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I made this map based on Razib Khan’s calculated figures of the percentage of Muslims around the world who support the death penalty for apostasy, which he compiled using data from the 2013 PEW global survey of Muslim attitudes.

map-death-for-apostasy-in-islam-poll

Click to enlarge. Warning: Large map!

EDIT: Forgot to include figures for Russian Muslims – it is at ~6%, about same as Tajikistan. See comment.

These figures were derived on the basis of the percentage of Muslims who agreed that sharia should be the law of the land, and in turn on the percentage of sharia supporters who agree with capital punishment for apostates from Islam, as prescribed in tradition. As Razib Khan points out, these figures represent a minimum, because there might be a few Muslims who don’t support sharia law but support the death penalty for apostasy. Nonetheless, such cases will be few and far between, so the figures can probably be taken more or less at face value.

Commentary is largely superfluous, so I will limit myself to just a few remarks:

(1) A solid majority of Muslims in Egypt support the death penalty. Conservatively assuming 80% of the population is Sunni Muslim, that’s 51% of the population that are essentially Islamist extremists and potential Islamic State sympathizes. That also happens to be the exact percentage that voted for Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohammed Morsi in 2012. This probably makes liberal democracy in Egypt all but impossible: Its either the mustachioed soldiers or the bearded preachers. Choose one.

(2) The majority of Muslims in Malaysia and Jordan, both countries widely seen as “moderate,” support the dealth penalty for apostasy.

(3) The only country of the Arab Spring to transition to a more or less functioning democracy is Tunisia. Probably not coincidentally, it is also the most religiously “progressive” of all the Arab states. In those areas where the Islamic State has been taking power – northern Iraq, eastern Syria, the Sinai, the central Libyan coast, chunks of Afghanistan – it appears that the local population supports the death penalty for apostasy and other extremist interpretations of Islam, far more so than even in the rest of the world. Perhaps ~50% is a sort of “tipping point” for the most rabidly chiliastic Islamist cults to take root?

(4) There is very likely a connection between Islamic radicalism (and depressed IQs) with cousin marriage (see my post on the close correlation between the rate of cousin marriage and support for Islamic State in Syria).

(5) It seems almost banal to point it out, but then again, as Gregory Cochran points out, even very obvious things need to be repeated now and then.

Anyone who supports the death penalty for religious apostasy is, by definition, a fundamentalist. In many, perhaps most, Muslim countries, a majority or close to a majority qualifies as such.

There are very, very big and disturbing figures.

That famous "Moderate Muslim" infographic: Not the same thing as a moderate Christian or Buddhist.

That famous “Moderate Muslim” infographic: Not the same thing as a moderate Christian or Buddhist.

It is highly unlikely would find more than 1% of Christians in any country supporting the death penalty for apostasy, and even that 1% would as often as not be merely trolling the pollster. The only surveyed major Muslim countries with a comparable level of insanity are Kazakhstan and possibly Turkey. Regardless of 70 years of secular propaganda, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan have three to five times the number of fundamentalists per capita, with 5-6% of their Muslim population supporting death for apostasy; though still an order of magnitude better than neighboring Afpak and the Middle East, these figures can already make themselves felt in events such as the defection of a senior Tajik policeman to the Islamic State.

It only gets worse from there on. Tunisia, with 16% of the population being fundamentalists, gets regularly wracked by terrorist strikes; Bangladesh, with 33%, sees atheist bloggers murdered with impunity. The percentage of Muslims who are fundamentalists in Western Europe is (based on other polls) probably generally around the 25% mark. That is a lot of fundamentalists. And it translates to a permanent, simmering terrorist threat. Which – rather conveniently? – requires an ever expanding security/surveillance state to keep suppressed. Once you go above the 50% mark, as in Jordan, Pakistan, or Egypt, only a dictator or a well-respected monarch prevents the people – the demos – from actualizing their back-to-the-roots fantasies.

This is why apples to apples comparisons of Islamic fundamentalism to extremism in other religions and feel good slogans like #NotAllMuslims are naive and facile at best.

***

Based on these figures from Razib Khan:

Sharia should be law of land Muslims who believe sharia should be law who accept death penalty for apostasy % of Muslims who accept death penalty for apostasy
Afghanistan 99% 79% 78%
Pakistan 84% 76% 64%
Egypt 74% 86% 64%
Palestinian territories 89% 66% “59%
Jordan 71% 82% 58%
Malaysia 86% 62% 53%
Iraq 91% 42% 38%
Bangladesh 82% 44% 36%
Tunisia 56% 29% 16%
Lebanon 29% 46% 13%
Indonesia 72% 18% 13%
Tajikstan 27% 22% 6%
Kyrgyzstan 35% 14% 5%
Bosnia 15% 15% 2%
Kosovo 20% 11% 2%
Turkey 12% 17% 2%
Albania 12% 8% 1%
Kazakhstan 10% 4% 0%
 
• Category: Ideology • Tags: Fundamentalists, Islam, Islamism, Map 
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I do not dispute all the points in The Saker’s recent piece Russia’s “Civilizational Choice.” The malevolent influence of Saudi-sponsored Wahhabism on traditional Islam throughout the world is a real phenomenon that is indeed much better known in Russia than in the West. That is because Western elites view it as a useful geopolitical tool whose goals largely align with their own and thus tend to pressure their mainstream media to portray Islamic fundamentalists in non-Western countries from Syria to Egypt to Chechnya as “democrats” and/or “freedom fighters.” So far as conspiracy theories go, this is one of the most credible ones.

Nor, of course, do I at all mean to imply that Russian and “Muslim” interests (Muslim being a very wide group) are always opposed. The Russian Empire reached accomodations with the elites of annexed Muslim territories, leaving them in place, unchanged, in return for them pledging fealty to the Tsar. In the Middle East today, generally speaking, Shi’ite Islam, Orthodox Christianity, and secular forces are in an alliance of convenience against the Sunni Islamist wave. So long as Kadyrov remains Putin’s faithful vassal, the Chechens probably make a net positive contribution to the Russian state, contributing troops to Russian foreign adventures in return for big subsidies from the federal center (a perennial bugbear for Russian nationalists). But would any of this hold in the currently remote but not impossible prospect that the “checkerboard geopolitics” that currently favor a Russian-Shi’ite alliance vanish (as Putin himself said, Assad before his current troubles visited Paris more frequently than he did Moscow), or if the Russian state weakens to such an extent that whoever rules Chechnya becomes free to go rogue? History and common sense suggest “no,” which invalidates the whole idea that there is some kind of civilizational “special relationship” between Russia and Islam.

There is a relationship there, alright. Ultimately, all countries, religions, and ideological factions have some sort of relationship to each other. Russia and Judaism also have a relationship, though I don’t suspect someone who uses the term “AngloZionist” half a dozen times in each of his articles is going to wax poetically on it anytime soon. To take an even more extreme example, there are a few women in the West who seriously argue that wearing the niqab is an expression of feminism; if you say so, dear, but I doubt many Muslims would agree with you.

In short, just the mere existence of some loosely defined civilizational “relationship” or “affinity” does not necessarily mean that it is deep, positive, or sustainable.

To illustrate why its worth taking the time to “fisk” that article in some detail:

This event, however, has a significance which much exceeds just the local lack of space. The truth is that most Muslims who prayed in the Moscow city center wanted more than just a bigger building – they wanted an official acknowledgement of their existence and of their importance for Russia.

They have had this since 1904.

Historically, Russia has been the product of three main factors: Russians take most of their ethnic stock from the ancient Slavic people who lived in what is today called the Ukraine, their religion and worldview from the Orthodox Christianity inherited from the Eastern Roman Empire (mistakenly called “Byzantium” in the West), and their statehood from the Tatar occupation which unified various small principalities into one unified state.

This brings to mind a witticism I heard once:

Russian liberals, “Russophobes,” and svidomy Ukrainian nationalists: The Muscovite Russian state is an outgrowth of Tatar despotism… and it’s awful!

Russian “Eurasianists” and “Russophiles”: The Muscovite Russian state is an outgrowth of Tatar despotism… and it’s great!

Unfortunately, the actual theory on which both positions are based has nothing to do with reality. Russian literary tradition traces its origins exclusively to Rus, or the “Russian Land” (otherwise known as “Kievan Rus,” a literary term that appeared much later and has been ideologically hijacked by Ukrainian nationalists). The centralizing impulse, which reached an apogee in Muscovy, had antecedents as early as the 12th century, when “democratic” veches were replaced by strong princely rule across the Russian principalities. The Golden Horde’s system of kurultays, involving the “elections” of new khans – typically with many different candidates, with no guarantee that all of them would accept the decision – differed cardinally from the centralizing processes ongoing across contemporaneous Rus’, and which happened to be occuring most intensively in the principality, Vladimir-Suzdal’, that would later became Muscovy.

Still, less than 20 years after two wars in the Balkans (Bosnia, Kosovo) and two wars inside Russia (both in Chechnia) very few had predicted that Muslim Chechens would fight in defense of Orthodox Christians in the Donbass, while Putin would inaugurate the biggest mosque in Europe just a mile away from the Kremlin. The reality, of course, is that these wars did not pitch Russia against Islam, but Russia against a very specific form of Saudi-backed Wahabi Islam which, itself, was organized and controlled by the AngloZionist Empire.

Islamic radicalism remains a big problem in the Balkans, most recently in Macedonia. And Chechnya is mostly kept loyal through cash infusions (not that I’m a “Stop Feeding the Caucasus” type: I acknowledge its the least worst of all possible policy options).

Note that even while Chechens did fight in Donbass (they have since withdrawn), there are at least just as many of them fighting for the Ukrainian junta – so much so that even the New York Time has acknowledged their presence in a full feature article. And this is to say nothing of the hundreds of Chechens fighting for the Islamic State, where they have acquired an impressive reputation for cruelty and fanaticism even by ISIS standards.

In contrast, relations between Orthodox Christians and Muslims have by and large been peaceful. The notable exception to this was the Ottoman Empire which has always viciously persecuted Orthodox Christianity, but that kind of behavior was always an Ottoman characteristic, not a Muslim one.

So far as “exceptions” go that is a pretty damn big one. Like, a cardinal one.

Nor have relations with Shi’ites always been quiescent. Russian diplomats to Persia were butchered by a mob in 1829, the victims including the brilliant Russian writer Alexander Griboyedov. Soviet diplomats to Lebanon were the victims of Hezbollah assassinations in the 1980s.

Sure, in gross terms Muslims have killed much fewer Russians than did Western Christian Europeans, but this was merely a function of distance and technological competency.

In fact, the two religions share a lot of common views, especially on daily social issues. It is not a coincidence that the same city which now will host the biggest mosque in Europe also banned “gay pride” parades for the next 100 years.

Russians are basically 1970s-era Americans on LGBT issues. They don’t want gay marriage, homo parades, or any other cultural Marxist crap from the West. But otherwise they just don’t care all that much.

In most Muslim countries, pluralities or outright majorities support the death penalty for homosexuals, as well as for apostasy and adultery.

I would not describe that as “a lot of common views.”

In Chechnia most Muslims are Sunni, Iranians and Hezbollah are Shia while the regime in Syria is Alawi. As for the country closest to Russia – Kazakhstan – most of its people are Sunni Muslims. Russia is even exploring, albeit with difficulty, the possibilities of forging closer contacts with Turkey, even though the Ottomans used be the second worst enemy of Orthodox Christianity (after the Papacy, of course).

This is inane. The theological and doctrinal differences between Catholicism and Orthodoxy are minor, an order of magnitude less even than those between Catholicism and Protestantism. The differences between Christianity and Islam are fundamental and unbridgeable.

Kazakhstan’s friendliness towards Russia has zilch to with Islam and is, in any case, overstated. Commerce-focused neutrality predominates there, and Russian nationalism is repressed.

While in the West most political leaders chose to deny that the West’s current conflict is one pitting the “West” against “Islam”, the western propaganda machine (Hollywood, TV, print media, etc.) is clearly demonizing Islam and Muslims in general.

bin-laden-really

Orlly.

Of course when Islamists are bombing your cities every other year and more British Muslims fight for the Islamic State than the British Army it’s hard to maintain a 100% positive outlook. Though that doesn’t prevent them from trying.

Nonetheless, the West has (all else equal) been far more friendly to Islamism than to secular Arab nationalism or even Arab Communists.

French racists chose to blame it all on “Islam” completely overlooking that Christian Romanians and Gypsies also could not integrate the French society either.

Dem wacists. Christian RomaNIANS integrate in France just fine. Gypsies don’t integrate anywhere because of their low IQs and propensity towards petty criminality.

In fact, the rules of modesty are almost the same ones in Islam and Orthodox Christianity, as is the preference for men to have beards. What you will never see amongst Orthodox Christians are the Niqabs or Burkas, not even for monastics. But that is not a practice amongst Russian Muslims either.

Yes, traditional Russian society (i.e. in decline for 100 years, and now close to non-existent) isn’t all that cardinally different from traditional Muslim society.

The key problem is one of divergence under modernity. The Saker can fume against Saudi and AngloZionist sponsored Wahhabis all he wants. I even agree with most of it. But Wahhabi infiltration and its success is an actually existing reality and elegant proclamations of Russian-Muslim brotherhood are not going to make it go away.

We know from the Balkans that even Slavic groups who convert to Islam effectively become lost to the wider Slavic Christian civilization. They start claiming themselves to be their own archaic ethnic groups, or to be Turks who had merely become linguistically Slavicized. In the absence of a strong, self-confident state to manage them, their loyalties naturally drift towards Istanbul or Riyadh.

The inauguration of the new Cathedral Mosque in Moscow is a symbol of a much larger and deeper phenomenon – the slow but steady rapprochement between the Orthodox and the Islamic world, it is the expression of a Russian civilizational choice which has finally given up any illusion about being part of the “West” and which is turning south (Middle-East), east (Siberia and China) and north (Siberia and the Arctic) and, in doing so, returning to the true historical roots of what I call the “Russian civilizational realm” – those parts of the Eurasian continent which were affected and influenced by the Russian culture and people.

I think this really strikes to the root of what drives such commentaries: The fear of being alone.

Disguised in the language of geopolitics, at least amongst more sophisticated commentators, very bizarre ideas about who should be “friends” and who should be “enemies” are advanced across the political spectrum. Dugin wants to ally with Iran, Germany, and Japan – the latter two somehow enticed in by giving them back Kaliningrad and the Kurils – against the US and its Atlantic allies, and to break up China (how? why?). The Russian nationalist Egor Prosvirnin, for all his dislike of Duginists, wants to reconcile with Europe because that is where Russia truly belongs (even if that’s the case, and it’s not because “Europe” is just a geographical expression, – how?), break off support to Armenia so as to gain Azerbaijan’s favor (why would they return it?), and – yes – break up China as well (some very vague and bizarre allusions to Manchurian separatists). I suspect The Saker is following similar lines, proposing absolute alliances and civilizational commonalities and contrasting them against eternal, not very well defined enemies like “AngloZionists” and “The Papacy” on the basis of muh feelz over realz.

That will not get him anywhere.

To the extent that Russia has any sort of big, semi-friendly, and actually useful “partner” on the international arena, it is China. It is not outright hostile like most of the West, nor is it parasitic on its money and energies like those friendlier-for-now sorts of Muslims. But even China is very far from being an ally, let along being some kind of pillar of Russian civilization.

The only really solid pillars of Russian civilization are Orthodoxy and nationality, and its only reliable allies are its Army and Navy.

 
• Category: Ideology • Tags: Civilization, Islam, Russian Society, The Saker 
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A couple of Islamist terrorists, the brothers Kouachi, murdered a bunch of cartoonists. Another terrorist, Coulibaly, went on a rampage. All three ended up taking hostages. Counter-terrorists win! Within minutes, everyone had become an expert on Charlie Hebdo’s work, and the typical and inevitably dreary debate began.

Some said Charlie’s cartoons were clearly, stridently Islamophobic, and that although they “of course” condemned the murders, it was understandable why they happened: Cue your standard spiel about failed integration policies, racism, discrimination, the legacy of colonialism. The apologetics sometimes reached nauseating proportions. After all, people “know the consequences” (from Anjem Chodary, so over the top Islamist that he is probably an MI5 mole), and besides, the “sin of provocation” is no less dangerous than “the sin of those who are capable of succumbing to that provocation” (Russian Council of Muftis).

Others, especially journalists, focused on the sanctity of the right to free speech. Though many papers still made sure to cover their asses by pixelating out the offending Mohammed cartoons. It was also widely noted that Charlie Hebdo were, to their credit, at least equal opportunity provocateurs, involving everyone they disliked in their scrotular and scatological fantasies:

charlie-hebdo-cartoons

Do you still believe in the theory of historical progress?

Equal… but some groups were nonetheless plus égaux que d’autres, at least so far as Charlie Hebdo were concerned. In 2009, the cartoonist Siné, a longtime contributor to Charlie Hebdo, joked that Sarkozy’s son, Jean, would “go a long way, that little lad” on rumors that he was planning to convert to Judaism. For any basically normal, non-SJW inclined person, this would be nothing more than a harmless observation on the Jewish talent for economic success (something that is discussed at length by our own Steve Sailer, not to mention by Jews themselves). But for Charlie and the French Establishment, including the “philosopher” Bernard-Henry Lévy, the appropriate response was to fire him and then prosecute him for anti-Semitism (he was acquitted). On another occasion, Charlie started a signature collection campaign to get the Front National banned. Clearly, their own regard for free speech was very far from absolute.

That didn’t stop the masses from pinning #JeSuisCharlie to their Twitface avatars in their millions, and joining European leaders on their so-called unity march, from which Marine Le Pen – representing about a third of the French electorate – was excluded. On the plus side, it was probably the continent’s biggest collective circlejerk since the Nuremburg rallies. A few days later, a total of 54 cases and counting were opened in France related to pro-terrorism “hate speech,” including against the comedian Dieudonné. Politicians who insisted on going against the multiculturalist dogma, such as the elder Le Pen and Orbán, found themselves castigated for political haymaking (if so what was the unity march?) and using a free speech rally to exercise free speech:

Orban told Hungarian state TV in the margins of the rally, held in support of free speech and tolerance in Europe, that the Charlie Hebdo murders should make the EU restrict access to migrants with “different cultural characteristics”.

Referring to the flow of African and Arab migrants to the EU, he said: “Economic immigration is a bad thing in Europe, it should not be seen as having any benefits, because it only brings trouble and danger to the peoples of Europe”.

“Immigration and cultural questions related to that must be discussed in a much more open, honest and straightforward manner than until now. I hope that a composed, calm analysis of the recent events will guide European leaders and Brussels towards a tough policy restricting immigration”, he added.

“While I am PM, Hungary will definitely not become an immigration destination. We don’t want to see significantly sized minorities with different cultural characteristics and backgrounds among us. We want to keep Hungary as Hungary”.

Reasonable, no? No! It’s nothing but dangerous demagoguery, and statements like Orbán’s are outright harmful. You’re placing yourself onto the same platform as Marine Le Pen, and Golden Dawn. There are other triggers. It’s failed integration policies, especially France’s citizenship concept, that are to blame. Scandinavian countries do better. “We against them” will not solve the problem.

All paraphrased from a real Twitter conversation I had with a bona fide EU think-tank person (who is otherwise a genial and intelligent fellow, not an ideologue).

(The additional irony is that Orbán isn’t really a friend to European nationalists. When they and a bunch of their American friends decided to have an identitarian conference in Budapest, the event was banned and people who turned up anyway got arrested and deported. Naturally, neither the EU nor the US State Department had much, or anything really, to say on that particular expression of Orbán’s authoritarianism).

“We vomit on all these people who suddenly say they are our friends,” said Bernard Holtrop, who survived the massacre by dint of absenteeism. Beginning to nod your head in agreement? Don’t. You missed the previous part where he identified the True Enemy: “We have a lot of new friends, like the pope, Queen Elizabeth and Putin. Marine Le Pen is delighted when the Islamists start shooting all over the place.”

Monsieur Holtrop is presumably too self-absorbed to consider the possibility that her primary concern might not be so much his friendship, or even his freedom of speech, but securing the future of the French people and European civilization.

Given this litany of two-faced hypocrisy and concern trolling from virtually everyone, I do not feel ashamed to proclaim:

Je m’en fous de Charlie Hebdo!

Even debates about the relative weights to be assigned to artistic merit, freedom of speech, and upkeeping civility are of secondary importance.

My own partisan bias is that Charlie Hebdo’s crude scribblings would demean a bathroom stall, but many people would disagree with my opinion and that’s fair enough. I may happen to think it would be an example of social and cultural decadence, but that by itself survivable, at least so long as the nation walls itself off demographically from more virile peoples who are generally unable or unwilling to appreciate artistic masterpieces like Piss Christ, the Paris Buttplug, or, well, Charlie Hebdo. Japan is a byword for decadence, but it’s not like it’s in any danger of foreign cultural inundation.

Moreover, since Charlie Hebdo did not forcibly impose their views on the general public – you can always, like, not buy their stuff – they should be completely immune from any “hate speech” prosecution. But I acknowledge that opinions on this matter can legitimately differ: My friend Alexander Mercouris at Sputnik News makes a solid, legally-grounded argument for why it would be legally and morally defensible for any West European nation to prosecute Charlie Hebdo, and my own objections are normative in nature, and not a little self-interested, in the sense that if interpreted sufficiently widely, I too could be potentially prosecuted in Europe, not to mention half the contributors to The Unz Review.

So… let’s start building the case?

The terrorists were Islamists, and they did have a religion: Islam. Trying to insist otherwise strikes me as being rather pathetic, like the tweed-jacketed old Marxists insisting that the Soviet Union wasn’t really Communist. How credible would it be to deny that Breivik was a European nationalist, or that the Crusaders weren’t real Christians?

As Marine Le Pen just wrote in The New York Times, the threat must be named: “France Was Attacked by Islamic Fundamentalism.” They were Islamists, and – even she shies away from making it explicit – they were also Muslims, no more and no less than the brilliant philosopher Ibn Khaldun or ISIS leader Al-Baghdadi.

Progressive outlets like The Daily Beast and Think Progress claim that we are getting it all wrong, that Muslims only account for “less than 2%” of terrorist acts in Europe and 6% in the US. Just a quick scan through the FBI link they give reveals “terrorist incidents” such as the following:

Terrorist Incidents

March 2002 – November 2002

Vandalism and Arson
Erie, Harborcreek, and Warren, Pennsylvania

(Six acts of Domestic Terrorism)

Between March 2002 and November 2002, a series of animal rights and ecoterrorism incidents occurred in Erie, Harborcreek, and Warren, Pennsylvania. On March 18, 2002, Pennsylvania State Police discovered heavy equipment used to clear trees at a construction site in Erie, Pennsylvania, spray painted with the statements “ELF, in the protection of mother earth,” and “Stop Deforestation.” On March 24, 2002, police responded to the same construction site, where a large hydraulic crane had been set on fire, causing approximately $500,000 in damage.

History of terrorist attacks in Europe. Source: The Economist.

History of terrorist attacks in western Europe. Source: The Economist.

Yes, totally comparable to 9/11.

So this is either a case of astoundingly lackadaisical research and critical thinking, or deliberate disingenuousness. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter, because there are other, more relevant measures – the body count (see the infographic to the right). Islamists are responsible for the overwhelming majority of terrorism-related deaths in Europe, despite Breivik’s single-handed archievements, and despite only constituting 5% of the West European population.

In her article, Marine Le Pen continues:

Yet this distinction can only be made if one is willing to identify the threat. It does our Muslim compatriots no favors to fuel suspicions and leave things unspoken. Islamist terrorism is a cancer on Islam, and Muslims themselves must fight it at our side.

This is an entirely legitimate point, as are her ensuing arguments that sorting out immigration policy is essential for victory in this struggle:

First, the dogma of the free movement of peoples and goods is so firmly entrenched among the leaders of the European Union that the very idea of border checks is deemed to be heretical. And yet, every year tons of weapons from the Balkans enter French territory unhindered and hundreds of jihadists move freely around Europe. …

Second, the massive waves of immigration, both legal and clandestine, our country has experienced for decades have prevented the implementation of a proper assimilation policy… Without a policy restricting immigration, it becomes difficult, if not impossible, to fight against communalism and the rise of ways of life at odds with laïcité, France’s distinctive form of secularism, and other laws and values of the French Republic. An additional burden is mass unemployment, which is itself exacerbated by immigration.

What she wisely doesn’t mention are some of the politically incorrect but no less real factors that make Muslim integration so difficult, and as such the case for immigration control so compelling.

First and foremost must be the simple, inescapable fact that European Muslims are, on average, duller (in the IQ sense) than the native populations. Moreover, while the second generation almost always performs significantly better than the first – a natural consequence of the environmental improvements from moving from a developing country to a developed one, i.e. Flynn-on-steroids – it never converges with native scores.

Below is a table of 2009 PISA-derived IQs for 1st generation immigrants, 2nd generation immigrants, natives, and the national average. (Not all the immigrants will be Muslim, of course, but since many of the other of the other immigrants are from similarly high-IQ European nations, such as the Poles, that would if anything knock the Muslim figures down even lower). Immigration is also a hotly debated issue in the US, including in its cognitive impacts – remember the Richwine Affair? – so I give figures for the US too.

1st Gen IQ 2nd Gen IQ Native IQ National IQ
France 89.4 91.8 101.2 99.6
Germany 93.7 94.5 105.0 101.5
Italy 87.1 92.4 98.7 97.9
Netherlands 95.4 95.7 105.0 102.9
Spain 89.1 94.2 99.0 97.6
Sweden 87.6 92.1 100.8 99.3
UK 95.1 99.3 101.2 100.0
USA 97.2 96.1 100.3 99.4

Lower IQs are almost inevitably associated with higher delinquency, higher crime rates, higher unemployment, and poorer general life outcomes. It has next to nothing to do with discrimination or white privilege, and a lot to do with employers valuing competent workers over incompetent ones; next to nothing to do with cops looking for some brown person to bully, and a lot to do with brighter people being generally better at cost-benefit analyses, e.g. as to the advisability of dropping out of school, selling drugs, or stealing that shiny new iPhone.

Modern welfare states spend a lot of resources just helping the more socially (and, inevitably, biologically) disadvantaged members of their societies stand on their own two feet.

As the blogger at Those Who Can See has found out, all three of the Charlie Hebdo terrorists benefited a lot from those programs:

An old friend from their orphanage has revealed some choice bits, a near-caricature of petty Arab thugs:

‘Cherif was a loudmouth, a fighter, loved to bling out in Lacoste tracksuits and screw girls, hated the ‘Gauls’ (native French) [...] Saïd was different, non-violent, civil and well-liked, though he wasn’t crazy about ‘Gauls’ either…’

An ex-colleague of Saïd’s has also spilled to the press. He claims the elder brother worked under him for the City of Paris trash detail, but was ‘unmanageable’ (e.g. refusing to shake hands with female colleagues), was transfered five times, then let go.

It is in reading between the lines that one figures out that his job, ‘recycling ambassador,’ was an invented make-work post of the type created to occupy (and pay) otherwise unemployable immigrants. The City of Paris, according to the article, had many such ‘ambassadors’ who went door-to-door to explain the joys of recycling to the city’s residents. The snitch in the article says a large number were unmanageable Islamists, about which they alerted their bosses often but were rebiffed because ‘the subject was taboo.’

This anecdote may seem neither here nor there, but in the larger narrative, progressives rail endlessly that France isn’t doing enough to integrate its Arabs. Here we have the City creating cushy do-nothing jobs for them in order to buy social peace, and the unhappy Saïd still manages to get himself fired for incompetence. Integration failed–but who is at fault?

Peter Frost, who also writes here at The Review, assigns higher Muslim crime rates and terrorism to their more macho and “alpha” cultural upbringings, deriving as they do from regions that had not managed to suppress violence as did Europe.

Murder was increasingly punished not only by the ultimate penalty but also by exemplary forms of execution, e.g., burning at the stake, drawing and quartering, and breaking on the wheel (Carbasse, 2011, pp. 52-53). This “war on murder” reached a peak from the 16th to 18th centuries when, out of every two hundred men, one or two would end up being executed (Taccoen, 1982, p. 52). A comparable number of murderers would die either at the scene of the crime or in prison while awaiting trial (Ireland, 1987).

I am somewhat skeptical of this explanation. Civilization in the Maghreb, to say nothing of Egypt or Mesopotamia, is far older than anything in Europe north of the Mediterranean… Even if they were less effective at stamping out violence, they had a heck of a lot longer to do it. “Our empire was old before dragons stirred in Old Valyria…”

My thesis is that the roots of the deep ailments that affect most Muslim societies lie elsewhere: In their extensive rates of inbreeding, which goes all the way up to the double cousins. The latest research indicates that first cousin matings could lower offspring IQ by as much as 30 points. (It need hardly be said that this is astoundingly bad; basically, it’s a drop from normal to retardation). Now consider that 37% of Pakistani marriages in the UK are between first cousins. The rates are not dissimilar amongst most other European immigrant Muslim communities.

The institution of cousin marriage is not integral to Islam per se. To the contrary, it was likely an outshoot of Mohammed’s instructions that daughters should also get a share of the family inheritance, thus creating a perverse economic incentive to keep wealth within the family by cousin marriage. Andrey Korotayev wrote a brilliant paper on this, which I highly recommend checking out if you’re interested in the historic origins of the Muslim family type.

Extensive first cousin, including FBD, marriage can explain a lot.

It explains the emphasis on keeping women veiled and accompanied by male guardians. Since future partners are, in many cases, “prearranged,” there is absolutely no need for extracurricular dalliances. Men, too, can experience specific problems under this system… with a significant percentage of the female population “wardened off” so, where do they seek release? Not everyone has a guaranteed wife, or a high enough SMV to game non-Muslim girls. Porn satisfies many but not all. After this, only more and more unorthodox solutions are left.

It explains the “clannishness” that Peter Frost notices.

It explains the massively depressed IQs seen throughout the Muslim world, especially relative to their estimated genotypic potential. Average IQs in oil-rich Saudi Arabia and Qatar, where first cousin marriage is particularly endemic, are not substantially higher than in dirt-poor sub-Saharan countries.

And because of the critical import of IQ to virtually all aspects of human behavior, it explains a whole host of other domains – crime, unemployment, etc. – in which Muslim immigrants continue to underperform.

The solution is obvious enough, right?

It might not work straight away, but if strictly enforced, it will work eventually. Cousin marriage rates will fall, as they did in southern Italy or Japan in the 20th century, though those two countries had the advantage of starting from far lower bases. IQs will rise. We will finally get some measure of integration. Multiculturalism might even stop being the byword for social dysfunction that it has become today.

Right?

Wrong. You’re forgetting IQ is a social construct. And HBD is just what the old school racists now call their racism. Cousin marriage is a venerable tradition, and you have no right to tell Muslims whom they can or cannot marry. It would insult their religious beliefs (even though they have nothing in common). Besides, gays marry, so why not first cousins? Einstein did it. And what about the Darwin-Wedgwood clan? That one example completely disproves everything!

So the second logical alternative to the HBD explanation is the cultural one: That Islam really is an innately sick culture, and all societies that follow its precepts are doomed to economic irrelevance and social retrogression. They hate us for our freedumbs!

And this is how you get neocons, Breiviks, and multi-trillion dollar foreign adventures in far off deserts.

Or maybe Muslims really are kept down by the Man. He refuses to hire them, wages war on their coreligionists, and props up oppressive dictators. Because he wants Muslim oil and answers to Jewish shitlords. Islam isn’t the problem; it’s the solution. Allahu akbar! Behead those who insult Islam!

And this is how you get Islamists, ISIS, and terrorist attack after terrorist attack.

"An act of exceptional barbarism..." "That's not what you said when you sent them to me."

Not a Charlie Hebdo cartoon, naturally. “An act of exceptional barbarism…” “That’s not what you said when you sent them to me.”

Marine Le Pen, again:

Third, French foreign policy has wandered between Scylla and Charybdis in the last few years. Former President Nicolas Sarkozy’s intervention in Libya, President François Hollande’s support for some Syrian fundamentalists, alliances formed with rentier states that finance jihadist fighters, like Qatar and Saudi Arabia — all are mistakes that have plunged France into serious geopolitical incoherence from which it is struggling to extricate itself.

And these guys, jihadists, are sent off with Western blessings (and money, and guns) to destabilize yet more Arab states…against those same dictators whom Islamists believe the West supports. Dictators who are usually the only power keeping those disparate, clannish states together and offering any hope of effecting lasting reform. But we better! We know from Fukuyama-via Marx-via Hegel that liberal democracy is universal, equally suited for an advanced high-IQ European or East Asian society, and a low-IQ ethnic medley where 75% of the populations wants the death penalty for apostasy.

And the resulting wars and anarchy displace more and more people, many of whom end up as immigrants on European shores.

And the cycle of invade/invite the world continues.

The way it sustains itself, one has to admit, is really quite elegant, if ultimately disastrous for everyone concerned.

Iraqis, Lybians, Syrians, and other victims of Western universalism get their countries wrecked by jihadists picked up from European banlieues and Arab street gutters, sometimes in conjunction with American bombs. The European peoples get to be enriched by more and more diversity in an offer they can’t refuse. The American taxpayer gets to pick up the tab.

But at least the American gets to walk away from the whole mess. La Raza Cósmica sure beats Eurabia.

 
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Faced with the utter failure of their doom-laden projections for Russia’s population future to describe reality – it’s population is now not only growing in absolute terms, but even barring migration its number of births now virtually equals the number of deaths – the more guttural elements of the interwebs are now resorting to another strategy: “But it’s all due to Muslims anyway!”

A bizarre alliance of neocons, Western chauvinists, crazy Russian nationalists, Islamist fanatics, and plain Russophobes have been peddling the imminent prospect of a Muslim-majority Russian Army and a Russabia ruled from the Caucasus Emirates for almost a decade. But one does not have to be a proponent of mass Muslim immigration, or to deny that serious problems of radicalization exist in some Russian Muslim communities, to call out such projections for the fear-mongering BS they really are. Here is a graph that decisively refutes the “Russabia” thesis:

russia-will-become-majority-muslim-not

The percentage of births in Russia’s traditionally Muslim” republics in the North Caucasus (Agygea, Dagestan, Ingushetia, Kabardino-Balkaria, Karachay-Cherkessia, Chechnya) and the Volga (Bashkortostan, Tatarstan) is a mere 13%-14% of the total – and shows no signs of increasing at a sustained and rapid rate.

It should furthermore be noted that of the above only Dagestan, Chechnya, and Ingushetia have predominantly Muslim population – and their share of total Russian births, at just a little above 5%, are today virtually the same as they were in 2006. This is especially relevant because the vast bulk of Russia’s problems with Islamic fundamentalism and armed opposition to Russian state power are concentrated there.

Only about 50% (give or take) of the populations of the other five republics is Muslim, so if anything – despite the graph being partially balanced out by Muslim immigrants in Moscow and other non-Muslim regions – it substantially overstates the actual degree of Muslim demographic influence. Needless to say, the Orthodox Russians (and ethnic Tatars) who make up half of Tatarstan’s population aren’t going on jihad to restore the Qasim Khanate anytime soon.

It should be stressed that even the figures above will only start coming into effect two decades or so down the line. That is to say, only about 13% of 20-year olds in the 2030′s will have have been born in Muslim republics; the percentage of those belonging to Muslim-majority ethnicities will be even lower, at maybe 9% or 10%. How Muslims are supposed to constitute a majority in the Army with those kinds of figures must remain a mystery.

Finally, the Muslim demographic expansion is self-limiting. A lot of the people who push Russabia (and Eurabia) are apparently under the impression that their typical family has 6 children, which in turn will have 6 children, and so on until they squeeze out everyone else. This is completely and utterly wrong. In Russia, at least, the only Muslim region with a TFR higher than the replacement level rate is Chechnya; as of 2009, it was at 3.38 children per woman, compared to 1.97 in Ingushetia, 1.96 in Dagestan, and far less in all the others – in fact, both Kabardino-Balkaria’s and Tatarstan’s TFR of 1.51 was *less* than the Russian average of 1.54. As such, far from reflecting any innate demographic strength, the current high rates of natural increase seen in Russia’s Muslim republics – or even more specifically, in Dagestan, Ingushetia, and Chechnya – are due in large part to the youthfulness of those regions’ populations. Young populations have, by definition, few old people (hence low mortality) and many young people (hence high natality). Considering that *all* of Russia’s Muslim regions with the partial exception of Chechnya – which, however, accounts for a mere 1% of its population and 2% of its newborn – are rapidly undergoing demographic transition, this is necessarily a temporary state of affairs.

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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As I reported in my post unveiling US-Russia.org, there are going to be weekly discussion panels moderated by Vlad Sobell. This is the first one I participated in. It is on the topic of US-Russia Relations Against the Backdrop of Word-wide Muslim Protests. Is this a clash of civilizations? Should the US patch up ties with Russia and forget about New Cold War in order to free resources for the greater challenge from radical Islamists?

I think I will be reposting my contributions to these Panels on this blog for the foreseeable future, with a time delay of a few days so that US-Russia.org maxes out on traffic. Here is my first contribution:

The American democratization agenda for the Middle East appears to be based around two premises: (1) The Arabs want the strongmen out; (2) They desire a Western-style liberal democracy. Consequently, aggressively supporting the transition should ease the US into the Arabs’ good graces – with all its attendant, oily benefits.

The first point is largely true. The second is not. Although large majorities of Arabs support concepts such as “democracy” and “free speech” in opinion polls, they should not be taken at face value. That is because similar majorities also support stoning for adultery and the death penalty for apostasy. In these circumstances the very idea of a “liberal democracy” is a contradiction in terms. To paraphrase a relevant sentence from the Tsarist-era book Vekhi, “Thank God for the prisons and bayonets, which protect us from the people’s fury!”

This is because the “clash of civilizations” isn’t something that is “fomented” by radical Islamists (or Western Islamophobes, for that matter). It is an actually existing state of affairs and “democratization” will only fully disrobe it, not make it go away.

The Europeanized liberals who were the motor of the protests in Egypt only constitute about 5% of that country’s population. While removing the dictator – be he a relatively benign one like Mubarak, or a bloodthirsty one like Gaddafi – liberates not only the intelligentsia, but also the (far more numerous) Islamist opposition. Of the foreign jihadists fighting in Iraq, it was rumored that Benghazi – focal point of resistance against the Jamahiriya – contributed the most per capita. Now Libya is a chaotic jumble of heavily armed gangs and militias, many of them with Islamist sympathies. Despite promises not to field a Presidential candidate, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt did precisely that and won the elections; since then, the old-regime generals have been replaced and the Brotherhood has consolidated its political dominance over the country. In the meantime, the economy has ground to a standstill.

Mubarak, Gaddafi, Assad, Ben Ali, etc. may not have been everyone’s cup of tea, but they did foster an adequate, if non-stellar pace of development; protected the rights of minorities such as the Coptic Christians; and typically maintained non-hostile, constructive relations with the West, Russia, and even Israel. It is unclear whether any of this will be preserved in the years ahead. They will certainly become more “democratic” – Iran, after all, is far more democratic now that it was under the Shah – but to what extent they will (or can) truly respect freedom of speech or worship is another question entirely. As strikingly shown in the past few days, there are problems even with honoring basic international norms like diplomatic immunity – and these are not without precedent (Chris Stephen’s ancestor by fate is Alexander Griboyedov, the poet diplomat killed and mutilated by a mullah-provoked Tehran mob in 1829).

But you can’t turn the clock back; we will have to learn to live with the new regimes emerging out of the Middle East unrest. One can hope for two things. First, that the West realizes that in terms of civilizational values, Russia and even China (all part of the “Functioning Core”, to borrow from Thomas P.M. Barnett) are far closer to it than most of the Muslim world, and adjusts policy accordingly. Second, that it takes a more balanced and realistic view towards these developments in the Arab world. For instance, it could recognize the Syrian conflict as a civil war, as opposed to a universal uprising against the dark lord Assad (and as such stop making unrealistic demands for him to step down as a precondition for talks).

Realistically, however, I suspect it will be a winter’s day in hell before the West’s infatuation with the Arab Spring is over.

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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Here’s a sampling of recent headlines from the country that loves to lecture others on freedom of speech and rule of law.

Racist Tube rant woman Jacqueline Woodhouse jailed: A London Underground passenger has been jailed for 21 weeks after she admitted hurling racist abuse at fellow passengers.BBC

Girl gang who kicked woman in the head while yelling ‘kill the white slag’ freed after judge hears ‘they weren’t used to drinking because they’re Muslims’.Daily Mail

Police misused powers during royal wedding, protesters claim. (AK: on preemptive arrests of republicans)The Independent

The hijab has liberated me from society’s expectations of women: Wearing the hijab doesn’t have to be about religious dedication. For me, it is political, feminist and empowering. (AK: What’s worse than a feminist, and a radical Islamist? A feminist Islamist)The Guardian

No 10 guide to changing nappies and baby talk: New parents will be given government advice on changing nappies, breastfeeding and “baby talk” under a multi-million pound initiative to support family life.The Telegraph

UK economy’s fall into recession deeper than expected: Contraction of 0.3%, coupled with more bad news from the eurozone, increases pressure on government to intervene to boost economic growth.The Guardian

Is there any reason, any reason whatsoever, for other countries to listen to Britain on absolutely anything? Flee as quickly as you can possibly can! :shock:

(Republished from AKarlin.com 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.

See more

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
 
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After a year long hiatus from interviewing Russia watchers, I decided it was time to get back in the game. As it happens, my attention first fell on a Europe blogger – and not just any incisive, counter-intuitive scribbler whose intellect and analytical acumen is matched only by the number of themes he is prepared to expound upon, but also someone who has experience in politics (work in both the US Congress and the European Parliament), journalism (with the EU policy news site EurActiv), ideological adventurer (started off very neocon, but Iraq War and education fixed that), and a fellow rootless cosmopolitan (having been raised in France and briefly in the US, and studied at the London School of Economics). I am talking of none other than Craig Willy, who writes the irreverent (and informed) Letters from Europe.

Craig Willy: In His Own Words…

What first sparked your interest in blogging and Europe, and how did the twain meet?

I’ve been in love with history, politics, thought and argument since I was maybe 14. I remember very clearly telling a friend at the time that I wanted to “be paid to say my opinion”… Perhaps not the easiest career path and not one I persistently pursued!

Blogs don’t provide money, usually, but they are an absolute liberation for the aspiring writer: costs are zero, middlemen are eliminated, and you can reach every person on the planet who has Internet. How could I not blog? I started my first blog in 2004 and I don’t think I’ve changed the mix of more analytical pieces with humor, including on Euro-nonsense.

I have always been interested in Europe as I was born and raised here (specifically in France and the UK). I have been interested in the EU insofar as it seemed to represent Europeans reclaiming their power in the world and historical agency. It usually fails in this respect and hence I used to find the United States of America – its historical role, politics and foreign policy organizations – much more interesting. I now think all areas of the world are worthy of study. The US is probably over-written about and, being based in Brussels and involved in EU journalism, I can genuinely add value writing about European affairs. If I wrote about the US I would be just another opinion. I also think Europe needs more pan-European writers: it is a very real entity but it has no public space.

Do you see yourself, first and foremost, as a blogger, journalist, or pundit? What are your best and worst experiences in these roles?

I do not see these as mutually exclusive. They all feed into each other as I often draw on my journalistic work for my blog and the people I meet through blogging often end up being professionally useful. I am not a pundit because I don’t have the fame.

My best experience, and it is ongoing, was beginning formal journalistic work in Brussels a mere three months ago. It’s the first job I really enjoy and find stimulation in, and one that doesn’t feel “false”. It’s also one in which I’ve learned a really incredible amount about how media really work, the complicity between politicians and journalists, the endless plethora of lobbies, pols, NGOs, etc trying to influence the news with their inane press releases, as well as the intricacies of various EU policy areas in practice.

The worst I don’t know. Well, as every blogger knows, blogging can be a lonely, unglamorous and perfectly un-remunerated activity. And still we do it. I don’t think we can do otherwise!

In the long run, I hope to become a completely independent blogger-journalist. In truth, objective text does not exist and to the extent that blogs recognize their subjectivity they are more honest than “normal journalism”. The main difference is in tone, a different idea of balance, and adapting to the publication’s style. In being part of a large organization – which has its culture, clients and priorities – you are obviously also far less free.

I am very attached to my freedom.

Who are the best Europe commentators? Who are the worst?

You know my Google Reader is chock full of European blogs and RSS feeds, and I have some difficulty answering that question…

Actually, the worst is undoubtedly one of the neo-Maurrassian race-baiting French pundits. I will pick Éric Zemmour as he is by far the most famous and influential of them and because as a Jew himself he should really know better than to constantly (and smugly!) demonize black and/or Muslim Frenchmen.

As to the best it is very difficult to say… J. Clive-Matthews, aka NoseMonkey, might have been the best EU blogger but he no longer writes much. Fistful of Euros was easily the best pan-European blog, but it was collaborative and the project has declined in output and coherence. There are lots of very good bloggers whom I usually disagree with but who both have large audiences and are worth reading whether Euroskeptic Tory MEP Daniel Hannan, Libération journalist Jean Quatremer or the Leninist Richard “Didn’t Get the Memo” Seymour. I wouldn’t settle on one person however and there is no really good pan-European blogger. It’s a hole I kind of aspire to fill…

You lived for substantial periods of time in France, the UK, and the US. What are their respective charms and blemishes? If you had to choose, where would you prefer to reside permanently?

The UK tends to be more down-to-earth and unpretentious than the other two. Americans, particularly those of the Midwest and my Dad in particular, have a wonderful “can-do” spirit and optimism. The French, if you can get a secure job, I think have succeeded most in reconciling the constraints of modern civilization with living a “good, flourishing life.”

Oh dear… I often go on rants about the absurdities and prejudices of this or that country. I don’t spare anyone and I could go on forever if I start… So I won’t!

If you could recommend three books about European politics and/or history, what would they be?

First, I urge everyone to read In Defense of Decadent Europe [AK: Click to buy] by the great French intellectual Raymond Aron, ideally in the original French though an abridged English version is available. Written in 1977, there is no better analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of “Western Europe” and the European Economic Community (precursor to the EU), its democracies and economies, their superiority to the Communist bloc, the unremarkable nature of the Communist countries, the course the Soviet Empire’s collapse would take, the mirage of Socialism (it appeared the Communists might win elections in Italy and a Socialist-Communist coalition nearly did in France)… The book is so lucid and right – it has nothing to do with Neoconservative simplifications and idiocies – that it convinced me a contemporary observer really can understand the world he inhabits. You don’t need to wait for time to give you “perspective” or the opening of the government archives. It is a better analysis of Europe in the Cold War than probably the majority of books that have appeared on the subject since.

Some of this might seem dated – environmentalism, neoliberalism and the War on Terror had yet to appear – but it is quite amazing how many subjects he touches upon that are still perfectly relevant, such as dysfunctional oil-rich countries and the glut of unemployed and overqualified graduates (already!). Incidentally, people should read everything by Aron. Most of it is available in English (The Opium of the Intellectuals [AK: Click to buy], Progress and Disillusion, War and Peace between Nations, Clausewitz…) but it is worth learning the French language just to be able to know his thoughts in the original.

Second, read everything by the great Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm, and in particular Age of Extremes [AK: Click to buy], his history of the “Short Twentieth Century”. It is world history but Europe dominates it. He is a very lucid, very balanced and incredibly erudite historian and you can only come out of his books feeling more knowledgeable and intelligent.

Third, I have some trouble. I have yet to read a really good book on the EU actually. Tony Judt’s Postwar is more of a continental encyclopedia and doesn’t really deal with the EU. All the books that explain the EU tend to be textbook-style and very boring. I’ve heard Alan S. Milward’s The European Rescue of the Nation-State and Edgar Morin’s Penser l’Europe are very good, the latter is resting on my bookshelf, but I’ve yet to read them. Jeremy Rifkin’s The European Dream [AK: Click to buy] and John McCormick’s The European Superpower are worth reading but are pop works rather than “great”.

I suppose I will settle on Perry Anderson’s The New Old World [AK: Click to buy]. It is a very good introduction to Europe today from a Marxist perspective. As such it is mostly critical but like Hobsbawm very informed and provides a very good overview of various national politics, enlargement, the EU itself and EU integration theory (if you’re into that sort of thing…).

The US vs. EU quality of life debate may be cliché and overdone, but I can’t help asking a Europe buff this question: which would you say offers the preferable socio-economic model? (OK, it’s obvious from your posts that EU > USA. Please expound.)

The first point I want to make is that anyone who claims lack of “government” systematically leads to more economic efficiency and better outcomes is simply misinformed, wrong and perhaps arguing in very bad faith. You have the whole history of industrial civilization contradicting them. Look at 19th century America, Bismarckian Germany, Meiji Japan, Stalin’s Soviet Union, postwar Europe and Japan, the “Asian Tigers” or China today: each of these countries achieved stunning economic and industrial growth with some combination of tariffs (all of them, basically), industrial policy (publicly-funded railroads), mercantilism (support for export-oriented “national champions”, the undervalued Yuan) or even outright State control of the economy.

So I get pretty frustrated with the whole Republican spiel about laissez-faire dynamism and sclerotic Europe. You have to be incredibly ignorant of economic history – and I would say they very probably are – to believe what they do and the slurs they sling at Europe to justify the economic and social mess they’re making of their own country.

The second point is that though I am not an economist or an expert on economic or industrial policy, I can read statistics and they tend to indicate that modern civilization leads us to produce and consume more without this necessarily adding to either national well-being or personal happiness. It is true that the US’s GDP per capita is significantly higher than Europe’s. Why is this? It is due to a proportionally larger and younger active population, to longer working hours, and – it is true – to very high productivity (slightly higher than in most European countries).

But what have they done with this wealth? The numbers are eloquent. Americans eat so poorly and are so inactive that generals warn youth obesity is a threat to recruitment and national security. Energy efficiency and transport are catastrophic: the US emits almost 40% more CO2 than Europe (including Turkey and the Balkans) despite having a smaller economy and over 300 million less people. And it isn’t like the transport system is any good! Incidentally, this inefficiency, beyond environmental concerns, is a completely needless attack on America’s energy independence and national security.

The healthcare system is an economic and social disaster, costing almost twice as much per capita as that of France (one of the more expensive European healthcare systems), for not noticeably better and much more unequal outcomes. So much for “market efficiency.” Then there’s the prison-industrial complex, some 2.3 million people behind bars, on the scale of the Soviet gulag and by far the most in the world today, with many millions more under probation and other forms of police-state supervision. This reduces the unemployment figures and provides jobs for prison wardens in certain districts, but the costs are huge: billions of dollars wasted are nothing compared to the ruin this has inflicted on the black community. This is not due principally to excess criminality, but to draconian drug laws, discriminatory justice, weak welfare, and a conscious decision that the defense of the socio-economic system should be done in the most coercive way possible.

Most of these problems are not inherent to the American character or even US politics. They can be traced back, very precisely, to the failure of Lyndon Johnson’s Liberalism and the triumph of Ronald Reagan’s Conservatism. That was when the country and its political leadership completely failed to address oil dependence, the expanding prison population, embraced the doctrine of eternal war as an integral part of American nationalism, lost the egalitarian tendency, and so on.

If anything, I do not champion Europe’s various economic and welfare models. Europe is far from perfect and no one claims it is. It’s simply that the American alternative is unalloyed crap and the discourse about it, particularly by Republicans, is so manifestly false, hollow and hypocritical. An informed person could only see the US model for what it is: sickeningly inefficient and unjust. Even Americans see this: when Americans say in polls they want the income distribution on Sweden (easily the most “Communist” country today) but elect a Republican Congress, my brain simply can’t cope with fathoming that level cognitive dissonance in the American public (you made this point once). [AK: You mean here, where I talk of American false consciousness?] It is literally maddening.

As this blog focuses quite a lot on Russia, I can’t avoid asking you for your thoughts on EU – Russia relations. Are they improving or worsening? Is it at all plausible for Russia to enter the EU by 2025, and would it serve either of the two parties’ interests?

I think relations are good. There are no fundamental problems. Of course there are serious divisions within Europe – the new members understandably being very suspicious. (Although I like to tell them it only took a few years for France and Germany to make up after the Second World War…) Russia’s relations with France and Germany, incidentally, are very good. Paris and Moscow have similar visions of a multipolar world and both aspire to be genuine world powers while Berlin and Moscow are united by economic collaboration that can get downright incestuous (see Gerhard Schröder).

I cannot say what Russia’s destiny is. On the one hand, Russia and its near-abroad make up one of the four great poles of Western civilization, the others being (Western) Europe, North America and Latin America. That is to say as an economic, cultural and geopolitical space, it is and has long been distinct from “Europe” and, in my opinion, Russia needs to think about how it can weld the post-Soviet space into some kind of coherent economic and social union. I am not someone who believes that much was gained by the replacement of a stable Soviet Union with the collection of ethnic conflicts, impoverished and corrupt oligarchies, and poxy Central Asian dictatorships we have now.

On the other hand, I often think Russia must be reconciled with Europe in some way. There is an undeniable kinship and shared history but I don’t see how closer ties could work in practice. We are still very, very different and I don’t see all that much convergence. I think there is no chance of membership by 2025. Maybe by 2050 if Russia continues to grow but also becomes much more democratic. On the other hand, in the long run, how could Russia not join? The level of economic interdependence is always growing and the logic of regional integration often genuinely ineluctable. It would certainly make the linguistic situation very interesting if the Union has 150 million Russophones and perhaps more if Ukraine and others join…

How dangerous do you consider Europe’s reliance on Russian natural gas? With the anti-nuclear fallout post Fukushima, and France’s recent banning of gas fracking, do you think this dependence will grow in the next decade?

I don’t think it is all that dangerous. Russia needs European money almost as much as Europe needs gas. Russia can pick a fight with smallish poor Eastern European countries but I don’t see what it could possibly gain in conflicts with its Western European partners and the gatekeepers to the biggest economic area in the world.

I am not sold on nuclear as a way of reducing energy independence. It can be used en masse to provide almost all your electricity, but electricity is only about 20% of the energy we use! A lot depends on whether renewables become a non-negligible source of energy and the extent to which fossil fuels are replaced by electricity (particularly in transport). Clearly nuclear has taken a catastrophic hit in Europe though, everyone but France is pretty much giving it up. France will maintain its capacity however and who can say which way the wind will blow in 10 or 15 years?

One of the biggest Russian gripes regarding Europe is its travel restrictions. To visit many European countries, Russians need to expend considerable time and effort to procure a visa. Is a visa-free regime possible within the next 5 years?

Access to its labor market is one of the most valuable things the EU can grant to another country. It is also, today, one of the most controversial due to the current anti-immigrant sentiment and race-baiting politicians. I can’t really say whether a visa-free regime will be possible within five years.

On the one hand, the very charming and funny Russian Ambassador to the EU Vladimir Chizhov said in an interview said he was upset by the recent developments in Europe because it would undermine his negotiations for a visa-free regime (by the way a very interesting interview covering lots of other subjects).

On the other hand, I was very surprised last November when EU granted visa-free travel rights to Albanians and Bosnians. They’re the sort of foreigners whose alleged criminality politicians would normally make noise about. The European Commission, which has little power itself, would normally cave in to the demands of said politicians.

HARD Talk with Craig Willy

ANATOLY KARLIN: I know that you have a great deal of enthusiasm for the European project. However, many observers – including myself – are skeptical about its longterm sustainability. The economic crisis has fueled popular resentment, e.g. the Greeks cursing outside financial authorities for imposing steep cuts to public spending, while the Germans deride them for their fiscal profligacy and dislike having to bail them out (recent polls suggest a majority of Germans want the Deutsche Mark back). The political right is enjoying a Europe-wide resurgence. National interests appear to be diverging, e.g. with France focusing on the Mediterranean, while Germany deepens ties with Russia. Border controls are reappearing. The global economic situation is cloudy, and high oil prices seem to be here to stay, presenting a further panoply of challenges to European solidarity. So is ever deeper union a realistic prospect, or is there a chance that the EU will end up as little more than a glorified free trade area by 2020?

CRAIG WILLY: As a disclaimer, I’ve gotten much, much more critical of EU officials and pols since I’ve come to Brussels. I am still wedded to the project however and I think most of the nonsense EU officials engage in is ultimately due to structural constraints imposed on them by the national governments.

The EU is not much more than an economic entity but it is much more than a free trade area. In fact, as soon as you have a commitment to a customs union (e.g.: a common external tariff and common trade negotiations with foreigners) and genuine single market, you can’t help but be a de facto economic power and have substantial integration, such as a common EU patent, common EU property rights, common EU approach to GMOs, and so on. The EU remains the world’s biggest economy and the truth is most international relations today involve economic issues above all. As such, the EU isn’t a wholly inappropriate entity for the (let’s call it) postmodern world.

I am pessimistic about further integration for at least another ten years. A lot depends on whether the national governments decide to reform the EU to actually make it democratic. There needs to be a connection between the elections to the European Parliament and the President of the European Commission. There is nothing in the treaties that makes this impossible; the pan-European parties only need to get their act together and agree on candidates. Commissioner Michel Barnier recently suggested that this happen and that the Commission and Council presidencies incidentally be merged. If this were done, there would be a genuine European politics and an identifiable face/mandated chief executive for the EU.

It is possible if they want it. Democracy is impossible without a common language but English has long been establishing itself as the lingua franca among Europeans. South Africa and India, much poorer countries with if anything harsher internal ethnic divisions, prove that multilingual and multiethnic democracy is possible. Of course, national leaders don’t want a democratic EU, like the old Italian and German princely states they prefer to maintain their own power, they prefer division to the common good. It doesn’t help that the current panoply of European leaders – Merkel, Sarkozy and Berlusconi in particular – are absolutely disgraceful for their lack of ambition and venality.

ANATOLY KARLIN: The discourse on Europe’s demography is decidedly pessimistic, though perhaps unreasonably so (in 2010, France may have overtaken the US in total fertility rates). Nonetheless, the pessimism is not without cause, as France (and the UK) are exceptions rather than the rule. Most of Europe, including the biggest countries – Germany, Italy, Spain, Poland – have been reproducing at well below replacement level rates for over two decades. What impact will this have on Europe’s economic dynamism and the welfare state? And in a world of limits to growth, could Europe’s demographic clouds have a silver lining?

CRAIG WILLY: I think the world needs less babies. Europe is less wasteful environmentally than America, but if every Asian and African achieved a European standard of living the Earth would become unlivable and exhausted within a few years.

Ageing is a huge challenge and will put incredible strain on Europe’s finances and lead to reduced power in the world. Low birthrates can also be a problem and the relative decline of France in Europe in the 19th Century can be directly attributed to the fertility of its German and British neighbors.

On the other hand, these are universal challenges characteristic of modern civilization. I would point to three things that make me optimistic about Europe:

  1. Birth rates on the whole are collapsing in developing countries. UN reports stress that, by the time they reach our oldish demographic profile, they will not have achieved the West’s current levels of wealth. As such, their pension, economic and health problems will be significantly worse than what Europe faces. (I hope that doesn’t sound like Schadenfreude!)
  2. East Asia’s birth rates and ageing are even more catastrophic than Europe’s! There is a very clear pattern here: an East Asian country develops very fast, Western commentators fret about our “decadence” and how we will be bought out by said East Asians, said East Asian country turns more-or-less gracefully into a fortified retirement home. I think of Japan of course but also of the forgotten “Tigers” South Korea, Singapore, Taiwan and Hong Kong. They all have birth rates around 1.2-1.4, lower than Europe. China, big scary China, is if anything in a worse situation. It is still very poor on a per capita basis but its fertility rate has dropped below 1.5. Given the trend in neighboring countries, I don’t know that the one-child policy is the only reason for this.
  3. The EU’s latest demography report points to some very interesting and counter-intuitive trends in terms of future family patterns that suggest godless French-style cohabitation, late-age childbearing and strong childcare policies are the cause of higher birthrates in certain countries. It is definitely worth reading the introduction at least. Another thing was that it points to the recent increase of EU fertility to 1.6 and perhaps soon to 1.7. It is unevenly divided across the Union but it not all that different from American non-Hispanic whites’ 1.8. Of course America has massive immigration and, as such, the US’s demographic weight in the world will continue to increase massively, while Europe’s has basically peaked. Speaking of “Eurabia”, Hispanics have a fertility rate of 2.9, almost 50% over the average, and immigration is not really letting up. Isn’t it much more likely that we see a Hispanicization of America? Certainly California, New Mexico, Texas and Florida look like they might be destined to return to Latin civilization…

ANATOLY KARLIN: You’re not the biggest fan of the “Eurabia” thesis. I totally agree with you, but I will play devil’s advocate. Please explain why you discount the possibility that: (1) the number of Muslims in Europe is under-counted (e.g. due to political correctness); (2) that migration from Muslim countries will not grow in the coming years, on the background of Europe’s demographic problems and population stress in Africa and the Middle East; and (3) the increasing radicalization of Europe’s Muslim populations (e.g. one third of British Muslims support the death penalty for apostasy).

CRAIG WILLY: I can’t talk to the statistics. I think they are basically accurate: 10% in France, 2-5% in most Western European countries, zero in Eastern Europe, and a certain number in Britain but outnumbered by immigrants of other origins (Indians, West Indians, Christian Africans, not to mention other Europeans…). The number of Muslims will increase over the next 40 years but will not be overwhelming.

There is clearly a strong, perhaps growing, cultural divide between European “natives” and European Muslims. Muslims are more conservative on the whole, somewhat like Hispanics in the United States but the difference is definitely more pronounced. I am not convinced Muslims are radicalizing. In France and Italy, the places where Muslims now live used to be poor working-class white areas. These areas tended to vote Communist (20-40% of the vote in France and Italy used to be Communist). I don’t see even the beginnings of mass political radicalization among European Muslims despite the fact they live in if anything more difficult circumstances. I actually would like more radical politics, not Islamist, but perhaps more of France’s anticolonial Indigènes de la République, its answer to America’s Black Power movement.

I am not convinced European countries are fully capable of accepting Muslims as equals and integrating them. Many Europeans seem to think the immigrant can and must integrate first before he is allowed to have the same job, have his children go to a decent school, or move into a nice area. It’s obviously a chicken and egg thing but many people aren’t able to accept this.

The climate and discourse in France in particular is getting pretty scary, the Front National acquiring a veneer of respectability and professionalism, and Sarkozy’s center-right actually embracing its anti-Muslim discourse. E.g.: the burqa ban, the “polygamous welfare-frauds” (our “welfare queens”), the ridiculous “Debate on National Identity,” openly racist statements by ministers (quote “too many Muslims”). It is quite depressing.

Europeans have demons sleeping inside them, like every other human being in the world. But our history has meant our demons came out in a horrifying way. Less than 70 years ago we slaughtered as many Jews and Roma we could get our hands on in a fit of organized psychosis and industrialized murder. Less than 20 years ago some Europeans decided there were “too many Muslims” and that there was only one solution to this “problem.” It’s something worth worrying about. We live in what are, even with the recession, relatively good and peaceful times. I worry for the Muslims if we ever started having really serious economic and social difficulties in Europe.

Back to the Future

Many pundits don’t like to put their money where they mouth is. Though I’m sure you’re not that type, feel free to confirm it by making a few falsifiable predictions about Europe’s future. After a few years, we’ll see if you were worth listening to.

Oh dear, I’ll have a crack at it:

  • No significant additional integration until 2020 or even 2025. No significant “rolling back” either however.
  • The Eurozone survives and expands to several Eastern European countries by 2020. Britain does not join.
  • The cultural divorce between Britain and the continent will grow. It will perhaps become insurmountable if Scotland acquires its independence. Britain will stay inside the EU however albeit with its continued semi-obstructive “yes-but-no” denialism.
  • The European economy will have near-zero growth in the coming decades for demographic reasons, productivity will continue to rise, its technological leadership will continue, and its overall size might increase if enlargement continues.
  • Turkey will not join before at least 2035, if ever. Most of the Balkans will have joined by then.
  • Socialism will not make a significant return barring an even more serious economic crisis. Social equity in Europe will decline somewhat, but not as much as in America.
  • Race relations will get worse.
  • European leaders will continue to be wholly materially and psychologically dependent on the Americans. They will not develop an independent foreign policy or a “common” foreign policy.
  • The socio-economic gap between the US and Europe will grow, as will the cultural one on abortion, gay rights, militarism and the like.
  • “European politics” will very slowly but surely emerge as interdependence becomes more glaring, the use of English spreads, and the Union is democratized. It’s an apparently undetectable process, like tectonic plates moving, but you can very clearly see the trend decade on decade.

What are your future blogging plans?

I plan on continuing with Letters from Europe but am also looking to start much more semi-professional and collaborative blogging.

These include revamping Future Challenges, a blogging platform on long-term trends funded by the Bertelsmann Stiftung. As its Western Europe editor, I’m hoping to turn it into the standard for analyzing the continent’s long-term trends on energy, demographics, migration and economics.

I’m also involved with bloggingportal.eu, a very useful aggregator that brings together the sleepy world of EU bloggers. Its readership is not incredibly high, but it includes a fair number of prominent EU journalists and communications professionals. I highly recommend you sign up to its daily RSS of best posts from the EU blogosphere (a very good filter).

Finally, I’m thinking of launching some sort of multilingual pan-European blog. It’s still a little sketchy but it would involve something like national-oriented bloggers writing in German or French (and thus it being possible to get reasonable audiences, unlike for EU-centric blogs) while also translating these posts systematically into an English main feed. You’d then have overlapping global, EU and national audiences. I don’t know if it can work but my dream would be a cross between Glenn Greenwald (God bless him) and Fistful of Euros.

Arthur Miller once said “a good newspaper is a nation talking to itself.” I think that is true. Currently, even European leaders don’t read each others’ newspapers. They discover themselves and their continent, collectively, through the pages of The Economist, the Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times. Besides the particular political agenda of these publications, there is something wrong here in having the “continental conversation” through media that are either foreign or from not the most committed European country. Besides that, Europe is hardly their main focus. I hope to contribute in a small way to creating that infamous “European public space”.

I wish you the best of luck in that endeavor, Craig, and thank you for answering S/O’s questions!

As I said at the start, I’m planning to revive the Watching the Russia Watchers (and interesting others) series again in the next few days, carrying on from the interviews with Kevin Rochrock (A Good Treaty) and Peter Lavelle (Russia Today) last year.

If you wish me to interview you or another Russia watcher, feel free to contact me.

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
 
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Truly, if Willian Burns were to issue an anthology of his Moscow cables during his 2005-2008 ambassadorship, I’d seriously consider buying it. Just consider this cable from May 2006, on Chechnya’s “Once and Future War”, a nuanced US view of that conflict and the cynicism and corruption it engendered amongst all its parties.

What struck me first was its reminder of the awesome magnitude of corruption and state dissolution during the 1990′s. Though Transparency International might claim that nothing much has changed in the past two decades (or even regressed), it is belied by Burns’ vision of a “military-entrepreneurial” officer corps that proclaimed President Yeltsin’s “business” was to “sit in Moscow, drink vodka, and chase women” while they did “[their] work” in the Caucasus region. And profitable work it was too. Due to post-Soviet Russia’s low domestic energy prices, it was highly lucrative to launder oil it through Chechnya, sell it on foreign markets, and make big dollar on the difference. Army officers profited from the racket; their Chechen partners spent their cut of the gravy to arm themselves for war. One of the primary causes of the First Chechen War, apart from the state’s usual hatred of separatism, was a specific desire to reassert control over Chechnya’s oil and arms bazaar.

The other interesting theme of this account – if one well-known to Chechnya watchers – is that even today, neither the regional Russian Army (“bunkered and corrupt”, and considering relocating to Daghestan) nor the federal authorities (“["Plenipotentiary Representative Dmitriy Kozak] was not even invited when Putin addressed the new Parliament in Groznyy [in December 2005]” have much influence. It is former separatists turned Putin vassals that run Chechnya, in exchange for their loyalty and suppression of what is now a fully Islamised insurgency. The Kremlin ensures this loyalty by continuing to support different clans, so that none feels itself strong enough to challenge it outright; the main example of this that Burns cites is the struggle between the (FSB-backed) Kadyrov clan and the (GRU-backed) Yamadaev brothers. Observing the current situation from Burns’ perspective, it could hardly be a good sign that the Yamadaevs have been exterminated, Kadyrov’s own regime is promoting fundamentalist strains of Sufi Islam, and that Muslims in nearby regions are growing restless and radicalized because of the heavy-handedness of Russia’s “war on terror”.

Burns says a lot about what the US could do to help to promote human rights and combat Islamism, but implicitly recognizes that it isn’t much. He also suggested a reform of the Army and the MVD to root out their corruption and clunkiness. Reform of these power structures was made a priority under the Medvedev administration.

Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
06MOSCOW5645 2006-05-30 09:09 2010-12-01 23:11 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Moscow
VZCZCXRO0843
PP RUEHDBU
DE RUEHMO #5645/01 1500927
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 300927Z MAY 06
FM AMEMBASSY MOSCOW
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 6600
INFO RUCNCIS/CIS COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHXD/MOSCOW POLITICAL COLLECTIVE PRIORITY

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 10 MOSCOW 005645
SIPDIS
SIPDIS
EO 12958 DECL: 05/25/2016
TAGS PREL, PGOV, MARR, MOPS, RS“>RS
SUBJECT: CHECHNYA: THE ONCE AND FUTURE WAR
REF: MOSCOW 5461 AND PREVIOUS
Classified By: Ambassador William J. Burns. Reason 1.4 (b, d)

1. (C) Introduction: Chechnya has been less in the glare of constant international attention in recent years. However, the Chechnya conflict remains unresolved, and the suffering of the Chechen people and the threat of instability throughout the region remain. This message reinterprets the history of the Chechen wars as a means of better understanding the current dynamics, the challenges facing Russia, the way in which the Kremlin perceives those challenges, and the factors limiting the Kremlin’s ability to respond. It draws on close observation on the ground and conversations with many participants in and observers of the conflict from the moment of Chechnya’s declaration of independence in 1991. We intend this message to spur thinking on new approaches to a tragedy that persists as an issue within Russia and between Russia and the U.S., Europe and the Islamic world.

Summary

2. (C) President Putin has pursued a two-pronged strategy to extricate Russia from the war in Chechnya and establish a viable long-term modus vivendi preserving Moscow’s role as the ultimate arbiter of Chechen affairs.The first prong was to gain control of the Russian military deployed there, which had long operated without real central control and was intent on staying as long as its officers could profit from the war. The second prong was “Chechenization,” which in effect means turning Chechnya over to former nationalist separatists willing to profess loyalty to Russia. There are two difficulties with Putin’s strategy. First, while Chechenization has been successful in suppressing nationalist separatists within Chechnya, it has not been as effective against the Jihadist militants, who have broadened their focus and are gaining strength throughout the North Caucasus. Second, as long as former separatist warlords run Chechnya, Russian forces will have to stay in numbers sufficient to ensure that the ex-separatists remain “ex.” More broadly, the suffering of an abused and victimized population will continue, and with it the alienation that feeds the insurgency.

3. (C) To deal effectively with Chechnya in the long term, Putin needs to increase his control over the Russian Power Ministries and reduce opportunities for them to profit from war corruption. He needs to strengthen Russian civilian engagement, reinforcing the role of his Plenipotentiary Representative. He needs to take a broad approach to combat the spread of Jihadism, and not rely primarily on suppression by force. In this context there is only a limited role for the U.S., but we and our allies can help by expressing our concerns to Putin, directing assistance to areas where our programs can slow the spread of Jihadism, and working with Russia’s southern neighbors to minimize the effects of instability. End Summary.

The Starting Point: Problems of the “Russianized” Conflict

4. (C) Chechnya was only one of the conflicts that broke out in the former Soviet Union at the time of the country’s collapse. Territorial conflicts, most of them separatist, erupted in Nagorno-Karabakh, Transnistria, South Ossetia, North Ossetia/Ingushetia, Abkhazia and Tajikistan. Russian troops were involved in combat in all of those conflicts, sometimes clandestinely. In all except Nagorno-Karabakh, Russian troops remain today as peacekeepers. Russia doggedly insists on this presence and resists pulling its forces out. Its diplomatic efforts have served to keep the conflicts frozen, with Russian troops remaining in place.

5. (C) Why is this? The charge is often made that Russia’s motive for keeping the conflicts frozen is geostrategic, or “neo-imperialism,” or fear of NATO, or revenge against Georgia and Moldova, or a quest to preserve leverage. Indeed, the continued deployments may satisfy those Russians who think in such terms, and expand the domestic consensus for sending troops throughout the CIS. However, while one or another of those factors may have been the original impulse, each of the conflicts has gone through phases in which the conflict’s perceived uses for the Russian state have changed. No one of these factors has been continuous over the life of any of the conflicts.

6. (C) We would propose an additional factor: the determination of Russia’s senior officer corps to remain deployed in those countries to engage in lucrative activity outside their official military tasks. Sometimes that activity has been as mercenaries — for instance, Russian active-duty soldiers fought on both sides in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict from 1991-92. Sometimes it has involved narcotics smuggling, as in Tajikistan. Selling arms to all sides has been a long-standing tradition. And sometimes it has meant collaborating with the mafias of both sides in conflict to facilitate contraband trade across the lines, as in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The officers and their generals formed a powerful bloc in favor of all the deployments, especially under Yeltsin.

7. (C) This “military-entrepreneurial” bloc soon formed an autonomous institution, in some respects outside the government’s control. There are many illustrations of its autonomy. For instance, in 1993 Yeltsin reached an agreement with Georgia on peacekeeping in Abkhazia. When the Georgian delegation arrived in Sochi in September of that year to hammer out the details with Russia’s generals, they found the deal had changed. When they protested that Yeltsin had agreed to other terms, a Russian general replied, “Let the President sit in Moscow, drink vodka, and chase women. That’s his business. We are here, and we have our work to do.”

The Secret History of the Chechen War

8. (C) The lack of central control over the military, as well as officers’ cupidity, may have been a prime cause of the first Chechnya War. Immediately after the collapse of the Soviet Union, energy prices in the “ruble zone” were 3 percent of world market prices. Government officials and their partners bought oil at ruble prices, diverted it abroad, and sold it on the world market. The military joined in this arbitrage. Pavel Grachev, then Defense Minister, reportedly diverted oil to Western Group of Forces commander Burlakov, who sold it in Germany.

9. (C) Chechnya was a major entrepot for laundering oil for this arbitrage. It appears to have been used both by the military (including Grachev) and the Khasbulatov-Rutskoy axis in the Duma. Dudayev had declared independence, but remained part of the Russian elite. Chechnya’s independence, oilfields, refineries and pipelines made Chechnya perfect for laundering oil. Planes, trains, buses and roads and pipelines to Chechnya were functioning, allowing anyone and anything to transit — except auditors. In the early 1990′s millions of tons of “Russian” oil entered Chechnya and were magically transformed into “Chechen” oil to be sold on the world market at world prices. Some of the proceeds went to buy the Chechens weaponry, most of it from the Russian military, and another lucrative trade developed. Dudayev took much of his cut of the proceeds in weapons. The Groznyy Bazaar was notorious in the early 1990s for the quantity and variety of arms for sale, including heavy weaponry.

10. (C) Chechnya was the home of Ruslan Khasbulatov and served various purposes for his faction of the Russian elite. He took advantage of the army’s independence from Yeltsin’s control. An informed source believes that it was Khasbulatov, not the “official” Russian government, who facilitated the transfer of Shamil Basayev and his heavily-armed fighters from Chechnya into Abkhazia in 1992, and who ordered the Russian air force to bomb Sukhumi when Shevardnadze went there to take personal command of the Georgians’ last stand in July 1993. The Yeltsin government always denied that it bombed Sukhumi, despite Western eyewitness accounts confirming the bombing and the insignia on the planes. Given the confusion of those years, it could well be that the order originated in the Duma, not the Kremlin.

11. (C) After Khasbulatov and Rutskoy were written out of the Russian equation in October 1993, so was Dudayev. Clandestine Russian support for the Chechen political and military opposition to Dudayev began in the spring of 1994, according to participants. When that proved ineffective, Russian bombing was deployed. (One Dudayev opponent recounted that in 1994 a Russian pilot was given a mission to fire a missile into one of the top-floor corners of Groznyy’s Presidency building at a time when Dudayev was scheduled to hold a cabinet meeting there. Not knowing Groznyy, the pilot asked which building to bomb, and was told “the tallest one.” He bombed a residential apartment building.) When air power, too, proved ineffective, Russian troops were secretly sent in to reinforce the armed opposition. Dudayev’s forces captured about a dozen and put them on television — and the Russian invasion began shortly thereafter.

12. (C) Given the gangsterish background of the war, it is no surprise that the military conducted the war itself as a profit-making enterprise, especially after the capture of Groznyy. By May 1995 an anti-Dudayev Chechen could lament, “When we invited the Russian army in we expected an army — not this band of marauders.” Contraband trade in oil, weapons (including direct sales from Russian military stores to the insurgents), drugs, and liquor, plus “protection” for legitimate trade made military service in Chechnya lucrative for those not on the front lines. This profitability ended only with the August 1996 defeat of Russian forces in Groznyy at the hands of the insurgents and the subsequent Russian withdrawal — a defeat made possible because the Russian forces were hollowed out by their officers’ corruption and pursuit of economic profit.

13. (C) Before they lost this “cash-cow” to their enemies, Russian officers went to great lengths to keep their friends from interfering with their profits. On July 30, 1995, the Russians and the Chechen insurgents signed a cease-fire agreement mediated by the OSCE. It would have meant the gradual withdrawal of Russian forces. Enforcing the cease-fire was a Joint Observation Commission (“SNK”). The head of the SNK was General Anatoliy Romanov, a competent and upright officer — very much a rarity in Chechnya. After two months at this assignment he was severely injured by a mine inside Groznyy, and has been hospitalized ever since. Informed observers believe Romanov’s own colleagues in the Russian forces carried out this murder attempt. The cease-fire, never enforced, broke down.

14. (C) When the second war began in September 1999, Russian forces again started profiteering from a trade in contraband oil. Western eyewitnesses reported convoys of Russian army trucks carrying oil leaving Groznyy under cover of night. Eventually the Russian forces reached an understanding with the insurgent fighters. Seeing one such convoy, a Western reporter asked his guerrilla hosts whether the fighters ever attacked such convoys. “No,” the leader replied. “They leave us alone and we leave them alone.”

No Exit for Putin

15. (C) Sometime between one and two years after Russian forces were unleashed for a second time on Chechnya, Putin appears to have realized that they were not going to deliver a neat victory. That failure would make Putin look weak at home, the human rights violations would estrange the West, and the drain on the Russian treasury would be punishing (this was before the dramatic rise in energy prices). Putin could not negotiate a peace with Maskhadov: he had already rejected that course and could not back down without appearing weak. The Khasavyurt accords that ended the first war were the result of defeat; a new set of accords would be seen as a new defeat. In any case, the history of the war (and the fate of General Romanov) made clear that negotiations without the subordination of the military were a physical impossibility.

16. (C) Putin thus found himself without a winning strategy and had to develop one. He has taken a two-pronged approach. One prong was subordinating the military. The appointment of Sergey Ivanov as Defense Minister appears to have been aimed at subjecting the military to the control of the security services. A series of reassignments and firings is the surface evidence of the struggle to subordinate the military in Chechnya. Southern Military District commander Troshev, who led the 1999 invasion, refused outright the first orders transferring him to Siberia in November 2002, and went on television to publicize his mutiny. He was finally removed in February 2003. Chief of the Defense Staff Kvashnin, who had held the Southern District command during the first Chechen war, hung on in a combative relationship with Ivanov for three years until he, too, was replaced in 2004 (and also sent to Siberia as the Presidential Representative in Novosibirsk). The spring 2005 dismissal of General Viktor Kazantsev, Putin’s Plenipotentiary Representative in the Southern Federal District, was reportedly the final link in the chain. Military corruption, and feeding at the trough of Chechnya, has not ended, but the corruption has reportedly been “institutionalized” and more closely regulated in Kremlin-controlled channels.

Chechenization, Ahmad-Haji Kadyrov, and the Salafists

17. (C) The second prong of Putin’s strategy was to hand the fighting over to Chechens. “Chechenization” differs from Vietnamization or Iraqification. In those strategies, a loyalist force is strengthened to the point at which it can carry on the fight itself.Chechenization, in contrast, has meant handing Chechnya over to the guerrillas in exchange for their professions of loyalty, the formal retention of Chechnya within the Russian Federation, and an uneasy cooperation with Federal authorities that in practice is constantly re-negotiated.

18. (C) Chechenization is associated with Ahmad-Haji Kadyrov, the insurgent commander and chief Mufti of separatist Chechnya. After he defected to the Russians, Putin put him in charge of the new Russian-installed Chechen administration. Chechenization was reportedly agreed between Kadyrov and Putin personally. But the seeds of the policy were sown by a split in the insurgent ranks dating to the first war. That split that took the form of a religious dispute, though it masked a power struggle among warlords. The split is the direct result of the introduction of a new element: Arab forces espousing a pan-Islamic Jihadist religious ideology.

19. (C) The traditional Islam of Dagestan, Chechnya and Ingushetia is based on Sufism, or Islamic mysticism. Though nominally the Sufi orders were the same as those predominant in Central Asia and Kurdistan — Naqshbandi and Qadiri — Sufism in the Northeast Caucasus took on a unique form in the 18th-19th century struggle against Russian encroachment. It is usually called “muridism.” Murids were armed acolytes of a hieratic commander, the murshid. Shaykh Shamil, the Naqshbandi murshid who led the mountaineers’ resistance to the Russians until his capture in 1859, was both a spiritual guide and a military commander. He also exercised government powers. The largest Sufi branch (“vird”) in Chechnya is the Kunta-Haji “vird” of the Qadiris, founded and led by the charismatic Chechen missionary Kunta-Haji Kishiyev until his exile by the Russians in 1864. Although the historical Kunta-Haji died two years later, his followers believe that Kunta-Haji lives on in occultation, like the Shi’a Twelfth Imam.

20. (C) When Arab fighters joined the Chechen conflict in 1995, they brought with them a “Salafist” doctrine that attempts to emulate the fundamental, “pure” Islam of the Prophet Muhammad and his immediate successors, especially ‘Umar, the second Caliph. It holds that mysticism is one of the “impurities” that crept into Islam after the first four Caliphs, and considers Sufis to be heretics and idolaters. The idea that Kunta-Haji adepts could believe their founder is still alive — and that they worship the grave of his mother — is an abomination to Salafis, who believe that marked graves are a form of pagan ancestor worship (Muhammad’s grave in Arabia is not marked).

21. (C) Wahhabism-based forms of Islam started appearing in Chechnya by 1991, as Chechens were able to travel and some went to Saudi Arabia for religious study. But the true influx of Salafis (usually lumped together with Wahhabis in Russia) came during the first Chechen war. In February 1995 Fathi ‘Ali al-Shishani, a Jordanian of Chechen descent, arrived in Chechnya. A veteran of the war in Afghanistan, he was now too old to be a combatant, but was a missionary for Salafism. He recruited another Afghan veteran, the Saudi al-Khattab, to come to Chechnya and lead a group of Arab fighters.

22. (C) Al-Khattab’s fighters were never a major military factor during the war, but they were the key to Gulf money, which financed power struggles in the inter-war years. Al-Khattab forged close links with Shamil Basayev, the most famous Chechen field commander. Basayev himself was from a Qadiri family, but he was too Sovietized to view Islam as anything more than part of the Chechen and Caucasus identity. In his early interviews, Basayev showed himself to be motivated by Chechen nationalism, not religion, though he paid lip-service — e.g., proclaiming Sharia law in Vedeno in early 1995 — to attract Gulf donors. Basayev’s initial interest in al-Khattab, as indeed with other jihadists starting even before the first war, was purely financial.

23. (C) After the first war, al-Khattab set up a camp in Serzhen-Yurt (“Baza Kavkaz”) for military and religious indoctrination. It provided one of the few employment opportunities for demobilized Chechen fighters between the wars. Young Chechens had traditionally engaged in seasonal migrant construction work throughout the Soviet Union, but after the first war that was no longer open to them. The closed international borders also precluded smuggling — another pre-war source of employment and income. The fighters had no money, no jobs, no education, no skills save with their guns, and no prospects. Al-Khattab’s offer of food, shelter and work was inviting. As a result, between the wars Salafism spread quickly in Chechnya. (Al-Khattab also invited missionaries and facilitators who set up shop in Chechnya, Dagestan and Georgia’s Pankisi Gorge, whose Kist residents are close relatives of the Chechens.)

Battle Lines in Peacetime

24. (C) Chechen society is distinguished by its propensity to unite in war and fragment in peace. It is based on opposing dichotomies: the Vaynakh peoples are divided into Chechens and Ingush; the Chechens are divided into highlanders (“Lameroi”) and lowlanders (“Nokhchi”); and these are further divided into tribal confederations and exogamous tribes (“teyp”) and their subdivisions. Each unit will unite with its opposite to combat a threat from outside. Two lowland teyps, for example, will drop quarrels and unite against an intruding highland teyp. But left to themselves, they will quarrel and split. After the Khasavyurt accords, when Russia left the Chechens alone, the wartime alliance between Maskhadov and Basayev split and the two became enemies. Other warlords lined up on one side or the other — the Yamadayev brothers of Gudermes, for example, fighting a pitched battle against Basayev in 1999. But the rise of Basayev and al-Khattab undermined Maskhadov’s authority and prevented him from exercising any real power.

25. (C) This power struggle took on a religious expression. Since Basayev was associated with al-Khattab and Salafism, Maskhadov positioned himself as champion of traditional Sufism. He surrounded himself with Sufi shaykhs and appointed Ahmad-Haji Kadyrov, a strong adherent of Kunta-Haji Sufism, as Chechnya’s Mufti. Kadyrov had spent six years in Uzbekistan, allegedly at religious seminaries in Tashkent and Bukhara, and seems to have developed links to other enemies of Basayev, including the Yamadayevs.

26. (C) The religious division dictated certain policies to each side. The Sufi tradition of Maskhadov and Kadyrov had been associated for over two centuries with nationalist resistance. Basayev, with his new-found commitment to al-Khattab’s Salafism, adopted the Salafi stress on a pan-Islamic community (“umma”) fighting a worldwide jihad, notionally without regard for ethnic or national boundaries. Al-Khattab and Basayev invaded Dagestan in August 1999, avowedly in pursuit of a Caucasus-wide revolt against the Russians. They brought on a Russian invasion that threw Maskhadov out of Groznyy.

Chechenization Begins

27. (C) The second Russian invasion did not unite the Chechens, as previous pressure had. Perhaps the influence of al-Khattab and his Salafists, as well as the devastation of the first war, had rent the fabric of Chechen society too much to restore traditional unity in the face of the outside threat. (We should also remember that unity is relative. Only a small percentage of the Chechens actually fought in the first war, and many supported the Russians out of disgust with Dudayev.) Kadyrov and the Yamadayevs separately broke with Maskhadov and defected to the Russians. Kadyrov began to recruit from the insurgency non-Salafist nationalist fighters who were highly demoralized and disoriented by the disastrous retreat from Groznyy in late 1999. Kadyrov began to preach what Kunta-Haji had preached after the Russian victory over Imam Shamil in 1859: to survive, the Chechens needed tactically to accept Russian rule. His message struck a chord, and fighters began to defect to his side.

28. (C) Putin appears to have stumbled upon Kadyrov, and their alliance seems to have grown out of chance as much as design. But they were able to forge a deal along the following lines: Kadyrov would declare loyalty to Russia and deliver loyalty to Putin; he would take over Maskhadov’s place at the head of the Russian-blessed government of Chechnya; he would try to win over Maskhadov’s fighters, to whom he could promise immunity; he would govern Chechnya with full autonomy, without interference from Russian officials below Putin’s level; and he would try to exterminate Basayev and Al-Khattab.

29. (C) If the objective of Chechenization was to win over fighters who would carry on the fight against Basayev and the Arab successors to Khattab (who was poisoned in April 2002), it has to be judged a success. The real fighting has for several years been carried out by Chechen forces who fight the war they want to fight — not the one the Russian military wants them to — and who appear happy to kill Russians when they get in the way. The Russian military is “just trying to survive,” as one officer put it. Not all the pro-Moscow Chechen units are composed of former guerrillas. Said-Magomed Kakiyev, commander of the GRU-controlled “West” battalion, has been fighting Dudayev and his successors since 1993. But at the heart of the pro-Moscow effort are fighters who defected from the anti-Moscow insurgency.

The Military Overstays Its Welcome

30. (C) The development of Kadyrov’s fighting force, along with that of the Yamadayev brothers, left the stage clear for a drawdown of Russian troops, certainly by early 2004 (leaving aside a permanent garrison presence). But those troops, still not fully responsive to FSB control, did not want to leave. Especially now that Chechens had taken over increasing parts of the security portfolio, the Russian officers were free to concentrate on their economic activities, and in particular oil smuggling.

31. (C) Kadyrov could not be fully autonomous until he — not the Russians — controlled Chechnya’s oil. He therefore demanded the creation of a Chechen oil company under his jurisdiction. That would have severely limited the ability of federal forces to divert and smuggle oil. On May 9, 2004, Kadyrov was assassinated by an enormous bomb planted under his seat at the annual VE Day celebration. The killing was officially ascribed to Chechen rebels, but many believe it was the Russian Army’s way of rejecting Kadyrov’s demand. Under the circumstances, one cannot exclude that both versions are true.

In the Reign of Ramzan

32. (C) Kadyrov’s passing left power in the hands of his son Ramzan, who was officially made Deputy Prime Minister. The President, Alu Alkhanov, was a figurehead put in place because Ramzan was underage. The Prime Minister, Sergey Abramov, was tasked with interfacing between Kadyrov and Moscow below the level of Putin.

33. (C) Ramzan Kadyrov has none of the religious or personal prestige that his father had. He is a warlord pure and simple — one of several, like the Yamadayev family of warlords. He is lucky, however, in that his father left him a sufficient fighting force of ex-rebels. Though they may have been lured away from the insurgency for a variety of reasons, it is money that keeps them. Kadyrov feels little need for ideological or religious prestige, though he makes an occasional statement designed to appeal to Muslims, and makes a point of supporting the pilgrimage to the tomb of Kunta-Haji’s mother in Gunoy, near Vedeno (though that is in part to show he is stronger than Basayev, whose home and power base are in the Vedeno region). Kadyrov must only satisfy his troops, who on occasion have shown that, if offended or not given enough, they are willing to desert along with their kinsmen and return to the mountains to fight against him. He must also guard against the possibility, as some charge, that some of the fighters who went over to Federal forces did so under orders from guerrilla commanders for whom they are still working.

34. (C) Kadyrov is also fortunate in that the FSB, with whom he has close ties, has by this time emasculated the military as “prong one” of Putin’s strategy. Kadyrov has slowly but surely also taken over most of the spigots of money that once fed the army, and like his father he has started agitating for overt control over Chechnya’s oil (while prudently ensuring that others take the lead on that in public). Kadyrov is at least as corrupt as the military, but the money he expropriates for himself from Moscow’s subsidies is accepted as his pay-off for keeping things quiet. And indeed Kadyrov and the other warlords are capable of maintaining a certain degree of security in Chechnya. The showy “reconstruction” developments they have built in Groznyy and their home towns demonstrate that the guerrillas cannot or at least do not halt construction and economic activity. Moreover, there is enough security to end Putin’s worries about a secessionist victory. That has allowed Putin to demonstrate a new willingness to be increasingly overt in support of separatism in other conflicts (e.g., Abkhazia, Transnistria) when that advances Russian interests.

35. (C) Despite its successes to date, however, Putin’s strategy is far from completed. He still needs to keep forces in the region as a constant reminder to Kadyrov not to backtrack on his professed loyalty to the Kremlin. Ideally, that force would be small but capable of intervening effectively in Chechen internal affairs. That is unrealistic at present. The current forces, reportedly over 25,000, are bunkered and corrupt. When they venture on patrol they are routinely attacked. One attempt to redress this is to position Russian forces close but “over the horizon” in Dagestan, where a major military base is under construction at Botlikh. However, that may only add to the instability of Dagestan. A Duma Deputy from the region told us that locals are vehemently opposed to the new military base, despite the economic opportunities it represents, on grounds that the soldiers will “corrupt the morals of their children.”

36. (C) Another approach is the Chechenization of the Federal forces themselves. Recently “North” and “South” battalions of ethnically Chechen special forces — drawn from Kadyrov’s militia — were created to supplement the “East” and “West” battalions of Sulim Yamadayev and Said-Magomed Kakiyev. Those formations are officially part of the Russian army. The Kremlin strategy appears to be to check Kadyrov by promoting warlords he cannot control, and to check the FSB from becoming too clientized by allowing the MOD to retain a sphere of influence. In Chechnya, that is a recipe for open fighting. We saw one small instance of that on April 25, when bodyguards of Kadyrov and Chechen President Alkhanov got into a firefight. According to one insider, the clash originated in Kadyrov’s desire to get rid of Alkhanov, who now has close ties with Yamadayev.

What Can We Expect in the Future?

37. (C) The Chechen population is the great loser in this game. It bears an ever heavier burden in shake-downs, opportunity costs from misappropriation of reconstruction funds, and the constant trauma of victimization and abuse — including abduction, torture, and murder — by the armed thugs who run Chechnya (reftels). Security under those circumstances is a fragile veneer, and stability an illusion. The insurgency can continue indefinitely, at a low level and without prospects of success, but significant enough to serve as a pretext for the continued rule of thuggery.

38. (C) The insurgency will remain split between those who want to carry on Maskhadov’s non-Salafist struggle for national independence and those who follow the Salafi-influenced Basayev in his pursuit of a Caucasus-wide Caliphate. But the nationalists have been undercut by Kadyrov. Despite Sadullayev’s efforts, the insurgency inside Chechnya is not likely to meet with success and will continue to become more Salafist in tone.

39. (C) Prospects would be poor for the nationalists even if Kadyrov and/or Yamadayev were assassinated (and there is much speculation that one will succeed in killing the other, goaded on by the FSB which supports Kadyrov and the GRU which supports Yamadayev). The thousands of guerrillas who have joined those two militias have by now lost all ideological incentive. Since they already run the country, they feel themselves, not the Russians, to be the masters, and are not responsive to Sadullayev’s nationalist calls; Basayev’s Salafist message has even less appeal to them. Even if their current leaders are eliminated, all they will need is a new warlord, easily generated from within their organizations, and they can continue on their current paths.

40. (C) We expect that Salafism will continue to grow. The insurgents even inside Chechnya are reportedly becoming predominantly Salafist, as opposition on a narrowly nationalist basis offers less hope of success. Salafis will come both from inside Chechnya, where militia excesses outrage the population, and from elsewhere in the Caucasus, where radicalization is proceeding rapidly as a result of the repressive policies of Russia’s regional satraps. There are numerous eyewitness accounts from both Dagestan and Kabardino-Balkaria that elite young adults and university students are joining Salafist groups. In one case, a terrorist killed in Dagestan was found recently to have defended his doctoral dissertation at Moscow State University — on Wahhabism in the North Caucasus. These young adults, denied economic opportunities, turn to religion as an outlet. They find, however, that representatives of the traditional religious establishments in these republics, long isolated under the thumb of Soviet restrictions, are ill-educated and ill-prepared to deal with the sophisticated theological arguments developed by generations of Salafists in the Middle East. Most of those who join fundamentalist jamaats do not, of course, become terrorists. But a percentage do, and with that steady source of recruits the major battlefield could shift to outside Chechnya, with armed clashes in other parts of the North Caucasus and a continuation of sporadic but spectacular terrorist acts in Moscow and other parts of Russia.

41. (C) Outside Chechnya, the most likely venue for clashes with authorities is Dagestan. Putin’s imposition of a “power vertical” there has upset the delicate clan and ethnic balance that offered a shaky stability since the collapse of Soviet power. He installed a president (the weak Mukhu Aliyev) in place of a 14-member multi-ethnic presidential council. Aliyev will be unable to prevent a ruthless struggle among the elite — the local way of elaborating a new balance of power. This is already happening, with assassinations of provincial chiefs since Aliyev took over.

In one province in the south of the republic, an uprising against the chief appointed by Aliyev’s predecessor was suppressed by gunfire. Four demonstrators were shot dead, initiating a cycle of blood revenge. In May, in two Dagestani cities security force operations against “terrorists” resulted in major shootouts, with victims among the bystanders and whole apartment houses rendered uninhabitable after hits from the security forces’ heavy weaponry. It is not clear whether the “terrorists” were really religious activists (“Whenever they want to eliminate someone, they call him a Wahhabi,” the MP from Makhachkala told us). But the populace, seeing the deadly over-reaction of the security forces, is feeling sympathy for their victims — so much so that Aliyev has had to make public condemnations of the actions of the security forces. If this chaos deepens, as appears likely, the Jihadist groups (“jamaats”) may grow, drift further in Basayev’s direction, and feel the need to respond to attacks from the local government.

42. (C) Local forces are unreliable in such cases, for clan and blood-feud reasons. Wahhabist jamaats flourished in the strategic ethnically Dargin districts of Karamakhi and Chabanmakhi in the mid-1990s, but Dagestan’s rulers left them alone because moving against them meant altering the delicate ethnic balance between Dargins and Avars. Only when the jamaats themselves became expansive during the Basayev/Khattab invasion from Chechnya in the summer of 1999 did the Makhachkala authorities take action, and then only with the assistance of Federal forces. Ultimately, if clashes break out on a wide scale in Dagestan, Moscow would have to send in the Federal army. Deploying the army to combat destabilization in Dagestan, however, could jeopardize Putin’s hard-won control over it. Unleashing the army against a “terrorist” threat is just that: allowing the army off its new leash. Large-scale army deployments to Dagestan would be especially attractive to the officers, since the border with Azerbaijan offers lucrative opportunities for contraband trade. The army’s presence, in turn, would further destabilize Dagestan and all but guarantee chaos.

43. (C) Indeed, destabilization is the most likely prospect we see when we look further down the road to the next decade. Chechenization allows bellicose Chechen leaders to throw their weight around in the North Caucasus even more than an independent Chechnya would. A case in point is the call on April 24 by Chechen Parliament Speaker Dukvakha Abdurakhmanov for unification of Chechnya, Ingushetia and Dagestan, implicitly under Chechen domination (the one million Chechens would constitute a plurality in the new republic of 4.5 million). The call soured slowly normalizing relations between Chechnya and Ingushetia, according to a Chechen official in Moscow, though the Dagestanis treated the proposal as a joke.

What Should Putin Be Doing?

44. (C) Right now Putin’s policy towards Chechnya is channeled through Kadyrov and Yamadayev. Putin’s Plenipotentiary Representative (PolPred) for the Southern Federal District, Dmitriy Kozak, appears to have little influence. He was not even invited when Putin addressed the new Parliament in Groznyy last December. Putin needs to stop taking Kadyrov’s phone calls and start working more through his PolPred and the government’s special services. He also needs to increase Moscow’s civilian engagement with Chechnya.

45. (C) Putin should continue to reform the military and the other Power Ministries. Having asserted control through Sergey Ivanov, Putin has denied the military certain limited areas in which it had pursued criminal activity — but left most of its criminal enterprises untouched. He has done little if anything to form the discipline of a modern army deployable to impose order in unstable regions such as the North Caucasus. Recent hazing incidents show that discipline is still equated with sadism and brutality. The Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD) has undergone even less reform. The Chechenization of the security services, despite its obvious drawbacks, has shown that locals can carry out security tasks more effectively than Russian troops.

46. (C) Lastly, Putin should realize that his current policy course is not preventing the growth of militant, armed Jihadism. Rather, every time his subordinates try to douse the flames, the fire grows hotter and spreads farther. Putin needs to check the firehose; he may find they are spraying the fire with gasoline. He needs to work out a credible strategy, employing economic and cultural levers, to deal with the issue of armed Jihadism. Some Russians do “get it.” An advisor to Kozak gave a lecture recently that showed he understands in great detail the issues surrounding the growth of militant jihadism. Kozak himself made clear in a recent conversation with the Ambassador that he appreciates clearly the deep social and economic roots of Russia’s problems in the North Caucasus — and the need to employ more than just security measures to solve them. We have not, however, seen evidence that consciousness of the true problem has yet made its way to Moscow from Kozak’s office in Rostov-on-Don.

47. (C) We need also to be aware that Putin’s strategy is generating a backlash in Moscow. Ramzan Kadyrov’s excesses, his Putin-given immunity from federal influence, and the special laws that apply to Chechnya alone (such as the exemption of Chechens from military service elsewhere in Russia) are leading to charges by some Moscow observers that Putin has allowed Chechnya de facto to secede. Putin is strong enough to weather such criticism, but the ability of a successor to do so is less clear.

Is There a Role for the U.S.?

48. (C) Russia does not consider the U.S. a friend in the Caucasus, and our capacity to influence Russia, whether by pressure, persuasion or assistance, is small. What we can do is continue to try to push the senior tier of Russian officials towards the realization that current policies are conducive to Jihadism, which threatens broader stability as well; and that shifting the responsibility for victimizing and looting the people from a corrupt, brutal military to corrupt, brutal locals is not a long-term solution.

49. (C) Making headway with Putin or his successor will require close cooperation with our European allies. They, like the Russians, tend to view the issue through a strictly counter-terrorism lens. The British, for example, link their “dialogue with Islam” closely with their counter-terrorist effort (on which they liaise with the Russians), reinforcing the conception of a monolithic Muslim identity predisposed to terrorism. That reinforces the Russian view that the problem of the North Caucasus can be consigned to the terrorism basket, and that finding a solution means in the first instance finding a better way to kill terrorists.

50. (C) We and the Europeans need to put our proposals of assistance to the North Caucasus in a different context: one that recognizes the role of religion in North Caucasus cultures, but also emphasizes our interest in and support for the non-religious aspects of North Caucasus society, including civil society. This last will need exceptional delicacy, as the Russians and the local authorities are convinced that the U.S. uses civil society to foment “color revolutions” and anti-Russian regimes. There is a danger that our civil society partners could become what Churchill called “the inopportune missionary” who, despite impeccable intentions, sets back the larger effort. That need not be the case.

51. (C) Our interests call for an understanding of the context and a positive emphasis. We cannot expect the Russians to react well if we limit our statements to condemnations of Kadyrov, butcher though he may be. We need to find targeted areas in which we can work with the Russians to get effective aid into Chechnya. At the same time, we need to be on our guard that our efforts do not appear to constitute U.S. support for Kremlin or local policies that abuse human rights. We must also avoid a shift that endorses the Kremlin assertion that there is no longer a humanitarian crisis in Chechnya, which goes hand-in-hand with the Russian request that the UN and its donors end humanitarian assistance to the region and increase technical and “recovery” assistance. We and other donors need to maintain a balance between humanitarian and recovery assistance.

52. (C) Aside from the political optic, a rush to cut humanitarian assistance before recovery programs are fully up and running would leave a vacuum into which jihadist influences would leap. The European Commission Humanitarian Organization, the largest provider of aid, shows signs of rushing to stress recovery over humanitarian assistance; we should not follow suit. Humanitarian assistance has been effective in relieving the plight of Chechen IDPs in Ingushetia. It has been less effective inside Chechnya, where the GOR and Kadyrov regime built temporary accommodation centers for returning IDPs, but have not passed on enough resources to secure a reasonable standard of living. International organizations are hampered by limited access to Chechnya out of security concerns, but where they are able to operate freely they have made a great difference, e.g., WHO’s immunization program.

53. (C) Resources aimed at Chechnya often wind up in private pockets. Though international assistance has a better record than Russian assistance and is more closely monitored, we must also be wary of assistance that lends itself to massive corruption and state-sponsored banditry in Chechnya: too much of the money loaned in a microfinance program there, for example, would be expropriated by militias. Presidential Advisor Aslakhanov told us last December that Kadyrov expropriates for himself one third off the top of all assistance. Therefore, while we continue well-monitored humanitarian assistance inside Chechnya, we should broaden our efforts for “recovery” to other parts of the region that are threatened by jihadism: Dagestan, Kabardino-Balkaria, Ingushetia, and possibly Karachayevo-Cherkessia. Among these, we need to try to steer our assistance ($11.5 million for FY 2006) to regional officials, such as President Kanokov of Kabardino-Balkaria, who have shown that they are willing to introduce local reforms and get rid of the brutal security officials whose repressive acts feed the Jihadist movement.

54. (C) We also need to coordinate closely with Kozak (or his successor), both to strengthen his position vis–vis the warlords and to ensure that everything we do is perceived by the Russians as transparent and not aimed at challenging the GOR’s hold on a troubled region. The present opposite perception by the GOR may be behind its reluctance to cooperate with donors, the UN and IFIs on long-term strategic engagement in the region. For example, the GOR has delayed for months a 20-million-Euro TACIS program designed with GOR input.

55. (C) The interagency paper “U.S. Policy in the North Caucasus — The Way Forward” provides a number of important principles for positive engagement. We need to emphasize programs in accordance with those principles which are most practical under current and likely future conditions, and which can be most effective in targeting the most vulnerable, where federal and local governments lack the will and capacity to assist, and in combating the spread of jihadism both inside Chechnya and throughout the North Caucasus region. There are areas — for example, health care and child welfare — in which assistance fits neatly with Russian priorities, containing both humanitarian and recovery components.

56. (C) We can also emphasize programs that help create jobs and job opportunities: microfinance (where feasible), credit cooperatives and small business development, and educational exchanges. U.S. sponsored training programs for credit cooperatives and government budgeting functions have been very popular. Exchanges, through the IVP program and Community Connections, are an especially effective way of exposing future leaders to the world beyond the narrow propaganda they have received, and to generate a multiplier effect in enterprise. In addition to the effects the programs themselves can have in providing alternatives to religious extremism, such assistance can also have a demonstration effect: showing the Russians that improved governance and delivery of services can be more effective in stabilizing the region than attempts to impose order by force.

57. (C) Lastly, we need to look ahead in our relations with Azerbaijan and Georgia to ensure that they become more active and effective players in helping to contain instability in the North Caucasus. That will serve their own security interests as well. Salafis need connections to their worldwide network. Strengthening border forces is more important than ever. Azerbaijan, especially, is well placed to trade with Dagestan and Chechnya. The ethnic Azeris, Lezghis and Avars living on both sides of the Azerbaijan-Dagestan border and friendly relations between Russia and Azerbaijan are tools for promoting stability.

Conclusion

58. (C) The situation in the North Caucasus is trending towards destabilization, despite the increase in security inside Chechnya. The steps we believe Putin must take are those needed to reverse that trend, and the efforts we have outlined for ourselves are premised on a desire to promote a lasting stabilization built on improved governance, a more active civil society, and steps towards democratization. But we must be realistic about Russia’s willingness and ability to take the necessary steps, with or without our assistance. Real stabilization remains a low probability. Sound policy on Chechnya is likely to continue to founder in the swamp of corruption, Kremlin infighting and succession politics. Much more probable is a new phase of instability that will be felt throughout the North Caucasus and have effects beyond.

BURNS

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
 
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A foreign “subversive” journalist, driven by fevered idealism, publishes reams of leaked internal documents from an Authority that, beneath its carefully positioned mask of civility, honor and justice, views the whole world – of both friend or foe – as its own playground, and engages in the most corrupt and underhanded wheelings and dealing to maintain its lofty pretensions to hegemony. Though the Authority is entirely comfortable with selectively using the material contained therein to legitimize its ideological-imperialist projects to the public, its minions in the Mainstream Media and even its most prominent Archons experience no cognitive dissonance in calling for that accursed fiend, the revealer, to be branded with the number of the Beast that is “terrorist”, and to be henceforth sentenced to eternal imprisonment, or the death penalty, or the most apocalyptic of all, a Perunian thunderstrike from the skies. Now if this were real life as allegory, what would it it refer to?

Perhaps its the Mooslims? Nah, the Islamists aren’t that well organized or articulate. More to the point, they don’t leave extensive paper trails. The Rooskies? But when Russian officials make shady threats, their targets at least tend to be Russian Federation citizens and real traitors. No – as usual, it’s the West and its hypocrisy at its finest.

Now let’s make some things clear, first. As Defense Sec. Robert Gates correctly points out, the real impact of Wikileaks is modest. For instance, one of the ostensible “shocker” cables, revealing the support of the Arab elites for a US strike on Iranian nuclear installations, was well known in geopolitical circles well beforehand (heck, I mentioned this back in August and earlier). Even the impact of these official revelations on the “Arab street” are likely to be minimal, given that (1) polls show a (slight) majority of Arabs in Egypt and Lebanon willing to resort to military force to prevent an Iranian nuke and (2) alleged censorship of Wikileaks in the region.

Nor is Wikileaks – at least as of now – causing major tensions, or repressive attempts at censorship, in countries like Russia. (PLEASE READ: Throwing Down the Gauntlet on Wikileaks & Russia). This is in stark contrast to the claims of the Western MSM in the prelude to Cablegate, e.g. Christian Science Monitor:

Wikileaks ready to drop a bombshell on Russia. But will Russians get to read about it? Wikileaks is about to release documents on Russia, but the tightly-controlled Russian media is unlikely to report them the way Western media attacked the documents about Afghanistan and Iraq.

Which is of course why state news agency RIA and Gazprom-owned Kommersant both reported it on the same day. And as of now, there are literally thousands of results in the Russian news on Cablegate. Way to fail LOL!

Then Simon Shuster writing for TIME took an anonymous FSB comment (to Russian website LifeNews) and ran with it to make all kinds of fantastical insinuations about how the Kremlin would poison Assange or crash the Wikileaks site. Of course the Pentagon’s / CIA’s war against Assange is hardly mentioned (remember the 100-strong anti-Wikileaks unit set up by the Pentagon? The honey trap & rape accusations against Assange in Sweden?), but the funniest quote is this one:

So the most likely Russian reaction, at least at first, would be to undermine the authenticity of the alleged secrets. “That is the main tool, to filter it through the state-controlled mass media, which would discredit WikiLeaks and put into question the reliability of its sources,” says Nikolai Zlobin, director of the Russia and Eurasia Project at the World Security Institute in Washington, D.C. “This would limit any public debate of the leak to the Russian internet forums and news websites, which reach a tiny fraction of the population.”

Guess what, I agree! The only problem is that Russia would just be ripping a page straight out off the Western playbook!

As of now, Russia is surviving the Wikileaks storm in pretty good shape. What have we got so far? The absolutely shocking kompromat on the Kremlin-ideologist-without-an-ideology Surkov, who apparently has an Obama portrait in his office and likes Tupac; Ramzan Kadyrov clumsily dancing with a gold-plated Kalashnikov stuck in his jeans at a Daghestani wedding that might as well be out of a modern day Prisoner of the Caucasus novel; the Russian account of the South Ossetia War is if anything further confirmed, the picture being one of US diplomats willing to believe anything their Georgian intermediaries told them about the evil imperialist Rooskies; oh, and the matter of Russia being a “mafia kleptcracy”, at least as per US diplomats channeling marginal Russian oppositionists.

González said the FSB had two ways to eliminate “OC leaders who do not do what the security services want them to do”. The first was to kill them. The second was to put them in jail to “eliminate them as a competitor for influence”.

Erm, isn’t this what security forces anywhere are SUPPOSED to do?? (And I’d note there’s no shortage of historical examples of the CIA working hand in hand with organized crime to reach desired political outcomes in foreign countries, e.g. see Operation GLADIO). And, I mean, sure, it’s no secret to anybody who doesn’t live underneath a rock that there’s lots of shady and rather nasty people in the Russian bureaucracy; but without any names, there’s nothing new and all this diplo gossiping is all rather useless. Former Moscow Mayor Luzhkov is a centroid of corruption? You don’t say… (and perhaps soon to be forgotten with his recent ousting and move into the opposition).

As with Russia, there is – as of now – nothing truly compromising in the US files. Just some uncomfortable moments, and assessments of foreign leaders: e.g. see above, and the characterization of Azeri President Ilham Aliyev as being “Michael (Corleone) on the outside, Sonny on the inside”, and his alleged use of criminal slang. Remember the walkout on Ahmadinejad’s UN speech? Wikileaks reveals that it was an American initiative. The Swedish ambassador was supposed to leave the hall when Ahmadinejad came to the keyword “Holocaust” (and presumably its denial as he is wont to do). But this time Ahmadinejad refrained. So the poor Swede was left in a fluster when Ahmadinejad actually failed to mention the H-word, and could only frantically consult the Americans on what to do next. And so the circus goes on…

But none of this is the real point. Up till now, Wikileaks is just not that big of a game changer. The real point is the reaction to them in the West. And what that reaction says about the erosion of civil liberties in the past decade in the name of the holy “war on terror.” Regrettably, it is at this point that #cablegate is no longer a laughing matter. It becomes a mirror on the degenerating Western political soul.

Now I don’t know about you, but when an adviser to Canadian PM Harper openly calls for the assassination of Julian Assange (with no apparent consequences); when in actions reminiscent of China’s iron grip on its Internet, US politicians presume to demand – and get – American servers to pull Wikileaks; when there is serious consideration at the highest political levels of charging foreigners with treason against the US (a contradiction in terms); when former and potential future US Presidential candidates like Sarah Palin* – not to mention prominent commentators and numberless freepers – call for Assange to be “pursued with the same urgency we pursue al Qaeda and Taliban leaders”, and assassinated without charges, trial or due process; when all this happens, I become concerned about the future sustainability of the liberal political system in the face of the creeping advance of the national security-cum-surveillance state.

I don’t want to be melodramatic, but the right’s reaction to this affair is eerily totalitarian. Dehumanization? Check – see the rape charges, the classic intelligence agency smear against inconvenients everything.

On the issue of the Interpol arrest warrant issued yesterday for Assange’s arrest: I think it’s deeply irresponsible either to assume his guilt or to assume his innocence until the case plays out. I genuinely have no opinion of the validity of those allegations, but what I do know — as John Cole notes — is this: as soon as Scott Ritter began telling the truth about Iraqi WMDs, he was publicly smeared with allegations of sexual improprieties. As soon as Eliot Spitzer began posing a real threat to Wall Street criminals, a massive and strange federal investigation was launched over nothing more than routine acts of consensual adult prostitution, ending his career (and the threat he posed to oligarchs). And now, the day after Julian Assange is responsible for one of the largest leaks in history, an arrest warrant issues that sharply curtails his movement and makes his detention highly likely.

If I had to make a guess, I’d say Assange’s impropriety was limited to a one-night stand, in a culture where awkwardly lengthy dating and mating rituals are the apparent norm. Presumably, he failed to “satisfy” the ladies – not due to any lack of his own efforts, if it was a CIA sting – and thus got himself screwed several months later.

After the smear, as chronicled by Glenn Greenwald, comes “the increasingly bloodthirsty two-minute hate session aimed at Julian Assange, also known as the new Osama bin Laden“:

The ringleaders of this hate ritual are advocates of — and in some cases directly responsible for — the world’s deadliest and most lawless actions of the last decade. And they’re demanding Assange’s imprisonment, or his blood, in service of a Government that has perpetrated all of these abuses and, more so, to preserve a Wall of Secrecy which has enabled them. To accomplish that, they’re actually advocating — somehow with a straight face — the theory that if a single innocent person is harmed by these disclosures, then it proves that Assange and WikiLeaks are evil monsters who deserve the worst fates one can conjure, all while they devote themselves to protecting and defending a secrecy regime that spawns at least as much human suffering and disaster as any single other force in the world. That is what the secrecy regime of the permanent National Security State has spawned. …

In this latest WikiLeaks release — probably the least informative of them all, at least so far — we learned a great deal as well. Juan Cole today details the 10 most important revelations about the Middle East. Scott Horton examines the revelation that the State Department pressured and bullied Germany out of criminally investigating the CIA’s kidnapping of one of their citizens who turned out to be completely innocent. … British officials, while pretending to conduct a sweeping investigation into the Iraq War, were privately pledging to protect Bush officials from embarrassing disclosures. Hillary Clinton’s State Department ordered U.N. diplomats to collect passwords, emails, and biometric data in order to spy on top U.N. officials and others, likely in violation of the Vienna Treaty of 1961 (see Articles 27 and 30; and, believe me, I know: it’s just “law,” nothing any Serious person believes should constrain our great leaders).

And there’s no shortage of that freeper and neocon carrion awaiting the feeding frenzy with baited breath.

First we have the group demanding that Julian Assange be murdered without any charges, trial or due process. There was Sarah Palin on on Twitter illiterately accusing WikiLeaks — a stateless group run by an Australian citizen — of “treason”; she thereafter took to her Facebook page to object that Julian Assange was “not pursued with the same urgency we pursue al Qaeda and Taliban leaders” (she also lied by stating that he has “blood on his hands”: a claim which even the Pentagon admits is untrue). Townhall’s John Hawkins has a column this morning entitled “5 Reasons The CIA Should Have Already Killed Julian Assange.” That Assange should be treated as a “traitor” and murdered with no due process has been strongly suggested if not outright urged by the likes of Marc Thiessen, Seth Lipsky (with Jeffrey Goldberg posting Lipsky’s column and also illiterately accusing Assange of “treason”), Jonah Goldberg, Rep. Pete King, and, today, The Wall Street Journal.

The way in which so many political commentators so routinely and casually call for the eradication of human beings without a shred of due process is nothing short of demented. Recall Palin/McCain adviser Michael Goldfarb’s recent complaint that the CIA failed to kill Ahmed Ghailani when he was in custody, or Glenn Reynolds’ morning demand — in between sips of coffee — that North Korea be destroyed with nuclear weapons (“I say nuke ‘em. And not with just a few bombs”). Without exception, all of these people cheered on the attack on Iraq, which resulted in the deaths of more than 100,000 innocent human beings, yet their thirst for slaughter is literally insatiable. After a decade’s worth of American invasions, bombings, occupations, checkpoint shootings, drone attacks, assassinations and civilian slaughter, the notion that the U.S. Government can and should murder whomever it wants is more frequent and unrestrained than ever.

Those who demand that the U.S. Government take people’s lives with no oversight or due process as though they’re advocating changes in tax policy or mid-level personnel moves — eradicate him!, they bellow from their seats in the Colosseum — are just morally deranged barbarians. There’s just no other accurate way to put it. These are usually the same people, of course, who brand themselves “pro-life” and Crusaders for the Sanctity of Human Life and/or who deride Islamic extremists for their disregard for human life. ….

It didn’t have to be this way. The ultimate significance of Wikileaks is limited: it gives the peons a glimpse into high diplomacy (and underlines the US need for greater information control in this sphere); as Craig Willy points out, it enables a convergence of history and political science, and hence a “contemporary history” (the same point is made by Timothy Garton Ash); and it underlines the rather colonialist, entitlement-ridden, and frequently culturally challenged (just consult the Moscow cables in which diplomats repeat the MSM journalists on Russia virtually verbatim) mindset of the US diplomatic corps. But little of it is can be considered truly malevolent**.

No, what’s really damning about this affair is the elite’s uniform propaganda against an organ committed to finding and leaking their darkest and most sordid secrets. The compliance of the “exceptional” and “constitutional-loving” Western sheeple in further promoting their already abysmal ignorance. And funniest of all, the Fourth Estate’s own screeds against government openness and unaccountability: “uncritically passing on one government claim after the next — without any contradiction, challenge, or scrutiny”, and their sole complaint being that the glorious State isn’t restrictive enough. As I wrote about the Western MSM years back:

Control is all about imposing your view of reality on the minds of others. Since overt political persecution is no longer widely accepted, the elites have resorted to fighting wars over hearts and minds. Western media manipulation is not readily noticeable, since if that were the case the simulation’s plausibility would fall apart immediately (as was the case in the Soviet Union)…This makes them far more insidious and dangerous to freedom than any repressive dictatorship; for in the latter one knows one is a slave, while too many Westerners continue to be believe they are free, whereas in fact they are also slaves, like the rest of us.

It’s truer than ever, as Westerners shun or smash the last mirrors available to them, and Orwell continues spinning in his grave.

* I left the message “I support Sarah’s righteous demand to hunt down Assange in close cooperation with our North Korean allies” at Sarah Palin’s Facebook Page. It was a reference to a recent gaffe of hers (or more likely a demonstration of political cluelessness). A few hours later, I discovered that my comment had been removed and censored, and that I was also blocked from making further comments on Sarah Palin’s Facebook page

** I must also stress that these cables are far from the most highly classified secrets. The real juicy bits can only be accessed by the President and a dozen others, but the chances of them ever being Wikileaked are really, really low.

EDIT: This article has been translated into Russian at Inosmi.Ru (Wikileaks как зеркальное отображение Запада); almost as if to prove my point here! ;)

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
 
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The next installment of our Watching the Russia Watchers series at S/O features an interview with Peter Lavelle, the main political analyst at the Russia Today TV network, host of its CrossTalk debate show and Untimely Thoughts blogger. (He also has a Wikipedia page!) Peter is opposed to Western media hegemony, considering it neither fair nor useful, and firmly believes that global media should feature a diversity of voices from all cultural traditions; as such, the rise of alternate forums such as Al Jazeera and Russia Today are a boon for media consumers everywhere. Peter Lavelle actualizes this philosophy in his own CrossTalk program, in which controversial topics from France’s burqa ban to the collapse of Soviet Amerika are discussed: agree with him or not, one can certainly never get bored listening. The serious Russia watcher is recommended to join his “Untimely Thoughts” – Expert Discussion Group on Russia.

Peter Lavelle: In His Own Words…

What first sparked your interest in journalism and Russia, and how did the twain meet?

The reason I started to write about Russia – circa 1999 – came about for two reasons. First, having an education in Eastern European and Russian history gave me a reason to write about where I lived. I didn’t like much of what the commentariat was writing on contemporary Russia. The second reason was to earn some money, which later led to needing to make a living.

I came to Russia to live in late 1997. I was employed as an equity analyst at what was then called Alfa Capital. I was lured to Russia by my former boss (an American) I worked with in Poland. I never wanted to move to Russia – actually I must say I was rather adverse to Russia, having lived in eastern Europe for about 12 years. As a result of the financial crisis of 1998, I was given a generous severance package. This allowed me to stay in Russia for a while without worrying too much about money. In spring of 2000 I started to work for a small Russian bank. The money wasn’t great, but at least the bank organized and paid for my visa. Plus, I had time to write now and then. It was at this time I discovered the JRL – Johnson’s Russia List. I have been hooked on (even an addict to) Russia watching ever since.

So you ask “how did the twain meet?” I was furious with what some journalists passed off as serious analysis and commentary on Russia and I was given opportunities to express myself as a corrective to what I thought was awful journalism. The synthesis is me today (and not just regarding Russia).

My first stop was the Russia Journal. It wasn’t much of a newspaper, but I sure did write a lot for it and really enjoyed it. Then UPI’s former Moscow bureau chief asked me to come on board as a stringer – I was thrilled. That was the first time I called myself a journalist.

Later, I wrote for Asia Times Online and – yes! – for Radio FreeEurope/Radio Liberty. Being published in “Current History” was also a special benchmark for me as a journalist.

This was also the first time I started butting heads with the commentariat. I would like to point out that this is way before I had anything to do with Russian state (funded) media. Please remember my Untimely Thoughts newsletter was going full blast during all of this.

And for all those interested: I started to work at RIAN (2005) becauseI was tired of the “slave wages” UPI was paying and for problems associated with getting a new visa. Thus, I had very practical reasons to make this move.

It is simply not true I went to RIAN (later RT) due to “ideological” motivations. I had already settled in Russia and wanted to stay settled. My journalism in front of a camera today differs little from the journalism I practiced in print years before RT came into existence.

What were your best and worst experiences as a Russia journalist?

The highlight of my career to date in journalism, in which I include television, was covering Georgia’s aggression against South Ossetia in August 2008. I was in the news studio hour after hour, day in and day out. I lived on cigarettes and coffee, and with very little sleep. Watching such a story from the start and unfold was exhilarating. I am proud to say RT did an excellent job and that we at RT got the story right from the beginning when other news outlets either got it wrong or played catch-up (following RT’s lead of course!).

Having my own television program (aired three times a week) remains a great highlight. I dreamed (or day dreamed) of having such an opportunity at a very early age watching the Sunday political chat shows in the US. So dreams can come true, I suppose.

What is my worst experience? This will surprise you: not getting paid for my work. I have lost count of the number of articles I wrote without being compensated when I was still in print journalism. Today I can write for media outlets without asking for compensation – a wonderful position to be in.

I would like to also mention that while not directly under the category of “worst experience” I can say an on-going “unpleasant experience” is being called “Putin’s mouth piece” or the “Kremlin’s tool.” I speak my mind, I have always done this. Anyone acquainted with my long lost friend – my Untimely Thoughts newsletter – knows I have changed very little over the years. Television has not changed me; it has only allowed me to amplify my worldview.

Who are the best Russia commentators? Who are the worst?

Who are the best? There are some really great ones – ones that come to mind immediately: Patrick Armstrong, Vlad Sobell, Thomas Graham, Eugene Ivanov, Dale Herspring, Stephen Cohen, Paul Sauders, Dmitry Sims, Anatol Lieven, Mary Dejevsky, and Chris Weafer (and of course you Anatoly!).

Who are the worst? I think it is pointless to answer this question. Among the commentariat there is a small cottage industry that regularly condemns me – everyone reading this interview knows who I am referring to. To this day not one aspersion said or written about me warrants my reply. These are small minded people and most of them are journalists because they lack the ability and talent to do anything else. These are the worst kind of people – they get along by going along. When it comes to writing about Russia, the majority of them don’t have the guts to stand alone and speak up.

What is your favourite place in Russia? Is there anywhere you haven’t been yet, but would love to visit?

I love and hate Moscow! Moscow is my home so I make the best of it. Because of my CrossTalk program, I very rarely travel anymore. In fact, I have seen very little of this vast country. I have visited various cities between Moscow and St Petersburg and down south as far as Chechnya. By my own admission, I should be better travelled after so many years. I am still hoping to make it to Vladivostok.

If you could recommend one book about Russia, what would it be?

Martin Malia’s “Russia under Western Eyes” [AK: Click to buy] – I can’t remember how many times I have read this great tome, but each time I do I learn something new to reflect upon.

Do you think today’s Russian media environment is better than in 1999? The late 1980′s? Are Russian journalists freer or safer than they were before?

Comparing Russian media of the 80’s to the 90s to the 00s is not very constructive. The ending of Soviet era censorship was a great moment for Russians and Russian society. Some embraced honest and professional journalism; others practiced this trade with regrettable irresponsibility.

The way I look at Russia’s media transition – and the journey is long from over – is through the prism of business models. In the 80s the state’s monopoly had to be broken and eventually was. In the 90s the oligarchs divided up among themselves huge media empires – none ofwhich had any interest in real journalism or the social good. These media empires were political tools that terribly damaged journalism as a trade, profession, the political environment and even the world of business.

Since about 2000 (circa Putin), media in Russia is very much a business and a very profitable one at that! Today media caters more to audience interests and tastes – mostly entertainment (particularly when it comes to television). Is this good? Does this make a better society? Are people well enough informed? On the whole I don’t see Russian media being all that different from other media markets in the world. Russians – like their global counterparts – are well enough informed about their environment to make rational decisions about their lives. There is plenty of diversity, though one has to make an effort to satisfy interests beyond Russia’s mainstream.

As for the safety of journalists in Russia: this is a very painful and even shameful state of affairs. The police and judiciary need to do much more for journalists. Their inability to prosecute those behind high profile murders hurts journalism as a profession and public trust in state authorities.

Also, I want to point out that journalists are killed more likely because of “kompromat” being investigated or written about someone else’s money – not politics in its normative sense. In Russia money is everything – politics is a sideshow that amuses Russia’s hopelessly retarded liberal intelligentsia.

On balance, do you think Putinism was good or bad for Russia? (Try not to sit on the fence here).

I don’t like the term “Putinism.” There is no such “ism.” Russia is going through what I call the “post-soviet purgatory” – and doing well at that by my estimation, considering the other post-soviet states.

Vladimir Putin is the best thing to happen to Russia in its modern history – he is a rational person and a true patriot. Because of Putin, Russians are freer and richer now than any time since the Russian state came into existence centuries ago. Putin saved the Russian state from thieving oligarchs and their highly paid western advisors. Putin reconstructed the Russian state, was behind the creation of a middle class, and Russia’s dignified turn to the world stage. And he rightfully fought terrorism in the Caucasus when the West hoped for the slow and painful collapse of the Russian state in the wake of the Soviet collapse.

Putin is also the indirect creation of western hubris and the gross irresponsibility of Russia’s self-hating cappuccino-drinking liberals. Russia doesn’t need to be lectured by an outrageously hypocritical West, especially American posturing. Putin is the antithesis of Western hypocrisy and history will be very kind to him. Russians give him a lot of credit and he deserves it.

How will Russia-West relations be affected by Obama’s “reset” policy and Medvedev’s new emphasis on modernization? Which was the main party responsible for their deterioration in the first place?

The so-called “re-set” is a media strategy and in a sense a fraud – it has nothing to do with reality or political facts on the ground. Washington caved to reality – the American empire is collapsing. To slow the inevitable, Washington needs Moscow’s help. Out of self-interest Russia is willing to engage Obama. Pragmatic Russia today is helping Soviet Amerika out of a mess of its own making.

Most of the world’s problems can’t be resolved without Russia’s involvement – Washington now acknowledges this. Moscow does not give a hoot about Obama or the US. What Moscow does care about is how the world will evolve as the US deals with its own and much needed, but rarely spoken about, perestroika. The US is in decline and Russia (along with the emerging world) is readying itself for the inevitable paradigm shift.

Lastly, Russia and the US are not enemies, but they are competitors at times. Competition is good for both countries – even when dealing with common problems facing the world.

If you could advise the Russian government to do one thing it isn’t already doing, what would it be?

The Russian government claims it is fighting corruption (and there are signs of this), but it is not doing nearly enough. If Russia is to modernize itself to be competitive in the global marketplace, then it must to do more to fight this cancer. If this is not done, then history will pass Russia by.

HARD Talk* with Peter Lavelle

ANATOLY KARLIN: You are a fierce critic of US policy towards the Muslim world, and its enabling of Israeli expansionism and sidelining of dissenters like Robert Fisk and Norman Finkelstein. First, could you please expound on the similarities between Russophobia and Islamophobia? Second, why are Israeli policies towards the Palestinians / Hamas worse than Russia’s towards the Chechens / Caucasus Emirate?

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NUz14bvK4A8&w=480&h=385]

PETER LAVELLE: First of all, I don’t like the terms Russophobia and Islamophobia – both terms are emotive and lack precision. That said, it is obvious that Russia and Islam today serve as the West’s “other” – meaning both are feared because they are different and will not submit. It is the highest form of hubris on the part of the West to believe (even demand) that everyone in the world should be like the West. The fact is many in the world simply don’t want this. They want good education, health care, prosperity, etc., but not necessarily Western values and certainly not Western (read: American) militarism. This really annoys the West, particularly poorly educated and poorly informed Americans.

Russia sees itself as its own unique civilization. This may or may not be true, but many Russians seem to think so. Islam is obviously a civilization different from the West. Islam is experiencing a resurgence and a great deal of this resurgence is the rejection that Muslims must become more like American, Europeans, etc. I blame Western mainstream media for misleading Western audiences about Islam and the Muslim world. Tragically this is part of the grossly one-sided reporting when it comes to Israel and Greater Middle East politics.

Russia is terribly misinterpreted and misunderstood in the West. Russia is presented as the loser in the Cold War and thus should act as a defeated power. Russia refuses to do this. This infuriates many in the West. The fact is Russia and Russians liberated themselves from communism! According to the Western discourse regarding history, Russia is not repenting for the past, thus it still must be the enemy. The good news is Russia is a political fact on the ground and the West has no choice but to do business with it.

You ask: why are Israeli policies towards the Palestinians / Hamas worse than Russia’s towards the Chechens / Caucasus Emirate? You are asking me to compare apples with cement bricks!

The Israelis threw the Palestinians off their land and deny them their own state. Chechens have their republic within the Russian Federation, which is generously supported by the federal government.

Palestinians are less than second class citizens in Palestine, Chechens have the same rights as any other Russian citizen. Israel is a zionist state; Russia is a secular state protecting the religious rights of all citizens. Hamas was democratically elected; the Caucasus Emirate was not elected by anyone.

I could easily go on. As you can see I don’t see there is much of a comparison.

ANATOLY KARLIN: In my question to you about Russia-US relations, you claim the “American empire is collapsing” and allude to “Soviet Amerika” (that’s even the title of one your Crosstalk programs). Now it’s no secret that the United States has its share of problems: an overstretched military, awning budget deficits, etc. Nonetheless, we need some perspective. The US economy is still much larger than that of its nearest competitor, China (which has lots of bad loans and will be devastated if it were to pull the plug on its prime export market). The Eurozone may already be on the verge of unraveling. As for Russia, its GDP is an order of magnitude smaller than America’s.

So is it then reasonable to speculate about the collapse of Pax Americana, considering its current strength and the problems afflicting potential rivals? If it does collapse, which country or bloc will take its place, if any? Finally, have you heard of Dmitry Orlov’s idea of “the Collapse Gap” between the USSR and America today?

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=usiu_EefUow&w=480&h=385]

PETER LAVELLE: Yes, I have come across Orlov’s work and remain skeptical – he simply wants to the US to collapse. Everything you point out in your question is correct about the US. But you left out one important issue – the current weakness of America’s democracy. There is no political will in America to live within the country’s means. No one wants to sacrifice – and so many want too much without paying for it. This cannot last much longer – a couple of decades at best. America simply cannot maintain a global empire and prosperity at home. The only card up America’s sleeve is the dollar at the moment, but there is every indication that it will be replaced by a basket of currencies by mid-century.

Who will lead in the wake of America’s inevitable retreat? Hopefully the world will truly become multi-polar. Such a world is better for all of humanity. Multipolarity is better suited to dealing with issues such as climate change, food and energy security, non-proliferation, dealing with HIV/AIDs, etc. Today the world has to wait on all these issues because the US is very often the greatest barrier to positive change in world.

ANATOLY KARLIN: You say that you’re not a paid shill because you are quite sincere in your beliefs: you’re not “the man who $old his homeland”, as alleged by Russia Today’s (RT) former Tbilisi correspondant William Dunbar**. That may be so.

Nonetheless, many observers believe you and RT are hardly free of the same biases that you claim pervade the Western MSM. Though accusing you of being a “latter-day Lord Haw Haw” is surely extreme (as well as a reductio ad hitlerum), the perception definitely exists that what you call “challenging the Western media hegemony” is really just a euphemism for pushing Kremlin spin on unwitting Westerners.

First, do you think this is a valid argument? (If you use the “whataboutism” response, e.g. but the Western media is controlled too!, explain why you think that justifies Russia doing the same.) Second, if you still insist that you’re not beholden to the Kremlin, could you make three criticisms of the Medvedev-Putin tandem?

PETER LAVELLE: I knew William Dunbar and know a few of the details connected to his departure from RT. He is entitled to his opinion, though they are not opinions I agree with. Indeed, he does claim I am “the man who $old his homeland.” This only informs me that he knows little about me and my opinions.

So I will answer my critics on the compensation issue. Yes, I live a comfortable life in Moscow as far as a journalist is concerned, but that is not saying much these days! I am compensated because my work is hard, presenting truly alternative viewpoints, and promoting the station – no different from other television professionals around the world.

What does it mean to sell out one’s homeland? I am American and proud of it. Being American allows me to dissent – and I dissent all the time! RT allows me to do this when most western media outlets could never dream of giving a journalist so much free space. My program CrossTalk is my creation and I am very thankful RT management supports me. I decide the program’s topics and approve guests. I inform my boss what I am doing; I don’t ask for permission.

I don’t care what some disgruntled RT employee has to say about me. The same applies to others in the commentariat because their lack of talent or success. How often these days do I openly attack my critics? The answer is that I don’t. I am attacked and vilified because of my employer, but not my message. That is cheap.

I do not speak for RT – I can only speak for myself and my work at the television station. And let me make it clear – I don’t alway like every story RT broadcasts. At the same time I will defend the station’s commitment to being different. Again being honest – some RT reports are a bit over the top. But this is a good thing in the end – we ask our audience one basic thing: Question More. We may not always get it right, but our intention is spot on.

As far as Kremlin spin-doctoring is concerned, all I can say that this assumption is laughable. I come across this accusation all the time, but after working at RT for almost 5 years I still don’t see the evidence. Does RT present the government’s point of view? Yes, of course it does (and many other viewpoints as well). But is this “Kremlin spin-doctoring”? Obviously Russia’s political elite views the world differently from let’s say the US. Why should anyone be surprised by this? Also, anyone who has watched RT will tell you that the station is not only about politics. How can non-political stories be “Kremlin spin-doctoring”? RT wants to be and is competitive. This is because it is consciously different from its competitors.

RT doesn’t do the same. It is part of my job to watch the competition. I watch CNN, BBC, and Al Jazeera. CNN and BBC are wildly one-sided on most global issues compared to RT. Where I work you can come across opinions never heard by RT’s competitors. I give Al Jazeera very high points for its coverage of the Greater Middle East (though not its Russia coverage). Thus, I have no need to use the “whataboutism” argument.

You want me to prove that I am not the Kremlin’s slave and live to talk about it! I welcome this opportunity. You asked for 3 examples, well I will give you 10. Over the past 10 years Russia’s leading politicians haven’t done enough regarding:

  1. Corruption at all levels.
  2. Support of the older generation (pensions).
  3. Repair of and construction of new infrastructure.
  4. Support of small and medium size businesses.
  5. Development of political parties.
  6. Promotion of civil society’s role in solving social problems.
  7. Over reliance on the oil and natural gas sectors.
  8. Introduction of a volunteer-only military and military reform in general.
  9. Finding justice in so-called high-profile murders.
  10. The lack of competition in the marketplace.

I could easily go on. Russia has a lot of problems, no different from ALL OTHER countries in the world.

ANATOLY KARLIN: Global warming [deniers / skeptics] (delete as needed) like Alex Jones, Piers Corbyn and Chris Monckton – all with fairly minimal scientific credentials – get prominent coverage at RT. The entire topic of anthropogenic global warming (AGW) is treated as a debate in which either side has yet to prove its case.

However, in the real world, there is a consensus: in a 2004 study, Naomi Oreskes concluded that 75% of papers backed the AGW view, while none directly dissented from it. (And the latest studies are almost always more pessimistic about the magnitude of future warming than “previously expected”.) Given the sheer amount of evidence in favor of AGW, it seems strange to put a hereditary aristocrat who calls his opponents “Hitler Youth” and organizes witch hunts on the same pedestal as climate scientists. Even though more Americans believe in creationism than in evolution, news channels don’t normally give equal weight to both sides in that “debate”, do they?

So I’m at a loss how to explain this. Does RT want to get the scoop on the Western media, even at the cost of its own credibility? Or were you guys told to spin up Climategate because global warming is expected to benefit Russia? Or do you really believe that the AGW “debate” is still far from “settled”?

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wAvpH-dOP5A&w=480&h=385]

PETER LAVELLE: Again you are asking me to speak for RT – I am not RT’s spokesperson. And to be frank, I find your “Or were you guys told to spin up Climategate…” insulting. The fact is many of our viewers are interested in climate change. RT follows its viewers.

Nonetheless, I am glad you ask about AGW. I have done two programs on the subject – a topic I want to learn more about. I have no problem having Piers Corbryn and Chris Monckton on my program. Could you debate them? My other guests were actually quite keen to debate them. Let me be clear about something: RT gets credibility because it gives air time to different voices. And you are right, there really is no debate on American television. That can’t be said about my CrossTalk program and RT. Speaking about different voices: I may be one of the most prominent backers of dissent in the world of television today! I am proud of that.

ANATOLY KARLIN: Thank you for answering four very HARD questions. I’ll go easy on the last one. As you told us earlier in the interview, you dreamed of having your own TV program from an early age. Your wish came true. There are many who share your dream. Some of them might even be reading this interview! What advice would you give them on becoming a made man or woman in journalism? (The mafia reference isn’t entirely whimsical: from a distance, the profession does appear distinctly cliquish.)

PETER LAVELLE: This is the hardest question of all. All I can say is if you really want to be a journalist (including a TV journalist) you have to make a huge commitment. The competition is enormous and at times talented. Be different because you really are – not because being different might sell. Start blogging and pitching your material. Be prepared for rejection – many times over before things start to happen. Stay away from attacking individuals – staying with your convictions will be enough. Don’t try to become famous, that will come with hard work and honest and fair beliefs. Be willing to learn from others. And lastly stay away from journalists – a caste of people who, for the most part, aren’t worth even having a cup of coffee with.

Back to the Future

Many Russia watchers don’t like to put their money where they mouth is. Though I’m sure you’re not the type, feel free to confirm it by making a few falsifiable predictions about Russia’s future. After a few years, we’ll see if you were worth listening to.

Ok, Peter Lavelle’s predictions:

  • The current tandem will rule for the foreseable future – which is a good thing.
  • The next election cycle will go smoothly – parliamentary and presidential. Fingers crossed Russia’s political parties will mature some.
  • Russia will continue to recover and grow during the on-going global slump. If the US and Europe experience another turn-down, Russia will be spared.
  • Over the next few years, Russia and its eastern European neighbors will continue a robust process of reconciliation.
  • Russia will have to step in to play a greater role in the Greater Middle East as Washington is anything but a fair broker.
  • Russia will not continue down the path of pressuring Iran regarding Tehran’s nuclear program – Russia-US relations again will be strained (though nothing like during the Bush years).
  • Russia will continue to expand its influence in the Western Hemisphere, though not as a direct competitor to the US.
  • NATO will start to seriously listen to Russia (as most European capitals will pretend they have never heard of Saak!).
  • Mainstream western media will continue to get Russia wrong — that is an easy preduction!
  • Eventually, Putin will be blamed for the oil spill in the Gulf and creating the HIV/AIDS virus.

Do you plan to revive your Untimely Thoughts blog? Could you throw us a bone about any other projects you may have in the works?

What about the future? I am having a new website created to mirror my CrossTalk program. There, I intend to return to blogging in a big way in September.

Anatoly, thanks for the interview!

And thank you too, Peter, for a brilliant interview that gives fans and critics alike a lot to chew on!

If you wish me to interview you or another Russia watcher, feel free to contact me.

* A note on HARD Talk: My job as an interviewer is be a contrarian and even a “devil’s advocate” of sorts; to air common, common-sense or germane criticisms of the interviewee’s arguments and worldview, REGARDLESS of what my opinions might or might not be. (For instance, though I criticized Peter Lavelle’s views on the collapse of “Soviet Amerika”, I’ve made the same arguments on this very site: e.g. see here, here). I hope this clarifies things for the angry person who wrote me the email accusing me of Russophobia (LOL) in my HARD Talk with A Good Treaty.

** UPDATE August 14, 2010: William Dunbar has since deleted his only comment at that Facebook Group, which is reproduced below:

William Dunbar: hi, i just resigned from RT because i was being censored about georgia, i was the tbilisi correspondent. i have to say this is among the best groups i have ever seen on facebook. peter used to have a profile, i guess he left because it was another example of the double standards of the biased western media… or maybe putin prefers myspace

After I contacted him, Dunbar said that 1) he never alleged that Peter Lavelle is ““the man who $old his homeland” and that he left the Facebook group after reading this interview, 2) the last sentence is an inside joke between Dunbar and Lavelle that is “light hearted and not had absolutely nothing to do with how much Peter may or may not be paid”, and 3) he thinks that Peter Lavelle “is a true believer”, albeit his “commentary is objectionable, prejudiced and misleading.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
 
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I finally watched the film Гибель Империи. Византийский урок (Death of an Empire: the Byzantine Lesson), narrated by Archimandrite Tikhon Shevkunov, the father-confessor of Vladimir Putin. This film takes a stylized interpretation of the decline and fall of the Byzantine Empire – the root cause of which is attributed to mystical factors such as loss of faith in indigenous traditions, the state, and God – and implicitly (and at the end explicitly) draws lessons for modern-day Russia about the dangers of corruption, poshlost, and denigration of national traditions in favor of indiscriminate copying of foreign ways.

One could (rightly) quibble at the film’s ahistoricity, selective coverage, and slanted rhetoric. It is questionable that the West’s plundering of Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade was what spurred the development of European capitalism, and so is the assertion that the fundamental cause of Byzantium’s final defeat to the Ottoman Turks in 1453 was due to its recognition of papal supremacy. The arguments eschew rigorous analysis, instead relying on “mystical” explanations based on “life and death biological growth analogies of life and death and vaguely defined concepts of “vigor” and “decadence””, which are unscientific, albeit aesthetic (and hence persuasive). So it is justifiable for the academic historian or the “Western chauvinist” to dismiss the film out of hand.

However, that is to miss the point, which is that the film is political, following in the Russian Orthodox Church’s long tradition of legitimizing the Russian state. It is also a reflection of the feelings of the current Kremlin elites and a majority of the Russian population.

Below is the film, as well as some good expositions and reviews, after which my own review is continued.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w3hROzmN5MQ]

In the film, Father Tikhon expounds on importance of a strong power vertical, family values, control over oligarch predation, suppression of separatism, martial values, and state support for agriculture, manufacturing, and the Church. He likewise condemns the court intrigues, corruption, and promotion of Greek ethnic dominance that undermined the administrative power and ideological cohesiveness of the late Byzantine Empire. Above all, he stresses the dangers of adopting an uncritically submissive attitude towards Western cultural imports, which tended to erase older values (along with faith in the future), and which furthermore tended to be very inefficiently applied.

The implications for today’s Russia are perfectly clear. In Father Tikhon’s vision, the state should play an active role in effecting a spiritual revival in Russia, to transform it into an Orthodox-Eurasian Empire, which could be characterized by producerism, derzhavnost, and sobornost, and one unbeholden to the West.

This is not to say that it should reject Western innovations entirely, but it should apply them gradually, moderately, and with level-headed consideration. Furthermore, they must be avoided entirely if they challenge its core civilizational values. The Bolshevik importation of Marxism unto the Russian lands is mentioned as a regrettable example of the consequences of deviating from this philosophy. (Though at the end of the film, he even makes a qualified accolade to Stalin for the 1943 rehabilitation of Byzantinism, which had previously been suppressed, during the wartime patriotic revival).

As such, the film should not be viewed as a Byzantine history, but as an insight into the restorationist, conservative, and neo-Tsarist nature of Putinism… and as a guide to its possible future evolution. An evolution whose outlines are already emerging in trends as disparate as rising Russian protectionism, the clampdown on the oligarchs, neo-imperial rhetoric, Medvedev’s anti-alcohol measures, and incipient military revival. An evolution that is fast returning Russia to its past-and-future Empire.

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
 
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Steyn, MarkAmerica Alone: The End of the World as we Know It (2006)
Category: Islam; Eurabia; humor; Rating: 3/5
Summary: The future belongs to Islam (M. Steyn)

It crept up on the West silently. Even as post-historical white Europeans were busy puffing on their weed, hugging trees and chanting Kumbaya in a happy circle, in the dark recesses of their post-industrial civilization – from Britain’s wrecked mill towns to the gray apartment blocks of Malmö, a dark force was bedding, breeding and brooding on history’s return to the mighty continent. They were the Muslims.

*ominous drumbeat*

Slow and surely, they used the lobbying methods of gay rights and feminist organizations to spread their baneful influence to the heights of political power. Sharia enforced at the point of a gun became the law of the land in the grim banlieues of Paris and the gray apartment blocks of Londonistan. They became centers of global jihadist networks that intertwined modern technology, ancient hatreds and Western moral relativism to strike severe blows at its quailing hosts, the apathetic, limp-wristed citizenries presided over by disconnected Eurocrats who were too terrified to do anything but appease. All heroic dissenters, like Mark Steyn, who tried to warn Europe of its mortal peril, were ungratefully cut off by political correctness laws – where the Islamists did not cut off their heads for real, that is.

Some Europeans realized what was happening. Some “reverted” to the Islamofascist wave of the future, making their peace with the new world. The enterprising and quick-witted emigrated to the US of A, one of the world’s few remaining citadels of freedom and prosperity. Most accepted their fate passively – aging, deprived of their pensions through state bankruptcies, forced to pay jizya to their new masters who cut their beards, took away their beer and covered up their women. Though a few bands of neo-Nazi “patriots” tried to stem the Islamic tide, they were outnumbered and crushed in the ensuing civil wars.

*soundtrack*

The world retreated into a new Dark Age of nuclear-armed tinpot dictatorships, transnational terrorists equipped with the latest technology, a totalitarian China, a re-primitivized Russia of nuclearized anarchy fought over by the Chinese Army, brutal Muslim warlords and the dispossessed remnants of its original denizens, and a civil war-torn Europe alternating between fascist black and Islamist green. The barbarian of chaos and destruction leaves only a single, tattered Stars and Stripes fluttering on the winds of time, for now America stands alone as the last bastion of enlightenment amidst the stifling darkness that threatens to engulf it too.

That is, more or less, the main thesis of Mark Steyn’s book and much of his other work. His major argument behind the Eurabia theory can be summed up by three points:

  • Loss of precious bodily fluidsEurope’s demographic decline. While Islam is confident and expanding, Europe is in a demographic death spiral. Most countries on the Mediterranean rim and central Europe have total fertility rates below 1.3 children per woman, the “lowest-low fertility from which no human society in history has ever recovered”. While Westerners worry about trees and overpopulation, Muslims are copulating, settling and opening up new fronts in the global jihad. Though it is true that Muslim fertility is also falling, demography is a game of last man standing: it will be of little consolation to dispossessed secular Europeans if fertility rates fall below replacement levels by 2100 in minaret-stacked Eurabia.
  • Stupid limp-wristed leftardsthe unsustainability of the social-democratic state. Though aging is not necessarily a death knell for a society (it increases savings, for instance), it is unworkable in a social-democratic society – “demography is an existential crisis for the developed world, because the twentieth-century social democratic state was built on a careless model that requires a constantly growing population to sustain it”. Hence, “Islam has youth and will, Europe has age and welfare”. This wil lead to fiscal bankruptcy and enervation. Even non-Muslim immigration is no solution because even discounting the morality of robbing the developing world of its doctors and engineers, why on Earth would young professionals in booming economies emigrate to graying, tax-burdened Europe when their own countries are becoming so much better?
  • Lolzcivilizational exhaustion. The last point is one in the style of “fall of the Roman Empire” / “decline of the West” / biological-spiritual / passionarity theories. As government annexes all the “responsibilities of adulthood” (health, childcare, elderly care), it has “effectively severed its citizens from humanity’s primal instincts, not least the survival instinct”. Meanwhile, the correlation of forces between the West and the rest is moving in unfavorable directions. Whereas once Europe exported people all over the world, it is now fast becoming a colony of Dar al-Islam. Terrorists talk by cell phone, plot murder on notebooks and travel by airplace. Starving countries have nukes. New enemies like al-Qarda are “transnational, globalized, locally franchised, extensively outsourced. He laments that though the US is a superpower, it is – and is perceived to be – too spiritually feeble to use its power – a benign hegemon, sugardaddy to limp-wristed European socialism and a global object of hatred despite its best efforts – be it for its moral decadence (Islamist complaint) or its consumerism and opposition to environmentalism (European complaint). Though the Islamists are far less advanced, in the words of Maulana Inyadulah, “Americans love Pepsi-Cola, we love death!” And Steyn believes such will will triumph over matter.

On the other hand, there are important caveats and rebuttals to add to each of these points, which Steyn either neglects or glosses over.

Is European Fertility doomed?

While south / central Europe’s demographic decline is real and will present a major challenge to the fiscal sustainability of its pension and social welfare systems in the decades to come (especially since the cheap energy that previously drove growth will be a thing of the past), it should be noted that in recent years there has been a generalized increase in fertility throughout Europe – compared to the figures he quotes to the latest data, there were increases in Canada (1.5 to 1.6), Europe (1.4 to 1.5), Russia (1.1 to 1.5), and the US remained at the same level (2.1); only Japan decreased (1.3 to 1.2). I doubt how we could claim that it is precisely 1.3 children that constitute the “lowest-low” level from which there is no recovery. Intuitively, society MUST recover because it is precisely the social milieu that has few children will become extinct; social conservatives will inherit the Earth (see the classic article The Return of Patriarchy).

Furthermore, smaller cohorts tend to have better employment prospects (fewer new people chasing jobs) and can therefore marry earlier and have more children and the recent spurt in European fertility may be a symptom of this. On the other hand, special circumstances – the a) soaring tax requirements of an aging population accustomed to social democracy and b) the cessation of growth due to increasing global competition for depleting energy resources may well mean that Europe never will pull out of its demographic death spiral. Maybe.

Steyn gets Russia totally wrong

“’The sick man of Europe’, with falling life expectancy, riddled with HIV and tuberculosis and heart disease, its infrastructure crumbling, its borders unenforceable, and its wily kleptocracy draining its wealth Westward”. The population is supposed to fall to 130mn in 2015 and 50-60mn by 2100, driven by a death spiral of abortion, AIDS (0.25mn-0.75mn deaths per year to soon materialize) – leading to Islamification, wars with loose nukes, its “empty resource rich eastern hinterland” taken over by China, etc.

As I’ve pointed out in many previous articles (see Through the Looking Glass at Russia’s Demography), these are all either a) real factors, but whose significance is vastly overstated, or b) not significant at all.

Re-abortion. Doesn’t matter. What matters is the total fertility rate. Abortion was the predominant method of birth control in the Soviet Union and that didn’t prevent it from maintaining near-replacement level fertility levels. And in any case it is now falling in prevalence.

Re-population. Unrealistic. Linear extrapolation of current trends. Yadda yadda. See my predictions at Faces of the Future. Note that since as of 2009 the population was at 142mn, it will now have to drop by 12mn over the next 6 years to fulfill the 130mn people by 2015 forecast – patently risible considering that the population is now basically stable and that even during the worst years of the post-Soviet demographic crunch the decline never exceeded 1mn per year.

Re-AIDS apocalypse. Assumes the spread will follow a sexual, sub-Saharan pattern of transmission, whereas in reality a) it remains confined to the (small) injecting drug-user subpopulation and b) the number of pregnant HIV-positive women peaked in 2002 and has since plateaued. The multi-million death AIDS apocalypse has failed to materialize despite predictions it would be in full swing sometime by now.

Re-Islamification. Again unrealistic given that the two largest Muslim ethnic groups – the Tatars and Bashkirs – have TFR’s that are nearly equal to those of ethnic Russians, and even all the Caucasian Muslim population TFR’s have fallen below replacement levels (with the sole exception of Chechnya). The prospect of a Eurasian Caliphate remains a dream to Wahhabis and a nightmare to Steyn, nothing more or less.

Possibly his most stupid idea – proposing that Russia marries off its surplus women to China’s surplus men. Idiotic because Russia’s population imbalance only becomes statistically insignificant after 40! Speaking of which, he also prophesies China’s collapse because of the popular theory it will “get old before it gets rich”. China is quite capable of getting rich before getting old simply because of the sheer momentum of its economic convergence, as argued in this Goldman Sachs paper.

How many Muslim are there and how fast are they increasing?

Apart from positing low, continuing European fertility rates – which is entirely possible, but far from set in stone – the Eurabia Theory also relies on four other assumptions: a) there are hordes of Muslims in the EU, b) they have very high fertility rates, c) they will continue to have very high fertility rates and d) Europeans will not limit Muslim immigration.

First, there aren’t that many Muslims in the EU. Most estimates put them at around 15m-20mn of the EU’s 450mn+ population, including a maximum 6mn (10%) in France. So starting from such a low base you will need prodigious fertility rates AND immigration to make Europe morph into Eurabia any time soon. There is little evidence of either:

In Austria, for example, Muslim women had a total fertility rate… of 3.1 children per woman in 1981, well above the 1.7 average for the majority Roman Catholic women. By 2001, the rate for Catholics had fallen to 1.3, but the Muslim rate had fallen to 2.3—leaving a difference of just one child per woman between Muslims and non-Muslims.

…West Germany recruited a large number of workers from Turkey beginning in the 1960s, giving Germany one of Western Europe’s largest Muslim populations. In 1970, Turkish women living in West Germany had more than two more children than German women. By 1996, the difference between these two groups had fallen to one child.

Recent trends in the Netherlands tell a similar story [figure shows TFR for native Dutch women remaining at 1.5-1.7 during 1990, 1995, 2000, 2005; while falling substantially for Moroccon-born women (4.9, 3.4, 3.2, 2.9) and Turkish-born women (3.2, 2.5, 2.2, 1.9)].

Though Muslim birth rates are higher than indicated by their TFR because of their different age structure from indigenous populations (they are typically younger with more people in their reproductive ages), this will gradually wear off.

True, some Muslims may be uncounted. Steyn notes that in France “around 30% are said to be Muslim” amongst those under 20 years old [my emphasis - who says?], including 45% in the major cities. And it is certainly suspicious that amongst the continental West European nations it is those that have the densest Muslim concentrations also have particularly high fertility rates (e.g. France, the Netherlands). This is one of the more convincing point to be made in favor of Eurabia.

Are Muslims a monolithic bloc opposed to Western liberalism?

Steyn is not helpful by constantly expressing alarm how Mohammed is becoming the most popular name in several European cities: as the name of the Prophet, it is by far the most popular Muslim boy’s name, whereas there’s a thicker cluster of top names amongst Europeans. Which brings us to another point: Steyn’s proclivity towards Orientalizing the Muslims by treating them as a monolithic group opposed to the West. This is probably not justified:

Moreover, the myth of Eurabia implies the existence of a united Islam, a bloc capable of collective and potentially dangerous action. The truth is that there are no powerful Muslim political movements in Europe, either continentwide or at the national level, and the divisions that separate Muslims worldwide, most obviously between Sunnis and Shiites, are apparent in Europe as well. Each major nation in Europe has drawn Muslim immigrants from distinct regions of the Islamic world, often former colonies, with different traditions and outlooks. A British Muslim from Pakistan would struggle to communicate with a French Muslim from Algeria. A second-generation Muslim from Turkey living in Germany will have little in common with a newly arrived Moroccan across the border in Belgium. Sharp differences exist even within national frontiers. In Germany, more than one in 10 Muslims are Alawites, who aren’t even recognized as coreligionists by the more orthodox.

In areas of personal morality, attitudes vary markedly, too. One recent Gallup poll found that more than 30 percent of French Muslims were ready to accept homosexuality, compared with zero in Britain. Almost half of French Muslims believed sex between unmarried people was morally acceptable, compared with 27 percent of German Muslims. [The relatively liberality of French Muslims is encouraging, considering that France is destined to become the most "Islamized" country in Western Europe] And violent zealotry is for the tiny minority: polls repeatedly reaffirm that Muslims overwhelmingly disapprove of terrorism. In some countries, the mood is broadly secular. “The majority of Muslims in France are, in fact, decoupled from their religion. They just blend into an amorphous mass of brown or black people,” says Ali Allawi, the former Iraqi defense minister and author of the The Crisis of Islamic Civilization. Jochen Hippler, a German political scientist at the University of Duisburg-Essen, says he has had young Turks come up to him to ask what Islam is all about. “They have lost any connection with the religion of their parents and grandparents,” he says. A recent government survey showed that 40 percent of Iranians living in Germany identified themselves as having no religion, as did 23 percent of North Africans. In the Netherlands, the proportion of Muslims who regularly attend the mosque—27 percent—is lower than the proportion of Protestants who go to church.

This is a very important point, btw. First, no country that I know of hosts a major Islamist party in Western Europe. Their influence is limited to marginal movements like “Respect” in Britain, which is in any case officially hardline-socialist. Though Steyn evidently considers their (relative) lack of education and unemployment a source of strength, this concept eludes the more logical mind.

Second, though it is true Muslims identify to a much greater with their religion than, say, Anglicans, their levels of “patriotism” are usually no lower than, and sometimes higher, than those of their countrymen.

What explains European Muslim terrorists?

Why do so many terrorists come from Muslim Europe? See the text quoted above. Their ethnic ties with their home countries were severed. Their young feel rejected by their host countries, deprived of opportunities by the prevalence of employment discrimination.

Unemployment among people of French origin is 9.2%. Among those of foreign origin, the figure is 14% – even after adjusting for educational qualifications.

Understandably, some may turn to radical Islam as a palliative to their despair, an object of belief in an atomized society, and their dream of redemption. Steyn adamantly refuses to consider things from the viewpoint of 20-something Parisian Muslims (apart from the advantages / free time offered by social welfare, which he hates): ebbing ethnic ties to Algeria / Morocco / etc; social anomie; disillusionment with French society – he is better educated than his immigrant parents, but is denied opportunities by employment discrimination / the anti-small business attitudes of the French elites; living in a cramped apartment in a rough suburb; watching co-religionists get threatened and blown up by Western bombs in far-away corners of the world for standing up for their dignity (as they perceive it); reading too much Koran mixed with those fools like Nietzsche, Baudrillard, etc (many terrorists are surprisingly well-educated); etc. Note also that many Europeans have rather low opinions of Muslims (and don’t forget that Europe is a continent infected with political correctness, so the true figures for Britain, France, etc, will like be higher):

So is it really surprising that sizable portions of European Muslims would be willing to voice support for terrorism against their host nation (around 15% in the case of Britain)? And is it really surprising that of those, a small fraction will be willing to go through with it? In any case this combination of social, economic and psychological factors explains Islamic terrorism far better than Steyn’s facile attribution of it to their backwardness and hatred of the West in his attempts to justify Western imperialism.

A Caveat

That said, I don’t want to give the impression that I’m a limp-wristed multiculti filled with idealistic admiration for the Muslim communities of Europe. Many of them are crime-ridden, the young are poorly-educated and don’t compensate with the discipline expected of them in traditional Muslim nations. And there are certainly (far too many) anecdotes of women getting terrorized and indigenous inhabitants getting roughed up in these neighborhoods. This is not as big a problem in the US, where a) there is no generous welfare system – so immigrants HAVE to assimilate, get a job, etc, and b) greater selectivity over whom to allow to emigrate to its shores. That said, there’s no need to replace the limp-wristed mutliculti leftard myths with bigoted ultra-right-wing myths.

What about the hordes of Muslim immigrants?

Furthermore, Muslim fertility is falling rapidly since many Islamic nations are currently undergoing a “demographic transition”. Here is a typical sample of TFR’s across the Islamic world: Indonesia (2.3), Pakistan (3.6), Bangladesh (2.8), Egypt (2.7), Iran (1.7), Turkey (2.2), Morocco (2.5), Algeria (1.8), Saudi Arabia (3.8), Tunisia (1.7). This is much reduced from prevailing rates two decades ago and not in fact much different from fertility rates in Europe during the 1950′s-1960′s miracle economy years. Indeed some countries in the Maghreb (the main source of immigrants to France) and Iran – that ultimate symbol of scary Islamist autocracy, already have below replacement level fertility.

This means that population pressure is gradually subsiding in the Muslim world – most importantly, in Turkey and North Africa – the closest regions to Europe. Their own economies, gradually shifting from the Malthusian / agricultural to the capital-accumulative / industrial, will be able to soak up increasing shares of indigenous labor. People only ever want to emigrate if their country is impoverished and unstable (as was Turkey, North Africa during the 1960′s – and when Europe needed labor for intensive industrial development); these conditions are fading away, and so are emigrants. Europe as a whole is moving in a conservative, anti-immigration direction.

Islam is weak and unsure

Contrary to Steyn’s assertions that Islam is a strong, expanding power, it is nothing of the sort. It is a set of cultural traditions that have been thrown into a profound existential crisis by contact with the West. Many Muslims are uneasy towards it; some managed to assimilate with it; a few have drawn on the wellspring of general ressentiment against the West, marrying one aspect of the West – its advanced technics, with an imagined Islamic past of unadulterated virtue and piety (e.g. bin Laden). Yet this is no panacea, as Iran perhaps proves. From Spengler’s Sex, Drugs and Islam (the Asia Times columnist Spengler, that is):

Until very recently, an oil-price windfall gave the Iranian state ample resources to pursue its agenda at home and abroad. How, then, should we explain an eruption of social pathologies in Iran such as drug addiction and prostitution, on a scale much worse than anything observed in the West? Contrary to conventional wisdom, it appears that Islamic theocracy promotes rather than represses social decay.

Iran is dying. The collapse of Iran’s birth rate during the past 20 years is the fastest recorded in any country, ever. Demographers have sought in vain to explain Iran’s population implosion through family planning policies, or through social factors such as the rise of female literacy. But quantifiable factors do not explain the sudden collapse of fertility. It seems that a spiritual decay has overcome Iran, despite best efforts of a totalitarian theocracy. Popular morale has deteriorated much faster than in the “decadent” West against which the Khomeini revolution was directed.

PS. Rather off-topic, but there’s also support for my thesis that Iran is going to unleash a spurt of aggressive rhetoric – and perhaps more – against the West within the decade, culminating in some kind of revolution or dying down of fervor, and rebuilding of bridges.

Their efforts to isolate Iran from the cultural degradation of the American “great Satan” have produced social pathologies worse than those in any Western country. With oil at barely one-fifth of its 2008 peak price, they will run out of money some time in late 2009 or early 2010. Game theory would predict that Iran’s leaders will gamble on a strategic long shot. That is not a comforting thought for Iran’s neighbors. [This explains the power shifts underway since the mid-2000's - and accelerated in 2009 - from the clerical oligarchy to the forces of the IRCG represented by Ahmadinejad].

… As in the decline of communism, what follows on the breakdown of a state ideology is likely to be nihilism. Iran is a dying country, and it is very difficult to have a rational dialogue with a nation all of whose available choices terminate in oblivion.

Back on topic. He rather overdoes Iran’s problems, of course. Though a TFR of 1.7 is low, it is relatively high compared to Europe and may furthermore be a temporary factor due to a) fertility postponement or b) over-saturation of the job market and housing problems (well-known as political / election problems in Iran). That said, this does illustrate the point. Nor is it limited to Iran. From Ed Luttwak’s classical The Middle of Nowhere:

Yet even the most thinly qualified of middle east experts must know that Islam, as with any other civilisation, comprehends the sum total of human life, and that unlike some others it promises superiority in all things for its believers, so that the scientific and technological and cultural backwardness of the lands of Islam generates a constantly renewed sense of humiliation and of civilisational defeat. That fully explains the ubiquity of Muslim violence…

… We devote far too much attention to the middle east, a mostly stagnant region where almost nothing is created in science or the arts—excluding Israel, per capita patent production of countries in the middle east is one fifth that of sub-Saharan Africa. The people of the middle east (only about five per cent of the world’s population) are remarkably unproductive, with a high proportion not in the labor force at all. Not many of us would care to work if we were citizens of Abu Dhabi, with lots of oil money for very few citizens. But Saudi Arabia’s 27m inhabitants also live largely off the oil revenues that trickle down to them, leaving most of the work to foreign technicians and laborers: even with high oil prices, Saudi Arabia’s annual per capita income, at $14,000, is only about half that of oil-free Israel.

Saudi Arabia has a good excuse, for it was a land of oasis hand-farmers and Bedouin pastoralists who cannot be expected to become captains of industry in a mere 50 years. Much more striking is the oil parasitism of once much more accomplished Iran. It exports only 2.5m barrels a day as compared to Saudi Arabia’s 8m, yet oil still accounts for 80 per cent of Iran’s exports because its agriculture and industry have become so unproductive.

The middle east was once the world’s most advanced region, but these days its biggest industries are extravagant consumption and the venting of resentment. According to the UN’s 2004 Arab human development report, the region boasts the second lowest adult literacy rate in the world (after sub-Saharan Africa) at just 63 per cent [another damning statistics from that report: more books are translated into Spanish every year than have been translated into Arabic - ever]. Its dependence on oil means that manufactured goods account for just 17 per cent of exports, compared to a global average of 78 per cent. Moreover, despite its oil wealth, the entire middle east generated under 4 per cent of global GDP in 2006—less than Germany.

So yeah. For all Ahmadinjad’s rather distasteful comments about Israel, etc, etc, neocons painting Iran as the next Nazi Germany are either very cynical or stark raving mad. And so is Steyn with his alarmism – in fact, he himself acknowledges this by quoting Mahathir Mohamad’s pessimistic remarks on Islam’s backwardness re-science and technology.

Why Muslims should fear Europeans

Europe is the original black continent. It may well become so again, and there’s little doubt who their first targets will be. Steyn criticizes Europeans for their limp-wristedness, but I doubt a generation or so of cheap energy-fueled prosperity and gay pride parades have extirpated their traditional “burn the neighboring village” proclivities. The fate of liberal democracy is uncertain in nations increasingly burdened by aging workforces, declining access to cheap energy, forced deindustrialization, etc – especially ones like Germany where it was imposed from outside.

And then there’s climate change. For all the mockery Steyn has for tree-hugging, he does not realize the central part the carrying capacity of the land – which depends on a myriad of factors like technology, energy availability, climate, sustainable practices, etc – has always played in human demography. Values are secondary. Antarctica will never support more people than the limp-wristed Netherlands, even if it’s exclusively populated by right-wing hardasses like Steyn himself. (Well, not unless it melts anyway, which Steyn is certainly indifferent to – so perhaps not the best example).

And unlike Europe, the Islamic world is very much beyond sustainability – which makes its population explosion a crippling burden, not a strength. Even today, the Middle East is the world’s only region that cannot provide for its own food subsistence; it imports billions of tons of “virtual water” from other countries to bridge the gap. Though countries like Saudi Arabia will manage to continue doing this thanks to their oil endowments, this is not the case for nations like Syria, Pakistan or Yemen (he latter is in a particularly bad bind – it has both rapidly falling water tables, plummeting agricultural production and population soaring even faster than in neighboring Saudi Arabia). Countries like these may sink into destitution, famine and extremism, spurring mass refugee movements. An increasingly conservative (or perhaps by then fascist) Europe may not let them in, or keep them in segregated ghettos. Though this will be an unjust (though no doubt justified by propaganda) arrangement, they will be powerless to do anything about it except isolated, futile acts of terrorism.

Quite simply I have a very pessimistic view of Muslim prospects for the next century. A religion that has been the least successful in reconciling itself to modernity. Polarized between spiritual anomie and sentimental rejection of the West. In perpetual conflict with all other civilizations. Some of its states have valuable resources, but not the modern weapons to defend them. Other states are well beyond the carrying capacity of their territories, and lack the resources to sustain this unsustainable state affairs far into a future of limits to growth. Most are ruled by cynical elites paying lip-service to the West, while crushing and buying off the extremist elements – who are themselves hopeless at changing anything for the better.

Concluding remarks

Despite my many disagreements with it, I ended up giving it a 3/5. First, it really is a very humorous and readable book – even if occasionally embarrassingly ignorant on certain matters. And his constant jokes re-France; social democracy; the virtues of asperity and manliness; etc, got tiring. I like guns and I do think many modern-day social systems are overgrown and that continental European countries throw up too many regulatory barriers for small businesses, but this does not mean that a robust system of preventative-focused public healthcare or time-limited unemployment benefits is a bad idea. He constantly quotes anecdotes about the ridiculous failings of the European welfare states, but you could easily find as many anecdotes about medical horror stories in the US (e.g. outrageous fines for minor procedures).

The other reason is that I agree with him that political correctness has gone too far in the West and ironically his book is a symptom of that – you can’t discuss “Eurabia” in a serious way at “respectable” venues, hence the proliferation of alarmist literature like this (yet which may contain kernels of truth) – which should be read with an open mind yet treated with a pinch of salt.

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
 
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After its long pre-modern stint as Europe’s most populated nation, France started transitioning to lower birth rates from the Napoleonic era, about a century in advance of the rest of Europe. On the eve of the First World War, its stagnant population made a stark contrast to German youth and virility. Considering the disparity in absolute numbers, 40mn French to 67mn Germans, it is not surprising that its General Staff looked with trepidation across the border and conscripted more men for longer periods than the Deutsches Reichsheer. And although France prevailed in the Great War, as was said of the Persians after Thermopylae, “any more such victories and they will be ruined”. Its morale collapsed upon invasion in 1940, leaving it to be occupied by the Nazis – thus apparently evidencing popular contemporaneous views of them as an effete race doomed to fail against Teutonic might.

Yet Germany too underwent a fertility transition after World War One, falling to replacement-level rates at around the time of the 1923 Weimar hyperinflation. For all their pro-natality efforts and anti-feminist zeal, the Nazis cardinally failed to pull Germany out of its demographic rut. The post-war baby boom crashed after 1970, and since then deaths consistently outnumbered births in Germany. Today France’s growing population of 62mn souls already has more children than Germany, whom it will overtake by around 2050, according to UN projections based on current trends. But unlike France in 1914, Germany needn’t worry too much about this. It is economically, politically and culturally intertwined with its erstwhile enemy and at least for now, the prospect of another European civil war is in the realm of fantasy.

The moral of this story? First, demography is an inherently difficult thing to predict – especially its key component, fertility, which depends on a myriad of economic, social and cultural factors whose relations to each other are still little-understood. Second, though demography is a powerful trend it is frequently superseded by social, political and technological developments. Third, and consequently, the deterministic concept that “demography is destiny”, relying as it does by necessity on the fallacy of linear extrapolation, is of very limited utility in forecasting the fates of nations.

An objective and in-depth look at Russian fertility trends shows that forecasts of Russia’s impending demographic doom, in which the Crescent replaces the Cross on its national gerb and ethnic centrifugal forces tear apart its Federation, are completely unrealistic. Though rhetorical hyperbole dismisses it as a dying nation with “European birth rates and African death rates”, the reality is that it is already fast recovering from the extended transition shock of the post-Soviet collapse. Instead, it is likely that the next few decades will see stagnant or slow population growth as Russian fertility patterns converge to that of France or Canada, with any shortfalls between births and deaths filled in by immigration; and after 2030, the world system faces a series of discontinuities that rend apart any predictive enterprise.

A Crude Demographic History of Russia

The annual rate of population growth can be derived from the birth rate, the death rate and net migration, which are usually measured in cases per 1000 people. Subtracting the death rate from the birth rate gives the rate of natural increase, which is shown below for Russia from 1959-2008.

The rate of natural increase was closely correlated with overall population growth in Soviet times, since migration either way was small then. As social and economic problems multiplied in the late 1980′s, the birth rate contracted and the death rate soared, intersecting each other around 1992 and forming the so-called “Russian Cross”. Though the population hit its peak of 149mn in 1992 and the rate of natural increase fell to -0.5% annually, the population fell at a relatively low rate until 1998 because of a large influx of ethnic Russians from the newly independent Near Abroad.

Afterwards the collapse accelerated after fertility tumbled further and immigration began to dry up in the wake of the financial crash, but the situation began to improve again from 2006 due to rising births, falling deaths and increased immigration. In 2008, the death rate stood at 14.7 / 1000, the birth rate at 12.1 / 1000 and net migration at 1.7 / 1000, giving a rate of natural increase of -2.6 / 1000 and overall population growth of -0.9 / 1000. Russia’s population almost stabilized in the last two years.

A Fertile Demographic History of Russia

Let us now look in more at the fertility side of Russian demographics in more detail. The graph below shows Russia’s total fertility rate (TFR) from 1925-2006.

The TFR is calculated by creating an imaginary woman who passes through her reproductive life subject to all the age-specific fertility rates for ages 15-49 that were recorded for a given population in a given year within one year, and calculating the number of children she would be expected to have. As such, it is a much more meaningful measure than crude birth rates, which depend on the particular structure of a society’s population pyramid. The replacement fertility rate is the figure at which long-term population growth tends to zero, absent increasing life expectancy and migration. In most developed societies this is around 2.1 because slightly more boys than girls are born.

Although Russia was at the forefront of the demographic transition in the 1950’s and 1960’s, unlike most Western European countries its TFR remained stable and edged upwards in the wake of the new maternal benefits and social guarantees of the 1980’s, peaking at 2.23 in 1987. It collapsed in the face of the socio-economic tsunamis of the 1990’s, reaching a nadir of 1.17 in 1999, albeit there has been an incipient recovery since the new millennium. A booming economy, state sponsored pro-natality propaganda campaign and a 2007 law that ‘expanded maternity leave benefits and payments, and granted mothers educational and other vouchers worth $10,650 for a second child and any thereafter’, contributed to a rise in the TFR to 1.41 in 2007 and approximately 1.50 in 2008. This is higher than the average for the European Union and the post-Soviet baby boom is already getting noticed by media outlets in the West.

A Female Demographic History of Russia

An even more meaningful measure is the net female reproduction coefficient (NFRC). It takes into account two things that the TFR doesn’t, at least not explicitly – a) the male-female ratio at birth and b) the female death rate, pre- and during childbearing age. Although the replacement level TFR is usually quoted as being 2.1, as mentioned above it varies in practice. Although that is indeed the case in most modern industrial countries, in underdeveloped and/or traditional societies with high female mortality rates in early years and/or high male to female ratios, the TFR needs to be as high as 2.5, 3.0 or more for generation reproduction. This is because a lot of females die before they can give birth to more girls. Although China has a nominally respectable TFR of 1.7-1.8, it is effectively considerably lower due to societal preference for males and the resulting skewed demographic profile.

The net female reproduction coefficient explicitly takes the two factors above into account – any value greater than 1 ensures long-term population growth, while a value of less than 1 implies impending decline. In the graph below you can see a graph of Russia’s NFRC from 1960 to 2005.

Today all the world’s major industrial nations are not producing enough girls to maintain their current population levels in the long-term. The US as a whole just about makes an exception, although only thanks to the help of highly fertile Hispanics. In Russia, the NFRC increased since 2005 to 0.67, which puts it above most east-central European countries but still significantly below France, Scandinavia and the Anglosphere.

One more thing can be gleaned from the graph above. Russia’s combination of high middle-age mortality rates, one of the earliest demographic transitions and post-Soviet fertility postponement meant that absolute demographic decline set in as early as the 1990′s, whereas the likes of Germany and Japan have only began sliding into them fairly recently. In Germany’s case, since the country has been in a deep sub-replacement rut since 1970 (i.e. for more than a generation), this is a truly deep and perhaps intractable problem, whereas a big Russian population decline can still theoretically be avoided. As it stands, however, the natural rate of population decline for Russia’s population, with a NFRC of 0.67, is 1.5% when it reaches equilibrium. Any improvements must come from increasing the TFR, as its infant mortality rate of 8.9/1000 in 2007 is already statistically negligible and changing the sex ratio in favor of more girls is unrealistic.

Now that we have a basic understanding of longterm Russian demographic trends, it is time to examine some common arguments of Russia’s demographic doomers.

The Argument from Reduced Cohorts

In demographic discussions on Russia, whenever someone points to the revival of births rates during the late Putin Presidency, a pessimist will interject that it is just the result of many women born during the 1980′s mini-baby boom coming of childbearing age – the so-called “echo effect”. Yet although from 1999-2007 the crude number of births increased by 33% from 1,214,700 to 1,610,100, only 37% of that increase was due to an increase in the size of the childbearing age segment of the population. The other 63% is due to the rise in the TFR, which is independent of the population’s age structure by definition. In 2007, these two figures widened to 10% and 90%, respectively. So the common doomer argument that recent increases in the birth rate are exclusively down to the current youth bulge is at best only a third valid for Putin’s whole term, and almost totally false for the past two years.

They do however make a valid point when they warningly point to Russia’s pine tree-shaped population pyramid, the demographic legacy of the Great Patriotic War (1941-45). As you can see in the 2006 diagram below, there are currently about 40% fewer females in the 0-15 years age range, than there are in the 15-30 year age range.

The transition shock, coupled with the echoes of war, means that the number of women in the 20-29 age range is going to peak by 2013, and then go into rapid decline. To avoid an intensified resumption of population decline after that period, Russia will have to lower its mortality rates, increase immigration and raise the average age at childbirth.

The Effect of a Rising Average Age of Childbirth

Speaking of which, that has already been happening since 1993 as couples begin marrying later and postponing children, albeit the average age of Russian women at birth is still significantly smaller than in Western Europe.

In the 1960’s, when people expected to have many children, the average age at birth was around 27-28; but as fertility fell and a bigger percentage of births became firstborns, this figure declined. It rose slightly in the 1980’s (mini baby-boom) and collapsed until 1993, when it began rising again. From 2000, fertility growth was concentrated amongst women over 25 and decreased amongst those between 20 and 25. The share of newborns accruing to women younger than 25 years fell from 61% in 1993 to 41% in 2007, while the structure of age-specific fertility coefficients changed in a cardinal way.

This means that as Russian women converge to European fertility schedules in the years ahead, the big 1980’s generation will have more children in their 30’s than any previous post-Stalin cohort. The sharp fall-off expected in birth rates will thus be to a certain extent modulated, depending on the speed of the above transition.

Fertility Expectations Today are Little Different from the Soviet Era

One problem with total fertility rates is that they overestimate the effects of timing of births. An even more accurate measure of long-term fertility is the average birth sequence (средняя очередность рождения, henceforth ABS), which gives for any one year the mean order of all newborn children (for instance, if women in a previously entirely childless country all decided to give birth in a given year for some reason, the TFR would leap up to a very high level but the ABS would equal exactly one). Looking at these different fertility patterns, it emerges that in the 1980’s, Soviet fertility was not as high as implied by the TFR – nor was the 1990’s collapse as apocalyptic as some would have it. Or in other words, many women gave birth in the 1980’s because of the social benefits of perestroika and many postponed birth in the 1990’s because of the transition shock. The effect on deeper generational fertility patterns was much more modest – a drop of just 0.2 children.

From above we can also see that 2007 was a seminal year not only for its respectable rise in the TFR, but because for the first time since the post-Soviet stagnation the ABS begun to appreciably rise again, increasing from 1.59 in 2006 to 1.66 in 2007. This was due to the increase in second-, third- and higher order births – firstborns as a percentage of all new children declined from 60% (where they had been since 1993), to 55%. This is partly linked to the aforementioned rise in the average age of childbirth.

The Argument from Convergence to European Fertility Patterns

Many better-informed pessimists, though they know about the recent up-tick in the TFR, nonetheless insist that it is a one-off improvement exclusively due to the recent pro-natality campaign. They believe it just brought forward in time births that would have occurred anyway and that this effect will fade away in a few more years. The respected demographer Nicholas Eberstadt falls into this camp, writing:

The other side of the equation is the fertility level, and Russian fertility is very low these days, although it has crept up over the past five or six years. But it is still down 30-40 percent below the replacement level. Is it feasible to think that Russian fertility will rise to replacement level over the next decade or so? Well if Russian fertility does rise up to replacement level, if it does rise by 50 percent from its current levels, this would be because of change in desired fertility on the part of parents in the Russian Federation. So far I don’t think we’ve seen any big signs of a big demand for more children. Rather, what we seem to be observing is that Russia is becoming part of the rest of Europe with respect to ideas about ideal family size. In the rest of Europe, fertility levels are very far below the replacement level. There are a few exceptions like France’s, which are close to replacement levels, but for the most part, European norms on fertility are one or at most two children as the ideal family size. What drives births in modern, relatively affluent societies, more than any other factor, are parental desires about how many children to have. Unless there is a transformation of Russian attitudes about children, its going to be hard for any kind of program of birth incentives or birth schemes to convince Russian parents to have more children then they see as the ideal.

Unfortunately, Eberstadt is wrong, or at best over-simplifies the situation. First, according to most surveys the vast majority of Russians say that they desire to have two or three children. The mean is around 2.5 children. This is barely down from the 2.7 children desired in 1990, when the first such survey to my knowledge was conducted under the auspices of the World Values Survey. Less than 10% would be content with an only child, albeit many were forced to do with just that during the post-Soviet hyper-depression.

This is further backed by a 2005 Rosstat study, Family and Fertility. The average desired amount of children, within favorable economic and social conditions, was 2.24, 2.40 and 1.99 for women, men and 15-17 year old teenagers respectively in Tver oblast, 2.26, 2.63 and 2.15 in Nizhnij Novgorod and 2.33, 2.56 and 2.11 in Marij El. On the other hand, the amount of children people are prepared to have in the present circumstances is substantially lower. Amongst women, men and teenagers, it is: 1.75, 1.87 and 1.72 in Tver Oblast; 1.60, 1.78 and 1.97 in Nizhnij Novgorod; 1.83, 2.05 and 1.92 in Marij El. The birth rate in these regions in 2005 was 9.3, 8.9 and 10.5 / 1000 people respectively, which is similar to the Russian average of 10.2. As such, it’s possible to construct the following table. Figures in italics are estimates based on crude, but in my opinion justified, linear extrapolation from the other data in the table.

Russian Demographics – Fertility Patterns
Real BR Real Fertility Planned Fertility
Desired Fertility
Tver Oblast 9.3 1.18 1.78 2.21
Nizhnij Novgorod 8.9 1.13 1.78 2.35
Marij El 10.5 1.33 1.93 2.33
Russian Federation 10.2 1.29 1.95 2.44

Extended to Russia as a whole, it implies that the planned fertility is around 1.9-2.0 and the the desired fertility is 2.4-2.5 children. There is a gap of 0.65 children between real fertility and planned fertility, and a further 0.5 child gap between planned fertility and desired fertility. This is roughly in line with surveys in other countries.

Second, it ignores the fact that there is a great deal of diversity in European fertility patterns. It can be roughly subdivided into the following regions: the West (France and the British Isles), the Med (Italy, Spain, Greece and Portugal), Germania (Germany and Austria), Visegrad (Poland and its east-central European neighbors) and Scandinavia. The West and Scandinavia tend to have reasonably healthy TFR’s, ranging from 1.7 to 2.1, and on average desire to have 2.4-2.6 children. The Med and Visegrad countries have 1.3-1.4 children and desire 2.0-2.2 children. Although Germania has a TFR of 1.4, its desired number of children is the lowest in the region at 1.7-1.8. So on average although Europeans want about 2.1-2.3 children, their particular circumstances – frequently speculated to be excessive social obligations, high unemployment and perhaps subconscious forebodings of overpopulation – limit their fertility to a EU average of 1.4. In general, the greater the disparity between real fertility and desired fertility, the greater the perception that they have too few children and presumably, the greater the desire to close the “potential gap”.

Belief in the Future Returns to Russia, Crisis Notwithstanding

Considering that Russia’s desired fertility is around 2.5, this means that in the presence of good conditions, its “natural” TFR can be expected be lie somewhere between 1.7 and 2.1 children. It is true that the phenomenally rapid jump in the TFR from 1.3 in 2006 to about 1.5 in 2008 was helped by the pro-natality campaign, but there are deeper factors at work. According to the Levada Center for sociological research, there were a number of positive discontinuities in Russia life from 2006 on.

After a long period of disillusionment, at the end of 2006 more people began to believe Russia was moving in a positive than in a negative direction, and from early 2008 more people felt confident in tomorrow than not. Though positing dependencies between such semi-intangible variables and concrete demographic trends is risky, I do not think it is a coincidence that solid improvements in the TFR only began from 2006. Anyone closely observing Russia in the past few years will have noticed a new confident conservatism in Russian society, albeit many pessimists interpret it as mere petro-fueled swagger, about to be brought back down to earth by the unfolding economic crisis.

Perhaps. Yet marriage rates, perhaps as good an indicator as any of social confidence, surged from a nadir of 6.2 / 1000 people in 2000, to 7.5 / 1000 in 2005 and 8.9 / 1000 in 2007, and continued increasing in Jan-Feb of this year. Mortality rates also continued their swift descent, after taking a rest in 2008 from the impressive improvements from 2005-2007, when life expectancy rose from 65.3 to 67.5 years.

Furthermore, the post-Soviet collapse was an unprecedented hyper-depression, surpassed only by the Civil War in its social costs. Though on paper recovery from the 1998 crisis was rapid, newly severe budget discipline undercut social spending that left many classes and regions destitute for years. It is telling that in the first six months of the 1998 recession, the proportion of people who could hardly afford even food rose from 29% to 40% of the population; in stark contrast, in the five months since the Russian economy began collapsing in October, this figure rose from 9%…to just 10%.

This is notwithstanding that the rate of decline from Q4 2008 to Q1 2009 was even sharper than during H2 1998. However this time round, both state and society have much bigger surpluses to fall back on during the lean times. As such, the probability that the crisis will have a significant longterm effect on Russian fertility is extremely low. Russia retains strong foundations for growth – an educated populace, an extensive industrial infrastructure, growing centers of innovation and extensive hydrocarbon reserves in a post-peak oil era. Sooner or later rapid growth will resume, ushering in the material conditions for the rite of spring to blossom into demographic summer.

Not All Demographic Indicators are Created Equal

Many commentators believe that Russia’s excessively high mortality rates preclude a demographic recovery – an example of this line of reasoning appears in Rising Ambitions, Sinking Population by Nicholas Eberstadt. It is certainly true that Russia’s life expectancy is exceptionally low by industrialized-world standards and that death rates for middle-aged men today are, amazingly, no different from those of late Tsarism. This development is almost entirely attributable to the extreme prevalance of binge drinking of hard spirits. Yet their conclusions don’t follow the arguments.

This has little direct effect on fertility – the main burden of hyper-mortality falls amongst men, who as a rule don’t reproduce except in very rare circumstances. Female death rates, although much larger relative to their Western counterparts, are statistically insignificant prior to and during their childbearing years. The infant mortality rate of 8.5 / 1000 for 2008 is already close to developed-world standards of 3-7 / 1000. There is no major discrepancy between the numbers of men and women until the age of 40, so no problem with finding mates.

Excessive mortality also disproportionately affects poorer, badly-educated people – life expectancy for college grads actually increased from Soviet times. Eberstad asserts that high mortality rates precludes human capital formation through education and hence dim prospects for high rates of future economic growth and consequently perpetuating low fertility. This doesn’t stand up to evidence or common sense.

Today, more than 70% of Russians get a higher education and they perform well in standardized international tests on math and science. deaths from heart disease and accidents only happen to other people. The reasons why should be obvious – most folks don’t refer to the society around them, calculate their life expectancy and make cost-benefit analyses on whether or not to improve their human capital. They just see their friends go to college and join in to avoid the draft and avoid jobs like cleaning garbage.

It is true that poor health lowers productivity, although by curbing aging it also partially relieves pressure on pensions. Yet it cannot check the growth of a vital civilization – America was known as the Alcoholic Republic in the great early days of its founding. The drinking problem was already very bad in the late Soviet Union, but that did not preclude it from maintaining near replacement level demographics until its dissolution. In my own simulations of Russia’s demographic future, even small changes in the TFR have bigger long-term impacts than major changes in mortality trajectories.

Finally, some analysts believe Russia is going to experience an AIDS mortality crisis sometime in the next few years. As I noted in The Myth of the Russian AIDS Apocalypse, the models used by Eberstadt and other prophets of doom are critically flawed, because according to the international research program Knowledge for Action in HIV/AIDS in Russia, they assume that “the epidemic would be essentially heterosexual in nature and follow trends observed in sub-Saharan Africa”, which is “not borne out by current surveillance data from Russia” – or indeed by the slightest acquaintance with comparative development and sociology.

Russia’s medieval working-age male mortality profile blights lives, but has only a minor effect on long-term demographic development, and as such should be treated as a pressing public health problem instead of the demographic land-mine it is more commonly portrayed as.

The Myth of Dhimmitude

Alarmist analysts like Daniel Pipes and Paul Goble, Islamic fundamentalists and certain plain demented Russophobe bloggers raise the specter of Russia’s transformation into a majority Muslim nation within the next 50 years. As is usually the case with such sensationalist claims, closer examination clears up the clutter. If you read Russian, take a look at Will Russia become Muslim?, otherwise…

First, the share of ethnic Russians declined from 81.5% of the population of the RSFSR, to 79.8% of the population of the Russian Federation – a time of low Russian birth rates and rapid Muslim expansion. Even a crude linear extrapolation of these rates forward, ignoring demographic transitions and aging, gives a figure of 68.7% ethnic Russians in 2050.

Second, even this is a pointless exercise, of course, as a quick look at current regional TFR proves. The two biggest ethnic Muslim groups, the Tatars (3.8% of the population) and the Bashkirs (1.2%) transitioned to sub-replacement fertility rates at about the same time as ethnic Russians. Today, Tatarstan has a TFR of 1.4 and Bashkortostan has a TFR of 1.6, which is not significantly different from that of majority Russian regions.

Even the current rapid population growth seen in the Caucasian Muslim republics conceals a major demographic transition during the 1990′s. Although a huge youth bulge contributes to current high birth rates, it should be noted that all the Caucasian republics now have sub-replacement fertility rates, with the sole exception of Chechnya where the TFR was 3.1 in 2007. Incidentally, I suspect it is no coincidence that it is Chechnya which also had by far the bloodiest recent history – when you have just one son to lose instead of several, it is that much harder to send him off in the service of violent separatism or radical Islam.

Third, the reason some people fear or relish the idea of an Islamic Russia is because they associate Russian Muslims with their less socially developed counterparts in the Middle East. Actually, vodka has long since dissolved away the Koran in Russia. Tatars, who make up more than a third of Russia’s Muslim population, are almost as secular to Islam as ethnic Russians are to Christian Orthodoxy. Even amongst the Chechens Wahabbism never truly took root, despite the best efforts of Arab mujahideen. As Fedia Kriukov put it, “the whole idea of Muslim takeover is predicated on one giant falsification — the substitution of the term “Muslim” for the term “representative of a traditionally Muslim ethnicity”…Absolutely nothing would change in the country if Tatars became the majority, however unlikely that situation is.”

Finally, one of the staples of alarmist, pessimistic and/or Russophobic (not to mention Sinophobic) commentary on Russian demography is a reworking of the yellow peril thesis. In their fevered imaginations, the Chinese supposedly swim across the Amur River in their millions, establishing village communes in the taiga and breeding prolifically so as to displace ethnic Russians and revert Khabarovsk and Vladivostok back to their rightful Qing Dynasty-era names, Boli and Haisanwei. I comprehensively refuted this fantasy in a previous post on Russia Blog, The Myth of the Yellow Peril.

Arguments from Linear Extrapolation Discount Future Discontinuities

Based on the following analysis, it is clear that Russia’s demographic crisis is nowhere near as great as commonly portrayed even in informed commentary on the subject, which too frequently uses flawed analogies and unwarranted linear extrapolations. As I argue in Faces of the Future, all predictions of a fall in Russia’s population to 100mn or less by 2050 are not borne out by current fertility and sociological developments. I give an alternate range of scenarios that see Russia’s population change to 139mn-150mn by 2025, and 119mn-167mn (medium – 150mn) souls by 2050. My results are more or less in line with Rosstat forecasts which see the population growing to 129mn-150mn (medium – 137mn) by 2025, albeit they diverge from more common models based on pessimistic assumptions on future fertility. I highly recommend checking it out – my Medium Scenario is reproduced below.

Ultimately, history will be the judge on whether this forecast fares any better than its peers. I suspect it will be epic fail all around – especially after 2025. This is because by then much more powerful trends in resource depletion, climate change and technological growth will be coming into play. The end of cheap hydrocarbon based energy threatens an end to global economic growth and collapse into the Olduvai Gorge. Numerous positive feedback mechanisms such as methane clathrate releases and saturation of traditional carbon sinks will intensify global warming. We will be reaching limits to growth on multiple fronts and industrial civilization will be in peril. As one of the few countries to benefit from global warming, Russia may become host to hundreds of millions of climate refugees.

On the other hand there will be great technological advances, including the rise of nano-manufacturing, ultra high-bandwidth full-immersion virtual reality networks and perhaps recursively self-improving strong AI. Major demographic discontinuities could include the development of an artificial womb (and baby factories?) and indefinite lifespan or actuarial escape velocity. However, bioengineered viruses or malevolent AI could also conceivably destroy the human race. Much as the rise of agriculture made hunter-gathering obsolete as a way of life, and just as industrial civilization remade the world in its own image, the dematerialization associated with a technological singularity will rend traditional human demography moot.

Perhaps neither of this will happen and things will continue much as they did before, but many serious futurists believe that major discontinuities will occur – there are simply too many exponential runways and pitfalls. Yet there is one thing I am certain on – the significance of demography will decline, just as it has since the days of mass conscription armies. Superpowers in the future will count their strength in oil barrels and supercomputers, not men.

This article is reprinted at Russia Blog. It also generated a long discussion over at Streetwise Professor.

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
 
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The demographic situation in Russia is usually painted in apocalyptic terms. The Russian Cross – the post-Soviet transition into a world of death without new life – will supposedly preclude it from attaining First World living standards and wreck any Great Power, let alone superpower, pretensions. Is Russia Too Sick to Matter and the Sick Man of Europe, as alleged by Nicholas Eberstadt in two reports in 1999 and 2004, respectively? Are we seeing the Death of a Nation?

To answer these questions, we’ll look at the statistics and trends, and extrapolate into the future under three different scenarios – 1. Stagnation, 2. Improvement and 3. Transformation. In the end we conclude that while the demographic, or rather the mortality, problem is indeed serious, it need not entail pessimism if appropriate measures are taken. Nor will it have anything but a negligible effect on the economy.

First, let us look at the historical trends. Below, I have collated the birth and death rate for Russia from 1959-2008 using data from The Human Mortality Database, Soviet Economic Statistical Series and Rosstat. Subtracting the death rate from the birth rate gives the rate of natural increase.

The rate of natural increase would have closely correlated with overall population growth in Soviet times, since migration either way was small then. The same cannot be said of the 1990′s, though, when there was a large-scale influx of ethnic Russians from the newly independent Near Abroad. While throughout much of the period the rate of natural increase was below -0.5% annually, the population decreased at a much lower rate – indeed, serious decline manifested itself only from around 2000, by which time the flow of migrants had slowed down).

As you can see, the birth rate experienced two transitions – in the early 1960′s and early 1990′s. The fertility rate fell from 2.6 children per woman in 1960 to replacement level (2.1) by the late 1960′s, where it hovered until 1990.

In the 1990′s, it dropped precipitously, to 1.34 in 1995 and reaching a trough of 1.17 in 1999. Since then, there has been a slow recovery up to 1.30 in 2006 and rapid spurt recently. In fact, as contributor Oleg pointed out, this is getting noticed in the Western media – Russia Has First Post-Soviet Baby Boom. A booming economy, state sponsored pro-natality propaganda campaign and a 2007 law that ‘expanded maternity leave benefits and payments, and granted mothers educational and other vouchers worth $10,650 for a second child and any thereafter’, contributed to the fertility rate rising to 1.39 in 2007 and more than 1.50 this year. This is more than the average for the European Union and approaching the United Kingdom.

Is this a sustainable trend? Nicholas Eberstadt doesn’t think so.

The other side of the equation is the fertility level, and Russian fertility is very low these days, although it has crept up over the past five or six years. But it is still down 30-40 percent below the replacement level. Is it feasible to think that Russian fertility will rise to replacement level over the next decade or so? Well if Russian fertility does rise up to replacement level, if it does rise by 50 percent from its current levels, this would be because of change in desired fertility on the part of parents in the Russian Federation. So far I don’t think we’ve seen any big signs of a big demand for more children. Rather, what we seem to be observing is that Russia is becoming part of the rest of Europe with respect to ideas about ideal family size. In the rest of Europe, fertility levels are very far below the replacement level. There are a few exceptions like France’s, which are close to replacement levels, but for the most part, European norms on fertility are one or at most two children as the ideal family size. What drives births in modern, relatively affluent societies, more than any other factor, are parental desires about how many children to have. Unless there is a transformation of Russian attitudes about children, its going to be hard for any kind of program of birth incentives or birth schemes to convince Russian parents to have more children then they see as the ideal.

This is an assumption backed up by the raw data – the chart below shows historic fertility rates from an international perspective, in which Russia appears to plummet into and beneath mainstream European levels since the late 1980′s.

On the other hand, a 2005 Rosstat study, Family and Fertility, challenges Eberstadt’s assumptions about desired fertility in Russia. The average desired amount of children, within favorable economic and social conditions, was 2.24, 2.40 and 1.99 for women, men and 15-17 year old teenagers respectively in Tver oblast, 2.26, 2.63 and 2.15 in Nizhnij Novgorod and 2.33, 2.56 and 2.11 in Marij El. On the other hand, the amount of children people are prepared to have in the present circumstances is substantially lower. Amongst women, men and teenagers, it is: 1.75, 1.87 and 1.72 in Tver Oblast; 1.60, 1.78 and 1.97 in Nizhnij Novgorod; 1.83, 2.05 and 1.92 in Marij El. According to Rosstat, the birth rate in these regions in 2005 was 9.3, 8.9 and 10.5 / 1000 people respectively, which is similar to the Russian average of 10.2 As such, it’s possible to construct the following table. Italics are estimates based on linear extrapolation from other data in the table.

Russian Demographics – Fertility
Real BR Real Fertility Planned Fertility
Desired Fertility
Tver Oblast 9.3 1.18 1.78 2.21
Nizhnij Novgorod 8.9 1.13 1.78 2.35
Marij El 10.5 1.33 1.93 2.33
Russian Federation 10.2 1.29 1.95 2.44

As we can see above, in 2005 there was a gap of 0.65 children between real fertility and planned fertility, and a further 0.5 child gap between planned fertility and desired fertility. A number of points can now be made.

Firstly, the post-Soviet fertility drop had much more to do with transitional shock rather than a values shift. That was to be expected; following the collapse of Communism, the state of women’s rights and education (the two biggest determinants of fertility) remained largely unchanged. While religious influence did increase (for instance, the percentage of people believing in the Life Hereafter rose from 21% in 1990 to 37% in 1999 and 45% in 2008), its extent is somewhat exaggerated – it still needs to be borne in mind that proposals to introduce voluntary Orthodox Christianity courses into schools are contentious and that only a very small percentage of people go to church regularly. Russia remains (thankfully) a secular society.

Secondly, opinion polls indicate that the era of transition is coming to an end. For the first time during the transition period, the majority of people are confident in tomorrow. The year 2007 was probably the decisive tipping point, and it is reflected in the fact that it was then that fertility rates began the rapid phase of their recovery. Seen in this context, the current demographic doubleback is not surprising, since real fertility rates are simply converging with planned fertility rates. Moreover, as the economic situation improves by 7%+ per year and healthcare expands, planned fertility rates will edge towards desired fertility rates, while the latter are inflated even higher by government propaganda.

Thirdly, the current trajectory upwards is not going to last. This year’s January-on-January 12.7% increase and last year’s 8.7 % increase in the number of births is not sustainable and indeed a significant portion of them are due to a one-off increase in the case of previously fence-sitting parents who chose to have another child to get the new benefits package. There is a direct precedent for this – from the early 1980′s, state pro-natality policies increased the fertility rate from 1.9 to 2.2, as shown on the graph, but the effect peaked off by 1987. Nonetheless, I think it is reasonable to assume that eventually, say, by around 2015, the birth rate will settle at somewhere in between 1.7 and 2.1, i.e., coinciding with planned fertility. From then on they will probably again resume their decline, following the European (and pre-reform Soviet) pattern.

Fourthly, fertility rates are not birth rates. This is especially the case for Russia, whose age pyramid resembles a pine tree, due to the demographic heritage of the Great Patriotic War (1941-45). As you can see, today there is a relatively large number of women of childbearing age.

However, the transitional shock, coupled with the echos of war, means that the number of women in the 20-29 age range is going to peak by 2013, and then go into rapid decline. By 2020, it will be surprising if the overall birth rate equals today’s. This means that to avoid an intensified resumption of population decline after that period, Russia will have to massively lower its mortality rates. This aspect is covered in Part II.

Alarmist media and certain demented Russophobe bloggers have raised the spectre of Russia becoming a majority Muslim country within the next 50 years. As is usually the case with such sensationalist claims, closer examination clears up the clutter.

Below, I worked out the rate of annual increase for Russians and Muslims and linearly projected both to 2025 and 2050 (note that linear projection in demographics is meaningless – in reality, Muslim rates “merely reflect an earlier stage of development and will ultimately fall”). Even in 2002, the vast majority of Muslim people’s fertility rates were below replacement level and falling fast (i.e. there was a big difference in fertility rates between older and younger women). The main reason absolute birth rates remained high was because Muslims, particularly in the South, still have young populations. Even so, their demographic gains in 1989-2002 were not spectacular. According to the 2002 Census, there were 14.5mn Muslims (I see no reason to trust the 23mn figure given by the head of the Council of Muftis of Russia), of whom 13.0mn were from the largest eleven ethnic groups. Using backwards and forwards linear extrapolation (i.e. 1989-2002 growth rates), I estimate the Russian, Muslim and Neither population from 1989 to 2050. The RF population is the sum of the three.

Russian Demographics – Ethnic
1989 2002 2025
2050
Russian Federation 147.0 145.2 144.4 148.9
Russians 119.9 115.9 109.1 102.3
Muslims 11.4 14.5 22.0 34.7
Neither 15.7 14.8 13.3 11.9

In 1989, Russians made up 81.5% of the population of the RSFSR; in 2002, that figure was 79.8%. In the above scenario, it falls to 75.6% in 2025 and 68.7% in 2050 – Russians remain by far the dominant ethnic group. For a Muslim majority we’ll have to wait well into the next century. Of course, demographically linear extrapolation is a pointless exercise, since Muslim fertility rates will continue falling (as is the experience practically everywhere else), while ethnic Russian rates are likely to rise (as shown above). Nonetheless, the very fact that even with just primitive linear extrapolation we can show that Russians will remain dominant in Russia should shut up the likes of Paul Goble, Islamic fundamentalists and La Russophobe.

Of course, the reason the above people relish the thought of Russia becoming Islamic is because they associate Russian Muslims with their less savoury counterparts in the Middle East. Actually, vodka has long since dissolved away the Koran in Rusia. Tatars, by who make up more than a third of Russia’s Muslim population, are almost as secular regarding Islam as ethnic Russians are to Orthodoxy. Even amongst the Chechens Wahabbism never truly took root, despite the best efforts of Arab mujahideen. As contributor fedia put it, ‘the whole idea of Muslim takeover is predicated on one giant falsification — the substitution of the term “Muslim” for the term “representative of a traditionally Muslim ethnicity”…Absolutely nothing would change in the country if Tatars became the majority, however unlikely that situation is.’

Finally, to demolish one last myth – no, the Chinese are not colonizing Siberia. They come as traders and seasonal workers, make a quick buck, or rather, ruble, and leave. There is little evidence of illegal Chinese settlement in Siberia outside the yellow press.

Now for Demographics II – Climbing out of the Death Spiral(about mortality rates. Third part will be about projections).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And from Russia Today,

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Welcome to The Wall Street Mortgage Meltdown

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
 
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Medvedev gives his first foreign media interview (to the Financial Times), in which he charts the bedrock of his presidency.

  • Will continue to pursue primarily Russia’s, not the West’s, interests.
  • Will work in tandem with Putin, to whom he is neither puppet nor rebel.
  • Will strive to root out “legal nihilism” / proizvol in Russia and corruption, including amongst the siloviki (“power people”) by asserting the law’s supremacy over executive power, cultivating popular respect for the law and improving the courts system, e.g. by raising pay for judges.
  • Will keep trying to demolish Russophobe myths.

Speaking of “legal nihilism”, it seems Medvedev has already started work in this area by forbidding state inspectors from carrying out checks on small businesses in the absence of a court ruling. Hopefully this should help expand the role of small businesses in Russia’s economy, which now make up just 1.1mn small businesses, 3.4mn individual businesspeople and 17% of GDP (typically 40-70% in advanced industrial countries), and expand the middle classes.

As I’ve covered here, NATO is split over whether to admit Georgia and Ukraine to a MAP (Membership Action Plan) at its summit in 2-4th April – western Europe, led by Germany, is opposed to antagonizing Russia and jeopardizing its co-operation on Afghanistan; the US is concerned about losing influence in NATO and many of the Visegrad countries are worried about Russian neo-imperialism towards its non-NATO Near Abroad. Another comprehensive account of the situation over at Christian Science Monitor, as well as pro-expansion pieces calling for public pro-NATO “education” campaigns in the Ukraine here and here (Vladimir Socor). This is because NATO membership in the Ukraine, as in Bulgaria and Slovakia before, is unpopular – the majority are against joining, and some Crimeans have mounted protests. Even in the West, a poll finds a broad desire to cooperate with Russia – pluralities oppose the American missile plan in every major European country.

In breaking news, McCain Backs Tougher Line Against Russia, calling for the West to cease tolerating “Russia’s nuclear blackmail or cyber attacks” and kick it out of the G8 (and replace it with such economic powerhouses and paragons of human rights as India and Brazil). Meanwhile, Joe Biden says that the Bush administration “rebuffed some sensible Kremlin proposals”, before claiming “Messrs. Bush and Putin largely abdicated these responsibilities”; accuses Russia of “bring Russophobia back into fashion”, before going on to encourage meddling in Russia’s internal affairs under the guise of improving American national security. Scratch a Russophobe, and you find a seething soup of paradoxes – just like with deranged Russophobe Lucas and his The New Cold War book, which was recently trashed in Prospect magazine (see review here). No wonder then that Putin cautions us to why the West is so intent on smearing Russia.

MOSCOW. Feb 14 (Interfax) – President Vladimir Putin believes that certain negative publications in the Western media on the state of democracy in Russia are an attempt to pressure Russia, and said that Moscow will not react.

“One must soberly look at what is happening in the media, and analyze. But reacting nervously would dishonor Russia. We’ll not go nervous,” Putin said at a news conference in Moscow on Thursday.

Some countries try to achieve their goals in a competitive fight, including through the mass media, Putin said.

“We all know that, definitely, a monopoly exists in the world (mass media) in some countries and, of course, political centers in these countries are trying to use these channels to influence our population, the population of European countries and the North American continent,” he said.

Such attempts fail, which can be seen, among other things, from the selection of Sochi as the host city for the 2014 Winter Olympic Games, he said.

“Various means are being used in the world to attain one’s political or economic goals,” including the media, Putin said.

“A discussion is on democracy in Russia. What’s the idea of heeding Russia’s opinion on Kosovo, some argue, if Russia herself is not a democratic country? We must understand for what purpose all this is being done,” the Russian president said.

The same refers to the problem of locating a missile shield in Europe, he said. “What’s the big idea listening to what these Russians think about missile defense? They cannot be trusted, because they have problems with democracy there,” Putin said.

Turmenistan, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan have said they will start selling gas at “European” prices as of January 2009, effectively doubling them. This will hit Ukrainian industry hard; nor can they do much about it, since one of their main arguments about how Russia should supply them with subsidized gas was a threat to source it directly from Central Asia. Now that is irrelevant. Gazprom’s agreement to this means it will no longer be possible to provide allied Armenia with cheap gas; nonetheless, co-operation between Armenia and Russia will not stop, what with bilateral trade increasing by 60% over the previous year and heavy Russian investment into Armenia’s economy. Israel becomes visa-free for Russians. In a recent Levada poll, more Ukrainians would prefer to concentrate on joining the Union of Russia and Belarus (43%) than the European Union (30%).

Meanwhile, Georgian opposition leader Irakli Okruashvili has been given an 11 year jail sentence in absentia for extortion. Strange that they’d do that just a few days before the NATO summit. Still, the Western media would much rather concentrate on demonizing Russia – a playboy “fierce critic of the current regime in Russia” billionaire going missing must mean the KGB is at work again.

Russia’s economy continues to boom, with 7.8% growth in Jan-Feb 2008. A piece about how Moscow is Turning Old Factories Into Prime Property by converting its industrial areas into much more valuable office space and moving production out into the Moscow Oblast industrial parks. In the spirit of the times, Ruconomics offers three suggestions on battling corruption.

  • The law must be inflexible, prescribing a set list of instructions invulnerable to idiosyncratic bureaucratic interpretation.
  • The creation of an honest, independent judicial system.
  • Competitive media, free from pressure from vested interests and citizen monitoring of the bureaucracy.

Quite obvious, really. Also from the same blog, a post about a none too bright bureaucrat called Yakimenko, who wishes to solve the demographic problem via means of mass impoverishment, citing the experience of Africa and his own parents as an example.

At the global level, the credit crunch continues unabated as financial markets search for signs that the worst is over, what with Bear’s collapse, Lehman’s last-minute redemption and a rally across many of the world’s stockmarkets this past week. However, house prices continue on their precipitous decline, and it seems to me more and more that this is a case of general insolvency rather than simply illiquidity (the Fed, obviously, has the other idea). Finally, searching for signs that the trough has passes may well be a sign that things are actually really bad.

Perhaps the most convincing argument that we are not yet at the bottom is that so many people think that we are. The clamour to call an end to the crisis in recent weeks in itself shows that optimism has not been extinguished. History’s worst bear markets have been punctuated by many rallies when people thought the worst was over.

This may also accelerate the Euro’s displacement of the dollar as the world’s reserve currency, and as such weaken the US economy and its geopolitical power.

The Financial Times also has an interesting article on how, apparently, state ownership is no longer a burden for Chinese companies, what with their burgeoning profits (quite a change from the 1990′s) and innovative technological adaptation and marketing and managerial competence – although there are caveats to that success.

The world is having problems with rice production. Is the problem just one of institutional failure and trade restrictions, as the Economist sees it? Or is it something deeper, to do with exhaustion of carrying capacity and linked with things like the peaking of grain production per capita? Time will tell.

See Carla Bruni nude here. Who says politics can’t be sexy?

Talking about nudity, or representations of the human form in general, see the controversial film by Geert Wilders, Fitna, which was cowardly censored by Livelink. For if this kind of spinelessness continues, the above may become a thing of the past in Europe if the more dire predictions of Muslim demographics turn out to be true.

Finally, a word about the Tibet protests. The Western media is all up in arms over how the brutal PLA is crushing the freedom-loving Tibetans, neglecting to mention the fact that old Tibet was a feudal theocracy, that the demonstrating Tibetans display their anger by performing pogroms on local ethnic Han Chinese and ignoring the possible role of the CIA in stirring up unrest (see Tibet, the ‘great game’ and the CIA).

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
 
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In the first 5 days of its existence, this blog has been priveleged to receive more than more than 200 page views from more than 100 visitors from 18 different countries. We have also been linked to by the Winthrop88 blog and Marginalia (probably the leading English-language blog about Latvia) – of those that we’re aware of, anyway.

We have also also been receiving mail. While most of it is constructive, some is of a negative character, along the lines of us being ‘unreconstructed Stalinists’, a Nashi-sponsored ‘Kremlin mouthpiece’ and ‘shameless apologists for Putins dictorship (sic)’.

To clear this up, we will compile a list of our opinions on various topics, Russia-related and not. This will make up a Core Article. This is so that you, dear reader, don’t have to waste your time on deconstructing our articles.

Soviet Union

Our country has not been lucky. Indeed, it was decided to carry out this Marxist experiment on us – fate pushed us in precisely this direction…In the end we proved that there is no place for this idea – it has simply pushed us off the path taken by the world’s civilized societies.” – Boris Yeltsin (1991).

For once, we agree. Russia at the dawn of the First World War had the fastest industrial growth of any country in the world. Ambitious plans for economic development and military modernization were being laid. 41% of the population was literate (as was the vast majority of the youngest cohorts) – though this lagged well behind the developed countries, the overall picture was nowhere near as catastrophic as later Soviet historians would paint it (in fact, school enrollments only recovered to 1914 levels by the late 1920′s).

While the planned economy was moderately successful in building up an elementary industrial base of coal and steel, it could not build up the consumer economy that is the backbone of Western prosperity today – incentives were weak and allocating prices to the millions of goods an advanced economy produces was exorbitantly difficult. Hence the Soviet Union failed to catch up with the West, and started to stagnate by the mid-1970′s. As the Economist tartly observed in 1985, “Imperial Russia had a real product per man-hour 3.5 times greater than Japan’s [but it] has spent its nigh 70 socialist years slipping relatively backwards, to maybe a quarter of Japan’s rate now”.

The promise of prosperity on which the ideology was based was never fulfilled; meanwhile, political repression robbed individuals of their dignity. We consider the Soviet Union to have been an empire of lies; as such, when it belatedly tried to reform itself in the late 1980′s, the whole superstructure dissolved as revelations of oppression, mismanagement and the growing corruption in the nomenklatura came out into the light of day.

If the Soviet Union had not existed, Russia by the 1950′s would have probably become a developed liberal democracy. Its population would also be considerably higher, because there’d have been no Civil War, Stalinist repressions or Ukrainian Famine. The Second World War probably wouldn’t have happened either (one of the main reasons Hitler won power in Germany was because of middle-class fear of the spectre of Communism). It would also likely still have control over the territories of the Russian Empire, perhaps in an EU-like structure.

Stalin

We are no fans of Stalin. We condemn him unequivocally for his mass repressions, cult of personality and the gross incompetence in monitoring German military intentions prior to the start of the Great Patriotic War.

However, we affirm that history must be viewed dispassionately and in a balanced manner. It is undeniable, for instance, that Stalin was an ‘effective manager’. (A Russian school book, A New History of Russia 1945-2007 by Aleksandr Fillipov, was criticized in the Western press for making this assessment). Consider his wartime record – he worked exceptional long hours and placed ‘weapons, supplies and transport’ on the ‘same level as the military campaigning’ – which he tended to leave to his generals after the disasters of 1941, unlike Hitler (who continued to interfere throughout, with deletrious consequences for Germany’s war effort). According to Russia’s War (Richard Overy), ‘he worked for a more modern state before 1941, and its achievement made possible Soviet victory’.

We also do not believe in the principle that nations are answerable for the crimes or mistakes of their leaders, and as such we are against the current Russian government admitting and apologising, let alone offering reparations, to countries that have come under Soviet occupation. (Furthermore, it ignores the fact that Russia wasn’t the only republic and Russians weren’t the only ethnicity in the USSR – for instance, the two most notorius characters, Stalin and Beria, were Georgians). If the Germans want to indulge themselves in national guilt, that’s fine by us (we’re not, after all, Da Deutschephile) – but there is no way that Russia is going to be making apologies to the Baltic countries (which stage SS veterans rallies and continue to deny equality to their Russophone minorities to the present day), Poland (which instigated the 1919-21 Soviet-Polish War when Russia was weak), Romania or Hungary (which participated in Nazi aggression against the USSR) any time soon.

EDIT: although my opinion of Stalin has risen quite a bit following my WW2 discussion with Fedia Kriukov at the Russia in the Media blog.

Human Rights

The fledgling Russian democracy is still, of course, far from perfect, but its existence and its successes cannot be denied.” – Alvaro Gil-Robles, then Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe.

Da Russophile is a stalwart supporter of human rights. What we do not support is a) misrepresenting the real, comprehensive human rights situation and b) selective use of the ‘human rights’ card to push political agendas.

We are well aware of the allegations against Russia in regards to judicial independence, police brutality, prison conditions, press freedom, freedom of assembly, NGO’s, discrimination against minorities and suspicious killings. We understand that many of these have some real basis in Russian reality (just like the US has issues with Guantánamo and extraordinary rendition, Japan with its forced confessions and 99%+ conviction rates and Estonia with its anti-Russophone discrimination).

According to Hegel’s dialectic, progress can be described by a triad – thesis, antithesis and synthesis. The negative side of Russian human rights are given such extensive coverage by the Western media, to the point where the average layperson is given the impression the country has returned to Soviet-style repression, that this could be constituted as a thesis (summarized in Amnesty International’s page on Russia’s human rights). We are going to take a quick glance at Russia from the other side of the looking glass and attempt to write an antithesis. It is up to you, dear reader, to reach your own synthesis.

According to the 2006 OpenDemocracy Russia through the looking-glass (Nicolai N Petro) article,

  • A troubling rift has developed between western and Russian perceptions of Russian reality. While the West believes Putin is intent on destroying democracy, Russians give him approval ratings of 70%+ and three times as many of them think the country is more democratic under him than under Yeltsin or Gorbachev.
  • The media has mushroomed in diversity and has become much more economically independent.
  • Under a new 2002 criminal code, a ‘judge must approve arrest warrants’, and ‘the accused must be charged with a crime within two weeks, or released’. Nationwide jury trials, which Putin resurrected from their Tsarist graves, today acquit 20% of cases.
  • ’71% of plaintiffs win the cases they bring against government authorities’.
  • Amendments on NGO’s passed by the Duma in December 2005, far from being an extension of government power, were instead meant to stipulate clear guidelines (for instance, registration can no longer be denied on the whim of local officials) and, without one of four specific reasons, must be granted within 30 days.
  • Chechnya has become a much safer environment, and this has encouraged more than 250,000 refugees to return…both Alvaro Gil-Robles, human-rights commissioner for the Council of Europe, and Marc Franco, the headof the European Commission’s delegation to Russia, went out of their way this fall to praise Chechnya’s progress.
  • The conclusion is one of misunderstanding: Russian politicians struggle in good faith to achieve human rights objectives, while Western critics are honestly ignorant of the real situation for Russians on the ground and ascribe dark motives to any government measures. The author recommends that a) the destruction of state institutions should not be equated with greater freedom, b) Russian NGOs should be encouraged to wean themselves off foreign subsidies and c) the tone of public discourse in the west about Russia must improve.
  • I am convinced that Russian institutions have now developed far enough to make the gradual expansion of democracy a foregone conclusion“.

Some criticisms of the article are then made by Mischa Gabowitsch (for instance, the fact that the most important news medium by far is state-TV in Russia). Petro regards it as a ‘welcome opportunity further to dispel frequently-aired but misleading views about Russia’ (though most Russians watch state-owned TV, they have the choice of viewing multiple channels (including foreign ones like Euronews), easy access to print media and the Internet).

Whatever your opinion on Russia’s human rights (whether they have improved or declined under Putin), I hope you would agree that discussion on this should be dignified and impartial. Unfortunately, that is something the Western media is rarely able to convey.

Take the Litvinenko case as a case study. The vast majority of Western news outlets took an editorial line which reached one of two conclusions: elements of the KGB services assassinated this British subject (and staunch, brave upholder of human rights forced to flee evil Putin’s Russia) a) with implicit backing from Putin or b) without. In both cases, Putin is condemned – he is either a murderer or has lost control of his own security services.

In a comment piece in the British Guardian, Tom Parfitt tells us not to rush to point the finger at the Kremlin (you know, ‘innocent until proven guilty’, all that nonsense). Cui bono? Litvinenko had already leaked his most damaging allegations (that the FSB blew up apartment buildings as a pretext to seize back Chechnya) in 2003. Killing him would only publicize the work, and whatever else they are, the FSB are rational. (Indeed, Blowing Up Russia and Death of a Dissident are both bestsellers now).

Firstly, the idea that he is any kind of dissident is risible – he was an employee of Berezovsky (who has a few skeletons in his closet, too) who freely admitted to working in a privatized FSB unit involved in extrajudicial killings in the 1990′s. Secondly, again, cui bono?

In the film Cliffhanger, the main baddie Eric Qualen is faced with a dilemma. He’s one of two helicopter pilots (the other is his girlfriend/admirer Kristel), who can get the band of thieves away from justice; however, turncoat former FBI agent Travers is the only one who knows the codes to open the boxes with the money. However, Travers fears (quite rightly) that he’d be killed immediately after he divulges the correct codes, and threatens Qualen with a pistol. Qualen draws behind Kristel, embraces her and whispers – “Do you know what is the highest form of love? Self-sacrifice!” – and shoots her in the back. Qualen and Travers are again the best of buddies.

This is not to say that Berezovsky expressed the highest form of love for Litvinenko. Nonetheless, the possibility should not be dismissed. He has an obssessive hatred of Putin for booting him and his looting thugs out of Russia, to the extent that he admits to plotting a revolution in Russia (jeopardising his British asylum status). As a once very influential person in Russia who boasted that he could make a President out of a monkey, he must still retain influence in elements of the FSB – and hence the means for acquiring polonium-210 and seeping a radioactive trail all over Europe’s airports so as to implicate Lugovoi (and which was also found in his office). Finally, there’s Litvinenko’s absurd deathbed statement – beautiful, tear-jerking prose – but wait. How exactly is a man with a limited grasp of the English language and in his death throes supposed to compose this work of art?

As Putin said, “It is a pity that tragic events like death have been used for political provocations. Those who did it [concocted the note] are not God, and Mr. Litvinenko is unfortunately not Lazarus”. We agree. We’ve never really thought of Messrs. Goldfarb and Berezovsky as God, to be honest.

The point of this rant? To prove that there really as much evidence to link Berezovsky and Co. with Litvinenko’s death as Putin. Which is to say, none at all (that which can be presented as evidence in a court of law, in any case). But no matter. The Annals of Western Hypocrisy go on. Just ask Cheney the Pot with his gushing praise for Kazakhstani President Nazarbayev (who is, as we are sure you all know, a real authoritarian).

Of course, he comes from a country which knows all there is to know about human rights, as attested to by Guantánamo, extraordinary renditions, Abu Ghraib, police torture, its continued practice of the death penalty (on which Russia has had a moratorium since 1996), voting irregularities in Florida (2000) and Ohio (2004) and its achievements in prison population per capita (686 / 100,000 people).

Putin

Whenever people ask us about what we think of Putin, we simply say – “What a silly question! We’ve never met him. What are we supposed to think of him?” So we’ve got to admit that we are just a bit puzzled when Western commentators start to spew off their standard spiels about authoritarianism, corruption, etc and how Putin is behind all that like some kind of malevolent gnome.

As should be clear from our other posts, we consider that developments in Russia over the past decade – political, social, and above all economic – have been positive, and it is likely that Putin made a fair, if small contribution to that. (We don’t subscribe to Carlyle’s Great Man view of history).

We would say one thing, however. Generally speaking politicians’ speeches are mostly fluff with very real substance. (And its not as if they they write their own speeches, either). However, in our opinion the substance-divided-by-fluff ratio is relatively high in Putin’s case. Also, in responding to media questions, he has generally answered the question at hand (albeit with long un-related digressions on the evils of international terrorism and multilateralism in foreign affairs); this is in constrast to G.W. Bush, who tends to rephrase the question in slightly different wording before launching off into a completely un-related monolog (about the evils of international terrorism, the virtues of democracy as opposed to terrorism, etc).

In short, we think he is an effective President and a good representative of Russia in the world.

Chechnya

The first time Chechnya was given functional independence (“Take as much sovereignty as you can swallow!” – Yeltsin, 1990), it turned into a criminal, bandit-filled state which practised ethnic cleansing against Russians and launched several armed raids against Russia. In 1989, there were 250,000 Russians living in what was to become Chechnya, along with many other non-Chechens, mostly in the two regions north of the Terek (which have always been Russian, having been settled by Cossacks centuries ago – in fact Grozny itself was founded as a Cossack military outpost). The vast majority of them fled Chechnya in 1991-94 to escape being killed or enslaved.

In 1996, after a two-year war waged by Yeltsin to bring back Chechnya under the fold (executed with criminal incompetence and corruption) failed, Russia gave Chechnya autonomous status (although it remained within the Russian Federation). The second time it turned into a criminal, bandit-filled Wahhabian state which periodically launched attacks against Russian border regions (see No.9 item – Gangs create terror zones at Russia-Chechnya border). Not content with trying to recreate the Caliphate within their own borders, in 1999 local warlord Shamil Basayev launched two attacks, on 2nd August and 5th September, against the neighboring republic of Daghestan, in which hundreds of people were murdered and 32,000 displaced. However, this met resistance from Daghestani militias, later supported by federal troops. On 29th September, Putin offered to negotiate with Maskhadov on the exact same 3 terms Bush in 2001 gave Mohammad Omar – disavow terrorism, close (al-Qaeda/al-Qaeda supported) terrorist training camps and extradite the leaders (bin Laden/Basayev). Maskhadov refused to negotiate, declared jihad and called on for the world community to support Chechnya. Within months, a revitalized Russian military brought back authority to Chechnya.

The mainstream Western media practically never covers this side of the story. How many Westerners know that during 1991-94, 230,000 out of 250,000 ethnic Russians in Chechnya were ethnically cleansed? How many know that during its periods of de facto independence, Chechnya was a seething cauldron of lawlessness, slavery and radical Islam?

Our opinion is that Chechnyan independence is a threat to international security. In any case, the whole issue is fairly moot now, as our local warlord Kadyrov has consolidated power over Chechnya’s warring clans and things are rapidly getting back to normal. If we could could go back in time, however, we would play this out differently. Chechnya is a PR disaster for Russia and contributes nothing economically. We would have given them full independence and erected a border fence around it. Then, we’d have supported any warlord who would pledge allegiance to us with weapons and air support. This would have been a much cheaper option, in terms of Russian military casualties, rubles and reputation.

General Values

Da Russophile is economically centrist, extremely liberal socially and supportive of liberal democracy, albeit with an authoritarian streak. We are Economic Left/Right: -1.25, Social Libertarian/Authoritarian: -3.59 on the Political Compass test.

We are atheists and have a secular worldview. We do not think religion is useful for anything other than some of its aesthetic aspects (like choral music and icons). We do not approve of recent pro-religious trends in Russia, such as the new school course in the tenets of Orthodoxy and church censorship of artistic work. Nonetheless, this phenomenom should not be exaggerated – only 2% of Russians attend church more than twice a week and the majority remain either atheist or areligious.

Our position on the death penalty is that it is wrong out of a) humanitarian concerns (that is, death row syndrome) and b) the impossibility of making 100% sure that innocents are never executed. Nonetheless, we recognize that there is a (one) valid justification for the death penalty – deterrance. This applies particularly to those countries where violent crime is at very high levels (South Africa, Columbia, etc). We also accept its use as a deterrant against corruption, as is the case in China and Vietnam – this is because corruption also kills people, if indirectly. Since our goal is deterrance (rather than ‘moral’ reasons of ‘eye for an eye’ retribution), we see this as merely being consistent.

However, to serve as a deterrant the punishment for a set list of offences must be meted out quickly and uniformly (as is the case in Singapore). We do not approve of the US system, where appeals drag on for decades and its final application is extremely arbitrary. In Steven Leavitt’s Freakonomics, we found an interesting fact – the average life expectancy of a drug dealer is several times higher on death row than on the streets. So exactly what kind of a deterrant effect does this give in the US, where the vast majority of murders are gang-related? Very low, we guess.

While both violent crime (17.7 murders / 100,000 people in 2007) and corruption are high in Russia, we do not think they are critical enough to warrant the death penalty and as such support the current moratorium.

We are in favor of full abortion rights, since it is our opinion that a) women should have full sovereignty over their own bodies and b) that a clump of human cells with no self-awareness should not be considered a person with rights. We view restrictions on abortion as violations of human rights. We disagree with Russia’s restrictions on women’s access to abortion after 12 weeks in 2003. Nonetheless, this is standard throughout Europe and better than in Poland or Ireland, where it is illegal in almost all circumstances.

Da Russophile supports a gradual decriminalization of all drugs. We consider ‘wars on drugs’, like ‘wars on terrors’, to be a cover for infringements on human rights and state corruption. Licensing them will take money away from criminal organizations and bolster government funds, which can be directed towards healthcare (including treating drug addicts). Marijuana, LSD and ecstasy are fun things and as such little different in essence from alcohol and tobacco, which are legal out of the force of tradition. We would also tax the fat, salts and sugar content in foods so as to cut heart disease and cancer rates and create incentives to move to healthier diets. We are in profound disagreement with Russia’s current tough stance against drugs.

We would best be described as economic centrists, though in general we like to steer clear of labels, preferring to judge policies on their own merits. We support liberal ‘ease of doing business’ laws (e.g. on unemployment, starting up companies, etc) and private participation in the social sphere, e.g. healthcare, education, etc. In general, we oppose government subsidies to failing industries, preferring instead that they invest money into retraining workers. However, we support an extensive welfare state that would shield everyone and anyone in case of crisis – our role model is mostly Scandinavian. As such, we are against current Russian economic policies such as the regressive 13% flat tax, inadequate social safety net and a lackadaisical attitude to improving the business climate (in which Russia is 106th in the world).

We support free trade so as to achieve the optimal division of labor and hence prosperity in the world.

We support the goals of the feminist movement and consider that gender equality has not yet been achieved anywhere. Men are still more valued as bread-winners and women-more as home-makers, and changing these social perceptions is one of our goals. According to the Global Gender Gap Report 2007, Russia comes 45th out of 128 countries – it scores very well on female economic participation, but must make bigger efforts in political empowerment.

Unfortunately, LGBT rights are weak in Russia – as in the rest of Visegrad/eastern Europe.

It is obvious that global warming is both real and anthropic. Furthermore, the latest research implies that it is catastrophic, threatning to go out of control once it passes certain tipping points – which may well have been passed already. Hence, man-made emissions, by raising carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere and thus causing global warming, can trigger other mechanisms that will release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere – frozen methane clathrates under the world’s seas, methane in the Siberian permafrost and Indonesian peat bogs, and the vast amount of carbon locked into the world’s tropical forests.

This will likely have significant geopolitical consequences later this century, as we’ve already written in Towards a New Russian Century? We find ourselves locked in a dilemma. Our liberal instincts desire to undertake international market-based measures to cut back on emissions; our patriotic instincts guide us to the opposite conclusion. They cancel each other out, so we end up doing absolutely nothing.

We support testing on animals.

We are against censorship.

We are against gun control, since we think than an armed citizenry tends to reduce the crime rate. However, we insist on licensing and would stop short of allowing full-automatics to be sold.

(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.