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I really can’t figure what this Economist editorial reeks more of: Hypocrisy, mendacity, or pure delusion?

That is as it should be, for since his decision last autumn to return to the Kremlin, Mr Putin has been stridently negative and anti-Western, most recently over Syria (see article)

Being anti-Western is “negative”, even for daring to oppose Western-backed Islamist crazies who will back-stab their handlers as soon as they’re able to.

But the reset was based in part on two misplaced hopes: that Dmitry Medvedev, who had been lent the presidency for one term by Mr Putin in 2008, would genuinely take charge of the country, and that some in his government had sound liberalising, pro-Western instincts.

Note how “liberalizing” and “pro-Western” are conflated, because one can’t possibly liberalize without kowtowing to Western interests too. Furthermore, bear in mind the unspoken assumption that normal relations (“the reset”) are only to be rewarded for said kowtowing to the West. The concept of equality and reciprocity is alien to the minds of Western chauvinists.

Those hopes were dashed by Mr Putin’s swatting aside of Mr Medvedev last September to allow his own return to the Kremlin, the rigging of elections, his crackdown on Moscow’s protesters and his new Nyet posture.

Elections in which Putin still got a certain majority, however hard The Economist tries to misrepresent otherwise, and “crackdowns” that are literally baby play compared to the violence meted out to Occupy protesters throughout the Western world (something like 50 journalists arrested to date and counting; preemptive arrests of republican demonstrators in the UK), and for adopting fines and regulations on protests that are actually fairly mild compared to most advanced democracies. Then again, in Economist world of pandering to Anglo-Saxon elites, the Occupy protesters are subhuman scum (because they are anti-elite, ergo “anti-Western”) whereas the liberal Russian protesters should be immune to all prosecution even when filmed throwing cobblestones at the police.

Really, “his Nyet posture” is the critical thing here. Like the mafia, the West won’t take no for an answer.

And why not dangle in front of the bauble-loving Mr Putin the prospect of Russian membership of the OECD rich-country club?

Well in principle, entrance to the OECD is supposed to happen based on objective criteria, most or all of which Russia now fulfills I believe now that it has joined the WTO. The Economist is essentially urging these organizations to politicize themselves, which in turn reflects their own delusion. It might have worked a generation ago but today pulling such stunts will only discredit these Western-dominated institutions all the faster given the rising influence of the BRIC’s and other non-crazy countries that aren’t self-entitled to absurdity.

Western ambassadors should not hesitate to talk to opposition protesters in Moscow just because the Kremlin objects.

I don’t think “hesitation” has been exactly a problem with McFaul. If Western countries insist on following The Economist’s advice, the correct response would be symmetrical: Have Russian ambassadors meet up with Occupy leaders, pirate groups, Muslim rights activists, etc and channel a few million dollars their way to “improve” democracy and civil rights in the West. What sauce is good for the goose is good for the gander after all.

In foreign policy, too, the West should stand firm. Russia cannot be allowed to veto America’s missile-defence plans in Europe. Nor should Mr Putin’s continued blocking of UN Security Council resolutions authorising intervention in Syria be treated as an insurmountable bar to action, any more than it was in Kosovo in 1999. G20 leaders should do their utmost to embarrass Mr Putin over his backing for Mr Assad.

Again, more than anything, it’s delusion that shines through here. (Ample hypocrisy too, however, encapsulated in just one word: Bahrain). But really delusion wins out. The Economist just like various Republican nutjobs like Romney genuinely think that the world works to the following schematic:

Step 1: Aggressively confront Russia.
Step 2: ???
Step 3: Russia comes to support US interests. Profit!

More than anything this really demonstrates far better than I could ever describe myself how The Economist is most definitely NOT a publication you want to read for facts, insights, etc.; instead, it is a barometer of Western elite opinion, or literary soul food for Western chauvinists.

If Western leaders actually insist on going through with The Economist’s recommendations, as opposed to just dreaming about them, their own global influence will dissipate all the faster.

Mr Putin respects toughness, not weakness.

What exactly is wrong with that? It is quite clear that in the past 500 years, being tough (or standing up for oneself) has worked out far better than being weak (which invites bullying and derision in addition to being inherently pitiable). That is because the West itself only ever respects strength, despite its moralistic platitudes to the contrary; something that naive fools like Gorbachev have always ended up finding to their own cost – well, their country’s cost, anyway.

This matters when it comes to his government’s more egregious behaviour, such as the jailing of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, once boss of the Yukos oil company, the killing of Sergei Magnitsky, a lawyer working for William Browder, a foreign investor, or the murder in London of Alexander Litvinenko, a former security official.

Predictably, the standard party line is repeated verbatim, as per the best traditions of Pravda, conveniently leaving out the facts that the ECHR itself disagree s that Khodorkovsky is a political prisoner or the mounting pile of evidence that Lugovoi or the FSB had nothing to do with the Litvinenko hit. Or that there are about 500 Magnitsky-like deaths in custody in the US and likewise in Russia every year, the major difference here being that he is a high-profile case who has been propagandized by William Browder, an oligarch money highly hostile to Putin.

In cases like these it is right to try to identify the individuals involved so as to deny them visas and freeze their assets, as a congressional legislative amendment related to the Magnitsky case proposes.

Their country and their right, but then it is incumbent on Russia as a self-respecting country to reciprocate in kind: Identify Western human rights abusers (e.g. those who run Guantanamo), and deny them entry to Russia and attempt to extend the sanctions abroad. As indeed has happened.

Mr Putin cultivates the image of a popular and admired strongman, but the wave of protests since he announced his return to the Kremlin has exposed his weakness and loss of support. His power base is beginning to erode.

More delusion.

Economic engagement with the West, combined with firm criticism of his democratic and human-rights abuses at home and abroad, are the best response.

Not to mention an inescapable sense of schizophrenia.

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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As repeatedly noted by Mark Adomanis, the Russian liberals and the Western media have predicted about 10 of the last zero Russian revolutions. Likewise, the “Jasmine Revolution” in China that was the subject of so much talk about a year ago has fizzled out like a wet firework. Meanwhile, the Arab world remains in the midst of convulsions, and political instability is spreading into the West – most visibly in Greece and the Med, but also in the guise of Occupy Wall Street and associated movements in the US.

This is no doubt disturbing and aggravating to Western supremacists (it is telling that that the media organization providing the most detailed coverage of OWS, RT, is both non-Western and the object of venomous bile from the American exceptionalism culture warriors). Doesn’t the West (and the US in particular) have democracy, freedom of assembly, freedom of speech, free media, economic opportunities, equality under the law, etc. – things that are all starkly and completely absent in countries of the Other, e.g. Russia and China? What the hell are the hippies and liberals protesting? Are they doped up unemployed losers, useful idiots of Leninist agents of influence, or both?

I think the answer is far simpler than it seems. In Russia, younger people tend to be both higher earning (their skills are better fitted to a capitalist economy) and more economically optimistic than their parents, not to mention their grandparents. They are also far more pro-capitalist, and substantially more supportive of Putin and Co. than the older generations (who have not done as well under capitalism, and who have fonder memories of communism). In fact, in the minds of Russian youth – and in stark contrast to the picture drawn by uninformed commentators – capitalism, prosperity, and the Putin era are closely linked. Hence, no real Russian equivalent of OWS (at least for now).

While I’m far from as well informed on China, it basically seems to have the same dynamics. Young people there are now far more educated than the middle-aged, let alone the immiserated elderly, and – many of them single children and enjoying far higher incomes than those of their less well-educated parents – are now coming to enjoy many of the creature comforts of rich country lifestyles, such as Internet access, cars, foreign travel. The young are the most active protest group, and keeping them satiated is most important for avoiding revolution. A similar dynamic also appears to be at work in India and Brazil. Hence, no “Spring” or OWS-equivalent in those countries either.

The situation in the Arab world and the West appears to be the precise opposite. Some of the commentary on the “Arab Spring” has emphasized the generational fault-lines that riven Arab societies, the main burden being the hordes of young unemployed Arab men (and unemployable, because of low skills). When food prices approached a critical level in 2011, social pressures reached a tipping point, and revolutions of varying types and success levels followed in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Syria, and Bahrain.

The US makes for an interesting comparison to both the Arab world and the BRIC’s. Despite the fact that its young people still (for the most part) have a much higher material standard of living than the Chinese or Russians, its inter-generational wealth distribution appears to be more similar to that of the Arab world: its youth are much poorer, and suffer much more from unemployment. This is reflected in political ideologies – whereas the baby boomers remain stalwart supporters of capitalism, the people in their 20′s are actually split 50/50 between supporting capitalism and socialism (hence, the appearance of OWS, as I predicted).

Even internationally, the US is much less certain of the benefits of the “free market system” than was the case in prior years. More Chinese (77%), Brazilians (67%), and Germans (68%) now think that free markets are the way to go than Americans (59%). Even the Russians (52%) aren’t that far behind, and if we consider only the youngest generation, amazingly enough, more Russians would now be pro-capitalist than Americans. But as is so often the case, ideology is merely superstructure, dependent on the economic base for its own makeup; when polls indicate that as of 2010 ordinary Chinese find it easier than Americans to afford food, no wonder that faith in free markets soars in one country and tumbles in another. Ergo for Russia.

It is time to set aside the ideologized rhetoric that underpins much of today’s commentary on the purported instability of states based on their perceived “authoritarianism” or “corruption” (especially as measured by the ridiculous CPI). Despite being closer to the trough of the J-curve, and not matching up to the standards of democracy and decency that the West dictates as universal (while frequently failing to adhere to those same standards itself), the fact is that, objectively speaking, both China and Russia have been a lot more stable than the West – and with more favorable inter-generational wealth distributions and far better prospects for growth (due to their combination of First World human capital with merely medium-income economies), they have the objective conditions to remain politically stable for the foreseeable future.

Meanwhile, as iniquities grow and the over-educated young generations of the West are frustrated in their economic ambitions, having their social benefits cut while the establishment concentrates on currying favor with elderly voting majorities and bailing out their sponsors in the financial industry (at least until the whole carapace comes hurtling down due to over-indebtedness), political instability in the West is set to remain and metastasize until the barbarians at the gates can no longer be airily dismissed as weed-smoking socialist loser types “without an agenda” by the MSM and the powers that be.

EDIT: This article has been translated into Russian at Inosmi.ru (БРИК стабильности: почему Occupy Wall Street не приходит в Москву или Пекин?).

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
 
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Now that my initial triumphalism over Putin’s return has faded a bit, it’s time for a more analytical look. One of the main reasons I thought Medvedev would be the more likely person to be United Russia’s Presidential candidate is that Putin was simply unwilling to return. As Daniel Treisman wrote in his book on post-Soviet Russia, “Once President, Putin very often looked like he would rather be somewhere else… I have never seen Putin look as happy as he did on election night 2008, when [he appeared] to congratulate Medvedev on his victory.” Not a description of someone who longs for power for its own sake, when considering that he was relinquishing the top position that he could have easily (and legally!) kept by simply amending the Constitution to allow more consecutive terms. Combined with Medvedev’s steadily high approval ratings, just a permanent whiff short of Putin’s according to the opinion polls, and the negative PR repercussions (at least abroad) of this move, I still don’t think that my original logic for arguing for Medvedev’s staying on was all that faulty.

But didn’t both Medvedev and Putin both refute that, saying everything had already been decided years in advance? Well, no. Contrary to the Western media coverage, that didn’t necessarily follow from their words. What Medvedev said was: “We really did discuss this variant of development back in that period, when we first formed our gentlemanly agreement” (мы действительно обсуждали этот вариант развития событий еще в тот период, когда сформировался наш товарищеский союз). What Putin said was: “I want to say it straight, that the agreement about what to do, what to work on in the future, we already made a long time ago, several years back” (хочу прямо сказать, что договоренность о том, что делать, чем заниматься в будущем, между нами давно достигнута, уже несколько лет назад).

But it is far from evident that what they meant by this was that they had decided on specifically Putin’s return long ago and just took the country on a wild goose chase in the intervening years of Medvedev’s Presidency. They merely said that the plan of action was decided long ago, but nobody actually said anything about specific personalities – any (i.e. most) reporting that referred to the “reshuffle” or “Putin’s return” as the object of those was misleading, since it could just have easily being something along the lines of “let the most popular man stand for President in 2012.” For all we know the Plan could have just been something along the lines of: “Let the most popular and authoritative man stand for President in 2012.” So those pundits who took their decision as an implicit condemnation of Russian democratic culture – that everything was decided years ago and the rest were all just for show, such as Medvedev’s earlier comments about not being averse to running for the Presidency – do not have the incontrovertible evidence that they think they do. This is why accurate translations and paying attention to the specifics of what is being said is actually very important.

In short, I think that it was a more close-run thing than many analysts now claim it to be, for in hindsight all things acquire the tinge of inevitability.

Why, in the end, was this course chosen? After all, while many of the criticisms leveled against Putin’s return, e.g. that it would shock investors* into fleeing, were clearly fallacious – the announcement had zero discernible effect on Russia’s stockmarkets – it is still undeniable that one has great power: the concept that leaders have a best before date and Putin now risks overstaying it. Ultimately, it boils down to Russia being a plebiscitary regime that tries to pay the utmost attention to opinion polls. And on this metric, Putin is unquestionably ahead. As of September 2011, according to Levada Putin has an approval rating of 37% to Medvedev’s 26%. But even this understates Putin’s popularity. In a recent Levada poll that asked whom Russians would vote for if the elections were held this weekend, Putin got 42%, whereas Medvedev got just 6%, lagging both Zyuganov at 10% and Zhirinovsky at 9%. When forced to choose between the two, most Russians overwhelmingly support Putin. Now obviously if Putin wasn’t running, most of his votes would have gone to Medvedev anyway, but the margin of victory would have been smaller and turnout would have been lower due to the lower numbers of genuine Medvedev fans. Consequently, the next administration’s legitimacy to make reforms promoted by liberal technocrats would have been lower.

You can’t ascribe Putin’s popularity to more TV coverage either, as some have tried to do such as A Good Treaty. According to the guys who actually keep the statistics, Medvedev has been consistently getting more coverage on federal TV media than Putin. It’s just that it’s far easier to be a fan of professional badass Putin – despite his antics becoming lamer of late – than of an iPhone President who manages to get owned by someone as PR-challenged as Bat’ka. Another refrain I’ve heard is that the polls don’t matter anyway, because the Kremlin will just rig the elections anyway. The cognitive dissonance is hard to fully comprehend. If we accept their claim that the Kremlin does rig elections – despite there being strong evidence against it, as election results correlate closely to opinion polls and exit polls – then how does that square with their support for Medvedev on account of his supposed liberal credentials? Isn’t liberalism and vote rigging mutually exclusive?

My conclusion after some thought is that things are far simpler than much of the commentariat make them out to be. There is zero evidence of any fundamental rift, or even friction between, Putin and Medvedev (even the lone “dissident” member of the Team, Kudrin, isn’t exactly out in the political wilderness). The logical consequence is that the ultimate question of Putin’s return wasn’t decided in 2008, but sometime during Medvedev’s Presidency; possibly, not even prior to my prediction of a second Medvedev term in 2012. I still do not think Putin is all that enthusiastic about it. The descent into lameness of his trademark popularity stunts, i.e. supposedly fishing ancient Greek urns out of the sea, may be associated with that. He just can no longer be assed to do any better. But faced with lackluster support for Putin’s only alternative, Medvedev; the relative lack of discernible economic, social, or foreign policy successes during his Presidency; and the increasingly fraught international environment – the Arab Spring, peak oil, the Eurozone crisis, the likely return of a Republican President unfriendly to Russia (enough to say that the current favorite, Mitt Romney, has Leon Aron as his Russia adviser) – pushed the Tandem into a cordial agreement to let Putin return. One is reminded of Putin’s August 2010 interview with Kommersant, in which he said: “I only have two choices. Either to watch from the bank how the waters are flowing away and how something is collapsing or falling away or to get involved. I prefer to be involved.”

One final point has to do with the outlining of Putin’s vision for Russian foreign policy, which seems to have decisively shifted towards Eurasian integration. This reminds one of another Putin interview more than ten years ago, in the months before Putin became President for the first time, which allows us to see a clear intersection between Putin’s long-term vision and the role of more recent contingencies: “We will strive to remain in [Europe], where we are geographically and spiritually located. But if we are going to get pushed out of it, we will be spurred into seeking alliances, and strengthening ourselves” (мы будем стремиться оставаться там, где мы географически и духовно находимся. А если нас будут оттуда выталкивать, то мы будем вынуждены искать союзы, укрепляться). Despite being at the brink of fiscal collapse along its peripheries, very little has changed in European attitudes to Russia. One clear and recent demonstration of the failure of the Reset – a policy associated with Medvedev, let it be reminded – is Sarkozy’s recent visit to Georgia, where he unreservedly supported Tbilisi’s position on the Russian “occupation” of Abkhazia and North Ossetia. The information war continues, albeit on a more playing field – it is good to see Russia finally learning the lessons of soft power, with RT providing good coverage of social protest movements such as Occupy Wall Street and repression in Western countries that had previously gone unnoticed in their “free” medias. The way ahead has become more clear. Eurasian integration and closer relations with the rising Powers of the world, as opposed to the waning West – it is telling that Putin’s first visit post-United Russia congress will be to China – now makes patent sense from every perspective, and it is just as well that it is going to be spearheaded by the man with the higher approval ratings and a more authentic connection to popular Russian sentiment than the current Presidential incumbent.

А как же? Обязательно.

* Speaking of investors, it is good to see that Putin is actively promoting Russia to foreign investors by stressing its positive points at investment forums, as opposed to Medvedev’s rather bizarre strategy for luring foreign capital by telling them that “Russia’s “slow growth” hides stagnation.”

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

I am a blogger, thinker, and businessman in the SF Bay Area. I’m originally from Russia, spent many years in Britain, and studied at U.C. Berkeley.

One of my tenets is that ideologies tend to suck. As such, I hesitate about attaching labels to myself. That said, if it’s really necessary, I suppose “liberal-conservative neoreactionary” would be close enough.

Though I consider myself part of the Orthodox Church, my philosophy and spiritual views are more influenced by digital physics, Gnosticism, and Russian cosmism than anything specifically Judeo-Christian.