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protect-your-women-not-our-democracy

Protect your women, not our democracy. – Polish volleyball fans to German colleagues.

From the Polish media we learn that German authorities ordered the destruction of CCTV evidence of the Cologne attacks.

We know that the Polish media cannot be trusted because Law and Justice (PiS) has been busy stacking the state media overseeing with its own cronies. To be sure the previous pro-EU leftist government had done the exact same, but that is okay because it was done in pursuit of the goals of social justice. As exemplified by, say, the German and Swedish media, which have been ordered at the highest levels to avoid reporting on minor political issues, such as the mass rape of their own women by refugees. What refugees? What rape? What Turkish sponsorship of ISIS? Hey, look over there – isn’t Julian Assange a chauvinist pig for not wearing a condom during consensual sex?

This has nothing to do with corruption adn authoritarianism because Germany is 12th and Sweden is 5th on the world’s press freedom index according to Reporters Without Borders. The RSF is a very respectable Western NGO, almost as respectable as Freedom House even, and their rankings are completely true and objective. If you disagree you are uninformed at best or more likely some kind of conspiracy theorist or pro-Russian troll.

Speaking of whom, this is nothing more or less than a full-fledged Putinization of Poland. We know this is true – and bad, of course – because EU Parliament Chief Martin Schulz says so. Schulz is a high school dropout who, according to Haarez, believes that “the new Germany exists only in order to ensure the existence of the State of Israel and the Jewish people.” In other words, he is a glowing representative of the European political class and everything he says should be taken at face value.

Moreover, we learn from Anne “Putin Stole My Wallet” Applebaum that pro-Russian “trolls” are in Poland now working for the nationalist Right.

Unfortunately, it has long been established that going by Anne Applebaum’s definitions, her husband Radek Sikorski is one such troll, having tired of giving the Americans free blowjobs. (Though presumably purely metaphorical, one can hardly fault him for his imaginative phrasing, given his domestic circumstances).

Of course Radek Sikorski is also infamous as a hawkish hardliner on Russia amongst Civic Platform, via his connections to the Atlanticist neocon crowd, to say nothing of the PiS nationalists who are governing Poland now. The idea that Russia purposefully orchestrated the 2010 Smolensk crash that wiped out half the Polish government is taken as conventional wisdom amongst its ranks.

So in fact pro-Putin Russia trolls are supporting the most anti-Russian elements of the Polish political spectrum. And if US intelligence services are to be believed, financing them. We know that this is credible because the US is above that kind of thing itself and the idea that any civilized democratic country would finance political and media forces that promote its interests is utterly proposterous that only a pro-Russian troll could believe in. Though as we established above, the Polish nationalist recipients of Russian support and financing are themselves pro-Russian trolls.

Although as Anne Applebaum sardonically noted, the Russian press “worries” about the “Putinization” of Poland.

So in other words, this makes the Putin-controlled media the sole group who are… not pro-Russian trolls?? Frankly it’s well nigh impossible to figure out who’s trolling who by this point.

In case this isn’t obvious yet, unwrapping the logical loops around this zrada/peremoga conundrum (Poland version) is an exercise in futility, because there is no logic behind it. Amongst a clique that includes “thinkers” who blame Putin personally for the theft of their wallets and journalists who compare Russia to Mordor things could hardly be otherwise.

In reality, things are rather more prosaic.

(1) Russians by and large don’t care for Polish nationalists, but considering that most of their energies are going to be expended bickering with the EU, there is no reason not to passively support them.

(2) Even nationalist Poles realize that the biggest imminent threat to Poland is not Russian tanks advancing on Warsaw or even a return to dictatorship (i.e. a right-wing government dismantling the “adminstrative resource” that the previous left-wing government had built up) but the waves of Third World immigrants the likes of Merkel and Schulz are determined to enrich Europe with.

 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Poland, Russia 
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Here it is in Russian: Вверх-вниз по рейтингу свободы. This translation here is of a longer version at my Russian language blog.

A version of it also appears on Voice of Russia: Press freedom – on both sides of the Information Curtain.

press-freedom-voice-of-russia

Thanks to Alexei Pankin (who is a regular at Komsomolskaya) for making it happen – and for the title!, and to Alexander Mercouris for proving a couple of ideas and nice turns of phrase.

Up and down the freedom index

Recently the French human rights organization Reporters Without Borders unveiled new press freedom ratings, which showed Russia sinking to 148th place globally. This finding is consistent with the yearly ratings of the American organization Freedom House, which deems the Russian media to be “not free.” In contrast, Western countries, as we might expect, are the world’s freest and most democratic and ahead of everyone else.

Does this correlate to reality? As a regular reader of the mass media from both sides of the Information Curtain, I have long been under the strong impression that the Western public intelligentsia – including the creators of all these ratings – often consider that the only “free” and “independent” media outlets in Russia are those which support their own ideas and prejudices. At the same time, those Russian media outlets that take a pro-Kremlin or even neutral position are inevitably painted as Kremlin stooges – disregarding that the majority of the Russian mass media audience approve of Putin.

(By the way, those approval ratings are created by polling ordinary Russians, whereas the ratings of organizations such as Freedom House and Reporters Without Borders are compiled using opaque methodologies by anonymous “experts.”)

As evidence of their position, their argue that Russia apparently has no freedom of speech, and that the “bloody regime” crushes the voices of “democratic journalists.” Yes, these things sometimes happen. For instance, after the Presidential elections, Kommersant Vlast printed a photograph of a election ballot saying, “Putin, go fuck yourself.” The paper’s editors cheekily captioned it thus: “Correctly filled out ballot, ruled spoiled.” The paper’s owner Alisher Usmanov quickly fired them.

Harsh? Maybe, but there is a wealth of similar examples in the West. For insulting Romney, accidentally caught on open mic, the journalist David Chalian was fired from Yahoo News. One can compile an entire list of journalists who were fired for criticizing the state of Israel: Sunni Khalid, Helen Thomas, Octavia Nasr, etc. Likewise there is another substantial list of journalists fired for attending Occupy Wall Street protests. The most famous journalist-whistleblower in the world, Julian Assange, today lives in the Ecuadoran Embassy in London to avoid arrest the moment he walks out onto the street.

Regardless of all this, “professors of democracy” continue to harangue us with the idea that the Russian media are controlled and toe the Kremlin line. These claims would seem absurd to any Russian who cares to leaf through the pages of Vedomosti, Novaya Gazeta, Echo of Moscow, or an array of other publications. If you wish to find a glaring example of mass media parroting a single narrative, one need look no further than Western coverage of the 2008 war in South Ossetia. In that fairytale, evil Russian orcs cravenly attacked flourishing, democratic Georgia, ushering in all kinds of savagery and destruction in their wake. At the same time, the American news channel FOX interrupted its interview with an Ossetian-American schoolgirl, at the time resident in Tskhinvali, when it became clear that her account did not square with Washington’s party line. The Polish journalist Wiktor Bater was fired after he started saying “politically incorrect” facts about the Georgian bombing of Tskhinvali and Saakashvili’s lies. Needless to say, these episodes did not in the slightest impact the press freedom ratings of either the US or Poland.

This is not to idealize the state of Russian press freedoms, which has a huge number of its own problems. For instance, writing about Putin’s private life (but not his policies!) is something of a taboo in Russia, just as is criticism of Israel in the US. And the situation as regards unsolved murders of journalists is far worse than in the West, albeit in statistical terms it is comparable to or even better than in many widely acknowledged democracies such as Brazil, Mexico, India, Colombia, and Turkey.

That said, there are some things Russia can be “proud” of. American “dissidents” such as Hearst Newspapers journalist Helen Thomas and former professor Normal Finkelstein are not only fired, but also put on blacklists which complicate their chances of finding another job and getting access to high-ranking officials. Meanwhile, in stupid and naive Russia, the American journalist Masha Gessen can publish a book about Putin titled “The Man Without a Face” and get a personal interview with the Russian President as a reward. She is then free to repay his consideration by practically calling him an idiot in an account of their meeting in the journal Bolshoi Gorod – and to then go on to head the Russian service of Radio Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, headquartered minutes away from the walls of the Kremlin.

So in some sense Russia still has many, many steps still to climb up the stairs of the press freedom ratings…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusions

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

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

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

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

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

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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Latest contribution to the US-Russia.org Expert Discussion Panel on the question of which US Presidential candidate is best able to meet the challenges ahead:

When predicting election outcomes, I prefer to listen to those who put their money where their mouths are. As of the time of writing, the Intrade predictions market gives a 66% implied probability of an Obama win. The major betting websites are even more optimistic about Obama’s chances, with most of them giving him implied odds of about 80%. He is even considered more likely than not to win the popular vote, though because of the peculiarities of the US electoral system, it is also quite possible for him to lose the popular vote but still win the Presidency (about a 25% chance of this, according to Intrade). I will now most likely lose the symbolic $10 I placed on a Republican candidate win back in May 2010, when a sharp but unsustainable spike in favor of Obama accruing from Osama bin Laden’s assassination created very good odds for the contrarian gambler. Still, I don’t regret the investment. Always bet against your preferred candidate – that way, you will never be wholly disappointed.

We know that Obama is phlegmatic on the ill-thought out Magnitsky Act, and is likewise lukewarm about missile defense in East-Central Europe – to the extent that he pledged “more flexibility” on this issue to Medvedev in an unfortunate open mic moment that the Republicans later spun for all it was worth. (The Poles seem to have come to terms with this, and are now preparing to spend $4 billion of their own money to modernize their AA systems in the next decade). This is probably driven not so much by a desire to enlist Russia as an ally, as to give the US room to deal with the more pressing issues that will dominate Obama’s second term: The withdrawal from Afghanistan; the military pivot to Asia; a sluggish economy plagued by chronically high budget deficits; the accelerating climate crisis. Another alternative is that Obama’s people take seriously the CIA/Stratfor theory, hinted at by Biden in 2009, that Russia’s “shrinking population base” will nullify it as a Great Power in a couple of decades; hence, it is no longer worth aggressively confronting it as natural trends will doom it to eventual irrelevance anyway. But whatever the true motivations, we can reasonably expect the Reset to survive under a new Obama Presidency.

The GOP position is rather less compromising:

… we urge the leaders of their [Russia] to reconsider the path they have been following: suppression of opposition parties, the press, and institutions of civil society; unprovoked invasion of the Republic of Georgia, alignment with tyrants in the Middle East; and bullying their neighbors while protecting the last Stalinist regime in Belarus. The Russian people deserve better, as we look to their full participation in the ranks of modern democracies.

Needless to say, the only part of “the Russian people” who would look on these urgings with sympathy are the small gaggle of pro-Western liberals like Lilia Shevtsova (who brought this to my attention). They slavishly side with America against their own country on every issue they disagree on, so long as it helps undermine Putin. While she is right that such policies would “send a strong signal of support to Russian liberals that America does care about the values and principles it preaches”, it would also likewise alienate not only the Russian government but ordinary Russians too (41% of whom prefer Obama to 8% for Romney in a recent Levada poll). Coupled with his equally confrontational attitudes to China, and the aggressive neocon foreign policy advisers he has surrounded himself with, Romney would appear to be dead-set on provoking into existence that nightmare of Cold War planners – a Russian-Chinese alliance. This would be first and foremost a disaster for America itself.

Then again, as many have already pointed out, Romney is a flip flopper, and his bellicose rhetoric may well dissipate should he somehow find himself in the White House. Though Romney might describe Russia as America’s “number one geopolitical foe”, that did not prevent his son Matt from recently flying to the evil empire to promote his real-estate company and purportedly assure influential Kremlin advisers that his dad does want good relations between their two countries. If money and the practical exigencies of Presidential office trump his campaign rhetoric, there is good reason to hope that the Reset can survive even under a Romney Presidency.

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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At least if you take Michael Bohm’s arguments in his latest Moscow Times missive on how Russia Is Turning Into Iran to its logical conclusion.

Look, I’m not a fan of blasphemy laws. The First Amendment is a wonderful thing and something that makes the US truly great… even exceptional, to an extent. Although it should be noted that there are limits even in the US: Some quite appropriate in my opinion, others ridiculous such as the taboo on boobs on TV.

Still, if Russia’s moves to criminalize blasphemy brings it “another step closer to becoming like Iran and other Muslim theocracies”, then we have to admit that the likes of Germany, Poland, Israel, and Ireland are already long there – and contrary to what Bohm claims, it doesn’t seem that any of those countries have ended up in “chronic economic stagnation, decline and high poverty rates.”

Just look at the Wikipedia article. About half the Western world has blasphemy laws on the books. In Germany, a man was sentenced to one year in prison (suspended) in 2006 for insulting Islam. In Poland, the singer Doda was fined 5,000 złoty for the fairly innocuous comment, made well outside church, that the Bible was written by “people who drank too much wine and smoked herbal cigarettes.”

Also back in 2006 in Germany, a Berlin man was imprisoned for 9 months for disrupting a church service – but unlike the case with Pussy Riot, nobody nominated the poor bloke for the Sakharov Peace Prize. Nor did The Guardian hire a German journalist to write an oped about how Germany was becoming a “Protestant Iran” (as did Oleg Kashin).

Yet no Western commentator thinks to compare those countries to Islamic societies where apostasy is punishable by death and mobs demand the deaths of 12 year old girls who (supposedly) burn the Koran. And quite rightly so. Regardless of one’s view on the precisely where the boundaries between free speech and protecting religious feelings and social order are, it is intuitively obvious there are stark and clear lines separating today’s Christian civilization from a large chunk of the Dar al-Islam.

Russia on the other hand has yet to even sign the blasphemy bills into law, but shills like Michael Bohm are already rushing in to bracket it in with Iran. If this isn’t double standards then I really don’t know what is.

PS. I am not even going to comment on Bohm’s bizarre and absolutely illiterate musings regarding GDP.

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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And just as the Guardianistas and K.F. & Co. bury their heads ever deeper in the sand, real world statistics show confirm my thesis from the beginning of this year that Russia’s demographic crisis has for all intents and purposes come to an end. As of May there was a y-y increase of 17% (!) in births, a 2% increase in deaths, and virtually zero natural decrease; accounting for the entire Jan-May period, there was a 7.6% increase in births, a 2.2% decline in deaths (including an 18% decline in deaths from alcohol poisoning), and an overall population decrease of -57,000. However since natural decrease is typically biggest in Jan-May (see graphs here) the rest of the year may well see continuous natural population growth; it is also not beyond the realm of possibility that overall natural population growth, i.e. before accounting for immigration, will be positive in 2012.

Still instead of the usual dry demographic update post I want to do something different here and delve into comparative and historical issues. For instance, now that we can pretty confidently say it has ended, how ultimately “bad” were Russia’s two lost decades?

The Russian population peaked at 148.5mn in 1992. After that it declined at an increasing rate, especially after 1998 when the supply of ethnic Russian emigrants coming back from the Near Abroad dried up; then, in the mid-2000′s, it began to slow as core demographic indicators improved, and Russia started getting substantial numbers of Gastarbeiter. In retrospect stabilization was achieved in 2008, and since then Russia’s population rose for 142.9mn in 2010 to 143.0 in 2011 and 143.1/143.2mn this year. Peak to nadir this was a decline of less than 4% (or in chronological terms, 1985), with recovery already in motion. How does this compare with other transition countries?

The Baltics. Estonia peaked at 1.57mn in 1990 and stabilized at 1.34mn in the late 2000′s according to estimates (decline of 15% and reversal to 1969); however, the 2011 Census showed that the actual Estonian population was 1.29mn (-18%; 1965). Nor was this just the effect of Russian “occupiers” leaving; native Estonians declined to 890,000 versus 963,000 in 1989 (-8%), or 970,000 in 1922 (in other words, the ethnic Estonian population hasn’t grown in a century).

The statistics for the other Baltic states are worse. Latvia declined from 2.67mn in 1989 to 2.07mn according to the 2011 census (-23%; 1958). Again just to show that this isn’t an artifact of occupiers finally leaving the numbers of ethnic Latvians fell to 1.28mn from 1.39mn (-8%), and the current ethnic Latvian population is lower than it was in 1925. However what’s worse is following the global financial crisis Latvia’s demographic situation has become the worst in Europe.

In Lithuania the population fell from a peak of 3.70mn in 1989 to an estimated 3.2mn; however, this estimate was as in Latvia’s and Estonia’s case proved to be far too optimistic by the 2011 Census, which showed a preliminary result of 3.05mn (-18%; 1967).

Ukraine. Declined from a peak of 52.7mn in 1993 to 45.8mn in 2011 (though the Census, which was postponed to 2013, might show a different figure especially if emigration was underestimated as is quite possible). This translates into a decline of 13%, or a reversal to the population level of 1967. While it has shown promising signs of recovery in the late 2000′s its natural decrease of -162,000 in 2011 is higher than Russia’s -131,000 even though Ukraine’s population is three times smaller.

Belarus. Declined from a peak of 10.24mn in 1993 to 9.47mn in 2011 (-8%; 1977). Not bad all things considered. It could have been Ukraine.

Poland. The Polish population peaked around 38.7mn in the late 1990′s (it did not undergo a Soviet-style mortality shock because it is a very alcoholized nation) and since declined to 38.1mn in the late 2000′s before recovering slightly to 38.2mn by 2011 (presumably because of many emigrants coming back). As such the Polish population today is virtually unchanged from 38.1mn in 1990. Nonetheless these results are not based on Censuses and as well saw with the Baltics domestic statistics agencies may well have underestimated Polish emigration post-Schengen. Furthermore with a TFR that is steadily at around 1.3 for over a decade an acceleration in population decline would appear likely.

Hungary. Declined from a peak of 10.7mn in 1980 to 10.4mn in 1990, 10.2mn in the 2011 Census, and an estimated 10.0mn today (maybe lower; we’ll know with the next Census). This is a decline of 4% since 1990, or 7% since 1980. It’s population was last at this level in 1961. Its TFR is currently at a “lowest low” level of 1.24, so for all of Orban’s exhortations, a quick reversal of this trend – evidence for over thirty years now – doesn’t seem probably.

Bulgaria. Declined from 8.98mn in 1988 to just 7.64mn according to the 2011 Census (unlike most countries in this sample, the Census results showed a slightly higher result than predicted). This decline of 15% translates into population levels last seen in 1957. (Counting only ethnic Bulgars you have to go before WW2 to get the same population as now). Fortunately, like Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus (but unlike Poland, Latvia, Romania, and Hungary) the TFR has been recovering in recent years breaking 1.5 in 2009.

Romania. Declined from 23.2mn in 1990 to an estimated by 21.4mn by 2010, this however was far too pessimistic as the 2011 Census showed the actual population to be 19.0mn presumably due to mass emigration post-Schengen. This is a decline of 19% to levels last seen in 1965.

Czechoslovakia. As the richest and most successful of the transition economies, the Czech population has actually risen; it stagnated from 10.30mn in 1991 to 10.2mn in the early 2000′s, however since then it rose to 10.56mn presumably as a result of migration, an overall rise of 2.5% since socialism. Slovakia’s population from 5.27mn in 1991 to approximately 5.44mn by 2011, a rise of about 3%.

Below is a quick and dirty summary:

Peak pop (yr) Pop now Decline (yr) TFR (latest)
Czechia 10.3 (91) 1991 10.56 3% n/a 1.42
Slovakia 5.27 (91) 1991 5.44 3% ? n/a 1.4
Poland 38.7 1998 38.2 -1% ? 1991 1.31
Russia 148.5 1992 143 -4% 1985 1.61
Hungary 10.7 1980 10 -7% 1961 1.24
Belarus 10.24 1993 9.47 -8% 1977 1.5
Ukraine 52.7 1993 45.8 -13% ? 1967 1.46
Bulgaria 8.98 1988 7.364 -18% 1953 1.51
Estonia 1.57 1990 1.29 -18% 1965 1.52
Lithuania 3.7 1989 3.05 -18% 1967 1.55
Romania 23.2 1990 19 -19% 1965 1.3
Latvia 2.67 1989 2.07 -23% 1958 1.14

(?’s next to some of the declines above indicate that the change from peak is calculated from estimates based on the results of Censuses that have been conducted a decade ago and as such may not be accurate, especially in the cases of countries such as Poland which saw a lot of emigration post-Schengen.)

Taking a fairly comprehensive survey of transition countries, we notice that Russia had the fourth smallest decline relative to its peak at less than 4%; only Poland, with a decline of 1% (albeit may rise as its been almost a decade since the last Census; the decade in which they entered Schengen), and the Czech Republic and Slovakia which showed overall population growth since 1991, beat it. What’s more Russia’s current TFR is actually higher than that of all the other countries in the survey and on current trends will rise to 1.70-1.75 this year accentuating the gap even further.

How is it still feasible to talk of “drastic decline“? How is it still feasible to pretend that its demographics are a complete mess? It is not, of course. Not when the trends and figures most indicative of demographic potential are now better than almost all of East-Central Europe, as well as Germany, Japan, and the Mediterranean states.

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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One might have thought that football is one of those few places where politics can be left at the door. At least that’s the position of UEFA who constantly talk of the game’s potential to build bridges, etc.

However, consider the following litany of attacks. First, it is looking into punishing Russia for displaying the banner below. Because it is “far right extremist sloganeering” according to some anti-racism organization that has nothing better to do. What exactly is racist about it? How exactly was it brought into the stadium if the Poles themselves didn’t want it?

Then there were the clashes with the Poles when Russian fans marched in Warsaw to mark Russia Day. According to numerous papers like the WSJ and Daily Mail both sides were at least equally at fault, but more likely the Russkies.

Consider the image right. The WSJ writes: “Ahead of the countries’ Euro 2012 Group A match up, a Russian soccer fan, left, fights Tuesday with a Polish supporter in Warsaw.” However, as is obvious to anyone who is not a cretin, the man on the left throwing a punch is a Poland supporter. Though it is not surprising as the WSJ excels in lying on Russia as on other subjects and plagiarizing too.

UEFA also has its knickers in a twist over some Russian “imperial” flags (the white, gold and black) displayed in the arena. Apparently they are “racist”. This is Western hypocrisy at its unsurpassed finest because Westerners do not have any trouble with these flags whatsoever when they’re seen in anti-Putin demonstrations.

As can be observer in the video below, it was mostly the Polish nationalists who were attacking Russia supporters. Scroll to 0:41 to see some shaved leather-clad thug run up and punch a Russia supporter in the neck from behind in a most low-life manner.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-wsr1NSHXAc]

WHY IS UEFA LETTING OFF POLAND SCOTCH-FREE?

This might also seem funny and petty until one realizes that in addition to a $150,000 fine (which is peanuts to the Russian FA) they are also threatening it with a 6 point handicap in the qualifiers to the next Euro Cup. This is a huge disadvantage and if followed through Russia might as well boycott those games and try to persuade other FA’s to do likewise to bring down those UEFA blowhards a notch.

Edit: The liberal Leonid Vershidsky, of the aptly named Snob magazine, blames Polish attacks on Russians on Putin and the Soviet Union. Celebrates the fact that Russia didn’t win but drew with Poland. No doubt one of those folks who then wonders why people don’t like or vote for his fellow liberals.

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Football, Poland, Russophobes, Sport, WSJ 
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In terms of new cars, they now are. According to 2011 statistics, Russians bought 17.6 new automobiles per 1000 people. This indicator is still quite a bit below most of Western Europe, such as Germany’s 38.5, France’s 33.4, Britain’s 31.9, Italy’s 30.1, and Spain’s 20.0. However, it has already overtaken most of East-Central Europe, whose figures are: Czech Republic 17.0, Slovakia 12.5, Estonia 11.7, Poland 7.2, Hungary and Ukraine both 4.5, Romania 3.7. Likewise, some countries that by the 1990′s came to be regarded as natural parts of affluent Europe are now behind Russia on this measure: Portugal 14.4, Greece 9.0.

Now this is just one example, and the market for one consumer durable good isn’t going to be perfectly reflective of the overall situation. The crises in the PIGS may be temporarily dissuading nervous consumers from making large purchases; another factor to consider is that their overall car fleets are bigger and newer than Russia’s, so there is not as much of an incentive to get new cars. And taking into account a much larger basket of goods, the World Bank estimates Russia’s GDP per capita (at PPP) to be $20,000, which is still considerably behind $25,000 in Portugal and the Czech Republic, and $32,000 in Spain.

What’s all the better is that the current improvements in Russia’s relative position are happening against the background of extremely benign debt dynamics; aggregate debt is only 74% of Russian GDP, compared to 184% in China, 280% in the US, and more than 300% in most of Europe. This leaves it with a great deal of fiscal and monetary wiggle room in the event of a renewed global crisis that is no longer available to the developed world or lauded emerging markets such as Brazil, India, Poland, Turkey, and Poland. While the affluence gap between Russia and the most developed nations remains large it is nonetheless being steadily and sustainably closed.

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
 
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In the aftermath of the 2011 Duma elections, the Russian blogosphere was abuzz with allegations of electoral fraud. Many of these were anecdotal or purely rhetorical in nature; some were more concrete, but variegated or ambiguous. A prime example of these were opinion polls and exit polls, which variably supported and contradicted the Kremlin’s claims that fraud was minimal. But there was also a third set of evidence. Whatever problems Russia may have, a lack of highly skilled mathematicians, statisticians and programmers certainly isn’t one of them. In the hours and days after the results were announced, these wonks drew on the Central Electoral Commission’s own figures to argue the statistical impossibility of the election results. The highest of these fraud estimates were adopted as fact by the opposition. Overnight, every politologist in the country – or at least, every liberal politologist – became a leading expert on Gaussian distributions and number theory.

While I don’t want to decry Churov, the head of the Central Electoral Commission, for making subjects many people gave up back in 8th grade fun and interesting again, I would like to insert a word of caution: lots of math and numbers do not necessarily prove anything, and in fact – generally speaking – the more math and numbers you have the less reliable your conclusions (not making this up: the research backs me up on this). Complicated calculations can be rendered null and void by simple but mistaken assumptions; the sheer weight of figures and fancy graphs cannot be allowed to crowd out common sense and strong diverging evidence. Since the most (in)famous of these models asserts that United Russia stole 15% or more of the votes, it is high time to compile a list of alternate models and fraud estimates that challenge that extremely unlikely conclusion – unlikely, because if it were true, it would essentially discredit the entirety of Russian opinion polling for the last decade.

In this post, I will compile a list of models built by Russian analysts of the scale of electoral fraud in the 2011 Duma elections. I will summarize them, including their estimates of aggregate fraud in favor of United Russia, and list their possible weak points. The exercise will show that, first, the proper methodology is very, very far from settled and as such all these estimates are subject to (Knightian) uncertainty; but second, many of them converge to around 5%-7%, which is about the same figure as indicated by the most comprehensive exit poll. This is obviously very bad but still a far cry from the most pessimistic and damning estimates of 15%+ fraud, which would if they were true unequivocally delegitimize the Russian elections.

The Magical Beard (16% fraud)

The long-time elections watcher and phycist Sergey Shpilkin (podmoskovnik) has probably written the most popular article on the use of statistical analysis to detect electoral fraud. The first piece of evidence of fraud is that as turnout increases, so does United Russia’s share of the vote; the effect is not observed for the other parties, whose share remains constant or even declines. Below is the graph for Moscow.

And below, courtesy of Maxim Pshenichnikov (oude_rus), is the same graph as a “heat map” for all Russia.

But that’s not all. A second problem is that turnout in Russia does not follow a normal, or Gaussian distribution. The laws of probability dictate that if you throw a coin 100 times, it is fairly unlikely that the “heads” will turn up exactly 50% of the time; however, as you repeat this experiment a dozen, a hundred, and then a thousand times, the average should converge to 50%. A graph of all these experiments should be in the form of a bell curve, with a peak at the midway point and falling away rapidly on either side. Theoretically, this should also hold for turnout, and this is in fact what we see in for elections in countries such as Mexico, Bulgaria, Sweden, Canada, Poland, and Ukraine. As we can see, there are suspicious peaks at 100% turnout in some of the less developed democracies like Ukraine, Bulgaria, and even Poland; and Ukraine’s Gaussian distribution breaks down beyond about 90% turnout altogether. Nonetheless, the overwhelming indications are that all these countries conduct almost fully free and fair elections.

But these laws do not seem to apply to Russia, including for the most recent Duma elections. Not only does the normal distribution break down on the right hand side of the graph, from about the 60% turnout point, but there begin to appear consistent peaks at “convenient” intervals of 5%, as if the polling stations with 70%, 75%, 80%, 90%, and 100% turnout were working to targets! Though the most recent election seems marginally better than the 2007 Duma election and the 2008 Presidential election, the overall indication is one of rampant shenanigans and fraud.

Graphing the number of polling stations, as done by Pshenichnikov, at which every party got a certain percentage of the votes, exposes United Russia as the black sheep of the political family. Regular spikes at 5% intervals begin from 50% onwards, at which point the Gaussian distribution breaks down and is stretched away into oblivion – producing what is now jocularly referred to as “Churov’s beard.”

And in Moscow, United Russia’s curve looks even more ridiculous. The twin peaks that Yabloko has are either because their vote was stolen at some places and not at others, or they did not have a proper Gaussian to begin with. (Note how practically all the Moscow polling stations with machines cluster at around 30% for United Russia, strongly indicating that the second, bigger peak at around 50% is falsified; see these two clusters in more graphic form here).

Then there’s the matter of abnormal turnout patterns. Cui bono? Quite clearly, United Russia. Returning to Shpilnikov’s work, as you can see below, the higher the turnout, the greater the relative discrepancy between votes for United Russia and the opposition parties.

The author then proceeds to “normalize” United Russia’s results, making the blanket assumption that the correlation between high turnout and higher votes is entirely due to fraud and that it is valid to extend the correlation between votes for United Russia relative to the other parties observed for stations will turnout lower than 50% to every other polling station. Its adjusted results vastly differ from its official results, with the numbers of falsified votes soaring once turnout at any individual polling station exceeds 50% and rapidly converging to near total falsification once turnout rises to 70% and above.

At this point, it is possible to “integrate” the adjusted results curve, to calculate United Russia’s real result. The conclusions are devastating. According to Shpilkin’s final calculations, cited by GOLOS, out of 32 million votes for United Russia, only half of them – some 16.2 million – are “normal”, whereas the other 15.8 million are “anomolous.” This means that in reality it only got 33.7% of the vote, as opposed to the official 49.3%, implying a 15.6% degree of fraud.

Party Official vote Duma seats Real result Real Duma seats
United Russia 49.3% 238 33.7% 166
Communists 19.2% 92 25.1% 124
Fair Russia 13.2% 64 17.3% 85
Liberal Democrats 11.7% 56 15.3% 75
Yabloko 3.4% 4.5%
Patriots of Russia 1.0% 1.3%
Right Cause 0.6% 0.8%
spoiled ballots 1.6% 2.1%

This would clearly make the Duma elections illegitimate, as the will of the Russian electorate – a truly multi-party parliament – is not reflected. If the elections were fair, United Russia would lose its majority and have to rely on coalitions with other parties to pursue its legislative agenda. It would appear that the non-systemic opposition has a clear mandate to demand a rerun.

Not so fast. This claim of 15% fraud is contrary to the entirety of Russian opinion polling, which generally predicted United Russia would get 50%, and to the results of the most comprehensive exit poll, which gave it 43%. Furthermore, as other bloggers rushed to point out, Shpilkin makes many highly questionable assumptions that challenge the credibility of his estimates, for instance, he doesn’t back up his claim that the correlation of higher turnout with more votes for United Russia (and is in fact contradicted by electoral patterns in advanced democracies like Germany and the UK).

PS. You can read an alternate explanation of this method in English by Anton, a Russian blogger living in Finland.

What About Limey?

The mathematician Sergey Kuznetsov wrote a long piece at eruditor.ru attempting to rebut Shpilkin’s conclusions. He starts off by pointing out that the Gaussian distribution achieved by conducting multiple coin tossing experiments is artificial because conditions remain identical. The same cannot be said if some of the experimenters continue tossing coins, while others of their kind begin to favor using dice with “heads” on five of their faces. Likewise, in a country with many socio-economically and culturally idiosyncratic regions such as Russia, Gaussian distributions are not inevitable.

As for the peaks at 5% intervals, they are products of elementary number theory. There must be a jump at 50% because the fraction 1/2, among other fractions n/m, appears more frequently than any other. The same can be said for other “nice” fractions: 2/3, 3/4, 4/5, and so on. Not only fraudsters like these “beautiful” fractions; its an intrinsic property of number theory itself. This is demonstrated below by Ruslan Enikeev (singpost), who built a frequency distribution of the natural outcome of multiple elections with 600 participants; as you can see below, there are very prominent spikes at all the “nice” fractions.

And guess what? If we are to build Pshenichnikov’s graph in “The Magical Beard” but at much finer resolutions, like Kuznetsov did, we get the following. Note how the other parties also get their spikes at “nice” fractions!

So you say that a correlation between higher turnout and more votes for United Russia means mass electoral fraud? If that’s the case, Britain must be a banana republic. Below is the relation between turnout and votes for the Conservatives and New Labour in the 2010 general elections (and this pattern is common to every British region).

Nor are British voters big fans of the Gaussian distribution either.

PS. At this point, I should also note that I observed lots of small peaks for the 2007 Ukraine elections (i.e. after its Orange Revolution) in this blog post.

That said, it should be noted that Kuznetsov acknowledges that the fat tail, and some of the 5% intervals that cannot be explained by number theory – e.g., 65%, 70%, 85%, 90%, 95% – means that a lot of fraud probably did happen.

PS. This has been pretty much confirmed by bloggers such as gegmopo4 (“Happy Pictures“) and Dmitry Kobak (“Party of Scoundrels and Thieves and 10 Sigma“).

The Reichstag Is Burning Since 2002!

The programmer Sergey Slyusarev (jemmybutton) also gave his two kopeiki on election fraud. He pointed out that as in the UK, the turnout for the 2002 Bundestag elections did not follow a perfect Gaussian either; in particular, a lower turnout in East Germany contributed to a second, smaller peak to the left of the main one. He also notes that higher turnouts correlated with more votes for the conservative alliance and fewer votes for the social democrat / green alliance.

Just as Kuznetsov above, he also discussed how pure number theory can explain most of the peaks along 5% intervals. However, even after making adjustments for it, there remained peaks at 75%, 85%, and the fat tail in general that he could not explain as being natural.

I would add that that is understandably so, if we consider this graph of North Ossetia’s results from Pshenichnikov. The biggest irony is that they didn’t even HAVE TO do it to ensure a big United Russia win. The “natural” Gaussian for UR (from the few free and fair stations) seems to be only a few percentage points short of the artificial peak. There’s idiots and then there’s bureaucrats.

He goes into further really wonky elections stuff later on in his post. There are no firm insights or conclusions arising from it, so I’ll refrain from summarizing it.

Trust Me On Arabs In Israel

The blogger, and aspiring Sinologist Vitaly Shishakov (svshift) doesn’t have original models, but does have a lot of useful links. He gives further examples of countries where higher turnouts result in more votes for certain parties and of where turnout does not follow Gaussian distributions. One example is Israel, where Arab turnout in local elections is consistently, stunningly higher than in Jewish ones. As both are still in significant part traditionalist societies, one wonders if the same applies to the Caucasus states (a possibility I raised in my Al Jazeera article). Read him here and here.

Revealing The Real Israel

The blogger levrrr does not believe that there is significant electoral fraud in Israel; and he agrees with Dmitry Kobak that this is patently not the case in Russia. Nonetheless, the curious patterns observed in the 2009 elections in that socio-culturally diverse society are a good reminder that just because it looks strange doesn’t necessarily mean surreptitious activities are afoot.

Unlike in many other countries, the distribution of voting stations by the percentage of votes each party obtained in them is most definitely not standard. Yisrael Beiteinu is log-normal; Likud is a Gaussian with two peaks (like Yabloko in Moscow); Kadima is kind of Gaussian but with a huge plateau; and the two fundamentalist parties (Shas and United Torah Judaism) have a weirdly long and fat tail. So no wonder Avigdor Lieberman is virtually the only foreign statesman to approve of Russia’s elections!

Comparing it to Pshenichnikov’s graph of Russia, there are striking comparative resemblances: Yabloko resembles Shas; the LDPR and Fair Russia resemble Yisrael Beiteinu; the KPRF resembles Likud; and apart from the spiked tail, United Russia looks like Kadima.

Like United Russia, the higher the turnout, the more votes Kadima gets, as in the graph below. The effect is neutral for Likud (as for the Russian opposition parties), and it is negative for Yisrael Beiteinu.

Nonetheless, Israel’s turnout is an indisputable Gaussian; there is no separate peak for the Arabs. (I would note that they have ultra-high turnouts only for local elections, not national ones). Less than 0.1% of polling stations saw a turnout of more than 95%, whereas this figure is more than 5% for the recent Russian elections. I assume that’s almost all fraud, as there are only so many barracks in Russia where everyone goes to vote en masse.

Dangerous Curves (5%-6% fraud)

The economist Sergey Zhuravlev (zhu_s) argues that the correlation between higher turnout and higher votes for United Russia is meaningless because of the “silent majority” effect. Voters for the opposition can be expected to turn out in full force, whereas people without any specific grievances against the “party of power” – who expect it to win with or without their participation – can turn out at varying rates in different regions, depending on their satisfaction with its performance and its success at mobilizing its supporters. As for United Russia’s unusually long tail, that can be explained by the very fact of its getting many votes. A party like Yabloko whose support base hovers in the lower single digits can be expected to have a very narrow peak at the beginning; a party like United Russia, which enjoys a great deal of supports with large geographic variation, will naturally have a far wider spread.

He outlines an alternative method that involves plotting the growth of each party’s share of the vote against the numbers of polling stations giving them a certain level of support. In a society where there are no regional differences in voting preferences and no falsifications, the graphs for each party can be expected to converge to a vertical center. In real life, regional differences flatten out this “ideal” vertical form, especially at the top and bottom. This is because both many stations with little support for a particular party, and the few stations with high support for a particular party, contribute only a small share of the votes to that party; most of its votes accrue to the many stations where support for that party is not far from the national average. This method eliminates the “flattening effect” observed in Shpilkin’s work where the mere fact of high popularity makes United Russia’s spread look unnaturally wide. As we can see below, all parties have substantial spreads in regional support; they are just on different scales.

From the graph above, United Russia is seen to enjoy an “S-effect”, in which stations where they got more than 70% – concentrated in the ethnic minority republics – contributed one fifth of its total vote; the kinks observed in that region are especially suspicious and indicative of mass fraud. This “S-effect” took away votes from the Communists and LDPR, creating an analogous “J-effect” at the bottom of their graphs. Yabloko too has an “S-effect”, if much lower in overall scale relative to United Russia, due to its relatively good performance in the two capitals; elsewhere, it is now just a forgotten relic of the 1990′s.

Whereas there is much evidence of fraud in Moscow, Zhuravlev has some of the strongest evidence against it as shown in the graph below. United Russia has a very natural curve, with no kinks observed at the at the top-right; instead, it has a “J-curve” at the bottom, presumably in the hipster Moscow districts with high support levels for Yabloko (a thesis corroborated by Yabloko’s prominent S-curve).

To resolve the possible falsifications arising from the S-effects and J-effects (with the caveat that they are not always indicative of fraud – e.g., Moscow with its Yabloko-friendly hipster districts), Zhuravlev suggests taking the median: i.e., the party voting shares such that half the polling stations have lower numbers and the other half have higher numbers. This effectively cuts out the S-effects and J-effects. The result is that United Russia loses 6% points relative to its official results, leaving it marginally below a Duma majority with 220 seats.

Of course, this approach too has its problems. It seems to me that kinks are only going to be observed where results are “drawn to plan” (as in some of the ethnic minority republics); where fraud is decentralized, the degree of fraud will itself be a wide spread, and as such not reflected in kinks or S-curves. His conclusion that fraud in Moscow was minimal contrasts with a whole heap of contrary evidence.

Zhuravlev expands on his thoughts on falsifications and the economics of political choice in a follow-up blog post.

Churov’s Defense (minimal fraud)

The Election Results: An Analysis of Electoral Preferences by Vladimir Churov. This isn’t the first time the head of the Central Elections Commission, a physicist with some Petersburg connections to Putin, has had to dodge incoming bullets from the election nerds and LJ malcontents. In response to criticisms of the last round of elections, in 2008 he co-authored an article in an attempt to rebut the critics.

His basic approach is to explain the idiosyncrasies of Russia election patterns in terms of voter behavior. At the beginning, he brings forth the standard criticism against the view that voter behavior must necessarily conform to normal distributions, i.e. it’s not a uniform series of experiments but the choices of a heterogeneous population we are talking about. The authors then proceed to build a model of electoral preferences for Russia’s different population groups in a quest to see how well it conforms with reality. Unlike everyone else on this list, he is analyzing the Presidential election of 2008, but that’s fine because according to Shpilkin it was one of the most falsified.

As shown in the graph above, rural polling stations and urban polling stations reveal starkly different voting patterns. I can see that the latter is described by an (almost internationally standard) log-normal curve; rural voters are the ones who create the fat tail. The other polling stations are various special ones, e.g. in closed institutions or the military, but only account for 1% of the total voters so their overall effect is small. The difference between turnout in the cities and the country is explained “deeper and stronger mutual relations” existing in the latter, whereas urban dwellers are a more amorphous mass. And I would remind the reader at this point that United Russia is more popular in the countryside.

At some level this does make sense – anybody who has lived in a Russian village (or even a small town) can confirm that people there know each other far better than in a big city or a metropolis like Moscow. I can easily imagine a social activity like voting will logically draw a higher participation. He makes a further interesting argument regarding the relation between turnout and the size of the voter list at polling stations (see “Size Matters, Baby” below for a nice graph by Pshenichnikov illustrating this). Basically, turnout at urban polling stations with smaller voter lists begins to converge to converge with results from rural polling stations with bigger voter lists; but unlike in towns, the vast bulk of votes in rural areas accrue to polling stations with small voter lists, where turnout is very high.

And though there are fewer rural voters than urban voters, the number of polling stations is about evenly split between the two – because the average rural polling station has a smaller voter list than the average urban polling station. Adding the results from city stations and rural stations together produces the fat tail on the turnout graphs.

In summary, the overall turnout distribution by polling station is merely the sum of how different Russian population groups vote: urban voters, rural voters, institutional voters (e.g. soldiers).

Worried about the “cragginess” of the graph? Just the result of ordinary fluctuations. It increases when you analyze it at higher resolutions and fades away to nothing at the lowest resolutions.

Plotting the voter turnout distribution not against the number of polling stations but against the number of voters voting in places at any particular turnout will naturally diminish the fatness of the tail (because as pointed out above the polling stations with small voter lists will have the highest turnouts).

As before, the same general turnout pattern is observed in terms of rural and urban voting patterns when plotted against voter numbers.

Churov further argues that the proportional votes for each candidate are NOT huge affected by the turnout. What tendency Medvedev has to win more votes relatively at higher turnouts is down to the increasing influence of the rural vote. A close up of the voting figures for the 75%-100% is presented.

As far as I can see, Churov makes an important point (and in large part convincing) point about the different voting patterns that describe rural and urban voters, and especially the effect of the size of the polling station’s voter list on the turnout. However, he patently fails to address the main concerns of his critics for one simple reason.

He only analyzed the results from 25 regions of European Russia. Which ones? They are not even identified (apart from Kaliningrad, Murmansk and Arghangelsk oblasts, and the Nenets autonomous region, which are mentioned in passing as included). If there is a link telling us what the other 21 are, I cannot find it. And the biggest problem is that, of course, fraud is highly variant by Russian regions. For instance, see Aleksandr Kireev‘s (kireev) map of his estimates of election fraud. Note that three of the four regions actually cited by Churov are green, i.e. indicating that they had little or no fraud in the 2011 elections. As Russian political culture hasn’t changed much in the past three years, they presumably looked similar in 2008.

I strongly suspect that for his analysis Churov merely handpicked the most electorally honest regions he could find and worked from there. Why else include only the 25 regions, with 21% of Russia’s voters and 23% of its voting stations, when he obviously has access to the Central Election Commission’s entire database just like any other blogger? These suspicions are further reinforced by the lack of spikes at regular 5% intervals that everyone else who compiled turnout distributions at the federal level found. He makes some good arguments but the overall conclusions that there is no or minimal fraud is not credible.

Separate The Wheat From The Chaff (5%-7%; 6.6% fraud)

The computer programmer hist_kai takes a relatively simple approach. He plots the number of people voting for United Russia under every 0.1% point interval to get the graph below.

Then he removed all voices for United Russia at 5% intervals, in a 0.5% swathe left and right. This gives a level of fraud of 0.7%.

Then he removes all polling stations where United Russia got more than 75%. This gives a total fraud level of 7.3%.

This is highly unscientific, of course. Some polling stations where United Russia got less than 75% would have been dirty, and some where it got more than 75% would have been clean. Still, it’s a useful way to demonstrate that even removing all the places where it got huge amounts of the vote would have only modestly impacted United Russia’s total tally and would have still clearly left it as the biggest winner.

A group from Samarcand Analytics (Alex Mellnik, John Mellnik and Nikolay Zhelev) issued a study using the a similar method to hist_kai, though they cut off the top quintile of turnout as opposed to all stations registering more than 75% support for United Russia. They justified this on the basis that it was only the quintile with the highest turnout that voted for United Russia in a spectacularly non-Gaussian distribution.

Because of the aforementioned observations that higher turnout correlates with more votes for United Russia, its score after this adjustment is reduced to 42.7%. This implies a possible fraud of 6.6%. The adjusted results for all parties are as follows:

Party

Percent of the vote

Percent without high-turnout polling stations

United Russia

49.3

42.7

Communist Party

19.2

21.2

A Just Russia

13.2

15.2

LDPR

11.7

13.3

Yabloko

3.4

4.0

Patriots of Russia

1.0

1.1

Right Cause

0.6

0.7

Despite the methodological problems with this relatively crude method, it’s worth noting that the adjusted results by party are highly congruent with the results of the FOM exit poll, the most comprehensive one.

Rise of the Machines (6%-7%; 17% fraud)

There are very significant and suspicious discrepancies between polling stations with machine voting and polling stations were counted by hand. The former, on average, are a lot lower.

According to graphs compiled by Sergey Shpilkin, the turnout looks a lot more Gaussian in polling stations equipped with machines; those without feature very fat tails, rising to a much sharper spike at 100%. Compare the turnout graph below for polling stations with machines with the average turnout graph in the section “The Magical Beard.”

Across the same territorial electoral commissions, United Russia got an average of only 36.6% at polling stations equipped with voting machines; this is compared to its 54.2% result elsewhere. This would seem to indicate huge fraud, as machines are harder to tamper with. But this is only assuming that there is no consistent difference between polling stations with and without voting machines.

But this may not be merited as urban, more accessible areas can generally be expected to have a higher likelihood of hosting voting machines, and they are also precisely the places where United Russia has done less well in these elections. On the other hand, if both machines and hand ballots are falsified – e.g. as seems to be the case in Karachay-Cherkessia – this indicator would be a false negative.

In a joint project, Maxim Pshenichnikov and Dmitry Kobak (kobak) compiled a list of disparities between machine and hand ballot results in each of Russia’s cities. They return substantially smaller estimates of overall fraud, albeit there are huge differences between regions. The average calculated by Pshenichnikov is 6.3%. This figure he termed “коибатость”, i.e. which we may translate as “machination.” As you can see in the graph below, the city with the highest measure of fraud – as measured by the machine / hand ballot discrepancy, which has its methodological problems – is Astrakhan, with more than 30% fraud in favor of United Russia. In third or fourth position follows Moscow, with slightly less than 20% fraud in favor of United Russia.

The average calculated by Kobak is 6%-7%. His method is slightly different from – and more rigorous than – Pshenichnikov’s, because whereas the latter calculated “global” machination he confined himself to “local” machination, i.e. he only used the statistics from those polling stations which had at least one voting machine for his comparison with the results from voting machines. Apart a histogram similar to the one above also produces this stunning map of machine and hand ballot voting in Russia’s urban regions: The “green meteors” are results from hand voting, the “red meteors” (which aren’t usually near as trail-blazing) are the results from machine voting.

Kobak is unsure as to why the big discrepancy with Shpilkin’s figures. He emphasizes that Shpilkin’s 37% figure for United Russia cannot be taken at face value because machines tend to be present in larger cities where United Russia does less well; but does consider the 17% figure (the federal average) an important estimate, despite its being much different from his own 6%-7% estimate (the average by region).

One theory he suggests is that in even in those regions where United Russia has a high results, there are few machines and many individuals sites are without them; there, the difference between hand voting and machine voting results is modest at 7%. But when counting up these results on the federal level, these high-United Russia support regions only contribute a little to the aggregate total at well below their true weight (because few of them have machines and can be counted); while contributing a lot to the hand voting totals. Hence the possible source of the huge (and “misleading”) 17% discrepancy.

Meteors of Mendacity (11% fraud)

Dmitry Kobak (kobak) is another big skeptic of the official results. Like Shpilkin, he considers the turnout / voting correlation in favor of United Russia damning, and has some nice graphs to illustrate it. For an election to be fair, the meteors have to be flying to the left and their trails have to be horizontal – a condition that United Russia fails to fulfill. See above for extensive criticism of this assertion.

He calculates the real result by cutting away all the data from polling stations with “suspiciously high turnout”, which he puts at anything bigger than 60% or 50%. Due to United Russia getting far fewer votes in places where turnout is low, that has the effect of reducing its result from 49.3% to 36% and 34%, respectively.

Needless to say his graphs look nice, but they hide a very crude method. Cutting off at 60% essentially dismisses half the entire electorate. He addresses this concern by taking the minimum of United Russia’s voting curve in relation to the turnout, then sums the results up to get a real score of 38%. This implies 11% fraud.

This seems more realistic than the 15%+ obtained by Shpilkin, which clashes so badly with the results of exit polls and opinion polls, if still towards their absolutely lowest margins of error. And needless to say the fairness of taking United Russia’s minimum – and assigning anything above it to fraud – is highly questionable. Using the regional turnout and voting data for the 2010 UK general election provided by _ab_, would the same method not “prove” massive fraud in favor of the Tories?

He also reproduces Shpilkin’s normalization method, producing a real result of 34% for United Russia and hence fraud of 15%. However, even he rejects the method as too harsh and simplistic, ignoring local specifics.

His analysis of the applicability of Benford’s Law to the Russian elections saw no interesting results.

Size Matters, Baby

Maxim Pshenichnikov points out that the larger the amount of voters at any polling station the lower a result United Russia tends to get there. Is it because fraud is harder when there are more people? Or is because smaller stations would probably tend to be in rural and more remote areas, which are usually more pro-United Russia? He doesn’t comment. You decide.

Questioning Russian Behavior

That the correlation between higher turnout and more votes for United Russia is indicative of fraud has two main arguments against it, as we saw above: First, the logic of the “silent majority”, and second, comparisons with other countries like the UK, Germany, and Israel. The blogger vmenshov attempts to prove that this “silent majority” thesis does not apply to Russia, and that the effect really is down to vote stealing on United Russia’s behalf.

So Is It Time To Get The Barber?

Back in 2007, Churov promised to shave off his beard if the elections were unfair. Should we send him the barber then?

It’s a hard question. That there is statistical evidence indicating some degree of fraud is beyond dispute. What’s at stake is the scale. Much like United Russia’s results in Moscow, there are two big clusters: I will simplify them to the 5% Thesis and the 15% Thesis. (There is also a 0% Thesis, as argued by Churov and Kremlin spokespersons; not as if they have much of a choice on the matter. But I think most of us can agree that just the results from Chechnya alone discredit this group).

The 5% Thesis is maintained by Sergey Zhuravlev and the aggregate regional discrepancies between districts with and without machine voting; it is also the figure suggested by practically every opinion poll and exit poll.

The 15% Thesis, most prominently advanced by Sergey Shpilkin and Dmitry Kobak, has become the banner figure of the opposition. If they are right the current composition of the Duma does not reflect the will of the Russian electorate and as such the elections have to be honestly rerun for the system to win back its legitimacy.

The problem with it is that it relies on three fundamental assumptions about Russian elections which. Kirill Kalinin, writing for Slon.ru, identifies these three assumptions thus:

  1. The lack of a “normal” Gaussian turnout and voting distribution.
  2. Suspicious spikes at regular intervals in the turnout and voting distribution.
  3. A positive correlation between turnout and votes for United Russia.

The problem is that all of these assumptions have been argued to be invalid in the Russian context. That said, there are powerful counter-arguments too. By the numbers:

  1. A heterogeneous population and examples of similar phenomenon from advanced democracies throw doubt on this argument, BUT none have tails quite as fat or spikes quite as sharp as does United Russia.
  2. The spikes may, in part, be a product of number theory. But as turnout rises above 60%, they become too sharp to be attributed to number theory alone; and besides, number theory can only explain spikes at common fractions, not at places like 85% or 95%.
  3. The thesis of the “silent majority” and myriad examples from other countries severely weaken this assumption.

It’s good that this election has inspired bloggers, activists and scientists to delve into the interesting and undeveloped world of electoral fraud analysis. They may well be truly groundbreaking original research on the subject lurking somewhere on Runet.

Nonetheless, there remain huge uncertainties; one must guard against the deceptive simplicity and aesthetic richness of most of these arguments. A further peril is that, understandably, this discussion is extremely politicized. As a rule, proponents of the 15% Thesis are liberals to whom United Russia really is a party of scoundrels and thieves and Putin is a cancer on the nation. Likewise, all proponents of the 0% Thesis and some of the proponents of the 5% Thesis are more politically conservative and sympathetic to the Kremlin’s viewpoint that things are basically alright.

My own view on the matter is that the 15% Thesis is extremely unlikely to be true because if it were valid, it would essentially invalidate the entirety of Russian opinion polling – and the work of hundreds of experienced professionals – for at least the last decade; prior to the 2011 Duma elections, only a single poll gave United Russia less than 49%. And we are expected to believe their actual result was 35% or even less? A claim this extraordinary needs truly extraordinary evidence to be credible, but the evidence that has actually been presented is full of questionable assumptions. Which is, in fact, quite ordinary in the world of social science.

Which is not a bad thing. Let the debate go on. Churov can keep his beard, but a web camera or three to let people know he ain’t hiding anything in it wouldn’t go amiss.

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

Peter Lavelle: In His Own Words…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HARD Talk* with Peter Lavelle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back to the Future

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

Ok, Peter Lavelle’s predictions:

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

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

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

Anatoly, thanks for the interview!

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
 
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In a recent post, Mark Adomanis pointed out that the Russian economy has done significantly better than many other East European nations during the recent crisis and is now mounting a strong recovery. He also speculated on the effects of the crisis on the demography of badly-affected countries such as Romania, Bulgaria, and the Baltics, on the basis that “Russia’s experience during the 1998 debt default amply demonstrates that cutting healthcare budgets and pensions in the midst of an economic catastrophe causes a lot of excess deaths among vulnerable sectors of the population”.

Now I’ve never really worried about the consequences on mortality of an economic recession, because I don’t buy into The Lancet‘s arguments that it was the reduction in Russian social spending in 1998 that contributed to the mortality wave of 1999-2002, since the increasing affordability of, and consumption of, alcohol was by far the more convincing factor. (Also, in industrialized states, recessions tend to correlate with falls in mortality rates). On the other hand, hard recessions – especially ones which result in reduced public spending on social welfare – usually are associated with substantial reductions in fertility. In this post I’m going to take a look at how valid these observations and theories are in light of the recent economic crisis in Eastern Europe.

Russia. At the start of the crisis in late 2008, I expected Russia’s fertility rate to fall slightly – though nowhere near the magnitudes predicted by Russia’s “demographic doomers”, of course. (Though even for that I got a lot of flak). Yet ironically even my predictions turned out to be too pessimistic, probably because increased government spending meant that Russians’ social welfare hardly suffered at all during the crisis. Even Russia’s fertility rate continued to climb, reaching 1.56 in 2009 (2008 – 1.49, 2007 – 1.41, 2006 – 1.30), a level last seen in 1992. And like I said, Russia’s trends towards falling mortality actually accelerated, with life expectancy for both genders hitting 69.0 years in 2009 (2008 – 67.9, 2007 – 67.5, 2006 – 66.6, 2005 – 65.3) – a level that was only ever previously observed in 1963-1974 and 1986-1991. Most encouragingly, Russians’ mortality from “vices” – homicide, alcohol poisoning, and suicide – have fallen back to their late Soviet levels. The decline in alcohol poisonings is particularly good because much of Russia’s “hyper-mortality” (including the high rate of heart disease) is tied to excessive alcohol consumption.

[Source: Rosstat].

Demographic improvements relative to the same period last year continued in Q1 2010, with the birth rate up another 1.3% and mortality rates falling by 2.0% (inc. by about 10% for external causes). (The figures on fertility are particularly significant when you recall that Russia reached the nadir of its economic crisis in H1 2009). According to Sergey Slobodyan’s demographic model, the data indicates that a projection of 1.9-2.0mn deaths and 1.8-1.9mn births in 2010 is feasible, meaning that natural population decrease will almost cease (the total population should grow, as last year, due to immigrants).

Conclusion – contrary to hysterical predictions of economic and demographic apocalypse propagated about Russia in late 2008, the real impact on social welfare was very marginal and the demographic situation actually continued to improve. This year, Russia’s life expectancy will probably approach 70 years (still very low for an industrialized country) and its total fertility rate will hit around 1.6 children per woman (as in Canada). Although the mortality rate remains very substandard relative to the industrialized world, current healthcare and anti-alcohol initiatives are helping usher in rapid improvements.

PS. There has been a small update to Rosstat‘s demographic projections. Its middle projection now indicates a population of 140.9mn and its high projection a population of 146.7mn in 2025, relative to 141.9mn in 2009; in the last few years, Russia’s demography has tracked between the High and Medium projections. (This is in line with my own forecasts).

Ukraine. Mark Adomanis claims that Ukraine has a “much more serious demographic crisis than Russia”. But much as one can condemn Orange mismanagement of the economy and social relations, it can’t really be said in good faith that its demography is a lot worse. Whereas its birth rates are lower and its death rates are higher than Russia’s, this is in large part because Ukraine has a marginally older median age than Russia.

Let’s instead use measures that cancel out the effects of specific population age structure. Ukraine’s life expectancy (68.3) was marginally better than Russia’s (67.8) in 2008 (World Bank), and its big mortality reductions in 2008-09 indicate that it kept the lead. Similarly, Russia’s fertility rate (1.49) is not awesomely bigger than Ukraine’s (1.39) in 2008, and may be partly or wholly explained by the fact that Russia’s demographic collapse in the 1990’s was both quicker and sharper than Ukraine’s. Finally, both countries have been displaying very similar demographic dynamics in recent years, despite their political differences – a moderate recovery in fertility rates (from a low base), and plummeting death rates (from a very high base).

[Source: World Bank Development Indicators. Note that for all the vast differences in the political economy and post-transition success of Russia, Latvia, Belarus, and Ukraine, their fertility (and overall demographic) dynamics are remarkably alike].

Now what about the crisis, which hit Ukraine much harder than Russia? (Ukraine’s GDP declined by 15% in 2009, compared to Russia’s 9%, and it wasn’t cushioned by increased government spending on social welfare). Ukraine’s birth rate increased ever so slightly from 11.0/1000 in 2008 to 11.1/1000 in 2009 (but fell from 11.2/1000 in Jan-Feb 2009 to 10.7/1000 in Jan-Feb 2010). Meanwhile, its death rate decreased from 16.3/1000 in 2008 to 15.2/1000 in 2009 (and from 17.2/1000 in Jan-Feb 2009 to 16.4/1000 in Jan-Feb 2010). In crude terms, Ukraine had a higher rate of natural population decrease than Russia (-4.2/1000 versus -1.7/1000 in 2009), and its overall population is still falling fast because unlike Russia it does not have many immigrants.

Nonetheless, the Ukrainian crisis is now easing and the new government seems to be moving from concentrating on historical grievances to modernization and stability. Given the inherent similarities between and increasing integration of Russia and Ukraine, their demographic dynamics will probably be likewise similar – a recovery of fertility rates to 1.7-1.8 within a few years, a rise in life expectancy to 75 years within a decade, substantial net migration to Russia and zero net migration to Ukraine. The result would be a slowly rising or stagnating population in Russia, and a stagnating or slowly falling population in Ukraine.

Conclusion – Ukraine is experiencing a demographic recovery, with particularly impressive gains in life expectancy during the crisis. Though its fertility rate remained more or less stagnant, it now again shows signs of improvement – a good sign, since nine months ago Ukraine was still at its economic nadir.

Belarus. Thanks to its isolation from the global financial system, Belarus did not experience much of an economic crisis at all. It’s GDP even grew by 1.5% in 2009, and has since expanded by 6.1% in Jan-Apr 2010 relative to the same period last year. But ironically, its demographic improvements have been modest.

The birth rate rose from 11.1/1000 to 11.6/1000 and the death rate rose from 13.8/1000 to 14.2/1000 from 2008 to 2009*. (In Q1 2010 relative to the same period last year, the birth rate fell from 11.3/1000 to 11.2/1000 and the death rate fell from 15.3/1000 to 15.1/1000). The rate of natural increase eased slightly to -2.5/1000 in 2009, from -2.6/1000 in 2008.

This means that Belarus retained a fertility rate of about 1.45-1.5 children per woman in 2009, compared to Russia’s 1.56 and Ukraine’s 1.4-1.45, and its life expectancy was somewhat higher than both at 70.5 years in 2008 (very slightly lower in 2009), compared with Russia’s 69.0 years in 2009 and Ukraine’s 68.3 years in 2008 (maybe a year higher in 2009).

Conclusion – despite emerging from the crisis largely unscathed, the demography of Belarus showed no significant improvement (or deterioration).

Latvia. Latvia saw a catastrophic decline of GDP of 18% in 2010 and its welfare state has been decimated to a degree unparalleled anywhere else in Europe (at least so far). From 2008 to 2009, births fell by 9.5% and marriages, a very rough indicator of future fertility, fell by a truly stunning 23.3%. The decline continued into 2010, with births in Jan-Mar falling by 11.6% and marriages declining by 22.4% on the same period in 2009. Since Latvia’s total fertility rate was a not too healthy 1.45 back in 2008, this means that it is now in one of the deepest demographic chasms in Europe.

[Source: Latvijas Statistika].

On the positive side, Latvia did see modest improvements in its mortality rates, which fell by 3.6% from 2008 to 2009 (though they’ve remained almost stagnant so far in 2010). Unsurprisingly, after a period of demographic recovery in the 2000′s, Latvia’s rate of natural population decrease has started opening up again, rising from a loss of 7058 people in 2008 to 8220 people in 2009, and almost certain to increase further this year.

Small consolation. Going by the experiences of other countries in the region, the falling marriage rate in Latvia should have been accompanied by a simultaneously falling divorce rate, so the post-2008 annual decline in net couple formation should have been less than 20%.

Estonia. Estonia’s had a milder recession than Latvia with a GDP fall of 14% (it’s all comparative!) and it did not decimate its welfare state to quite the same extent. It also started from a position of significantly greater affluence and its fertility rate was at 1.66 children per woman in 2008. The number of births fell by 2.6% from 2008 to 2009, and by a mere 0.9% in the first four months of 2010 relative to the same period last year. This decline was outpaced by improvements in longevity, with mortality rates falling by 3.7% in 2009 relative to 2008, and a further 3.5% in the first four months of 2010 relative to the same period in 2009. Since it now shows signs of mounting an early recovery, the crisis should not make a big dent in Estonia’s long-term demographic prospects.

Lithuania. Their situation seems to have become somewhat worse, based on the monthly estimates of the population size for 2009. But their national statistics site is bad and doesn’t have detailed recent data so I can’t really say much more than that it is worse than in Estonia but far better than in Latvia.

Conclusion – the crisis has been a demographic disaster for Latvia, with its total fertility probably falling to a “lowest-low” rate of around 1.2 children per woman by 2010. Since its economic crisis seems to be deep and long-lasting, with deleterious effects on social welfare, we can expect a resumption of demographic free fall and perhaps a rise in ethnic Russian emigration to (fast recovering) Russia. In contrast, Estonia’s stronger foundations weathered the crisis well and its total fertility rate, now at perhaps 1.6 children per woman, is still relatively healthy by East and Central European standards.

Caucasus. In Armenia, the crude death rate remained unchanged at 8.5/1000 from 2008 and 2009, while the birth rate rose from 12.7/1000 to 13.7/1000, despite its big decline in GDP during the crisis. Given that its total fertility rate was at 1.74 in 2008, it is doing fine. Georgia is probably doing OK, since their population actually rose in 2009 – the only other post-Soviet year in which Georgia experienced population growth was in 2006, which happened to coincide with Russia’s deportation of illegal Georgian immigrants.

Moldova. Doesn’t have vital stats for 2009. Its overall population fell by five thousand people in 2009 relative to 2008, which is lower than usual, since on most years it falls by around ten thousand. I don’t think this was due to demographic improvements – don’t forget that many Moldovans were returning from their work in Russia during its recession in 2009.

Rest of post-Soviet space. Azerbaijan and Central Asia don’t need to be considered since they have healthy demographics anyway.

The Balkans. Birth rates and death rates seemed to have remained essentially stable from 2008 to 2009 in Bulgaria and Romania, with a slight improvement overall. Crisis hasn’t affected them much – at least, not yet.

Final conclusion – overall, the crisis did not greatly affect the demography of the Eurasian region. There continued to be modest improvements in the two most populous nations, Russia and Ukraine. The death rate has fallen rapidly during the crisis almost everywhere, the sole exceptions being Belarus and Romania where it increased by a tiny amount. On the other hand, birth rates have either risen slowly (e.g. Russia), stagnated (e.g. Ukraine), or fallen slowly (e.g. Estonia). The major exception is Latvia, where birth rates have collapsed at an amazing rate from regional average to “lowest-low”. This reflects the particular severity of the economic crash in Latvia.

* The real rise in the birth rate and the death rate from 2008 to 2009 are actually slightly exaggerated. That is because from 2009, Belarus lowered its total population (on the basis of which birth and death rates / 1000 people are calculated) to correlate with the preliminary results of the 2009 Census. The actual number of births rose from 107.9 thousand to 109.8 thousand and the number of deaths rose from 133.9 thousand to 135.0 thousand.

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
 
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Anatoly Karlin @ www.DaRussophile.com
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Russia’s Sisyphean Loop

The Eternal Return to the Future?

In this article I attempt to explain Russia’s historical cycles of failed Westernization and to project its future socio-political trajectory. First, I note the nature of and linkages between Russia’s geography, cultural traditions and imperial cycles. Second, using a ‘Belief Matrix’ model and drawing on historical observations, I accumulate evidence that Russia is caught in a ‘Sisyphean Loop’ in which all its attempts to Westernize – for a panoply of economic, cultural, and political reasons – merely end returning it to its imperial Eurasian past-and-future. In this century, there are three possible ‘steady state’ outcomes: either the Loop will continue as Russia returns to authoritarian stagnation or even succumbs to ‘totalitarian reversion’, or it will break – resulting in Russia’s entwinement within a ‘liberty cycle’ in which it finally manages to anchor liberal values onto its population.

I. The Curse of Geography

Russia’s physical geography can be characterized in three words – big, cold, and flat. This unique combination has left an indelible mark on the national character and the nature of the Russian state that cannot be ignored in any work on its political economy [1]. Let’s consider the deleterious effects of each of them in turn.

The early Rus’ state emerged in the coldest region to ever produce a settled population, a problem compounded by its post-16th century eastern expansion into Eurasia. Growing seasons are short, late spring droughts are recurrent and grain yields are low. This made Russian agriculture outside the southern Black Earth regions, where the cold is mitigated by exception soil fertility, unproductive and barely sufficient for population subsistence. Peasants throughout the world have traditionally viewed merchants with suspicion, since capitalism’s profit motive undermined the egalitarian village social relations and support mechanisms [2] necessary to guarantee community survival in a Malthusian world predating modern economic growth. The especially precarious nature of Russian peasant life further amplified these psychological attributes, making Russia deeply averse to the development of capitalist enterprise, with its emphasis on individual initiative and steady capital accumulation [3].

The resultant low per capita surpluses and the difficulties of taxation rendered old Russia incapable of supporting an extensive institutional superstructure. Instead, it assumed the form of a “patrimonial state” based on absolutist rule, capable of concentrating scarce resources to fulfill crucial national tasks such as defense, “defensive modernization”, and the provision of food security. Even though industrialization and fossil energy reserves have somewhat mitigated the economic effects of the severe cold in Russia, the costs remain substantial: the construction and maintenance of infrastructure is far more expensive than in temperate regions, and the Soviet legacy of large population centers in deepest Siberia and the High Arctic necessitate subsidized energy flows to avert humanitarian catastrophe.

These climatic problems are compounded by Eurasia’s huge, unconnected landmass, a feature noted as early as the 18th century by Adam Smith [4]. The low population density, relative lack of navigable rivers and distance from the seas starved Russia of capital, necessitating coercive state intervention in economic development. Though it is true that in the post-agrarian age the railways, telegraphs, telephones, radio, TV, and the Internet mitigated these factors, Russia continues to incur great costs on road and railway maintenance and the opportunity costs of missing out on the cargo freighter revolution of globalized late industrialism.

Furthermore, not only was Russia in a perpetual natural state of economic backwardness, but it was also surrounded by foreboding plains dominated by Asiatic horsemen to the east and Teutonic, Scandinavian and Polish encroachers to the west. This induced an acute sense of insecurity, at times overspilling into paranoia, in its rulers. Russia was impelled to expand from its Muscovite heartlands to suborn weak border regions (Ukraine, Poland, Central Asia, etc) and seize and hold natural buffers against powerful neighbors (the Caucasus, the Carpathians, etc). As Catherine the Great pithily put it, “I have no way to defend my borders except to extend them”. However, the initial economic gains of conquest were worn down as Moscow was forced to maintain strong standing armies on every potential front, administer the new lands and fund an extensive internal security apparatus, all of which constituted a constant drain on scarce resources and the productive labor pool.

The reasoning behind Catherine the Great's claim, "I have no way to defend my borders except to extend them".

[The Kremlin's view of the world - its strategic rear secured by the frozen Barents Sea, it feels “natural” to expand up to the Tien Shan, the Iranian border, the Caucasus, the Carpathians, and as far down the North European Plain as possible. Source: Stratfor].

Adding these factors together, it becomes clear why imperial overstretch, economic inefficiency and primitive consumer markets are features, not bugs, of any Eurasian empire. Although industrial, technological, and fossil energy sources have mitigated the curse of Russia’s geography during the last century, they were reinforced in the other direction by the Soviet physical legacy of “city-forming enterprises”, industrial “gigantism”, remote population centers, a metastasized military-industrial complex and “structural militarization”[5].

Much has been written on how developing nations can get locked into ‘dependency’ relations with the advanced ‘core’, in which a misguided focus on comparative advantage (bananas, oil, etc) contributes to the growth of strong structural and institutional barriers in the developing nation towards long-term, industrial growth – the only sure path to sustainable wealth [6]. It has also been pointed out that the only nations to have successfully ‘caught up’ with the original ‘leading’ industrial economy, Britain, were those which developed their indigenous manufacturing capabilities with active, large-scale state involvement (e.g. Germany, Japan, the Asian NIC’s)[7].

Not only does Russia suffer from the classic problem of economic backwardness (along with its associated tendency to develop unhealthy dependency relations), but its economy is further burdened by the aforementioned cold climate, huge landmass, poor riverine connections, strategic vulnerability, and a Soviet physical legacy which (somewhat) worked in the context of central planning, but which is a liability now that the Eurasian economic space has been opened up. In its open condition, the Russian economy is structurally uncompetitive on the world stage, relative to Europe, the US, and China; because manufacturing is inherently loss-making on the Eurasian plains, it is much more economically ‘efficient’ to just ship out Russia’s mineral resources to fuel manufacturing in warmer, coastal regions such as the Rhineland or the Pearl River Delta. No more than 20mn Russians are needed to service the pipelines and grow fat from the proceeds. The other 120mn are free to eke out a subsistence living on Russia’s marginal lands, or die out (as indeed many did during the post-Soviet era of neo-liberal reforms [8]).

Hence, it is hard to escape the conclusion that to achieve real, long-term economic growth and political sovereignty, as opposed to transitory commodity-bubble booms and political dependency, Russia needs to implement a degree of economic autarky – protective barriers, state backing of sunrise industries, buying (or stealing) of key industrial technologies, etc. True, this will doom it to eternal backwardness relative to the developed West. But so will openness – and at a far steeper social and political price, as will be demonstrated below.

II. Clash of Beliefs

Despite all the superficial similarities, Russia is most certainly not America. The US has a temperate climate, no significant external threats, abundant land, and excellent navigable river systems and sea ports on both coasts, all of which enabled its long legacy of free-wheeling capitalist development. Though the individual European nations tend to be strategically insecure and heavily-populated, entailing a more state-centered pattern of development, the continent’s geographical endowments – fertile river valleys, easy access to the sea and differentiated climatic zones – made it highly favorable for the development of commerce and capital accumulation [9].

These differences in starting conditions manifested themselves in lower growth rates for Russia relative to Europe. Although their absolute differences were infinitesimal and overwhelmed by the “noise” of annual climate / harvest variability and longer-term Malthusian cycles [10], this nonetheless led to a growing development gap between the two civilizations on a millennial timescale [11]. Russia’s historical backwardness was already evident by the 15th century in the contrast between the achievements of Renaissance Europe, which was by then building up the foundations of the modern world – the printing press, mechanical clocks, caravels, etc – while medieval Muscovy, the precursor to the Russian Empire, was only beginning to emerge from its long Tatar-Mongol night. Thus, the Russian state’s first interactions with a self-confident, more advanced, and frequently predatory Europe, set the template for the next five hundred years of its tortuous relations with the West. This relationship made it into a “torn nation”, to use Samuel Huntington’s term from the Clash of Civilization – forever torn between succumbing to Western civilization and returning to its Eurasian legacy.

This takes us to the crux of the problem. Russia’s seemingly-permanent backwardness ignited a prolonged debate between groups that would come to be known as its “Westernizers” and “Slavophiles” / “Eurasianists”. One of the current and most influential iterations of the former is the argument set forth in Francis Fukuyama’s The End of History and the Last Man, which in the heady, triumphalist days of 1992 proclaimed, “What we may be witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War, or the passing of a particular period of post-war history, but the end of history as such: that is, the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government”.

First, this is backed by the empirical evidence. According to the Polity IV database, the number of countries qualifying as democracies rose from around a dozen before World War One, to more than ninety by 2008 [12]. Second, Fukuyama noted the increasing influence of the “Mechanism” of natural science on societies, which emphasizes the primacy of rationalism and the desirability of optimal socio-economic arrangements. Third, he appropriated the Hegelian master-slave dialectic to argue that liberal democracy is the system best geared towards managing the conflicting thymias[13] of both “isothymiacs” – whose desire for equality is satisfied by classical liberalism and rule of law; and “megalothymiacs” – whose desire for power over others is satisfied through capital accumulation and the thrills of democratic politics. The theory goes that as nations embrace the scientific method and industrialize – whether to enjoy the fruits of consumerism, or only just to preserve their political sovereignty – the likelihood of their convergence to liberal democracy and integration into the “international community” approaches one.

These theories of secular progress have developed in an uneasy conjunction with the “civilizational school”, which believes that free markets and liberal democracy are specific features of Western civilization, i.e. of the Latino-Germanic peoples, and therefore cannot easily take root in other societies. One of the most powerful arguments against wholesale Westernization was made by Nikolai Trubetzkoy in Europe and Man, published in 1920 amidst the postwar disillusionment and revolutionary turbulence of those years. He states that the idea of world progress, with European civilization naturally at its forefront, is nothing more than a baseless assumption of European cosmopolitanism (which is itself merely a euphemism for “egocentric” “pan-Latino-Germanic chauvinism”). This is because “the scientific nature of the proof is illusory”, since to “reconstruct the evolutionary scheme, we must know its beginning and end points, and to ascertain its beginning and end points, we must reconstruct the evolutionary scheme”. Through a deft combination of psychological and philosophical arguments, he comes to the conclusion that all cultures – including “savages” – are essentially equal and should be evaluated on their own merits. Though cultural relativism is well-known today, at least on liberal university campuses, such ideas were ground-breaking at the time [14].

Following his reflections on the non-universality of Western culture, Trubetzkoy asks whether it is possible for a non-European culture to a) completely assimilate with it and b) whether doing so is desirable. To do so, he draws on the work of the French sociologist Gabriel Tarde, who argued that all cultures are defined by “the uninterrupted emergence of new cultural assets” (legal codes, political structures, scientific ideas, artistic styles, etc). All cultural assets are either “inventions” – a product of the indigenous culture, or “propagations” – imports from another culture. The former is much easier to assimilate because it is an organic product of the society in question, whereas the latter is copied from another society and whose transplantation will result in a clash with older pre-existing values, resulting in a long and bitter duel logique for supremacy.

When a culture like Russia tries to Westernize, the result is cultural schizophrenia. A good half of its inventions – those stemming from its “old Russian” side – will now be rejected out of hand for not conforming to the dominant European paradigm. Because of its “cultural dependency” on Europe, paralyzing social clefts develop across classes and generations – for instance, during the 18th century “trivial, demeaning aping of Europe”, when the French-speaking upper classes were often unable to even understand their Russophone serfs. (Furthermore, “[Russia] must accept without protest everything that genuine Romano-Germans create and consider valuable, even if it conflicts with its national psychology and is poorly understood”. This basically defines Russia’s unsuccessful attempts to create a Western style free-market economy in the early 1990’s, which was carried out by ideologues and hijacked by insiders).

The resultant internal weaknesses and wastage of ideological energy on internal debates and conflicts cement a permanent cultural lag behind Europe. This breeds a burning inferiority complex within Russians, and causes Europeans to look down upon Russians, whom they criticize for either a) not Europeanizing far enough – for Russia’s indigenous cultural assets can never be fully extirpated, absent a full “anthropological merger” with the Romano-German world, or b) deceitfully repressing their “true nature” under a European veneer [15]. This further reinforces Russians’ disillusionment with the West.

The failure of Westernization, growing social tensions, and simmering ressentiment against the West, occasionally reach a critical point in which Russia attempts to “leap” the gap separating it from the West, as happened during the Bolshevik Revolution (leapfrogging from feudalism to socialism) or the 1990′s (from socialism to market fundamentalism) – i.e., to whatever utopian end-of-history the West appears to be moving towards at the time. However, these leaps are extremely enervating and result in long periods of stagnation as Russian society sets about resolving the contradictions opened up by its Sisyphean attempts to catch up to the West.

III. The Belief Matrix

One way to understand changes in a society’s belief systems is to graphically represent it within a Belief Matrix, as shown below for a ‘Sisyphean loop’ (encounter with the West).

The horizontal axis represents the degree of society’s faith in its own indigenous culture, which can be (roughly) proxied by measures such as demographic health, social solidarity, levels of social trust, the crime rate, and faith in the future. The rightmost part represents a state of “sobornost” (соборность) – a catch-all term for a deep sense of internal peace and unity between races, religions, sexes, etc, within a society, or in the words of the Russian philosopher Nikolai Lossky, “the combination of freedom and unity of many persons on the basis of their common love for the same absolute values”[16]. An example of such a period in Russian history could be the Khrushchev thaw (1956-64), which saw the ebbing of the class war and Stalinist repressions, rapid industrial growth, and symbolic achievements in space; but before the onset of the Brezhnev stagnation, with its drunkenness, corruption and cynicism, which dimmed the lights of faith in a bright socialist future.

Its opposite is another untranslatable Russian word, poshlost (пошлость), which according to different commentators is a kind of “petty evil or self-satisfied vulgarity”[17], “triviality, vulgarity, sexual promiscuity, and a lack of spirituality”[18], “not only the obviously trashy but mainly the falsely important, the falsely beautiful, the falsely clever, the falsely attractive”[19], and “corny trash, vulgar clichés, Philistinism in all its phases, imitations of imitations, bogus profundities, crude, moronic and dishonest pseudo-literature”[20]. This is another good catch-all term for categorizing declining cultures that have, or believe they have lost, their faith in themselves, prominent 20th century examples being Weimar Germany and 1990’s Russia.

The vertical axis of the Belief Matrix represents a society’s degree of belief in Rationalism, that is, Enlightenment values such as liberalism, the rule of law, the scientific method, etc, or what Samuel Huntington ethnocentrically labels as the “Idea of the West”. Several caveats must be added. Rationalism does not necessarily imply democracy, for as thinkers from Aristotle to de Tocqueville pointed out, democracy has a tendency to degenerate into an (irrational) tyranny of the majority. However, some democracy, or at least some degree of popular consent, is needed to sustain a rational society, i.e. for ‘liberal democracy’ to become so ‘embedded’ as to be accepted as an integral part of the national culture, as it is in countries like France or the US.

That is much harder than it sounds. The scientific method is alien and unfamiliar to the peasant mind filled with images of rain gods and trickster demons. The rule of law cannot sit well in human societies based on on communal coercion, “big man” rule and sacrificial scapegoating. As pointed out in Part I, rational market forces are anathema in subsistence societies. Thus, reconciling sobornost with rationalism, or ironing out the internal contradiction inherent in ‘liberal democracy’, is a long and tortuous process that necessitates the development of economic surpluses, and consequently of a culture of tolerance and an argumentative tradition, for its fulfillment. The only nations that managed to fully accomplish this in their pre-industrial phase were Great Britain and the US. However, once a society resolves these contradictions it enters a powerful liberty loop, which ensures the long-term survival of liberal democracy within its territories, at least in the absence of very severe exogenous shocks. Finally, it should be emphasized that the “Idea of the West” is only an absolute ideal to which humans can only aspire to, but never reach unity with; as such, it should not be conflated with individual “Western countries” (France, the US, etc), which are composed of humans and hence frequently, understandably, and inevitably fail to fully live up to their Rationalist ideal.

This explains the frequent Russian, Muslim, Third World, etc, accusations of double standards and hypocrisy [21] on the part of the “West”, which presents itself as a universal, end-of-history civilization, but in reality often acts in ways to further its cultural and economic hegemony. Though part of the critique is accurate and justified, another part veers into being a Romantic reaction against the West, which Gustav Pauli tried to define as “irrationalism, the mystic welding together of subject and object, the tendency to intermingle the arts, the longing for the far-away and the strange, the feeling for the infinite and the continuity of historic development”[22] – much like postmodernism, it is very hard to define Romanticism, for (rational) definition is contrary to its very spirit!

I have designated this over-reaction in Russia’s context as Russian mysticism (Romanticism) or skeptical Russophilia[23], noting that their adherents share a common belief in the non-universality of the Western project and in Russia’s unique civilizational identity and destiny – be it of a Slavophile, Eurasianist, or some other hue. Contrary to the ‘Western Russophobe’-imposed definition of a ‘Russophile’ as someone who uncritically praises Russia and its government, their defining trait is a simple acceptance of Russia for what it is; for unlike the case for (rational) Western civilization, resolving its own contradictions is not part of Russia’s historical mission – and one could add that attempts to do so on the part of its elites have led to usually led to tragic results. The essence of Russian Romanticism can be summed in just four lines by the famous Russian poet Fyodor Tyutchev.

Умом Россию не понять, | You can’t understand Russia with intellect,
Аршином общим не измерить: | You can’t measure her with a common scale,
У ней особенная стать — | She has a special kind of grace,
В Россию можно только верить. | You can only believe in Russia.

This anti-Western reaction can sometimes spiral out of control, transcending its aesthetic, mystical origins into the realm of ‘metapolitics’[24]. The intersection between sobornost and mysticism is the dark region where totalitarianisms arise and democides are unleashed, as their spiritually tortured societies attempt to go back to an imagined past using the most modern tools – as Goebbels himself said, “National Socialism has understood how to take the soulless framework of technology and fill it with the rhythm and hot impulses of our time”. Speaking of which, the prime example of this during the 20th century is German Nazism, which ‘scorns personal freedom and objectivity and all universal, unnational values as being the “superficial” civilization of the sunny Mediterranean, in contrast with the “deeper” Kultur of northern fogs, that misty metapolitics, that “queer mixture of mysticism and brutality”’[25]. A modern example would be the Islamists using modern technology (bombs, airplanes, etc) and modern ideology (Islamized ‘Third Worldism’) to recreate their vision of a pure, idyllic imagined past [26].

In conclusion, there are four utterly distinct socio-psychological states on the Belief Matrix. First, at the bottom right (rationalism / sobornost), we have stable societies where liberalism enjoys a substantial degree of popular consensus, locking them into self-perpetuating ‘liberty cycles’. Second, at the bottom left (rationalism / poshlost), we have peoples with minimal internal social solidarity and a rational mindset, which one could call “diasporic[27] (in that it is typical amongst “diaspora peoples” like the Jews, Armenians, the Chinese ‘bamboo network’ in East Asia, etc). The diaspora mentality cannot be sustained within a non-diasporic society, for a society cannot be a parasite on itself indefinitely; it will have to move upwards, towards a state of “barbarism”, whose essence is a principled stand for pure parasitism – the top-left of the Belief Matrix (mysticism / poshlost), which is a form of nihilism. Yet this too is an unstable state, since it needs to feed off a functioning civilization for its material and cultural survival (i.e. one with a certain degree of sobornost), hence it will eventually come to an end – either when it is crushed by the civilizations it necessarily stands in opposition to, or when it conquers them itself but whose demise likewise eliminates the rents the barbarians had previously relied upon to sustain their civilization, thus forcing them into generating their own productive capabilities. Fourth, the region of the top-right (mysticism / sobornost) is the aforementioned realm of metapolitics, of the “charismatic authority”[28], of high “passionarity”[29], of the national will, of totalitarian despotism.

IV. The Sisyphean Loop

We are all prisoners of the belief matrix and its laws, even the ‘post-historical’ Europeans [30] entrenched within transnational liberalism. As such, it is imperative to understand these laws, especially as they apply to cultures in an uneasy relationship with the West. I will now try to put together a general model of how traditional cultures react to the Western challenge, before applying it to Russia’s five hundred year history of alternating acceptance and rejection of the West in Parts V-VII. I will be referring to the ‘Sisyphean Loop’ chart in Part III throughout.

As attested to by numerous chronicles, first contact with Westerners by less advanced civilizations typically results in a certain fascination with the strange, new Westerners, as well as a determination to catch up – especially to acquire the Western military-industrial technologies to defend against Western predation. (There are many exceptions, of course; for instance, 19th century China believed the Europeans had nothing to teach them, and retreated in on itself to its cost. But in the long-term, the reality of Chinese stagnation and its exploitation by Western powers – including by a Western-armed Japan – eventually forced a tectonic shift). The two cleanest examples of countries repeatedly opting for ‘defensive modernization’ are Japan during the Tokugawa and Meiji eras, and successive incarnations of the Russian Empire under Ivan the Terrible, Peter the Great, Alexander II, Stalin, Putin?

Many indigenous traditions are seen as incompatible with modernization and are rejected by the ruling elites – and as noted in Part II, since a Westernizing nation “borrows its evaluation of culture from the Romano-Germans”, it must then “accept without protest everything that genuine Romano-Germans create and consider valuable, even if it conflicts with its national psychology and is poorly understood”[31]. This creates internal tensions, conflicts, and unrest within society. There occurs a growing gap between the Westernizing elites and the traditional mass of society, a theme that typically comes to dominate vast swathes of its culture and literature, a classic sign of poshlost. Society moves to the bottom- left of the belief matrix, embracing Rationalism (synonymous with Westernization) at the expense of faith in itself. Social trust erodes, there is more internal strife, and society takes on a “diasporic” mentality – the debasing feeling of being a foreigner in one’s own land.

The cosmopolitan elites come to be seen as foreign leeches on indigenous soil, decadent and degenerate, by the common folks – many of whom retain, let us remind ourselves, peasant mentalities valuing egalitarian collectivism, and many of whom are now being uprooted from the soil to swelling cities, made literate and capable of reading agitprop, and made mobile by the new railways, as happened in the last decades of Tsarism (in modern times a similar role may be played by the spread of electronic social networking technologies [32]). Furthermore, these grievances tend to have more than a grain of truth, as the elites do tend to slavishly follow foreign manners (e.g. see the French-speaking Tsarist aristocracy, many of whom could not even understand their Russophone serfs) and exploit the indigenous population in the name of Western-associated ‘modernization’, forcing the country into a humiliating ‘dependency’ relationship with the already-developed core.

Over time these problems begin to discredit further Westernization, especially once the easiest (and ostensibly most useful) task of military modernization is completed. The people and the elites lose faith in the West – the former because they associate it with degeneracy and corruption (e.g. the Russian workers and peasants most aware of it: because of the development of the national railway system during late Tsarism, even a peasant from a rural backwater could now observe the parasitic decadence of the Court); the latter because of the shallow nationalism born of reinvigorated military, economic and cultural strength accruing from a limited modernization. Intellectually, there is a gradual movement back towards embracing indigenous culture, like the late Tsarist intelligentsia’s (narodniki) fad towards Slavophilia, with its (rather risible) idolization of Russian peasant life.

But now one of two things happens. A part of the elite realizes that their decadence is politically dangerous (a large gap between the masses and the elites presages revolution), and tries to move back towards indigenous traditions – back to the people, so to speak. This is opposed by another part of the elite that has gotten used to its perks and privileges, despite the spiritual anomie in which they are stuck because of this. The ruling elites become disunited and weak; the masses are increasingly disillusioned with the whole system; new ideologues appear, preaching about total rejection of the West (e.g. the Bolsheviks) and a return to an imagined past of purity and virtue, i.e. to tradition (e.g. amongst whom there were many admirers of Russian peasant communal traditions; non-Russian examples would be fascist movements or the radical Islamists who overthrew the Iranian Shah).

There appears a crisis, further straining divisions in the government and polarizing society in general (e.g. World War One). Eventually the government is forced to reform, but alas and alack, as per de Tocqueville, the most dangerous moment for a bad government is when it begins to reform. By reversing course and showing weakness, it delegitimizes itself in the face of crisis; furthermore, it frequently becomes more democratic just when the people (and newly-enfranchised electorate) are becoming more hardline, and extremists (the Bolsheviks in 1918, the Iranian Islamists in 1979, etc) are waiting in the wings. The extremists moderate their positions to win over the people and consolidate their control; after that they unleash terror, taking their captive nation into the far-top fringes of uncompromising rejection of Rationalism and anti-Western reaction.

On the other hand, if the elite remains united; if the crisis is not that severe; if the people retain a firm belief in Rationalism and the Idea of the West and are unswayed by the extremists, then a more moderate outcome can be expected – a reversion back to the past, the state of stasis (“traditional authority”), yet having assimilated some elements of the Idea of the West during its loop so that society is now “better” and perhaps “fairer” than before (by the yardstick of more Westernized states). They remain in this inert state until another shock (e.g. defeat in war by a more Westernized nation, or recognition of weakness) forces them to act, restarting the loop.

Why do I call this a Sisyphean loop? Because while it lasts, this basically explains a tortured nation’s attempts to catch up with “the West” (roll the rock to the top of the mountain), but never managing it (the rock keeps going back downhill). This is very pronounced in Russia – its entire history since gunpowder Muscovy has been one of quixotic attempts to catch up to and surpass the West, yet which all too often ended in catastrophes wrought of messianic delusions, followed by prolonged periods of frustration, stagnation, and collapse.

V. The Rise, Fall, and Rise of the Russian Empire

The hand of the Muscovite Leviathan lay heavy on a people always near the edge of subsistence, creating strong centrifugal forces that further reinforced the state’s natural penchant for coercive centralization and intensive legitimization (the main instruments in these endeavours being the Army, the bureaucracy, and the Church). This resulted in Russia oscillating between two equilibrium states – 1) a centralized autocracy attempting to consolidate state power over the Eurasian vastness – “Empire”, and 2) a natural state of illiberal, anarchic stasis – “Chaos”.

This is how this imperial cycle works. Following Russia’s cyclical collapses (the Mongol conquest, The Time of Troubles, the Civil War and the post-Soviet transition), in which the state withers away and foreign powers and their Russian proxies move in to take advantage of the Eurasian vacuum (the Poles during the ‘Time of Troubles’, the Civil War era interventions, Western ‘financial advisors’ during the 1990’s), there eventually emerges a messianic “white rider” who heavy-handedly drives out the usurpers, and restores order and national morale (the 15th- and early 16th-century princes of Muscovy, Peter the Great, Lenin). Putin is the current white rider, intimately cognizant of Russia’s weakness from his intelligence background and determined to once again play state-driven catch-up to the West.

However, this is rarely successful – these developments are stymied by the baleful economic and social effects of Westernization on Russia (see Part II). Disappointed by slow and stunted progress, the white rider “realizes that the challenges ahead are more formidable than he first believed and that his (relative) idealism is more a hindrance than an asset”[33]. Into this society riven by internal divisions and disillusionment (poshlost) – in steps the ‘dark rider’, who unburdens himself of the white rider’s moral restraints in an all-out drive to fulfil the state’s goals through strict internal controls, subjugation of the economy and military expansionism – he recreates the Empire, driving Russia to the (metapolitical) top-right of the Belief Matrix. The most famous examples are Stalin and Ivan Grozny in his later years.

This empire-building is accompanied by intense efforts at state legitimization (the “Third Rome”, the socialist future, etc – i.e., reincarnations of the mystical, messianic Russian ‘national idea’) and state coercion (from oprichnina to OGPU). Yet the people tend to go along willingly with this project, because of unfavorable memories of the era of collapse and disintegration, and their perception that this regime, though harsh, is a necessary and ‘national’ one. In his visit to the 1930’s USSR, John Scott noted that Stalin himself was regarded as a kind of beneficent Tsar, a father of the nation, and a competent ‘captain of state’ like the propaganda posters portrayed him [34]; the regime enjoyed popular support and Stalinist industrialization was fuelled not only by fear, but by immense enthusiasm and fervor too. The war correspondent Alexander Werth noted similar sentiments in 1941, e.g. Stalin was viewed as a paternal bashka (thinker)[35].

After the dark rider dies, his ‘charismatic authority’ is replaced by more traditional and bureaucratic institutions, i.e. a more rational order. However, his legacies and achievements – sobornost, autarky, sovereignty, i.e. the Empire – linger on, and continue legitimizing the regime. For the Empire is, at root, a social preservation mechanism to allow Russians to enjoy the benefits of sustained socio-political complexity – internal peace, a degree of security from foreign marauders, a large contiguous market space permitting economies of scale and autonomous economic development, and the aesthetic trappings of imperial splendor.

However, cursed with a geography highly unfavorable for settled life (let alone civilization), imperial overstretch, economic backwardness and primitive consumer markets are features, not bugs, of any Eurasian empire (see Part I). Furthermore, the dark rider also sows the seeds of destruction by overextending his realm, which eventually ushers in a period of stagnation and increasing socio-economic strains. Russia’s imperial cycles are basically a permanent struggle against dissolution. Sometimes, the costs of maintaining the imperial superstructure exceed the benefits, by which point a systemic shock could unravel the entire system – a good example would be Kerensky’s Russia in 1917, which collapsed once its coercive (military) and legitimizing (the Church) power was destroyed by defeats, defections, and Bolshevik propaganda.

Half-hearted attempts of the ancien régime at reform fail and the country slides from decline into a new collapse, thus closing the cycle. Though crises are generally rarer in Russia than in most European countries, once they occur – given the amount of stress holding the system together – they tend to be extremely catastrophic. Even as newly-empowered ideologues set about fulfilling their dreams of leapfrogging the West from within the collapsed shell of state, the real Russia outside the Kremlin crumbles reverts back to its natural state – the natural state, an anarchic state of stasis, decentralized Chaos; abandoning its cities, laws, and other accoutrements of civilization for the primeval mysticism of its endless plains, dark forests and Slavic skies.

VI. Patterns of the Past

In this and the next chapter, I will be putting together the above observations on Russia’s geographic-climatic idiosyncrasies, the derived cultural traditions, its special path along the Belief Matrix, and its imperial cycles, trying to link them together and apply them to its past. There appear to me to be several ‘Sisyphean Loops’ in the history of the post-Tatar Russian state, periodic ‘waves’ in which it actively tried to reconcile rationalization with its indigenous traditions – most intense under the rule of Ivan IV (‘the Terrible’), Peter the Great, Lenin and Stalin, and Yeltsin and Putin (though also identifiable under Catherine the Great, and Alexander II and Alexander III).

Thunderstorms over the Third Rome

First off, the reason I put apostrophes around Ivan IV’s epithet – in Russian, it is “Grozny”, an adjective formed from the Russian word “гроза” – “thunderstorm”. Not necessarily cruel and unjust; more appropriate translation are ‘fear-inspiring’, ‘mighty’, ‘superhuman’, ‘sublime’; an unpredictable force of nature that can bring the rains that save the harvest, or kill and destroy everything in its path.

Following Ivan IV’s recognition as ‘Tsar of All Russia’ in 1547, he proceeded to build a diverse, Eurasian empire – and thus cementing Russia’s conception of itself as an Empire ever since. Though criticized for his ‘repressions’, including the violent suppression of the Novgorod insurrection [36], most of the ‘evidence’[37] for his ‘tyranny’ comes from Andrei Kurbsky, the first Russian ‘dissident’ and traitor who turned to Poland-Lithuania in 1564. Actual historical records record only 4,000-5,000 executions under his reign, most of them recidivists who betrayed Ivan Grozny a second time; furthermore, in any case the numbers pale besides the violence seen in Western Europe at the time (e.g. St. Bartholomew’s Massacre in France with 5,000-30,000 dead, and Henry VIII’s anti-vagrant laws that resulted in the execution of 72,000 peasants misappropriated of their lands).

Ivan Grozny made a series of far-reaching reforms, some of which were surprisingly advanced for their time – e.g. the introduction of elected juries from the lower ranks, local self-government, medical quarantines for combating plague, a standing military (strel’tsy), and rationalizing reforms of the Church, the law code, tax collection, the bureaucracy (formation of permanent chanceries, or prikazy, in 1553), nobles’ service obligations (the 1553 ‘decree on service’), and the convocation of zemskie sobory (‘land assemblies’) drawn from merchants and artisans to build consensus for state modernization policies.

Many of the reforms were based on those prevailing in the Ottoman Porte, in particular those concerned with the military structure, tax collection, and noble obligations. However, the attempt to copy the Ottoman system of land division (private, clerical, state, and ‘sovereign’) – known as the institution of oprichnina (1565-1572), meant to create a personal fiefdom subject to Ivan’s direct rule in order to extirpate treason and reduce boyar power – backfired. The black-cowled, sinister oprichniki, riding on black steeds with a broom and dog’s head to “sniff out and sweep away treason”, were more interested in personal enrichment and settling personal vendettas than in pursuing their task of consolidating Ivan Grozny’s power. They proved powerless to defend Moscow against a devastating raid from the Crimean Khanate in 1571, and were disbanded soon after – but not before inflicting severe damage on the Muscovite heartlands. By now Ivan’s transition from a white rider to dark rider was complete, as he steadily slipped into mental insanity, and Russia was wracked by famines and depopulation, and an unsuccessful war with Livonia. Following his death, Russia would slip into deep stagnation (in which state predation would be displaced by boyar predation) and within two decades, the ‘Time of Troubles’, an era of conspiratorial politics and internal strife (poshlost), depopulation, and foreign (Polish) intervention. Much of the 17th century was spent in recuperation from the depopulation and weakening of the state during the late 16th century; although pointedly, it was during this time, relatively free from Malthusian stress and predatory state alike, that Russians enjoyed some of the highest per capita surpluses and consumption in their pre-industrial history [38].

The reign of Ivan IV, ‘the Terrible’, set the template for all of Russia’s consequent ‘defensive modernizations’. Realizing Russia’s backwardness upon coming to power, the white rider, or strongman saviour, begins to rapidly implement a revolution from above involving centralization, social mobilization, and technical and cultural borrowings from abroad, i.e. an embrace of Rationalism. Yet eventually it is noticed that results aren’t progressing as fast as they ought to and need to, and the white rider is replaced by a much stricter dark rider, who rules with an iron fist and possesses an overinflated perception of Russia’s capability to assimilate his changes and reforms. The pursuit of modernization takes on a mystical, quasi-spiritual hue.

Ivan Grozny is special in that in his case, both riders were the same person; it’s just that under the pressures of sabotage and treason from his boyars, he metamorphosed from being a white rider to a dark rider. Under his later rule, efforts at legitimization, coercion, mobilization, etc, were pushed to such extremes that they of themselves critically undermined Russian power. Furthermore, Russia’s rising power and expansionism brought it into conflict with Poland-Lithuania to the west, which sought to check its advances, attempted to block Muscovy’s technological imports from Western Europe [39], and allied itself with the Crimean Khanate to the south (an Ottoman protectorate) – a move that could be seen as a precursor of Britain’s and American’s strategies of ‘containment’. This illustrates a recurring theme of Russian expansionism mentioned in Part I – there are always limits to imperial growth in the form of mounting resistance from bordering Powers, which impinges on the Empire’s economic base. Just as it Russia’s neighbours made it difficult for it to acquire modern gunpowder weapons, so the US during the Cold War would try its best to restrict exports of advanced technologies to the Soviet Empire.

And so it went for more than three hundred years more of Tsarism, during which time Russia suffered from a dependency relation with Europe, both economically (grain exports for luxuries) and culturally (a Francophone, ‘foreign’ elite). Ironically, the single greatest attempt to break out into modernity through mobilization and centralization (despotism?), pursued under Peter the Great, had its greatest impact on the reinforcement of (development-inhibiting) serfdom. The aristocracy soon wriggled out of its state service obligations after Peter’s death, but retained despotic power over their serfs until 1861, using their surpluses to fund lavish lifestyles devoted to the ‘trivial, demeaning aping of Europe’, as characterized by Trubetzkoy (see Part II). A renewed state-led industrialization campaign from the 1880’s would eventually generate the massive reaction – both Western and anti-Western, rational and irrational – known as the Bolshevik Revolution. It is to this event and its consequences that we now turn.

“The Third International is not an International, but the Russian national idea”

Late Tsarist Russia was a highly polarized, divided and turbulent society, as noted in Part IV. Peasants were drifting into rapidly expanding, unsanitary industrial cities riven by inequality. The railways and the spread of literacy – contrary to later Soviet propaganda, already well advanced [40] by that time – gave Russians unprecedented mobility and access to new, radical ideas and a glimpse of the aristocracy’s (and foreigners’) la dolce vita. In its last decade, Tsarist Russia was wracked by constant labor unrest in the factories and political violence, which were harshly suppressed. The workers, aware of and seduced by the consumption habits of Europeans [41] and their elites, demanded a bigger piece of the consumption pie, as did a younger, more ambitious segment of rural society. This conflicted with the state’s need for rapid industrial development, which by now it was taking seriously [42] – high tariff rates on manufactured goods, state involvement, the railways, and a cheap, suppressed labor force contributed to the late Empire’s rapid industrial expansion. But for all that, it should be noted that the Tsar retained the support of the vast majority of people, the extremist elements like the Bolsheviks were regarded as traitorous internationalists, and Russia’s growing power bolstered national self-confidence. At the genesis of modern total war in 1914, the Russian Empire was waxing, not waning; indeed, fearful projections of its future strength were an important factor in Germany’s decision to cross the Rubicon into Belgium.

The war exposed the Empire’s underlying weaknesses, as the initial outburst of patriotic euphoria degenerated into pessimism and anger. The war effort was prosecuted incompetently and an ill-supplied and demoralized Russian Army met defeat after defeat at the hands of the Germans. The privileged elite refused to share the war burden with the workers, alienating them through their ostentatious splendor – manifested above all in the Tsar, whose German wife, English lifestyle, and tolerance of the dissolute Rasputin discredited him in the eyes of the people. These transgressions were made to seem all the more egregious due to the Tsarist regime’s war propaganda, which only served to reinforce Russia’s sense of national consciousness. By 1917, the railway system was breaking down, and along with it food supplies to the cities and the front.

Following the collapse of the three-hundred year old Romanov dynasty in early 1917 and the cessation of political repression under the weak Provisional Government, the socialist-revolutionary movement sensed its historical moment. The radicalization of the urban workers, the discrediting of the old order, and the Bolsheviks’ skilful representation of themselves as the solution to the people’s problems (Land, Bread, Peace), laid the groundwork for the October Revolution of 1917. Utilizing their control of Russia’s main urban centers, instilling iron discipline in their followers, strangling the early Revolutionary freedoms in their cradle, and portraying the White forces as being corrupt and in cahoots with dark foreign forces (i.e., playing on the nationalism which they had rejected in their older, theoretical days), the Bolsheviks won the Civil War and set about building Communism – ‘Soviet power plus electrification of the country’, in Lenin’s memorable phrase. This was in essence another Russian attempt to ‘leap ahead’ of the West, similar to that attempted by Ivan Grozny, Peter the Great and even the late Tsars; yet married to industrialism, far more radical and ‘total’ in its scope and ambitions. Incubated within this apparent, radical Westernization – for Marxism was developed by a German in London, and had its antecedents in the Western dialectical tradition – was a profound resurrection of the mystical and sublime element of Russian history (e.g. the spiritual rehabilitation of Eurasia symbolized by the return of the capital to Moscow from Petrograd).

After the radicalism, insecurity and terrors of the Civil War period, the 1920’s saw a significant liberalization and social modernization – the fruits of the latest Western Rationalism. Abortion was legalized in 1920 and divorce laws were reformed. Austere ‘war communism’ was replaced with the New Economic Policy, which grudgingly granted the right to make private profit. There was more freedom in the arts, typified by the Russian avant-garde movement, which reached its peak in the 1920’s before being forcibly displaced by ‘socialist realism’ from 1932. This was part of a general return to ‘tradition’ spearheaded by Stalin, who pushed the idea of ‘socialism in one country’ in opposition to Trotsky’s internationalist concept of ‘permanent revolution’ and Bukharin and Kamenev’s social-democratic leanings. These old Bolsheviks were to be later condemned as heretics, and extirpated during the Stalinist ‘show trials’ of the mid-to-late 1930’s along with their ideas as Russia drifted back towards a socially-conservative, neo-imperialist state based on mobilization, militarization, and messianic fervor. As the Russian philosopher Nikolai Berdyaev put it in his 1937 book The Origin of Russian Communism, “the Third Rome, Russia managed to bring about the Third International, on which were imprinted many of the features of the Third Rome… The Third International is not an International, but the Russian national idea”; the Soviet state represented a transformation of the “ideas of Ivan the Terrible, a new form of the old hypertrophied state of Russian history…Russian Communism is more traditional than people usually think, and is nothing more than a transformation and distortion of the old Russian messianic idea”. That said, the social revolution nonetheless irrevocably changed Russia: as Slavoj Žižek noted, for all their arbitrariness, ‘terror and misery’, nonetheless socialism “opened up a certain space, the space of utopian expectations which, among other things, enabled us to measure the failure of the really existing Socialism itself”[43]. In other words, Russia’s inevitable failure to fully assimilate this latest Western propagation (see Part II) would in time psychologically contribute to the late Soviet disillusionment and collapse because it opened up a space for its own refutation; just as previous radical ‘revolutions from above’ overseen by strongmen like Ivan Grozny and Peter the Great ended up undermining the Empire.

As noted in Part V, for all the privations (repressions, economic coercion, etc) forced on the Russian people as the Empire was built up during the 1930-1950’s – and defended at phenomenal cost during the Great Patriotic War (1941-45) – the regime retained a great degree of support throughout. Sometimes the regime went too far in its paranoia and ended up undermining itself, as during 1936-37 when the repressions spiraled out of control and became of themselves the greatest source of ‘sabotage’ in the Soviet economy. Nonetheless, it is unlikely that the USSR could have withstood an assault by the Wehrmacht, supported by the industrial potential of most of Europe, if it hadn’t been for Stalin’s foresight and ruthlessness in industrializing the Urals, expanding Soviet borders west, centralizing state operations, and preparing wartime industrial relocation plans.

For if the USSR had lost the Great Patriotic War, this would have resulted in the partial extermination, Siberian exile and helotization of the Slavic and Jewish populations of eastern Europe, as envisaged under Generalplan Ost, Nazi Germany’s genocidal scheme for conquering Lebensraum in the East. This partly explains why Russians today hold such conflicted and contradictory views on Stalin, the despotic Messiah who led and ruled them like the God of the Old Testament – according to a February 2006 opinion poll, 47% of the population are positive, whereas 29% are negative [44]. During the postwar decades, Victory was the greatest single legitimization of the Soviet regime, and even today, it cleanses away the other manifold sins of Stalin’s regime in the minds of many of Russia’s citizens – attesting to its lasting power as Russia’s national myth.

After the poshlost of the 1920’s to the early Stalinist period, in which Russia moved in an upwards arc along the left side of the Belief Matrix, after 1938 – and especially after the spiritual boost of Victory in 1945 – Soviet Russia returned to a state of sobornost at the top-right position of the Belief Matrix, underpinned by sovereignty and autarky, i.e. all the classical elements of the idealized Russian Empire. Prior to Stalin’s death in 1953, the groundwork was being laid for what could have been a new purge directed against ‘rootless cosmopolitans’, a euphemism for Soviet Jews, with the ‘Doctors’ Plot’ (1952) to poison Soviet leaders serving as a pretext: hundreds were already arrested by early 1953. This would have been the culmination of a steady process under Stalin in which ‘diasporic’ elements (Rationalism – poshlost) were expunged in favor of Russia’s older imperial identities (mysticism – sobornost). Examples of this process include the purges of the avant-garde artists and the old Bolsheviks; the deportations of minorities; the crushing of ‘national’ movements in direct contravention of Lenin’s liberal attitudes towards nationalities; the gradual rehabilitation of Tsarist-era ranks, symbols and old national heroes like Alexander Nevsky during the war, whose socialist credentials were highly questionable; the wartime reversal of course on Russian nationalism and the Orthodox Church, etc. There is even a story, perhaps apocryphal, that after the end of the Second World War a group of exiled Russian nobles wrote to Stalin, congratulating him on his recreation of a great Empire and offering him their services in return for clemency. He didn’t reply, of course – the Red Tsar did not tolerate heresy, even when recanted.

The Decline and Fall of the Soviet Empire

The Soviet Empire reached its greatest degree of sobornost during Khrushev’s reign (1956-64). The Stalinist repressions were condemned and political prisoners in the Gulag – many of whom had wept on hearing of Stalin’s death – were released. There was a degree of liberalization and even a work as controversial as Solzhenitsyn’s One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich was published and avidly debated. Meanwhile, there was strong economic growth, this time including in the consumption sector, as Stalin’s emphasis on the military-industrial complex was relaxed.

However, after the Khrushev thaw (ottepel’) there set in a period of stagnation (zastoi) and renewed authoritarianism, this time of a milder, rational-bureaucratic character. After 1965, the USSR came to be afflicted by a metastasizing alcoholism epidemic, and after a half-century of rapid improvement, Russian mortality rates peaked and began their long slide down. This was most pronounced amongst middle-aged men, though uniquely for industrialized countries, the phenomenon even manifested itself amongst infants from the 1970’s-early 1980’s. This gray authoritarianism was accompanied by a growth in corruption and ‘structural militarization’, in which an ever growing percentage of Soviet industrial output was diverted from the consumption and social sphere into the military sector – by the 1980’s, the military-industrial complex accounted for up to 30% of Soviet GDP [45].

Belief in socialism moved metamorphosed from pure idealism to an ironic skepticism lubricated by vodka. Structural factors strangled economic growth – the demographic transition (declining industrial workforce growth as the effects of the Stalinist fertility transition and the end of large-scale urbanization made themselves felt); limits to growth in the form of flat-lining raw resource extraction (e.g. peak oil in 1987) and the fulfillment of ‘heavy industrialization’; aging machinery (need more investment to maintain the same level of growth); the aforementioned ‘structural militarization’; the growing complexity of the late-industrial economy (the numbers of goods produced explodes and central planning becomes increasingly unviable); and the associated massive expansion of the bureaucracy (e.g. the percentage of the population who were Party members increased from 1% under Stalin to 15% by the 1980’s). There appeared an incipient rejection of Soviet tradition in favor of the West, especially amongst liberal youth, as well as growing disillusionment on the part of the dominant class – the workers. Realizing the dire straits the country was in by the mid-1980’s, the Soviet leadership under Gorbachev embarked on an increasingly radical program of economic (uskoreniye, perestroika), social (anti-alcohol campaign) and political (glasnost, demokratizatsiya) reforms.

Contrary to popular belief, Soviet collapse was not inevitable since the system itself was fundamentally stable, albeit stagnant [46]; the underlying reason was lay not in its failed consumer economy, hypertrophied defense sector or general nastiness, but rather Gorbachev’s abortion of central planning and economic coercion – the system of benefits and punishments for economic performance that was the linchpin of the Soviet economy. (Though, granted, worker unrest and stagnation may have tipped Gorbachev’s 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”. Russia’s physical production system remained intact, but retreated to a much lower level of output as barter arrangements replaced central planning and the huge military resource stocks were sold off.

In principle, the Soviet economy could have been reformed if the dictator (Gorbachev) had cracked down hard on the corruption that was debilitating the USSR, undertaken efficiency and organizational improvements that had previously been discarded because of concerns over upsetting entrenched interests and labor unrest, forcefully halted and started to reverse the structural militarization of the Soviet economy (e.g. by transferring capital and R&D assets to the civilian industrial base), etc. However, perhaps the collapse really was inevitable, if the system itself was simply too myopic to imagine its own demise, and / or if a reversion to coercion could not have been made to work by the late 1980’s – a valid point because this might measure may not have won support from a nomenklatura class terrified of a return to Stalinist terror.

Whatever the answer to these questions, this debate is now entirely academic. Costs exceeded benefits; the burden of complexity became too great to bear. The Soviet state, bereft of its most powerful tool (economic coercion) yet still burdened by immense obligations (welfare and warfare), unraveled under the strain. It left behind what could be called, for all practical purposes, a void, for the development of a functioning capitalism and its legal and regulatory norms needs both time and stability – neither of which Russia had. By the early 1990’s, the Empire crumbled and Russia had again reverted to its second equilibrium position – a Hobbesian ‘natural state’ of anarchic stasis [47], or ‘Chaos’.

VII. Reading Russia Right

There are currently three major schools of thought on Russia’s post-Soviet socio-political development, which can be characterized as a) “authoritarian reversion” (a promising transition in the 1990′s that was checked and reversed by dark Kremlin forces – siloviks, chekists, etc), b) ‘convergence’ (a rough but secular convergence to Western liberal democracy) and c) the cynicism of Andrew Wilson’s ‘virtual politics’. Though b) predominated during the 1990′s, under Putin’s tenure a) became the conventional wisdom.

Though each has varying degrees of truth, they all nonetheless have major weaknesses: a) does not account for the fact that the transition period was hardly liberal or democratic, and that the scope of the Kremlin’s authoritarianism is arguably overstated [48], b) the divergence from the West has become too great – both rhetorically and in practice, and c) assumes the elite is entirely post-ideological, concerned with only power and money. The “Sisyphean Loop” model attempts to integrate these divergent worldviews into a coherent whole.

Russia’s loop is a Sisyphean one, because though at times it strives towards the bottom-right of the Belief Matrix – i.e. ‘convergence’ with the ‘rationalist’ West, it never manages to permanently settle there because of the shocks that have always disturbed it from its position there. Being a hostage to its history, it cannot end it. Throughout the stagnation under Brezhnev and Gorbachev’s reforms, society became progressively more pro-Western; however, faith in Soviet-Russian culture remained strong too, held together by decades of socialist propaganda and some real achievements. However, during the early 1990′s, as the magnitude of the Soviet failure to build a fair and prosperous society became painfully clear and the country descended into a black hole of corruption, there was a wholesale rejection of Soviet-Russian culture – society moved left towards poshlost. The period was characterized by insider plunder, rising inequality and grinding poverty, the failed First Chechen War, plummeting indexes on nearly every socio-economic measure that the government still took the trouble to collect, an ossified military reliant on brutal impressments to fill its ranks, and a near-collapsed state that lost effective control of three vital functions – legitimate violence, tax collection and monetary emissions [49].

Some of the key reasons the transition was much harder in Russia than in east-central Europe were its aforementioned geographic disadvantages, cultural proclivities and burdensome Soviet legacy (see Part I). As pointed out in Part VI, after the end of economic coercion, with no market mechanisms or rule of law in place, output collapsed. Russia’s structural disadvantages in manufacturing contributed to its 1990’s deindustrialization, which was much more severe even than the 40%+ peak-to-nadir fall in GDP (1989-1998), for the post-Soviet elites found it much more convenient to sell Russia’s mineral resources abroad, using the proceeds to enrich themselves and import the needed consumer goods from Europe and China. Despite Yeltsin’s authoritarian efforts to implement market fundamentalism with tanks on a recalcitrant Duma in 1993 [50], Russia became a rent-seeking oligopoly in economic depression instead of the globalized, laissez-faire economy dreamed of by the neoliberal ideologues in the Kremlin.

No country can remain in a state of collapse indefinitely; towards the end of the 1990′s, the state began to reassert control. The tipping point came in 1998, when the financial crash cemented Russia’s disillusionment with the West and new faces from the security services [51] were brought into Russian politics, determined to clean up and restore its power. This change of course was reinforced by Russians’ angry reactions to NATO’s bombing of Serbia, which was felt to be unjust and grotesquely insensitive to Russian feelings. This marked the beginning of a long-term decline in Russians’ perceptions of the US – for better or worse, the champion of the “Idea of the West’. The human face of this shift was the accession of Putin the white rider to the Russian Presidency at the dawn of the new millennium – a strongman who restores peace and order to the Russian lands (as presented by his supporters). Russia began to move up along its Belief Matrix, away from the West, as the siloviki consolidated their power and Kremlin rhetoric became less ‘Western’ and more ‘national’ (the critics would add an ‘ist’).

Following a short dip back towards the West during the early 2000′s, when Putin cooperated with the US in the war on terror and introduced some liberal reforms (e.g. the 13% flat tax), the YUKOS Affair and increasing centralization moved Russia further away from the West, into the top-left nether regions where there is no belief in either the indigenous culture or the West. The political culture of the Russian elites transitioned from being ‘diasporic’ to ‘barbaric’, as the terms were defined in Part III. The YUKOS Affair – in Western rhetoric, a heavy-handed and corrupt clampdown on free enterprise and political participation; in Kremlin rhetoric, a necessary defense against an attempted hijacking of the state by the latter-day boyars – was the seminal moment in the break between Russia and the West. In its immediate aftermath, the US launched an information war against Russia and pushed aggressively with ‘color revolutions’ into its Near Abroad; whereas in the 1990’s Western expansionism had been aimed at stabilizing the Eurasian vacuum, now its aim was to reconstruct a cordon sanitaire around Russia to preempt the Empire’s reemergence. Russia retaliated by intensifying its efforts in the economic and intelligence penetration of Ukraine and the Baltics, Caucasus, and Central Asia. Though direct talk of it remains muted, the old strategy of active containment has resurfaced in the last five years.

Facing humiliation from Russophobe rhetoric in the West and feeling increasingly under ideological and territorial siege, the impetus to once again gather up the Russian lands and recreate the Empire has been rapidly resurfacing. On the Belief Matrix, the moral anomie or ‘barbarism’ of the top-left is an unstable state, for almost all people have an overriding need to believe in some higher ideal; once again stimulated by the Russian inferiority complex and perceived Western arrogance, or ‘Russophobia’, from 2006 Russia undoubtedly began to move to the right of the matrix at an accelerating pace, towards sobornost.

Thus we see how all three of the interpretations given at the start of this chapter – a) ‘authoritarian reversion’, b) ‘convergence’, and c) ‘virtual politics’, are to some extent accurate [52]. The concept of ‘convergence’ was popular during the late USSR and early 1990’s, when Russia was at the bottom of the Belief Matrix – its then subscription to Rationalism was taken to mean that Westernization would be inevitable, though some voiced doubts that the psychological collapse (poshlost) brought on by the post-Soviet ‘Time of Troubles’ would undermine the stability of any such transition. The doubters were proven correct, and their concept of an ‘authoritarian reversion’ fueled by popular disillusionment and the ‘traditional’ Russian craving for a strong hand gained ground amongst Russia-watchers, who found their evidence in Putinism’s alleged slide into ‘dark’ authoritarian from the rosy, ‘democratic’ Yeltsin years. This viewpoint manifested itself in lurid book titles like ‘Kremlin Rising’, ‘The New Cold War’, and ‘Darkness at Dawn: The Rise of the Russian Criminal State’ and dominated – and continues to dominate – the Western journalistic and political discourse on Russia. This is regretful, since this viewpoint lacks nuance and tends to favor hyperbole over dispassionate analysis [53].

In an incisive but unfortunately little-known study [54], Andrew Wilson argues that the defining theme of Putin’s Russia isn’t authoritarianism as such, but the preeminence of electoral and media manipulation to conceal a mild, non-ideological, and extremely corrupt authoritarianism beneath a veneer of pluralistic politics. This model of ‘virtual politics’ has a great explanatory potential for the post-Soviet period of poshlost, when Russia was indeed governed by a ‘historyless’ elite; however, arguably, with the creeping return of sobornost and the ideal of the Empire as guiding lights of Russia’s foreign and domestic policies, the era of ‘virtual politics’ is waning and is about to be replaced with something different. This is the topic of Part VIII, which concludes this essay.

VIII. Return to the Future?

Since 2006, there has arguably been a discontinuity in Russia’s national life, akin to what happened in 1998; though as yet little recognized, it will come to dominate its analysis within a few years. Russia has begun to return to the Empire.

First, the state took a much more proactive role in economic and social development. National Priority Projects were launched to improve housing, healthcare and education. Subsidies to agriculture were increased, and in 2008 the grain harvest returned to its Soviet-era highs [55]. A high profile initiative to develop nanotechnology was launched in 2007. It pursued industrial policies designed to attract foreign manufacturing and hi-tech companies, with noticeable effects – for instance, automobile production increased from 1.2mn units in 2000 to 1.8mn units in 2008 [56]. As noted before, a degree of ‘autarky’ coupled with state intervention is a vital prerequisite to real economic development in Russia (to a greater extent than is the case in already-developed nations and / or countries with more favorable geographies), with its concomitants in the form of increased national morale and political independence. This is a return to Russia’s traditional mode of development, in which the state harnessed its surpluses – grain during late Tsarism, oil during the late Soviet era – to support the development of strategic industries. As Russia acquires globally competitive industries – an entirely feasible prospect given its strengths in general education and some specialized sectors like defense, aerospace, and nuclear power – the state may gradually loosen its reins. Though it can hardly hope to ever fully converge with the richest Western nations due to its embedded disadvantages, given that it no longer suffers from the Soviet-era inefficiencies of central planning and excessive militarization, it can reach an asymptote relative to the West substantially higher than its previous 1970’s peak.

Second, there has been a substantial improvement in social morale, as attested to by the demographic statistics and opinion polls. Whereas in the late 1990′s and early 2000′s Russia was losing around 750,000 people a year, today the decline has almost stabilized due to an increase in the average fertility rate (the average number of children a woman is expected to have) from 1.30 in 2006 to 1.49 in 2008 (and still rising in 2009 despite the economic crisis)[57], as well as substantial reductions in the (still abnormally high) middle-aged mortality rate. Furthermore, despite the big reduction in the size of the cohort of women of child-bearing age projected for the 2010’s as a result of the 1990’s fertility collapse, there are strong indicators that this positive trend may continue[58] into the future based on the strong evidence that Russia’s post-Soviet fertility collapse was caused by “transition shock” rather than a “values realignment” to low-fertility middle-European norms. From the other end, the mortality crisis is being attacked by a renewal of the anti-alcohol campaign after a twenty year hiatus. During the 2000-2008 period, state statistics indicate that mortality from alcohol poisonings, suicide and murder have nearly halved, though they all remain very high by international standards. Perhaps not coincidentally, Levada polls indicate that for the first time since measurements began in the Yeltsin period, from late 2006 more people were confident in tomorrow than were not. All this indicates that a sense of sobornost is being slowly restored.

Third, Russia’s actions in the post-Soviet space, particularly towards Ukraine [59], may imply that it intends, at the least, to restore an econo-political bloc in the region, probably through organizations like EurAsEC and the CSTO. Since more Ukrainians would prefer to join those groups than either the EU or NATO [60] and considering that President Yushenko’s approval ratings hover in the single digits (he is the most pro-Western major political figure in Ukraine) and the nation’s overall disillusionment with the perceived Chaos and poshlost of their democracy (support for which fell from 72% in 1989 to 30% today [61]), this should not be a major hurdle. Russia is likewise reinforcing its influence in Belarus, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, and Kirgizstan through a mixture of economic penetration, pipeline politics, and military bases. This foreign policy is stridently independent of the West and contributes not insignificantly to Putin’s consistently high approval ratings, which have been north of 60% ever since he launched the Second Chechen War in 1999. It is not a Western liberal democracy, but Surkov’s description, “sovereign democracy”, appears to be an apt moniker. The main idea being, of course, that Russia is politically sovereign from the West, no longer tied down in the international arena by its economic dependence and internal weaknesses.

[Gallup polls showing attitudes towards Eurasian unity in the post-Soviet space. In all countries except Azerbaijan, the median average wants at least an economic union across Eurasia. This indicates that Russia will not find it unduly hard to rebuild the Empire. Source: Gallup.]

These three trends – autarky, sobornost and sovereignty – are synergistic. Recreating an empire or something resembling one is (‘sovereignty’), apart from its inherent effect in reinforcing Russia’s geopolitical power, also complementary to the return of economic autarky (creates a larger economic space with opportunities for economies of scale) and sobornost (because the Russian national identity remains inextricably linked up with empire since the 16th century – as of today, 47% of Russians believe it is ‘natural’ for Russia to have an empire, up from 37% in 1989 [62]). Likewise, a self-contained economic system (‘autarky’) increases the Empire’s freedom of action on the international stage and encourages a national (‘sovereignty’), as opposed to internationalist or diasporic, mentality (‘sobornost’). The state of sobornost underpins the fundamental unity and spiritual strength of the Empire. The analysis outlined above indicates that Russia is returning to its future rather than the end of history, a future-and-past characterized by a strong, centralizing state coordinating, if not outright controlling, the direction of development – for it is fundamentally the state guarantees all three factors that underpin the Empire, which also explains the importance of gosudarstvennost and derzhavnost in Russian history.

Following the South Ossetian War of 2008, the already popular belief that the West was a hostile power was reinforced – even the once very pro-Western intelligentsia is beginning to reject the West [63]. It is also interesting to consider that the most “anti-Western” segment of the Russian population are university-educated Muscovite men [64], i.e. the future elites; similar attitudes have filtered through to Russia’s schoolchildren [65]. The 2008-2009 economic crisis probably spells the end of the oligarchs as a class: many have lost their fortunes and become financially beholden to the cash-rich Russian state – as copper magnate Iskander Makhmudov said, “The oligarchs now have mixed fortunes, but we will all end up being soldiers of Putin one day”[66]. The banking system is being consolidated, Russian corporate dependence on Western credit has been severed (because the Western credit system has broken), and Russia’s decision to seek WTO admission in tandem with Kazakhstan and Belarus [67] indicates it places a higher priority on forming a regional economic bloc than on global economic integration.

What next? History is a guide. A fundamental feature of autarkies is that to increase their strategic self-sufficiency, they need to expand their domain – much as the Bolsheviks created the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, which in turn expanded it to COMECON (the idea being that a group of nations ‘liberated’ from domination by global capital is better off sticking together to preserve their new-found sovereignty). They have to expand territorially in order to acquire access to all the vital building blocks of an industrial economy and to be able to hold its own against other economic bloc. Applying this to the reemerging Russian Empire, it is very likely that within the next decade (East) Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan will again become integrated with Russia, on a spectrum of possibilities ranging from an EU-like structure to a unitary state-empire. Netting in the latter two presents no problem, given that they are already tightly integrated with Russia.

Under normal circumstances, Ukraine presents a much harder to nut to crack; however, it should be borne in mind that Ukraine’s project of Westernization – which happened to encapsulate its bid for real independence from Eurasia – has failed on almost all criteria. Its current GD, taking into account the recent 20-25% collapse during the crisis, 30-40% lower than it was in the late USSR! (Russia’s is around 0-10% lower, but it is not faced with a fiscal or political crisis). Damningly, opinion polls indicate that Putin and Medvedev are by far the most popular politicians in Ukraine. The essence of the Ukrainian Question will not be whether it chooses Russia or the West; it will be whether Ukraine will remain a united state that gets drawn back into Russia’s orbit, or whether there will be a ‘Great Split’ between its Ukrainian-speaking west and its Russophone east, with the latter fully integrating into Russia and the former becoming an independent state.

Reintegration with Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan will create a state with 210 million souls and will significantly increase the economic and military-industrial power at Moscow’s disposal by at least 50%. One has to keep in mind that Eurasia’s industrial base was meant to be unified when it was constructed during the Soviet era, and as such the gains accruing from reintegration will be more than just the sum of its parts. One of Russia’s geopolitical priorities is to thwart an independent energy corridor for the proposed Nabucco oil pipeline and to link up with its ally Armenia, so it will no doubt continue pressuring a weakened Georgia to return into its orbit.

Whether Russia will choose to expand in Central Asia is more questionable. On the one hand, they have respectable energy reserves (especially gas), constitute demographic reservoirs amidst graying Slavdom, and are geopolitically important. There are few problems with radical Islam and on the whole they appreciate Russian culture. On the other hand, they will present a development burden and outside powers will oppose any overt Russian reassertion in Central Asia – although it should be noted that both Chinese and US influence is far weaker in the region than Russia’s.

Forking Paths

There are now four distinct ‘paths’ Russia could take in the next few years – ‘sovereign democratization’, ‘totalitarian reversion’, ‘return to the natural state’, and ‘liberalization’. The only (near) certainty is change; for all its apparent move back towards sobornost and the trappings of the Empire, this belies the fact that Russia today is still in an unsteady and undecided state, and as such its future is far from preordained. Let’s look at them in turn.

In ‘sovereign democratization’, Russia will retain its current geopolitical status, ‘indigenize’ or ‘assimilate’ Western liberal democracy, and will successfully develop an advanced economy, which it will gradually open as it acquires globally competitive industries. This viewpoint is argued by Nicolai Petro [68], who claims that Putin consolidated the Russian state during his first eight years, and that the second part of the ‘Putin Plan’ is to develop liberal institutions and an active civil society. State corruption will be greatly reduced – President Medvedev has already openly spoken out against ‘legal nihilism’, and perhaps the recent allied initiative on the part of Surkov, head of the GRU-related clan, and the civiliki clan, to investigate strategic companies linked to Sechin’s FSB-related clan for corruption and mismanagement is the opening shot of a coming purge. In this vision, Russia will be a prosperous, liberal, and patriotic nation by 2020 at the bottom-right of the Belief Matrix, comfortably entwined within the ‘liberty cycle’ much like France or even the US (see Part II), and the centerpiece of a Eurasian economic union. This viewpoint would also be argued by Vlad Sobell, who believes that this “new ‘USSR’ has shed its totalitarian and imperial character and is building genuine democracy à la russe”. This is the ‘optimistic variant’, and is predicated on the survival of globalization and the continuation of Russia’s economic and demographic resurgence.

In contrast, a ‘return to the natural state’ will see the reinforcement of Russia’s current authoritarian and neo-feudal features, and continuing economic nationalism, silovik cronyism, and resource dependency. A powerful Tsar will dole out transitional rent-gathering rights unto his boyars, in return for their political loyalty and tax payments. This ‘Muscovite model’ is socially unjust, Pareto inefficient, and ineffective at either generating economic prosperity or sustaining resource mobilization. This outcome is made more likely if Russia enters a renewed spiral of demographic and economic decline; the people will demand a strong hand at the helm, but one steeped in conservatism and unwilling to undertake any risky reforms. In this form, the Empire is more likely to take the form of a unitary state based on the political integration of Belarus, East Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Russia, as well as the strengthening of its military presence in the Caucasus and Central Asia, rather than a Eurasian economic and security union as in the previous scenario. It will be underpinned by the resumption of large-scale, fifth-generation rearmament, with which the Empire will effective control and project power over the entirety of the post-Soviet space and perhaps even into East-Central Europe. The Empire will be undermined by foreign-backed dissident and national liberation movements, and subjected to a more vigorous encirclement and containment strategy by the United States. The result will be a zastoi on the model of Brezhnev’s USSR. This is the ‘middle variant’ projected by most ‘Western Russophobes’[69], who perceive that Russia is run by a gang of kleptocratic neo-Soviet revanchists and believe the country is doomed to secular decline on account of its disastrous demography and moribund economic system.

The third and most frightening outcome is a ‘totalitarian reversion’. During the 1990’s ‘Time of Troubles’, as in Weimar Germany, Russia became disillusioned in both the West and itself (Part VII), and came to long for the sovereignty, sobornost and autarky embodied in the lost Empire. This imperial nostalgia brought forth a crowd of Eurasianists, nationalists, derzhavniki, etc, who called for Russia to rediscover its faith in itself and to return to its ‘purer’ imperial past-and-future – be it Eurasian (Aleksandr Dugin), Slavophile (Solzhenitsyn), White Nationalist, or hybrids like National Bolshevism, an intellectual descendent of Strasserism (Eduard Limonov). What they all had in common was an opposition to Western finance-capitalism, to domestic stooges of ‘Atlanticism’, and to the ‘diasporic mentality’ (see Part III) – sometimes manifested in virulent anti-Semitism, which is understandable on the basis that Jews are the ‘diasporic people’ par excellence (see Part III). Free-riding on resurgent the Russian nationalism brought forth by instability, Central Asian immigration, and national inferiority complexes, such views have become much more popular since the Soviet collapse (although overall they are still very much on the fringes). However, let’s not forget that all it takes for this to change is an economic collapse, a weakened state, a profound sense of disillusionment with Rationalism, the loss of sobornost, and a well-organized Party with a skilful demagogue willing to gamble.

The fourth alternative is ‘liberalization’, which is by far the most unlikely outcome – Russia is now heading right towards sobornost along the Belief Matrix, not to the bottom and down. That said, it is not difficult to think up potential scenarios in which ‘liberalization’ can occur as a transitional stage to something else. For instance, a popular uprising topples the fragile authoritarianism of the ‘natural state’ into which Russia had degenerated by the 2020’s, resulting in a wave of poshlost and fanatical Westernization (this time based on, say, environmentalism) that again destroys Russians’ faith in themselves, as a result of which they become disillusioned with the Idea of the West and float upwards to the top-left, into ‘moral anomie’. As pointed out previously, this is an unstable state, for only madmen are capable of abandoning all beliefs. They gray dusk of disillusionment darkens… and there emerges a pure blackness, a despotism based on a new-found, mystical sobornost, united in its contemptuous rejection of Rationalism, and probably far more ‘racialist’ than during the Stalinist era [70]. And this time round, it is armed with thousands of nukes.

These darker possibilities, though currently remote, should not be dismissed. Russia’s oil production very likely peaked in 2008, along with global production [71], and there is credible evidence that this peak will be final [72]. Considering its vital role in lubricating the wheels of global commerce, the future viability of globalization is under serious question. This is just one facet of approaching ‘limits to growth’[73], for in more general terms, resource depletion and pollution threaten the very survival of industrial civilization during this century. Hoarding what remains for its own use may become a priority for rational Russian leaders, and exports only allowed on the most favorable terms, in exchange for Western technologies or German machine tools, but not US Treasuries, Chinese trinkets or oligarch mansions in London.

One consequence is that there will be a massive increase in imperial competition for resources. The industrial core (the US, Europe and China) may strike up strategic alliances to control and influence resource-rich nations, either overtly (latter-day gunboat diplomacy) or covertly (influence operations, information wars, etc). In this world, much like in the 1930’s, the strong will beat the weak. As a resource-rich nation largely spared from the ravages of projected climate change, Russia may come to view itself, with some degree of justification, as a fortress besieged by global industrialism – much as the 1928 war scare contributed to tipping the USSR towards Stalinism. In such a world, Russia’s geopolitical priorities would logically be – and all this is already happening – to a) increase its military strength, including the nuclear deterrent, b) neutralize and co-opt Europe and c) extend influence over the energy-rich Arctic, Central Asia and the Middle East. To pursue these goals effectively, Russia needs to be an Empire.

Finally, any true Eurasian Empire is almost destined to be in conflict with Atlanticism (and not just because this is an explicit aim of folks like Dugin [74]), even leaving aside the prospect of ruthless competition for resources. The economic strength of the Atlantic powers is magnified because of globalization’s opportunities for increasing the power of the whole through ‘scope enlargement’ and international specialization, strength that can – and was – used to strangle any potential Eurasian hegemon. That is the story of the Cold War, in which the USSR increasingly fell behind the West; for with its access to Japanese electronics, Saudi oil, and German machine tools, the US could more than match Soviet military efforts, while at the same time providing its citizens with a much higher standard of life. As such, an autarkic Eurasian Empire would find it to be in its best interests to oppose the Atlantic powers by trying to foment chaos within the global system, so as to shut it down and hence level the playing field to continent against continent, instead of Eurasia against the World System.

IX. The Loop

Due to its geographical and climatic features, and the cultural traditions derived from them, Russia’s economic life is traditionally based on state-driven coercion. This is incompatible with ‘rational’, Western norms, hence Russia always found it particularly difficult to Westernize. When it does try to Westernize, it becomes culturally dependent on the West, but remains backwards nonetheless – if anything, at times even more so. This breeds an inferiority complex and a sense of resentment towards the West, which the latter does little to dispel: Russians increasingly reject the West, and pine for an (imagined?) past of autarky, sovereignty and sobornost. Political leaders are ultimately powerless to resist: either they go with the flow, or they are displaced or overthrown.

The rock is pushed up the mountain with messianic fervor, but eventually the past-and-future turn out to be not as great as Russians imagined them and a long stagnation sets in. The mountain looms ever larger, Sisyphus gets tired, and Prometheus’ acolytes try to block his path; the road ahead begins to look hopeless. This again arouses an intense interest in the West: after some time, due to accumulating backwardness, the regime is no longer able to resist its tantalizing siren calls, and succumbs – often with disastrous consequences, because economic coercion also grinds to a halt, resulting in output and social welfare collapse. The loop comes full cycle, and after a period of recuperation and apathy, Sisyphus starts rolling the rock up the mountain once more with renewed fervor.

The struggle is ultimately (historically) always futile; yet it is too Romantic a struggle to abandon – indeed, Russia does not want to abandon its endless, sordid and tiring, but ultimately uplifting and self-defining struggle towards the boundless plains of universal utopia.


[1] See Почему Россия не Америка / “Why Russia is not America” (A. Parshev, 1999); Russia under the Old Regime: Second Edition (R. Pipes, 1997), Ch. 1: “The Environment and its Consequences”.

[2] Trade and Markets in the Early Empires (K. Polanyi, 1957), Ch.5: “Aristotle discovers the Economy”.

[3] V. Kluchevsky, 1956, pp.313-4: “There is one thing of which the Great Russian is sure − that a sunny summer day is valuable, that nature would allow little time convenient for agricultural work and that a short Great Russian summer can be shortened even more by a sudden untimely turn of bad weather. This would force the Great Russian peasant to hurry up and toil in order to achieve as much as possible over a short while and take the crop in good time… In this way the Great Russian would learn to take an extraordinary but short effort, would learn to do rush, hasty work and then take a rest during forced idleness in autumn and winter. No other nation in Europe is capable of such short extraordinary effort; but, on the other hand, such lack of habit to regular, moderate, constant work is unlikely to be found anywhere in Europe.”

[4] An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (A. Smith, 1776). “…all that part of Asia which lies any considerable way north of the Euxine and Caspian seas, the ancient Scythia, the modern Tartary and Siberia, seem in all ages of the world to have been in the same barbarous and uncivilised state… The Sea of Tartary is the frozen ocean which admits of no navigation, and though some of the greatest rivers in the world run through that country, they are at too great a distance from one another to carry commerce and communication through the greater part of it.”

[5] Russia in the 21st Century: The Prodigal Superpower (S. Rosefielde, 2005).

[6] As long as the energy and mineral resources underpinning it last, anyway.

[7] Kicking Away the Ladder (H. Chang, 2002).

[8] This refers to Russia’s well-known post-Soviet demographic crisis, during which average fertility rates and life expectancies plummeted, causing the population to fall from 149mn in 1992 to 142mn by 2008, despite the net influx of 5mn immigrants from the ‘Near Abroad’.

[9] The Wealth and Poverty of Nations: Why Some Are So Rich and Some So Poor (D. Landes, 1999), Ch.2: “Answers to Geography: Europe and China”.

[10] Introduction to social macrodynamics: secular cycles and millennial trends (A. Korotayev, 2006) is a comprehensive analysis and modeling of the exponential secular, cyclical Malthusian, and stochastic processes governing political-demographic and economic development in history.

[11] Even tiny differences in growth rates can lead to huge differences in the long-term.

[12] http://www.systemicpeace.org/polity/polity4.htm

[13] A Greek word Fukuyama interprets as “desire for spiritual recognition”.

[14] Interestingly, Fukuyama anticipates – and does not like – the relativist argument. From his “The End of History and the Last Man”: “Relativism – the doctrine that maintains all values are merely relative and which attacks all “privileged perspectives” – must ultimately end up undermining democratic and tolerant values as well. Relativism is not a weapon that can be fired selectively at the enemies one chooses. It fires indiscriminately, shooting out the legs of not only the “absolutisms”, dogmas and certainties of the Western tradition, but that traditions emphasis on tolerance, diversity and freedom of thought as well”.

[15] The Marquis de Custine and his Russia in 1839 (G. Kennan, 1971) quotes the19th century French travel writer: “I don’t reproach the Russians for being what they are; what I blame them for is their desire to appear to be what we [Europeans] are… They are much less interested in being civilized then in making us believe them so… They would be quite content to be in effect more awful and barbaric than they actually are, if only others could thereby be made to believe them better and more civilized.”

[16] Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, pp.28 (S. Matthew, 1995).

[17] Nabokov’s Otherworld (V. Alexandrov, 1991).

[18] Common Places: Mythologies of Everyday Life in Russia (S. Boym, 1994).

[19] Ibid.

[20] Strong Opinions (V. Nabokov, 1973). See http://www.theparisreview.org/media/4310_NABOKOV.pdf for the original interview.

[21] “Hypocrisy is a tribute vice pays to virtue” – La Rochefoucauld. On the one hand, admirable; on the other hand, it is the implicit deception that is intolerable.

[22] Metapolitics: From Wagner and the German Romantics to Hitler (P. Viereck, 1941).

[23] Categorizing the Russia Debate (A. Karlin, 2009) at http://www.darussophile.com/2009/07/09/categorizing-the-russia-debate/.

[24] Metapolitics: From Wagner and the German Romantics to Hitler (P. Viereck, 1941).

[25] Ibid.

[26] Postmodern Jihad: What Osama bin Laden learned from the Left (W. Newell, 2001) at http://ontology.buffalo.edu/smith/courses01/rrtw/Newell.htm.

[27] See Поведение / “Behavior” (K. Krylov, 1996) for a good discussion of the “diaspora” and “barbarian” mentalities at http://warrax.net/behavior/00.html.

[28] Max Weber’s definitions of authority can be assigned places on the Belief Matrix – “charismatic” is the top-right, “legal-rational” is the bottom-right, and “traditional” is in between. The last is typical of premodern, Malthusian, traditional societies based on feudal / clan relations.

[29] Lev Gumilev’s semi-mystical concept of the ‘vital energy’ of a civilization, i.e. its willingness to self-sacrifice, to conquer, to succeed, etc.

[30] In a 2007 interview with the Guardian, Francis Fukuyama stated: “The End of History was never linked to a specifically American model of social or political organization…I believe that the European Union more accurately reflects what the world will look like at the end of history than the contemporary United States. The EU’s attempt to transcend sovereignty and traditional power politics by establishing a transnational rule of law is much more in line with a “post-historical” world than the Americans’ continuing belief in God, national sovereignty, and their military”.

[31] Europe and Mankind (N. Trubetzkoy, 1920).

[32] See Twitter Terror in Moldova (A. Karlin, 2009) for a case study at http://www.darussophile.com/2009/04/11/twitter-terror-moldova/.

[33] The Coming Era of Russia’s Dark Rider (P. Zeihan, 2007) writing in Stratfor (http://www.stratfor.com/coming_era_russias_dark_rider).

[34] Behind the Urals: An American Worker in Russia’s City of Steel (J. Scott, 1941).

[35] Moscow War Diary (A. Werth, 1942).

[36] Having investigated the report of Maljuta Skuratov and commemoration lists (sinodiki), R. Skrynnikov considers, that the number of victims was 2,000-3,000 (Skrynnikov R. G., “Ivan Grosny”, M., AST, 2001).

[37] Furthermore, one must also note that the correspondence between Kurbsky and Ivan Grozny is suspected to be a forgery – see “THE KURBSKII-GROZNYI APOCRYPHA: the 17th-Century Genesis of the “Correspondence” Attributed to Prince A. M. Kurbskii and Tsar Ivan IV” (E. Keenan, 1970) http://www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog/KEEKUR.html.

[38] Secular Cycles (P. Turchin & S. Nefedov, 2009), Ch. 9: “Russia: the Romanov Cycle (1620–1922)”.

[39] In 1547, Hans Schlitte, the agent of Tsar Ivan IV, employed handicraftsmen in Germany for work in Russia. However all these handicraftsmen were arrested in Lübeck at the request of Livonia.

[40] The End of Imperial Russia, 1855-1917 (P. Waldron, 1997), pp. 97. By 1913, adult literacy was at 38%, up from 21% in 1897; the last generation of children to have had access to the empire’s schools, according to the 1920 Soviet census, had a literacy rate of 71% for boys and 52% for girls.

[41] The international demonstration effect, e.g. see Problems of Capital Formation in Underdeveloped Countries (Nurske, 1957).

[42] By 1913, Russia had the highest average tariff rates on manufactured goods in Europe at 84% (Bairoch 1993) and enjoyed the fastest industrial growth rate on the continent. In contrast to development in the 1880’s-1890’s, which was spearheaded by a huge state-led program of railway building, after 1905 there appeared big industrial banks clustered around St.-Petersburg geared towards funding domestic manufacturers on the German model of development (Gerschenkron, 1962).

[43] When the Party Commits Suicide (S. Žižek, 1999), at http://www.egs.edu/faculty/zizek/zizek-when-the-party-commits-suicide.html.

[44] Translation: The Case of the “Stalinist” Textbook (A. Karlin, 2009) at http://www.darussophile.com/2009/05/28/translation-stalinist-textbook/.

[45] Russia in the 21st Century: The Prodigal Superpower (S. Rosefielde, 2005), see summary at http://www.darussophile.com/2009/07/06/notes-prodigal-superpower/.

[46] Are Command Economies Unstable? Why Did the Soviet Economy Collapse? (M. Harrison, 2001) at http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/soc/economics/research/workingpapers/publications/twerp604.pdf.

[47] What Russia Teacher Us Now (S. Holmes, 1997) at http://www.prospect.org/cs/articles?article=what_russia_teaches_us_now is a typical late-1990’s article from a time when the theme of Russia’s collapse was predominant in the Western media, in stark contrast to today’s talk of a ‘resurgent Russia’.

[48] Russia Through the Looking-Glass (N. Petro, 2006) at http://www.opendemocracy.net/globalization-institutions_government/russia_3259.jsp.

[49] The State in the New Russia (1992-2004): From Collapse to Gradual Revival? (V. Popov, 2004) at http://csis.org/files/media/csis/pubs/pm_0342.pdf.

[50] Attempting to portray Putin as a revanchist neo-Soviet authoritarian, the Western media tends to gloss over the manifold authoritarian tendencies of the preceding Yeltsin administration, which redeemed itself by being pro-Western. Alternative newspapers have excellent sources on this, e.g. the eXile: see How do you Spell Hypocrisy? O-S-C-E (M. Ames, 2003) at http://www.exile.ru/articles/detail.php?ARTICLE_ID=7149&IBLOCK_ID=35, The Myth of the Democratic Model (S. Guillory, 2008) at http://www.exile.ru/articles/detail.php?ARTICLE_ID=16511&IBLOCK_ID=35.

[51] In 2004 the Russian sociologist Olga Kryshtanovskaya calculated that 25% of the Russian elite had a security or intelligence background (i.e. siloviki), which rises to 58% amongst Putin’s ‘inner circle’.

[52] “The truth is like a quantum superposition state: it is not one version or the other, but a strange combination of all them”. – Gideon Lichfield, former Economist journalist. I feel this is especially apt when it comes to Russia-watching. Taken from Press Review: The Economist’s Three Stooges (K. Pankratov, 2007) at http://www.exile.ru/articles/detail.php?ARTICLE_ID=8518&IBLOCK_ID=35.

[53] For examples, see my list of Top 50 Russophobe Myths at http://www.darussophile.com/2009/07/04/top-50-russophobe-myths/. Though *some* of my refutations are in some ways as biased as the original claims, they will provide plenty of food for thought for anyone steeped in exclusively American or West European media coverage of Russia.

[54] Virtual Politics: Faking Democracy in the post-Soviet World (A. Wilson, 2005); see Mark Ames’ eXile review at http://www.exile.ru/articles/detail.php?ARTICLE_ID=7982&IBLOCK_ID=35.

[55] The country’s grain market: realising its potential (D. Medvedev, 2009) at http://rbth.ru/articles/2009/06/16/160609_grain.html.

[56] International Organization of Motor Vehicle Manufacturers http://www.oica.net/.

[57] Rosstat.

[58] Through the Looking Glass at Russia’s Demography (A. Karlin, 2009) at http://www.darussophile.com/2009/06/13/thru-looking-glass/.

[59] In the past two years there have been a number of hints from Russia indicating that it does not view Ukraine as a fully sovereign state. E.g. see Putin to the West: Hands off Ukraine (J. Marson, 2009) at http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1900838,00.html.

[60] Would the Real Ukraine Please Stand Up? (G. Stack, 2009) at http://www.russiaprofile.org/page.php?pageid=Politics&articleid=a1245680109.

[61] End of Communism Cheered but Now with More Reservations (Pew Research Center) at http://pewglobal.org/reports/display.php?ReportID=267.

[62] Ibid.

[63] Disheartened With the West (A. Pankin, 2009) at http://www.themoscowtimes.com/article/1016/42/380391.htm.

[64] Russians don’t much like the West (S. Richards, 2009) at http://www.opendemocracy.net/article/email/russians-don-t-much-like-the-west, Russia’s New Cyberwarriors (N. Petro, 2007) at http://www.opednews.com/articles/opedne_nicolai__070623_russia_s_new_cyberwa.htm.

[65] Well-off Muscovite Teenagers More Inclined to View US as Enemy (P. Goble, 2009) at http://social.moldova.org/news/welloff-muscovite-teenagers-more-inclined-to-view-us-as-enemy-201672-eng.html.

[66] Russian Oligarch Special Series (Stratfor, 2009), “Russian Oligarchs Part 3: The Party’s Over” at http://www.stratfor.com/analysis/20090522_russian_oligarchs_part_3_partys_over.

[67] Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan to seek joining WTO as parts of Customs Union http://en.rian.ru/business/20090706/155444034.html.

[68] The Great Transformation: How the Putin Plan Altered Russian Society (N. Petro, 2009) at http://russiaotherpointsofview.typepad.com/files/nick_petro_putin_plan_may_09.pdf.

[69] See Categorizing the Russia Debate (A. Karlin, 2009) at http://www.darussophile.com/2009/07/09/categorizing-the-russia-debate/ for definitions.

[70] The popularity of the idea of ‘Russia for Russians’ has increased from 26% in 1989 to 54% in 2009 (http://pewglobal.org/reports/display.php?ReportID=267). This is reflected in the proliferation of fascist movements.

[71] http://www.theoildrum.com/node/5969

[72] Beyond Oil: The View from Hubbert’s Peak (K. Deffeyes, 2006) and The Last Oil Shock (D. Strahan, 2007) are good introductions to the theory of peak oil. See a short, compact mathematical demonstration and quasi-proof at http://watd.wuthering-heights.co.uk/subpages/hubbertmaths/hubbertmaths.html.

[73] Limits to Growth: The 30-Year Update (D. Meadows et al, 2004).

[74] Aleksandr Dugin’s Foundations of Geopolitics (J. Dunlop) at http://www.princeton.edu/lisd/publications/wp_russiaseries_dunlop.pdf.

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
 
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On the 70th anniversary of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of non-aggression between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, signed on August 23, 1939 (also my birthday!), historians, ideologues and everyone in between inevitably fall into a game of recriminations, revisionism and relativism. The anti-Soviet side maintains that the Pact gave Germany a free hand in the west and contributed to the onset of war, as represented by OSCE’s recent recognition of Nazi-Soviet equivalence in their culpability for the Second World War. On the other hand, most Russian historians stress that the Pact was a) justifiable on the basis of the Western betrayal of Czechoslovakia at Munich in 1938, and b) gave the USSR valuable time to build up its military-industrial potential for the coming war with Germany.

The “Westerners” (and their liberast Russian allies) tend to impute sinister motives to the Russian leadership’s recent efforts aimed against the “falsification of history” – seeing in them a revival of totalitarian and expansionist thinking, whereas the Russians see this as Western-sponsored “revisionism” whose aim is to impose a sense of historical guilt on the nation. Considering that a glorified version of the Great Patriotic War is fast becoming Russia’s national myth, any acceptance of responsibility for its outbreak is ideologically unacceptable, an a priori anathema. This pits Russia directly against the Visegrad nations of the former Soviet bloc, whose occupation and repression under Soviet / Russian rule – yes, they view the two as interchangeable – is a staple of their national myths, and consequently also brings Russia into a new ideological conflict with the wider West.

Given the huge role of these underlying emotional, ideological and spiritual factors, there is little space left for objective history. But one can try by hi-lighting the kind of international environment the USSR faced during the period and the sense of insecurity that the Western nations instilled in its government through their actions… I’ll start by translating, summarizing and expounding on a timeline meticulously compiled by Sergei Fedosov [my additions] – please see link for his sources:

The Soviet Story: The Timeline

1933 – At the World Disarmament Conference, the British PM proposed to allow the doubling of the German Army and the reduction of the French army by a similar amount.

January 1934 – German-Polish Non-Aggression Pact [caused by Józef Piłsudski's (Poland's authoritarian ruler) concern that a) the French building of the Maginot line implied it would take a defensive pose in the next war and would not come to Poland's aid, b) to reduce the likelihood Poland would become a victim of German aggression, perhaps as part of a Great Power deal (e.g. the Four Power Pact) and c) his perception that Hitler was not as stereotypically-Prussian anti-Polish as his predecessors, going back to Gustav Stresemann (!), and far less dangerous than the USSR - to the point where he opposed French and Czech attempts to include the Soviet Union in a common front against Nazi Germany.]

May, 1935 – Franco–Soviet Treaty of Mutual Assistance; yet the coming to power in France of Léon Blum in June 1936 torpedoed its effectiveness, as they prevented the formation of a military convention stipulating the way in which the two armies would coordinate their actions in the event of war with Germany [in addition to its other onerous conditions, one of which was that military assistance could be rendered by one signatory to the other only after an allegation of unprovoked aggression had been submitted to the League and only after prior approval of the other signatories of the Locarno pact (Great Britain, Italy and Belgium) had been attained].

June, 1935 – Anglo-German Naval Agreement [fixed a ratio where the total tonnage of the Kriegsmarine was to be 35% of the total tonnage of the Royal Navy on a permanent basis, well above the limits of the Treaty of Versailles and concluded without consulting France or Italy].

March, 1936 – Remilitarization of the Rhineland. Amongst other consequences, this was supported by Poland, causing France to dilute its commitments to it. Great Britain took a neutral position. Later Poland also supported the Anschluss with Austria.

19 November, 1937 – During his visit to Obersalzburg, Lord Halifax suggests making an agreement between the Four Powers (excluding the USSR): he says, “I and the other members of the British government are under the impression that the Fuhrer not only achieved a lot in Germany, but with his extirpation of Communism in his own country, he blocked its advance into the rest of Western Europe, and as such Germany can rightfully consider itself as a bastion of the West against Bolshevism”.

End-April, 1938 – Halifax informed the German representative Kordt that Great Britain would not commit to additional military obligations to France, let alone Czechoslovakia.

18 May, 1938 – The president of Czechoslovakia, Edvard Beneš, told the English ambassador: “If Western Europe should lose interest in Russia, Czechoslovakia will lose it too “.

20 September, 1938 – In reply to his pleas, the Soviet government answered Beneš that it would assist Czechoslovakia, should France join in. However, Poland categorically refused the passage of Soviet armies through its territory, even at the request of France. [At around this Poles are saying: "With the Germans, we lose our land. With the Russians, we lose our soul].

21 September, 1938 – At 2am an Anglo-French ultimatum to the government of Czechoslovakia, demanding acceptance of the German demands, was issued. After the signing of the Munich Agreement, the US President sent congratulations to Chamberlain. Neither the USSR not Czechoslovakia was consulted about any of this.

[There was firm evidence of Soviet intentions to coordinate with the Western Allies to contain and if necessary fight Germany over Czechoslovakia (evidence lifted 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.]

[Following the Munich Agreement, Stalin concluded that the West was fully content to sell the countries of Eastern Europe down the river in the future, including the USSR, and as such decided to reorient his foreign policy away from the West towards reaching a rapprochement with Nazi Germany.]

1 October, 1938 – The Germans occupy the Sudetenland, Czechoslovakia.

2 October, 1938 – Polish armies move into the town of Těšín in Czechoslovakia and the adjoining territory. The implication is that Poland, in conjunction with Nazi Germany, freely participated in the occupation and partition of Czechoslovakia, and as such the Soviet invasion of Poland on 17 September, 1939, was neither a unique nor the first such action during this period.

November 1938 – The Hungarian armies occupy part of Slovakia, including its (now Ukrainian) Zakarpattia region. At the time, Slovakia was a semi-independent nation after the partition of Czechoslovakia in the previous month. Meanwhile, the American ambassador in Paris said, “It would best for the democratic nations if all these Eastern problems came to be solved by a war between Germany and Russia… There is a strong belief in the US, England and France that in the next few months there will begin a great settling of these problems in the East”.

9 March, 1939 – The British ambassador to Berlin, Nevile Henderson: “It appears clear to me that Germany wants to tear off this rich country, Ukraine, from the huge Russian state. We cannot blindly give Germany a carte blanche in the East. Yet it is not impossible to reach an agreement with Hitler, assuming it is limited to reasonable conditions, whose observance by Hitler we can expect”.

10 March, 1939 – Stalin declares the main warmongers to be England and France, not Germany.

14-16 March, 1939 – Bratislava declared full independence, Germans occupy all the remaining Czech regions and Hitler declares the Czech lands to be a Reich Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia.

18 March, 1939 – The USSR sends a protest note to Germany condemning the aggression against Czechoslovakia and announcing its non-recognition of its partition and occupation.

27 March, 1939 – The British Minister for Foreign Affairs, Halifax, tells the ambassador in Warsaw, Kennard: “It should be clear that all our attempts to consolidate our position will be invalidated, should the Soviet government openly take part in this plan”. (Concerning the Soviet offer to call a conference to discuss giving help to Romania).

14 April, 1939 – The British government proposed to the Soviet Union to give unilateral obligations to Germany’s neighboring countries – however, these obligations did not cover the USSR itself.

17 April, 1939 – The Soviet government answers that the conclusion of a tripartite agreement between England, France and the USSR is desirable.

3 May, 1939 – The moderately pro-Western Soviet FM Litvinov is replaced by Molotov.

8 May, 1939 – The government of England and France reject the Soviet offer of alliance, and repeat their memorandum from 14 April [which is a poisoned chalice].

28 May – 15 September, 1939 – Soviet-Japanese conflict around the Khalkhin-Gol river; at the same time, England concludes a [trade] agreement with the Japanese government.

7 June, 1939 – British Cabinet meets to discuss the Soviet offer of a military alliance. The FM Lord Halifax is opposed, citing the US ambassador in Warsaw, Bullitt, to “not give the impression that England is cooperating with the Soviets”.

[The signing of the German-Latvian Non-Aggression Pact between Germany and Estonia & Latvia].

12 June, 1939 – Halifax rejects a Soviet invitation to go to Moscow.

4 July, 1939 – In a foreign policy Cabinet meeting, Lord Halifax suggests the British avoid stalling negotiations and conclude a simple three-way agreement, saying: “There is no need to set Soviet Russia against us, because the main goal of our negotiations is to prevent a Russian agreement with Germany”.

18-21 July, 1939 – Secret meetings between Chamberlain’s close advisor Wilson and the British trade minister Hudson, and the high-ranking German bureaucrat G. Wohltat. The English were offered a rapprochment, including a pact of non-aggression and non-interference, arms reduction treaties, their return of former German colonies, economic cooperation and the recognition of a German sphere of influence over Eastern and South-Eastern Europe. The USSR and China were to become German markets in the new global division of trade. Information about these meetings fell into the hands of the German ambassador in London, von Dirksen, and were conveyed to Berlin, but they did not develop into formal negotiations because of the lack of any reaction from Berlin. News of these British feelers to Germany reached the Soviet Union. [See London and Berlin Plotted Second “Munich Agreement” by Yuri Nikiforov].

29 July, 1939 – The British Labour MP Buxton in conversations with the German diplomat Kordt again stressed the necessity of conductiong secret diplomacy, agreeing to spheres of influence and halting the current debates about concluding a pact with the Soviet Union.

3 August, 1939 – Wilson and von Dirksen had a discussion, about which the latter wrote (in addition to Wohltat’s reports) it could reasonably be concluded that Wilson viewed these talks as an official British feeler towards the Germans, requiring a German response.

7 August, 1939 – Confidential meeting between Goring and a British representative at Shleswig-Holstein, in which the following was mentioned: “Should Germany lose the war, it would result in the spread of Communism and gains for Moscow”.

11 August, 1939 – A minor English delegation arrives in Moscow, going there by slow steamship instead of plane, as was typical for the time. It is uncovered they have no official authority to carry out negotiations. The British and French military missions offered to discuss common principles, but without any consideration of real military plans.

There was a secret meeting between the High Commissioner of the League of Nations in the Free City of Danzig, the Swede Burkhardt, and Hitler, who invited him. At the end of the meeting, Hitler expressed his wish to meet with a high-ranking person from the British government. The sources say that Halifax wrote a letter to Hitler, but never came round to sending it.

At the end of the meeting, Hitler said, “Everything I undertake is aimed against Russia. If the West is so blind and stupid that it can’t understand this, I will be forced to make an agreement with the Russians. Then I will strike against the West and after its defeat, I will unleash my combined strength against the Soviet Union. I need Ukraine…” (this passage is not present in official British publications, the only reference to it lying in Burkhardt’s memoirs).

19 August, 1939 – The signing of a trade and credit agreement between Germany and the USSR in Berlin.

23 August, 1939 – The signing of the notorious German-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact in Moscow. This was a typical non-aggression pact, except for the inclusion of additional secret protocols outlining a division of spheres of influence.

[Fedosov's note - there's a problem with these protocols, because copies of them cannot be found in either the Russian or German archives, but were published on the basis of photocopies present in Germany. One disturbing fact about them is that Molotov's signature appears in the Latin alphabet, which is surprising since he never signed his name in this way. That said, the fact there were no mass clashes between German and Soviet armies in their invasion of Poland, and because of their apparent cooperation with each other in bombing operations and their halt at clear demarcation lines after meeting each other in the middle of Poland, etc, one can conclude that in all likelihood these protocols really did exist.]

Meanwhile, up till the day of the signing the Poles had continued to categorically resist any consideration of Soviet troops crossing Poland in their diplomatic communications. [See Fedosov's document for full details].

25 August, 1939 – Telegram of French ambassador in the USSR to the French ambassador in Poland: “If we could have gotten acquiescence from Poland at the start, this would have prevented the halt in military discussions [with the USSR]… It’s hard to imagine how we could have convinced the USSR to take on obligations against Germany, even despite our best efforts, if the Poles and Romanians we guaranteed did not want to hear anything about Russian help. Hitler unwaveringly made the decision which Józef Beck [the Polish Foreign Minister], having our guarantees, refused to do – he reached an accomodation with Stalin…”

31 August, 1939 – The Soviet Foreign Minister Molotov said in a speech to the Supreme Soviet, “On the one hand, England and France demanded military help from the USSR in the case of aggression against Poland… On the other hand, that same England and France released Poland onto the scene, which categorically rejected military help from the USSR. Now try reaching an agreement on mutual assistance in these conditions, when any Soviet help is from the start judged unneeded and constrained in its options… They blame us because the pact contains no clause providing for its renunciation in case one of the signatories is drawn into war under conditions which might give someone grounds to qualify that particular country as an aggressor. But they forget for some reason that such a clause and such a reservation is not to be found either in the Polish-German Non-Aggression Pact signed in 1934 and annulled by Germany in 1939 against the wishes of Poland, nor in the Anglo-German declaration on non-aggression signed only a few months ago…”

In the same speech Molotov expounded on the reasons for the agreement with Germany at length, “…The point of the German-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact, in which the USSR is not obligated to come to the assistance of neither Germany, nor England or France, in the event of war between them… the USSR will undertake its own, independent foreign policy… if they have such a huge desire to fight, let them fight amongst themselves, without the Soviet Union”.

28 September, 1939 – The signing of a German-Soviet Agreement on Friendship and Borders, which was a formal agreement about their borders, while the only mention of friendship was in Article IV of the agreement: “The Soviet and German governments view the aforementioned changes to be a firm foundation for the future development of friendly relations between the two peoples”.

October 1939 – Britain’s military chiefs discuss the question of “positive and negative aspects of a British declaration of war on Russia” (Fedosov’s note – this is BEFORE the Winter War!).

30 November 1939 – 12 March 1940 – The Soviet-Finnish Winter War. Britain’s decision to disembark troops into Norway, if the war continued (despite both Norwergian and Swedish opposition!). The planning of such actions on the eve of war with Germany were called madness by Churchill.

12 January, 1940 – French ambassador’s memorandum about the outlines of a compilation of Anglo-Franco-Soviet negotiations, prepared by the English side: “On reading these documents there appears the firm impression that from the start to the end of these negotiations the Russian government strongly pushed for this agreement to have the most maximal and all-encompassing character. This Soviet policy of closing all possible doors to German aggression, irrespective of whether it was really genuine, was always rebuffed by Anglo-French reservations and desire to constrain the sphere of possible Soviet intervention… As a result, the publication of the documents will confirm the arguments of those who, genuinely or not, insist that the Soviet government only went over the German side because of England’s and France’s waverings and their refusal to support Moscow without reservations… This English “Blue Book” threatens to unleash the most undesirable, in our current circumstances, polemics”.

18 January, 1940 – Discussion of the question of whether or not to publish the Blue Book. Halifax is against. As a result, the Cabinet decides that it would be a bad idea to publish this book about negotiations with the USSR from the summer of 1939.

January-April, 1940 – On 19 January, the French government, with the approval of the British government, suggested General Gamelin and Admiral Darlan prepare a plan for a direct invasion of the [Soviet] Caucasus. Plans made for a two-pronged attack on the USSR from the Middle East and Scandinavia / Finland. Anglo-French plans for bombardment of Baku, Grozny and Batumi. On 16 March, Gamelin presents a detailed plan for the invasion of the Caucasus and tentative ideas are floated for the construction of airfields in Syria to carry out air strikes on the USSR.

Even during the “phony war” between the German invasion of Poland and its attack on Norway, there is evidence the British continued to see the USSR as the greater threat. The British ambasaddor in Finland: “It is likely the winner in the next European war will not be Hitler, but Stalin, and as such he presents the greater danger… Since our main question now is how to inflict the greatest amount of damage on the USSR, I would suggest making maximum efforts to reach an agreement with Japan, whose natural antipathy towards Bolshevism will draw her towards making a sudden strike on the USSR”.

[Interestingly, during the period after Germany invaded the Soviet Union in July 1941, the Western Allies acknowledged Stalin chose the right strategy by delaying an armed confrontation with Nazi Germany. For instance, the British ambassador in Moscow, Cripps, to the FM Eden on September 27, 1941:

...There's no doubt, that the direct cause of this Pact, as constantly cited by the Soviet leadership, was their wish to stay out of the war. They saw this as possible through an agreement with Germany, at least for a while... Not only did this policy give the USSR a chance to stay out of the war, but also allowed them to acquire those territories from its neighbors, which they saw as being valuable in the case of German aggression against the USSR...

The first step was to seize half of Poland, for the alternative was German occupation of its entire territory. The peace deal with Finland in March 1941 only resulted in the USSR acquiring territory it had originally demanded from them anyway. There's no doubt in my mind that they seriously considered helping out France [in May 1940], but as it became clear the German advance was rapidly leading to France’s utter collapse, they were dissuaded from the idea and decided to keep to an entirely different tactic…

Conclusion: the Nazi-Soviet Pact as Second Munich Agreement

A typical counter-argument to the above narrative is Seventy Years of Shame by Craig Pirrong, encompassing all possible criticisms for the Pact and reiterating all the necessary ideological foundations for waging a New Cold War against Russia.

For instance, the allegation is made that the Soviet Union hedged its way out of any firm commitments to Germany’s East-Central European neighbors, and that Stalin wanted, and did everything he could, to embroil the “imperialist powers” in a war – according to his August 19, 1939 Politburo speech:

We must accept the proposals of Germany and diplomatically discard the British and French delegation. The destruction of Poland and the annexation of Ukrainian Galicia will be our first gain. Nonetheless, we must foresee the consequences of both Germany’s defeat and Germany’s victory. In the event of a defeat the formation of a Communist government in Germany will be essential . . . . Above all, our task is to ensure that Germany be engaged in war for as long as possible and that Britain and France be so exhausted that they could not suppress a German Communist government.

EDIT 2013/01/29: THIS SPEECH WAS A FORGERY LOL.

Both points make sense and are probably true. B ut the exact same applies to the Western Powers, which according to the evidence brought forth in the timeline above a) wanted to tie up Germany and the USSR in a war, regarding the latter as the greater threat to Western civilization, and b) did not treat Soviet proposals for joint inter-Allied obligations against German aggression seriously. The point is that both sides were engaged in a brutal game of Realpolitik – the West wanted the two totalitarian powers to duke it out, while the USSR would have much preferred the capitalist powers to destroy themselves in yet another World War One-like struggle of attrition. In other words, there was a fundamental symmetry between the West and Russia prior to the outbreak of the Second World War, which is now being adamantly denied by the former and asserted by the latter.

As such, the German-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact cannot be construed as a crime – everybody was in on the game, its just that the USSR played it more skilfully than most, at least until Operation Barbarossa. It was a cause of Second World War, but no more than Munich previously, and as such ascribing the USSR joint responsibility for starting the Second World War, as recently done by OSCE, is just one more example of hypocritical Russophobia and “double standards” – cliche though these terms might be, that does not mean they do not apply. And if it really were the case that the Soviet Union shares guilt with Germany for the outbreak of the Second World War, then so do Britain, France and Poland, each in equal measure. Where are the self-righteous condemnations of their antebellum conduct?

Was the Pact a mistake? This is a more complicated question. On the one hand, the Soviet Union provided Germant with valuable stocks of rare earth metals that would contribute to sustaining its war effort for longer than it otherwise could have without resorting to harsh, total-war mobilization and ersatz production (as increasingly happened from 1943). On the other hand, it delayed the war for the USSR by nearly two years, allowing it to a) build up its military-industrial potential (not without the help of German machinery imports!) and b) begin the war from borders 600km farther away from Moscow than they would have been otherwise. The Soviet victory was a close-run thing in 1941 and even 1942, and without the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact the USSR may well have been defeated, paving the way for total Nazi domination of the entire Eurasian continent.

The next point the “Westerners” bring up is that Soviet methods were just as brutal as Nazi ones in their occupied territories. However, there are two major weaknesses with this. First, this is not an argument against the rationality of Soviet motives in acquiring buffer space against the eventuality of German aggression in 1939-41, nor is this an argument proving the moral equivalence of Germany and the USSR in starting the war. The fact is that it was Germany that was the one and only driving force behind a general European war. The Western Allies and the USSR alike, through their mutual distrust of each other and long-term myopia, merely enabled German aggression.

Second, to those East Europeans and Western Russophobes who like to see Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia as two sides of the same coin: if the USSR had lost the Great Patriotic War, this would have resulted in the partial extermination, Siberian exile and helotization of the entire Slavic and Jewish populations of Eastern Europe, as envisaged under Generalplan Ost, Nazi Germany’s genocidal scheme for acquiring Lebensraum in the East, and indeed within the four short years of German domination of Europe some 20mn Slav civilians, 6mn Jews, 3-4mn Soviet POWs and up to a million Roma were killed (it should be noted that the Poles and Baltic peoples were highly complicit in the extermination of their Jews, something they remain loath to recognize – much easier to talk of their sufferings under Soviet repression). While the USSR undeniably repressed wide swathes of East European societies, neither its bloodthirstiness nor its levels of economic coercion ever came anywhere near equalling their experiences under Nazi occupation.

Finally, these New Cold Warriors argue that Russia’s defense of the past augurs its repeat in the future. SWP concludes:

To criticize the Pact is to deny Russia recognition of its legitimate right to dominate “its” space. Molotov-Ribbentrop divided eastern Europe in 1939. Russia wants to divide eastern Europe in 2009. To condemn the former is to delegitimize the latter. So, you can expect even more robust defenses of M-R, and more hysterical attacks against those who criticize it, on this anniversary and in the days to come. For to criticize Stalin and the revisionist USSR is, by extension, to criticize Putin and the revisionist Russia. Their means may differ, but their worldview, and their strategic objectives, are largely the same.

Perhaps. But in my view a far more likely interpretation is that Russia is tired of having a sense of historical guilt imposed upon it, especially since it is later used as a pretext to arrogantly dismiss all its concerns about NATO expansion and foreign policy views on everything from Kosovo to missile defense. Even though it did not lose the Cold War, it is getting the same sort of deal Germany got after the Treaty of Versailles – sole “war guilt” (Cold War) and sole responsibility for Soviet repressions (bypassing the contributions of Georgian spooks, Latvian Riflemen, etc), thus enabling Western justification for alternately bullying, undermining and ignoring Russia.

One thing I agree with SWP on, however, is that the past and present really is prolog to the future. Since it is a hostile organization – proved if anything, by its unbalanced rhetoric during the Georgian-instigated South Ossetian War in 2008 – Russia will try to undermine NATO in favor of more equitable (from its perspective) arrangements, such as European collective security agreements. It is laying the groundwork by courting states such as Finland, Turkey and most importantly, Germany, while trying to marginalize the East Europeans and their main champion, the US. This runs contrary to the constant American interest in preempting the emergence of a Eurasian hegemon, hence the low-key the US reversion to a Cold War policy of containment and strangulation of any resurgent Russian superpower – as demonstrated by Biden’s rhetoric during his July 2009 visits to Ukraine and Georgia, and his (questionable) assertions about Russia as a country in long-term economic and demographic decline.

One thing is clear. The ideological struggle will continue and intensify between Western universalist chauvinism and East European national nationalisms on the one side, and Russian imperial nationalism on the other. History goes in spirals, after all.

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
 
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Bertelsmann Stiftung has released Who Rules the World?, a very interesting survey where people from different countries are asked: what are the Great Powers today?, what makes a country a Great Power? and which countries will be Great Powers in 2020?

Now the title of Great Power is something that is given to a country, although of course for it to be meaningful the country must possess certain pre-requisites, including but not limited to: a large population, a large, technologically-advanced economy, advanced and comprehensive armed forces and military-industrial complex, energy and mineral resources, strategic nuclear forces, geo-political position and soft power (international influence and cultural appeal). That people recognize a country to be a Great Power is both an accreditation, if you will, and a form of soft power in itself.

Thus it is encouraging that 39% of the people in the survey regard Russia as a World Power – in third place after the United States (81%) and China (50%). Furthermore, this is an increase of 12% points from their 2005 survey – the highest rate of increase amongst all other world powers. For comparison, much-hyped China and India increased by 5% and 3% respectively, while the US remained stagnant. 37% of respondents think that Russia will remain, or become, a World Power in 2020, compared with the US (61%), China (57%), EU and Japan (33%) and India (29%). Again, Russia has had the most significant increase (11%), compared with China (2%), India (5%) and the US (4%).

It seems that the voice of the people confirms our previous geo-political prediction in Towards a New Russian Century? that by the 2020-2040 timeframe the world will become tri-polar, with the US, China and Russia as its poles.

On the missile defence front, Poland is still determined to host interceptor missiles on its territory. Overtures to Russia were a case of pressuring the Americans to deliver more, i.e. a NATO base. While talk of any reorientation of Polish foreign policy alignments is pointless, it is nonetheless a welcome change from the hystrionics of the Kaczynski administration. In particular, Poland has lifted its veto on Russia joining the OECD club of (mostly) developed countries and has agreed to renewed Russia-EU talks in exchange for Russian removal of a ban on Polish meat imports.

There is a ridiculous piece in the Times – it starts off by writing “today Ukraine will be approved as a new member of the World Trade Organisation, the reward both for reforming its economy and for tilting towards the West rather than Russia”. There is little point in reading further. The fact of the matter is Russia is holding out hard for a better bargain when it does join. Foreign policy orientation or democratization have little to do with it, as implied by the presence of countries such as Saudi Arabia, Myanmar and, well, China. Finally, it is a fallacy to think Ukraine’s economy is any freer or more reformed than Russia’s – quite to the contrary, in fact, if investment ratings are anything to go by.

This rag newspaper also published a piece by rabid Russophobe Lucas on Why kowtow to brutal, cynical Russia?. He finished with:

Our biggest weakness is money. During the old Cold War, doing business with the Soviet Union was a rare and highly suspicious activity. Now bankers, lawyers, consultants and spin-doctors (and even, it is whispered, politicians) flock to
take 30 silver roubles for services rendered, even when they are privately disgusted by the source.”

Well, every Cold War needs its McCarthy, and I’m glad to see Loco Lucas has volunteered. On the subject of the detestable Lucas, he has been especially productive this week, also coming up with Katyn, in which he elegantly proves Godwin’s Law with his first sentence.

In economics, I have found a detailed breakdown of Russian growth for 2007 – here’s a summary. Market exchange-rate GDP in 2007 was 1,286bn $ (making it the world’s eighth-largest economy by this measure), up 8.1% from 2006 in PPP terms (in which Russia, as we’ve previously mentioned, is the world’s seventh-largest economy at 2,076bn $). Growth was driven by construction (16.4% to 65bn $), retail (12% to 227bn $), financial sector (11.4% to 52bn $) and various housing operations (10.4% to 114bn $). Manufacturing increased healthily (7.9% to 211bn $), as did transport/communications (7.6% to 104bn $) – however, agriculture (3.1% to 50bn $), extractive industries (0.3%) and production/distribution of water, gas and electricity (-0.3%) stagnated relatively. The Finance Minister, Kudrin, also considers that growth in 2008-2010 will be in the 6.5%-7% range (in PPP terms, of course), notwithstanding possible recessions in the US. In other news, Russia to build eight technoparks by 2012, Russia to deliver first Sukhoi SuperJet-100s to Armenia (it already has 73 confirmed contracts) and Russia, Venezuela may sign $1.4 bln contract for three subs in April.

Peter Lavelle turned out to be rightOSCE will boycott the Russian presidential elections, despite generous Russian concessions. In other Annals of Western Hypocrisy, Britain may refuse to extradite a fraudster charged with swindling 250mn $ from Sovcomflot, Russia’s national shipping fleet. It seems every last Russian crook can expect British protection if they claim political persecution.

An interesting, but not unexpected, revelation that China and Russia aren’t as cosy with each other as they pretend, or US elements watching out for a hegemonic Eurasian alignment, fear. Thirty Russian aircraft take part in exercises over two oceans. This article criticizes Russia’s procurement policies – nonetheless, it should be noted that majority of spending on military modernization in Russia today is, like in the US, focused on modernizing old models – upgrading older tank models like the T-72, pro-longing the service life of older ICBM’s, etc. The newer things the article mentions, like the Bulava SLBM, is done for the purpose of staying at the front of the arms race, while the ‘yet another combat tank’ mentioned (presumably the T-95) is Russia’s first truly 5th generation tank.

The western media rejoices over pro-Western Tadic’s win in Serbia, somehow construing it as a defeat for Russia despite the fact that a) Russia has invested zero financial/moral resources into either candidate, b) Nikolic has wide support (47% to Tadic’s 50%) due more to his populist economic rhetoric than to loud pro-Russian statements, c) both are categorically against Kosovo being recognized (as are we – it is an unwise precedent that may come back to bite its backers in the ass, i.e. with Muslims in Europe or Latinos in the southern US) and d) whatever the administration, Serbia is likely to continue a pro-Russian course, should it remain alone, join the EU or even merge into NATO. In both the latter cases, it will remain a pro-Russian voice in either organization, and in the case of NATO might even turn out to be a useful mole, like Bulgaria, to a lesser extent Greece, and now possibly Hungary.

The Times redeems itself somewhat by an inspirational story about Valentin Dikul, a paralysed man who, defying doctors’ predictions, devised a regimen of intensive physical therapy, learned to walk again and set world weight-lifting records.

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
 
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Freedom House publishes its 2008 report on Freedom in the World.

Russia scored a 6 for Political Rights and and 5 for Civil Rights (1 is best, 7 is worst). According to their figures, Russia is no different from Algeria, Azerbaijan, Bhutan, Brunei, Egypt, Kazakhstan, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar and the UAE, and less free than Afghanistan, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Nepal, Togo, Thailand and Yemen. In other words, it sits right alongside the the tinpot dictatorships and monarchies of this world.

As you might well imagine, we have issues with that – and we’ll cover them in detail, probably in our next Editorial. Suffice to say for now that Da Russophile disagrees.


Russia’s Lavrov to attend Georgia inauguration – it was expected that Russia would send someone lower-ranking than its Foreign Minister. Probably this is tied with Saakashvili recently opting for better ties with Russia.

Polish President Warns About Russia Policy – sour old grapes (ducklings?) remain, but the Polish President is weak and his brother was swept out of power by a landslide. The forwards-looking Tusk administration lifted Poland’s opposition to Russia joining the OECD, and in return the Russians allowed Polish meat imports again after a 2-year ban. Goes to show that if you’re nice to Russia, Russia will be nice to you.

Welfare the big idea for Russia’s Medvedev – looks like the country is headed for a left turn (like Khodorkovsky predicted in 2005, ironically enough). Since 1999, Russia has built up the foundations for a modern economy and now it’s time to start re-building the welfare state. Medvedev has managed Russia’s National Priority Projects, and his main goals will now be to reform pensions (which are on average less than a quarter of the typical monthly wage of nearly $600) and tackle wealth inequality. He has also stepped up campaigning for the March Presidential elections.

A Go-Forward Path for Generating Prosperity – this describes recent oil-profits-aided government efforts to kickstart a hi-tech (IT, nanotechnology, biotech) industry in Russia, drawing on Indian (technoparks), Israeli (state venture company to invest in promising projects) and east Asian (special economic zones) experience. Russia has the R&D infrastructure for these plans to take off, but linking universities to industry remains a difficult task. It recommends a ‘go-forward strategy’ for Russia to concentrate on building up small- and medium-sized enterprises serving the domestic market, before going into internationally competitive enterprises.

U.S. Presidential Contenders: Who to Bet On? – Russia Blog also wrote an article on who the best US president would be from Russia’s perspective. McCain is a Russophobic Cold Warrior of the old school. Clinton was fine (saying that it’s not her right to dictate what government Russia should have – thanks, that’s so generous of you!), until she hurled a personal insult at Putin, alleging that since he was a KGB man, he had no soul (not that I think he or anyone else has a ‘soul’ for that matter either, but you’re a fine one to talk about who does or doesn’t have souls, Hillary!). Obama’s Realpolitik view is that Russia is “neither our enemy nor close ally”, and is most concerned about taking US and Russian ballistic missiles “off high-trigger alert and to dramatically reduce the stockpiles of our nuclear weapons and material” – we can sympathize with that. Huckabee has made few statements on Russia, mostly on co-operating on international terrorism. He’ll probably be like a second G.W. in more ways than social conservatism.

Death toll in fires hit 16,000 in Russia in 2007 – sad statistics, several times the rate in western Europe, but the number of blaze fatalities dropped by 7% from 2006. As such, it reflects general mortality trends from transport accidents, alcohol deaths, suicide and murder.

Belarus considers buying advanced Russian air defense system

New Car Sales In Russia Could Reach 2.7 Million In 2008 – some facts:

  • Russia is currently Europe’s third-largest car market.
  • Foreign manufacturers’ share of all new car sales rose to 64% in 2007 from 54% in 2006.
  • Sales are shifting to regional centres, reflecting the general trend of consumer growth.
  • Russia’s Economy Ministry expects annual cars sales in Russia to reach 4 million by 2010, making it Europe’s largest car market.

Russia looks for clout in pipeline talks – more on Jan 14′s Bulgaria story. The Burgas-Alexandroupolis is part of Russia’s web of pipelines approaching Europe. In total, they have considerable excess capacity, which will enable Russia to shift gas flows from one country to another, giving it increased political clout. Gazprom is also acquiring the NIS, the Serbian state oil company, apparently uncontested and at a massive discount. This is presumably in return for supporting Serbian sovereignty over Kosovo.

U.S. no longer values freedom? – allegations of dodgy voting procedure in New Hampshire from Russia Today, where in one county Ron Paul received no votes but had people complaining they voted for him. A Google search confirms rumors exist but it seems the Western media haven’t caught up with them.

(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.