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NATOTeasers

I was under the impression this particular meme was played out, and replaced by the “Russian Hackers” one, but it appears not.

By request of the Latvian Ministry of Defense, courtesy of NATO’s Strategic Communications Centre for Excellence, and in all likelihood paid for by your tax dollars, we have the following report: Stratcom Laughs: In Search of a Strategic Framework.

Paul Robinson explains:

The report states its purpose as being to study humour as a ‘strategic communication tool’. The first part of the report undertakes a long academic analysis of what humour is and what purposes it serves. In later parts it then looks at how the Russian state allegedly uses humour as a propaganda tool and how Ukrainians have countered it with humour of their own.

The basic conclusion of the report is that in Russia, ‘the entire “official humour industry” … is directly Kremlin-controlled’. Working for the Kremlin, Russian comedians use humour to reduce their compatriots’ stress and make them feel more comfortable and thus more accepting of the political system. They provide audiences with a positive sense of social identity, which is contrasted with a negative view of others. The ‘in-group’ – Russia – is portrayed as victimized by the ‘out-group’ – the West. And in the context of Ukraine, through comedy, ‘Russian propaganda has been trying to use and exacerbate a number of differences between social groups so as to create an atmosphere of total distrust and panic.’

Here are a few especially striking examples of Russia’s propaganda war from the report:

The way Western leaders, especially those the United States, are portrayed in the comedy content of the entertainment broadcasts points to a disinformation campaign.

putin-dobby Putin has been at the center of jokes in Western entertainment broadcasts since, like, when Harry Potter was still cool.

Another factor influencing the intensity of joking about a particular state and its leaders, as well as the content of the jokes, is the position of the country in the hierarchical frame of international relations created by the shows’ discourse. Russia and the US are portrayed as the leading actors. Germany, France, and Italy are recognized as less influential, but still important actors, while the images of other Western countries and their political leaders are not featured as regularly as those mentioned. Being ignored here works as another, no less important instrument for underlining the hierarchy built by the discourse.

Butthurt Belt detekted.

Why won’t Putler pay attention to me?

Donald Trump’s image has been portrayed through his bizarre behaviour. Interestingly, an integral part of the visual presentations of Donald Trump has been his strange hairstyle (as been pointed out several times in Urgant shows). For example, in the 10 December 2015 episode of Vecherniy Urgant, Ivan Urgant described Trump’s hairstyle as the best place for birds to nest.

trump-hairWho hasn’t made fun of Trump’s hair outside the Breitbart ecosystem?

So pretty much the entirety of the Western MSM serve ROG (Russian Occupation Government). Glad to see that set straight.

 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: NATO, Putin Derangement Syndrome 

ukraine-approval-of-nato

Gallup:

The proportion of residents of Ukraine — a potential NATO member state until a few years ago — who view NATO as a threat has increased in recent years after years of steady decline between 2008 and 2014. In 2014, after NATO sanctioned Russia after it annexed Crimea, Ukrainians for the first time were more likely to see NATO as protection (36%) than a threat (20%). However, the percentage viewing it as a threat shot back up to 35% in 2016 as the Ukrainian population has grown tired of the ongoing conflict between its military and Russian-backed separatists, as well as a poor economy and rising crime rates. Without a clear end in sight to the conflict, Ukrainians may be losing confidence in NATO’s ability to help them in this crisis.

It might be news to you that NATO was ever expected to help Ukraine with its… crisis, but for many svidomy Ukrainians it is a long-running delusion.

One way that vatniks like to make fun of svidomy is by referencing the TyaschaVDen’ meme (One Thousand Grivnas per Day), based on Poroshenko’s promise in 2014 to pay that amount to every contract soldier. Incidentally, it wasn’t fulfilled, and of course couldn’t be fulfilled; even at current exchange rates, that is $1,000 per month, whereas the Ukraine is now competing with Moldova for having Europe’s lowest average wage at around $200 per month.

That meme is noteable in that it perhaps best of all represents the cargo cultish attitudes of many svidomy Ukrainians towards the West in general. All they would have to do is sign up to the Religion of Reform, topple the Lenin statues, and proclaim their allegiance to the EU and NATO, and very soon they would all have their own TyaschaVDen’ (not to mention visa-free travel with the EU, with the ironic shorthand for that holy grail of Euromaidan, eternally just out of reach, having long become its own meme: Bezviz).

Unfortunately for the svidomy, reality isn’t biased in favor of cargo cults, so disillusionment is inevitable.

 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: NATO, Ukraine 

Just a collection of completely random, not very important news snippets.

(1) Diplomats’ Dissent Bolsters Calls for U.S. Assault on Assad:

For now, the Obama administration seems inclined to agree. A U.S. official who did not sign the memo but read it told Foreign Policy that the document was unlikely to influence Oval Office policy due to the relatively low rank of the signatories. None of the officials have reached the level of assistant secretary and some are not directly involved in Syria issues on a daily basis — though the list does include the consul general in Istanbul and a Syria desk officer.

The Obama administration has also repeatedly made clear that it believes strikes would merely add to the bloodshed without improving the political situation on the ground, while potentially getting ensnared in a decades-long conflict. Despite stinging criticisms from Arab and European allies, Obama has expressed no regrets about his handling of Syria in public comments and there was no sign Friday that the White House was ready to radically alter its strategy or tactics.

In a briefing with reporters on Air Force One, White House Deputy Secretary Jennifer Friedman said Obama “has been clear and continues to be clear that he doesn’t see a military solution to the crisis in Syria.”

“That doesn’t mean that there shouldn’t be discussions or a variety of conversations and a variety of opinions,” she added, “but that fundamental principle still remains.”

Still, Robert Ford, the former ambassador to Syria who resigned in protest over White House policy, said the dissent shows that “there’s a very broad consensus among working-level people that are trying to address different pieces of the Syria crisis that … the policy is not succeeding and will not succeed, and that the administration needs to change course.” He noted that it is “remarkable” to see 51 signatures on a cable that rarely gets more than four. {AK: Remarkable indeed – assuming this protest was really as “grassroots” as it is implied to be}

The memo is also a vivid reminder that Secretary of State John Kerry and the diplomats who work for him have consistently pushed for a more militaristic approach to the conflict than their colleagues at the Pentagon. During closed-door meetings in the past year and a half, Kerry has repeatedly pushed Obama to launch airstrikes at Syrian government targets — calls the White House rejected. His pleas were so routine that Obama reportedly announced at a National Security Council meeting last December that only the defense secretary would be allowed to offer proposals for military strikes.

Obama and Kerry clashed in 2013 when the president pulled back at the last moment from threatened military strikes against the Assad regime over its use of chemical weapons, even though Obama had declared a “red line” over the issue. Kerry’s aides were miffed because the secretary of state just a few days earlier had given a muscular speech virtually promising a military response to Assad’s use of the weapons.

The protest memo appeared aimed not at the secretary of state but at the president and his aides who have remained steadfastly opposed to any direct confrontation with the Assad regime.

zhuchkovsky-no-putinsliv(2) There will be no “Putinsliv” in Donbass.

Morale amongst the NAF (Novorossiyan Armed Forces) tends to fluctuate amidst the flurry of contradictory signals the Russian official state tends to give them: Sometimes extending their full support, at other times extraditing NVF fighters to Ukraine and making noises about maybe pushing them all back into Ukraine for “humanitarian” reasons (these episodes tend to coincide with EU votes on the renewal of sanctions; speaking of which, they are 99% certain to be extended on Jun 28-29).

Well, a day ago Alexander Zhuchkovsky, an “insider” in the NVF and a generally reliable source, posted a most intriguing message:

Today I received an almost 100% guarantee that Donbass will not be given up to Ukraine (I say “almost” because Donbass will be surrendered in the case of a liberal coup in Russia, but I don’t think that will happen).

What kind of guarantee this is, I cannot say, but I write this post so that my readers and commentators could stop endlessly recycling this trope about the imminent return of Donbass with a nudge from Russia. All scaremongering about this topic will be see as either idiocy or deliberate intimidation of LDNR residents.

This does not imply that Donbass will soon be in for a bright future, and that one has to unconditionally approve all aspects of Russia’s policy towards Ukraine/LDNR. Unfortunately, today’s fragile and uncertain condition can well last for a long time yet, and from Russia we may once more hear outrageous claims that are at odds with our aspirations.

But that there will be no return of today’s LDNR territories into Ukraine under any conditions (except a hypothetical change in power in Russia) is an absolute, 100% certainty. I call on colleagues to bear this in mind, and opponents to live with this.

With this in mind in our rhetoric and our action we must actively propound the only possible and desirable solution – the incorporation of Donbass into Russia (at a minimum, at maximum – the return of all Novorossiya, which at this stage is a possibility that also cannot be excluded).

(3) RAND releases study calling for the rotation of 30,000 NATO troops into the Baltic states (which is the number that it calculates would be sufficient to deter, and if necessary hold up long enough, a Russian attack). This comes in tandem with the largest NATO exercises in Eastern Europe to date. Its pretty clear now that what little remained of the old American guarantees to the Soviet Union on NATO expansion are dead. Rest in peace, George Kennan. (We will see whether all this is more bark or bite during the Warsaw NATO summit on July 9).

(4) NATO explicitly adds the cyber realm to the domain of conflicts where Article 5 can be invoked. (In recent days, the DNC servers were “allegedly” hacked by Russians with state support).

(5) Russia begins bombing US-backed rebels in Syria (“Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that Russia isn’t entirely certain who it’s bombing in Syria because “moderate” forces are mixed in with “terrorists.””)

(6) The PNAC crowd have made their fealty to Hillary Clinton even more resoundingly clear – a candidate who unlike Obama will certainly be no break on their regime change ambitions.

(7) Meanwhile, China and Russia continue to draw closer, with Putin at the ongoing Saint Petersburg International Economic Forum even suggesting a Eurasian economic partnership.

***

This is not to suggest all these are interlinked, let alone part of some singular conspiracy, but the sheer mass of these largely under the shadows developments does suggest there’s a lot of intense reshuffling of the chess pieces going on behind the scenes.

For instance, Russia’s intervention in Syria has been very successful to date, but its forces there are very vulnerable. This will become germane if Neocons Inc. come to power again – establishing a “no fly zone” over Syria is fraught with the danger of escalation, considering the presence of the Russian Air Force. But whereas Russia is completely outclassed by NATO in that theater, it has local dominance in the Baltics. Add two and two. As such one possible way of looking at the RAND proposal is as a ploy to annul Russia’s range of feasible responses to getting squeezed out of Syria.

But where does the pressure then get redirected? It is of course a longshot, but maybe (2) is somewhat related.

 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Geopolitics, NATO, Syria, War in Donbass 

The purpose of NATO has always been to keep the Americans in, the Russians out, and the Germans down, according to its own first Secretary General.

If any one leg of this tripod fails – the whole thing comes tumbling down. At least as the imperialist, anti-national, anti-Orthodox, and Russophobic project it was always construed to be, especially after the fall of the Soviet Union.

Which is why its highly interesting that Trump has come out with some interesting proposals on NATO via social media.

Facebook:

trump-on-nato

Twitter (1, 2):

All this of course follows on from his extended interview on March 21 with that loyal propaganda organ of globalism, The Washington Post:

JACKSON DIEHL, DEPUTY EDITORIAL PAGE EDITOR: Back to foreign policy a little bit, can you talk a little bit about what you see as the future of NATO? Should it expand in any way?

TRUMP: Look, I see NATO as a good thing to have – I look at the Ukraine situation and I say, so Ukraine is a country that affects us far less than it affects other countries in NATO, and yet we are doing all of the lifting, they’re not doing anything. And I say, why is it that Germany is not dealing with NATO on Ukraine? Why is it that other countries that are in the vicinity of the Ukraine not dealing with — why are we always the one that’s leading, potentially the third world war, okay, with Russia? Why are we always the ones that are doing it? And I think the concept of NATO is good, but I do think the United States has to have some help. We are not helped. I’ll give you a better example than that. I mean, we pay billions– hundreds of billions of dollars to supporting other countries that are in theory wealthier than we are.

washington-post-deranged-propagandists

Aside: One wonders if this was what triggered them into their recent deranged claim that the Brussels attacks were a rebuke to Trump’s foreign policy, as if he was already President and not Obama. No matter that Trump is the only candidate calling for NATO to become an explicitly terrorist-fighting outfit. Its almost as if WaPo and similar goons believe that Russia/Putin/Assad are personally responsible for what happened in Brussels. Oh wait… they actually, literally, do. One can’t help but be reminded of Putin’s observation on the unparalleled power of the Western MSM to “portray white as black and black as white.”

Anyhow, what makes Trump’s most recent comments all the more interesting is that they coms on the exact 17th year anniversary of the beginning of NATO bombing against Serbia for what was essentially a metastasized Molenbeek declaring independence and proceeding to burn down monasteries, kill ethnic Serbs, and harvest their organs. (The latter was derided by the Western MSM as a Serbian nationalist conspiracy theory until it was proven true, by which point – most conveniently – nobody remembered or cared outside Serbia).

Incidentally, this was a war that Hillary Clinton and her “humanitarian interventionist” brand of neocon had enthusiastically supported:

James Rubin, Albright’s State Department spokesman, remembers strained phone calls between Albright and U.K. Foreign Secretary Robin Cook during the planning for the bombing of Yugoslavia. Cook told Albright the U.K. government was having problems “with its lawyers” because attacking Yugoslavia without authorization by the U.N. Security Council would violate the UN Charter. Albright told him the U.K. should “get new lawyers.”

Like Secretary Albright, Hillary Clinton strongly supported NATO’s illegal aggression against Yugoslavia. In fact, she later told Talk magazine that she called her husband from Africa to plead with him to order the use of force. “I urged him to bomb,” she said, “You cannot let this go on at the end of a century that has seen the major holocaust of our time. What do we have NATO for if not to defend our way of life?”

After the U.S.-U.K. bombing and invasion, the NATO protectorate of Kosovo quickly descended into chaos and organized crime. Hashim Thaci, the gangster who the U.S. installed as its first prime minister, now faces indictment for the very war crimes that U.S. bombing enabled and supported in 1999, including credible allegations that he organized the extrajudicial execution of Serbs to harvest and sell their internal organs.

Furthermore, what makes it interesting in the extreme is that it also coincides with the sentencing of Radovan Karadzic at The Hague. What is really strange is that he got 40 years – not, presumably, the sort of sentence a court could reasonably be expected to hand out to someone who had been definitively proven to have committed crimes as serious as “ethnic cleansing” and even “genocide.” (Or maybe not. After all, the West never pursued or even condemned the Croatians who committed the largest ethnic cleansings of them all: The expulsion of 200,000 Serbs from Krajina. Bosnians too were hardly ever found guilty. It was the subhuman Serbs who were always guilty because they happened to like Russia but didn’t have Russia’s nuclear weapons.) Though this is certainly a huge stretch, it’s not impossible that Trump has also chosen this moment to thumb his nose at that kangaroo court.

Anyhow all in all these are some very interesting coincidences here indeed.

Could we really be seeing the prospect of NATO being taken off our backs under President Trump? For political reasons, Trump can hardly speak out against either keeping the Russians out or the Germans down, but he can attack NATO on the basis that it is a drain on American resources, and as such calls for a rollback of its commitments.

However it is justified, the entire world will be thankful to him for it. (Minus the neocons and a few East European nationalists who allow Putin to leave rent free in their empty heads).

 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Donald Trump, NATO, Serbia 

My latest for US-Russia.org Expert Discussion Panel on whether to view the recent Georgian elections, in which Saakashvili’s United National Movement lost a lot of power, as a Kremlin coup or a triumph of democracy. My view that it isn’t really either:

Two dominant themes prevailed in media coverage of the 2012 Georgian elections

(1) The people were hoodwinked, as Georgian Dream are a corrupt band of Russian stooges – as argued by neocon Jennifer Rubin and Yulia “Pinochet” Latynina (see juicy quote from her translated below):

It is possible that Georgia will get one more chance. In that one short moment, when a confused people will look on with astonishment as the band of thieves returning to power brings back its lawlessness – but at a point of time when the army and police are not yet wholly purged of respectable people, who care for the fate of their country – in that moment, Georgia will get another window of opportunity. Like the one, for instance, that Pinochet got on September 11, 1973. But maybe, this chance will never come.

(2) The elections were a genuine victory for Georgian democracy, with Saakashvili’s very defeat vindicating his historical status as a democrat and reformer. Two headlines from democratic journalist Konstantin von Eggert summarize this viewpoint: “Georgians are no longer a mass, but a people“; “Saakashvili accomplished the authoritarian modernization that Russian liberals only dreamed of.”

The Kremlin is in confusion: A state, which they practically denounced as a fascist dictatorship just three years ago, has become a democracy… And the oft-ridiculed and cursed Georgian President, known for his chewing of ties, became practically the most successful reformer in the post-Soviet space, barring the Baltics.

I think both viewpoints are substantially wrong, but to see why we have to consider this history in more detail.

In his first elections in 2004, Saakashvili won 96% of the votes. It was fairer than it looks, but only because of a complete absence of credible candidates at the time. In his second election, in 2008, not only did turnout correlate positively with the Saakashvili vote, but its graph had what is called a “long tail”, becoming suspicious after the 80% mark and registering quite a few stations with 100% turnout. This is remarkably similar to the pattern of falsifications in Russian elections under Putin (though needless to say, Georgia doesn’t attract a fraction of the same attention).

In these elections, multiple factors came together to produce radically different outcomes. The opposition came together, held together by Ivanishvili’s money – who also claims to have spent $1.7 billion, or more than 10% of Georgia’s GDP, over the past several years on stuff like paying officials’ salaries and buying new police cars. That’s like Prokhorov spending $150 billion in Russia, or Romney $1.5 trillion on the US election – while money is far from everything in politics, sums as huge as these certainly help.

Then there were the conveniently timed prison torture videos, broadcast by two suddenly opposition TV channels. These were Maestro, which in 2012 had been investigated for giving out free antennas, allegedly as part of vote-buying by Ivanishvili; and TV-9, a recent creation of Ivanishvili himself. Until recently, these channels appear to have been fairly minor; the big two were Rustavi 2, which is firmly pro-government, and Imedi. Though it was once the traditional opposition channel, Imedi – ever since its owner Badri Patarkatsishvili fell out with Saakashvili – had been tamed by police raids in 2007, to the extent that it orchestrated coverage of a hoax Russian invasion of Georgia to bolster support for Saakashvili.

All these factors – the background of Ivanishvili’s populist spending and opposition consolidation, plus his purchase of a TV presence and the very good timing of the videos – contributed to a drastic, sudden, and unforeseeable reversal in the United National Movement’s until recently far superior poll ratings (see below).

Furthermore, this election was far cleaner than previous ones (which of course favored the opposition): This time there were only a couple of stations with close-to-100% turnout, and in any case, greater turnout now coincided with more votes for Georgian Dream, not Saakashvili or his party (as was the case in 2007 and 2008). I suspect this is because, cognizant of the shift against Saakashvili, the “administrative resource” that had previously served him and the UNM became demoralized and fearful of prosecution in a future administration headed by Ivanishvili; as such, it now refused to give him his customary +3%-5% addon.

These developments were unexpected. It was Saakashvili’s very confidence in a United National Movement victory that presumably motivated him to shift formal powers from the Presidency to the Prime Minister, with a view to taking the latter position (or inserting an ally there) once his two terms were up. Until recently numerous commentators were speaking of Saakashvili “pulling a Putin” (rarely adding that Putin didn’t change the Constitution to empower the PM). Ironically, it was this very drive for greater political consolidation that ended up hoisting Saakashvili by his own petard. From 2013, it is Ivanishvili and allies who will get all the real power, regardless of who wins the Presidency.

In this context the dominant theories can be dismissed or modified. The theory that these elections were a “Russian coup” or somesuch is laughable on its face; only Saakashvili and his supporters seriously believe it, or pretend to. But the theory it’s a democratic triumph is also problematic given the critical role played by Ivanishvili’s money, not to mention Saakashvili’s own indifference to the concept (in practice, nor rhetoric). I submit that what we saw is an “oligarchic coup”, of the type not uncommon in poor countries with weak institutions and big personalities (and perhaps, of the type that Khodorkovsky may have accomplished in 2003 in a parallel world).

As such, given the contingent and artificial events that spawned this new revolution, Georgia can hardly be said to have become a model of democracy.

It is too early to tell what relations with Russia will be like after 2013. Doubtless better than under Saakashvili, but that’s not really saying anything considering how horrid they are now. I would caution that just because the Kremlin obviously prefers Ivanishvili certainly doesn’t mean he will be its puppet once in power (one factoid airbrushed out of history by everyone is that Russia also supported Saakashvili over Shevardnadze in the Rose Revolution). He is strongly committed to NATO membership, which – if pursued with the same old vigor – will continue to cause irreconcilable problems. With 62% of Georgians favoring NATO accession, and only 10% against, it’s not like Ivanishvili will be in much of a position to halt this process even if he were so inclined.

One can only hope that under Georgian Dream these disagreements, which are unlikely to go away any time soon, will be discussed in rather more civilized ways than was the case on August 8, 2008.

PS. Also feel free to read Sergey Roy‘s rejoinder to my piece.

I must congratulate Mr. Karlin on his excellent analysis of the politics involved in the recent parliamentary election in Georgia, its causes and consequences. A few comments are due, though.

Politics and politicking, as described in Anatoly’s essay, are surely important, but it is also advisable to take the Marxian – or merely commonsensical view of changes in a society’s superstructure as mostly reflections of processes in its economic basis. Ignoring the latter is only excusable in someone like Ms. Latynina (quoted in Karlin’s piece): she writes novels, you know, and clearly has trouble distinguishing between fiction and reality. She may believe, for instance, that under Saakashvili Georgia was going through a period of unprecedented efflorescence, but that’s sheer fiction. Mere propaganda, actually. The facts on the ground are different, very much so.

In a nutshell, Georgia is a basket case, in economic terms. According to an oppositionist source, its national debt is four times the size of its annual GDP (not that the latter is anything to write home about). According to the same source, unemployment there runs at an unheard-of 70 percent which was only brought down to the official figure of 20 percent by including everyone who has a few vines growing on the plot of land their house stands on in the “gainfully self-employed” category. That’s the sort of cheating that simply does not fool anyone.

There is also the foreign trade factor. Russia used to absorb all the alcohol Georgia produced rather scandalously, I must say: before Saakashvili, Russia imported three times more wine than Georgian vineyards could physically yield. A friend of mine spent a couple of days in and out of the bathroom after drinking a bottle of unbelievably cheap Khvanchkara. Luckily I had savvy enough to spit out the first mouthful. No wonder a member of Saakashvili’s government notoriously said that those Russian swine can drink anything. Now they drink nothing nothing of Georgian origin, that is and Georgian wine and brandy producers know exactly who they can thank for it. No wonder they wish him out of the way of normal economic intercourse.

Also on the economy side, there are between 800,000 and one million Georgians (no one seems to know how many exactly) feeding their own faces in Russia and the mouths of their relations back home. Russo-Georgian relations being what they are, those wretched people have to travel to and from Georgia via Ukraine or Armenia. Again, they and their relations — know exactly at whose feet they can lay this inconvenience.

Still staying with the economy, only creative writers like Latynina can believe their own fiction that Saakashvili’s regime is squeaky clean, that under his rule corruption, endemic in Georgia just as in other lands one might point a finger at, was stamped out completely. Sure, US money contributed a lot toward computerization, and you can register a company in half an hour or so in Georgia. What will happen to your company afterwards is quite a different matter. All of Georgia’s economic life, what there is of it, is in the hands of regime-related clans, and outsiders are unwelcome to such a degree that they see their future as hopeless. Naturally they want a piece of the action which is impossible unless the present regime is changed. Well, so it has been, or is being not without a great deal of interclan fighting, one can safely predict.

I am sure I have not covered all the economic factors that explain the Georgians’ desire to get rid of Saakashvili and much of what his regime stands for. Still, I am just as convinced that even these few factors carried more weight with voters than TV pictures of torture in Georgia’s prisons, Ivanishvili’s propaganda, and other political and circumpolitical events described in detail in Anatoly Karlin’s piece. Above all, the mood of general dissatisfaction with and anger at the populace’s economic condition had to be there. It was, and it was the prime factor in the events we have just witnessed and are going to witness.

As for politics, Georgians are no different from many other peoples: they want to eat their mamalyga and have it. They want to have Sukhum and Tskhinval back they lorded it over there for too long to reconcile themselves to the loss. So they want Russia to go away from these regions and yet have normal trade and other relations with it. What can Russia’s course be, in this situation? Withdrawing from Abkhazia and S.Ossetia is out of the question, for that would mean NATO bases practically on Russia’s southern flank. Therefore a bit of cognitive and emotional dissonance is inevitable for any future Georgian regime: it, and most Georgians, can dream of NATO and EU membership, heartily dislike Russia and at the same time keep selling it wine, their principal commodity under strict quality control, that is. No more slops with Khvanchkara labels, please.

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

In the wake of Putin’s article on national security for Rossiyskaya Gazeta, there has been renewed interest in Russia’s ambitious military modernization plans for the next decade. I am not a specialist in this (unlike Dmitry Gorenberg and Mark Galeotti, whom I highly recommend), but I do think I can bring much-needed facts and good sources to the discussion.

1. This is not a new development. In fact, the massive rearmament program was revealed back in 2010 (I wrote about it then). Russia’s armed forces were neglected in during the 1990′s and early 2000′s, and enjoyed only modest funding until now; relative to Soviet levels, they are now far degraded. The main goal is to create a mobile, professional army equipped with modern, high-tech gear by 2020.

2. To recap. With oil prices high and Russia’s fiscal situation secure, it IS affordable; it’s not like the old USSR (or today’s US for that matter) spending money it doesn’t have. I also don’t necessarily buy the argument that most of the additional funds will be swallowed up by corruption or inefficiency. Massive new procurement can create temporary bottlenecks, which raises prices, but on the other hand it also allows for economies of scale. The real question is whether Russia absolutely needs to retain the hallowed One Million Man Army, which would appear far too big for the modest anti-insurgency or local wars it may be called to fight in the Caucasus or Central Asia. (There is no possibility of matching NATO or Chinese conventional strength in principle, so that consideration is a moot point).

3. Putin argues for 700,000 professional soldiers by 2017, with the numbers of conscripts reduced to 145,000. This is a huge change, as today – with the failure of the attempt to attract more contract soldiers under Medvedev – conscripts still make up the bulk of the Russian Armed Forces. Many are ill-trained; even things like dedovschina aside, it is impossible to create a good soldier capable of fighting in modern wars in one year’s time. So if successful this will undoubtedly be a change for the better.

4. Will this effort be successful? Based on the results of the previous attempt, Streetwise Professor argues not. I disagree. The previous attempt was marred by the inconvenient fact that salaries were ridiculously low; few reasonably bright and successful people would want to make a career of the military. But since January 1, 2012 military salaries have been radically increased, so that whereas before they were below the average national wage, they are now about twice as big. According to this article this is how the new salaries look like in international comparison.

Lieutenant salaries (pre-bonus)
Russia (2011) $500
NATO East-Central Europe $800-$1400
Russia (post-2011) $1600
France $2300
US $2800
Germany $3000
UK $3500

When one also bears in mind that living expenses in Russia tend to be lower than in most developed countries, it emerges that the new pay scale is only slightly below West European standards. Furthermore, whereas the West European rates are similar to their prevailing national average salaries, the average salary of the Russian lieutenant will be twice higher than the average national salary, which was $800 as of 2011. Remarkable as it may seem based on current culture*, but it’s quite possible that the military will come to be seen as an attractive career choice in Russia.

Below is an infographic from Vzglyad which gives you some idea of the extent of the increases. There are three rows of figures for each rank. The third one represents the average salary (including bonuses). The dark column represents 2011, the lighter column represents post-Jan 1st, 2012.

5. The total cost of the program to 2022 is 23 trillion rubles: 20 trillion for modernization, 3 trillion for defense plants.

According to Vesti, 1.7 trillion rubles will accrue to the additional costs of higher salaries and military pensions in 2012-14 alone. Extending this to 2022 gives a figure of 4.2 trillion rubles. However, we can expect the costs after 2014 to increase further, because of the growing share of contract soldiers and probable further increases in military salaries. So in practice that would probably be something like 7-10 trillion rubles on personnel costs.

So while the rearmament program which focuses on “hardware” is gargantuan, the increases in spending on “software” are very substantial as well.

6. Another myth is that the increased military spending will bite hard into social spending, education, and healthcare. After all, the projected federal budgets show declines in the share of education and healthcare spending, while military spending increases. I bought into it, until I found this article by Sergey Zhuravlev, a noted Russian economist.

This is because of the changing structure of government spending. First, under Medvedev there was a big increase in spending on anti-crisis measures (which are temporary and have now ebbed away), then on big increases on social spending in the run-up to the elections. So naturally, as revenues grow, there will develop room to increase military spending without decreasing social spending, e.g. on pensions. The sum total of the increase in military (and general security, police) spending is not going to be more than 1.5% points of GDP.

In practice, most of the increased spending will accrue at the expense of declines in spending on the national economy and (a very modest) amount of new debt. The former is substantially associated with the end of spending on the Sochi Olympics. So the picture, as Zhuravlev argues, isn’t so much “guns instead of butter”, as “guns instead of Sochi.” As for the debt, it will only constitute an additional 3.5% points of GDP to 2014, which is an insubstantial sum, especially considering Russia’s minimal aggregate levels of sovereign debt.

It is true that as a share of GDP, spending on education and healthcare will fall; this isn’t too desirable, since – especially on the latter sector – they aren’t high in the first place. But it is important to note that this refers to the federal budget, and that the total GDP is projected to increase substantially to 2014; in practical terms, federal spending on education and healthcare will remain flat. But most healthcare and education spending occurs at the regional level. Regional spending in turn will not be under the constraints imposed on the federal budget by rearmament, so in real terms aggregate total education and healthcare spending will continue increasing.**

* Even here I need to make a caveat. Whereas the Army is very unpopular in intelligentsia, Moscow, and emigre circles (of which I am, admittedly, a part) this isn’t quite the case at the all-Russia level where opinions are on balance ambiguous, NOT negative. A majority consistently approves of the Army, and as shown in this Levada poll, even opinion on conscription is typically split 50/50. Only 21% think that Army service is “a waste of time.” The lesson is not to make general extrapolations from unrepresentative samples.

** This is assuming that the whole military spending thing isn’t just pre-elections braggadocio that will be quietly dropped in favor of boring, useful stuff like transport, education, and healthcare as argued in a recent Vedomosti article citing anonymous government sources. I guess that’s a possibility, but I doubt it will happen; the big military spending rises have been in the works far too long to be just dismissed this May.

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

At least, surely more so than Obama, winner of 2009′s Nobel Peace Prize.

Let’s do it by the numbers. Russia under Putin fought one war, in response to Georgian aggression against Ossetians with Russian citizenship and UN-mandated Russian peacekeepers. In contrast, Obama has participated in two wars of aggression: the Iraq War he inherited from G.W., and a new one in Libya. The latter is a war of aggression because NATO clearly exceeded its UN mandate to protect civilians, instead conducting a campaign clearly aimed at regime change. So Obama has presided over two more wars than Putin, and crucially, has participated in two wars of aggression to Putin’s zero.

If you insist on counting the Second Chechen War, then one must also tally the dozen or so countries in which the US is currently waging shadow wars involving drone strikes on terrorists – or to be more accurate, suspected terrorists. But at least Chechnya was an internal affair and presented a truly direct threat to Russia, with armed bands raiding over the borders. There is far less of a case to be made why the US has the right to prosecute an international “war on terror.”

This is why the adjudicators of the Confucius Peace Prize, in awarding it to Putin, proved themselves far less dishonest than the Nobel Committee. The ridicule they have been subjected to by the Western media is a compliment to their integrity.

Update: Mark Adomanis raises some additional points on this matter.

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion 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!

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

Though I originally meant to write my own analysis of what the Wikileaks cables have contributed to our understanding of the 2008 South Ossetia War, I realized that I would essentially be trying to duplicate the excellent efforts of Patrick Armstrong. (See also the New York Times article Embracing Georgia, U.S. Misread Signs of Rifts). Patrick’s article for Russia Other Points Of View is reprinted below:

I have been a diplomat: I have written reports like the ones leaked and I have read many. And my conclusion is that some report writers are better informed than others. So it is with a strange sense of déjà vu that I have read the Wikileaks on US reports.

My sources for the following are the reports presented at this Website (passed to me by Metin Sonmez – thank you): (Direct quotations are bolded; I will not give detailed references – search the site). The reports published there are a small sample of all the communications that would have passed from the posts to Washington in August 2008. They are, in fact, low-grade reporting tels with low security classifications and only a partial set at that. Nonetheless they give the flavour of what Washington was receiving from its missions abroad. (It is inconceivable that the US Embassy in Tbilisi was reporting everything Saakashvili told it without comment in one set of reports while another said that he was lying; that’s not how it works).

One of the jobs of embassies is to inform their headquarters; in many cases, this involves passing on what they are told without comment. But passive transmission does not justify the fabulous expense of an Embassy – official statements are easy to find on the Net – informed judgement is what you are paying for. We don’t see a lot of that in these reports. What struck me immediately upon reading the reports from Tbilisi was how reliant they were on Official Tbilisi. Had they never talked to Okruashvili, or Kitsmarishvili? They could have told them that the conquest of Abkhazia and South Ossetia was always on the agenda. They actually did speak to Kitsmarishvili: he says he met with Ambassador Tefft to ask whether Washington had given Tbilisi “U.S. support to carry out the military operation” as he said the Tbilisi leadership believed it had. He says Tefft “categorically denied that”. How about former close associates of Saakashvili like Burjanadze or Zurabishvili who could have told them how trustworthy he was? (The last’s French connections may have helped insulate Paris from swallowing Saakashvili’s version whole).

The first report from Tbilisi, on 6 August, deals with Georgian reports of fighting in South Ossetia. This doesn’t mean anything in particular – sporadic outbursts have been common on the border since the war ended in 1992 – they are generally a response to the other side’s activities. What’s important about this particular outburst is that it formed the base of Saakashvili’s Justification 1.0 for his attack. We now must remind readers of his initial statement to the Georgian people when he thought it was almost over: “Georgian government troops had gone ‘on the offensive’ after South Ossetian militias responded to his peace initiative on August 7 by shelling Georgian villages.” His justification changed as what he had to explain grew more catastrophic. The US Embassy in Tbilisi comments (ie not reporting what they were told:comments are the Embassy speaking) “From evidence available to us it appears the South Ossetians started today’s fighting. The Georgians are now reacting by calling up more forces and assessing their next move. It is unclear to the Georgians, and to us, what the Russian angle is and whether they are supporting the South Ossetians or actively trying to help control the situation”. The comment sets the stage: the Ossetians started it and Moscow may be involved. There appears to be no realisation that the Ossetians are responding to some Georgian activity (itself a reaction to an Ossetian activity and so on back to 1991, when the Georgians attacked). Shouldn’t Tefft have wondered at this point why Kitsmarishvili had asked him that question a few months earlier? (Parenthetically I might observe that there is never, in any of the reports that I have seen, any consideration, however fleeting, of the Ossetian point of view. But that is the Original Sin of all of this: Stalin’s borders are sacrosanct and Ossetians are nothing but Russian proxies).

On 8 August comes what is probably the most important message that the US Embassy in Tbilisi sent to its masters in Washington: “Saakashvili has said that Georgia had no intention of getting into this fight, but was provoked by the South Ossetians and had to respond to protect Georgian citizens and territory.” The comment is: “All the evidence available to the country team supports Saakashvili’s statement that this fight was not Georgia’s original intention. Key Georgian officials who would have had responsibility for an attack on South Ossetia have been on leave, and the Georgians only began mobilizing August 7 once the attack was well underway. As late as 2230 last night Georgian MOD and MFA officials were still hopeful that the unilateral cease-fire announced by President Saakashvili would hold. Only when the South Ossetians opened up with artillery on Georgian villages, did the offensive to take Tskhinvali begin. Post has eyes on the ground at the Ministry of Interior command post in Tbilisi and will continue to provide updates..,. If the Georgians are right, and the fighting is mainly over, the real unknown is what the Russian role will be and whether there is potential for the conflict to expand.” The Embassy also reported “We understand that at this point the Georgians control 75 percent of Tskhinvali and 11 villages around it. Journalists report that Georgian forces are moving toward the Roki tunnel”. How wrong can you be? The Georgians did not control 75% of Tskhinval and they were not approaching Roki; at this time their attack had already run out of steam, stopped by the Ossetian militia.

Saakashvili and the Georgian leadership now believe that this entire Russian military operation is all part of a grand design by Putin to take Georgia and change the regime.” Already we see that Tbilisi is preparing the ground for Justification 2.0. I refer the reader to Saakashvili’s “victory speech” made on Day 1. As I have written elsewhere, when Saakashvili saw that his war was not turning out as he expected, he changed his story. The Embassy reports the beginnings of Justification 2.0 without comment: “Saakashvili, who told the Ambassador that he was in Gori when a Russian bomb fell in the city center, confirmed that the Georgians had not decided to move ahead until the shelling intensified and the Russians were seen to be amassing forces on the northern side of the Roki Tunnel.” From the US NATO delegation we get the final version of Justification 2.0: “Crucially, part of their calculus had been information that Russian forces were already moving through the Roki tunnel into South Ossetia. Tkeshelashvili underlined that the Russian incursion could not have been a response to the Georgian thrust into South Ossetia because the Russians had begun their movements before the Georgians.” But, really – think about it – would Georgia have invaded in the hope that its forces could beat the Russians on a 60 kilometre road race into Tskhinval that the Russians had already started?

But at last we begin to see some scepticism: “It is increasingly difficult to get an accurate analysis of the military situation because of the fog of war and the fact that the Georgian command and control system has broken down.” By the 12th Georgian reports are accompanied by some caution: “Note: Post is attempting to obtain independent confirmation of these events. End note.” At last it is comparing the different stories: “Merabishvili said that 600 of his MOIA special forces, with their Kobra vehicles (armored Humvees with 40-mm guns), took Tskhinvali in six hours, against 2,000 defenders. He claimed that in the future they will use the attack to teach tactics. He returned again to the subject, noting that ‘we held Tskhinvali for four days despite the Russians’ bombing. Half of our men were wounded, but none died. These guys are heroes.’ (Comment: Post understands MOIA control of Tskhinvali was actually closer to 24 hours. End Comment.)”

Nonetheless the Embassy passively transmits: “bombed hospitals”; “Russian Cossacks are shooting local Georgians and raping women/girls”; “The Georgians suffered terrible losses (estimated in the thousands) overnight”; “Russian helicopters were dropping flares on the Borjomi national forest to start fires”; “Russia targeted civilians in Gori and Tskhinvali”; “the Backfires targeted 95 percent civilian targets”; “raping women and shooting resisters”; “stripped Georgian installations they have occupied of anything valuable, right down to the toilet seats”.

However, enough of this: it’s clear that the US Embassy in Tbilisi believed what it was told, had not in the past questioned what it was told and, for the most part, uncritically passed on what it had been told. The US Embassy reports shaped the narrative in key areas:

1. Ossetians (and maybe Moscow) started it;

2. The Russian forces were doing tremendous and indiscriminate damage;

3. Possibly the Russians wanted to take over Georgia altogether.

Many reports deal with attempts to produce a unified statement of condemnation from NATO and show differences among the members. On the one hand, “Latvia, echoed by Estonia, Lithuania, and Poland highlighted their Presidents’ joint statement on the crisis and invited Allies to support that declaration. Each of these Allies expressed that Russian violence should ‘not serve the aggressor’s purpose’ and that NATO should respond by suspending all NRC activity with the exception of any discussion aimed at bringing an end to the conflict. Bulgaria liked the idea immediately”. But not everyone bought into Washington’s contention that Ossetia or Moscow had started it: “Hungary and Slovakia called for NATO to take into account the role Georgia played at the beginning of this recent conflict, suggesting that Georgia invaded South Ossetia without provocation.” Germany is even described as “parroting Russian points on Georgian culpability for the crisis” and described as “the standard bearer for pro-Russia camp”. Would Berlin’s scepticism have any connection with the fact that Der Spiegel was the only Western media outlet that got it right: “Saakashvili lied 100 percent to all of us, the Europeans and the Americans.”? Eventually, after a lot of back and forth, there is agreement that Moscow’s response was “disproportionate”. (But how much was that judgement affected by Tbilisi’s hysterical reports of indiscriminate bombardment, casualties in the thousands and the exaggerated reports about the destruction of Gori? To say nothing of meretricious reporting by Western media.)

The Western media – with the exception of Der Spiegel – was no better. Perhaps the best example of its slanted and incompetent coverage was passing off pictures of Tskhinval as pictures from Gori: one newspaper even tried to pass off a Georgian soldier – wearing a visible Georgian flag patch – as a Russian in “blazing” Gori. It was months before the New York Times or the BBC, for example, began to climb off their Tbilisi-fed reporting.

During the war I was interviewed by Russia Today and I said that, sitting at my computer in my basement in Ottawa, far from the centre of the world, I had a better take on what was happening than Washington did. I see nothing in these reports to change my opinion. I also said that the war would be a reality check for the West when it was understood that Moscow’s version of events was a much better fit with reality than Tbilisi’s. And so it has proved to be.

Why did I do better? Assumptions. The American diplomats assumed that Tbilisi was telling the truth (despite the strong hint from Kitmarishvili). People in Warsaw, Riga and other places assumed that Russia wanted to conquer Georgia. On the other hand, my assumption was that Tbilisi hardly ever told the truth – I had followed all the back and forth about jihadists in Pankisi or Ruslan Gelayev’s attack on Abkhazia. I knew about Saakashvili’s takeover of Imedi TV. I knew that Ossetians had reasons to fear Tbilisi years ago and more recently. I knew that they were only in Georgia because Stalin-Jughashvili had put them there and that they wanted out. I remembered the Gamsakhurdia years when all this began. I was not pre-disposed to believe Tbilisi on this, or, truth to tell, anything else. Assumptions are everything and that is what we see in these reports. Russia is assumed to be evil, Georgia assumed to be good.

But, what a change in only two years: today NATO courts Russia and Saakashvili courts Iran.

Patrick Armstrong received a PhD from Kings College, University of London, England in 1976 and started working for the Canadian government as a defence scientist in 1977. He began a 22-year specialisation on the USSR and then Russia in 1984, and was Political Counsellor in the Canadian Embassy in Moscow from 1993 to 1996.

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

This is a reprint of a post from Arctic Progress.

This is a TRANSLATION of an article by Jules Dufour published September 7th, 2010 at Mondialisation.ca (“Le Canada: un plan national pour la militarisation de l’Arctique et de ses ressources stratégiques“). In my opinion its a tad too alarmist over the scope of Canada’s military ambitions in the Arctic (IMO it’s mostly political grandstanding at this stage), but nonetheless it’s important to remember that Russia is hardly the only country militarizing the Arctic and saber-rattling in the High North. To be made available in PDF.

Canada’s National Plan For The Militarization Of The Arctic And Its Strategic Resources

The year 2010 was marked by a series of decisions by the Canadian government concerning rearmament. Predictably, as the defense plan “Canada First” was formally launched in 2008, involving the country in an unprecedented weapons acquisition and modernization program, such as the purchase of tanks, F-35 fighters, naval construction and F-18 fighter upgrades, pledged at the start of September. It was in July that most of these projects were unveiled, during the summer vacations when such news is far from the concerns of Canadians. Thus, tens of billions are committed to war or preparation for war, without it being possible to hold a parliamentary or public debate on the subject. At most, there have been some protests about the magnitude of the pledged sums and the concerns expressed here and on the regional economic fallout (Castonguay, A., 2010). A familiar scenario.

arctic-resources

[The Arctic and its coveted natural resources.]

These projects can no longer be justified by Canada’s participation in the war of occupation of Afghanistan. The soldiers of the Canadian army are going to be repatriated in 2011. It’s undeniable that the arena of corporate domination and NATO control over al the strategic resources of the world now includes, and above all, the increasingly accessible Arctic subsoil.

arctic-geopolitics

[Arctic geopolitics map. Click to enlarge.]

A Defense Policy Based on Force

In order to conform to this logic, Canada recently reaffirmed its commitment to Arctic territory which ensures it more effective control. In its foreign policy statement on the Arctic, made public last August, the Canadian government gives priority to reinforcing its military presence in this region of the world, but this time taking care to cloak it under a set of good intentions regarding economic and social development, as well as governance.

Its first objective is to supposedly “safeguard”, through an increased military presence, its sovereignty over an important portion of the Arctic continental shelf. In effect, “the defense strategy Canada First will give the Canadian Forces the necessary tools to increase their presence in the Arctic. Under this strategy, Canada will acquire new patrol vessels capable of sustained sea-ice operations to ensure close surveillance of our waters, so that they gradually open to the maritime industry. To support these ships and other vessels of the Canadian government that are active in the North, Canada is constructing a port at Nanisivik, with facilities for maritime docking and resupply.” In addition, the US and Canada are working together to better monitor and control the North American airspace under NORAD (read Michel Chossudovsky, “Canada’s sovereignty under thread: the militarization of of North America“, Mondialisation.ca, September 10th 2007), the North American Aerospace Defense Command. Moreover, the Canadian Forces will benefit from new technologies to improve their capacity to monitor their territory and its approaches.

Anti-Russian Maneuvers?

The military exercises held every year or more by NATO on the continental shelf of Norway are tailored to simulate the hunting of Russian naval forces seeking to take control of the hydrocarbon resources in this part of the plateau. The same objective is at the heart of the Operation Nanook military exercises conducted in 2010 by the Canadian Forces in conjunction with those of the US and Denmark.

According to several analysts, including Michael Byers, the Canadian government doesn’t cease to use this potential threat in order to justify its military spending pledges, in particular, the $16bn purchase of F-35′s. Therefore, from time to time it’s fair game, to keep alive the spirit of this Russian menace, to proclaim in the mass media that Russian bombers were successfully intercepted in NATO airspace, as was the case in August with the interception of a Tupolev TU-95 bomber some thirty nautical miles from the coast of the Canadian Arctic (Byers, M., 2010). In fact, it’s arguably by no means an act of provocation or aggression on the part of Russia.

Conclusion

It’s important to say the truth about the real issues surrounding the development of Arctic resources. The confrontation between America and Russia up there is in place for a number of years now, a kind of latent “cold war” which serves the two protagonists well. The monitoring of the Arctic is in fact defined as the vigil kept on the Russian operations conducted in this ocean. The quest for maintaining Canadian sovereignty over part of the continental shelf is just a pretext for its militarization. Don’t be fooled. NATO’s real intentions are to have absolute control over the hydrocarbon resources in this region of the world, just as it does by force and armed violence in the Middle East and Central Asia.

See also: The Arctic, a “precious diamond” for the global environment and humanity by Jules Dufour.

References

BYERS, Michael. 2010. Russian bombers a make-believe threat. THE STAR. Le 30 août 2010.

CASTONGUAY, Alec. 2010. Ottawa achètera le F-35. Le Conseil des ministres a approuvé l’acquisition d’un nouvel avion de chasse pour le Canada. Journal Le Devoir, les 10 et 11 juillet 2010, p. A3.

CASTONGUAY, Alec. 2010. Armée: la modernisation des VBL s’amorce. Journal le Devoir, les 10 et 11 juillet 2010, p. A2.

CASTONGUAY, Alec. 2010. Avions de chasse. La bagarre politique commence. Ottawa confirme l’achat d’au moins 60 F-35 sans appel d’offres. Un futur gouvernement libéral suspendra le contrat. Journal Le Devoir, les 16 juillet 2010, p. A1.

CASTONGUAY, Alec. 2010. Achat de 65 avions de chasse F-35. Les entreprises canadiennes se réjouissent. Près de 100 entreprises pourraient profiter des retombées économiques. Journal Le Devoir, les 17 et 18 juillet 2010, p. A3.

CASTONGUAY, Alec. 2010. Arctique, la nouvelle guerre froide. Journal Le Devoir, 21 et 22 août 2010, p. A1.

CASTONGUAY, Alec. 2010. Ottawa dévoile au monde ses ambitions pour l’Arctique. Journal Le Devoir, les 21 et 22 août 2010, p. A4.

CASTONGUAY, Alec. 2010. La ruée vers le Nord. La croissance des activités humaines dans l’Arctique pose des défis pour le Canada.. Journal Le Devoir, 21 et 22 août 2010, p. A7.

CASTONGUAY, Alec. 2010. Des ressources naturelles alléchantes. Journal Le Devoir, les 21 et 22 août 2010, p. A7.

CHOSSUDOVSKY, Michel, La souveraineté du Canada menacée: la militarisation de l’Amérique du Nord », Mondialisation.ca, le 10 septembre 2007.

DUFOUR, Jules. 2007. L’Arctique, un espace convoité : la militarisation du Nord canadien. Géopolitique et militarisation du grand Nord canadien (Première partie). Montréal, Centre de recherche sur la mondialisation. Le 26 juillet 2007.

DUFOUR, Jules. 2007. L’Arctique, militarisation ou coopération pour le développement. Géopolitique et militarisation du grand Nord canadien (Deuxième partie). Montréal, Centre de recherche sur la mondialisation. Le 31 juillet 2007.

FEDIACHINE, Andrei. 2010. L’or noir de la blanche Arctique : le pétrole est arrivé plus tôt que prévu. Ria Novosti. Montréal, Centre de recherche sur la mondialisation. Le 4 septembre 2010.

HUEBERT, Rob. 2010. Welcome to a new era of Arctic security. Globe and Mail. Le 24 août 2010.

LA PRESSE CANADIENNE. 2010. Navires : Ottawa relance un projet d’achat de 2,6 milliards. Journal le Devoir, le 15 juillet 2010, p. A3.

ROZOFF, Rick. 2010. Canada Opens Arctic To NATO, Plans Massive Weapons Buildup. Montréal, Centre de recherche sur la mondialisation (CRM). Le 29 août 2010.

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

This is a reprint of a post from Arctic Progress.

KnAAPO-Su-35

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

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

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

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

In my opinion, there are two other major possibilities.

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

What do you think?

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

I have long noted Russia’s resurgence back into the ranks of the leading Great Powers; I predicted that the global economic crisis will not have a long-term retarding impact on the Russian economy; and within the past year I have bought into Stratfor‘s idea that the defining narrative now in play in Eurasia is Russia’s intention to reconstruct its empire / sphere of influence / call-it-what-you-will in the post-Soviet space. This “resurgence” is advancing along several major fronts: geopolitical, economic, demographic, military, and ideological. In this post I will cover recent major news on the first four.

Ukraine Returns to the Empire?

The most consequential big event is the electoral victory of Viktor Yanukovych (35%) in the first round of the Ukrainian presidential elections, followed by Yulia Tymoshenko (25%), Serhiy Tihipko (13%), Arseniy Yatsenyuk (7%), and Viktor Yushchenko (5%) – a result that I called 100% accurately. Disillusioned with the incompetence, economic decline, and “anarchic stasis” of five years of Orange rule, polls indicate three times as many Ukrainians now favor a “strong leader” over a “democratic government”, so no wonder that the liberal ideologue Yushenko, though the only major Ukrainian politician who is consistent and sincere in his views, suffered a crushing defeat as the last true representative of the Westernizing “Orange” movement. This marks a threshold in the accelerating “regathering of the Russian lands”*.

Below is an electoral map of the first-round Ukrainian presidential elections. As is always the case, the urban, Russophone / Surzhyk-speaking, Russian Orthodox Church-affiliated south and east voted for the pro-Russian Yanukovych, head of the Party of Regions, while the more bucolic, Ukrainian-speaking, Kyiv Patriarchate-affiliated / Uniate center and west favored Tymoshenko.

[Click on map to enlarge].

This reflects the civilizational fault-line riveting Ukraine in half – commonly assumed to be along the Dnieper River, but more accurately, dividing the country into a pro-Russian south and south-east, the independence-minded Ukrainian center, and the pro-Western south-west.

Back in 2004, there was a clearly defined pro-Russian (Yanukovych) and pro-Western (Yushscenko) force. Yushscenko prevailed thanks to incompetent vote rigging on the part of the Party of Regions and a Western-supported popular uprising known as the Orange Revolution. The oranges are now regarded as rotten and nothing of the same sort can happen in 2010, since both Presidential contenders are now, for most purposes, beholden to Russia.

Yanukovych supports closer political and economic ties with Russia, would renounce NATO and EU accession plans, and enjoys the support of the Donbass oligarchs (including Ukraine’s richest man and king-maker, Rinat Akhmetov) and the senior managers of the Ukrainian military-industrial complex. There has been talk of a possible political union between United Russia (Russia’s “party of power”) and the Party of Regions, which will lay the institutional foundations for closer union with Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan, involving joint membership in Eurasec, a customs union, and even the CSTO. Finally, there have been rumors that Yanukovych will retain Yushenko in some minor political position, as a placebo for the west Ukrainians in order to nip secession movements in the bud and to undercut Tymoshenko’s support in a crucial region.

Tymoshenko is the unprincipled, chameleon-like politico par excellence, repeatedly reinventing herself from hard-hitting gas oligarch / robber baroness, to Lesya Ukrainka-inspired Orange liberal nationalist, to Putin-friendly aspiring Czarina. She has negotiated a well-publicized gas deal with Russia, took part in the sale of the major Ukrainian steelmaker, the Industrial Union of Donbass, to a Kremlin-friendly Russian industrial group, and publicly backed away from NATO membership. In doing this, she has tried to ride the geopolitical and emotional wave of the Russian resurgence, and succeeded in gaining the firm support of the central regions. However, although singularly charismatic in the gray world of Ukrainian politics, she has been unable to significantly penetrate into the Party of Regions electoral base. Coupled with low voter turnout in Ukraine’s western regions, due to their disillusionment with her newly-discovered Russophilia, this means that she will almost certainly lose out to Yanukovych in the second round of elections scheduled for February 7th** (assuming no extralegal interference from the 3000 strongarm Georgian “election observers” who are in Ukraine just for the girls, supposedly).

Geopolitically, this Ukrainian reversal marks declining US influence in the region and the imminent resurgence of Russia as a Eurasian hegemon. This is producing reverberations, with independence-minded countries throughout the region – Belarus, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, even Georgia – now accepting their eventual reintegration into Eurasia, or attempting to reach a new accommodation with the new reality of Russian power. Here is Peter Zeihan (Stratfor) on Ukraine’s Election and the Russian Resurgence:

These are all important factors for Moscow, but ultimately they pale before the only rationale that really matters: Ukraine is the only former Russian imperial territory that is both useful and has a natural barrier protecting it…. Without Ukraine, Russia is a desperately defensive power, lacking any natural defenses aside from sheer distance… The (quite realistic) Russian fear is that without Ukraine, the Europeans will pressure Russia along its entire western periphery, the Islamic world will pressure Russia along its entire southern periphery, the Chinese will pressure Russia along its southeastern periphery, and the Americans will pressure Russia wherever opportunity presents itself…

Ukraine by contrast has the Carpathians to its west, a handy little barrier that has deflected invaders of all stripes for millennia. These mountains defend Ukraine against tanks coming from the west as effectively as they protected the Balkans against Mongols attacking from the east. Having the Carpathians as a western border reduces Russia’s massive defensive burden. Most important, if Russia can redirect the resources it would have used for defensive purposes on the Ukrainian frontier — whether those resources be economic, intelligence, industrial, diplomatic or military — then Russia retains at least a modicum of offensive capability. And that modicum of offensive ability is more than enough to overmatch any of Russia’s neighbors (with the exception of China).

Incidentally, this episode brings to mind what the late political scientist Samuel Huntington wrote about the future of the “Orthodox civilization” in his well-known work The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order. He predicted that Western attempts to orchestrate an artificial divide between these two members of the same civilization would have only deleterious results, perhaps resulting in a “Great Split” – quoting a Russian general, “Ukraine or rather Eastern Ukraine will come back in five, ten or fifteen years. Western Ukraine can go to hell!” Yet the more stable and likeliest arrangement would be the following:

The third and most likely scenario is that Ukraine will remain united, remain cleft, remain independent, and generally cooperate closely with Russia… Just as the [Franco-German relationship] provides the core of the European Union, the [Russian-Ukrainian relationship] is the core essential to unity in the Orthodox world.

With all major Ukrainian political blocs re-orientating themselves to Russia and the two countries increasing their cooperation in spheres ranging from politics to the military-industrial complex, Huntington’s prediction could be said to have been fulfilled.

PS. The (relative) silence about the total collapse of the Orange party in Ukraine on the part of normally Russophobic outlets has been deafening. Since everyone loves the West and liberal ideologues, how on Earth could this have happened? It’s like a bad dream. ;)

The Eurasian Energy Map Redrawn

Russia, China, Iran redraw energy map by the always-insightful Indian diplomat M K Bhadrakumar.

The inauguration of the Dauletabad-Sarakhs-Khangiran pipeline on Wednesday connecting Iran’s northern Caspian region with Turkmenistan’s vast gas field may go unnoticed amid the Western media cacophony that it is “apocalypse now” for the Islamic regime in Tehran. The event sends strong messages for regional security. Within the space of three weeks, Turkmenistan has committed its entire gas exports to China, Russia and Iran. It has no urgent need of the pipelines that the United States and the European Union have been advancing. Are we hearing the faint notes of a Russia-China-Iran symphony? …

Second, Russia does not seem perturbed by China tapping into Central Asian energy. Europe’s need for Russian energy imports has dropped and Central Asian energy-producing countries are tapping China’s market. From the Russian point of view, China’s imports should not deprive it of energy (for its domestic consumption or exports). Russia has established deep enough presence in the Central Asian and Caspian energy sector to ensure it faces no energy shortage. What matters most to Russia is that its dominant role as Europe’s No 1 energy provider is not eroded. So long as the Central Asian countries have no pressing need for new US-backed trans-Caspian pipelines, Russia is satisfied.

During his recent visit to Ashgabat, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev normalized Russian-Turkmen energy ties. The restoration of ties with Turkmenistan is a major breakthrough for both countries. One, a frozen relationship is being resumed substantially, whereby Turkmenistan will maintain an annual supply of 30bcm to Russia. Two, to quote Medvedev, “For the first time in the history of Russian-Turkmen relations, gas supplies will be carried out based on a price formula that is absolutely in line with European gas market conditions.” Russian commentators say Gazprom will find it unprofitable to buy Turkmen gas and if Moscow has chosen to pay a high price, that is primarily because of its resolve not to leave gas that could be used in alternative pipelines, above all in the US-backed Nabucco project.

[Click on map to enlarge].

Third, contrary to Western propaganda, Ashgabat does not see the Chinese pipeline as a substitute for Gazprom. Russia’s pricing policy ensures that Ashgabat views Gazprom as an irreplaceable customer. The export price of the Turkmen gas to be sold to China is still under negotiation and the agreed price simply cannot match the Russian offer. Fourth, Russia and Turkmenistan reiterated their commitment to the Caspian Coastal Pipeline (which will run along the Caspian’s east coast toward Russia) with a capacity of 30bcm. Evidently, Russia hopes to cluster additional Central Asian gas from Turkmenistan (and Kazakhstan). Fifth, Moscow and Ashgabat agreed to build jointly an east-west pipeline connecting all Turkmen gas fields to a single network so that the pipelines leading toward Russia, Iran and China can draw from any of the fields.

Indeed, against the backdrop of the intensification of the US push toward Central Asia, Medvedev’s visit to Ashgabat impacted on regional security. At the joint press conference with Medvedev, Berdymukhammedov said the views of Turkmenistan and Russia on the regional processes, particularly in Central Asia and the Caspian region, were generally the same. He underlined that the two countries were of the view that the security of one cannot be achieved at the expense of the other. Medvedev agreed that there was similarity or unanimity between the two countries on issues related to security and confirmed their readiness to work together.

The United States’ pipeline diplomacy in the Caspian, which strove to bypass Russia, elbow out China and isolate Iran, has foundered. Russia is now planning to double its intake of Azerbaijani gas, which further cuts into the Western efforts to engage Baku as a supplier for Nabucco. In tandem with Russia, Iran is also emerging as a consumer of Azerbaijani gas. In December, Azerbaijan inked an agreement to deliver gas to Iran through the 1,400km Kazi-Magomed-Astara pipeline.

The “big picture” is that Russia’s South Stream and North Stream, which will supply gas to northern and southern Europe, have gained irreversible momentum. The stumbling blocks for North Stream have been cleared as Denmark (in October), Finland and Sweden (in November) and Germany (in December) approved the project from the environmental angle. The pipeline’s construction will commence in the spring.The $12-billion pipeline built jointly by Gazprom, Germany’s E.ON Ruhrgas and BASF-Wintershall, and the Dutch gas transportation firm Gasunie bypasses the Soviet-era transit routes via Ukraine, Poland and Belarus and runs from the northwestern Russian port of Vyborg to the German port of Greifswald along a 1,220km route under the Baltic Sea. The first leg of the project with a carrying capacity of 27.5bcm annually will be completed next year and the capacity will double by 2012. North Stream will profoundly affect the geopolitics of Eurasia, trans-Atlantic equations and Russia’s ties with Europe.

To be sure, 2009 proved to be a momentous year for the “energy war”. The Chinese pipeline inaugurated by President Hu Jintao on December 14; the oil terminal near the port city of Nakhodka in Russia’s far east inaugurated by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on December 27 (which will be served by the mammoth $22-billion oil pipeline from the new fields in eastern Siberia leading to China and the Asia-Pacific markets); and the Iranian pipeline inaugurated by Ahmadinejad on January 6 – the energy map of Eurasia and the Caspian has been virtually redrawn.

And from Pipe dreams come true (bne):

Putin ordered construction to start on Nord Stream at the end of last year after the pipeline got the last environmental permits from Germany. And in January, Gazprom started building the first pumping station at the mouth of the first of two parallel pipes, which is supposed to be operational by 2011 with a capacity of 27.5bn cm/y. Thanks to Nord Stream, 2009 should be the last episode of the Russo-Ukraine “Gas for Cash” soap opera, which usually ends with Europe freezing. [AK: see also What difference would Nord Stream mean to European energy supply?].

South stream, the other pipeline project, will close the circle, but this pipeline has had a harder time getting off the drawing board and is competing with the EU-sponsored Nabucco pipeline, which is supposed to source Caspian region and Middle East gas and send it to Europe without crossing Russian soil. The problem is that there’s probably only enough demand to support one pipeline.

The R of the BRIC’s Remains Solid

Many of the economic predictions I made in Decoupling from the unwinding and Russia Economic Crisis are coming to fruition. See RUSSIA 2010: Slow build over first half to boom in 2011 (bne):

Russia was undoubtedly far more affected by the international crisis that started in September 2008 than anyone had expected – especially the Kremlin. It also stands out as the only one of the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China) to show negative growth, leading to calls from the likes of analyst Anders Aslund to remove the “R” from BRIC.

This is rubbish, so Jim O’Neill, the man that coined the term in the first place, told bne at the 2009 International Monetary Fund (IMF) conference. “The only reason that Russia was hurt so badly was unlike the others, it borrowed heavily on the international capital markets and, of course, it is dependent on the price of oil.”

This was one of my major themes. When the Western financial system ground to a standstill in late 2008, the first countries to be cut off were the emerging markets. Having access to deep indigenous credit systems, the likes of Brazil and China were understandable far less affected than Russia, whose corporations had come to rely on Western intermediation of their credit inflows.

And in the longer term, excluding Russia from the BRIC’s makes little sense given its major growth potential (educated workforce, resource windfall, modernization policy, economic gains from global warming).

The Russian economy contracted by a bit less than 9% in 2009, but as the year came to a close it was already starting to recover – six months later than analysts were predicting at the start of the year. However, despite the pain of the crisis, the prospects for 2010 are looking much better than many had dared hope.

One should also note that this “pain” was insubstantial compared to the 1998 crisis, which is what many analysts were (unfavorably) comparing it to. While the percentage of the population barely making ends meet went up from 29% in July 1998 to 40% in December 1998, this figure remained stable at around 10% throughout the recent crisis. The main shift occurred amongst Russia’s “consumer class” (the ones who buy cars, PC’s, etc), whose percentage of the population tumbled by a quarter from 19% to 14%, and perhaps explains the reason for its large drop in GDP for 2009, i.e. the drop in large purchases. The silver lining is that this implies inequality has decreased during the crisis.

bne’s annual survey of investment bank outlooks suggests that growth will return to at least 4% and possibly go as high as 6% by the end of 2010. Inflation will remain low at about 5% while overnight rates at the Central Bank of Russia (CBR) will become real for the first time, finally giving the central bank a second tool to manage the economy and so be able to tackle Russia’s twin perennial headaches of inflation and ruble appreciation more effectively. …

The much discussed problems of the reappearance of a budget deficit will be much milder than appears now, coming in at something under 5% of GDP. This means the Kremlin will drastically reduce its international borrowing and has already cut the amount it needs to raise from $18bn to $10bn, but this could fall to $5bn or even nothing at all if oil prices rise to around $80 per barrel, which most of the banks bne surveyed believe will be the average price for 2010. Indeed the state will be able to raise all the money it needs to plug the deficit at home and pave the way for a return of private issuers to the international capital markets.

I predicted an oil price of around 90$ for 2010 (“oil prices in H1 will remain at 70-90$, and will rise to 90-110$ in H2″), so this is completely realistic considering my stellar record on oil price forecasting.

Finally, the RTS had a spectacular performance, rising over 120% in 2009 from its spring lows to end the year at about 1400. Unlike last year, the investment banks all agree that the index will end 2010 at around 1900-1950 and some say that it will reach and pass its all-time high of 2600 by 2011.

The themes for 2010 include: a turning inwards to growth driven by domestic demand, a push to introduce some real bottom-up economic reforms, a new focus on improving Russia’s productivity, increased inter-regional crediting, a shift towards closer ties with China, consolidation within many sectors and most important a gradual reassessment of Russia’s risk.

Again, much of this will not be new to S/O readers. I’ve already called the consolidation of Russia’s financial system, the shifting emphasis on domestic manufacturing, its decoupling from the insolvent Anglo-Saxon system, the imminent purge of corrupt siloviki, etc…

The collapse of the Russian economy in 2009 was dramatic, but emerging market crises are intrinsically less “sticky” than those in the West, largely because of the shallow penetration of debt in all its forms into the economy. As Liam Halligan, chief economist at Prosperity Capital Management, points out Russia’s fundamentals remain extremely strong and stand out from the rest of emerging Europe. And despite spending $200bn on rescue packages, the Kremlin still have $400bn in the bank, which was increasing again towards the end of the year, and remains the third richest country in the world after China and Japan, against the US and UK, which are 18th and 19th with a bit more than $80bn each. As the story going forward for the next several years will be all about the credit worthiness of countries, Russia finds itself, along with its newest buddy, China, in an enviable position.

Feel free to read the whole article.

Russia’s Population Grows in 2009

Russia registers its first year of population growth in 2009 since 1994.

Russia has registered the first population increase since the chaotic years which followed the fall of the Soviet Union, bucking a long-term decline that has dampened economic growth projections, officials said on Tuesday. Russia’s population increased by between 15,000 and 25,000 to more than 141.9 million in 2009, the first annual increase since 1995, Health Minister Tatyana Golikova told a meeting in the Kremlin with President Dmitry Medvedev. …

Russia’s dire population forecasts — some of which predict sharp declines over the next few decades — are a key function of economic predictions which see Russia growing much slower over the next 20 years than the other BRIC countries; China, Brazil and India.

a) None of this should be too surprising to my readers, given that back in mid-2008 I predicted:

I will make some concrete, falsifiable demographic predictions (something Russophobes going on about Russia’s impending demographic doom wisely avoid doing).

  1. Russia will see positive population growth starting from 2010 at the latest.

I was totally correct, and even better, a year early! (well, just about). Meanwhile, the Russophobe commentariat continues their happy life in la la land.

b) Russia’s approaching demographic doom is a major staple of pessimist and Russophobe assessments of its future prospects in areas like economic modernization and geopolitical power. To the contrary, far from the steep fall produced by most demographic models, a more realistic scenario is for Russia’s population to stagnate or grow very slowly in the next two decades, as a fall in the numbers of women in child-bearing age is balanced out by rising fertility rates and falling mortality rates. See 10 Myths about Russia’s Demography for my detailed exposition of Russia’s demographic prospects.

The Volatile Caucasus

Saakashvili’s megalomania probes new depths, so no wonder the opposition – who are no Russophiles, it should be said – are holding their noses and reaching out to their erstwhile enemy. Taking a cue from the Party of Regions:

The leader of Georgian opposition party the Movement for a Fair Georgia, former Prime Minister Zurab Nogaideli, said Jan. 26 that his party would like to form a partnership with United Russia, the ruling party in Russia led by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

See also this Russian-language report, Танки августа (“Tanks of August”) analyzing the buildup to, chronology, and course of the 2008 South Ossetian War, which is called “The Five Day War” in this publication. This is no pro-Kremlin propaganda, the Russian Army receives acerbic criticism for its performance.

However, most interesting, at least for me, was the chapter “Настоящее и будущее грузино-российского конфликта. Военный аспект” (pp. 85-109), a serious analysis of post-war dynamics in the balance of power between the two countries, is worth checking out. I’ll summarize it here.

a) Though Georgian military spending has fallen somewhat from its 2007-08 high of 8% of GDP, its military potential has continued growing at a fast rate and now exceeds its level in August 2008. Anti-partisan training has been deemphasized in favor of preparation for a hot conventional war against Russia, especially emphasizing the anti-tank and air defense aspects; battle-hardened troops have been returned from Iraq, the reserves system is being reformed, and military contracts concluded in 2007-08 are now bringing in masses of new Soviet and Israeli military equipment from abroad. The authors believe it is not unrealistic that Georgia will make another attempt at a military resolution of the Ossetian issue after 2011.

b) Counter-intuitively, the authors believe that though the revolutionary reforms now being implemented by the Russian Army will enhance its long-term potential, in the short-term there will be a certain loss of effectiveness due to the ouster of experienced officers, a shortfall which will not be immediately made up by the extensive NCO-training program which is only now getting started. The effective number of Motor Rifle and Tank battalions in the Caucasus military region has fallen from 65 in August 2008 to just 40 at end-2009, albeit their quality has been somewhat improved thanks to the rapid acquisition of modernized tanks and helicopters. Furthermore, their forward-positioning in Abkhazian and S. Ossetian bases will give them an advantage missing in 2008.

c) Finally, the authors also note the growing military superiority of Azerbaijan over Armenia. The two countries hold a long grudge over Armenia’s occupation of the ethnically-Armenian enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh. Revenues from the BTC pipeline have enabled Azerbaijan to massively increase its military potential, acquiring a panoply of modernized late-Soviet and Israeli weapons systems. Azerbaijan’s military budget now exceeds the entire Armenian state budget. However, Armenia is allied with Russia through the CSTO, hosts a big Russian base, and receives subsidized weapons systems from Russia, as well as some old Soviet stocks for free. The authors note that due to ethnic majority-Armenian unrest in the southern Georgian province of Samtskhe-Javakheti (which I noted in my post on the possibility of a new Russia-Georgia war), Russia would be wise to increase its military presence in Armenia and accelerate the modernization of the Armenian armed forces in order to be able to exploit Georgia’s soft southern underbelly in a new war***.

Power Projection & Military Modernization

Two more military things. Frustrated with the sorry state of Russian military shipbuilding, the Kremlin is considering the French Mistral, a helicopter carrier & amphibious ship. Such an acquisition will enhance two important Russian capabilities.

First, if deployed in the Barents Sea, it will reinforce its anti-submarine warfare (ASW) capabilities, which are growing in importance with its increasing strategic interests in the Arctic linked to the region’s oil-and-gas deposits and potential trade opportunities as the sea-ice melt accelerates. Second, these vessels would enable Russia to insert crack military forces behind enemy lines much quicker than had previously been possible. In the event of a potential conflict with Georgia or the Baltics, this capability will be incredibly valuable.

EDIT to add PAK-FA news: Second, Russia unveiled the PAK-FA prototype fighter, the first 5th-generation fighter to be produced outside the US. Below are some informative articles on the subject.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ovoo-n9b5Bs&w=425&h=344]

Despite delays and questions over its effectiveness, Russia being the 2nd nation in the world to test a 5th generation fighter after the US does prove that elements of the Russian MIC, especially military aviation, remain robust and capable of innovation. (Besides, one shouldn’t neglect to mention that the American MIC also has its own problems: cost overruns, questions over the JSF’s real utility, etc). As pointed out in earlier posts, Russia’s main challenge is now rooting out corruption and modernizing the MIC’s machine tools and management culture to enable high-volume production of state-of-the-art military equipment such as the PAK-FA, so as to modernize its armed forces by 2020 without returning to a Soviet-style militarized economy.

* To forestall criticism, this is not, of course, an expression of “Great Russian chauvinism”, but a historical reference to the state centralization and “gathering of the Russian lands” undertaken by Muscovy from the time of Ivan III (1462-1505). This formed the palimpsest for all future restorations of Russia’s empire, including the current one.

** Why Yanukovych will almost certainly win the Ukrainian Presidency – just a matter of beans-counting. In the first round, he got 35%, Tymoshenko got 25%. Yanukovych will net many of the Tihipko voters (13%), while Tymoshenko will get support from some of the Yatsenyuk (7%) and Yushenko (5%) voters. The rest of the electorate will split roughly in half, most likely. But even if Tymoshenko gets very lucky, it is hard to see her closing the awning 10% gap separating her from Yanukovych in the first round.

*** I would also add that though unlikely, it is not impossible that Armenia and Azerbaijan will fight a new war in the near future, as the Azeris despair of their long-term chances of ever reclaiming Nagorno-Karabakh in the face of Turkish-Armenian reconciliation and the hard reality of rising Russian power over the Caucasus. They could yet make a desperate gamble, perhaps in the context of the chaos unleashed by a US-Israeli war with Iran and its proxies. That said, the far likelier possibility is that the realistic-minded President Aliyev will reconcile himself to Russia’s growing power over the Caucasus.

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

Three interesting stories, all tied with Russia and water.

1. The explosion at the Sayano-Shushenskaya dam in Siberia. Though the official Russian version is that it was a blown transformer, the Chechen separatists / terrorists are claiming that it’s their work:

A decision was taken at the start of the year at a meeting of the council of the Mujahideen of the Emirate of the Caucasus, led by Caucasus Emir Doku Abu Usman, to activate an economic war against Russia on its territory. To carry out these tasks, subversive groups were created and sent to a host of Russian regions with the aim of carrying out industrial sabotage. The priority targets laid out for them are gas pipelines, oil pipelines, the destruction of electricity stations and high-voltage power lines, and sabotage at factories.

In the name of Allah, through our efforts on Aug. 17 an act of sabotage, long in the making and thoroughly thought out, was carried out at the Khakasia region’s Sayano-Shushenskaya hydro-electric power plant, the largest in Russia. An anti-tank mine on a timer was planted in the turbine room, and its explosion caused enormous damage, greater than we anticipated. The result halted the hydro-power station completely, and caused losses to Russia worth many billions of dollars.

[...talks about their recent militant attacks in Ingushetia & threatens those who cooperate with the "apostates" with death]

Lay down your arms and return to your homes, work and earn money in the ways permitted under Sharia, and you will once again have a calm life.

However, they’re not exactly the most reliable of sources (they were wrong in their prediction that Russia would invade Georgia in mid-August 2008), and there could be genuine infrastructural reasons for the dam failure, such as the well-known depreciation of Soviet-era infrastructure. (Though it should be noted that from Wikipedia this dam seems to have had a bad history of accidents even throughout the Soviet era).

On other hand, according to people in the know (from Untimely Thoughts), this could not have been a question of aging infrastructure, but rather incompetence at the highest levels:

It takes serious skill to screw up a hydro plant. The only energy is water falling in ready built channels. My apprenticeship was in a large electrical machine plant. Amongst other things we built hydrosets. I later did insulation design for hydro (and also nuclear) generating sets. A 30 year old turbine is not old. The parts that might age are the insulation and the bearings, both easy to maintain. This was not an insulation failure. The bearings can be monitored automatically for vibration and temperature rise (UK practice since before my apprenticeship began in 1970). It is easy to predict failure and replace months before any real problems begin. Poor maintenance is not strong enough a term for this. It would require acts of serious criminal negligence to put a hydroset in the way of danger. The same goes for the ability to open a sluice gate so quickly that there was a serious overpressure of water. The motors opening the sluice gate wouldn’t be able to run fast enough. It takes over 12 hours to run a big hydroset up to full speed. (Pumped storage schemes use different, less efficient channel designs and water channels). If it was possible to open the gates with simple gravity then the design was appalling in the first place. The responsibility for this goes up to the top of Roshydro. An example should be set to encourage other bosses to pay attention to their maintenance bills. Corporate Manslaughter anyone? Do the workers families have access to the legal (and supporting financial) capacity to demand damages? Will the Roshydro security director persuade them otherwise?

In other words, they didn’t give a dam.

The effects are certainly serious, with 6000MW of power going off-line, several billions of dollars in damage and 500,000 tons of annual aluminium production curtailed. It would certainly be interesting to see how the Kremlin reacts to this. This is yet another blow to Siberia this year, which has lost the bulk of its winter harvest to drought and fires this year.

So far, the official reaction seems to be pure Показуха (appearing to be doing something, but not really), with Putin calling for a “sweeping probe” of the nation’s infrastructure. It would have been more useful if a) these things were done a few years ago, instead of building polar bridges to nowhere, and b) in any case with the drying up of foreign credits and investment, Russia will not have the means to address its vast infrastructural problems in the next few years bar much heavier state intervention. Thus, yet more incentive and impetus for the return of the Russian state as the spearhead of economic development in the next decade.

2. Kursk – A Submarine in Troubled Waters by Jean-Michel Carré, 2005.

http://video.google.com/googleplayer.swf?docid=3601018731467852276&hl=en&fs=true

This is a very interesting examination of the Kursk sinking in August 2000, which goes contrary to the official claims, both Western and Russian, that the tragedy was due to a torpedo detonation caused by hydrogen peroxide propellant seeping out from underneath the torpedo casings. It presents evidence that during the exercises, which involved the testing of the advanced, supercavitating Shkval torpedos in the presence of Chinese observers (and prospective buyers), the US submarine USS Toled o, which was tailing the Kursk, crashed into it and damaged it. To cover its tracks, and upon what it perceived as the Kursk readying a torpedo to launch against the Toledo in retaliation, the USS Memphis pre-emptively torpedoed the Russian submarine. The USS Toledo appeared damaged off a Norwegian naval base according to satellite photos and took a suspiciously long time to limp back across the Atlantic to the Norfolk naval base, where it was promtly hidden from civilian eyes. Given the political implications of the truth, both Western and Russian leaders connived to cover it up (recall that Russia was still pro-Western at the time). Soon after, Russia received a 10bn $ loan on favorable terms from the IMF. According to the French film-maker, the sinking of the Kursk, with all the ensuing criticism of the government, marked a seminal point in Russia’s drift back to authoritarianism.

It has its holes, but an intriguing thesis / conspiracy theory. Recommended viewing.

3. I am rather cold to the recent sensationalist talk of Arctic piracy, especially Latynina’s bizarre claims about the ship being used to transport nuclear materials to Syria at the behest of the Russian government (there are far more reliable routes, even if Russia thought it worthwhile to do this). However, there’s a far more interesting case of real piracy being played out in the Black Sea. Abkhazia Threatens Tbilisi Over Seizure of Fuel Tanker:

TBILISI, Georgia — Georgia’s breakaway Abkhazia region accused Tbilisi on Thursday of trying to suffocate the Black Sea territory and threatened a “proportionate response” after Georgian authorities detained a tanker delivering fuel.

Georgia has stepped up efforts to isolate Abkhazia and another breakaway region, South Ossetia, since a five-day war with Russia last August. It has banned economic and commercial activities there without its permission.

The Turkish captain of the tanker, operating under a Panama flag, was remanded in custody Wednesday and faces up to 24 years imprisonment if found guilty of smuggling and violating the ban on unauthorized economic activity.

“Under the law in force in Georgia, we don’t even have the right to breathe without permission from Tbilisi,” Abkhazia’s foreign minister, Sergei Shamba, told Interfax.

“We warned Georgia that we can make a proportionate response, take the same kind of actions that the Georgian side allows itself,” he said.

The tanker, with its Turkish and Azeri crew, was detained in the Black Sea off the Georgian coast on Monday carrying 2,000 tons of gasoline and 700 tons of diesel.

No date has been set for the captain’s trial. Abkhazia said it was the third case of “Georgian piracy” this year. The tanker remains in the Georgian port of Poti.

This is a de facto naval embargo and, it could be argued by Abkhazia and Russia, an act of war against a sovereign state. Again, Russia is caught in the cleft of a dilemma. On the one hand, it could confirm it is serious about its recognition of Abkhazian independence and take military action to lift the embargo… on the other hand, this will be met by a chorus of Western condemnation and more to the point, this would be a dangerous move given the US naval presence in the region.

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

Whispers of war are heard in the Caucasus, as the anniversary of last year’s South Ossetian War approaches. Will the guns of August be fired in anger to mark the occasion?

Here are some things we need to keep in mind when analyzing this:

    • It was Georgia that attacked South Ossetia last year, mere hours after Saakashvili promised them peace and eternal friendship and candy. The Georgians proceeded to indiscriminately bombard Tskhinvali, a densely populated town full of civilians, with Grad missiles. They also attacked UN-mandated Russian peacekeepers, which constitutes a clear casus belli. Russia’s response was just and proportionate.
    • The Western media at the time presented this as a struggle between aggressive Russian tyranny and democratic Georgia, spewing the most propagandistic bilge imaginable (e.g. headlines about Russia attacking poor little Georgia, while showing Georgian Grad rockets being fired at Tskhinvali!). Putin’s well-argued justifications of Russian intervention were censored and manipulated by CNN and Western journalists with enough personal integrity to refrain from unconditionally siding with Saakashvili were blacklisted.
    • In reality there is much evidence, including the testimonies of former Georgian cabinet members, to the effect that Saakashvili was planning to retake the “lost territories” months beforehand.
    • Since then the media retracted their most sensationalist claims in a bid to reinforce their (questionable) reputations for objectivity. Many media outlets now acknowledge the reality of Georgian aggression and war crimes. Amongst those who looked at the issue in detail, only the most diehard neocons and Russophobes still deny that it was Georgia that was primarily responsible for the war. In their circles, the idea of Russian war guilt is almost an article of faith. Applying Occam’s Razor would suggest they are wrong.
    • Nonetheless, the US continues to unconditionally support Saakashvili, even under the Obama administration (whether this is because of American geopolitical interests, or because they really are hoodwinked by Georgian PR, is an exercise I leave to the reader). In doing so they turn a blind eye to Saakashvili’s repression of the opposition. This only serves to further reinforce the Russian conviction that the West cares about democracy only in so far as it advances its geopolitical interests. Far from pressuring the Russians to cease and desist, the West’s hostile rhetoric, encroachment on Russia’s security space and dismissal of Russian protestations will only reinforce Russia’s disillusionment with the West and make it ever more unwilling to consider Western interests.
    • This disillusionment is especially prevalent amongst the Russian elites and younger people with Internet access. Thanks to the West, they are coming to the conclusion that no matter what their country does – right or wrong – it will be condemned by the champions of Western chauvinism regardless. The only way to make them the West happy would be to lie down and lick its boots, but few peoples anywhere think this way, let alone in a nation as proud as Russia. Though Georgia struck first, this war marked the most significant Russian retaliation to years of humiliations yet; it sent a message that it would no longer passively resign itself to Western imperialism.
    • Look at the detailed Legal Case for Russian Intervention in Georgia by Nicolai Petro which looks at these issues in scholarly depth.
    • All this may lead to a growing preference for Realpolitik over “liberal internationalist” solutions to Russia’s geopolitical problems, which will go in tandem with an internal power shift towards the hardliners. They are interested in more than just responding to external aggression against the Russian Federation; they want to redefine Russia itself.
    • As I pointed out in my previous post Reconsidering Parshev, the weight of history is forcing Russia back to its future, the desires of its leadership regardless (let alone the desires of Westerners). This past-and-future is a Eurasian empire based on economic autarky, political sovereignty and spiritual sobornost. Amongst many other things, this implies control over the Caucasus.
    • Georgia is the linchpin of the Caucasus. Securing a Russian-friendly government there will reinforce Russian control of gas flows from Central Asia to Europe, extend its influence over the Black Sea region and allow it to link up with its ally Armenia, which hosts a Russian military base. Nabucco will turn into a pipedream, at least as long as relations between Iran and the West remain strained.
    • As Stratfor points out in Georgia: Left to Russia’s Mercy?, Georgia is not a strong nation. It is riven by divisions that could be exploited, e.g. separatist-minded Adjara and Armenian-populated Samtskhe-Javakheti. Its economy is dependent on agriculture and the government budget relies on pipeline rents. Meanwhile, Saakashvili’s brand of market fundamentalism may have provided a temporary boost from efficiency gains, but the attendant deindustrialization now limits its longer-term prospects.
    • “Soft” measures failed to topple Saakashvili in the past year. He retains the approval of perhaps half the population, crushed an attempted military coup (or set it up himself) and now appears to be more secure in his position than he was in months.
    • Another important point is that many elements of the Russian military were disappointed at being ordered to stop before overthrowing Saakashvili. They would love to finish the job (and furnish the excuse).
    • That said, Saakashvili is hardly a peacenik either. According to Kirill Troitsky’s “War taught them nothing” in Voyenno-Promyshlenny Kurier, the Georgians have been rapidly rearming since 2008. Regaining control over South Ossetia and Abkhazia remains a strategic goal of the Georgian regime.
    • Russia is upgrading and expanding its forces in South Ossetia and Abkhazia. It is renovating Soviet-era air and naval bases in Abkhazia, deploying its own border guards to the region (which increases the chances of an incident), kicking out foreign observers, and equipping the 131st Motor Rifle Brigade in Abkhazia with the latest T-90 tanks. Below is a photo of a Russian soldier in Abkhazia posing in front of his new kit, first posted to the social networking site Odnoklassniki (the Russian Facebook).

  • The focus on Abkhazia suggests that any Russian offensive would be focused on the west of the country, bypassing urban quagmires in Tbilisi. This would cut Georgia’s links to the Black Sea and sever the gas pipelines running across its territory. The Armenians may be persuaded to join in the dismembering of Georgia through the “liberation” of their compatriots in Samtskhe-Javakheti, through which Georgia would be cut clean in half. Azerbaijan would be cornered into quiescence. The main uncertainty is how Turkey would respond to such developments; it is not as pro-NATO and pro-West as it was a decade ago.
  • Several commentators believe the risks of a new war are high. Stratfor believes Georgia will return into Russia’s fold by the early 2010′s, though it does not believe there will be a Russian military offensive this year. Vaha Gelaev, a former member of the now-disbanded “Vostok” Chechen battalion, is certain there will be war this summer. Pavel Felgenhauer has been raising the prospect of a new war since March in Wartime Approaching in the Caucasus and Risk Increasing of Russian Intervention in Georgia. Now he’s saying there’s an 80% chance of war breaking out this August. The Chechen terrorist site Kavkazcenter claims a 300-strong convoy of Russian tanks, BMPs, BTRs and multiple launch rocket systems are moving towards Georgia. If Russia were to attack Georgia, the optimal time would be August, before the autumn rains set in.
  • That said, Felgenhauer is not a reliable military analyst. He predicted the Georgians would humiliate the Russian Army in a war.

In conclusion, though innocent of starting last year’s Ossetia War, Russia made significant geopolitical gains and its elites became more disillusioned with the West. Control over South Ossetia and Abkhazia now make an invasion much easier to carry out than in 2009. The troops in the region conducted military exercises in July, they are being equipped with modern armaments and Russia’s naval forces in the region are recently very active. The main question is, are these forces meant to deter Georgia from another military attempt to reintegrate its “lost territories”, or are they to be the spearheads of a pre-meditated Russian aggression?

I think somewhere in between, as is usually the case. Russia still respects its foreign relations enough, if not with the West then with the rest, to pay lip service to international law; however, it won’t hesitate to exploit any serious Georgian provocation. I don’t think Saakashvili is a complete idiot, so barring independent lower-rank Georgian military adventurism (or very skilled Russian feigning of said adventurism), the chances of war breaking out this August must be rather small. Perhaps 10-20%. We’ll see. In any case this August is going to be a tense and potentially very fun time in the Caucasus. And that’s not going to change any time soon, because based on current trends the reassertion of Russian power over the Caucasus is almost inevitable this decade.

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

Rosefielde, StevenRussia in the 21st Century: The Prodigal Superpower (2004)
Category: political economy, Russia, transition, military; Rating: 4/5
Summary: Google books; Introduction

This is a book about Russia’s past, and its alleged return to the future. Rosefielde outlines his theory that the Soviet Union was a “prodigal superpower”, exchanging Spartan living standards for great military power – a state of affairs he calls “structural militarization” (borrowing from Vitaly Shlykov), and alleges that Russia is likely to reinstate a political economy prioritizing full-spectrum, fifth-generation rearmament in the near future. This is because he is pessimistic about Russia’s prospects of evolving into an advanced, Westernized liberal democracy (which he regards as indispensable for economic prosperity) pursuing a security policy of optimized defense expenditures supporting downsized, mobile, RMA-enhanced military forces. Instead, Russian cognizance of the increasing threat posed by China and the West will impel it to reconstitute its “dormant structurally militarized potential”, dooming it to renewed impoverishment and an arms race it could not win in the long-term.

Although it contains an unfortunately high number of misconceptions about Russia, the conclusions are nonetheless mostly evidence-based, pertinent and though-provoking. (I originally planned to make this post a straightforward review, but my ideas ran ahead of my typing fingers and transformed it into a broad exploration of Russia’s military-strategic future. So enjoy ;) ).

Structural Militarization in the Soviet Union

To understand Russia’s return to the future, you have to understand its past – and Rosefielde alleges that most Western analysts and policymakers failed in a big way here. The book starts with a long and rather technical discussion of CIA efforts to understand the real magnitude of military spending in the USSR. To cut it short, due to flawed methodology (arcane reasons like excessive discounting for “learning curves”, overstating the level of inflation in the Soviet machine-tool building industry, etc), they concluded that military spending as a portion of GDP was not much bigger than 10% at most, and declining steadily since the 1960′s. He alleges that this was driven by the conventional wisdom that Soviet socialism was on a long-track route to eventual convergence with Western capitalism.

Both claims were apparently wrong on both counts. Not only had Russia been spending more than 10% of its GDP on armaments since the late 1930′s, but it saw double-digit percentage increases throughout the late Cold War up until the late 1980′s. By the time the Soviet machine started sputtering to a halt, military expenditures were running at an astounding 30% of GDP. Not only were official Soviet statistics (around 2.5% of GDP) laughably wrong on this, but so were CIA estimates (6-12%).

Why did the USSR pursue “prodigal superpowerdom”? Because it could, and thought it in its best interests to do so. The Soviet system of physical management (as opposed to market-based enterprise), although it failed at providing consumer goods to the population – especially as modernization made demand for them ever more discerning, was well-structured to prepare for and fight a total war (which Rosefielde terms “Blochian war”, in honor of the great Polish visionary). Furthermore, the Soviet military leadership had a privileged social position and no resources were spared for equipping the Soviet Army so that it could confront any possible “worst case scenario”, including all-out nuclear war.

This involved huge outlays on military operations and maintenance, military machine-building, RDT&E, and construction. The physical management system afforded the military sector the luxury of avoiding struggles for factor inputs (skilled labor, investment, etc) with the civilian sector, which was in stagnation from the mid-1970′s. Nor did economic backwardness imply an inferior military-industrial complex (MIC), contrary to Western expectations. Central planning allowed for the concentration of resources and talent to solve a wide array of potential military problems, while narrow technological parity with NATO could be maintained wby buying or stealing the requisite technologies from the developed world.

I find this vision entirely plausible. Many of the Soviet-era academics I know were indeed extensively involved in military-industrial research during the 1970′s and 1980′s, and it is obvious that for an economy that was so far behind that of the US (in technology, efficiency, etc, not gross output), maintaining comparable armed forces, MIC and nuclear weapons complex would have entailed diverting a prodigious amount of resources into these activities. The USSR was the only industrialized nation to see an increase in its infant mortality rates in the 1970′s-1980′s, implying that real investments into non-military sectors, even those as vital as pediatric health, were curtailed.

The Transition, Muscovite Metamorphosis and Dormant Structural Militarized Potential

However, again contrary to Western mainstream opinion the reason the USSR collapsed was not because of its failed consumer economy, hypertrophied defense sector or general nastiness, but because Gorbachev aborted central planning (though the former factors may have tipped his hand). In the absence of evolved market mechanisms, this simply led to ruinous insider plunder, asset stripping and managerial misappropriation, all under the label of “liberalization”. The MIC remained intact, but retreated to a much lower level of output as barter arrangements replaced central planning and huge military resource stocks were sold off. This interpretation chimes with theoretical work showing that the Soviet system was fundamentally stable (albeit stagnant).

And of course – and these are my observations – high levels of military spending have continued unabated in Russia, albeit at not quite the same prodigious levels that dominated during the latter years of the Cold War (Rosefielde points out that calculating by the CIA’s methodology, Russia’s military spending fell from 13.8% of GDP in 1990 to 13.2% in 2000 – an almost inconsequential decrease).

There are two objections to this theory. First, don’t published Russian government stats usually give a figure of 2.5-3.0% of GDP and real spending of around 50bn $? That suffers from the same misconceptions during Soviet times. A lot of military spending is concealed, and most importantly, the role of physical management and economic distortions favoring the MIC remain high, despite the growing role of the market. As I pointed out in an earlier article, even in the US, the apotheosis of the corporatized, rationalized MIC, real military spending is probably around twice as high as stated in the official budget.

Second, haven’t the levels of military procurement plummeted? Yes, they have. The share of the military-industrial sector accruing to mass conventional weapons productions is still a small fraction of Soviet levels. That said, RDT&E has continued unabated, as reflected in Russia’s advances in fifth-generation capabilities in fighters, air defense, electronic warfare, information warfare, submarines, stealth and precision weapons, as well as its upgrades of old Soviet platforms with modern electronic technology to multiply their effectiveness. The share of the Russian labor force employed by the MIC remains comparatively very high, despite the loss of much of the brightest talent during the 1990′s (that said, weapons development is methodical and outstanding genius is not a necessity). Contrary to the conventional wisdom, even during the hyper-depression of the 1990′s large-scale preparations for nuclear war continued and the NBC complex probably remains highly active (although for obvious reasons this can’t be directly verified, the continued secrecy surrounding it is telling). From the mid-2000′s, many MIC enterprises saw consolidation and re-tooling, and according to Stratfor large-scale rearmament is slated to begin by the early 2010′s.

So overall even today I don’t think it is entirely outlandish to posit that the really real level of Russian military spending – when it is considered in physical-systems terms, as opposed to monetary – is around 15-20% of GDP, or around 300-400bn $ (in contrast to real US spending of more than 1,000bn $ and Chinese spending of perhaps 400-800bn $).

But back to the book. He takes a dim view of Russia’s proclivity for “structural militarization”, and proceeds to outline how the post-Soviet transition could have come to a better conclusion. He rejects the neo-liberal dogma that emphasized privatization, and instead speculated that it would have been better to a) maintain central planning (and its enabling mechanism, economic coercion) for a while longer, b) gradually re-tool the MIC towards the civilian economy, c) nurture modern market-economy prerequisites like the rule of law, property rights, etc and maintain the social welfare system and d) leave privatization for last. (Incidentally, this is somewhat similar to what happened in Poland, which had a far more successful transition; that said, it was not hobbled by a metastasized MIC and never rejected the market as fully as the post-1930′s USSR).

But in any case what happened was that central planning was dissolved first, precipitating an output collapse; the remnants of Soviet industry were sold off to well connected insiders who would become the oligarchs. They came to dominate Russia from around 1996 to 2003 through their control of the “commanding heights” of the economy. He terms this transition as a “Muscovite metamorphosis”, in which Russia regressed to the patrimonial, rent-granting system of older times, in which the Tsar bestowed transitional rent-gathering rights unto his boyars, conditional on their political support and tax payments. In this interpretation, the “liberal autocrat” Putin shifted the balance of power from the boyars to the Tsar, especially with the 2003 dismantling of YUKOS.

Rosefielde condemns this system as socially unjust, Pareto inefficient and ineffective at both generating economic prosperity or sustaining resource mobilization. In this he has a valid point, even despite the pro-capitalist reforms, robust industrial-technological policy and greater control over oligarchic depredation that the Putin system instituted since the mid-2000′s.

Back to the Future: The Schachtian Model, Russia’s Reassertion and Great Power Politics

He believes that under the Muscovite model, the burgeoning market-based component of the Russian economy would just be the result of ephemeral oil-based booms instead of firm, permanent achievements. (Here I don’t agree with him at all, because even during the 2000-2004 period only a third of growth was due to increasing hydrocarbons production; after that it stagnated. The big foreign investments seen in Russia since 2006 resulted, amongst other things, in a big buildup in industrial capacity, with automobile production – a key sector of most emerging-marked economies – expanding by 50%. It is hard to dismiss this entirely to the oil boom, because if anything an economy fully based on resource-rents is inimical to industrial development because currency appreciation should destroy domestic manufacturing).

But under those assumptions (Muscovite inefficiency), he believes that Russia will have two choices: a) abandon Muscovy, become Westernized and move to an optimized defense policy based on mobile, RMA-enhanced military forces or b) further strengthen Muscovy (through Westernizing reforms, or by regression from liberal autocracy to a kind of neo-Tsarist despotism), or move to a political economy more conductive to permanent resource mobilization such as Soviet-style socialism or a Schachtian economy as prevailed in Nazi Germany.

The latter option may look particularly attractive, combining as it does markets (strengthening the MIC by providing crucial supplies often overlooked under central planning, much as the USSR during the Great Patriotic War was dependent on American trucks, communications equipment, aviation fuel, etc), resource mobilization, privilege, authoritarianism, state controls, full employment, derzhavnost’ and high social morale (at least initially before ossification, corruption and cronyism set in). Oligarchs remain, but they are fully subordinate to the power vertical, and more enthusiastic about impoving their businesses because their property rights are better established than under the Muscovite rentier state. This makes full-spectrum, fifth-generation rearmament easier to accomplish.

The only question now according to Rosefiede is whether the real Russia continues pursuing Putvedev’s ideals of an affluent, liberal society; or whether the powers that be will dismiss it as a utopian fantasy and again present a mailed fist to the world.

Speaking of which, Rosefielde points out that donning the armor again will not be hard, for Russia retains a “dormant structurally militarized potential” (as pointed out above, it has an intact MIC, huge mobilization capacities and the mineral wealth to sustain both). Furthermore, since the crisis is significantly worse than expected – and especially if the feared “second wave” of bank defaults happens to drown out Goldman Sach’s predictions of a strong recovery starting in H2 2009 – then re-militarization, public works and a shift towards a Schachtian model may prove increasingly irresistible attractions to a Russian people and elite already disillusioned with the West. Needless to say, this will be lauded by the Genshtab (the Russian General Staff), who will be reconfirmed in their honored social status for the first time since the 1980′s and who will again be free to indulge in their “worst-case scenario” and super-weapons fantasies.

Is a Prodigal Superpower doomed to Stagnation?

That said, Rosefielde believes that Russia is doomed to stagnation if it embarks on the road to prodigal superpowerdom. Just as Gorbachev (wrongly) believed he could simultaneously expand weapons production (while “disarming”), enhance social benefits, democratize the country, reform the economy and enrich his inner circle, Putin believes he can have both free enterprise-driven prosperity, derzhavnost’, and lawless authoritarianism.

In reality, though rearmament will serve as a temporary deterrent to China and NATO, Russia will doom itself in the long-term, with growth under the Muscovite model projected to fall below that of China and the US, and be roughly equal to that of already-developed Europe and Japan. Its military expansionism will unleash a new arms race it has no hope of winning, as the global correlation of forces inexorably moves against it (because of its vulnerability to foreign developments in RMA and missile defense, which may neutralize its rebuilt military power and massive nuclear arsenal).

This is another major point on which I disagree with Rosefielde (again, these are now all my points). First, from a purely military-strategic perspective. Russia has its own ABM development program and Chinese strategists believe it will be amongst the first nations to exploit the RMA. Backwardness is not preordained, especially in a centralized state capable of focusing its energies on military development and still much more open to the world economy / technology diffusion than the erstwhile USSR. Another key point is that for structural reasons it does not need to devote as many resources to ensure its key strategic objectives are fulfilled.

What are Russia’s current strategic objectives? 1) Keep the Russian lands whole; 2) achieve overwhelming conventional military dominance over the post-Soviet area; 3) seize control over (the hydrocarbon reserves of) the Arctic Ocean; and 4) be in a position to threaten America’s maritime superiority / control of the world’s sea-lanes, on which it depends for its world hegemony (this will also probably apply to China in a few decades).

Although 1) was a rather big problem during the 1990′s smuta, by now control has been reasserted, the war in Chechnya is officially over and Russia is focusing on expanding its empire into the former Soviet states. Not expensive.

2) Though until now this has been relatively unnoticed (for instance, contrary to popular Western opinion it was Georgia which embarked on imperial adventures in 2008), the fact remains that Russia has always expanded whenever it recovers its balance after crises, and this time will probably be no exception, all talk of the “end of history”, etc, to the contrary. Furthermore, this will happen whether or not the decline of the West accelerates or not. If the US falls into a hyper-inflationary economic crisis (towards which it is making a lot of efforts) and curtails its (overstretched) presence in Eurasia, Russia’s urge to take advantage of the resulting security vacuum may prove irresistible.

But if the US remains strong, uncompromising and expansionist, then Russia will be forced to take increasing measures to check its encroachment. As Putin hinted many times, Russia has drawn the line at Ukraine and Georgia, beyond which NATO will not be allowed. So either way the re-establishment of some kind of Russian Empire – be it through informal geopolitical spheres of influence, an EU-like confederation with several CIS states (e.g. Belarus, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Armenia, etc) or a unitary Eurasian state, seems to be almost inevitable. This will require more mobile, RMA-enabled conventional forces. As brilliant military analyst Dale Herspring shows, although the bulk of Russia’s forces remain backward and demoralized, there are intensive plans to reform them and modernize them. This is substantially more expensive than just keeping the country together, but still manageable, especially given Russia’s mineral windfalls.

3) Russia’s new military doctrine staked out much of the Arctic as its own. This is an important area because the Arctic is melting, opening up new hydrocarbon reserves (which will help with further melting it ;) ). Also, as pointed out by Trausti Valsson, this will open a new, better shipping route between Europe and Asia, helping make the previously benighted Russian High North into a major transport and commercial hub. In the longer-term, the new lands can be brought into exploitation, especially if global warming produces huge numbers of climate refugees in the desiccating South. (Although a problem is that the soils there are acidic and may only be suitable for subsistence agriculture).

Nonetheless, the new development there will make it possible to organically support the new sea and air bases needed to project power over the Arctic. It will be relatively cheap to dominate this region through denial. Russia could construct an “iron phalanx” (my term, AFAIK) of heavily-networked air defense systems, fifth-generation and modernized fourth-generation fighters, drones, stealthy arsenal ships and modern silent submarines backed up by supersonic cruise missiles, supercavitating torpedoes, and possibly more exotic weapons.

4) Denial of the oceans. The expensive aircraft carrier battle group is the foundation of US maritime superiority, but as many forward-thinking analysts point out their time is dated, because the power of the offense and penetration are growing faster than the power of the defense. As Germany showed in the world wars, even a vastly inferior naval power can substantially neutralize the maritime superiority of states with much bigger navies and prouder maritime traditions. The USSR followed in its footsteps, optimizing its naval forces for denying the Arctic littoral to enemy CVBG’s (where its strategic nuclear subs prowled) and sinking convoys in a third Battle of the Atlantic. This is a logical pattern for Russia to follow, and much cheaper than trying to build outdated white elephants aircraft carriers of its own. It may have realized this.

So in conclusion, yes – Russia is doomed to remain economically subpar to the US. That is true regardless of the model it pursues in the future: Muscovite, Schachtian or Western. (It is a feature of its geography. The US has excellent riverine connections and sea-ports connecting its industrial centers and agricultural regions, and is strategically secure bordering military basket-cases like Canada and Mexico; Russia has poor riverine interconnections tying together its vast land area, a cold climate, vulnerable open borders, and strategic challengers in the form of the EU, the unstable Muslim areas to the south, and China – which necessitate a relatively high level of military spending and state control. Nor is Westernization a panacea, because in Russia all too frequently free markets lead to disintegration, not rejuvenation).

That said, Rosefielde’s assertion of Russia’s long-term decline is highly unrealistic (the above scenario is based on prodigal superpowerdom under the Muscovite model; Rosefielde says the Schachtian model will yield somewhat better results, but will not prevent relative decline vis-a-vis the US). But obviously, China’s GDP per capita did not overtake Russia’s in the late 1990′s, and indeed Russia remains substantially ahead today. Instead, as I argue in my article Kremlin Dreams Sometimes Come True, its impressive human capital, macroeconomic rationalism and energy windfalls stand Russia in good stead for economic convergence to an asymptote not far below that of the major Western nations. (Or even surpass them. It should be noted that the next decades are going to be a time of major discontinuities, when energy shortages and rapid climate change – in short, limits to growth – will make maintaining economic growth an increasingly challenging proposition. Given its surfeit of energy resources and large tracts of frozen land, Russia is unlikely to suffer from these trends as much as nations like China. It will actually benefit from some of them).

Conclusions

Though I disagree with many of the underlying assumptions in Rosefielde’s book (the extent of the demographic problems confronting Russia; the desirability of full Westernization; the inevitability of its decline, especially given my consideration of factors like world resource shortages and climate change that he neglects; the reliance on linear extrapolations of GDP to show that Russia is doomed to relative decline under any economic system other than the Western one, etc), I think his observations on Russia’s high level of “structural militarization” are valid and are germane to Russia’s future trajectory.

Although high military spending will doubtless constrain the possibilities of Russia’s civilian economy, it should be noted that a) on objective factors it is much better placed for sustained, higher growth than in the USSR – for a start it’s a market economy now, however imperfect, b) to fulfill its superpower objectives (maritime dominance), the US has to spend relatively more than Russia because the cornerstone of its power, CVBGs, are very expensive, and furthermore they are increasing vulnerable to cheap countermeasures and c) future trends in energy and the environment aren’t going to have as bad an effect on Russia as on its two major geopolitical rivals, the US and China.

As such, I do not share Rosefielde’s belief that reactivizing Russia’s permanent mobilization regime will necessarily lead to its stagnation and descent into geostrategic irrelevance. (And whether Russia will actually follow through on this is still a big if). Though this might be counter-intuitive in the current global period of limited superpower tensions, stability and economic growth (at least until 2008), it is far from certain that the next few decades will be as tranquil, and as such returning to the past, if done in a considered way, may be even be a good idea for ensuring peace and security.

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

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

1

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

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

2

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

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

3

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

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

4

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

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

5

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

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

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

6

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

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

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

7

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

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

8

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

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

9

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

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

10

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

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

11

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

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

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

12

MYTH: Russians are a pack of uncultured illiterates.

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

13

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

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

14

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

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

15

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

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

16

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

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

17

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

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

18

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

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

19

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

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

20

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

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

21

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

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

22

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

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

23

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

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

24

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

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

25

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

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

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

26

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

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

27

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

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

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

28

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

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

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

29

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

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

30

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

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

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

31

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

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

32

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

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

33

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

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

34

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

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

35

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

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

36

MYTH: Russia will become an Islamic Caliphate by 2050.

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

37

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

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

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

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

38

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

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

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

39

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

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

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

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

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

40

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

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

41

MYTH: Berezovsky is a heroic crusader for democracy.

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

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

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

42

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

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

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

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

43

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

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

44

MYTH: Russia is Mordor.

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

45

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

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

46

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

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

47

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

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

48

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

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

49

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

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

50

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

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

Notes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

18. See my Myth of the Yellow Peril.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nicolai Petro in Russian rights and Estonian wrongs:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

29. A few quotes to illustrate the point.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or as noted by Gregor in Deformable Mirror,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Benes, pg 131.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stats on growth rates taken from IMF.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

REALITY: The vast majority of German soldiers were killed, taken POW or otherwise incapacitated on the Eastern front. The Soviet to Axis loss ratio was 1.3:1 and the USSR outproduced Germany in every weapons system throughout the war.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Furthermore,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1) Deep Ambivalence. Before WW2, many Americans had deeply ambivalent attitudes towards the Soviet Union. Though bloggers generally consider the Russophile-Russophobe dichotomy in contemporary terms, this division was as stark and relevant in the 1930′s – John Scott in Behind the Urals (BTW, though considered by some a Soviet apologist, it is in fact fairly objective and certainly not a pro-Soviet propaganda tract by any stretch of the imagination) writes, “In talking with people in France and America I was impressed by the interest in the Soviet Union and the widespread misinformation about Russia and all things Russian. Everyone I met was opinionated [aren't we all lol!]. The Communists and their sympathizers held Russia up as a panacea…Other people were steeped in Eugene Lyons’ stories and would not concede the possibility that Russia had produced anything during recent years except chaos, suffering and disorder. They dismissed the industrial and material successes of the Russians with an angry wave of the hand. Any economist or businessman should have been able to see that the tripling of pig-iron production within a decade was a serious achievement, and would necessarily have far-reaching effects on the balance of economic and therefore military power in Europe”. So basically there was (much like today?) a hardcore Communist / Russophile fringe, a sizable anti-Communist bloc and a majority that were mostly apathetic but overall disapproving.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Western MSM (mainstream media) was abuzz the last few weeks about how Obama’s apparent extension of a hand to Russia did not make them willing to unclench their fist, citing the closure of the Manas airbase in Kyrgyzstan. This was linked to Russia’s announcement of 150mn $ in aid and 2bn $ of credit to Kyrgyzstan, which was widely interpreted to be a bribe, a snub to the US or in some particularly nutty cases open support of the Taliban – as SWP put it, “objectively chosen to aid 8th century religious fanatics”.

Kyrgyzstan is a poor state relying on remittances from its workers in Russia, workers who are now being laid off as construction grinds to a halt. It is the only country in post-Soviet Central Asia to have rejected the status of a “developed” country to be eligible for more funds from the World Bank and other international development organizations. Coupled with the economic crisis sweeping the globe, this money is small change to Russia but a life-saver to Kyrgyzstan.

The perception that this is a Russian anti-American machination arrogantly dismisses Kyrgyzstan’s own incentives. It has not been happy with the American presence (see below). It is in their interest to play off Washington against Moscow for more aid; but ultimately, Russia is far more important to their economic development. Nonetheless, it would make sense for them to announce the shutdown of Manas in Moscow, immediately after getting promised these loans and aid, because then American ire would be deflected towards Russia. (After all, the US does have a penchant for sponsoring color revolutions in countries it doesn’t like).

Finally, the claim that Russia is aiding the Taliban is totally bogus. Frankly, considering the number of US military bases dotting the Middle East (there’s fifty) means that this cannot be a serious concern, especially given that Russia has extended its own hand in offering transport of non-military supplies through Russia. This is despite the fact that the US has repeatedly snubbed Russia in that region (and elsewhere) – it explicitly supported the mujahedeen in the 1980′s via Pakistan and Saudi Arabia with dollars and Stinger missiles without holding their beliefs to much scrutiny, negotiated with the Taliban in hopes of being allowed to build oil and gas pipelines from Central Asia through Afghanistan and into Pakistan, bypassing Russian control – in stark contrast to Russia (and interestingly, Iran), who recognized the Taliban for the evil they are early on and supported the Northern Alliance against them and dismissed Putin’s overtures in 2002 acquiescing to an increased American military presence in Central Asia with abrogations of missile-defense treaties and colored revolutions. Getting ahead of myself here, but the point stands that Russia gains absolutely nothing from hindering NATO from effectively fighting the Taliban; when the alternative is doing this themselves.

I found the following article to be particularly insightful, which I see fit to quote in full – The Manas Disillusionment. I have highlighted the more significant parts.

Kyrgyzstan threatens to evict the US from the Manas airbase as Moscow trumps Washington with attractive aid packages, while Bishkek grows increasingly disillusioned with what it views as US usury, John CK Daly writes for ISN Security Watch.

By John C K Daly for ISN Security Watch

If those inside the Beltway are to learn anything from their Kyrgyz experience, it’s that Reaganesque “trickle down” economics in fighting a conflict halfway around the world is unlikely to buy local hearts and minds, much less allies.

Meeting with his Russian counterpart on 4 February in Moscow, Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev announced that he had decided to close the US airbase at Manas – a move that will complicate President Barack Obama’s stated intention to surge an additional 30,000 troops into Afghanistan and logistics for Operation Enduring Freedom.

When the Kyrgyz parliament votes on the president’s proposal, perhaps later this month, the measure is likely to pass, as Bakiyev’s Ak Jol party controls 71 of the legislature’s 90 seats. Under the terms of the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), the US will then have 180 days to vacate the base, located some 27 kilometers from the capital, Bishkek.

Manas was established on 4 December 2001 under the joint Kyrgyz-US SOFA agreement, which granted the Pentagon the right to use the airbase for a bargain rent of US$2 million annually. The Defense Department selected Manas because its 14,000-foot runway, originally built for Soviet bombers, could service US C-5 Galaxy cargo planes and 747s in their flight to Afghanistan. Of Kyrgyzstan’s 52 airports, Manas was the only one with a lengthy runway capable of supporting international flights. An adjacent 32-acre field was initially utilized for a tent city for US personnel, which beginning in mid-2004 was replaced by more permanent structures at a cost of US$60 million.

Manas is home to the 376th Air Expeditionary Wing and serves as the premier air mobility hub for NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and coalition military operations in Afghanistan. According to the US Defense Department, Manas handles about 15,000 passengers and 500 tonnes of cargo monthly. Last year, coalition KC-135s stationed there flew 3,294 missions disbursing 97,226 tonnes of aviation fuel to 11,419 coalition aircraft over Afghanistan and supported more than 170,000 coalition personnel transiting in and out of Afghanistan.

Pentagon blindsided

Judging by Washington’s reaction, Bakiyev’s decision blindsided the Pentagon – though in reality it is the culmination of years of American obtuseness, arrogance and penny-pinching, the warning signs of which have long been visible.

There is an atmosphere of faint hope in Washington that the announcement is in fact a negotiating attempt by Bishkek to up the rent for the base, but the State Department and Pentagon have been scrambling to find alternatives, holding discussions with Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan while dispatching negotiators as far afield as the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain and Turkey in case Bakiyev follows through.

The Pentagon was so certain that it was secure in Manas that last October the Army Corps of Engineers issued a pre-solicitation notice for potential contractors for up to US$100 million in improvements to the base. There were rumors that the Pentagon was also seeking an additional 300 hectares for expanding the base.

Moscow trumps Washington

While both Bakiyev and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev strenuously deny it, generous Russian loans totaling US$2 billion and a non-repayable US$150 million grant, announced the day before Bakiyev made his pronouncement, undoubtedly played no small part in the decision.

To put the proffered assistance in context, Moscow’s financial aid is worth double Kyrgyzstan’s current annual GDP, and the Russian assistance stands in stark contrast to Washington’s fiscal policy over the years towards Kyrgyzstan, which has never offered the country any loans.

But Kyrgyzstan is no stranger to haggling, and for now parliament has decided to delay the vote on closing Manas until it receives the first tranche of Russia’s promised US$450 million.

Besides the US$150 million outright grant, the Russian aid includes US$300 million in preferential credit for 40 years at a symbolic interest rate of 0.75 percent, with a grace period of seven years before the first payment is due.

An intergovernmental agreement signed during Bakiyev’s Moscow visit sets up a joint venture between Kyrgyzstan’s Elektricheskie Stantsii and Russia’s Inter RAO EES, and the bulk of the loan (up to US$1.7 billion) will go towards the construction of the 1,900-megawatt Kambar-Ata Hydroelectric Power Station-1 on the Naryn River.

Kambar-Ata epitomizes why Russia is currently in the ascendancy in Kyrgyzstan and the US is being shown the door. It is an indigenous energy project that has direct bearing on the quality of life for the average Kyrgyz. In contrast, the US for the last eight years has displayed indifference to Kyrgyzstan’s energy sector, as it is devoid of exportable hydrocarbons, viewing the country instead solely in military terms.

While much western commentary implies that the loans were ad hoc arrangements, in fact they represent part of US$2 billion in assistance to Kyrgyzstan first promised by then-president Vladimir Putin in August 2007, which in turn built upon a 15 December 2006 Russian-Kyrgyz agreement to spend US$1 billion to construct the Kambar-Ata-1 and Kambar-Ata-2 hydroelectric cascades. The project is a massive undertaking which on completion could not only supply electricity not only for domestic consumption but also for export to Afghanistan, China and Pakistan.

Against such largesse, Washington’s fiscal assistance to Kyrgyzstan looks miserly indeed. However, the Pentagon insists that the US has given Kyrgyzstan more than US$150 million annually in aid. Furthermore, it insists that it has been paying US$63 million in rent for Manas, but other sources, including the Kyrgyz government, say otherwise.

According to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, funded by the US Congress, the US paid US$2 million a year to use Manas for the first five years of the base’s operation. In 2006, this was increased to US$17.5 million, while the US funded other in-country programs that totaled approximately US$100 million. On 6 February, Kyrgyz Finance Minister Tajikan Kalimbetova corroborated the RFE/RL figures to parliament, according to Informatsionnoe agentsvo 24 press klub in a 6 February report.

“There is not in Kyrgyzstan a single bank representing the interests of the United States, the trade balance is small, there is no major investment project involving US firms. There is sufficient economic potential, but very little use is being made of it, unfortunately,” Informatsionnoe agentsvo Regnum quoted Kyrgyz Prime Minister Igor Chudinov as saying on 7 February.

And for the average Kyrgyz, there has been no “trickle down” of the loudly proclaimed American assistance.

Kyrgyz disillusionment

The potential utility of Manas for the Pentagon is not limited to operations in Afghanistan; the fact that it is only 320 kilometers from the border with China’s westernmost province of Xinjiang means that tankers based at Manas put US aircraft within range of China’s nuclear test site facilities at Lop Nor in Xinjiang. Manas is a sore point with both the Russians and Chinese as it affords the US military the ability to snoop on their military activities.

Unease over the Pentagon’s possible uses of the airbase is not limited to Kyrgyzstan’s neighbors. Kyrgyz lawmakers have grown increasingly apprehensive with what the Pentagon might do with its untrammeled access to Manas.

On 21 May 2007, lawmaker Almanbet Matubraimov quoted remarks by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that in case of a military offensive against Iran, the first air attack would be delivered from Manas, to which Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad promised that Iran would immediately reply by targeting the site from where the attack was launched, Informatsionnoe agentsvo AKIpress reported.

Two years after Manas was established, Russia founded its own airbase at Kant, its first outside of Russian territory since the 1991 collapse of the USSR, under an agreement within the framework of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, a post-Soviet regional security bloc that besides Russia includes Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Armenia and Belarus. Kyrgyzstan is the only country in the world with both American and Russian bases on its territory.

At a popular level, Kyrgyz disillusionment over Manas developed gradually. When the base opened people hoped that there would be employment opportunities, but the only Kyrgyz hired to work were employed largely as janitors. According to Moskovskii Komsomolets, in 2005-2006, the salaries of these workers were not even paid. ISN Security Watch has not been able to independently confirm this report.

Shortly after Manas began operations, the Pentagon signed contracts with Manas International Services Ltd. and Aalam Services Ltd., the only two aviation fuel suppliers in Kyrgyzstan. Both companies were controlled by relatives of then-president Askar Akayev. In addition Aydar Akayev, the president’s son, was a part owner of Manas. The Pentagon also agreed to international civil aviation rates for the daily take-offs and landings of military aircraft at Manas to Akayev’s cronies as well. None of these Manas-related revenues were reported in Kyrgyz government budgetary statistics.

Following the “Tulip Revolution” which deposed Akayev, the two entities came under the scrutiny of the Kyrgyz government and FBI, but the Pentagon stoutly maintained its innocence regarding the US$207 million it spent on inflated fuel contracts. The new president, Bakiyev, insisted that the US make US$80 million retroactive lease payments and assist in recovering the allegedly purloined contract money. Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman responded that “any possible misappropriation of funds is an internal Kyrgyz matter.”

Other simmering complaints included a 26 September 2006 aircraft collision involving a KC-135 and the presidential Tu-154, for which the Americans declined to take responsibility, and the reportedly frequent dumping of tonnes of surplus fuel over Kyrgyz farms adjoining the base.

Things came to a head on 6 December 2006, when 20-year old US soldier Zachary Hatfield shot twice and killed 42-year-old Kyrgyz Aleksandr Ivanov, an ethnic Russian Kyrgyz, at the airbase’s entry gate. Ivanov worked for Aerocraft Petrol Management, which provides fuel services for Kyrgyz and international civilian aircraft. Hatfield maintained that he fired in self defense after Ivanov approached him with a knife. Adding to local anger was the fact that at the time of the shooting Ivanov was about 5-6 meters away from Hatfield and Ivanov’s knife was found 20 meters away from the site of the incident, while rumors swirled that the guard was drunk at the time of the incident.

The Kyrgyz government insisted that Hatfield be handed over for trial, but the US military spirited Hatfield out of the country on 21 March 2007 even as talks about Hatfield’s legal status were ongoing. Adding insult to injury, the US government initially offered Ivanov’s widow US$2,000 in compensation, an amount that Galina Skripkina, a lawyer representing Ivanov’s widow, described as “humiliating,” according to a 12 March 2007 Associated Press report.

Despite the Kyrgyz disillusionment, there are experts who believe that Bishkek’s latest threat is ill-advised. Dr S Frederick Starr, chairman of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program Joint Center, told ISN Security Watch that Kyrgyzstan’s move to close the Manas air base “is the wrong action done at the wrong time and in the wrong way.”

“It will send the clear signal that Kyrgyzstan has abandoned a balanced foreign policy. But it is not too late for the Kyrgyz Republic and US to work together to correct it,” he said.

Blinded by the perfidious Russian bear

Given the obvious disenchantment with the deal, only the most blinkered of Washington bureaucrats can have been surprised by Bakiyev’s 4 February announcement.

While recidivist Washington cold warriors are quick to see the perfidious Russian bear behind their ouster, in fact the Kremlin has thrown Kyrgyzstan a desperately needed fiscal lifeline even while Russia (along with the former Soviet Central Asian republics) has a desire to see ISAF stabilization efforts succeed in Afghanistan.

Russia’s ambassador to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin, succinctly summed up Moscow’s current thinking when he said, “In the event of NATO’s defeat in Afghanistan, fundamentalists who are inspired by this victory will set their eyes on the north. First they will hit Tajikistan, then they will try to break into Uzbekistan… If things turn out badly, in about 10 years our boys will have to fight well-armed and well-organized Islamists somewhere in Kazakhstan,” the International Herald Tribune reported on 24 January.

If the Obama administration is serious about making Afghanistan the focal point of its anti-terrorist operations, it might be forced to reexamine its relationship with Kyrgyzstan. Russia, China and India all have an interest in seeing the pacification efforts in Afghanistan succeed, and Russia has offered to open a supply route for non-military supplies, along with several Central Asian nations.

Washington may yet have an opportunity to remain at Manas, as Melis Erjigitov of the parliament’s press service stated on 11 February the Manas base closure bill was not on parliament’s agenda for February. But this is not likely to happen if Washington refused to change its mindset and one-up Russia in terms of aid.

Is Washington prepared to let Manas go? That is unclear, but a 10 February statement by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates indicates that Washington may give up and look elsewhere. “Manas is important, but not irreplaceable,” Gates said in a quote carried by the Washington Post on 11 February.

Regulars here will know that I don’t see Chavez as the demonic dictator he is frequently portrayed as in the media. In particular they’ve been having a field recently when Venezuelans voted in favor of overturning term limits for certain classes of elected officials, including the Presidency (and thus joined the leagues of such totalitarian regimes like the UK or Australia). Venezuela’s Referendum: Media’s Double Standards has more…

With Sunday’s Venezuelan referendum on term limits, we can expect to hear a lot about Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez’s “plan to become president for life” and its reflection on “Venezuela’s battered democracy”–as the New York Times editors put it (http://www.nytimes.com/2007/12/01/opinion/01sat2.html) around the time of Venezuela’s last (failed) term limits referendum.

But when Colombian President Álvaro Uribe’s efforts to change a constitutional prohibition barring a president from serving more than one term succeeded in 2005, the U.S. media took little notice, and Uribe’s reputation as the U.S.’s favorite ‘democrat’ in the region remained intact.

…It would seem the role of U.S. reporting and opinion on Venezuela (and Colombia) is less about informing the public about real threats to democracy and human rights in Latin America than it is about serving as a propaganda arm of U.S. foreign policy. One would be wise to remember this when reading about Venezuela’s referendum this weekend.

Finally, lots of stuff seems to be crashing into each other recently, from satellites to nuclear subs. Freaky. And not a bad metaphor for what is going on with the global economy. More on that this weekend, hopefully.

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

The ludicrous claims spouted by Saakashvili continue falling apart as soon as his febrile mind makes them, forcing even the most ardent Cold Warriors to temper their uncompromising narrative of “Russian aggression against the ‘fledgling’ Georgian democracy”. And despite the impressive achievements of Georgian infowar, after many tribulations the truth came out. OCSE monitors confirmed that Georgia fired the first shot and evidence of Georgian war crimes was uncovered by the BBC and Western human rights organizations like Amnesty and HRW*.

As such, the Western media has been forced to retract its most egregious Russophobic assertions: one needs only look at some postbellum headlines from the Western press – Georgia fired first shot (Sunday Times); OSCE failed in Georgia warnings (BBC); The Story from Inside Wartorn South Ossetia (Embassy); US Says Georgia Erred in August Attack in South Ossetia (Voice of America); OSCE chairman coy about Russia-Georgia War (IHT); Georgia Claims on Russia War Called into Question (NYT); Did Saakashvili Lie?: West Begins to Doubt Georgian Leader (Spiegel). Even that neocon redoubt, the Washington Post, allowed its bloggers to publish Georgia may have sparked war with Russia. Thus confirming the veracity of what Russian ‘state-backed propaganda’ has been getting at all along, although the MSM would commit mass seppuko before acknowledging that.

Nonetheless, we must not celebrate the New Cold War’s premature ejaculation – the damage has already been done. The narrative of revanchist Russia has been reinforced – interested thinktanks and media sources can now cite Western MSM coverage on ‘Russian aggression’ to further foster institutional Russophobia. Meanwhile, those same lying Western media outlets can now retain their reputation for objectivity in the eyes of their audiences by pointing to how they later ‘righted’ the record when ‘new’ evidence came in, no matter it came in dribbles and at a time when interest in the war had long since peaked.

Despite all that, however, it is good to see that the sheer weight of Saakashvili’s duplicity and transparent lies are bringing down the whole edifice of his power. Experts predict he will face severe political challenges in the winter and spring, as government unity crumbles, foreign investors flee due to the war and global financial crunch and protesters take to the streets in opposition to the recklessness that has brought that country so much blood and ruin (or so one hopes). Hopes of joining NATO any time soon are wrecked, with even the US hedging its position.

Erosi Kitsmarishvili, one of the key initial leaders of the ‘Rose Revolution’ and the regime’s ambassador to Moscow until mid-2008 when he was recalled, has since joined the opposition and brought forth a devastating account of the lead-up to the Ossetia War (presented to that objective-sounding Georgian outfit, the “Temporary Commission to Study Russia’s Military Aggression and Other Actions Undertaken With the Aim to Infringe Georgia’s Territorial Integrity”). He alleges that in April 2008 Saakashvili’s inner circle received the green light from the ‘western partner’ to carry out a military operation against the separatist republics, according to senior government sources he refused to name for their safety. From then on Israeli advisers were brought in and intensive military preparations began for a military restoration of ‘constitutional order’.

Some of the Russia watchers I spoke to charitably think that Saakashvili misinterpreted Washington’s intentions, or wrongfully took the opinions of disparate elements in the Bush administration as official policy; others take a dimmer view of US culpability, quoting Kitsmarishvili on Georgia’s arrogant refusal of a Russian olive branch:

On July 10 President Saakashvili calls me – I want to stress that this phone call was not made on a secured line – and tells me: ‘Is that someone – Naryshkin [head of the Russian President’s administration] – really coming to Tbilisi?’ I replied that yes he plans; Saakashvili then told me: ‘OK, let him come, but tell Naryshkin that we have just met with Condoleezza Rice [in Tbilisi on July 10] and we are in a good situation now.’ That is what he told me on a phone and it was not a secured line. About two hours after this phone call, the Russian Foreign Ministry posted on its website a statement – in which Moscow admitted that its jets violated the Georgian airspace…Of course this visit by Naryshkin was thwarted; of course this visit could not have any results, because there was no readiness from the Georgian side as well for having any results.

Furthermore, this explains unwavering US support for Georgia during (and after) the conflict, up to and including refusing to join a Russian request for the UN to call for a cessation of Georgian military operations in Ossetia. This gives credence to Medvedev’s following assertion to Western journalists and opinion-makers at the annual Valdai Discussion Club (and by extension Putin’s claims that elements of the US foreign policy elite orchestrated the war) held this September:

I am not a fan of conspiracy theories neither am I a fan of black-or-white descriptions, but I cannot help but say the following. After a while our close partner Condoleezza Rice arrived, and after that the guy acted differently. He stopped calling, he said: “We don’t need the meeting in Sochi, maybe at the end of the year”. Please: that’s your business. He started to prepare for war. Because of this our view on the question of recognition certainly evolved and my personal point of view did as well.

There is a price to pay for revealing inconvenient truths in democratic Georgia, of course. Kitsmarishvili is to be put on trial for ‘professional negligence’ and his ‘irresponsible and shameless fabrication’ due to ‘either the result of a lack of information or the personal resentment of a man who has lost his job and wants to get involved in politics’.

Meanwhile, most Western officials are continuing to distance themselves from Saakashvili, who reveals more of his psychopathic tendencies by the day. An example. While escorting Polish President Lech Kaczyński near the South Ossetian border, shots were fired on their motorcade. Saakashvili immediately claimed that Moscow was trying to assassinate him, which was theatrically reproduces in the Western mediasphere. But just a few days later, Polish intelligence services revealed that it was a provocation, staged by the political corpse to “to distract attention from Georgia’s internal problems and make everyone say that Russia does not fulfill the provisions of the Medvedev-Sarkozy agreement occupying Georgian territories”. One almost begins to feel sorry for the poor jackass, until jolted back into reality by the memory of his sordid deeds.

The corpse continues squirming, squealing and stumbling on into oblivion, not realizing it’s already dead.

* The Georgian army started a premeditated assault on Ossetia hours after proclaiming a unilateral ceasefire, bombarded a sleeping, densely packed city with indiscriminate Grad rockets and murdered UN-mandated Russian peacekeepers. The Russian Army targeted military objects, albeit the use of cluster munitions (which neither Russia, Georgia or the US have repudiated) meant collateral damage; nor did it to much to prevent vengeful Ossetian militias from forcing out Georgian civilians.

It is true that Russia was not entirely blameless, but it’s vital to keep a sense of perspective. Russia was not the state that initiated military hostilies expressly aimed at ethnic cleansing (and which later tried to sweep it under the carpet with a well organized PR effort, albeit one which is collapsing and burdened under ever progressively flimsier ‘evidence’). Furthermore, Western criticism of Russia for bombing and moving into Georgia proper is bankrupt: in modern wars, the battlespace covers vast areas and military bases and arms’ factories around Tbilisi are as legitimate targets as Georgian occupying tanks in Tskhinvali. In conclusion, there is an abyssal and qualitative difference between Georgian and Russian actions.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And from Russia Today,

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Welcome to The Wall Street Mortgage Meltdown

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


PastClassics
The “war hero” candidate buried information about POWs left behind in Vietnam.
What Was John McCain's True Wartime Record in Vietnam?
The unspoken statistical reality of urban crime over the last quarter century.