisions and there is nothing in the applicable domestic law to suggest that they had been under a legal obligation to apply these provisions to the applicant company’s case. Thus, it cannot be said that the authorities’ failure to rely on these provisions rendered the Tax Assessments 2000-2001 unlawful.

604. Finally and in so far as the company disagreed with the interpretation of Article 75 (3) of the Tax Code by the domestic courts and also alleged to have been subjected to double taxation, the Court would again reiterate that it is not its task to take the place of the domestic courts, which are in the best position to assess the evidence before them, establish the facts and to interpret the domestic law. On the facts, the former provision only applied to cases where the taxpayer was unable to pay the tax debt solely due to the seizure of its assets and cash funds (see paragraph 402). The domestic courts established that the company had been unable to pay because of the lack of funds and not because of the injunctions and refused to apply Article 75 (3) of the Tax Code in the applicant’s case (see paragraph 216). The Court does not find this conclusion arbitrary or unreasonable. Likewise, the Court finds nothing in the parties’ submissions or the case file materials to cast doubt on the findings of the domestic courts, which specifically established that the Ministry took account of the sham entities’ profits in calculating their claims so as to avoid double taxation (see paragraph 49).

605. Overall, the Court finds that, in so far as the applicant company’s argument about the allegedly unreasonable and unforeseeable interpretation of the domestic law in the Tax Assessments 2000-2003 is concerned, the Tax Assessments 2000-2003 complied with the requirement of lawfulness of Article 1 of Protocol No. 1.

(b) Whether the Tax Assessments 2000-2003 pursued a legitimate aim and were proportionate

606. The Court is satisfied that, subject to its findings in respect of the lawfulness of fines for the years 2000 and 2001 made earlier, each of the Tax Assessments 2000-2003 pursued a legitimate aim of securing the payment of taxes and constituted a proportionate measure in pursuance of this aim. The tax rates as such were not particularly high and given the gravity of the applicant company’s actions there is nothing in the case file to suggest that the rates of the fines or interest payments can be viewed as having imposed an individual and disproportionate burden, as such, on the applicant company (see Dukmedjian v. France, no. 60495/00, §§ 55-59, 31 January 2006).

(c) Conclusion concerning the compliance with Article 1 of Protocol No. 1 as regards the Tax Assessments 2000-2003

607. Overall, the Court finds that there has been a violation of Article 1 of Protocol No. 1 on account of the 2000-2001 Tax Assessments in the part relating to the imposition and calculation of penalties. Furthermore, the Court finds that there has been no violation of Article 1 of Protocol No. 1 as regards the rest of the 2000-2003 Tax Assessments.
2. Compliance with Article 14, taken in conjunction with Article 1 of Protocol No. 1

(a) The applicant company’s submissions

608. The applicant company argued that the courts’ interpretation of the relevant laws had been selective and unique, since many other Russian companies such as Sibneft and TNK International Ltd. had also used domestic tax havens.

609. The company also submitted that the authorities had tolerated and even endorsed the tax optimisation techniques used by the applicant company in that they had accepted the applicant company’s and its trading companies’ tax returns and payments on a regular basis, and the company’s rate of tax payment had been comparable to or even higher than that of its competitors. In this connection, the applicant company relied on statistical data contained in a report by the Centre for Development, a report of the Financial Research Institute and reports of the Accounts Chamber of Russia. The company also under this heading argued that the legislative framework had permitted the company to use such techniques and that the interpretation of the domestic law in its case had been unique, selective and unforeseeable.

(b) The Government’s submissions

610. The Government responded that the allegations that other taxpayers may have used similar schemes could not be interpreted as justifying the applicant company’s failure to abide by the law. They further contended that the occurrence of illegal tax schemes at a certain stage of Russia’s historical development was not due to failures or drawbacks in the legislation, but rather due to “bad-faith” actions by economic actors and weakened governmental control over compliance with the Russian tax legislation on account of objective criteria, such as the 1998 economic crisis and the difficulties of the transition period.

611. At present, the Government was constantly combating tax evasion and strengthening its control in this sphere. They also referred to statistical data by AK&M and some other news agencies in 2002, which had reported that OAO LUKOIL and OAO Surgutneftegas, two other large Russian oil producers, had posted sales proceeds of RUB 434.92 billion and RUB 163.652 billion and paid RUB 21.190 billion and RUB 13.885 billion in profit tax respectively, whilst the applicant company had posted sales proceeds of RUB 295.729 billion and paid only RUB 3.193 billion in profit tax. The Government submitted that at least two Russian oil majors, OAO Surgutneftegaz and OAO Rosneft, had never engaged in such practices, whilst some, in particular OAO Lukoil, had ceased using them in 2002.

(c) The Court’s assessment

612. The Court will examine this grievance under Article 14 of the Convention, taken in conjunction with Article 1 of Protocol No. 1. This former provision reads:
Article 14 of the Convention

“The enjoyment of the rights and freedoms set forth in [the] Convention shall be secured without discrimination on any ground such as sex, race, colour, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, association with a national minority, property, birth or other status.”

613. Before considering the complaints made by the applicant company, the Court would reiterate that Article 14 does not forbid every difference in treatment in the exercise of the rights and freedoms recognised by the Convention (see, for example, Lithgow and Others, cited above, § 117). It safeguards persons (including legal persons) who are “placed in analogous situations” against discriminatory differences of treatment; and, for the purposes of Article 14, a difference of treatment is discriminatory if it “has no objective and reasonable justification”, that is, if it does not pursue a “legitimate aim” or if there is not a “reasonable relationship of proportionality between the means employed and the aim sought to be realised” (see, amongst many authorities, Rasmussen v. Denmark, 28 November 1984, §§ 35 and 38, Series A no. 87). Furthermore, the Contracting States enjoy a certain margin of appreciation in assessing whether and to what extent differences in otherwise similar situations justify a different treatment in law; the scope of this margin will vary according to the circumstances, the subject-matter and its background (ibid., § 40).

614. The Court would reiterate that nothing in the case file suggests that the applicant company’s tax arrangements during the years 2000-2003, taken in their entirety, including the use of fraudulently registered trading companies, were known to the tax authorities or the domestic courts and that they had previously upheld them as lawful (see paragraphs 592-594). It thus cannot be said that the authorities passively tolerated or actively endorsed them.

615. As regards the applicant company’s allegation that other domestic taxpayers used or continue to use exactly the same or similar tax arrangements as the applicant company and that the applicant company was the only one to have been singled out, the Court finds that the applicant company failed to demonstrate that any other companies were in a relevantly similar position. The Court notes that the applicant company was found to have employed a tax arrangement of considerable complexity, involving, among other things, the fraudulent use of trading companies registered in domestic tax havens. This was not simply the use of domestic tax havens, which, depending on the exact details of an arrangement, may have been legal or may have had some other legal consequences for the companies allegedly using them. The Court notes that the applicant company had failed to submit any specific and reliable evidence concerning such details. It further notes that it cannot be called upon to speculate on the merits of the tax arrangements of third parties on the basis of data contained in non-binding research and information reports and that therefore it cannot be said that the situation of these third parties was relevantly similar to the situation of the applicant company in this respect.

616. The Court concludes that, in so far as the complaint about discriminatory treatment is concerned, there has been no violation of Article 14 of the Convention, taken in conjunction with Article 1 of Protocol No. 1.

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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Despite the unremitting hostility of its Russian neighbor, which crescendoed in a military occupation of a chunk of its territories, plucky Georgia’s commitment to reform and democratic values will ensure its rapid development into a “booming Western-style economy.” Under its charismatic Western-trained President, Saakashvili, it has rooted out corruption, ushered in untold prosperity and freedoms, and left dictatorial Russia in the dust. ““There are barbarians there and civilization here,” summarizes Saakashvili himself, “There they have mongoloid brutality and ideology while here we have the true, the oldest Colchis Europe, the most ancient civilization.”

At least, that’s the picture you might have of Georgia if you read Saakashvili’s speeches, Western op-eds, Russian liberals like Cato Institute flunky and global warming denier Andrey Illarionov, and a sundry host of Georgian ambassadors and lobbyists shilling for all they’re worth in major Western newspapers. But rhetoric and reality can be two very different things. To what extent do objective indicators (e.g. statistics) bear out this neocon vision of Tbilisi as the shining city on the Caucasian hills?

By the numbers… Let’s start with the economy. Saakashvili deserves some credit for maintaining respectable GDP growth rates, albeit they are far from the awe-inspiring figures of China or, for that matter, several other post-Soviet republics. From 2004 to 2011, the Georgian economy grew at an average of 6.0% per annum, which is only modestly higher than Russia’s 4.5%.

However, this comparison becomes much more unfavorable once Georgian growth is adjusted for other factors. First, Russia is already much richer than Georgia – its GDP, however you measure it, is more than three times higher – so by basic economic theory, ceteris paribus its growth rate should be much higher as poorer countries have many more easy opportunities to increase productivity. (Illarionov, by the way, is ignorant of convergence theory, a fairly basic macroeconomic concept; it’s frightening that this “economist”, who is more accurately a libertarian ideologue, was once a major economic adviser to the Russian government). Second, Georgia had by far the biggest and sharpest decline in GDP during the early 1990′s of all the Soviet republics, and even as of this year, its gross output is still 20% below the peak levels of 1989. This should also, in principle, help Georgia grow much faster than Russia – which surpassed its peak Soviet-era output sometime in the mid-2000′s – because in a sense it is still “recovering” from an economic depression.

A much more appropriate comparison would be with Armenia. Both are in the unstable Caucasus region. Georgia has intermittently faced sanctions from Russia, whereas Armenia is under permanent economic blockade from Turkey and Azerbaijan. Unlike Azerbaijan, neither Tbilisi nor Yerevan enjoy an oil windfall. Their GDP per capita is almost exactly the same: About $3000 nominal, and $5000 in purchasing power adjusted dollars. Unlike Georgia, Armenia has recovered its Soviet-era production levels and then some; its GDP is now more than 50% as big as in 1989, so it is well past the period of mere “recovery growth”. Both countries suffered from destructive wars in the early 1990′s, and both remain highly militarized to this day. Nonetheless, with the exception of the past three years, when it was crushed by the economic crisis, Armenia has consistently clocked up higher GDP growth rates than Georgia. In sum terms, during the 2004-2011 period, both countries grew at approximately the same pace: 6.0% for Georgia, 6.3% for Armenia.

In the graph above, GDP per capita is indexed to 100 at 2003 for a range of post-Soviet countries. It is clear that Estonia and Armenia, despite their deep recent recessions, are highly successful transition economies; both are a lot more prosperous now than in 1989. Russia is only moderately successful. Along with Ukraine, Georgia is still well below Soviet-era peak output levels, and its growth under Saakashvili wasn’t exceptional by the standards of other post-Soviet republics, despite its twin advantages of starting from a low base (unlike Russia, Estonia) and still being in the process of recovering lost output (unlike Armenia).

Another relevant comparison is with the “corrupt” and “nepotistic” Shevardnadze administration from 1995-2003, which was overthrown to great fanfare in the “Rose Revolution”. What was Georgia’s growth rate then? 5.9%. That is within rounding error of growth under Saakashvili. It should furthermore be noted that growth was accelerating throughout Shevardnadze’s Presidency, reaching a peak of 11.1% in 2003. So there are valid questions as to the extent the high growth rates of the early Saakashvili Presidency were due to his neoliberal reforms.

What about life for ordinary people? There is no doubt that the average Georgian became significantly better off, as was the case everywhere in the former USSR during this period. Georgian statistics show nominal wages almost quadrupling from 2004-2010, from 157 lari to 598 lari per month, albeit adjusting for inflation would reduce it to only a bit better than a doubling.

However, higher wages can only be enjoyed by people who actually get them. During the same period, unemployment grew from 12.6% to 16.3%. Despite neoliberal reforms that undercut the bargaining power of labor, unemployment in Georgian urban areas – approaching 40% in the capital, Tbilisi – is now as prevalent as in the most impoverished provinces of the Russian Caucasus. About half of the Georgian labor force is “self-employed” in sustenance farming, which is a higher figure than two decades ago. In contrast, unemployment in both neighboring Armenia, and “corrupt” and “stagnating” Russia is around 6%-7%.

So bearing in mind actual statistics, does Georgia still deserve the status of a “miracle economy” conferred to it by libertarians and neocons? Don’t get me wrong, 6% is not bad. It’s no worse than under (maligned) Shevardnadze, and modestly better than the 4% average growth rates observed in Moldova, the very worst performer in the entire post-Soviet space. But even so, Georgia is not going to catch up with the developed world at its current pace of development – not like China, which has comparable income levels but is growing at 10% rates, or Russia, which is already three to four times richer.

Moving on, Georgia has also been lauded for excoriating previously endemic corruption, and becoming one of the world’s most “economically free” and business-friendly locations. The latter may well be true; objective ratings such as the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business, which measure the number of days and permission slips required to start a business, place Georgia 16th globally. This seems a genuine achievement, albeit as real world data shows, these things have at best only a marginal influence on economic growth rates, which are primarily determined by a country’s initial development level relative to the quality of its educational human capital.

On the Corruption Perceptions Index, Georgia improved its score from 1.8 in 2003 to 4.1 by 2011, which is a very significant change (in contrast, Russia languishes at 2.4, and Armenia at 2.6). But some Georgian businesses report government agents demanding political “donations” to Saakashvili’s ruling party to avert hostile raids, and in any case it must be borne in mind that the CPI is a proxy of corruption perceptions, not corruption realities per se. The CPI rating can thus be unduly influenced by good PR and lobbying. As a Western-trained lawyer, Saakashvili appreciates their importance, and has over the years paid millions of dollars to PR firms like Aspect Consulting, Orion Strategies, Public Strategies, and the Glover Park Group to burnish Georgia’s reformist, anti-corruption and democratic image abroad.

Other indicators that are not as reliant on the perceptions of anonymous experts show a somewhat different picture. In the Global Integrity Report, which is based on blind review, Georgia does only modestly better than Russia, scoring 76/100 as compared to Moscow’s 71/100. On the Open Budget Index, which assesses the transparency of government accounts, Russia actually does better, scoring 60/100 to Georgia’s 55/100. And according to Transparency International, the same outfit behind the CPI, the percentage of Georgians who reported paying a bribe in the past year in 2004 was only 6%; as of 2010, this had declined to 3%. A positive and appreciable change to be sure, but the data indicates that petty corruption was not that much of a problem in Georgia to start off with.

Didn’t Saakashvili at least democratize Georgia? Well, no. The fact of the matter is that Georgia was already a democracy under Shevardnadze, if a highly imperfect and illiberal one. The same remains true today. Unofficial protests are brutally broken up, independent TV stations have their licenses revoked, and opposition figures have their citizenships canceled or forced into exile abroad. Georgia has also become a revisionist and highly nationalist power under the charismatic President, whose actions have ranged from the petty and incompetent, e.g. blowing up a Soviet war memorial to Georgian war dead, and in the process killing a mother and her daughter in the blast, to the criminally deranged and incompetent, e.g. the invasion of South Ossetia and carpet bombing of Tskhinvali, even though virtually no Ossetian wants to live in a Greater Georgia.

If one doubts that Saakashvili is in fact rather far from being a nice liberal democrat, all one has to do is look at the indicators of political freedoms. In the Polity IV rankings, the most comprehensive democracy indicators database assembled by political scientists, Georgia increased from 5/10 to 6/10 on a scale from -10 (zero democracy) to 10 (full democracy) under Saakashvili. This is hardly the glorious transformation the Rose Revolution is often made out to be; nor is it very much different from the Evil Empire’s. Russia’s current score is 4/10, for whatever reason down from 6/10 after Medvedev’s election in 2008.

There are however two socio-economic indicators under Saakashvili that did register highly visible, concrete changes. If not for the better.

From 36% in 1991, the tertiary enrollment rate remained steady until the late 1990′s, when it began to grow, reaching 43% by 2003 and peaking at 47% in 2005. Then it plummeted to 25% by 2009, edging up to 28% in 2010. This seems to have been in substantial part due to an increase in the cost of annual university tuition from 500-600 lari in 2003 to 3000-4000 lari by 2009, an eight-fold increase far exceeding the quadrupling of salaries during the same period (even disregarding increased unemployment). Bearing in mind that the average salary was 557 lari in 2009, it is clear that for many families university education became unaffordable. Government grants have also plummeted: From wholly financing the educations of 9,700 students in 2003, by 2009 they were subsidizing only half the tuition costs of 1,000 students. University access has dropped by more than 80% in some regions.

This is particularly catastrophic for Georgia because international student assessments indicate that their schools are almost useless at imparting real world skills. According to PISA 2009, only “31% of [Georgian] students are proficient in mathematics at least to the baseline level at which they begin to demonstrate the kind of skills that enable them to use mathematics in ways that are considered fundamental for their future development.” The equivalent figure for Russia was 72%, and about 78% for the OECD as a whole. On Reading, Math, and Science, Georgian students came, respectively, 67th, 66th, and 70th out of the 75 countries in the PISA assessment. Other international student assessments paint a similarly dire picture. For instance, in TIMMS 2007, Georgian students got an average score of 410 in the Math component, relative to Armenia’s 499 and Russia’s 512. The gap is not substantially different in the Science component, or in the PIRLS 2006 literacy survey. This is unlikely to improve any time soon, as under Saakashvili, the number of public libraries more than halved.

While Georgia was disinvesting in its future workforce, tertiary enrollment has risen in Georgia’s neighbors. In Armenia, it rose from 24% in 1998 to 52% by 2010; the percentage of Russians undergoing university education rose from 55% in 2000 to 76% by 2009. That is because the leaderships of these countries, as in much of the rest of the civilized world, appreciate the importance of human capital to fostering economic growth. In Saakashvili’s world, presumably, praying to the souls of Hayek, Mises and Rothbard would suffice. More education is the road to serfdom.

But in the end, I guess it’s all a matter of priorities. The Georgian army and police are now well fed. Who needs math, science, and literacy anyway? “Military-patriotic education means training in civil defense,” Saakashvili says, “Stimulating soldierly spirit, which historically was always in nature of people in Georgia; as well as courses in Georgia’s military history” is what is really important. Hear hear? Meanwhile, the prison population has tripled from 182/100,000 in 2004, to 536/100,000 in 2011. Under Saakashvili’s democratic guidance, Georgia has acquired the dubious distinction of being the European country with the most prisoners per capita, displacing Russia (the irony!) in the process.

This is not to say that Georgia is a corrupt, stagnant tinpot dictatorship, its tottering foundations stabilized by huge inflows of American capital (though the latter sums, ranging in the billions, are very substantial relative to the tiny size of the Georgian economy). Saakashvili has maintained a mediocre level of economic growth, wages have risen substantially, and corruption has been reduced. Nonetheless, its performance is far less impressive than that of a comparable neighbor, Armenia, and on almost every socio-economic indicator it massively lags Russia. It is a democracy, but the quality of its democracy is not substantially better than that of Russia, which countless Western pundits describe as an authoritarian kleptocracy returning to the USSR.

In place of building the foundations for sustained long-term growth, Saakashvili has instead been busy undermining what little of it exists. No amount of reforms to make life easier for capitalists can compensate for the abysmal quality of the Georgian education system, and Saakashvili’s wanton curtailment of the only partial remedy for it, university access. He is at essence a blowhard, passable perhaps as a mercenary lawyer, but utterly unqualified for the work of statesmanship. He pontificates about building huge new cities on swampland (complete with “seven star hotels”), demands Slavic countries stop calling his country “Gruzia” as they have done for centuries, and arrests Russian tourists who dare holiday in his country for the mere suspicion of having passed through breakaway Abkhazia. Russian language schools are closed down, and the main Tbilisi boulevard is renamed in honor of G.W. Bush, while the latter was still President to boot!

What emerges of Saakashvili is a small, petty and vainglorious man, who blames all of Georgia’s problems on his “Mongoloid” northern neighbor and deflects all criticism of his ham-fisted rule by arresting the critics as Russian spies. He presides over “Potemkin Georgia”*, hyped as a tiger economy of the Caucasus by ideologues and paid-up PR men, but in reality fast becoming an isolated Cuba of the Caucasus.

If the good people of Georgia accede to this, it is of course their right as a sovereign people. It is also understandable that neocons who appreciate his irrevocably pro-Western science, libertarians dreaming of culling labor laws and defunding public services, sundry Russophobes operating on an the-enemy-of-my-enemy-is-my-friend basis, and plain paid-up PR men would defend Saakashvili’s record. But it is also then incumbent on people of honesty and integrity to publicize the lies of his apologists (Andrey Illarionov, David Hamilton, Garry Kasparov, Valeriya Novodvorskaya and Vladimir Bukovsky, Giorgi Badridze, Randy Scheunemann, Jennifer Rubin, Eli Lake, Melik Kalyan, etc), and continue revealing Saakashvili for what he really is – an emperor with no clothes.

Because even if Saakashvili is hellbent on undermining the future of his own country, he should not be allowed to do the same again to Abkhazia or South Ossetia – or for Potemkin Georgia to be portrayed as a model of good and effective governance for other countries to follow.

* Yes, I’m aware that “Potemkin villages” are probably a historical urban legend. But as the term is regularly and uncritically used as regards Russia in the Western press, I don’t see the problem in turning the tables on them.

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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Really now?

Apart from direct falsifications, which were extensively discussed here, the other really big criticism of the Russian elections process is that it isn’t a level playing field. As said by an OSCE bureaucrat, “The point of elections is that the outcome should be uncertain. This was not the case in Russia.”

Well wait a second. First, uncertainty isn’t the point of an election at all; otherwise, why not make it into a lottery? It’s to get the person who most represents the people into power. Second, there is no country where each candidate gets equal airtime, ad money, debating invites, etc. Cases in point: Ron Paul, Nader, Marine Le Pen, generic Green Parties and Pirate Parties, etc. Perhaps one day we will live in Internet democracies where anyone can nominate oneself and debates are won and lost via webcasts on Facebook but for now level playing fields are a fiction everywhere.

One can write a whole article on comparisons, but why bother when the Russian political scientist Evgeny Minchenko has already done an excellent job of picking apart these questionable assertions about how elections in Russia are much less free and competitive than in the West in his article Seven Myths about the Russian Elections? I translate his effort below. H/t @lindsey_bn for the link via Twitter.

Seven Myths About The Russian Elections

Evgeny Minchenko

Myth 1 – A prolonged stay in power can be the basis for proclaiming the government illegitimate. Here we can look at the examples of Canadian PM Jean Chrétien – 20 years, Federal Chancellor of the FRG Helmut Kohl – 16 years. Ólafur Grímsson is the President of Iceland since 1996, and in 2000 his term of office was extended without elections as there was nobody willing to compete with him, he won the elections in 2004, he once again had his term extended in 2008 with no elections, and he does not exclude participating in the upcoming 2012 elections. There is a similar history with Chrétien and Kohl, although one has to note that it’s a slightly different state of affairs in parliamentary democracies.

Myth 2 – Elite collusion, in our context the Putin – Medvedev “castling”, can be a basis for proclaiming the government illegitimate. Unfortunately, politics is structured in such a way that elite collusion does happen. A striking example is the history of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. When they were nominating a candidate for Prime Minister, they agreed that Blair would go first, and then Brown. Vladimir Putin gave this very example: When Tony Blair stepped down after a scandal, there were no elections. Gordon Brown carried on for another three years as Prime Minister, with no elections, even though when the British voted for New Labour at the polls they were voting for Tony Blair as Prime Minister. On the other hand, when they finally did hold elections, Labour was crushed. In my opinion, this demonstrates that the public does have the opportunity to express their attitudes towards this kind of collusion. Our reaction was Bolotnaya Square and Prospekt Sakharova.

Myth 3 – Harsh screening and disqualification of undesirable candidates in the Russian Federation. True, we have our Grigory Yavlinsky with his 1.5% rating who couldn’t take part in the elections, but I want to draw attention to what is now happening in the Presidential campaign in France. They have a very specific system in that the candidate must enlist the support of at least 500 mayors or elected local officials. Despite there being 50,000 such officials in France, Marine Le Pen – who has a 17% approval rating – has yet been unable to collect these signatures. And this isn’t Yavlinsky, with his 1.5%, this is a person, who has a real chance of reaching the second round. I hope that Marine Le Pen will be able to solve her problem, as did her father Jean-Marie Le Pen; the ruling authorities were forced to command signatures to be gathered on his behalf after public pressure. There are various technologies for filtering out undesirable candidates. A striking example is the impeachment of Rolandas Paksas in Lithuania: Only after he left did it emerge that the court had pronounced him innocent, but by then he could not return to the Presidency. Another example – the story of Strauss-Kahn, who had a leading position among the French Presidential candidates, but who for reasons unknown to us could not take part in the elections. Bidzina Ivanishvili lost his Georgian citizenship, and is not allowed into the Presidential election.

Myth 4 – The dominance of one party or one candidate in the mass media. I think this problem with access to media resources exists everywhere. It’s obvious that in the US candidates from the two key parties dominate over all others. On the other hand, it’s worth pointing out that the benefits which Mikhail Prokhorov enjoyed on Russian TV channels in the last elections were for a long time enjoyed by no other candidate.

Myth 5 – Vladimir Putin declined to participate in the debates, so the elections were illegitimate – the voters didn’t have an opportunity to assess him. Let’s take a look at other countries. There were 23 candidates in the last US elections. For instance, Ralph Nader was registered in 48 states out of 51, but the elected Obama debated exclusively with McCain. Having a minimum of 15% in opinion polls is a condition for participating in US debates. Or what about France, 2002 – Chirac vs. Le Pen. As a rule, there are no debates prior to the first round in France. The tradition of holding debates only applies to the period between the first round and the second round. Mikhail Saakashvili, who is frequently portrayed as a great democrat, has never debated anyone in his two Presidential elections.

Myth 6 (very common) – Russian legislation creates comfortable conditions for electoral falsifications. The suggested solution – rewrite the laws so that they match those of normal “democratic countries.” But the problems aren’t in the laws. As a matter of fact, ours are very stringent. They say, “Let’s abolish early voting!” But in the US, typically up to 30% of voters cast their ballots early. As for procedures on allowing observers into polling stations in other countries, in France you have to be a member of the Electoral Commission to observe the voting, and in the US observers are frequently denied access, especially foreign ones. In terms of observer access to polling stations, Russia is actually one of the world’s more liberal states.

Myth 7 – Big protest actions are a cause for a revision of the election results. One striking example – the attempted “Cactus Revolution” in Mexico in 2006. Compared to our modest turnouts, in Mexico up to a million people took to the streets. At the same time, there appeared the following phenomenon: “And I don’t know why this candidate was elected, none of my acquaintances voted for him.” The specific cause of this lay in López Obrador being Mayor of Mexico City, and dominant in the capital and the adjoining southern regions, where many people genuinely didn’t know anyone who voted for Calderón. Nonetheless, all those protests came to naught.

What is to be done?

For the elections to be more honest and transparent, we need to have an independent judiciary, and opposition representation in parliament and the regions. I think that if there were to be elections for governors, they would enable them to reallocate administrative resources between the various parties. Inter-elite conflicts, a stable tradition of political competition – which we still have to work out, as it unfortunately isn’t double within 20 years – independent media, true federalism, and so those proposals that were made by Medvedev are, in my opinion, adequate: The liberalization of political party registration, and the transition to direct elections of governors.

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
 
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This post is a follow-up to a similar one for the 2011 Duma elections. It contains an extensive list of blogger, pundit and “expert” opinions on the extent of fraud in the 2011 Duma elections. Interspersed among these opinions and analyses are results from federal opinion polls, election monitors, and other evidence.

In general, it seems we can identify three “theses” or “clubs.” The 0% Club holds the idea that falsifications were non-existent or minimal; it is advanced by Kremlin officials and supported by many opinion polls. Its polar opposite is the 15% Club, which is – unlike in the Duma elections – now only claimed by opposition forces and some liberal and Western media outlets. The 5% Club tends to arguee that Putin got a solid majority with some 56%-60% of the vote; almost all evidence converges to this figure. Most of the systemic opposition and arguably most Russians belong to this club.

The 0% Club (<2% fraud)

* PRE-ELECTIONS POLLS: Levada (66%), VCIOM (66%), and FOM (70%) all gave Putin more than its official result. However, because of the relative passivity of United Russia’s electorate – its supporters are less like to vote – raw (i.e. unadjusted) polling numbers almost certainly overstate Putin’s real electoral popularity.
* POST-ELECTIONS POLL: State pollster VCIOM reports 67% and Levada reports 60.7% responding they voted for Putin. Both figures are within their 3.4% margins of error.
* OFFICIAL RESULT: Putin has 63.60% according to the Central Elections Commission of the Russian Federation. This is more than 13% points above the 50% level that would have otherwise necessitated a runoff.
* CEC HEAD: Vladimir Churov said that “more honest elections than those in Russia will not be held in other countries in the near future, at least until they begin to adopt our technical experience” (refers to web cams at polling stations).
* PUTIN’s CAMPAIGN CHIEF: Stanislav Govorukhin said the election was the “cleanest in the history of Russia.”
* VLADIMIR PUTIN: The President-elect thinks that “there probably was some fraud, but it could only affect hundredths of one percent, well on 1% I can still imagine, but no more.”
* PRE-ELECTION PREDICTION: FOM gave Putin 61.7% on Feb 27-29, within 2% points of the official result, and Levada gave Putin 61.5% on Feb 24-Mar 1, within its 3.4% margin of error. Both couldn’t be legally published so close to election time. But p redictions may implicitly assume fraud. VCIOM gave Putin 58.6% on Feb 11-12 . But Putin’s popularity was rising during the next 3 weeks.
* EXPERT ANALYSIS: Sergey Zhuravlev estimates 1.7% fraud using statistical analysis. This approach has methodological flaws.

The 5% Club (2%-10% fraud)

* Juha Savolainen thinks 3%-5%.
* THIS BLOG’S AUTHOR: Anatoly Karlin estimates that Putin got 59%-60%, and so the aggregate level of falsifications is about 4%.
* EXIT POLL: State pollster FOM gave Putin 59.3%, implying possible fraud of 4.3%. They covered 81 regions, 800 stations, and 80,000 voters.
* EXPERT ANALYSIS: Dmitry Kobak, a programmer, estimates 4.6% fraud using statistical analysis.
* EXIT POLL: State pollster VCIOM gave Putin 58.3%, implying possible fraud of 5.3%. They covered 81 regions, 800 stations, and 80,000 voters.
* OBSERVERS: Anatoly Karlin, i.e. this blogs author, estimated a possible fraud figure of <5.9% by adjusting figures from observer protocols to get rid of the Moscow bias. This method has methodological flaws as there were few observers in the Putin-supporting countryside.
* EXPERT OPINION: Aleksandr Kireev, a prominent Russia elections analyst, estimates 6% fraud.
* EXPERT ANALYSIS: Sergey Shpilkin, veteran Russia elections analyst, estimates 6% fraud using statistical analysis. But his key assumptions are questionable.
* The difference between machine ballots and the overall result for United Russia is 6.1% as calculated by Aleksandr Kireev. This approach has methodological flaws.
* EXPERT OPINION: Boris Ovchinnikov, a Russian blogger and mathematician, thinks that Putin got 55%-58%, translating into about 7% fraud.
* EXPERT OPINION: Aleksandr Shen’, a prominent Russia elections analyst, gives a range of 5%-10% fraud.
* OBSERVERS: Protocols from Golos election observers gave Putin 54.8%, implying fraud of 8.8%. This approach has methodological flaws.

The 15% Club (10%+ fraud)

* OBSERVERS: Protocols from all election observers gave Putin 50.2%, implying fraud of 13.4%. This approach has methodological flaws; nearly 50% of all observers were concentrated in Moscow, where Putin’s support is naturally lowest.
* LOSS OF LEGITIMACY: Once fraud approaches 14%, the case can be made that Putin’s victory is illegitimate as a result of less than 50% would have necessitated a second round.
* The Economist, a British publication which the eXile called the “world’s sleaziest magazine,” strongly implies 14% fraud.
* Oleg Kozlovsky, an opposition activist, claims 14% fraud, with Putin getting no more than 50%.

Fraud In Moscow

* OFFICIAL RESULT: Putin has 46.95% according to the Central Elections Commission of the Russian Federation.
* EXPERT OPINION: Dmitry Kobak thinks Putin got a 47%.
* OBSERVERS: Protocols from all election observers gave Putin 45.18%, implying fraud of 1.8%. This may have methodological flaws.
* Statistical evidence strongly indicates that the fraud in Moscow was present but at very low levels in these elections.

Fraud In St.-Petersburg

* OFFICIAL RESULT: Putin has 58.77% according to the Central Elections Commission of the Russian Federation.
* Statistical evidence strongly indicates that the level of fraud in St.-Petersburg was a lot greater than in Moscow.
* OBSERVERS: Protocols from all election observers gave Putin 50.35%, implying fraud of 8.4%. This may have methodological flaws.

The Moscow Protests

In post-elections Мeetings, the anti-Putin one at Novy Arbat on March 10 got 10,000 (police), 22,600 (RIA estimate), 26,000 (Nikolai Pomeshchenko), or 25,000-30,000 (organizers). The precise details probably don’t matter; what ALL estimates concur on is that turnout plummeted from the 60,000+ levels of the three major post-Duma elections Meetings.

Putin’s post-victory rally at Manezh Square on March 5 got 70,000-110,000 people.

Further Reading

My best articles on election fraud in Russia:

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
 
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Here it is: Reading the Russian election.

Please comment at their site, rather than here, if possible.

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
 
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Russia has a long and proud drinking culture; according to the chronicle of its founding, the main reason it chose Christianity over Islam was the latter’s prohibition of booze. Vodka has been distilled there since at least the 12th century. As of the time of writing, it is the world’s largest spirits market by volume – 2.4 billion liters in 2009, according to the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA), of which more than 80% accrues to domestic vodka brands. Whiskey’s share is only 0.5%; but it is growing at explosive rates, and whiskey now account for two thirds of all spirits imports. Indigenous distilleries are sprouting up and conditions appear favorable for this growth to continue.

In the Soviet period, the only spirits available to most citizens were vodka and cognac from the Caucasus – a point illustrated by Erkin Tuzmukhamedov, one of Russia’s leading sommeliers and author of whiskey books, who got his first taste of Scotch by taking sips on the sly from the bottles his diplomat father brought home from abroad. This changed with the opening up of markets in the early 1990’s. Whiskey consumption has seen tremendous growth; the SWA says exports to Russia have risen from £5m to £31m in the past decade.

Though starting from a low base in comparison with the biggest Scotch markets, such as the US’ £499m, growth is expected to remain double-digit well into the future for three main reasons. First, rising incomes means Russians can afford to develop more refined tastes. Second, the growing segment of female drinkers favors spirits that can be sipped. Third, the government plans to quadruple the currently low excise duties on spirits by 2014, thus narrowing the cost differential between vodkas and whiskeys. All this implies growth for blends, which dominate the Russian whiskey market – for a time, Tuzmukhamedov was Dewar’s chief promoter in Russia – and very strong growth for single malts.

Reactions to inquiries about indigenous Russian producers was dismissive, their current presence being described as “fairly negligible.” There are some distilleries that have laid down their own malts, but are currently maturing and won’t be ready for years. One example is Viski Kizlyarskoe, a Daghestan-based brand that in 2008 laid down test run trials of all major types of whiskey – malt, grain, and blended – and is building a $7m distillery.

Praskoveysky distillery

Praskoveysky distillery

Another is the Praskoveysky distillery based in Stavropol, which has been producing wine and cognac since 1898. In 2008, it expanded into whiskey, starting up production in oak barrels on Irish technology. The factory manager, Boris Pakhunov, claims that it has a better nose than the Jameson that inspired his brand, and the honey tones are sharper.

The first samples from both are coming to market just now, and once in mass production prices are expected to range 300 to 400 rubles ($11-15) – an economy class alternative to vodka and the most popular imported brands in this category, such as White Horse or Famous Grouse.

Later, in May 2010, the Urzhum spirits distillery announced the launch of its own line, headed by “Officer’s Club.” Another increasingly popular approach is to just import whiskeys from abroad and bottle one’s own blends, as done by the Kaliningrad-based distiller Alliance 1892 in February of this year. It’s product, “Seven Yards”, went on sale this May, costing $18 per bottle.

So it’s a beginning of sorts, if not an overly impressive one thus far. Nonetheless, as whiskey’s following grows, this could change. According to Tuzmukhamedov, there are whiskey appreciation societies in the biggest cities like Moscow, St. Petersburg, and Yekaterinburg: “I’ve met ordinary guys who save their money to go on holiday to Islay – that’s not affectation, that’s appreciation of the drink.” He should know, as he runs Dewar’s new whiskey academy in Moscow, whose one month courses have become very popular with restaurateurs.

Whither now? Tuzmukhamedov is very skeptical that whiskey will ever displace vodka as Russia’s national drink, because vodka has the weight of tradition behind it and goes much better with the staples of the Russian diet. Though there is a lot of room for growth remaining, he expects it to eventually level off. Russian whiskeys are likely to become more prevalent on the Russian market, and some may even be exported. There is an antecedent for this in Baltika beer, which began brewing in 1990 on foreign techniques and can now be found in Western supermarkets.

That said, there is still a long way to go. According to Tamerlan Paragulgov, the director of an alcohol standards agency, many of the fledgling Russian whiskey makers still have fairly obsolete marketing standards; case in point, the Praskoveysky winery and cognac distillery is still run in a leisurely and paternalistic fashion as a Soviet-style enterprise. Another problem, according to Tuzmukhamedov, is that it is very hard for a small producer like Praskoveysky to establish itself in competition against the big names.

The experiments of today’s Russian whiskey producers may garner interest among whiskey circles in Russia, but they will have to get more serious about marketing and raising capital if their products are to break out into the wider market.

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(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.