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 Russian Reaction Blog / NationalismTeasers

ukronationalists

On March 16, the three main political forces of Ukrainian nationalism – the political party Svoboda, Right Sector, and the National Corpus (i.e. the Azov batallion’s political wing) – signed a National Manifesto that declared the ideological unity of the three structures, and conveniently summarized the 20 key theses of Ukrainian nationalism.

Given the increasingly evident political bankruptcy of the Poroshenko government, its increasing readiness to capitulate before nationalist demands, and the even greater influence Ukrainian nationalism looks set to wield over the regime that comes next, it would be germane to give a brief translation and analysis of the main points of this National Manifesto.

***

We, Ukrainian nationalists, understanding the catastrophic state of our country and with the goal of acquiring and developing a great national state, capable of securing the prosperous existence of Ukrainians and a future for Ukrainian children, are uniting our efforts on the basis of fundamental, unambiguous, and unchanging principles and goals, and thereby offer a concrete plan of action that we can embark upon straight away for the achievement of these goals.

Not bad, though the pilfering from David Lane is a bit too obvious.

1. Define as a priority of state policy the realization of Ukraine’s national interests.

As the Russian nationalist website Sputnik i Pogrom notes, there is no division between Ukraine the state and Ukrainians the people.

This is typical for semi-fictional national projects, in which there is no people without a state.

2. New vector of Ukrainian geopolitics – orientation not to the West or the East, but the creation of a new European unity – that of the Balto-Black Sea Union.

So basically a resurrection of the Intermarium, a geopolitical vision promoted by interwar Polish leader Józef Piłsudski to unite the countries from the Baltic Sea to the Mediterranean.

Today, it has mainly become a Ukrainian nationalist obsession.

It also happens to be even more demented and schizophrenic than Eurasianism (which is at least theoretically realizable, even if its end result will be to turn Russia into Greater Turkestan due to demographic factors).

Ukraine, with a nominal GDP per capita below that of Nigeria, will be economically dominated by Poland in any such arrangement. Furthermore, the Poles have no love for Ukrainian nationalists; there are numerous human interest stories of Ukrainian Gastarbeiters in Poland getting beaten up by Polish skinheads for expressing their love for Bandera. Speaking of Polish nationalists, they outright want Lwow back.

As such, it is unclear how such a neo-Rzeczpospolita union would even be set up in the first place, unless the Ukrainians decide to keep it real authentic and also return to their old socio-economic status under the old union, i.e. as serfs under the Polish szlachta.

3. Recognize the Russian Federation as an aggressor state… break diplomatic relations, blockade the occupied territories, end Russian business activities in Ukraine, sanction Russian capital, goods, and services.

This is an excellent idea (to sideline the Western politicians and Kremlin “geniuses” who threw Ukraine a lifeline in the form of Minsk II, and allowed Russian businesses to continue investing in Ukraine to the tune of billions of dollars since 2014).

Some of these actions – namely, the blockade of the Donbass, and the shuttering down of Russian banks – have already been embarked on and post-facto legitimized by the state in recent weeks, which has resulted in the Kremlin’s apparent loss of interest in shoving Donbass back into Ukraine.

May they continue wracking up more and more peremogas along these lines!

4. Recognize [the LDNR] as occupied territories and develop a real plan to liberate Crimea and Donbass. Immediately embark upon economic, informational, and reconaissance-sabotage actions in furtherance of these goals.

Even better idea.

Though they should beware that the frontline can move backwards as well as forwards.

5. Return the right to recreate a nuclear weapons capability as a foundation of national security in light of the violation of the Budapest Memorandum.

Ukraine does have the technical capacity and human capital to do this.

Of course, the types of people who rule the West, such as Merkel or Juncker, will absolutely love the idea of nuclearization in a state full of groups of armed extremists roving around. By “absolutely love” I mean so shell-shocked they’d be begging Putin to put that rabid animal down.

6. Create a high-tech professional contract army, and a reserve army, based on the territorial principle.

This is very doable on a $90 billion GDP, by which I mean it’s completely bonkers (even if Ukraine does now spend 6% of that measly figure on its military).

7. Legalize the right to armed defense and gun ownership.

Good idea.

Incidentally, this right has existed in the “sovok” DNR since 2015, which has caused no end of butthurt amongst Right Sector.

8. Eliminate hostile propaganda from the Ukrainian information space. Cultivate traditional values, strengthen national consciousness. The Ukrainian language should be the only state language.

Russian culture is already aggressively marginalized – the list of banned Russian TV shows, films, and books is so long it’s hard to keep track. There are hundreds of political prisoners, almost none of them, of course, recognized by Western human rights organizations.

But if Ukrainian culture is indeed so powerful, attractive, and natural to the denizens of the western Pontic steppes, why does it need to be imposed through such repressive and illiberal methods?

9. Carry out a real lustration… strengthen criminal punishments for corruption.

So they do at least recognize that the Euromaidan has done nothing to improve corruption in the past three years, regardless of all the (invariably inconsequential) public workers that its activists shoved into rubbish bins.

Solution: Something along the lines of “Only mass shootings with save Ukraine!,” aka the convergence of UkSSR patriots with retrograde Russian Stalinists (as is oddly appropriate).

10. Introduce a workable procedure for impeaching the President and make a law about the recall of deputies of all levels and judges.

Presumably to be forgotten about as soon as Poroshenko gets removed and their own people are in power.

Because the alternative in Ukraine would be anarchy.

11. Introduce elections for judges and certain categories of local bureaucrats.

Not a bad idea, since along with (17), it will result in the effective breakup of the Ukrainian project.

12. Liquidate the oligarchic system: Return subsoil ownership to the state, as well as strategic objects and enterprises, illegally privatized after 1991; liquidate private monopolities, end capital flight to offshore havens.

This is not bad.

As in Russia, privatization in the 1990s was code word for mass looting, and the oligarchs borne of that period have since proven to be exceptionally bad stewards of their ill-gotten gains.

However, liberal economists will not approve (neither will the countries in thrall to them, i.e. the West).

So goodbye IMF funds. Enjoy the default.

13. Guarantee the labor rights of Ukrainians and create conditions for an effective labor union movement.

As is much of the rest of this program, it boils down to two options:

Either they will institute what it says on the tin, allowing real labor unions that stymie productivity and cancel out even the competitive advantages of Ukraine’s absurdly low wages; or the labor unions they have in mind would be utterly subservient to the state, as in Nazi Germany.

14. Create a new socially just tax code, which will encourage the development of small and medium businesses.

Nice sentiment – no details.

15. Encourage the development of national atomic and alternative energy as a foundation of energy independence.

Many alternative energy schemes are bondoogles even in developed Western countries.

In Poroshenko’s Ukraine, front companies were paid to import coal from South Africa as part of widely propagandized schemes to achieve energy independence from Russia, while in reality those funds were used to buy cheaper coal from Donbass. The difference went to predictable places.

This is a country which can’t even build a proper wall on the border with Russia. Nobody knows where the funds went.

Now try to imagine how Ukraine’s experiments with alternative energy will go.

16. Ban the trade of Ukrainian strategic resources, such as agricultural lands.

Okay.

17. Introduce real self-government by creating self-sufficient territorial units with a large degree of authority.

Agreed – federalization has been consistently touted even as a solid solution to Ukraine’s many… existential problems.

18. Rationalize immigration law, including effective provisions against illegal immigration and the creation of conditions for the return of Ukrainians to the motherland.

Ukraine isn’t facing an immigration problem; it is facing an emigration and brain drain problem, which will become even more catastrophic should it ever achieve the Maidan’s holy grail of bezviz (visa free travel with Europe).

Moreover, in light of the fact that migrants to the EU don’t even bother stopping over in Romania on their way to Germany and Sweden, this has a decidedly comical ring to it.

19. Restore positive dynamics in the national demographics; strengthen the traditional family, strengthen national-patriotic education, and place our bets on the young generation.

Births in all regions of Ukraine were lower in 2016 than in 2014.

Only in Crimea did they improve. What did they do right?

In conjunction with the rest of these proposals, the demographic situation will only plummet further as Ukraine falls into a new depression and perhaps finally falls apart.

20. Encourage the creation of a single local church based in Kiev.

This implies the final removal of the Russian Orthodox Church from Ukraine, including the confiscation of its remaining properties.

Considering ROC’s neutral, at best, and sometimes hostile, attitude to the Russian Spring -it has gone so far as to excommunicate priests who blessed warriors setting off for Donbass – this will perhaps be no more than what it deserves.

In the process, though, it will play a martyr’s role that will be far more useful than its groveling before Our Ukrainian Partners these past three years.

***

slava-ukraine Overall, solid program, I agree with almost all of it.

Consequently this blog will also be a leading torch-bearer of Ukrainian nationalism on the Internet, just as it is already Erdogan’s No.1 on the Internet.

Slava Ukraine!

 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Nationalism, Ukraine 

dutch-elections-2017-results

So this was pretty bad.

poroshenko-good-monkeyWilders’ PVV did increase its share of the vote by 3% points relative to the last elections, but considering the hopes and fears getting pum pumped up, this was certainly a defeat for populism – as Hollande, Merkel, Juncker, Macron, and all the other Respectable Politicians recognized as they rushed to congratulate Mark Rutte.

Poroshenko hailed his victory as a peremoga against the forces of populism in Europe.

But ultimately, the idea of the Netherlands (or Germany) playing any significant role in reversing the rising tide of population replacement in Europe has never been realistic.

Consider this. By the standards of European far right parties, the PVV is an unusually socially liberal, economically neoliberal, and philo-Semitic party. They support drug legalization, they support gay marriage, they not only completely disavow anti-Semitism but avidly support Israel (Wilders’ own opposition to Islam, which is much more hardline than even Le Pen’s, grew out of his travels across Israel’s kibbutzes during the his youth). All these things generally appeal to the higher IQ part of the electorate.

dutch-elections-2017-by-educationEven so, however, it was still the dumbest who voted for Wilders.

Only 14% of PVV voters have a higher education, versus 57% for the trendy left-liberal pro-European D66. This is completely in line with the demographic profile of the post-Trump Republican Party, with the Front National, even with the LDPR in Russia, and explicitly nationalist parties pretty much everywhere else in Europe.

This is a crazy theory that will anger pretty much everyone, but I think there’s something to it, so here goes.

With some of the highest (native) IQs in Europe, the Dutch are too intelligent and too smack dab in the center of Hajnal Europe, with its associated modern-day psychological complexes (e.g. pathological altruism), for their own good. They have been a country of literate merchants since even before Great Britain. They are the Eternal Merchants of Europe.

Since cuckoldry is an intellectual fetish, perhaps there is simply no hope for the Netherlands, or for that matter, for similarly native high-IQ Germany.

There might yet be hope for France, though, since they’re a bit dumber on average, and as such, haven’t had the self-preservation instinct so completely brainwashed out of them by liberal academia and the globalist elites.

Though he was made fun of it, Trump was not incorrect to state, “We love the poorly educated.” It is, of course, a rather inconvenient reality that the people most committed to European demographic continuity tend to the unlettered. But it is a reality that has to be recognized and catered to.

High IQ is the mindkiller. The working class will save the white race!

Practical implications: Wilders should have dropped all the neoliberal austery rhetoric and gone hard hard on protectionism, like Le Pen and even Trump. Tone back criticisms of Islam that are rooted in its opposition to free speech, which is not something that lower IQ people very much care about. One suspects most Dutch nationalists don’t care overmuch for Israel either. Do that, maybe get your share of the vote up to a not entirely embarassing 25%, or something.

 
• Category: Ideology • Tags: Elections, Nationalism, Netherlands 

Alexander Dugin is continuously trouted out by the Western media as this gray cardinal of the Kremlin, who is the “brain”, the favorite philosopher, and even the Rasputin behind Putin and no doubt soon behind Trump as well.

The banal reality is that Dugin is, at least in relative terms, far better known in the West than he is in Russia.

Last month, a Russian website quantified the media presence of the country’s top politologists. Dugin placed a rather unremarkable 39th on that list.

I translated the names of the first ten people, as well as of the other notables on the list. Here is a sampling of Russian politologists people who are more influential than Dugin:

  • Alexander Prokhanov – Clearly the top Russian “hard nationalist.”
  • Mikhail Delyagin – An unorthodox economic and proponent of protectionism.
  • Evgeny Minchenko – One of the foremost analysts of Russian “clan politics.” A while back I translated one of his articles.
  • Stanislav Belkovsky – Very popular in the West as the originator behind the “Putin has $40 billion socked away” meme (since inflated to $70 billion and $200 billion). Even though Putler personally murders all his detractors, Belkovsky somehow continues to have a flourishing career.
  • Natalia Zubarevich – A liberal critic of the regime. I translated one of her articles.
  • Fedor Lukyanov – Editor in Chief of Russia in Foreign Affairs.
  • Lilya Shevtsova – The originator of the silovik takeover of the Russian state meme, who has the tendency to “agree with the United States and condemn her own country on every single issue on which they have disagreed.”
  • Gleb Pavlovsky – Infamous in the West as one of the foremost practitioners of “political technology,” though he has long since become more anti-Putin than pro-Putin.
  • Dmitry Zhuravlev – Entirely apolitical, but mentioning him as one of Russia’s best economics commentators.

And finally, we have:

  • 39. DUGIN – So influential and close to Putler he wasn’t allowed to hold onto his sociology professorship at Moscow State University. (Even though it’s not like sociology is even a real science, considering that the field is monopolized by SJW quacks in the West, so it should not have been difficult to justify keeping Dugin on).

And yet Dugin is the person we are to believe is the puppetmaster behind Trump’s puppetmaster.

Incidentally, in my opinion the deepest and most talented Russian nationalist politologist is Egor Kholmogorov, who is based, economically literate, and unlike most Russian (and European) nationalists even has an inkling of HBD understanding i.e. doesn’t think open borders with Central Asia is a great idea. I have translated two of his articles (here, here). However, there is no doubt that his influence is decidedly modest, and mainly survives by writing columns for second-tier media outlets. For context, he is only marginally less influential than Dugin, at 47th position.

***

место Политологи итог
1. Nikonov, Vyacheslav 8486
2. Markov, Sergey 6901
3. Makarkin, Alexey 5859
4. Orlov, Dmitry 5671
5. Kalachev, Konstantin 5474
6. Prokhanov, Alexander 5426
7. Delyagin, Mikhail 5350
8. Mukhin, Alexey 5299
9. Minchenko, Evgeny 4729
10. Vinogradov, Mikhail 4133
11. Belkovsky, Stanislav 3600
12. Симонов Константин 3583
13. Zubarevich, Natalya 3395
14. Костин Константин 3232
15. Lukyanov, Fedor 3220
16. Рар Александр 3164
17. Чеснаков Алексей 3163
18. Орешкин Дмитрий
3116
19. Shevtsova, Lilya 2782
20. Абзалов Дмитрий 2760
21. Михеев Сергей 2615
22. Мартынов Алексей 2405
23. Pavlovsky, Gleb 2348
24. Галлямов Аббас 2332
25. Миронов Николай 2230
26. Ремизов Михаил 2192
27. Морозов Александр 2152
28. Данилин Павел 2148
29. Бадовский Дмитрий 2105
30. Малашенко Алексей 2001
31. Кынев Александр 1859
32. Zhuravlev, Dmitry 1772
33. Гонтмахер Евгений 1761
34. Шульман Екатерина 1758
35. Жарихин Владимир 1739
36. Кузнецов Глеб 1608
37. Бунин Игорь 1565
38. Фадеев Валерий 1530
39. DUGIN, ALEXANDER 1453
40. Kurginyan, Sergey 1449
41. Матвейчев Олег 1260
42. Пожалов Александр 1250
43. Иноземцев Владислав 1225
44. Караганов Сергей 1225
45. Zlobin, Nikolay 1208
46. Туровский Ростислав 1204
47. Kholmogorov, Egor 1173
48. Куликов Дмитрий 1165
49. Бордачев Тимофей 1114
50. Межуев Борис 1112
51. Станкевич Сергей 1059
52. Становая Татьяна 1048
53. Зудин Алексей 1041
54. Trenin, Dmitry 1035
55. Нейжмаков Михаил 984
56. Третьяков Виталий 910
57. Добромелов Григорий 771
58. Колядин Андрей 737
59. Поляков Леонид 734
60. Макаренко Борис 725
61. Кагарлицкий Борис 671
62. Федоров Георгий 602
63. Тишков Валерий 598
64. Фетисов Дмитрий 589
65. Маркедонов Сергей 545
66. Жаров Максим 544
67. Смирнов Сергей 532
68. Lipman, Maria 502
69. Коновалов Александр 400
70. Солозобов Юрий 385
71. Дмитриев Михаил 372
72. Мигранян Андраник 351
73. Пионтковский Андрей 350
74. Минтусов Игорь 293
75. Kryshtanovskaya, Olga 247
76. Урнов Марк 191
77. Гаман-Голутвина Оксана 160
78. Игрунов Вячеслав 136
79. Мельвиль Андрей 124
80. Ципко Александр 98
81. Максимов Андрей 93
82. Шаравин Александр 71
83. Каспэ Святослав 64
84. Рябов Андрей 19
85. Кувалдин Виктор 11
 
• Category: Ideology • Tags: Human Achievement, Nationalism, Russia 

Putin Derangement Syndrome and Trump Derangement Syndrome continue moving towards an ever more perfect union.

Problem is: Putin is not actually a proponent of extreme nationalism, let along its godfather. At least, not according to the people who would presumably know best: The vast majority of, like, actual Russian nationalists.

They tend to consider Putin as a representative of sovok “multinationality,” who sends “real” Russian nationalists off to jail under the infamous Article 282 (one of them, Alexander Potkin/Belov, was jailed for 7.5 years on the same day as Hillary Clinton’s announcement) while allowing mass immigration and the transfer of the Russian economy to minorities and ethnic clans. 20% of Russia’s billionaires are Jews according to a study by Lenta a couple of years ago, and a recently released report by Forbes Russia revealed that only one of the ten richest “clans” in Russia are ethnically Russian, or russkie. (Incidentally, that is a term that, tellingly, Putin himself hardly ever uses, preferring the ethnically neutral term “rossiyane” that refers to all Russian citizens. A quick way of estimating how “based” a Russian commentator is Ctrl-F’ing and tallying the russkie/rossiyane ratio in his texts).

Of course the irony is that the Clinton Clique tends to like those kinds of anti-Putin nationalists and their Ukrainian counterparts.

nuland-meeting-parubiy

Clinton protege Victoria Nuland meeting with Parubiy, Chairman of the Rada and founder of the Social National Party of Ukraine.

As for Putin’s actual nationalist/non nationalist status, what both Pozocracy hacks and the more “svidomy” elements of the Western Alt Right fail to realize is that in between:

(1) Being an open borders “keep them at arm’s length” cuck; and

never-said-this(2) Living up to the overly “optimistic”/false image that the “Russophile” wing of the Alt Right (summarized in the widely shared but 100% fake meme/quote to the right) – and the Putin Derangement Syndrome-suffering SJWs and (((neocons))) – have of Putin;

… there is a pretty big middle ground around which Putin actually falls.

Yes, many Russian nationalists are sitting under Article 282 (some of them deservedly, but yes, many of them regrettably not; it is an unjust law that should ideally go the way of the rest of Europe’s “hate laws,” i.e. into the dustbin of history). But, at least, Russia also imprisons many Islamic extremists and even anti-ethnic Russians under that same law (a partial lack of double standards that the Council of Europe is very unhappy about). And moderate Russian (anti-immigration) nationalists like Egor Kholmogorov – I have translated a couple of his pieces here and here – are hardly social or legal pariahs; they get to write op-eds in the nation’s highest circulation newspaper, Komsomolskaya Pravda.

And there are even outright nationalists in positions of power, such as Dmitry Rogozin, who was an outright (anti-immigration) nationalist. He currently curates the military-industrial prospect and is not an altogether impossible (if highly unlikely) Presidential successor. Although with power, he has also of course strongly toned down his prior ethnonationalist rhetoric.

To reiterate, there is a very wide spectrum between a self-hating cuckold like Wolfgang Schaeuble and /pol/’s image of Ben Garrison, and on that spectrum, Putin is far closer to the likes of Trump, Le Pen, and Orban than he is to the Western political elites aka the Pozocracy (on this, at least, the Western MSM has it correct). Reasonable figures in the Alt Right recognize such as Richard Spencer recognize that they can’t have their way all of the time, and as such urge people to support these sorts of “middle ground” politicians, despite their occasional concessions to cuckoldry (even though Spencer himself got arrested in and banned from in Hungary for holding an identitarian conference so he has personal reasons to be skeptical of Orban).

However, this still does not make Putin a nationalist. In reality, like most serious politicians, Putin is a complex figure who continuously carries out an ideological balancing act (remember Angela Merkel’s “multiculturalism is a failure” speech, a long time ago in a galaxy far away?). Yes, nationalism is necessarily a part of that, and yes, to a greater extent than a decade ago, but it still needs to be balanced out against liberal, conservative, and socialist countercurrents. The dominant strand within Russia’s current ideological matrix is liberal-conservatism, a set of political and social ideas developed under late Tsarism and later amongst the White emigration that were perpendicular to both Marxism and Westernophile cargo cultism. The philosopher that Putin cites most frequently is Ivan Ilyin, an uncompromising anti-Stalinist emigre with views that are decidedly unorthodox (one daresays, cuckservative) for a Russian “extreme nationalist.”

Here are a couple of notes I made while reading Ilyin’s Our Tasks recently:

* Frankly he is much more of an anti-Communist ideologue than a Russian nationalist. He condemns in no uncertain terms those members of the White movement who were drawn towards the late Stalinist USSR by its adoption of quasi-nationalist rhetoric and is generally sanguine about Western (though not German) intentions towards Russia, casually discussing even the prospect of the atomic bombing of his country. That is decidedly strange for a nationalist, even a highly anti-Communist one.

* He even condemns the “oppression” of ethnic minorities in the USSR, whereas a staple of traditional Russian nationalist narratives on the USSR is the disproportional influence of ethnic minorities (especially the Jews) for its “anti-Russian” nature. So far he has been rather vague on the “who to blame” question as regards the Bolshevik Revolution, not going much further than “spiritual sickness.” Again, that is very milquetoast stuff, for a purported nationalist.

Putin’s nationalism, to the extent that it exists, boils down to a practical and materialist sort of patriotism or at most, a Human Biodiversity-naive civic nationalism:

We do not have and cannot have any unifying idea other than patriotism. … You said that public servants and business and all citizens in general work to make the country stronger. Because if that is the case, then each of us, each citizen will live better, and have higher incomes and be more comfortable, and so on. And that is the national idea. It isn’t ideological, it isn’t connected with any party or any stratum of society. It is connected to a general, unifying principle. If we want to live better, then the country must become more attractive for all citizens, more effective, and the public service and state apparatus and business must all become more effective. As you said, we work for the country, not understanding it in an amorphous way, like in Soviet times… when the country came first and then there was who knows what. The country is people, that’s what working ‘for the country’ means.

Of course even this might be rather too much for someone who blames whitey when blacks shoot up policemen and rewards the families of Islamic terrorists with front row seats at her conventions. (Though given HRC’s own “racist” skeletons – associations with KKK figures, the comments on superpredators, punitive anti-Black sentencing laws, etc. – it’s quite clear that her BLM and feminist pandering rhetoric is completely cynical and mercenary).

Now to be sure, Hillary Clinton can easily get away with such comments about Putin because of the strong ignorance of Russian political realities in the West and the Russophobic tilt of the Western media. But such comments elicit more skepticism when applied to anti-elite politicians in Western countries, because by definition Westerners are more familiar with them and they are pretty clearly not true (for instance, the “nationalist” Marine Le Pen is basically the conservative mainstream of yesteryear, being infinitely closer to Charles De Gaulle than, say, Marshal Pétain). And they should elicit much more skepticism when used to smear Donald Trump, given that basically everything “racist” he has ever said was taken out of context.

Will such ceaseless lying and prevarication, of which this is but one example, eventually rebound against Hillary Clinton and the mainstream media?

And eventually, perhaps, even on American perceptions of Russia?

After all if you can’t trust your media and self-proclaimed experts to tell your the truth about your own country, why should you defer to them to them on the Far Abroad?

Let us hope for the best but prepare for the worst.

 

stalin-the-tajik

Stalin waxing lyrical about the friendship of peoples in April 1941, a famous period of international idyll when there were no other important concerns:

… I want to say a few words about the Tajiks. The Tajiks are a special people. They are not Uzbeks, Kazakhs, or Kyrgiz – they are Tajiks, the most ancient people of Central Asia. The Tajik – that means the one who wears the crown, that is how they were called by the Iranians, and the Tajiks have justified this title.

Out of the all the non-Russian Muslim peoples of the USSR, the Tajiks are the sole non-Turkic ethnicity – they are an Iranian ethnicity. The Tajiks are the people whose intelligentsia produced the great poet Ferdowsi, and it is no surprise that the Tajiks draw their cultural traditions from him. You must have felt the artistic flair of the Tajiks in the past decade, that their ancient culture and unique artistic talent as expressed in music, and song, and dance.

Sometimes our Russian colleagues mix them up: The Tajiks with Uzbeks, the Uzbeks with Turkmen, the Armenians with Georgians. This is, of course, incorrect. The Tajiks are a unique people, with a huge and ancient culture, and under our Soviet conditions they are marked out for a great future. And the entire Soviet Union must help them with that. I want their art to enjoy everyone’s attention.

I propose a toast to the flowering of Tajik art, to the Tajik people, and so that we, Muscovites, are always prepared to help them with everything that is necessary.

This is approximately a bazillion times less well known than Stalin’s toast to the Russian people at the end of World War 2, which is often cited by anti-Russian Cold Warriors (and many deluded Russian nationalists) to equate Stalinism with Russian nationalism.

While I don’t have anything particular against the Tajiks, the above toast does not strike me as something that would be uttered by any Russian nationalist like… ever.

The reality is that Stalin hated and persecuted Russian nationalism as much as any other Bolshevik ideologue, but opportunistically adopted some of its talking points every now and then to shore up his regime. Of course actual Russian nationalists who took him at his word seriously enough to return to the USSR tended to meet sticky ends.

The main thing that distinguished Stalin from his multinational predecessors was that he was more consistent and also went after the other national minority – Polish, Ukrainian, Jewish, etc. – nationalisms that the Old Bolsheviks had fostered. Considering the ethnic composition of the most active Cold Warriors and neocons explains a lot about their curiously specific hatred of Stalin and (regrettably, rather successful) efforts to associate him with Russian nationalism in the Western discourse.

 

According to a recent BBC/Globescan opinion poll, Russia and Germany (sic!) are some of the most ethnically nationalistic major countries on the planet.

Here are some highlights from the full report (PDF):

Index of Rootless Cosmopolitanism

bbc-2016-poll-1-global-citizen

Curiously, the current pattern, in which the advanced/OECD nations (Canada, Chile, Germany, Mexico, Spain, UK, USA) have become more insular than non-OECD nations (Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Nigeria, Russia) is an inversion of the situation prior to 2009, when the opposite was more true. I suppose this might be because only around the late 2000s did the rich countries begin to “lose out” in a visible way to globalization.

This effect has been especially pronounced in Germany:

This sentiment has continued to grow at a strong pace since then among respondents in emerging economies to reach a high of 56 per cent in both 2015 and 2016. Conversely in seven OECD countries it has followed an opposite trajectory, dropping to a low of 39 per cent in 2011 and remaining at low levels since (now at 42%). This latter trend has been particularly pronounced in Germany where the poll suggests identification with global citizenship has dropped 13 points since 2009 to only 30 per cent today (the lowest since 2001).

Thanks Angela Merkel?

Approval of Intermarriage between Different Racial/Ethnic Groups

bbc-2016-poll-2-intermarriage

The US is no surprise here; since 1960, approval of interracial marriages has gone from from the fringe to the universal, including amongst evangelical conservatives.

In contrast, only 34% of Germans approve of interracial marriage, which is equivalent to US rates in the 1970s. This might come across as something of a surprise to people whose image of modern day Germany revolves around Alt Right cuckoldry rhetoric, but then again Germany also until quite recently had explicitly racial citizenship laws.

Russia is higher at 43%, but also considerably more Russians outright oppose it.

Perhaps the only more or less surprising figure here is from South Korea, where 66% approve of interracial marriage. Koreans are an extremely nationalistic people. I suppose one thing to bear in mind that in Korea and East Asia more generally “interracial marriage” means Whites/Europeans, whereas in the US the default assumption is that its with Blacks and in Europe, with Muslim ethnicities.

Approval of Immigration

bbc-2016-poll-3-immigration-acceptance

Worth noting that immigrants to Spain seem to be mainly elderly Brits and Germans buying up seaside retirement homes in the south, while many younger Spaniards themselves are emigrating in large numbers to the northern and more economically dynamic members of the EU.

Defining Criteria of Self-Identity

bbc-2016-poll-6-identity

There’s only three countries in which a plurality of citizens don’t feel the highest amount of identification with their national citizenship.

Most Spaniards think of themselves as world citizens.

A plurality of Pakistanis consider themselves Muslims first and foremost. This stands to reason and many or most other Muslim countries would display similar results.

More Indonesians on their thousands of islands identify most strongly with their local community.

The largest percentage of people identifying most strongly with their race or culture are in South Korea. As per above, this is of no surprise.

 
• Category: Ideology • Tags: Nationalism, Opinion Poll 

An absolute majority – 51.5% – of French policemen and soldiers planned to vote for the Front National in the recent regional elections, according to a poll by CEVIPOF. This is far more impressive than the oft quoted 20% of Greek policemen who support Golden Dawn (though to be sure Golden Dawn is far more hardcore than FN).

french-siloviks-support-front-national

At the opposite end of the spectrum, less than 10% of schoolteachers and postdocs – a proxy for the Cathedral, one might say – supported the Front National.

As I pointed out in my post on the recent regional election s, though, the priests aren’t that successful at converting their flock; FN support is highest amongst the youngest age groups.

Reminder that the last of the three major Estates, the merchants/bourgeoisie – agriculturalists, artisans, business owners – are exactly in between at 35%.

fn-support-by-social-group-france

This brings to mind Westerosi KGB head Varys’ riddle to Tyrion in ASoIaF:

“In a room sit three great men, a king, a priest, and a rich man with his gold. Between them stands a sellsword, a little man of common birth and no great mind. Each of the great ones bids him slay the other two. ‘Do it,’ says the king, ‘for I am your lawful ruler.’ ‘Do it,’ says the priest, ‘for I command you in the names of the gods.’ ‘Do it,’ says the rich man, ‘and all this gold shall be yours.’ So tell me – who lives and who dies?”

It will be fascinating to see who the French commonfolk choose to follow in the years ahead.

 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Elections, France, Nationalism 

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

***

russian-american-poll

***

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

(Reprinted from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 

Two weeks ago, I received a Facebook message from Kim Zigfeld, she of the infamous La Russophobe, asking me if I was interested in an interview with her. It didn’t take long for me to come to the wrong decision!

And so commenced our interview. It was a long grind. After ceaseless goings back and forth, arguments about what is really going on in that land of Russia, some 12,000 words of it, we finally entered wacko paradise – INTERVIEW: Anatoly Karlin. Here are a few lines from the freak show stage to whet your appetites!

  • Suppose Shamil Basayev had been found in a lovely home just outside Tbilisi and after Russians assassinated him the Georgian president was invited to Washington and warmly embraced by Obama, how would Russians have reacted?
  • So the USA should forget that Russia is trying to destroy it because China is trying even harder?
  • Frankly, we find your intellectual dishonesty really repugnant, and characteristic of the failed Soviet state. The rulers of the USSR always spoke to the outside world as if they were speaking to clueless idiots. But it was the USSR that collapsed into ruin, wasn’t it?
  • We don’t believe any thinking person can argue that any other Russia blog that has ever existed has come close to being as inspirational to the blogosphere as La Russophobe… Yet many of your Russophile brethren insist on pretending to dismiss us. Why are they so unwilling to admit how good we are? Why don’t they realize how foolish they look? Is it some sort of psychological complex on their part, or is it a crazily ineffective propaganda scheme?

Indeed. Anyhow, apart from her flattering review of my work and the conspiratorial theorizing, the interview mostly focuses on the bread and butter politics that many of us Russia watchers love to talk about. Enjoy the ride! (I did!!!)

Because some of you guys don’t want to grace La Russophobe with a visit, or are banned from it, I’m reprinting the interview below and opening it to comments.

INTERVIEW: Anatoly Karlin

Anatoly Karlin (who says Russophiles don't have hair on their chests??)

Anatoly Karlin (who says Russophiles don’t have hair on their chests??)

LA RUSSOPHOBE: Welcome to La Russophobe, Anatoly. Let’s start with current events. Almost immediately after America’s public enemy #1 Osama Bin Laden was discovered hiding in plain sight in Pakistan and assassinated, the Pakistan government started coming in for heavy criticism in the West, especially in the USA. And right after that, Russia invited Pakistan to pay the first state visit on Moscow in three decades, and warmly embraced it. Do you think this was a mistake on the part of the Kremlin? Does it concern you at all to see Russia providing aid and comfort to nations like Pakistan, Syria, Iran and Libya? Suppose Shamil Basayev had been found in a lovely home just outside Tbilisi and after Russians assassinated him the Georgian president was invited to Washington and warmly embraced by Obama, how would Russians have reacted?

ANATOLY KARLIN: And yet the US – with the exception of a few Republicans – is still okay with continuing to provide Pakistan with dollops of aid every year. It has had close security relations with Pakistan since the 1980’s, when both supported jihadists fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan. It is ridiculous to condemn Russia for “warmly embracing” Pakistan – even if signing a few accords on anti-drugs and economic cooperation can be construed as such – when the US has much deeper relations with them, and for far longer.

Why talk of hypothetical scenarios, when we’ve got real examples? After the Georgians opened fire on UN-mandated Russian peacekeepers, and invaded South Ossetia, the entire Western political class “warmly embraced” Georgian President Saakashvili – a terrorist to the inhabitants of Tskhinvali, whom his army shelled in their sleep.

As for providing “aid and comfort” to Iran or Libya – by which I take it you mean refusing to formally condemn them – why should Russia feel guilty about it, when the West keeps its peace on regimes that are every bit as odious but serve its interests? Saudi Arabia has no elections and doesn’t allow women to drive cars, which makes it less progressive than Iran. It hasn’t exactly made the top headlines in the US media, but in recent weeks Bahrain has “disappeared” hundreds of injured Shia protesters – and many of the doctors who treated them. Why no crocodile tears for them? Presumably, because Bahrain hosts the US Fifth Fleet and Saudi Arabia is the world’s swing oil producer.

The US tries to pursue its own national interests, like most countries. Human rights are fig leaves, or secondary considerations at best. Good for America! Russia happens to have better relations with countries like Libya or Iran than with Saudi Arabia or Bahrain, and I don’t know why it should torpedo them for the sake of foreign national interests.

LA RUSSOPHOBE: That sure is a whole bunch of words, but you haven’t answered our questions, and if you don’t we won’t publish your answers. We’d like to you to assume that Americans are no better at admitting their hypocrisy than Russians, and won’t stop being offended by Russian actions just because they haven’t been as tough on Pakistan as they should be. Russia is puny economically and militarily compared to America, and America is a world leader while Russia has virtually no allies. Do you or don’t you think it was a mistake for Russia to antagonize the US by meeting with Pakistan in the wake of the Bin Laden arrest? How would Russians have reacted if the US had met with Georgia’s ruler after a hypothetical killing of Basayev in Georgia?

ANATOLY KARLIN: Had Russian special forces killed Shamil Basayev in a Tbilisi suburb, this would have implied a very close security relationship between Russia and Georgia – including Georgian acquiescence for the Russian military to operate throughout its territory (i.e. something analogous to the US-Pakistani relationship). Or do you believe that Spetsnaz is so awesome that it could it just stroll into the heart of Georgia, take out the mark in a heavily defended compound, and exfiltrate back into Russia? I don’t think so, and I’m supposed to be the “Russophile” here. As such, I do not believe the Russians would have objected to the US inviting the Georgian ruler over for some Maine lobster and coffee.

If the Americans are deranged enough to be offended by Russia meeting with Pakistani leaders, then they should grow a thicker skin and / or undergo a sanity check. There are few good reasons not to pursue your national interests; indulging irrational psychoses is not one of them. Fortunately, I haven’t come across anything suggesting that the US got “antagonized” by the Russia-Pakistan meeting – and quite rightly so, as there is no need to get one’s knickers in a twist over perceived slights / ridiculous trivialities.

LA RUSSOPHOBE: The assumption made in our question was that the government of Pakistan was complicit in hiding Bin Laden for years and that the US forces struck without the government’s permission. Pakistan is rife with lurid anti-Americanism, similar to what flies about in Georgia with regard to Russia. Do you have any evidence to show that Pakistan helped the US to kill Bin Laden? Do you really expect our readers to take you seriously when you suggest that if it were discovered that Basayev had been hiding in Georgia for years and that Russians went in and killed him with no open Georgian assistance they would have seen Georgia as their friend?

ANATOLY KARLIN: I don’t have the security clearances (or hacking skills) to have these details of Pakistan’s relationship with OBL. Even CIA Director Leon Panetta doesn’t know, at least publicly, whether Pakistan is “involved or incompetent.”

In your scenario, the Russians wouldn’t see Georgia as their friend; they would see it as a “frenemy,” much like how Americans view Pakistan. Managing frenemies requires delicacy, balance, and a lot of bribes. It’s easy for you to say that the US should “get tough” on Pakistan. The world isn’t that simple. Next thing you know, the Pakistanis will ditch the US, cease all attempts to root out militants and cosy up with China.

By and by, if you’re really that obsessed about Russia’s overtures to Pakistan, you might want to examine China’s role. They have recently offered Pakistan 50 new fighters, which is a much warmer embrace of Pakistan than anything Russia has proffered to date.

LA RUSSOPHOBE: So the USA should forget that Russia is trying to destroy it because China is trying even harder? That’s the most hilariously stupid thing we’ve ever heard! Lots of Americans criticize China harshly, but our blog is about Russia and we don’t intend to lose that focus. Your childish attempts to throw the spotlight away from Russia are ridiculous and sad. You admit you have no evidence that Pakistan did anything except facilitate Bin Laden’s activities, which means that your first answer to our question was an absurd lie. Your suggestion that Russians would do anything other than brutalize Georgia utterly obliterates your credibility. Now please tell us: Russia has risked infuriating the world’s only superpower and biting the hand (Obama’s) that feeds it. What does Russia get in return to counterbalance that in terms of good relations with Pakistan?

ANATOLY KARLIN: I think the idea that China selling fighters to Pakistan – let alone Russia signing economic deals with it – implies that it is trying to “destroy” the US is hilariously stupid, but then again that’s just me.

Russia doesn’t get much, as Pakistan is of little importance to it (unlike China, which partners with it against India, and unlike the US, which desires its cooperation on Islamic militants). But that doesn’t matter since the very idea that building relations with Pakistan “risks infuriating” the US is crazy and absurd on too many levels.

LA RUSSOPHOBE: Why talk about hypotheticals, you ask? You don’t get to ask questions here, you haven’t invited us for an interview. But just for the heck of it, because it’s our blog and we make the rules, that’s why. If you don’t want to follow them, then you’ll publish your views elsewhere. Which, of course, is your right — but we’d have thought you’d enjoy a bit of access to our readers.

ANATOLY KARLIN: To clarify, it was a rhetorical question (as are all my questions in this interview). I did not mean to interview you here – though if you’re interested, I’m happy to offer you one on my blog. You’ll generate lively discussions among my readers at a minimum.

LA RUSSOPHOBE: In regard to Libya and Syria, we mean taking actions to block and obstruct Western support for the democratic movements, especially defending the regimes and criticizing the West in public, and providing Syria with weapons. Sorry if we weren’t clear. Can you understand the question now? Hopefully so, because you won’t get a third chance.

ANATOLY KARLIN: It does not concern me in the slightest. My reasons, in simple(r) language: (1) The West supports regimes that are every bit as odious when they serve its interests, (2) therefore, its motives are not pro-democratic, as its claims, but self-interested and imperialist, and (3) by the principles of reciprocity, Russia has every moral right to call the West out on its hypocrisy and support regimes that it is friendly with.

When the US cancels its $60 billion weapons deal with Saudi Arabia, and condemns them for their human rights violations, perhaps then it would have the moral authority to demand Russia do likewise with its disreputable clients. As it stands, Washington’s protests regarding Russia’s relations with Libya & Co. reek of arrogance and double standards that Russia should not be expected to indulge.

BTW, I find your sensitivity to Russia “criticizing the West in public” to be quite hilarious. Surely the beacon of free speech can take some? Or does Russia have to build shrines to it, or rename its main boulevard after G.W. like Tbilisi did, or something? (these are rhetorical questions)

LA RUSSOPHOBE: Are you suggesting that you believe Russian power is such that it can afford to act however it likes regardless of the way in which its actions may provoke the USA and NATO?

ANATOLY KARLIN: Any country’s foreign policy has to take into account the likely reactions of other international actors. I do not believe Russia should “act however it likes,” though not so much for fear of “provoking” the US or NATO (which in any case have limited options for retaliation) but because in most cases cooperation and accommodation – to a reasonable extent – are more productive than mindless confrontation.

Your language indicates that you have a more zero-sum view of global affairs, what with your insinuation that the main reason Russia shouldn’t antagonize the US is because it is “puny” in comparison and “has virtually no allies.” In other words, it has to unconditionally submit to Western whims. Quite apart from its sordid implications – that might makes right, in which case you could make the same argument for why the “puny” Baltics and Georgia should bow down before Russia – it’s not even convincing on its own merits.

Russia is less powerful than the US, but on the other hand it doesn’t have America’s global commitments – the US is fighting three wars at this time, which drastically limits its freedom of action elsewhere. Its economy is much larger than Russia’s, but it has a far worse fiscal position. The US has big markets and technologies to offer, but Russia’s trade with America is insignificant compared with Europe. Besides, Russia enjoys leverage as a big supplier of oil to world markets, and natural gas to Europe, and of nuclear technology and weaponry to potential adversaries of the US (meaning that it’s patently not in America’s interests to alienate Russia). As for NATO, its relevance has plummeted in the post-Cold War period – its members haven’t been able to agree on a plethora of important issues such as the Iraq War, Georgia’s accession, and Libya!

And lest we forget, Russia is hardly alone in its skepticism on Libya. There’s also the other BRIC’s, as well as (NATO members) Turkey and Germany.

LA RUSSOPHOBE: In a recent comment on the Streetwise Professor blog, you called Russian “president” Dima Medvedev a “pathetic shell” and an “empty suit.” We couldn’t agree more! In return, would you agree with us that Vladimir Putin, who personally handed power to Medvedev, showed extremely poor judgment in doing so, and that this calls all his other policies into question? After all, though Medvedev has no real power he does have technical legal authority and could thrust Russia into a constitutional crisis at a moment’s notice if he chose to do so.

ANATOLY KARLIN: I don’t view Medvedev as a disaster. On a positive note, he fired more entrenched bigwigs in two years as President than Putin did in eight. But too often, he comes off as naïve and overly submissive to Western demands. A good example is his okaying of the UN resolution authorizing NATO to protect Libyan civilians, which has seamlessly transitioned into a lawless drive for regime change. According to Konstantin Makienko, editor of the Moscow Defense Brief, this will cost Russia at least $8.5 billion in lost economic opportunities (not to mention hurting its image as a sovereign world power).

Putin’s choice of Medvedev wasn’t a mistake. At least, it’s too early to tell. For now, I don’t oppose Dima iPhonechik (as he is known on Runet). On the other hand, I certainly think it prudent that someone like Putin is there to give Medvedev the occasional reality check, and remind him that the West only looks out for itself and that Russia’s only true allies are its army and navy.

LA RUSSOPHOBE: So just to be clear, you don’t think it was a mistake to give enormous power to a “pathetic shell” and an “empty suit,” right?

ANATOLY KARLIN: Most politicians fit this description. So, no.

LA RUSSOPHOBE: Are you saying there is nobody in Russia except Vladimir Putin who is not a pathetic shell and empty suit?

ANATOLY KARLIN: That is not what I’m saying, as most Russians are not politicians.

LA RUSSOPHOBE: Your answer is profoundly childish, asinine, and indicates you have no wish to be taken seriously. Any intelligent person would have clearly understood were asking whether you are excusing Putin’s choice of a “pathetic shell” and “empty suit” for president because every other person he could have chosen also fit that description. There is no requirement that the Russian president be a politician. Mikhail Khodorkovsky would be president today, for instance, but for Putin having him arrested and sent to Siberia. So we’ll ask again: Are you saying there was nobody who was not a pathetic shell and an empty suit that Putin could have chosen to succeed him?

ANATOLY KARLIN: I don’t know. If I had access to alternate worlds in which Putin nominated other successors, and they got to demonstrate whether or not they were empty suits, then I’d be able to answer the question.

LA RUSSOPHOBE: But you’ve already said that you approve of Gennady Zyuganov and Dmitri Rogozin. Wouldn’t Russia have been better off if Putin had named one of them as his successor? We ask you again to stop dodging our questions like a coward: Can you or can you not point to a person Putin could have chosen as his successor who would not have been an “empty suit” and a “pathetic shell”? We realize that you can’t win by answering. If you say there is nobody, then you confirm Russia is a truly wretched land. If you say there is somebody, then Putin made a gigantic error in judgment by not choosing that person. But you must answer. Because if you don’t, everyone will see you as a sniveling intellectual coward.

ANATOLY KARLIN: This implies that anything is better than an empty suit, which is not really the case. For instance, Zhirinovsky is quite obviously not an empty suit, but does any reasonable person want him in power? I don’t think so.

But if you still insist on a concrete answer, a Putin – Zyuganov tandem is my dream team (implausible as it is in practice).

LA RUSSOPHOBE: What makes you say it is implausible? If Vladimir Putin had told the Russian people to vote for a ham sandwich to replace him, they would have done it. What’s more, Putin would not have allowed anybody but the sandwich to receive votes. If Putin had named Zyuganov, Zyuganov would have been elected. Apparently you mean it’s implausible because Putin doesn’t share your admiration for Zyuganov. Why not? What mistake is Putin making in evaluating this fellow?

ANATOLY KARLIN: Presumably, because the gap in their worldviews is too unbridgeable. Zyuganov has condemned Putin as a protégé and stooge of the oligarchy, which to a large extent is true. Though I don’t presume to speak for Putin, I imagine he sees Zyuganov as a Soviet-era dinosaur, whose autarkic leanings and unqualified admiration of Stalin have no place in a modern society. This is also true.

But their incompatibilities are precisely the reason why I’d like to juxtapose them, the idea being that Zyuganov can push for the restoration of a social state, while Putin’s influence will provide a check on his more regressive, Brezhnevite tendencies.

LA RUSSOPHOBE: The single greatest mystery for us about Russia is why, when Boris Yeltsin was universally despised in 1999, in single-digit approval territory with talks of impeachment for genocide, the Russian people followed his instructions like lemmings and picked Putin as his successor. Can you explain that behavior to us?

ANATOLY KARLIN: I think the conventional explanation is that Putin’s law-and-order image and savvy handling of the Second Chechen War contributed more to his political ascent than Yeltsin’s endorsement.

LA RUSSOPHOBE: Do you have any factual basis whatsoever for that ridiculous statement? Are you seriously suggesting that Putin could have emerged from a contested election as the winner without being the incumbent in March 2000? Even if the people were widely impressed in that way, why wasn’t Yeltsin’s approval more than enough to cause the Russian people to reject him? And if Putin did so well, isn’t that a huge positive reflection on Yeltsin, meaning Russians have vastly misjudged him?

ANATOLY KARLIN: From the beginning, Putin worked hard to differentiate himself from Yeltsin and his “Family.” Athletic sobriety versus a fermentation barrel. Sort out the mess, drown the terrorists in the outhouse, reconsolidate the country. Now obviously, incumbency advantages and the oligarch media helped Putin immensely, but for all that there are limits to what those factors could have accomplished by themselves. There was a flurry of short-lived Prime Ministers between March 1998 and VVP’s appointment in August 1999, and their approval ratings bombed nearly as much as Yeltsin’s despite the oligarch media being on the Kremlin’s side throughout.

Putin wouldn’t have won if he hadn’t been the incumbent for the simple reason that he’d have had no administrative resources to draw upon. But his incumbency allowed him to shine, and become popular, and defeat Zyuganov. Had Yeltsin nominated someone like Chernomyrdin, Kiriyenko, Stepashin, or Nemtsov as his successor, then today’s ‘party of power’ might well be the KPRF.

I agree that Yeltsin’s designation of Putin as his successor is one of his best decisions – not that there’s much competition there.

LA RUSSOPHOBE: So you have no factual basis (i.e., a citation to published authority) for your claim, right?

ANATOLY KARLIN: It’s certainly news to me that any of the above is controversial. I guess I can Google up a paper if you insist on it:

“Putin enjoyed a vertiginous rise in popularity following his appointment as prime minister in August 1999. Polls indicated those willing to vote for him as president climbed from 2% in August [to] 59% in January. By then his approval rating as prime minister was 79%. In contrast, for the past several years Yeltsin’s approval rating had been in the single digits. Putin’s rise was fueled by two factors: the war in Chechnya, and the strong showing of the pro-Putin Unity party in the December 1999 Duma elections… It was Putin’s determined handling of the war which then led to his spectacular and sustained rise in popularity.” – from Putin’s Path to Power (Peter Rutland, 2000).

LA RUSSOPHOBE: Do you realize that you are citing a “forthcoming” publication and that the footnote given by the author is blank? Do you realize that your own source says Putin didn’t get above 50% voter inclination until Yeltsin had already made him president? If Putin could have got elected on his own as prime minister, why in the world was it necessary to make him president first? Wasn’t that obviously a gambit to wedge him into office?

ANATOLY KARLIN: You’re just nitpicking now. This was the version accessible on the Web, it was published and if you want a formal citation here it is – Peter Rutland, “Putin’s Path to Power,” Post-Soviet Affairs 16, no. 4 (December 2000): 313-54. The footnote is not blank, it names the source as Yuri Levada.

The same source indicates that the bulk of Putin’s rise in popularity took place during his tenure as Prime Minister, with voter inclination going from the low single digits in August to exactly 50% in December 1999, which I’d say is a winning figure. He was appointed President on January 1st, 2000, after which his popularity remained stable at a high level. This had the practical effect of bringing forwards the elections by 3 months. Did this make a crucial difference? Putin’s approval rating was 70% in March 2000; it was 61% in June 2000 (but rose to 73% a month later), when the election would have otherwise occurred. Considering that Putin won the 2000 elections with 53% of the vote to runner-up Zyuganov’s 29%, I don’t see how the delay could have made a difference.

Mind you, this is all said with the benefit of hindsight. It may well be Yeltsin wasn’t confident that Putin would maintain his high ratings – for instance, he may have feared that the Second Chechen War would go badly and dent his popularity – and wanted to maximize his chances at the elections by giving him the Presidency early. Alternatively, he may have realized just how deeply he screwed up the post-Soviet transition, and decided that it was in Russia’s national interests to get a new face for the new millennium.

LA RUSSOPHOBE: Despite nothing but pro-Kremlin propaganda on TV, and a soaring price of oil and revived Russian stock market, confidence in the Kremlin just slipped below a majority. Yet job approval for both Medvedev and Putin remains above 65%. Given that Medvedev and Putin wield dictatorial power and completely control the Kremlin. How is that possible? Are the people of Russia stupid or something?

ANATOLY KARLIN: This is a non-story. Approval for the government always lags the personal popularity of Putin and Medvedev by about 20-30% points, as you can confirm by browsing previous Levada opinion polls. Why that is the case, I’d guess because Tsars are often more popular than their Ministers.

LA RUSSOPHOBE: You’re saying Russia is an irrational country where people hate the government and its policies but don’t hate those who wield absolute authority over the government and its policies?

ANATOLY KARLIN: I’m saying what I said: rulers are often more popular than the government as a whole (for instance, whereas only 19% of Americans trusted the government in Washington in 2010, Obama’s approval rating has hovered from 41% to 52% in the past year).

Anyhow, I would hardly take a government approval rating of 51% (as of May 2010) as evidence that Russians “hate the government and its policies.”

LA RUSSOPHOBE: May 2010? Wouldn’t this year be more relevant? In May 2011, approval fell below a majority. Do you really believe that’s not at all significant? Don’t you think it’s rather idiotic to compare Obama, who has just replaced a highly unpopular president and is undertaking massive reform, and who does not have one tenth the control over the US government that Putin has over Russia, to Putin, who was replaced by a puppet of his own choosing? And don’t you think it’s utterly dishonest for you to use America as a benchmark when it’s convenient for you, but then to say that America is a “different country” and inapplicable to Russia whenever it’s not convenient? Frankly, we find your intellectual dishonesty really repugnant, and characteristic of the failed Soviet state. The rulers of the USSR always spoke to the outside world as if they were speaking to clueless idiots. But it was the USSR that collapsed into ruin, wasn’t it?

ANATOLY KARLIN: Apologies for the mistype, it should have said May 2011. As you can see from the link, government approval was 48% in April and 51% in May. I don’t believe it’s significant, because it’s hardly changed from a year ago when it was 56% in May 2010, and going even further back, government approval was lower than 50% for almost the entirety of the 2000-2007 period, falling to as low as 25% in March 2005.

I was only using Obama to illustrate that Russia is hardly atypical in that its leaders are more popular than the government as a whole, not to draw a direct comparison between him and Putin. Ditto for your next question accusing me of double standards.

LA RUSSOPHOBE: But Obama doesn’t illustrate that. You again reveal a very poor understanding of how the US government works. Obama has very little power under the US Constitution, so he can’t properly be blamed for most of the decisions that the American public care about. It’s entirely rational to have one view of him and another of the legislature. But Putin has total power, and all of the government’s actions are directly controlled by him. Russians would have to be psychotic to view the government and Putin as being separate, or to allow Putin to escape blame for the government’s failed policies. But what really interests us is this: Isn’t it pretty telling that in a country where the government controls all the TV broadcasts and does not allow any true opposition political parties it cannot manage to generate more than a bare majority of support? What would the rating be if NTV were still going strong and Nemtsov had 75 seats in the Duma? Can’t you admit that the Russian government is obviously failing under Vladimir Putin?

ANATOLY KARLIN: Not really because it is likewise entirely rational to have one view of a Russian ruler (e.g. as competent), and another of the state bureaucracy (e.g. as venal and incompetent). But I digress.

I disagree with your assumptions. Though the Russian state does exert editorial influence over TV broadcasts, as in De Gaulle’s France, this ignores the fact that the print media is largely independent and critical; furthermore, as of 2011, some 42% of Russians accessed the (unregulated) Internet at least once per week. I notice that your own articles are regularly translated on Inosmi (mostly for their entertainment value, if the comments are anything to go by). And the main reason that “true” opposition parties – by which I take it you mean the liberals – aren’t in the Duma has nothing to do with their being “oppressed” and everything to do with their proud association with the disastrous neoliberal reforms of the 1990’s, lack of constructive solutions (their slogans are pretty much limited to “Putin Must Go!” and variations thereof) and worshipful adulation of everything “European” or “Western” as “civilized” in contrast to barbaric, corrupt Russia, or “Rashka” as they like to call it. There is no need to cite Kremlin propaganda or “web brigades” to explain their 5% approval ratings, as their anti-Russian elitism is quite enough to do the trick by itself.

So to answer your questions, by the numbers. The government’s approval rating of 51% is respectable, and the main reason it isn’t higher is that – as with governments anywhere – some of its policies aren’t successful and/or hurt big electoral groups (a good example is the 2005 reforms of pensions benefits, in the course of which its approval rating fell to a nadir of 25%). If Nemtsov had 75 seats in the Duma, this would imply that he somehow managed to reacquire significant support, which would in turn mean that the current regime must have failed in a major way and consequently its approval rating would necessarily be very low. I can’t admit that the Russian government is failing under Putin because to me its failure is very, very far from “obvious.” Give me a call when the protesters at your Dissenters’ Marches start to outnumber the journalists.

LA RUSSOPHOBE: Isn’t it true that the only reason the prime minister of Russia has not been sacked is that his name is Vladimir Putin?

ANATOLY KARLIN: I don’t believe things would be much different if his name was Vladislav, or Ivan, or indeed any other.

LA RUSSOPHOBE: So you’re seriously saying that you believe if Putin were president and Medvedev was prime minister with Putin’s record, Putin would not have fired Medvedev .

ANATOLY KARLIN: This assumes that the reason Medvedev hasn’t fired Putin is because he is the bad man’s puppet.

My impression is that they form one team, with Putin as its unofficial CEO, and Medvedev as his protégé. Their end goals are broadly similar: stabilization (largely achieved under the Putin Presidency), followed by economic modernization, and liberalization. Their differences are ones of emphasis, not essence. Furthermore, Putin has lots of political experience, immense reserves of political capital in the form of 70% approval ratings and influence over United Russia, and close relationships with the siloviki clans.

In other words, Putin is an extremely useful asset, and Medvedev is wise to keep him on board – despite Putin’s occasional acts of symbolic insubordination.

Had Medvedev behaved in a similar way in 2007-2008, then yes, he’d probably have been demoted, or passed over as a Presidential candidate. But why on Earth should Medvedev have done that? At the time, he was an apprentice. He did not have the qualifications to be cocky like Putin does now, e.g. stalling the disintegration of the country, breaking the oligarchs’ power, managing Russia’s economic revival, presiding over a decade of broadly rising living standards, etc.

LA RUSSOPHOBE: One more time. Putin has a bad record as prime minister. No thinking person can dispute that. Are you seriously saying it’s not bad enough to justify his dismissal, not as bad as that of other Russian prime ministers who have been dismissed in the past, that another man with the same record would not have been dismissed by Putin himself?

ANATOLY KARLIN: If approval ratings are anything to go by, then Putin’s record as PM is very, very far from “bad.” He MAY have dismissed a similar PM in his position, but the reasons for that would have been insubordination or his political ambitions – not incompetence or unpopularity.

LA RUSSOPHOBE: The Politburo had high approval ratings too, didn’t it? And Putin’s approval is falling, isn’t it?

ANATOLY KARLIN: I don’t know about the Politburo, as I’m not aware of any opinion polls on them. Yes, Putin’s approval rating has fallen by about 10% points in the past year. So what? It’s still at 69%, a figure most national leaders can only dream of. It’s not unprecedented either. For instance, it was less than 70% from November 2004 to July 2005.

LA RUSSOPHOBE: Well, some people would say falling approval is a bad thing. Guess you think they are all morons. Putin’s poll rating slipped below 50% in mid-2003, and right after that both Khodorkovsky and Trepashkin were arrested. Then people in the opposition started dying. Guess by you that’s all just pure coincidence, right?

ANATOLY KARLIN: What? According to the link I provided above, Putin approval rating was in the 70%’s in mid-2003. More specifically, it was at 75% in September, the month before MBK’s arrest. Please read the link more carefully before making insinuations.

LA RUSSOPHOBE: Your egomania is getting the better of you, dude. We were not referring to anything you linked to, we were referring to the fact that the war in Chechnya was going really badly in 2003, it was a bloodbath and the Russian people were sick of it. As a result, this. You have totally ignored the wave of arrests and murders that followed. You’re the one who needs to pay more attention. We ask you again: Was it just a coincidence that when the war in Chechnya, Putin’s main claim to fame, started going really badly major opposition figures started getting arrested and killed? Believe it or not, we can keep this up just as long as you can, you’re not smarter or tougher than us, and we will wipe that schoolboy smirk right off your face.

ANATOLY KARLIN: We’ll see about that. Your first problem is that the poll you cite ISN’T of Putin’s approval rate, but of VOTER INCLINATIONS. There is a big difference, namely that whereas you can “approve” of several different politicians, you can only vote for one of them. Hence, the percentage of people saying they’d vote for Putin can always be expected to be lower than his approval rate – which was at 70% in May 2003. That’s relatively low but still well within his usual band of 65%-85%.

Second, I want to see the evidence for your claim that the war in Chechnya was going “really badly” in 2003. In that year, 299 soldiers died in the line of duty, down from 485 in 2002, 502 in 2001, and 1397 in 2000. According to the graph of North Caucasus violence in this paper (see pg. 185), there was no discernible uptick in 2003.

Third, both Trepashkin and Khodorkovsky were arrested in October 2003. That’s a whole five months after the poll showing a slight dip in Putin’s popularity. Your conspiracy theory has no legs.

LA RUSSOPHOBE: Are you really unaware of what was happening in Chechnya between the middle of 2002 and the middle of 2004? This is what, just for instance:

“Between May 2002 and September 2004, the Chechen and Chechen-led militants, mostly answering to Shamil Basayev, launched a campaign of terrorism directed against civilian targets in Russia. About 200 people were killed in a series of bombings (most of them suicide attacks), most of them in the 2003 Stavropol train bombing (46), the 2004 Moscow metro bombing (40), and the 2004 Russian aircraft bombings (89).”

“Two large-scale hostage takings, the 2002 Moscow theater hostage crisis (850 hostages) and the 2004 Beslan school siege (about 1,200), resulted in the deaths of hundreds of civilians. In the Moscow stand-off, FSB Spetsnaz forces stormed the buildings on the third day using a lethal chemical agent. In the Beslan hostage case, a grenade exploding inside the school triggered the storming of the school. Some 20 Beslan hostages had been executed by their captors before the storming.”

We’re not going to allow any further responses, the fact that you are willing to speak about Chechnya without knowing such basic information makes it clear nothing at all would be achieved in doing so. Let’s move on.

LA RUSSOPHOBE: Suppose that Boris Nemtsov were elected president of Russia in 2012. What specific negative consequences do you think this would have for Russia? Would you admit that anything at all in Russia would change for the better if Nemtsov was in charge?

ANATOLY KARLIN: I’m no seer as to predict what will happen with President Borya at the helm, but I can make some inferences from history. As the liberal governor of Nizhniy Novgorod oblast from 1991 to 1996, praised by the likes of Margaret Thatcher, he oversaw an economic collapse that was – if anything – even deeper than in Russia as a whole. Industrial production fell by almost 70%, as opposed to 50% at the federal level; mean incomes declined from 90.8% of the Russian average in 1991, to just 69.5% by 1996.

As Deputy Prime Minister, the New York Times described Nemtsov as an “architect of Russia’s fiscal policy.” In July 29th, 1998, Borya predicted that “there will be no devaluation.” Three weeks later, on August 17th, Russia defaulted on its debts. The ruble plummeted into oblivion, along with his approval ratings, and soon after he quit the government. The next decade he spent on self-promoting liberal politics and writing “independent expert reports” whining about Putin that are as prolific (there are now 7 of them) as they are misleading.

Nemtsov hasn’t exactly made a good impression on the two occasions he enjoyed real power. Who knows, perhaps third time’s the lucky charm. But I wouldn’t bet the house – or should that be the Kremlin? – on it.

LA RUSSOPHOBE: Same question for Alexei Navalny.

ANATOLY KARLIN: Life may become harder for corrupt bureaucrats and dark-skinned minorities. Supporters of gun rights will have cause to celebrate.

In short, it’s a mixed bag. I wish Navalny well in his RosPil project, but I wouldn’t support any of his political ambitions unless he firmly disavows ethnic Russian chauvinism.

LA RUSSOPHOBE: But Putin hasn’t disavowed ethnic Russian chauvinism. So why do you support his political ambitions? Would you criticize Putin if Navalny announces his candidacy and then gets arrested just like Khodorkovsky?

ANATOLY KARLIN: Putin is most assuredly not a Russian (russkij) chauvinist. He has condemned nationalism on many occasions, and stressed the multiethnic nature of the Russian Federation – as well he should, as nationalism is one of the biggest threats to its territorial integrity. If anything, the nationalists hate Putin even more than the liberals. Visit their message boards and you will see endless condemnations of the current regime as a Zionist Occupation Government intent on selling off the country, populating it with minorities, and exterminating ethnic Russians. The Manezh riots and the banning of the Movement Against Illegal Immigration (DPNI) of the past few months should, if anything, convince one that relations between the Kremlin and far-right groups are decidedly antagonistic.

I will certainly criticize the Kremlin if Navalny is arrested on bogus charges (unlike Khodorkovsky, who is quite guilty of tax evasion). Not Putin because it is highly unlikely he’d have anything to do with it. But I very much doubt it will come to that. To have done so much anti-corruption work as Navalny without getting into any major trouble for it – at least up till now – means that he almost certainly has a good krysha (roof), i.e. political protection of some sort.

LA RUSSOPHOBE: Please provide a link quoting Putin “condemning” Russian nationalism. And please explain why the cabinet wasn’t multi-ethnic under Putin.

ANATOLY KARLIN: There are literally thousands of links on this topic. Here’s one for your delectation, from December 2010:

“If we don’t appreciate Russia’s strength as a multinational society, and run about like madmen with razor blades, we will destroy Russia. If we allow this, we will not create a great Russia, but a territory riven by internal contradictions, which will crumble before our very eyes… I wouldn’t give 10 kopeks for someone who travels from central Russia to the North Caucasus and disrespects the Koran.”

There is nothing to explain. Off the top of my head, Minister of Economic Development and Trade Elvira Nabiullina and Minister of Internal Affairs Rashid Nurgaliyev are Tatars, and Minister of Emergency Situations Sergey Shoygu is Tuvan.

LA RUSSOPHOBE: Our readers may not be familiar with Life News. Can you tell them what that is? Is it, for instance a national TV network? Has Putin ever condemned Russian nationalism in a speech to the Duma, or one of his national Q&A sessions, or in an address to the nation? Has his government ever handled a nationalist the way it handled Mikhail Khodorkovsky? If Putin is serious about protecting the people of the North Caucasus, why do so many of them have to go to Strasbourg?

ANATOLY KARLIN: As far as I know, it’s an online news site with a TV operation. (I’m surprised you haven’t heard of it, it was the first to get hold of a video of Oleg Kashin’s beating). But you can find the above quotes repeated on hundreds of sites. You can read the full speech here.

Would this Q&A on national TV from December 24th, 2010 qualify? That’s at least five denunciations of nationalism in one speech:

“We have to suppress extremism from all sides, wherever it comes from… It’s vital that that all Russians citizens, whatever their faith or nationality, recognize that we are children of one country. In order to feel comfortable anywhere on our territory, we need to behave in such a way, that a Caucasian isn’t afraid to walk Moscow’s streets, and that a Slav isn’t afraid to live in a republic of the North Caucasus… I’ve said this many times before, and I say it again, that from its beginnings Russia grew as a multinational and multiconfessional state… This “bacillus” of radicalism, it’s always present in society, just like viruses in nearly every human organism. But if a human has good immune defenses, these viruses don’t propagate. Likewise with society: if society has a good immune system, then this “bacillus” of nationalism sits quietly somewhere on the cellular level and doesn’t seep out. As soon as society begins to slack off, this immunity falls – and so the disease begins to spread… Russia is a multinational state. This is our strength. No matter what they say, those who sabotage these foundations, they undermine the country.”

If by that you mean prosecuting MBK for breaking laws, then just this past month two ultra-nationalists were jailed for the murder of HR lawyer Stanislav Markelov and journalist Anastasia Baburova.

Presumably, there are many Russian cases at Strasbourg because Russia is part of the Council of Europe – which it could leave, if it wanted to – and because it has a big population with a creaky justice system?

LA RUSSOPHOBE: We didn’t say we hadn’t heard of it, we said our readers might not have. Because it’s pretty obscure. On Strasbourg, you’re again missing the point. See, if Russia under Putin really treated the ethnic peoples fairly, then they would not need to go to Strasbourg, and they would not go because it’s lot of trouble to go. And Putin could order that it be so, and it would be so. But he has not done it. And that’s why they go to Strasbourg. You’ve also lost the thread on Putin and nationalism. Putin is only talking about race murders and racism, not Russian nationalism, and only from the perspective that he fears racists who dare to run wild in the streets he’s supposed to control. And it’s only lip service. When is Putin photographed cuddling dark-skinned people? Where is his program for racial tolerance in Russian schools? Has he ever delivered a speech on national television, ever once in his entire tenure, to lecture the nation on race violence? More importantly, though, when has he ever gone beyond race murder to discuss the horrific consequences of raging Russian nationalism — for instance towards Georgia? Never. To the contrary, Putin actively stoked the flames of hostility towards Georgia, actively fuels Russian xenophobia and hatred of the United States, because doing so helps him stay in power. Your attempt to claim that Putin is Russia’s variant of Martin Luther King is absurd on its face. When Politkovskaya was killed for championing the rights of dark-skinned people, Putin basically said she got what she deserved. Putin routinely pours scorn on the Strasbourg court and has done nothing to improve the quality of justice for Russians as a result of its numerous decrees finding Putin’s government guilty of state-sponsored murder, kidnapping and torture. He has never once taken a such a personal interest it the prosecution of a nationalist as he did with Khodorkovsky. That’s what we meant.

ANATOLY KARLIN: I never claimed that Putin is Russia’s MLK, that is absurd, as his job is in governance not civil activism.

By the numbers. “Cuddling dark-skinned people” – what, just like he does with rare and exotic animals? Do you realize how patronizing – and yes, racist – that sounds? I don’t know about his school policies. As far as I know, Putin never gave a speech solely on race violence on Russian TV, but even if he did, I’m sure you’ll just move the goalposts further (as you did here) and ask if he ever apologized to ethnic minority representatives for past hate crimes, as Germany did for the Holocaust.

As for Georgia, I’m afraid you’ve got the wrong suspect – better ask Saakashvili why he feels it’s okay to invade a South Ossetia that wants nothing to do with him and murder people with Katyusha rockets in their sleep in the cause of Georgian nationalism. Though I’m aware that you’d have much preferred that Russia turn a blind eye to the attacks on Ossetian civilians and its own peace-keepers, failing to do so isn’t exactly nationalism.

Individual racist hoodlums, reprehensible as they are, are not the grave threat to the state that Khodorkovsky was. As such, a personal interest in their prosecution is not required or expected.

LA RUSSOPHOBE: You mean you actually believe that Navalny could be arrested on bogus charges in order to prevent him challenging Putin for the presidency and Putin might have nothing to do with it? That if Putin gave the order to do no such thing, and let Navalny run if he wanted, Putin might be ignored?

ANATOLY KARLIN: I suppose Putin COULD do it, but that’s beside the point. That’s not how they roll. If the powers that be really, really didn’t want Navalny to run for the Presidency, he’d be disqualified on a technicality. As for the latter point, the notion that Putin would think of “ordering” someone NOT to be arrested is pretty ludicrous as it implies an absurd degree of micro-management on his part.

LA RUSSOPHOBE: There’s no doubt that Khodorkovsky was guilty of some criminal violations, that’s not the point. We believe your comment about him is extremely dishonest and an insult to our intelligence. The point is the Khodorkovsky was arrested for doing things that many other Russian businessmen close to Putin have done and continue to do without charges being filed, and was arrested only when he began making noises about challenging for the presidency, and that unlike any of the others he was lobbying strongly to bring Western accounting transparency to Russian business. Do you honestly believe that Putin himself declares all his income on his tax returns? That Khodorkovsky’s arrest was in no way political?

ANATOLY KARLIN: My main problem isn’t that Khodorkovsky’s arrest was political, but that it wasn’t political enough! Were I in charge like a Sid Meier’s Civilization player, all the other oligarchs would join MBK on his extended Siberian vacation, with their ill-gotten assets confiscated and returned to the Russian people.

And if wishes were fishes… Still, let’s get some things straight. On coming to power, Putin made an informal deal with the oligarchs that allowed them to keep their misappropriated wealth in return for paying taxes and staying out of politics. This wasn’t a perfect solution, but one could reasonably argue that it was a better compromise than the two alternatives: large-scale renationalization, or a continuation of full-fledged oligarchy.

For whatever reason – be it self-interest, hubristic arrogance, or even genuine conviction in his own rebranding as a transparency activist – MBK wasn’t interested in this deal. Instead, he bribed Duma deputies to build a power base and tried to run his own foreign policy through YUKOS. So what if other businessmen close to Putin were involved in shady enterprises, you ask? The “others do it too” argument is for the playground, not a court of law. Unlike them, MBK mounted a direct challenge to the Russian state – funded by wealth he’d stolen from it – that Putin was under no obligation to tolerate.

The bottom line is he failed at his power grab, becoming a victim of the same lawless system that he had no qualms exploiting to become Russia’s wealthiest man in the first place (his sordid activities may have extended to murder). Too bad for him, he should have spent his loot on buying foreign football clubs and luxury yachts, like Abramovich. Smallest violin in the world playing for his lost opportunity to enjoy la dolce vita!

I’d really recommend the liberals adopt some other martyr as the face of their Cabbage Revolution, because Khodorkovsky’s sure ain’t pretty!

As regards Putin’s financial probity, I addressed this question below.

LA RUSSOPHOBE: If you had to choose someone from the opposition to replace Medvedev in 2012, who would you choose and why?

ANATOLY KARLIN: That’s easy, Gennady Zyuganov. The Communists are by far the most popular opposition to the Kremlin today. Plus, they make awesome vids.

LA RUSSOPHOBE: We’re not sure you understood the question. You mean you think Zyuganov is the best choice among all those opposed to Putin and Medvedev to be their successor?

ANATOLY KARLIN: Yes, I’d take the Communists over liberals mooching at Western embassies any day of the week. If you listen to Zyuganov’s recent speech, you will find that he is deeply critical of Putin’s and Medvedev’s record.

I think he’s the best choice among the current opposition, but the issue is, of course, arguable. What’s undisputable is that it’s the most democratic. According to opinion polls, a great many Russians hold socialist (40%), Communist (18%), and agrarian (19%) values – all of which the KPRF espouses. The numbers of those with liberal (12%) or ethnic nationalist (12%) values is much lower.

LA RUSSOPHOBE: So you’re saying you think an avowed communist apparatchik is a better choice to govern Russia than Mikhail Kasyanov, who was hand-picked by Vladimir Putin to run the country?

ANATOLY KARLIN: Zyuganov has some good ideas about reintroducing progressive taxation, strengthening the social safety net, and increasing spending on groups like pensioners, working mothers, students, and public workers. Misha knows how to take 2% kickbacks and whine about his former employer to Western journalists.

LA RUSSOPHOBE: If you are right and, two decades after the collapse of the USSR, the best alternative to a proud KGB spy as Russia’s leader is a shameless Communist apparatchik, doesn’t that say something pretty damning about the people of Russia, the quality of their citizenry and their ability to modernize, adapt and grow? After all, Americans were able to follow Richard Nixon with Jimmy Carter, George W. Bush with Barack Obama. Are they really that much better than Russians in this regard?

ANATOLY KARLIN: If the Communists are Russians’ best alternative, it implies that they suffer much less cognitive dissonance than Americans, who claim to want a Swedish-style wealth distribution but consistently give power to plutocrats drawn from a common “bipartisan consensus.” So that’s another way of looking at things.

LA RUSSOPHOBE: If you had to choose someone, and you could choose anyone at all, to be the next president of Russia, who would you choose and why?

ANATOLY KARLIN: Dmitry Rogozin, because his Twitter feed is the best thing since sliced white bread. Realistically? Despite my criticisms of his rule, I think Vladimir Putin remains the best choice.

LA RUSSOPHOBE: But Rogozin is a fire-breathing nationalist. How do you square criticizing Navalny on this ground and then totally ignoring it with respect to Rogozin?

ANATOLY KARLIN: I think advancing Rogozin on the merits of his Twitter feed provides a strong clue on the (non) seriousness of the proposal.

LA RUSSOPHOBE: Kevin Rothrock of “A Good Treaty” says Putin won’t return to the presidency in 2012, Medvedev will be reelected. Do you agree?

ANATOLY KARLIN: Yes, I do. If I had to bet on it, I’d give the following odds: Medvedev – 70%, Putin – 25%, Other – 5%.

LA RUSSOPHOBE: What odds do you give Medvedev of defeating Putin in an “election” that Putin wants to win?

ANATOLY KARLIN: If they go head to head, I’d say: Putin – 75%, Medvedev – 25%.

According to opinion polls, 27% of Russians would like Putin to run as a candidate in the 2012 elections, compared to just 18% who are Medvedev supporters (another 16% would like to have both of them run; I count myself among them). Putin’s approval ratings are consistently higher. He has the support of the party of power and the siloviki, though Medvedev can count on the Presidential Staff. A recent infographic in Kommersant indicates that Medvedev enjoys slightly more media coverage.

I think Medvedev will only get a good chance to beat Putin if the allegations of massive corruption against the latter are found to be actually true. As I argue below, I doubt Putin is personally corrupt – at least, not to banana republic-type levels – so I don’t see that becoming a decisive factor.

LA RUSSOPHOBE: Rothrock says the 2012 election won’t be free and fair by European standards. Do you agree?

ANATOLY KARLIN: Mostly, I disagree. As I noted in this post, the results of the 2008 Presidential elections almost exactly matched the results of a post-elections Levada poll asking Russians whom they voted for. The percentage of votes for Medvedev, and the percentage of those who later recalled having voted for Medvedev (excluding non-voters), was exactly the same at 71%. If vote rigging were as prevalent as you guys seem to think, there would logically be a big discrepancy between these two figures, no?

(And before you retort that the director of the Levada Center, Lev Gudkov, is an FSB stooge or some such, consider that he writes things like this: “Putinism is a system of decentralized use of the institutional instruments of coercion, preserved in the power ministries as relics of the totalitarian regime, and hijacked by the powers that be for the fulfillment of their private, clan-group interests.” Doesn’t exactly sound like the biggest Putin fanboy out there…)

The question of whether elections will be fair is a different quantity. The Russian political system is a restricted space, in comparison to much of Europe, which I suppose makes it less fair. On the other hand, it’s hardly unique in that respect. The first past the post system in the UK, for instance, means that in regions dominated by one party, there is no point in voting for an alternate candidate (a feature that has led to artificially long periods of Conservative domination).

LA RUSSOPHOBE: If Putin does return to the Russian presidency in 2012, do you believe there’s any chance he’ll leave power in anything but a coffin? If so, tell us how you think it could happen.

ANATOLY KARLIN: He might also leave in a helicopter, a Mercedes (or a Lada Kalina, if he’s feeling patriotic that day), or even a computer if “mind uploading” is developed like those technological singularity geeks predict.

Okay, let’s be clear… unlike you, I don’t view Putin as a dictator. The Russian Federation is, at worst, semi-authoritarian, and has been such since 1993 – when the “democratic hero” Yeltsin imposed a super-presidential Constitution with tank shells. If Putin becomes President in 2012, he will likely leave in 2018 or 2024.

LA RUSSOPHOBE: But according to your own words, the only way Putin will become “president” in 2012 is if you are very, very wrong. So your prediction about him them leaving office is just drivel, isn’t it? Or are you saying he’ll take a six-year holiday and come back in 2030?

ANATOLY KARLIN: It’s not a prediction, it’s a supposition (note my qualifier: “likely”). As I said, I’m not a seer. What I do know is that Putin honored the constitutional limit on two Presidential terms in 2008, defying the predictions of legions of Kremlinologists, so based on historical precedent I assume he’ll continue to follow the letter of the law.

VVP will be 78 years old in 2030. I suspect he’ll be playing with his great grandchildren by then, not running the country. Unless he takes up Steven Seagal on his offer to become a cyborg, or something.

LA RUSSOPHOBE: Could you have asked for a more Russophile-friendly president of the USA than Barack Obama? If so, how could Obama have been even more Russophile-friendly while still retaining credibility among American voters?

ANATOLY KARLIN: If by “Russophile-friendly” you mean a President who takes a neutral and constructive position towards Russia (as opposed to McCain’s kneejerk Russophobia), then yes, quite a few improvements could be made.

Repealing Jackson-Vanik is one long overdue reform, as Russia hasn’t restricted emigration for over two decades. Introducing a visa-free regimen will make life a lot easier for both Russians and Americans. Agreeing to let Russia have joint control of European ballistic missile defense will alleviate Russian concerns that the system is targeted against them, and will give the US leverage to extract more Russian cooperation on issues of mutual concern such as Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons. Admittedly, the last will be a difficult pill to swallow, for those who are still entombed in Cold War mindsets.

LA RUSSOPHOBE: You seem a bit confused. The President of the USA can’t repeal a law. Try reading the Constitution. What could Obama have done within his power as president that he has not done? Are you proposing that Europe will have joint control over Russian ballistic missile defense as well?

ANATOLY KARLIN: Presidents can lobby to repeal a law, but OK – point well taken. I don’t deny that Obama has been a good President for US-Russia relations.

This is common sense on his part. The US is an overstretched Power, with a budget deficit of 10%+ of GDP; it’s fighting in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya; China is emerging as a major economic and military challenger; and the government is sinking into dysfunctional partisanship. Reaching some kind of accommodation with Russia is very much in the US national interest, even if the residual Cold Warriors and neocons are too blind to see it.

If the US granted Russia joint control of its BMD systems in Europe, and if – for whatever reason – Russia were to install BMD facilities abroad in Belarus or Transnistria, then yes, it would be justified for the US and a European authority to demand joint control over those Russian BMD systems.

(Ideally, in my view, all parties should abandon BMD projects against next to non-existent threats from countries like Iran, and concentrate their resources on far more pressing issues, such as anthropogenic climate change).

LA RUSSOPHOBE: Are you saying Obama isn’t lobbying to repeal JV?

ANATOLY KARLIN: Obama could be more pro-active about it. It’s been three years now and still no cake.

LA RUSSOPHOBE: According to Transparency International Russia has become much more corrupt while Putin has held power, and there’s certainly no evidence it has become less corrupt. Do you believe Putin is personally corrupt, in other words that he’s taken any money or wealth in any form that he has not declared on his tax return while president or prime minister?

ANATOLY KARLIN: I take issue with your first statement. Russia’s Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) was 2.1 in 2000; it remained unchanged, at 2.1, in 2010. How does this indicate that Russia has become “much more corrupt” under Putin? I’d call it stagnation. (And that’s corruption as measured by a metric that has been widely criticized for its subjectivity and methodological flaws. But that’s another topic).

Unfortunately, I don’t have access to Putin’s bank accounts (of course, neither do the legions of journalists writing about his $40 billion offshore fortunes). In fact, as far as I know, these claims originated with Stanislav Belkovsky, a political scientist citing “anonymous sources” in the Kremlin. The sole problem with his thesis? He doesn’t give any evidence whatsoever to back up his claims.

My impression is that Putin is not personally corrupt – at least, not to Suharto-like extremes. Sure, it’s not as if Putin buys his $50,000 watches and vintage cars with his own salary; that’s the job of his staff, to maintain a respectable image. And this isn’t uncommon. For instance, President Sarkozy wears a $120,000 Breguet, among several other luxury watches in his collection.

PS. I noticed in your translation of Nemtsov’s report that he took issue with taxpayer-funded estates “that are at the disposal of the country’s top leaders” as one example of Putin’s incorrigible corruption. The first example of this ‘corruption’ he cited was Konstantinovo Palace, near St.-Petersburg. Some facts: it’s an imperial-era palace that fell into disrepair in the 1990’s; Putin merely ordered its restoration. It’s possible to visit it as a tourist, and in fact I did, in 2003. Like many other cultural attractions, it has its own website. I wouldn’t find it surprising if tourism has already repaid the ‘corrupt’ state investments into its reconstruction.

LA RUSSOPHOBE: Please have a look at the nice red-and-white chart in this link. Would you like to change your answer?

ANATOLY KARLIN: The chart shows that Russia’s position fell in Transparency International’s global rankings from 82nd in 2000, to 154th a decade later. What the esteemed author, Ben Judah, conveniently forgot to mention was that the sample of countries it was measured against rose from 90 to 178.

So, that’s a no.

LA RUSSOPHOBE: You’re saying that the revelation that there are seventy two more countries in the world than previously thought that are less corrupt than Russia is insignificant? You’re saying that you don’t think it reflects at all badly on Vladimir Putin that there are 153 world nations that are less corrupt than Putin’s Russia?

ANATOLY KARLIN: You’d benefit from a course in Stats 101. Russia’s absolute ranking has fallen, but this was exclusively due to a doubled sample. Its absolute score remains exactly the same at 2.1, and it stayed in the bottom quintile in the global rankings. There is no “revelation” to speak of as statisticians would have ACCOUNTED for the fact that the sample only covered less than half the world’s countries in 2000!

I completely agree with you that Russia’s position in Transparency International’s CPI rankings reflects badly on VVP… if the ‘perceptions’ of their self-appointed experts actually had anything to do with reality! Fortunately for Russia, that is not the case. Quite apart from its methodological flaws – using changing mixes of different surveys to gauge a fluid, opaque-by-definition social phenomenon – it doesn’t pass the face validity test. In other words, many of the CPI’s results are frankly ludicrous. Do you truly believe that Russia (2.1) is more corrupt than failed states like Zimbabwe (2.4) and Haiti (2.2), or that Italy (3.9) is more corrupt than Saudi Arabia (4.7) which is a feudalistic monarchy for crying out loud!? If you do, may I respectfully suggest getting your head checked?

There are many other corruption indices that are far more useful and objective than the risible CPI.

One of them is Transparency International’s less well-known Global Corruption Barometer. Every year, they poll respondents on the following question: “In the past 12 months have you or anyone living in your household paid a bribe?” According to the 2010 version, some 26% of Russians said they did, which is broadly similar to other middle-income countries such as Thailand (23%), Hungary (24%), Romania (28%), or Lithuania (34%). It is significantly worse than developed countries such as the US (5%) or Italy (13%) – though Greece (18%) isn’t that distant – but leagues ahead of Third World territories like India (54%) or Sub-Saharan Africa (56% average).

Another resource is the Global Integrity Report, which evaluates countries on their “actually existing” legal frameworks and implementation on issues such as “the transparency of the public procurement process, media freedom, asset disclosure requirements, and conflicts of interest regulations.” (This involves rigorous line by line examination of the laws in question, as opposed to polling “experts” on their “perceptions” as in the CPI). Russia has relatively good laws, but weak implementation, making for an average score of 71/100 as of 2010 (up from 63/100 in 2006). As with the Barometer, Russia is somewhere in the middle of the pack. It does better on the International Budget Partnership, which – believe it or not – assesses budget transparency. On the Open Budgets Index of 2010, Russia scored 60/100 (or 21st/94 countries), which is worse than most developed countries like the US (82) or Germany (67), but average for its region, and well above states like Nigeria (18) or Saudi Arabia (1).

Now I hope you won’t take away the wrong impression here. It is not my intention to argue that there’s no corruption in Russia, or that it isn’t any worse than in most of the developed world. But I do not consider Russia’s corruption to be atypical of other middle-income countries, and it’s certainly nowhere near the likes of Zimbabwe or Equatorial Guinea as those who praise the Corruption Perceptions Index would have you think.

LA RUSSOPHOBE: But Anatoly, you’re still ignoring our questions, and that’s very rude. As TI started bringing in more and more countries within its survey, it found that far, far more of them were LESS corrupt than Russia, and only a handful were MORE corrupt. You can’t seem to decide if TI’s data is reliable, and therefore proves corruption isn’t getting worse in Russia, or unreliable, and therefore can be ignored when it claims Russia is a disastrous failure. Since you don’t care about facts, let’s talk about anecdotes: Have you personally ever actually tried to do business in Russia?

ANATOLY KARLIN: So what?? The experts polled by Transparency International believed Russia to be a corrupt hellhole in 2000 (bottom 9% globally). They believed Russia to be a corrupt hellhole in 2010 (bottom 14% globally). Nothing changed.

Just because more countries were included in the survey during the intervening period says absolutely nothing about corruption trends in Russia!

TI’s data used to compile the CPI is reliable enough at measuring corruption PERCEPTIONS; what I think I made quite clear is that I do not believe those perceptions to be reflective of Russia’s corruption REALITIES, because of the methodological and face validity problems that I discussed above. As such, I do NOT view TI’s CPI as a reliable measure of corruption in Russia. There are far better measures such as the Global Corruption Barometer, the Global Integrity Report, and the Open Budget Index.

You can view Russia’s scores on these, relative to other countries, in my new post on the Corruption Realities Index 2010. It combines the findings of the three organizations above, and in the final results Russia comes 46th/93 (and before you rush off to claim it is “Russophile”-biased, note that Georgia comes 21st/93). Nobody would claim being about as corrupt as the world average to be a great achievement, and I never did; but neither is it apocalyptic.

No, I haven’t done business in Russia. Is it supposed to be a prerequisite for studying corruption in Russia? In any case, even if I had done business there, my experiences wouldn’t necessarily be representative of the business community at large.

LA RUSSOPHOBE: Well, see, if Russia wasn’t really so bad, or was in stasis compared to other countries, then you’d expect to see an equal division between “less corrupt than Russia” and “more corrupt than Russia” as new countries were added to the mix. But in fact, as new countries are added the overwhelming majority turn out to be less corrupt than Russia. Even if Russia’s score is overstated by one-third, Russia still isn’t among the 100 most honest nations on the planet. A person who truly cared about Russia would be very, very concerned about this. You, instead, seek to rationalize Russian failure and by doing so you help it continue. So as we’ve said before, with “friends” like you Russia needs no enemies.

ANATOLY KARLIN: I doubt Russia’s corruption problem will be fixed sooner by screaming “ZAIRE WITH PERMAFROST!!!” at any opportunity, but that’s just me so let’s agree to disagree.

LA RUSSOPHOBE: Why don’t you live in Russia?

ANATOLY KARLIN: This question appears to be a variation of the “love it then go there” argument, which is a false dilemma fallacy.

Anything more I say will only be recapping issues I’ve already addressed in this post.

LA RUSSOPHOBE: Again, you’ll have to answer our questions or your interview won’t be published. Bizarre as it may seem to you, those are our rules. Incidentally, our readers aren’t overly interested in following links to your blog. Care to try again?

ANATOLY KARLIN: My reasons for living not living in Russia are simple and mundane: at the present time, I see more opportunities for myself where I currently reside than I do in Russia. I’d prefer to finish my last year in university, and overall, the Bay Area is a pretty cool place to be in.

This may change in the future, as in general, I view myself as a wanderer, a “rootless cosmopolitan” if you will, and some other countries on my to-go list include China, Argentina, and Ukraine / Belarus.

However, I doubt your motive in asking this question is to exchange pleasantries about my life goals. Instead you or your readers may legitimately ask why my opinions on Russian politics, society, etc., should carry any weight when I don’t live there.

First, who I am, where I live, and what flavor of ice cream I like has no bearing on the validity of any arguments I make about Russia or indeed almost anything else. Not only is disputing that a logical fallacy, but for consistency you’d then have to dismiss almost all Western Kremlinologists – including those you approve of, such as Streetwise Professor, Paul Goble, Leon Aron, etc – who likewise don’t live in Russia.

Second, you might be implying that I should “love it or leave it,” i.e. leave the US (which I hate) and go to Russia (which I love). Not only is this also a logical fallacy, a false choice dilemma, but it is also untrue. There are many aspects of the US which I love and likewise many aspects of Russia that I hate, and vice versa.

Third, you may say that I “voted with my feet,” thus proving that USA is Number One. Sorry to disappoint, but one person cannot be generalized to ‘prove’ things one way or another on issues as subjective as which country is better or worse than another. The exercise is entirely pointless given the huge impact of unquantifiable cultural factors and specific and personal circumstances inherent to any such judgment.

Fourth, and finally, even if I did live in Russia, the Russophobe ideologue will only argue that it’s confirmation that I’m an FSB stooge – because, as he or she well knows, the Kremlin crushes all dissent and only allows Putinistas online.

LA RUSSOPHOBE: We don’t believe any thinking person can argue that any other Russia blog that has ever existed has come close to being as inspirational to the blogosphere as La Russophobe. Just for instance, neither your blog nor the one you (laughably) consider the best in the universe, Kremlin Stooge, would exist without our inspiration. And if there’s one thing we respect about you, it would be your willingness to admit the extent of our influence. Yet many of your Russophile brethren insist on pretending to dismiss us. Why are they so unwilling to admit how good we are? Why don’t they realize how foolish they look? Is it some sort of psychological complex on their part, or is it a crazily ineffective propaganda scheme?

ANATOLY KARLIN: I think you’ve given all the answers in advance.

LA RUSSOPHOBE: No, we’ve given a choice of options, and maybe you can think of another one we haven’t.

ANATOLY KARLIN: It might have something to do with them seeing you as a slanderous egomaniac with delusions of grandeur (“La Russophobe, of course, stands alone as the best Russia blog on this planet, or any other”), though admittedly, also morbidly entertaining, like the artworks of Damien Hirst. But I’m sure they’re just jealous. After all: “ревность – сестра любви, подобно тому как дьявол – брат ангелов.”

You’ll always be an angel to me, La Russophobe!

LA RUSSOPHOBE: Do you seriously believe Kremlin Stooge is the best Russia blog on the planet, or were you just being a provocateur?

ANATOLY KARLIN: It’s a tossup between Kremlin Stooge (popular coverage), Russia: Other Points Of View (in-depth economy, politics, media), A Good Treaty (society), The Power Vertical (politics), Sean’s Russia Blog (history), and Sublime Oblivion (demography)… well, if you insist, add La Russophobe (the кровавая гэбня).

(Of course, these are only the English-language blogs. There is also Alexandre Latsa’s Dissonance blog, en français, and it goes without saying that there are dozens of extremely good Russia blogs на русском.)

At a minimum, they all offer something unique. Selecting the best one is, by necessity, an exercise in subjectivity. With that caveat, I find Mark Chapman’s Kremlin Stooge, Russia: Other Points of View, and Eric Kraus’ Truth and Beauty to be the most interesting English-language blogs.

Thanks for your thoughtful questions, and wish you the best.

LA RUSSOPHOBE: Thanks for the interview, and good luck with your blogging!

(Reprinted from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
 

In the fourth part of my series comparing Russia, Britain, and the US, I turn my attention to aspects of their politics, including: markets and freedom; media independence; the role of “dissident” voices, billionaires, and corruption; and Internet culture. Some people – perhaps Kremlinologists in particular – will no doubt be surprised by my conclusion that there are far more similarities than differences.

Politics & Democracy

In the US, there are two main parties that form a “bipartisan consensus” on most of the truly important topics. Both parties are beholden to corporate interests (Democrats more Wall Street; Republicans more Big Oil). Obama’s foreign policy is no real change from that of the later Bush administration. The political and mass media establishment is more than happy to criticize foreign countries for human rights abuses, real or perceived – especially those they dislike, like Russia or Venezuela – while similar or identical things happen in the US itself. A good example is the criticism towards the breakup of unsanctioned Russian political protests, which have exact parallels in the US; just as I was writing this post, 100 antiwar activists and 35 Bradley Manning supporters were arrested.

(The double standards thing is every bit as prevalent in the UK too, by the way. For a good summary see this article by Mark Sleboda.)

There is a strong “culture war” element to US politics, with a strong liberal vs. conservative struggle on hot issues such as global warming, the power of unions, gun rights and abortion. The US also has far more direct democracy at the state level than either the UK, not to mention Russia. For instance, when California needs to decide whether to decriminalize marijuana or gay marriage, it consults the voters; in most of the rest of the world, the decision is left to unelected “experts”.

Though it has three major parties, the sphere of political opinion is even narrower in the UK than in the US. On most issues, the Tories/Lib Dems and Labour can all be arraigned within the confines of the Democratic Party. There is, at least, a real difference in views on social rights (e.g. abortion; environmental protection; etc) between the Democrats and Republicans, whereas it is hard to distinguish even these differences between New Labour and the Conservatives. Effectively fringe movements, like the Green Party or the nationalist BNP, have slightly more formal political power than in the US through their own parties. Such pressure movements in both the US (e.g. the Tea Party) and Russia (e.g. the DPNI; greens; liberals) tend to exert political influence through the Establishment (respectively, the two-party system and the Kremlin).

The political consensus in Russia is represented by the Kremlin (with its tightly interlinked political, security and oligarchic elites) and its “party of power” (United Russia). But in contrast to the USSR, modern Russia has no real ideology beyond the national interest and vague allusions to its Great Power traditions (derzhavnost’). Its political economy is a melange of traditional Muscovite patrimonialism, Gaullist statism, and even libertarian elements like the flat tax. Its political space is much wider than in the Anglosphere, ranging from right-wing liberals to the (unreformed) Communist Party; but this is of little account, since the old ideological struggles, e.g. the Slavophiles vs. the Westernizers (Tsarism), or the Communists vs. the liberals (1990′s), are now over. The current system is best characterized as a Kremlin-moderated debate, carried on between different personalities and factions, about how to best modernize Russia, and the pace and extent of liberalization.

The two major factions, or “Kremlin clans“, are the siloviki and the civiliki. The siloviki, or “power people”, are typically men drawn from the security agencies – primarily the FSB and Interior Ministry – whose fortunes rose with the ascension of Putin to power. Their unofficial leader is Igor Sechin. The civiliki are composed of economically-liberal economists, lawyers and technocrats, as well as the Anti-Narcotics Agency and GRU military intelligence, who form a loose coalition around Dmitry Medvedev, the current President. There is also a third grouping who owe allegiance directly to Putin, most prominently Vladislav Surkov, who is the chief ideologue (e.g. inventing the term “sovereign democracy”).

Though Putin’s position as PM is formally weaker than the President’s, this is counterbalanced by his leadership of the party of power, United Russia. Some analysts regard Putin as the most powerful man in Russia, with Medvedev a distant second, third after Sechin, or even a puppet. I think that each member of the ruling “tandem” has about equal power, with Sechin a distant third. It is certainly a mistake to see the dispute between the two factions – to the extent that one exists, as there is also a lot of cooperation – as a kind of struggle between democracy / transparency / markets vs. authoritarianism / corruption / statism. The relations between these “clans” are largely symbiotic, not confrontational.

Garry Kasparov, leading Russian liberal, meeting with Georgian President Saakashvili, after Russia fought a war with him in 2008. I'm sure things like this do wonders for the liberals' popularity.

Garry Kasparov, leading Russian liberal, meeting with Georgian President Saakashvili, after Russia fought a war with him in 2008. I’m sure things like this do wonders for the liberals’ popularity.

One common but totally misguided characterization of Russian politics is that of an authoritarian Kremlin (brutally) suppressing the liberal opposition. Only in their own fantasies. The liberals’ proud association with the 1990′s and its accouterments (e.g. mass impoverishment under the liberal reforms; criminal oligarchs; etc), lack of constructive solutions (their slogans are pretty much limited to “Putin Must Go!” and variations thereof) and worshipful adulation of everything “European” or “Western” as “civilized” (as opposed to attacks on Russia, or “Rashka” as they like to call it, as irredeemably corrupt and barbaric) filters down their support base to about 5% of the population. (Though that doesn’t stop them from presenting themselves as the genuine voice of the Russian people, especially to credulous Western journalists). There’s no FSB bogeymen or Kremlin “web brigades” marginalizing the Russian liberals; they do it well enough by themselves.

It should also be stressed that the real opposition, to the extent that one exists, aren’t the aforementioned liberals but the Communists. The former have the support of 5% of the population; the latter have the support of 25%. Main problem is that pensioners marching with red flags aren’t quite as photogenic and chic to Western journalists as the airbrushed representatives of the liberal movements.

For a fuller explanation, I highly recommend these articles: A Short Overview of Russian Political Discourse (“kovane”); On The Politics Of Russia (Alexandre Latsa); The Kremlinologist Catechism (yours truly).

For “political freedom indices”, most of which (e.g. Freedom House) aren’t worth the bandwidth they take up, I think the Polity IV is the most accurate. (Not to mention my own Karlin Freedom Index).

Myth: Russia Is A Dictatorship

Several times in the US, I’ve been asked what I think of the “Russian dictator Vladimir Putin”. I don’t like getting into old arguments, so my usual response is a demurral that I’m not interested in politics. But in reality the very question is pretty laughable to me. The Internet is completely uncensored. There are many articles in the major newspapers that are deeply critical of the government, and two major media outlets are run by the liberals who do little else (Novaya Gazeta & Echo of Moscow; the latter, by the way, is owned by state company Gazprom). You can complain, shout or publish pretty much anything you want about how corrupt, tyrannical or treasonous Russia’s leaders are (and it’s not just the liberals who do it; nationalist / far-right rhetoric is even more hysterical, flaying the Kremlin for selling out Russia by allowing in dark-skinned Gastarbeiters). This is not to say that the Russian government never abuses the rights of its citizens or acts in stupid and/or counterproductive ways against these “dissidents”; you can find dozens of examples of this, such as the deaths in pre-trial detention of a lawyer investigating police corruption or the police confiscating copies of Boris Nemtsov’s screed against the the “Putin regime”. But if occasional corrupt and ham-fisted actions like this made Russia an authoritarian dictatorship it would have virtually every other country in the world for company.

The US also has its “dissidents”, ranging from the edges of the Establishment (e.g. Ron Paul, James Hansen) to complete outsiders (e.g. anti-globalization; antiwar; anarchist). But it hardly makes the front page news in the US when they’re put on “domestic terrorist” watch lists, their houses are raided, or their protests broken up. Generally speaking, you can only find out about that kind of stuff on alternate news media and the exceedingly rich American blogosphere.

A Quick Note On Putin Himself

The current PM has managed to maintain an approval rating of 70%+ for the past decade, which is almost unheard of for a leader in the UK or the US. Some argue that it’s because the state media creates a cult around him (some liberals refer to his young supporters as Putlerjugend), others because of some ingrained Russian yearning for a “strong hand”. Largely, I think he’s popular because he’s essentially a moderate conservative who is associated with uncontroversial values such as stability, patriotism, and rising incomes; the theory about government propaganda creating Putinoid drones is undermines by the fact that he is as popular amongst the young and university-educated (i.e. they have Internet access and many know English) as he is amongst pensioners (i.e. who generally rely on TV for news). But my favorite explanation is the one offered by Cracked: that he’s the craziest badass!

Socialism and Markets

Many Americans and British are concerned, even disturbed, by the reemergence of the Russian state as a central player in society and the economy. But this is to project British and American mentalities, in which the state has traditionally played a subsidiary role, to Russia, whose experience has been entirely different: a state (gosudarstvo) that has always been at the forefront of modernization; and a state that has guaranteed Russia’s security against numerous invaders down the centuries (whereas the US and Britain haven’t been successfully invaded since 1066, and whose citizens have come to view their own states as potentially the greatest threat to their rights and liberties).

But not only are Russians accustomed to viewing their state as having a far greater and more central role than in the Anglo-Saxon countries, but they also underwent a far deeper collapse in state power than experienced in either the US or the UK for at least the past century; during the 1990′s, the salaries of state workers went unpaid for months, and elementary state prerogatives such as the monopoly on violence and on money creation slipped out of its control. After such travails, no doubt the Americans and British too would have pined for the return of a strong state*.

* I found a poll a few days ago that pretty much confirms this. In the wake of the economic crash and bank bailouts, the percentage of Americans believing in the free market economy as the best system fell to 59% by 2010 (from 71% in 2005), compared with 55% of Britons (from 66%) and 52% of Russians (up from 43%). It’s telling that after just three years of economic turmoil, Americans are barely more pro-free market than Russians who lived through 70 years of socialism, followed by a decade of hyper-depression and a decade of pretty fast growth under a market economy.

Politics is rarely a topic for conversation in the US or Britain, unless its on Facebook, and the number of ideological positions one can “respectably” take is far more circumscribed than in Russia. For instance, it is perfectly acceptable to call oneself a Communist or a Marxist; not surprising, since 15-20% of the population votes for them. Doing so in the UK will not endear you to polite society, while in the US it is hurled around as a term of abuse in political discourse. Actually admitting to being a socialist, let alone a Communist, will get you shunned in most American circles. It’s pretty hilarious to see the Republicans painting Obama as a radical leftist, when in much of Europe he’d be regarded as a corporatist centrist.

The Weird Ideological Alliance Between Far Right Republicans And Russian Liberals

There is a surprisingly strong affinity between the Tea Party and Russia’s liberals, the main exception being that the former are far more mainstream. Some 28% of US adults call themselves supporters of the Tea Party movement, whereas Russia’s liberals have at most 5% (being generous). Both dislike big government, have 19th century conceptions of what liberalism is about (emphasizing free enterprise, private property, etc). Illarionov, the libertarian economist who fell out with Putin, is also a Tea Partier and has protested in the US against Obama’s healthcare reforms and condemned the Kyoto Protocols. Another prominent Russian liberal, Latynina, believes global warming is a scam to enrich or empower “the global bureaucracy” and supports disenfranchising poor Russians. Yet another, Novodvorskaya, supports Westerners bombing undemocratic and uncivilized Third World countries. No wonder, then, that Russian “liberals” find so much common cause with the nuttier elements of the Republican Party.

Why do these rightist views have much bigger support in the US? Quite simply, the majority of Russians – about 70% of them, according to opinion polls – are essentially statists, who believe the state has a duty to extensively interfere in the economy to protect the weak and assure everyone a safety net. That is similar to attitudes in Europe. The US, in contrast, has a starkly different political culture that has traditionally stressed values such as self-reliance, asperity, the “self-made man”, the “free enterprise system”, etc; which don’t work, at least nowadays, nearly as well as the rhetoric of their proponents. One consequence of this is that there is a far greater degree of “false consciousness” in the US than in Russia.

Oligarchs

Glaring divisions of wealth are far more evident in Russia and America. Whereas the UK has 33 billionaires for 61 million people, Russia has 101 billionaires for 143 million and the US has 412 billionaires for 308 million people.

Furthermore, whereas the British affluent stress Weberian values of keeping a low and modest profile, many American billionaires enjoy a cult-like status (Bill Gates; Warren Buffet; Steve Jobs…) and Russian oligarchs flaunt their wealth with absolute abandon.

This makes some Russians bitter, since most of the Russian billionaires obtained their assets in the anarchic 1990′s through shady, dubious, and semi-legal (at best) ways; in contrast, US billionaires are either self-made or inherited their wealth. However, the more common sentiment amongst younger people isn’t so much hatred or envy but a desire to emulate them (what that says about their values I’ll leave to you).

One factor that probably diminishes Russians’ ill feeling about the wealth of the oligarchs is that – to a far greater extent than in the West – they are now firmly under the Kremlin’s thumb. Their property rights aren’t secure, as in the West; instead, they are conditional on their political loyalty and their help in maintaining social stability. E.g.,

  • Roman Abramovich funded infrastructure and social services as governor of the remote region of Chukotka from out of his own pocket.
  • Viktor Vekselberg repatriated imperial-era art objects, including luxury Fabergé eggs – created for the Tsars and taken out of the country after the Revolution – and loaned them to Russian state museums.
  • They are expected to maintain employment rates and pay wages on time, even if it’s unprofitable for them. When Oleg Deripaska failed to do so in Pikalyovo, he was publicly chastised by Putin, after which he promptly reversed course.
  • A consortium of oligarchs provides financing for flagship Kremlin projects such as the 2014 Sochi Olympics and the Skolkovo technology center.

In return for these services, Russia’s oligarchs get to keep and profit from their assets. The Russian state is also generous about providing them help with penetrating foreign markets, on the many occasions when oligarch economic interests coincide with the Kremlin’s foreign policy interest, e.g. acquiring steel mills in Ukraine, or stakes in West European energy companies. This system is, in some circles, called “Kremlin, Inc”.

The American model of billionaire-political interaction is much more one-sided; basically, whereas the oligarchic elites have in Russia have decisively come under the heel of the political and security elites since 2003*, the political system in the US has come to be extremely influenced by the billionaire class – especially after the Citizens United judicial decision that removed limits to corporate funding of political of political campaign. The Koch brothers’ bankrolling of the Tea Party movement and war against social rights and environmental protections is only the tip of the iceberg.

* The symbolic occasion was the arrest and imprisonment of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the richest oligarch at the time. Formally, the charges were tax evasion; in actuality, it was for using his wealth to manipulate the political process, such as funding opposition parties and buying out parliamentary deputies to lobby for lower taxes on the oil industry.

Patriotism & Nationalism

Political correctness is far more developed in the US and Britain than it is in Russia; if you hate immigrants or think women should stay in the kitchen, you’d be best off keeping it to yourself when in ordinary company. In contrast, Russians have no problems mouthing off shockingly racist comments about dark-skinned people (“black-asses”) or telling you that the country is degenerating and needs another Stalin*. However, I don’t think this indicates that Russians are backwards so much as that Westerners are more practiced at concealing their true feelings. If you want proof, one need look no further than the anonymous comments sections on sites like FOX News or The Telegraph; they are full of Islamophobia (and Russophobia, Sinophobia, etc.), anti-immigrant sentiment, war-mongering, paeans to the superiority of Western culture, etc.

* For whatever reason, every single Russian taxi driver I’ve ever hitched a ride with happened to be a hardline Stalinist.

There is a high level of civilizational nationalism in the US: the flag is omnipresent, in the conservative states elementary school students recite the Pledge of Allegiance every morning, politicians and pundits go on about how “exceptional” the US is and why it should exercise “global leadership.” Though it sounds quaint at best to Europeans – including the British who let go of messianic complexes by the 1960′s and the Russians by the 1990′s* – the fact is that many Americans truly believe in this vision of the US as a “city on the hill” with a civilizing global mission. While the official rhetoric about “freedom promotion” and “democracy building” mostly elicits cynical smirks from the politicos in the End Of History-type places like the Bay Area, it is treated with the appropriate gravitas in Middle America.

* To summarize: The British had an empire; the Russians miss their empire; the Americans run an empire, but don’t want to admit it.

Famous photo of Red Army soldier hoisting the Soviet flag over Berlin. (The US equivalent has American GI's raising the flag on Iwo Jima).

Famous photo of Red Army soldier hoisting the Soviet flag over Berlin. (The US equivalent has American GI’s raising the flag on Iwo Jima).

Russian patriotism is based on appreciation of its culture, values, and a shared history that reaches its apogee in the Great Patriotic War (1941-45). The shared sacrifices incurred in that struggle – 27 million dead in the USSR, including 13 million Russians – for survival bind together not only Russian citizens, but all the peoples of the former Soviet Union. The Kremlin has encouraged its emergence as the primary national myth consolidating the modern Russian nation-state.

Arguably, Russian patriotism tends to be less bombastic and immediately visible than in America, but is every bit as deep-seated; certainly the Russian flag is nowhere near as omnipresent as in the US (though more so than in the UK or Germany). British patriotism is as real as Russian or American, but tends to be more low-key and even self-deprecatory.

It is hard to deny that the pageantry of the Russian state – as in its anthems, songs, marches, flags, symbols, monumental architecture – is some of the deepest and most moving and inspiring in the world. E.g. see this video of the 1945 Victory March in Moscow.

Ethnic based nationalism is an extremely fringe movement in the US, despite sites like Stormfront and books like The Turner Diaries. It has a far more visible presence in Russia, where skinhead gangs make parts of some cities unsafe for people with the wrong skin color, especially after events like football matches*. Though the gangs themselves number no more than a few tens of thousands, the slogan of “Russia for [ethnic] Russians” is approved by nearly half the population.

* It is common for supporters of rival football clubs to duke it out at set times and places on Russian streets. The police keep a watch on these brawls, but don’t interfere as long as they doesn’t spiral out of control. I heard that some decades ago there used to be similar scenes in Britain, but nowadays the police take a far harder line against football hooliganism.

Party Systems

One of the great strengths of the two party system in the US is that whenever one of its halves loses legitimacy (as indicated by elections), the other half takes over and starts out with a clean slate. But members of both parties are drawn from the ranks of the same power elite that never loses its standing in this system of dynamic equilibrium. There is a similar dynamic in Britain, although it has 2.5 major parties; their “first past the post” electoral system prevents small parties from playing any significant role, as is common in Europe.

In contrast, the current Russian arrangement is metastable, i.e. in a delicate equilibrium that is maintained by popular approval for the Kremlin and its leading personalities. The Kremlin may resolve this long-term stability problem by encouraging a genuinely competitive politics, e.g. by splitting United Russia into conservative (merge with LPDR) and social democratic (merge with Fair Russia) wings. But as it currently stands, if its political legitimacy were to fade away, e.g. if economic stagnation sets in, then the consequences may be unpredictable.

The Media

The UK print media is dominated by The Guardian (liberal left; pro-Labour; readers nicknamed “Guardianistas” by right wingers); The Daily Telegraph (right conservative; pro-Conservative); The Independent (very liberal, left; vaguely pro-Liberal Democrat); the centrist Times; The Financial Times (The City’s paper); and the tabloids The Sun (right populist) and The Daily Mail (centrist populist; nicknamed “The Daily Fail” by critics). The most important magazine is The Economist, whose most valuable service, IMO, is not the spread of good information or analysis – they follow a blatantly pro-Western, pro-free markets line and try to force everything into that narrow narrative – but the provision of good insights into the mentalities of the political/financial Anglo-Saxon elites. My favorite British paper is The Independent (you can comment on almost every article) and The Guardian (its investigative journalism is unparalleled); but in fairness, The Telegraph and even The Daily Mail have interesting stuff. Certainly, British conservatives are far more reasoned than their American counterparts. I also used to like The Times, but haven’t checked back since they raised a paywall.

On TV, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) pretends to be neutral and editorially independent, but that’s not the case now if it ever was; back in 2004, its head was sacked for alleging – not without cause – that the government “sexed up” the case for the Iraq War. The rot has only festered since. What makes this particularly annoying is that to watch TV at all in the UK, you have to pay a tax specifically for the upkeep of the BBC, even if you have no intention of ever watching it. The most interesting and controversial voices tend to appear on Channel 4.

In the US, the two major papers are The New York Times (centrist, largely pro-Democrat; nicknamed “The Gray Lady” and regarded as the paper of record), The Washington Post (centrist), The Wall Street Journal (right-wing paper of the financial/business class), The Washington Times (neocon jerks), The Christian Science Monitor (intelligent centrist), The LA Times (pretty good), the San Francisco Chronicle, etc. My favorites are the NYT, WaPo, and CSM.

The US also has a huge variety of high-quality journals dedicated to specific issues or opinion, e.g. Foreign Affairs, Salon, The Atlantic, The Nation, The National Interest, etc. Of particular note is STRATFOR. Its best feature is that it does not, like the mass media, try to fit events into some ideologized narrative, e.g. by peddling myths such as that the reason France or the US got involved in Libya is because of human rights or democracy. Instead, its combination of good intelligence, focus on geopolitics and realism, and disavowal of ideology enables excellent analysis. Tje subscription fee isn’t cheap but well worth the money.

I’ve never bothered to get a TV in the US, but from the stuff I’ve seen, it was a good decision. Ads are long and news coverage is juvenile and more slanted than in the UK (let alone Europe).

Though a great deal is made of the US media being privately owned, and therefore editorially independent, there is no such connection; to the contrary, being reliant on advertising revenue, private media has to cater to popular stereotypes (by reducing everything to simplistic, good vs. evil narratives) and to maintain good relations with the government (to get the approved leaks and inside sources that make news stories; plus, the media’s parent companies sometimes generate some of their revenue from contractual relations with the government itself). Even the NYT, the most highly regarded US newspaper, has on numerous occasions acted to conceal information deemed embarrassing to the government (and not a threat to national security, as claimed). The simple fact is that where the state does not set the editorial line (e.g. the BBC; most of Russian TV), journalists tend to self-censor themselves anyway.

PS. Here I should make an important semantic note. Whereas “liberal” tends to mean leftist in the US (often with social liberal connotations), and to mean a social liberal in the UK and Europe (for instance, the Liberal Democrats are more socially liberal than New Labour; but they are further to the right economically), in Russia it tends to imply right-wing economics and pro-Western orientations. The opposite of liberal, in the Russian political discourse, is “patriot”, and typically has leftist and pro-Russian/pro-Eurasian connotations.

The Russian print media is dominated by Komsomolskaya Pravda (leftist); Vedomosti (liberal right; features good coverage of political and/or corruption scandals); Kommersant (centrist, financial); Argumenty i Fakty (left-patriotic); Izvestia (centrist-patriotic); Nezavisimaya Gazeta (liberal left); Novaya Gazeta (very liberal; the voice of the liberal intelligentsia); Trud (very leftist; the voice of the Communists); Rossiyskaya Gazeta (responsible for publishing new laws, official paper of record). Also of note is Lenta.Ru, an Internet-based publication. Then there’s the infamous Pravda, which is tabloid trash and, contrary to popular opinion, has nothing to do with the old Soviet paper of the same name. My favorite papers are Kommersant, Argumenty i Fakty, and Vedomosti.

This is a gross generalization, but my impression is that (serious) Russian newspapers tend to have more details on global events than major Western ones; they are certainly far better at giving both sides of the story when it involves the West vs. Someone Else. For instance, in contrast to the good guys vs. bad guys narrative spun by most US/UK newspapers on Libya, the Russians were far earlier and more insistent on raising uncomfortable questions, such as: Are the rebels truly more human rights-respecting than Gaddafi? Do they actually have more popular support? Are they militarily competent, and if not, might a ground intervention not become necessary? What about their ties to radical Islamists? Is NATO’s goal to provide civilian protection, as allowed by UN resolution, or regime change? The only major Western publications that are as probing and skeptical on these issues as the likes of Kommersant or Lenta.Ru that come to mind are STRATFOR and Spiegel.

Russia’s TV channels are, pretty explicitly, pro-government (though unlike British (BBC) or American ones (FOX News – “fair and balanced”) they don’t bother making claims to impartiality). The main independent broadcast media are Ren TV (which airs controversial documentaries and prominently features opposition liberals and socialists) and the Echo of Moscow radio station.

I can’t really comment in any detail on the differences between Russian, British, and American TV because I haven’t watched the box in many years.

Western news channels unleashed a barrage of propaganda during the South Ossetian War, portraying it as an unprovoked Russian invasion of free democratic Georgia.

Western news channels unleashed a barrage of propaganda during the South Ossetian War, portraying it as an unprovoked Russian invasion of free democratic Georgia.

Whereas many Western political scientists make a big deal of the division between the “free” US (UK, etc) press and the “controlled” Russian press, I’m hard-pressed to spot a difference. When the Western political elites are united on a particular goal (e.g. the months leading up to the Iraq War in the US), then their broadcast media follows in step; plurality only appears when the elites divide (e.g. in the aftermath of that same Iraq War, when prominent politicians began to question the wisdom of the adventure).

The best demonstration of the myth that Western media is in any way exceptional lies in its coverage of the 2008 South Ossetia War, in which the uniform line was that Russia was the aggressor against Georgia. The inconvenient facts that it was the Georgians who had started the war by shelling the Ossetian city of Tskhinvali and the Russian peacekeepers guarding it remained unknown and unaired to viewers of the mainstream media throughout the war. CNN presented pictures of Georgian destruction in Tskhinvali as Russian destruction of the Georgian town of Gori. Of course, the Russians too were actively involved in this “information war”. As this Wikipedia article makes clear, both Western and Russian journalists where driven not by the search for truth but by the agendas of their editors, bosses and political handlers back home.

Russia has what its fans call a “dissident press”; small publications, typically liberal or socialist, online (e.g. the liberal Ezhednevny Zhurnal, whose denizens are called “ezhiki”, or hedgehogs; and Left.Ru for socialists). The US has them too, where they are called the alternate media; examples include The Daily Cos, Alternet, Antiwar, Counterpunch, Exiled Online, and they are usually populated by leftists, anarchists, and libertarians.

Russia Today's real sin is that it asks uncomfortable questions that others are too afraid to ask.

Russia Today’s real sin is that it asks uncomfortable questions that others are too afraid to ask.

Interestingly, Russia Today – the English-language broadcasting arm of the Russian state (who main political analyst Peter Lavelle I interviewed here), which is criticized for spreading anti-American propaganda by some and defended as encouraging Westerners to “question more” by others, is favorably cited by the aforementioned US dissidents. Their mirror image are the Russian dissidents who tune in to Radio Liberty / Radio Free Europe or Voice of America, which mainstream Russian politicians dismiss as propaganda channels seeking to undermine Russia. The symmetry is amusing to say the least.

While Russia Today is critical of many US policies, especially foreign policy, if you were to call it “anti-Western”, then you’d have to call the vast majority of Western media outlets “Russophobic” for consistency. For instance, it is one of the very few media outlets that covers US antiwar protests, e.g. at Fort Benning where several RT journalists were arrested. Similarly, Western media outlets devote a lot of attention to Russian liberal protests (but not Communist, anarchist, etc.) than Russian journalists. And of course it’s not like that it’s only Russian protesters who get beaten up…

That said… American journalists are still far, far better at covering the US than the Russian journalists digging around for horror stories of American healthcare; just as Russian journalists are far better at covering Russia than British or American journalists on two year assignments in Moscow who may not even know the language and believe that liberal protests are the cutting edge of Russian political life.

(PS. One important point on which the symmetry breaks down is that whereas the Western media frequently claims that the Russian media is controlled, the reverse practically never happens. For instance, in the lead-up to the Wikileaks Cablegate, The Christian Science Monitor patronizingly wrote:

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 Kommersant both reported it on the same day! Not to mention that describing the Western media’s (largely negative) response to Wikileaks in such glowing terms can only be ironic…

And this is one example from literally thousands. Again, I can’t be emphasize just how annoyingly repetitive and willfully ignorant the Western media tends to be on their Russian counterparts).

Right-wing political analysts in the US and Russia like to predict each other’s collapse. For instance, in its global forecasts, the CIA has repeatedly predicted the breakup of the Russian Federation into its constituent ethnic parts and demographic takeover by Muslims within the next few decades. Meanwhile, some analysts linked to Russia’s intelligence community, such as Igor Panarin, have predicted the breakup of the US, and the annexation of its southern borderlands by Mexico. Needless to say, they should all be writing sci-fi novels.

The final three Russian publications of note are RIA Novosti (a state-owned international news agency but liberal leaning); The Moscow Times (an independent publication for Western expats in Russia that is full of liberal sensationalism); and Inosmi (a site that translates Western news items, mostly about Russia, into Russian for a patriot-leaning audience that then proceeds to discuss them or mock them).

Both Russia and especially the US have rich blogospheres, which are in some cases threatening to supplant the centuries-old dominance of the mainstream media altogether.

Internet Culture

Internet penetration is near universal in the US and the UK. It is also near universal amongst younger Russians, although this has only come about in the last few years. The fastest Internet is on the East Coast, followed by the West Coast including California, followed by the UK, followed by Russia. Stuff like Internet businesses and Internet shopping remains the most developed in the US, less developed in the UK, and far less developed (but growing very fast) in Russia. Also, it is typical for cafes and other public places to have access to Wifi in the US; this is still very rare in both the UK and Russia.

xkcd Americans are an opinionated people, hence the richness, variety and zaniness of its blogosphere. Every Joe wants a say. While the majority aren’t worth listening to, nonetheless, practically every subject under the sun has at least one very knowledgeable pundit plugging away at the keyboard: North Korea watchers; Arctic aficionados; Afghan tribe trackers; peak oil theorists; etc. The most fascinating fact is that many of these people don’t even work in universities, think-tanks, governments, corporate research, etc.; they are amateur enthusiasts whose works blow away those of the self-proclaimed experts.

Another aspect of the American blogosphere is that at its heights, it has begun to merge into the mainstream and traditional media. For instance, at the pinnacle, it is unclear whether The Huffington Post is even a blog or a news site. Like the American body politic, the blogosphere is rife with “culture wars”; some of the biggest battalions marshal at the blog of Matt Yglesias (the liberals) and Michelle Malkin (the conservatives). Generally, I think there are far more conservatives at the nuttier ends of the spectrum than liberals, though certainly there are also many liberals who veer from well-meaning criticism of US policies to Americanophobia. Other wars and sub-wars carry on in the dark depths of cyberspace. I’m well acquainted with three.

The “Russophiles” vs. “Russophobes” (encountered when I first started blogging, though fortunately in more recent years the Russia debate has largely transcended these simplistic categories). The “deniers” vs. “warmists” is a huge war between those who accept the reality of anthropogenic global warming and those who deny it. And the “doomers” vs. the “cornucopians”, which I encountered when I took an interest in concepts like peak oil and the technological singularity; roughly, the former think civilization will soon collapse and we’ll die out, while the latter believe – just as absurdly – that the Earth can sustain unlimited (economic, demographic, etc.) growth.

A putztriot's dream.

A putztriot’s dream.

The main culture war in Russia is fought on multiple fronts (as opposed to liberals vs. conservatives in the US). You have the “patriots” (generally like Putin; skeptical towards Western intentions; sometimes steer into nationalism; called “putztriots” by their liberal detractors); the liberals (most love the West, and especially the US, unconditionally; blind hatred of Putin; accused of sucking up to the West; are called “liberasts” or by their patriot detractors, and are said to belong to “demschiza“, i.e. pseudo-democratic schizophrenics); the Communists (love socialism, and frequently Stalin; nostalgia for USSR; many dislike Putin regime for tolerating oligarchs and parasites; called “kommunyaks” and “sovoks” by liberals and some patriots); the foshists (the fascists – liberals tend to think patriots are all fascists, and at times the line can be blurry; nonetheless, there are real and significant differences, namely that patriots aren’t racist, while fascists hate the Putin regime for allowing Russia to be “polluted” by Jews, Caucasians, etc.); and Kremlin supporters (called the “kremlyad” and “Putinoids” by detractors; most often by liberals and fascists, but anti-Kremlin patriots and Communists have been known to use it too).

All groups criticize de rmoktariya (lit., “shit democracy”), but it means different things for everyone. For Kremlin supporters and most patriots, it primarily refers to the perceived sham democracy of the 1990′s (as opposed to the “sovereign democracy” of today); for liberals, it refers to the current system (as opposed to the 1990′s Golden Age of freedom); for many Communists, it refers to the post-Soviet system in general; and the fascists equate all democracy with dermoktariya.

Across the entirety of “Runet”, i.e. the Russian Internet, I would estimate that of the politically inclined: 50% are patriots; 30% are Kremlin supporters; 20% are Communists; 20% are liberals; 10% are fascists. These groups overlap extensively (see below).

A liberast's dream.

A liberast’s dream.

The most loathed group are the radical liberals, the ones who hate Russia; faced by them, the patriots, Communists and Kremlin supporters tend to unite to suppress them on the political message boards or LiveJournal blogs. But frequently, a patriot or a Communist would mock a Kremlin supporter, because, say, the former doesn’t like the Kremlin’s corruption or perceived tolerance for illegal immigration, and the latter doesn’t like inequality, corruption, crime, etc., and all the other things they think were better in the good old Soviet days. Interestingly, your typical patriot and Communist is actually more anti-Western than the straight-laced Kremlin supporters.

Eddie Limonov: "We will need children from the new people... Permit polygamy, free associations. Women should get pregnant continuously and to bear fruits... Education will become short and will be different. Boys and girls will be taught to shoot from grenade throwers, to jump from helicopters, to besiege villages and cities, to skin sheep and pigs, to cook good hot food and to write poetry."

Eddie Limonov: “We will need children from the new people… Permit polygamy, free associations. Women should get pregnant continuously and to bear fruits… Education will become short and will be different. Boys and girls will be taught to shoot from grenade throwers, to jump from helicopters, to besiege villages and cities, to skin sheep and pigs, to cook good hot food and to write poetry.”

There is also a lot of overlap between groups. Most patriots, and many Communists, and even a few liberals, do actually support the Kremlin (note that the Kremlin itself is divided between “patriots”, and the patriot-liberals clustered around President Medvedev). Other, more marginalized, chimeras include liberal nationalists (pro-Western, but with ethnic Russian nationalist leanings; the most prominent such is Alexei Navalny, mentioned in the first part of this series); Communists with liberal leanings, who would be social democrats or greens in Europe; and nationalist Communists, such as the wacky National Bolsheviks (their leader, Eduard Limonov, is an especially colorful character: a playboy émigré who returned to Russia in the 1990′s to preach a weird synthesis of Nazism and Stalinism, he was imprisoned for plotting a revolution in Kazakhstan; since then, he has joined forces with the liberals against the Kremlin, which is ironic to say the least since those same liberals would be first up against the wall in the fantastical scenario that the NatsBols ever come to power).

Throughout the blogosphere, these culture wars are characterized by rudeness, extremism, censorship, etc., on all sides, including those who call themselves liberals or democrats and pretend to worship free speech. Fun anecdote: the Russian liberals frequently accused their opponents of using “web brigades” – bands of Kremlin-paid commentators posting under changing usernames – to defeat them on Internet discussions. So unfair! So what do some of them decide to do? They created web brigades of their own to attack the “bloody regime” and its defenders! That is, until the plot was revealed by a disillusioned insider. While this liberal web brigade operated, it succeeded at influencing the outcomes of practically zero discussions. Ironically, their greatest victory was to prove the infeasbility and uselessness of “web brigades” – be they liberal, Kremlin, or Martian – in the first place.

To a large extent, the British blogosphere is tied up with the American one, due to the common language.

The Anglo-Saxon blogosphere mostly uses blog platforms like WordPress (excellent) and Google Blogger (mediocre). Most Russians use LiveJournal – which is far more profiteering, restrictive, and generally crappy – for no good reason I can see.

Google dominates search engines in both the US and the UK. In Russia, a viable competitor to Google (in its own country, not abroad) has emerged in the form of Yandex. The premier online shopping hub in the US and UK is Amazon; in Russia, it is Ozon. The social network of choice for the British and American middle class is Facebook (the best network). The lower classes use MySpace (pretty crappy), though many of them have began migrating to Facebook in recent years. The Russia network of choice used to be Odnoklassniki (which is pretty crappy), but the more advanced elements have switched to Vkontakte (a substandard copy of Facebook, even down to the color scheme); however, Facebook is growing very fast, albeit from a very low base. Twitter remains largely dominated by Americans.

Corruption

One common stereotype is that Russia is much more corrupt than the US or the UK. This is true for small scale corruption. Slipping in a bill – or a bottle of cognac for male, a box of chocolates for female bureaucrats – will tend to enhance your chances of getting a driving license, getting documents processed faster, having a ticket written off by the traffic policeman, etc. That said, corruption is certainly far from ubiquitous and it is almost always possible to have everything go through legal channels. The small scale corruption is now in retreat, as bureaucrats are becoming subject to more stringent checks and controls; the result is that with increased risk, the size of the average bribe has nearly doubled in the last few years. According to various opinion polls, 15% of Russians say they paid a bribe in the past year, compared to about 2% of both Britons and Americans.

In my view, the main reason that lower-level corruption is far more prevalent in Russia than in the developed West is that the cost/benefits are more skewed in corruption’s favor, due to lower salaries, far more red tape, and weaker anti-corruption mechanisms. For instance, no California policeman is going to risk his cushy, full-benefits, $60,000 job even for big bribes from motorists. Consequently, as a rule, mostly it is billionaires or very rich people who can enjoy the benefits of corruption in the US or Britain, e.g. the billionaire pedophile / sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein who got a one year home arrest (and free to leave for work 16 hours per day!) for what would usually be a 20 year mandatory minimum sentence. In Russia, similar privileges are available for mere millionaires and regional political bigwigs, e.g. Ludmila Shavenkova, daughter of a United Russia deputy in Irkutsk guilty of vehicular manslaughter, got a 2.5 year sentence but only due to start in 14 years – by which time she would most likely have been quietly acquitted… And even that symbolic sentence was only imposed after a big citizen outcry.

I used to believe that corruption at the higher levels of government and business was also far more prevalent in Russia, but the financial crisis – and the cozy ties between regulators, banks and politicians that it revealed, and the $100′s billions that well-connected financial institutions received in bailouts from the US and UK governments – has made me reconsider. While there can be little doubt that Russian elites sock away a lot of money to offshore havens – e.g., state pipeline operator Transneft was recently discovered (by Navalny) to have socked away $4 billion through an elaborate network of shell companies and offshore havens – at least they do it far more discretely now than in the 1990′s, when the graft was visibly, even proudly, in the open.

In stark contrast, the rot at the heart of the Western economies has become increasingly evident since 2008 and the bailouts, which unleashed a cascade of corruption in which trillions of dollars of free credit were unaccountably transferred from American taxpayers to rich individuals and corporations, which in turn lent the money back to the government at (higher) market rates. The difference is the billionaires’ subsidy. As in Russia, most of what we know of corruption at the highest levels comes not from the traditional media, which is beholden to the power elites, but investigative reporters working for smaller “alternate” publications, such as Matt Taibbi for Rolling Stone. Similar financial shenanigans have also become prevalent in the UK.

One major difference between corruption in Russia and the US is that in the latter, much of it is “legalized corruption”; i.e., what would count as corruption in Russia (and in European countries in general) goes as a matter of course in the US. Some examples of this “legalized corruption”:

  • Politicians receive the bulk of their money from corporations. Lobbying is not only a legal but an integral part of US political life. Corporations enjoy individual rights, such as freedom of speech (though not so much their detractors, who can be sued for libel), and under the Obama Presidency, the Supreme Court has removed limits to corporate funding of political campaigns. Much of what passes for lobbying in the US would invite criminal investigations in Europe.
  • Government regulators not only enjoy good relations with institutions they’re supposed to regulate, but a “resolving doors” culture means that every few years they actually swap places! E.g., the Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC) that is supposed to investigate suspected Wall Street fraudsters is actually more interested in protecting them.
  • Symbiotic relations between private prison companies and the justice system; between pharmaceutical companies and doctors; advertisers and the news media; the privatized anti-terrorism sector and the politicians at the money spigots.
  • Plea bargaining is a central element of the justice system; threats, rewards and coercion from the side of the prosecutors can steer results from the just legal outcome, as innocents are frequently tempted to settle for a lighter term in exchange for not running the risk of incurring a very heavy one.

Overall, corruption is far less prevalent in the UK, at least outside the financial sector. There is a long and ongoing scandal about M.P.’s expenses, in which politicians tabbed expenses unrelated to their work such as buying cars or redecorating apartments. But what stands out about them is that ultimately, the sums involved, going no higher than the $100,000′s, are really pretty modest by Russian standards, where typical political corruption scandals can run into the millions, tens of millions, and higher.

The most well-known corruption index is the Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) compiled by Transparency International, in which for 2010 the UK gets 7.6, the US gets 7.1, and Russia gets 2.1. The main problem with it is that it is not a measure of corruption per se, but of corruption perceptions; those who do the perceiving are mostly various Western experts and businesspeople; not only do they rely on the Western media extremely negative coverage of Russia, but as covered in the documentary film Inside Job, many of these same experts and businesspeople enable or even participate in corruption in their own countries!

I do not think Russia’s score, wedged in between Zimbabwe (2.2) and Equatorial Guinea (1.8), reflects its real level of corruption. While no-one disputes corruption is extremely prevalent in Russia, it does provide social services – in some sectors, like education, relatively good ones – to its population, and is surely far from those kleptocracies on any objective corruption scale. In fact there are a lot of other, similar absurdities in the CPI: for instance, Saudi Arabia – where most oil rents flow to a few thousand members of the House of Saud – is apparently cleaner than Italy, which is just WTF? See this comments thread for a critique of CPI’s methodology.

I think a fairer index is the Global Integrity Report, which actually analyzes the specific policies and laws rather than relying on something as fluffy as perceptions. My own ranking would go, from least corrupt to most, something like: (Sweden) – UK / (Germany) – USA / (Italy / Belarus / 1980′s USSR) – Russia / (Greece) – (Ukraine / Mexico) – (Saudi Arabia / Nigeria) – (Equatorial Guinea / Congo / Somalia).

One aspect of corruption in which Russia may perform better than the US and the UK is in tax compliance by big corporations (though not small ones, in which under the table payments remain widespread). Simplified tax laws since 2000 have created more incentives to pay up, while the prosecution of Mikhail Khodorkovsky – widely condemned in the Western media – has made many big businessmen too afraid of using tax havens for tax avoidance. Tax collection has risen from around 50% of the expected take in the 1990′s to 90% by the mid-2000′s. Tax avoidance by big companies in Britain and the US seems to have become endemic in recent years, to the extent that a grassroots organization called Uncut has arisen to protest and harass them.

The Environment

At the popular level, only about half of Britons believe in anthropogenic global warming (AGW); especially after the Climategate (non-)scandal. That said, environmental consciousness is undoubtedly most developed in Britain (if nowhere near the extent in Germany or Scandinavia). At least, one Green Party M.P. got elected in the last elections; whereas both US and Russian green parties are extremely marginal in the political process, and their activists are widely vilified.

On the plus side, Russia does not have the idiotic, ideologized AGW denialism that has taken over one of the main US parties, the Republicans. That far north, the effects of global warming are clear – especially after the Great Russian Heatwave of 2010, in which a third of its grain crop was destroyed – and the only real question is about whether it should actually do much about it. After all, theoretically, a moderate degree of global warming would actually benefit Russia, by opening up agricultural lands in the north, clearing the Northern Sea Route, and making remote resources exploitable for the first time. However, there is a sizable number of people who view global warming as a natural climatic cycle (including Putin); many others, as in Canada, argue that even if it’s caused by humans, it would nonetheless be a positive development for the country, and that it should just bask in the sun and let the warming take its course.

Many Russians and Americans tend to assume the “cornucopian” view that there are few, if any, limits to growth on the planet. Though it is fast gaining political acceptance in Europe (including Britain), peak oil remains a fringe theory in the US (with the exception of California, which has a lot of unconventional thinkers, and survivalists), while Russia has many proponents of the theory of abiogenic petroleum origin, which holds that oil is created by constant geological processes, instead of biological processes in the distant past. As a high-density country that imports most of its energy and mineral resources, Britain is understandably far more concerned about the possibility that oil supplies won’t last forever.

The Military

Americans view their military very positively; in fact, the Armed Forces are the single most trusted institution in US life. To its fiscal woe, cutting the military budget – in nominal terms, almost as big as the rest of the world’s combined – is as unthinkable for Democrats as it is for conservative Republicans. This is despite the fact that military procurement is one of the most inefficient (and probably corrupt) sectors of the US economy. Seemingly innocuous gestures, such as arguing for cuts to the military, or questioning whether the US is over-reliant on military power in its dealings with the rest of the world, can get one labeled as unpatriotic; suggesting that the US may be repeating the mistakes of the USSR, which massively over-invested in military spending to the detriment of its civilian economy, can bring on apoplexy.

The British view their military positively, but without the overbearing reverence more typical of Americans. This means that defense cuts are politically feasible, and are indeed now being carried out by the Conservatives (if in a rather slapdash and incompetent way, as with most of their other policies). Their end result is that within a decade, the UK will cease to be a leading military Power. Instead, more resources are planned to be allocated to foreign aid for unstable countries such as Pakistan; it is clear that the plan is to put more emphasis on “soft power”.

I have already covered Russians’ views on the military in the first part of the series, in which I talked about conscription. As with the US and the UK, though the military is viewed positively, opinions are split about the desirability of conscription and there is some doubt about its ability to defend the country. This is in part a result of two decades of degradation, of both the military and the military-industrial complex, after the fall of the Soviet Union. There is a huge rearmament plan in the works for the 2011-2020 period that the Kremlin hopes will decisively reverse these negative trends, and assuming oil prices stay high, it should be affordable too.

(Reprinted from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
 

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

(Reprinted from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
 

Stalin was the “most successful Soviet leader”.

Thus proclaims Filippov’s controversial textbook A New History of Russia 1945-2006 – a symbol of the Putin-inspired drive to rehabilitate Stalinism and steep the next generation of Russian schoolchildren in the glories of sovereign democracy. Right?

Unfortunately, there’s just a few problems with this kitschy narrative of neo-Soviet historiographic revanchism, as a cursory scan of the textbook reveals.

This phrase (along with Stalin as “effective manager”) is typically quoted so out of context by liberal critics of the Kremlin as to make their Soviet-era ideological counterparts proud. The full quotation goes thus: “On THE ONE SIDE, [Stalin] IS REGARDED as the most successful Soviet leader”…ie, by the 47% of Russians with a positive view of Stalin. It is immediately preceded by the qualifier that views on Stalin’s historical role are contradictory – a point that is emphatically made at the very start of the chapter in question. Furthermore, the next (and last) paragraph concludes with a list of Stalin’s sins – “ruthless exploitation of the population”, “large scale repressions” and the destruction of “whole classes such as landed peasantry, the urban petit-bourgeoisie, the priesthood and the old intelligentsia”.

Since dark episodes like collectivization, political repressions and the Gulag are all covered covered in the textbook, its main sin is one of presentation rather than omission – the aim being to “rationalize” Stalinism within the larger narrative of Russia’s history and leave the final interpretation to the reader, instead of issuing blanket condemnation. As Filippov himself said in response to the ruckus over the textbook, “I was always annoyed by the belabored moralizing foisted on us in Soviet textbooks, and I wanted to avoid it…it seems I may have tried too hard”. And it’s not hard to see why; many people are as uncomfortable with the whole idea of “balance” when it comes to Stalin, as they are with, say, lauding Hitler for building Autobahns and overturning the “humiliating” Treaty of Versailles.

Yet speaking of whom, Hitler is probably unique amongst dictators in that he is near universally reviled after his death. He is hated by most Jews, Russians, Poles, British, Americans, and even the Germans he led to ruin. Furthermore, were it not for the crash industrialization (particularly of the Urals region) and social mobilization of the 1930′s forced through by Stalin, the USSR may well have lost the Great Patriotic War. This would have resulted in the partial extermination, Siberian exile and helotization of the Slavic and Jewish populations of eastern Europe, as envisaged under Generalplan Ost, Nazi Germany’s genocidal scheme for conquering Lebensraum in the East. This explains why many Russians hold such conflicted and contradictory views on Stalin, the despotic Messiah who led and ruled them like the God of the Old Testament.

Every country needs a national myth. The settling of the West remains one of the staples of the US national myth – Andrew Jackson, ethnic cleanser of Indian-Americans, adorns the 20-dollar bill. The Bill of Rights overshadows the inconvenient truth that its inventors did not extend it to their slaves. After the melting of the Soviet ideological glacier, the Visegrad nations of east-central Europe, Ukraine and the Baltics got busy writing their own national myths. These myths were based on victimization under Russian occupation, which necessitated airbrushing prominent indigenous Communist collaborators and anti-Semitism out of their paintings of the past. Some would say this this is an unwholesome and ahistorical approach; others would note it is the surest way to imagine communities into reality.

Not surprisingly, for better or worse, a glorified version of the Great Patriotic War is fast becoming Russia’s national myth. It strengthens the Russian national identity, cleanses away the other manifold sins of Stalin’s regime and probably explains his enduring popularity amongst Russians, who cannot accept the one-sided portrayal (or smearing?) of him as a murderous tyrant propagated by meddlesome foreigners and unpatriotic liberals.

It would be great if history were to be left to the historians…but that will only ever happen in the fantasy world. Back on planet Earth, it is just another political grenade kicked around by all sides. How many critical journalists have actually read the controversial chapter in question, let alone the textbook itself, before commenting on it? Why do so many of them focus on sound bytes like Stalin as “effective manager” or “most successful leader”, with blatant disregard for context? Why is the textbook’s very limited print run and lack of official endorsement rarely mentioned and never emphasized?

Perhaps these journalists would be well served to reflect on these questions before launching on their next tirade about the incipient rehabilitation of Stalinism under Medvedev’s historical commission.

Or perhaps not. Ultimately, both viewpoints are correct, derived as they are from cardinally different but internally consistent worldviews. Filippov is both a neo-Soviet propagandist and the voice of the Russian people. It all depends through which prism you view him, and Stalin, and Russia. Which belief you want to believe in.

PS. You can read the full translation of the controversial chapter in question (Debates about Stalin’s Role in History) from Alexander Filippov’s history textbook A New History of Russia 1945-2006 here.

This was originally published at Johnson’s Russia List.

(Reprinted from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
 
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.