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poll-fom-russia-elections-2018

Yesterday there was another poll on the Russian Presidential elections in 2018, this time from FOM (although state-owned, my impression is that they aren’t any less accurate than the independent – and somewhat oppositionist – Levada).

Adjusting for undecideds/no shows, the results if elections were to be held tomorrow are as follows: Putin – 84%, Zhirinovsky – 9%, Zyuganov – 5%, Sobchak – 3%.

First, I am pretty pleased with these results, since they tally with my 80/7/7/7 prediction (Putin will lose a few percentage points due to lower turnout, but make it up with a little padding of the results; relative to Zyuganov, Zhirinovsky traditionally does better in polls than in real life; and Sobchak will eke out quite a lot more thanks to (a) liberals usually being underweighed by polls, and (b) many of the Yavlinsky (1%) and “other candidate” (1%; I assume these are mostly hardcore Navalny fans) supporters voting for her.

But the second, and more interesting, point is how Zhirinovsky, permanent Fuhrer of the nationalist LDPR, has suddenly become the primary recipient of Russia’s protest vote, a role that was previously the preserve of the Communists. Whereas Zhirinovsky gets 13% to Zyuganov’s 11% and the liberals’ (Sobchak, Yavlinsky, other candidate = Navalny) combined ~9% amongst people with a mixed view of Putin, and 17% to Zyuganov’s 10% and the liberals’ ~8% amongst people who are apathetic towards Putin, Zhirinovsky now commands the support of 40% of Russian voters with a negative view of Putin, versus Zyuganov’s 7%, the liberals’ 18%, and 35% who would not vote or would spoil their ballots (many of these are probably liberals).

Several years ago, it was popular to talk of Hungary’s “Putinization” in neoliberal circles. But I submit that we might now get to see Russia’s “Orbanization,” as the great mass of the opposition to a dominant conservative regime shifts from tired old Communists, and liberals whose popularity is confined to yuppies and the intelligentsia in the big cities, to more overt and hardline nationalists.

zhirinovsky-rifle

Bearing this in mind, it is worthwhile to take a closer look at Zhirinovsky’s 2018 program:

The first thing one notices is that it is something of a mess; an idiosyncratic collection of populist, authoritarian, populist, statist, democratic, and even genuinely liberal proposals. It’s like they locked a cryptoanarchist, an Alt Rightist, and a /pol/tard in a room and forced them to come up with something without bothering to even edit the final product. Said room being Zhirinovsky’s beautiful brain. As such, there is something to be found for almost every exotic species of Russian nationalist – though fully satisfying far fewer of them.

The famous Russian far right blogger/troll Vladimir Frolov (“yarowrath“) once argued that the “basedness” level of a Russian politician could be accurately proxied by the ratio of “russkie” (ethnic Russians) vs. “rossiyane” (anodyne PC term for denizens of Russia) in his vocabulary. Perhaps one of the most distinguishing features of Russian nationalists is that they are unafraid to speak of the interests of russkie, whereas kremlins and liberals alike opt for the term rossiyane (PM Dmitry Medvedev prefers the even less offensive “inhabitants of Russia”).

Consequently, the second thing one notices is that Zhirinovsky’s 1,200 word program is full of “russkie” – twelve instances, to be precise. In contrast, the similarly short program of Alexey Navalny, whom some believe to be a nationalist, mentions the word a grand total of once – in the context of the “russkie” (Russian) language.

Here is what Zhirinovsky is promising to do for russkie, in the sense of ethnic Russians:

  • Give passports to all Russians. Defend Russians abroad, do not allow foreigners to take children from Russian families.
  • Russia, its environment and its democracy – for everyone: For Russians, and the other peoples of the country.
  • 23. Add the following preamble to the Constitution: “We, Russians and the other peoples of Russia…”
  • 24. Create an Institute of the Russian Holocaust of the 20th Century
  • 66. Rely on Russians, not foreigners, in the Academy of Sciences and the universities.
  • We will not allow [foreigners] to shoot down russkie planes, or to laugh at, criticize, lie about, and smear Russia.

The mention of an institute dedicated to the persecution of Russians in the 20th century is particularly fascinating, since this is one of the ideas that we (Kirill Nesterov, @pigdog, myself) have been promoting at our ROGPR podcast for the past year. There are few better ways to generate national solidarity than to promote the idea of some great shared tragedy, and it’s not like Russians would even have to invent anything. Meanwhile, it will accelerate the further discreditation of Communism, liberalism, and the cult of West Worship.

In Russian Nationalism 101, I mentioned three things that virtually all Russian nationalists agree on: An end to mass immigration from Central Asia; no more prosecutions for “hate speech”; and the liquidation of regional autonomies. Zhirinovsky’s program is a “tick, tick, tick” so far as all of these are concerned.

  • 8. Do not allow people from the south to commit crimes in central Russia.
  • 22. Remove the political Article 282 from the criminal code.
  • 26. The country should be divided into 30-40 guberniyas.
  • 27. Cancel the Federation Council.
  • 34. Limit immigration to Russia.
  • 57. Teach local languages only if locals want to.

Note that the “nationalist” Navalny only ever mentions the cancelation of Article 282 when he is specifically asked about it. It is not in his program, and while he doesn’t shy away from using his social media reach to promote various petitions and causes, including some rather inconsequential ones, for some reason he has never tried to collect signatures for the cancelation of Article 282.

Ideologically, Zhirinovsky’s program can perhaps best be described as populist-reactionary:

  • 12. Reconcile Tsarist, Soviet, and modern Russia.
  • 13. All revolutions are evil.
  • 15. Return Imperial symbols: The black-gold-white flag, “God Save the Tsar” as the national anthem, replace the Kremlin’s red stars with the original imperial eagles.
  • 20. Return the old names of Russia’s cities and streets.
  • 82. Redominate the ruble: Remove two zeros, one dollar is worth 60 kopeks.

Almost all non-Leftist Russian nationalists support some form of de-Communization program. It is, of course, rather strange that Russia has a 700,000 population city named after an Italian Communist leader who didn’t even succeed in taking power, a 250,000 population city named after a Polish red terrorist, and a 200,000 population city named after a German Russophobe.

The program has a strong patriarchic slant, and is strongly targeted towards siloviks:

  • 6. Further strengthen the Army and security services.
  • 7. Hit criminality. Create a system of military field trials.
  • 9. Cancel the moratorium on the death penalty.
  • 21. Do not allow more than 10% negative information on TV and radio.
  • 65. Encourage men to go into the education sector.

This would meet support with mainstream conservative nationalists, though many of its points would not go over well with the more liberal Sputnik i Pogrom. While they support an increase in the size of the military, especially of the Ground Forces – the Ukraine and Belorussia aren’t going to regather back into Russia by themselves – they want to do it at the expense of the National Guard and other bloated police and paramilitary agencies.

However, there are otherwise few specifics on foreign policy, apart from the general policy of defending Russians abroad:

  • We need to finish things up in the Middle East. Reorient foreign policy to the South. Alliance with Iran, Turkey, Iraq, Syria. This is 400 million people, technologies, resources, armies.

This is probably Zhirinovsky’s background as a Turcologist speaking, but the general point or for that matter even the feasibility of this proposal is a very open question.

There is a strong pro-natality element.

  • 50. Pay women to avoid abortion, the child will be raised by the state.
  • 51. Create a Ministry of Demographics and offer free fertility treatments.
  • 53. Promote a cult of the family.
  • 54. Pay 20,000 rubles per month to people who adopt orphans.
  • 55. Stimulate fertility in regions where deaths exceed births.

It’s worth noting that #55 is basically codeword for ethnic Russian regions.

That said, this is far from a grim document propounding unremitting authoritarianism, militarism, xenophobia, and ultranationalism.

In some respects, it would also increase the civil liberties of ordinary people.

  • 1. Build a country without Communism, Nazism, racism, or authoritarianism.
  • 12. A one party regime doomed the Empire, and the USSR.
  • 17. Name the mistakes of the Soviet leadership, publish the archives, condemn perestroika.
  • 22. Remove the political Article 282 from the criminal code.
  • 29. Replace all the judges.
  • 30. Conduct free and fair elections.
  • 31. Develop local self-government.
  • 42. Political and criminal amnesty. Humanize the Criminal Code.
  • 73. Easen the processs of getting European visas, remove all sanctions.
  • 74. Make life easier for disabled people: Accessible accomodations, more ramps, freedom from having to pay utilities fees.
  • 91. In Russia, the economy, and democracy, was always offered “from above.” Everything was decided by bureaucrats. The people weren’t allowed to decide anything.

Admittedly, there’s a substantial element of schizophrenia here. For instance, given the rest of the program, it’s rather hard to see the Europeans agreeing to expedite #73.

As regards basic governance and economic policy, the proposals fall into two big, somewhat contradictory categories.

On the one hand, there are the “developmental” policies, e.g. high infrastructure spending, the repatriation of offshore capital, and a reduction of regulations on business along lines that one can imagine even institutions like the IMF approving of.

  • 4. Intense development of road networks, trains with speeds of 400km/h.
  • 10. Attention to the fight against corruption. Bribe-taking bureaucrats should be fired and have their assets confiscated. A businessman should compensate anything stolen by a multiple of three.
  • 19. State commission to investigate the looting of the country after 1991.
  • 28. Reduce the numbers of Duma deputies to 200.
  • 35. Forbid banks from offering credit with property as collateral.
  • 42. Political and criminal amnesty. Humanize the Criminal Code.
  • 48. Develop tourism in Russia.
  • 78. Review the results of privatization, without violence and persecution, through persuasion.
  • 81. Organize a mass free distribution of shares in the state companies to Russian citizens.
  • 83. Large-scale economic amnesty, introduce secret accounts in at least one Russian state bank, and return to Russia all capital illegally taken offshore.
  • 87. Companies working in Russia should have their accounts in Russian banks.
  • 92. Motivate rich citizens to return their money to Russia, only here can they be safe, because abroad they are under the threat of sanctions, freezes, and confiscations.
  • 93. No inspections of businesses, apart from restaurants/catering and medicine. Don’t bother hard-working people!
  • 94. Small businesses involved in science and production – freedom from taxes.
  • 96. Reduce amount of compulsory contributions from entrepreneurs.

Orban pushed through the equivalent of #28 in Hungary. A definite answer to the 1990s privatization question needs to be furnished sooner or later to secure property rights in Russia (for comparison, Navalny proposes a windfall tax, as in Britain). #81 is perhaps a good idea to make ordinary Russians feel more invested in any future privatizations, which are otherwise bound to be unpopular. Economic amnesty is an idea often promoted by liberal economists. Since business inspections are too often just a source of rent for bureaucrats in Russia, cutting them down even further is also often proposed.

However, many of Zhirinovsky’s policies are to various extents statist, populist, or just plainly badly thought out; are of dubious efficacy; and would have the general effect of raising spending on social welfare, restricting individual autonomy, increasing state control of the economy, and increasing general inefficiency.

  • 2. Not a single person unemployed, homeless, or hungry.
  • 33. Import substitution, sell finished products, not raw materials, abroad.
  • 37. Cancel the principle of equity construction. The state must build and sell housing.
  • 38. Cancel mortgages. Only building cooperatives and social housing.
  • 39. Forbid debt collectors.
  • 41. Remove all debt-related restrictions on travel abroad.
  • 43. War against unhealthy additives to food. Forbid imports of GMO food.
  • 44. There is an obesity problem. Time to restrict advertising of unhealthy food.
  • 45. No to black market vodka. Create state stores selling cheap but high quality vodka; elsewhere, at market prices.
  • 46. Forbid sects, trainings, centers, etc. whose activities are harmful to citizens.
  • 49. Return completely free healthcare.
  • 59. Cancel the Unified State Exam. Accept students to universities without exams and return 5 year education.
  • 68. Minimum wage of no less than 20,000 rubles.
  • 85. A tax on superincomes.
  • 86. Remove Russia’s foreign currency reserves from US Treasuries.
  • 88. Nationalize trading centers, free up space for domestic producers.
  • 89. Debt forgiveness of at least 50% for all agrobusinesses and farmers.
  • 100. Special attention has to be given to Siberia and the Far East: No tax economy, salary bonuses, housing subsidies, road construction.

Unfortunately the good or at least perspective ideas are more than counterbalanced by alternatingly questionable and outright catastrophic ones which will, in all likelihood, make Russia into Venezuela.

In particular, the assumptions in #45 are simply wrong, and will collapse Russian life expectancy back down by 5 years or so.

As for ending university exams, that’s not just a return to the USSR, but to the 1920s USSR; without even the Unified State Exam to go on, how are universities supposed to select for talent?

However, in all fairness, many of these proposals will play well to the LDPR’s low-information voters.

This hints at the biggest and most irreconcilable problem of nationalism not just in Russia but throughout Europe and the US generally – the human capital is very low.

Nonetheless, there is precisely zero chance of Zhirinovsky winning and consequently trying to push through his more maladaptive ideas (even assuming that they are earnestly meant). As such, a case can be made that Russian nationalists would be well-advised to vote for him to move those issues which the LDPR really is good on – immigration policy, free speech, a vision of a future where ethnic Russians can advocate for their own ethnic interests without being accused of insulting minorities – further within the Overton Window.

 
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Assuming that it will be just between these four, I think it’s going to go something like this:

russia-elections-2018-twitter-prediction

Note that Sobchak and any [liberal candidate] can be substituted for Navalny. (Also TBH, I think Navalny has a chance of getting 10% – see below).

If other candidates (but not Navalny) run, for instance, Grigory Yavlinsky (Yabloko) and Boris Titov (recently nominated by the Party of Growth), then they will split that 7% between each other.

Here’s my logic.

Putin’s result in Presidential elections is usually the same as his approval rating in the Levada polls, which are currently at 80%.

Incidentally, in the very unlikely but not impossible event that Putin doesn’t run after all, but appoints someone like Alexey Dyumin, the successor will get around 60%-70% (Explanation: Medvedev’s result in 2008 was Putin’s approval rating minus 10% points, but he had been built up by Kremlin propaganda beforehand for several years; Putin’s own result in 2000 was approval rating minus 30% points, in the context of only a few months’ worth of “prep,” adversarial TV journalism, and no largescale electoral fraud. Logically, someone like Dyumin should perform somewhere in the middle of those two scenarios).

Zyuganov traditionally polls much better than Zhirinovsky. But that era has now come to an end.

russia-elections-2016-party-support-age-group

Support for the Communists is in long-term secular decline, while the nationalists are on the ascent. Whereas 60+ year old Communist voters hugely outnumbered 18-24 year old LDPR voters in the 2016 Duma elections, by 22% to 10%, amongst LDPR voters the relationship is the complete inverse, with 60+ year old LDPR voters being outnumbered by 18-24 year old LDPR voters by 19% to 8%. Overall results for the two parties were within a hairsbreadth of each other.

russia-elections-2018-voting-intentions

One problem is that Zhirinovsky has a high anti-rating, and tends to underperform his party’s results relative to the Communists (this was especially notable in 2012, when he got almost thrice less than Zyuganov). On the other hand, back in September 2012, the percentage of voters willing to vote for Zhironovsky was 3% versus 6% for Zyuganov, whereas today it is the same 3% to Zyuganov’s much diminished 2%.

I am not going to belabor this point or do any deep analysis at the current stage. There’s still some months left to go and things can still change drastically.

Finally, the liberal candidate.

I have argued that Navalny could get as much as 10%, to the chagrin of hardcore Putinists.

Now Sobchak has a much higher antirating than Navalny, but as a household name, also more name recognizability, so I do not subscribe to the idea that she is totally hopeless and will get something like 1% or 2%. She has said some things that are very unpopular with ordinary people (Crimea is Ukrainian under international law; Russia is a nation of genetic refuse). But this is par for the course for Russian liberals, who do constitute a distinct voting bloc – after all, around 10% of Russians genuinely didn’t support the Crimean takeover – so this is hardly going to dent her numbers. There is even a small chance that making Sobchak say such stereotypically self-hating kreakl things was part of the Kremlin’s condition for allowing her to run (I don’t buy this conspiracy theory; I think she is just an idiot who is being incompetently advised by a britbong PR firm; but it doesn’t really matter).

Now according to the Levada poll (see above), only around 1% are willing to vote for Sobchak (subtracting unknowns/undecideds/etc). A FOM poll suggests that 5% might vote for her, but 87% will not.

The problem is that liberals are less likely to respond to polls, so pollsters tend to systemically underweigh them.

Example.

In the Moscow elections, the Levada poll was giving Navalny 8% to Sobyanin’s 78% amongst those who had “made their choice.”

The median prediction at my blog for Navalny was in the low 10%’s, with some of the most enthusiastic Putinists giving him just 5%-8%.

I predicted 20%.

End result: Navalny – 27%.

However, this was very much in line with immediate pre-election secret polls that showed Navalny was at 23%.

moscow-elections-2013-insider-polling-navalny

Much the same logic should be applied to the [liberal candidate] (with downwards adjustment for Sobchak based on her lack of popularity!; so, instead of ~10% for Navalny, perhaps 5%-7%).

I acknowledge that these arguments will be controversial.

But here is a recent Telegram post by chief editor of Echo of Moscow Alexey Venediktov:

aavst-secret-polling-sobchak

Translation:

Yes, Boris Titov is seriously being considered by the Presidential Administration as a “liberal candidate for President.” Especially considering that their polls show that she has already caught up with Zhirinovsky (7.5% are ready to vote for her, of those who already made up their minds). …

And wouldn’t you guess it, the next day Boris Titov indeed announced that he was running.

Boris Titov is an economically right-wing politician, businessman (he owns the famous Abrau-Durso champagne brand), and activist for entrepreneur rights. He is also not really an oppositionist, being on good terms with Putin and having once even served as a high functionary in United Russia. This would basically be a rerun of 2012, when Mikhail Prokhorov opposed Putin, except that Titov has even fewer oppositionist credentials.

Anyhow, the final decision is up to Putin. Having Titov run would make the election even more of a formality/farce (cross out as per your political sympathies) than it already is, though perhaps marginally safer than having Sobchak run – though the fact that some kremlins actually fear Sobchak of all people makes the whole affair even more surreal.

I think we can pretty much exclude Navalny being allowed to with at least 95% confidence.

On the other hand, with the reality of an 80% approval rating and total control of the administrative resource behind him, it’s not like allowing Sobchak, Titov, or both to run would make any substantive difference to Putin’s almost certainly overwhelming victory in the 2018 Presidential elections.

 
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In my opinion, almost certainly yes (quantified: 90%. In line with PredictIt). Just to get that clear off the bat.

But neither is it an absolutely foregone conclusion.

For instance, see this recent “scoop” from The Independent’s Oliver Carroll:

Vladimir Putin is, sources say, tired. And he is reluctant to engage in a major national election – again. The campaign will be reduced to a bare minimum; there will be no repeat of the exhausting test of the 2011-2012 elections, when Mr Putin declared his candidacy six months early.

The reason “scoop” is in apostrophes is that Putin’s tiredness is hardly new to the Moscow rumor mill.

For instance, here is my Twitter conversation with RT’s Bryan MacDonald (posted with his permission) on this back in December 2016:

bryan-macdonald-putin-tired

And there’s still hints that Putin hasn’t yet fully made his mind up. For instance, MacDonald also noted that RBC recently reported that Putin is shifting his annual State of the Union address from December to early next year. While cautioning against reading too deeply into Kremlinological tea leaves, this does conceivably open the possibility of a sudden resignation and endorsement of a successor along the lines of what Yeltsin did with respect to Putin himself on December 31, 1999.

When I asked Bryan MacDonald to quantify his predictions a week ago, he replied: “5/1 he doesn’t run. 4/6 he’s not President in 2023.”

I should stress that MacDonald and Carroll are hardly the only people with such ideas. Another name I can cite is Artem Zagorodnov, who used to work for RBTH. Back in December 2016, he gave a speech on Russian politics for the Juneau World Affairs Council in Alaska, during the course of which he was asked a question about whether Putin would run in 2018. At the time, Zagorodnov gave this a 80% chance. More recently, I asked him again, and he has now upped it to 90%, but he thinks that there is only a 50% chance of Putin finishing his second term.

I should also note that MacDonald and Zagorodnov are (were) not familiar with each other and came to these very similar estimates independently.

Apart from his rumored fatigue, why might Putin not want to run in 2018?

1. By not running in 2018, Putin retains the option of running one more time at some later time in the future.

Originally, the Russian Constitution disallowed more than two Presidential terms, but only so long as they were consecutive; otherwise, you could serve as many terms as you wished, so long as they were broken up at least once every two terms/eight years. This enabled Putin’s controversial “castling” maneuver with Medvedev in 2011-12, which was within the letter if not the spirit of the law. But a Constitutional amendment in 2012, which also lengthened Presidential terms to six years, set an explicit maximum of two terms, consecutive or otherwise. Any further castlings have been ruled out.

Therefore, if Putin runs now, he will never be able to run for President again – even should he resign midway through his fourth term. Not unless he pushes through a Constitutional amendment. But that would mean reneging on a public commitment not to do that, which would be politically far riskier than even his old castling, which ended up in 100,o00 strong protests in Moscow during 2011-12.

2. Putin is currently at the peak of his approval.

At least so long as Putin’s personal ratings are concerned, the “Crimean Consensus” shows no signs of wearing out.

poll-putin-approval-1999-2017

Source: Levada.

But discontent is once again beginning to simmer in the margins. Overall satisfaction with domestic, social, economic, and even foreign policy has reached lows last seen in 2011, when mass protests over electoral fraud in the 2011 Duma elections flared up.

poll-russia-policy-approval

Source: VCIOM; FPRI Bear Market Brief‏.

And it is probably only a matter of time before this begins to overspill into Putin’s approval rates.

Putin assured his place in the history textbooks in 2014.

Now might be as good and stable a time to leave as any while his reserves of political capital are still maxed out.

In so doing, he also escapes the Brezhnevite “President for Life” trap, leaves on his own terms, and enjoys the rest of his life in luxury (the friends he enriched during his Presidency owe him at least that much).

3. The next six years are going to be… boring.

The next Presidential term is looking up to be one of technocratic optimization and further reforms, of privatizing an overly state-dominated economy, of trying to restore relations with the West.

Very boring. Bad for approval ratings. Not the ideal job for a “tired” populist.

Besides, any real rapprochement with the “Western partners” is inconceivable with Putin, who has become thoroughly unhandshakeworthy, still at the helm – at least formally.

Now unless a new round of military confrontations are being planned – a rather unlikely prospect, given sharply negative trends in projected military expenditure – there is a good chance that that Russia will have to confront the near total nature of its geopolitical defeat in the Ukraine, as that country economically recuperates, accelerates Ukrainization, and Russophile dreams of a “second Maidan” and Ukraine’s imminent breakup veer further and further into the realm of fantasy.

Also probably best to keep a low profile during that period.

4. It is still not too late to nominate a successor.

As it stands today, Putin will win approximately 80% of the vote (70% + 10% customary fraud), while the rest will be split about equally between Zyaganov, Zhirinovsky, and [liberal candidate].

In an experiment conducted by Levada this September, every fifth Russian said they were willing to vote for Andrey Semenov, a Presidential candidate endorsed by Putin – even though both Semenov and Putin’s endorsement were complete fictions.

This suggests that building up a successor from nothing will be a trivial task for the Kremlin. That worked with for Yeltsin’s “Family” and Putin himself in 1999-2000, and it will be even easier now, since the Kremlin now has uncontested dominance of all the major TV stations.

Finally, the specific steps that the Kremlin has been taking – for instance, changing the date of the Presidential elections to coincide with the anniversary of Crimea joining Russia, and getting Ksenia Sobchak, an airhead celebrity with a massive anti-rating, to play the role of the liberal candidate, instead of its natural leader Navalny – indicate that they were not totally sure that Putin would be running, and as such, wanted to make absolute sure that any anointed successor would get a convincing victory almost as easily as Putin.

This convincing victory is referred to as a 70/70 in Kremlin parlanace (70% turnout, 70% share of the vote).

politics-putin-dyumin

Putin going for a walk with potential successor Alexey Dyumin.

Final question: Who would be the successor?

By far the most commonly named “dark horse” candidate is Alexey Dyumin, the current governor of Tula and Putin’s former bodyguard. He personally participated in the events of 2014, and can thus be credibly portrayed as a hero of the “Crimean Spring” (its original name, the “Russian Spring,” has been airbrushed out of history, due to its nationalist connotations). As a loyal military man, basically competent but without being excessively intelligent – he graduated from a third-rate military academy – Dyumin would make a solid replacement for Putin, who would continue to wield extensive influence as some sort of “elder statesman” or “father of the nation” figure.

Meanwhile, in this scenario, Putin’s people would continue to occupy key power positions: Vyacheslav Volodin would continue looking after the Duma, Sergey Shoigu will stay on as Defense Minister, and another of Putin’s former bodyguards, Viktor Zolotov, will remain head of the 340,000 strong National Guard. This would be an additional guarantee against the successor getting too many ideas of his own.

As it happens, I suspect this basic scenario – the rudiments of which have been sketched out by politologists such as the liberal Valery Solovej and the Communist Nafik Famiev during the summer of 2017 – is ultimately likely to play out.

Probably not now, but quite possibly around 2021, or after the end of Putin’s fourth and last term.

 
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Recent Rasmussen poll:

… 52% of Likely U.S. Voters agree with the president’s statement last Sunday that “… having Russia in a friendly posture, as opposed to always fighting with them, is an asset to the world, and an asset to our country, not a liability.” Just 27% disagree, but another 21% are undecided.

Seventy-six percent (76%) of Republicans and 51% of voters not affiliated with either major party agree with the statement. Among Democrats, 29% agree; 41% disagree, and 29% are undecided. …

In a sharp turnaround from the Cold War years, 79% of conservatives agree that it’s better to be friends with Russia, but just 27% of liberals share that view.

I wrote about this as a return to pre-Soviet norms back in February:

For if you take the long historical view it is the Liberals/Left who have historically been far less enamored of Russia.

Who talked of the “gendarme of Europe” and “prison of peoples” in 19th century political discourse? Socialists, not conservatives. Marx had very little good to say about Russia and Eastern Europe in general, the idea being that the advanced Western nations were the only ones of interest from a Communist revolutionary perspective.

No, this doesn’t appear to be on account of Republican/conservative infatuation with Putler, as /r/politics and the Blue Checkmarks would have you believe.

Opinion towards him remains extremely negative across the American political spectrum.

gallup-usa-views-putin

This is perhaps the one somewhat unexpected element in this picture:

Men feel much more strongly than women that it’s better “having Russia in a friendly posture.” Those under 40 are only slightly less likely than their elders to agree.

In contrast, the February 2017 poll found Republican opinions on Russia uniformly increasing with younger age groups, going from 31% positive/69% negative amongst the 65+ year olds to 73% positive/25% negative amongst the 18-29 year olds.

This implies that opinion towards Russia decreases with age amongst the younger non-Republican population. But that doesn’t seem to tally with other polls I’ve seen. Or common sense. Older Democrats tend to be Clintonistas, and virulently Russophobic – they genuinely believe Putler stole the 2016 elections – while younger ones are lefty Bernie Bros, who don’t exactly admire Russia, but are realistic enough to acknowledge that the KGB wasn’t behind the KKK.

 
• Category: Ideology • Tags: Politics, Republicans, Russia, Russophobes, USA 
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moscow-elections-2017

On September 10 there was a round of gubernatorial elections in Russia, as well as elections to local councils in Moscow.

There’s a lot of confusion on account of whether it was a victory for United Russia.

On the one hand, the low turnout – which traditionally favors more motivated liberals – allowed them to outright win most of the prestigious areas of Moscow.

moscow-elections-2017-and-bicycles

Amazing correlation between liberal victories (green) and bike sharing stations, that ultimate SWPL symbol.

On the other hand, United Russia did score 76% even in Moscow, gaining 1,150 deputies out 1,500. In contrast, liberal opposition, with 180 deputies, didn’t even manage to gather enough mandates to pass the municipal filter for participation in the Mayoral elections in September 2018. Since municipal councils in Moscow are toothless, having no access to the city budget and answering for little more than park benches, this would seem to be irrelevant.

That said, one thing that most people agree on is that this was a defeat for Navalny. He had distanced himself from the Moscow elections, not out of ideological reasons but personal ones; his deputy Leonid Volkov had fallen out with Maxim Kats, a liberal hipster figurehead who went on to unite with Dmitry Gudkov to form the United Democrats, the anti-Putin opposition bloc that went on to sweep SWPLy Moscow in close cooperation with Yavlinsky’s Yabloko. Incidentally, their positions are radically anti-Russian, more so even than Navalny’s; according to insider accounts, disavowal of Crimea – to say nothing of the Donbass – was a hard condition of entry into their coalition. Although this performance might not be that impressive in the large picture, it still probably counts for more than the number of Navalny’s YouTube views.

How important is this development? Probably, not very.

First, turnout was only 15%, and this naturally favored the liberals, who are more motivated than average.

Second, this pattern of voting is in any case a long-established pattern going back to the 1990s, in which the better educated, higher social status (higher IQ, in short) districts vote more strongly for liberal candidates. As I have long pointed out, the problem of very hostile elites is a problem common to both Russia and America.

See the data analysis by Emil Kirkegaard here:

moscow-elections-putin-phd

In the less prestigious, lower IQ, more prole areas, United Russia came out well ahead. My own district is pretty representative in this respect.

zhulebino-2017-elections

In terms of the average share of the vote of each political faction (you could vote for up to five people), United Russia got ~1,500, the liberals ~700, the commies ~700, and the nationalists ~300.

Personally I voted for two LDPR candidates, one from Rodina, and some green/ecological chick (she was not in United Russia, a commie, or a liberal traitor, so that was fine by me).

On the one hand, these results are still pretty encouraging; Moscow’s peripheries still reject the Westernist cargo cult, unlike the coddled hipsters of Central Moscow, who hate Russia despite everything that Mayor Sobyanin has done for them in transforming their living spaces into the gentrified SWPL urbanist paradise that they have always yearned for. But is United Russia actually a political force in its own right, or is it just a facade for normies who don’t want to “rock the boat,” and which will fold as quickly as did the Party of Regions in the Ukraine when the pedal is put to the metal? If it’s the latter, with liberals and commies running neck and neck, and nationalists basically out of the picture, the prospects for Russia will be grim in the event of a color revolution.

 
• Category: Ideology • Tags: Moscow, Politics, Russia 
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The Russia wide protests organized by Navalny on June 12 were a flop.

This was not unexpected, given the lack of enthusiasm on social networks – in Moscow, there were 20% fewer people expressing interest in going to this event relative to the March 26th protest on Facebook. The earlier event had translated into 8,000 people, which is pretty much a “fail” so far as a 13 million population metropolis is concerned.

In the smaller Russian cities, where the June 12 protests went ahead as agreed with the local authorities, turnout was unimpressive, typically numbering in the low 100′s.

Pavel Gladkov has collected some photos (h/t melanf):

The protest in Novosibirsk, the third biggest Russian city (1.5 million) and unofficial capital of Siberia, gathered 2,000 people, which is about the same as in March.

Turnout has in general been similar to the March 26 rallies. This implies Navalny’s support on the streets – as in the polls – hasn’t improved since then.

Which, I suppose, explains why Navalny decided to sabotage his own protests in Moscow and Saint-Petersburg.

Quick recap:

The Moscow city authorities gave Navalny permission to stage a meeting at prospekt Sakharova, a relatively central and spacious location. In Saint-Petersburg, they offered a location at Udelnaya, which is less central, but still spacious and easily accessible by metro.

In the last few hours before the protests, Navalny made a location change, to Tverskaya in Moscow and The Field of Mars in Saint-Petersburg, both of which are at the very centers of those cities. Moreover, Tverskaya in particular was already hosting a massive historical reconstruction festival.

sakahrov-speakers Before the protests, many observers, including myself, had expressed skepticism about Navalny’s claims that stage and sound suppliers had been pressured not to service his event. Navalny used this “insult” as the formal explanation for why he was moving the location of the protest.

However, the only evidence he provided was a phone conversation between two anonymous people. Moreover, as the liberal blogger Ilya Varlamov pointed out, why couldn’t he have bought speakers at a store and then returned/resold them?

Then on the day of the event itself it emerged that a sound and speaker system did emerge on prospekt Sakharova anyway, which should blow up anyone’s suspicion meter through the roof.

The weight of the evidence thus indicates that the sound and speaker blockade reason was bogus.

The likeliest alternative explanation is that Team Navalny, aware that attendance numbers were going to be unimpressive – in the event, an accurate assessment – decided that the only way to get into the news cycle would be to create an interesting spectacle for make benefit of Western cameras.

Unfortunately, due to the very low quality – or malicious competence – of the Western media, he largely succeeded in this, as RT’s Bryan MacDonald points out:

macdonald-crap-russia-journalism Then there were the blatant misrepresentations. Such as when New York Times’ bureau chief Neil MacFarquhar and Financial Times’ Eastern Europe Editor Neil Buckley both attempted to depict barriers clearly erected as props for the military history show as “traps” to impede protesters. Tweets they later deleted, in fairness. Nevertheless, this particular “fake news” tweet by the anti-Russia activist Alex Kokcharov has been shared hundreds of times, enjoying retweets from the likes of Economist magazine editor Edward Lucas and Anders Aslund of NATO’s Atlantic Council adjunct.

Almost every correspondent refused to tell followers how the event was “unsanctioned” and “illegal,” instead preferring to act as cheerleaders. Some examples included hacks from Foreign Policy, the Guardian, BBC and the Moscow Times. Meanwhile, Associated Press, the Washington Post, ABC and Fox all managed to omit any mention of the history festival in their reaction to the change of location.

And then there was CNN, always good for a laugh on this beat, breathlessly telling its viewers that hundreds of thousands of demonstrators could be mobilized. When in reality it was around 5,000 in Moscow.

Unfortunately for Navalny, the Russian electorate are not Western audiences, and these stunts are unlikely to work out well for him.

The March 26 meeting was an essentially harmless affair, perhaps a minor inconvenience to some Muscovites, but one that was adequately compensated by the entirely voluntary personal risk the protesters took by participating in an unauthorized gathering.

It was the protesters’ choice to come there and effect non-violent resistance (for the most part) in service of a cause they believed in. It was OMON’s choice to uphold the letter of the law and clear out an unsanctioned protest; they are well-compensated for their trouble. It was my own choice to risk arrest by covering it as a “citizen journalist” of sorts; as with Vincent Law, my greater fear is not getting arrested per se, nor the fines, nor a day or two in detention; it’s the fact of getting arrested *at a Navalny protest*.

The important thing is that the risk of innocent passersby getting caught up was minimal.

This time round, Navalny and his crew purposefully crashed a separate event where people wanted to cosplay historical battles, not participate in an actual one against the police. This would have been irresponsible and unethical course of action for anyone with pretenses to serious politics. That this was very likely based on a lie makes it outright disgraceful. These are the actions of a two bit rabblerouser.

For instance, here is one account of how Navalny supporters ruined the day of one reconstructor who wanted to show Muscovites how medieval Russians made decorative beads (h/t E for partial translation):

They [the liberals] yelled into the faces of myself, the musicians and historical reconstructionists that we were “traitors”, that what we’re doing is useless sh*t, that we should instead be having meetings, that we are paid-off varmints who were placed there in order to disrupt their meetings. To our protests that we’re teaching people crafts and history, we received the reply: “Nobody needs any of that sh*t! We need to have meetings and create a revolution!”. I really wanted to bash these people’s faces in, but people were yelling at us that we shouldn’t give in to provocation, because EVERYTHING was CONSTANTLY being filmed by dozens of cameras.

In the end, the programme continued after a several-hour interruption. Of course, I didn’t make any more beads, because I needed to heat up my oven again and there wasn’t much time left.
In one of the camps, they took down and broke a pavilion, and broke the tent in another. But the reconstructionists, having armed themselves with shields, saved the most important places from total destruction. I understand how difficult it must have been not to grab the spears and axes, as well.

By all rights, this should finally finish off Navalny’s portrayal of himself as a champion of honesty and transparency in politics.

As his recent interview with Ksenia Sobchak confirmed, this is a non too bright man who does not know elementary facts and figures about the state of the Russian economy or public health. He is a one-trick pony who is only any good on corruption, or at least coming up with catchy slogans about it. However, even on corruption, it just so often happens that Navalny’s demonstrated behavior is at odds with his purported principles and beliefs, with this latest episode being just the latest example.

That said, Navalny is undoubtedly extremely talented at playing the democratic martyr for the Western cameras.

Therefore, the main part of his constituency – Western consumers of CNN and Buzzfeed – will have to keep on wondering why the collapse of the Putin regime keeps failing to pan out for the nth time.

 
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france-elections-2017-whos-who-update

I don’t have much to add to my previous posts on this matter:

ipsos-poll-france-elections-2017

An n=8,200 Ipsos poll from May 5 gave Emmanual Macron 63% to Le Pen’s 37%. She needs a miracle.

The betting markets are likewise gloomy. Macron is 87% favorites on PredictIt, which is bad but not hopeless for Le Pen.

However, the picture becomes much worse for the French nationalists when you look at betting markets with a wider breakdown of options. For instance, the probability distribution for the question asking what percentage of the popular vote MLP will get displays a bell curve with a peak around 37%-38%, declining to 1% for the segment 45-46%, and staying at 1% for each consecutive one percentage point segment until we get to 11% predicting 50%+, i.e. a Le Pen victory.

These Le Pen optimists are clearly banking on some kind of miracle – systemic polling problems that massively understate MLP’s support (seemingly disproved in the first round); the spirit of kek; perhaps a few timely leaks.

And it just so happens that kek has delivered through the hacker 4chan.

On May 3, a /pol/ack posted two PDFs with evidence of an offshore bank account owned by Macron in the Cayman Islands.

The first doc is the incorporation of a shell company in Nevis, a country that doesn’t keep ownership records of corporations. The second is proof of a banking relationship with a bank involved in tax evasion in the Cayman Islands.

People have known for a while that Macron underreported his income and assets to the government, but nobody knew where it was stored. Here’s where his money is stored. See what you can do with this, anon. Let’s get grinding. If we can get #MacronCacheCash trending in France for the debates tonight, it might discourage French voters from voting Macron.

Document 1: https://my.mixtape.moe/onviuq.pdf

Document 2: https://my.mixtape.moe/bspenp.pdf

palmer-banking-spy Curiously, in the final debate, Le Pen had implied Macron might be in possession of an offshore account in the Bahamas, in response to which Macron had threatened a defamation lawsuit.

The lawyer who the documents indicate set up Macron’s Cayman LLC appears to have had a career as a top CIA banking spy.

One day later, about 9GB of email, photos, and attachments up to April 24, 2017 were posted on the /pol/ boards.

Are you ready /pol/?

https://pastebin.com/bUJKFpH1

http://archive.is/eQtrm

In this pastebin are links to torrents of emails between Macron, his team and other officials, politicians as well as original documents and photos

The emails were quickly established as credible, though the Macron campaign has taken a cue from the HRC campaign and hinted that there are fakes interspersed amongst the real emails.

Though nobody has comprehensively looked through the entire thing, and of course doing so before the actual elections is unrealistic, some interesting tidbits are cropping up that may involve insider trading, unauthorized access to classified state information, and the purchase of recreational drugs and perhaps harder stuff.

Needless to say, this has created quite the stir on cyberspace. Wikileaks and Jack Posobiec spread the message on Twitter; as I write this, #MacronLeaks is the number one trending hashtag on French Twitter. The French police have taken a formal interest in ascertaining the identity of the leaker.

Problem: The French media has entered its election silence period, so there will be no substantive discussions of the MacronLeaks in the MSM. (I checked the front pages of the major French newspapers and Le Monde is the only one to have prominent coverage of MacronLeaks).

Which begs the question of whodunnit.

The MSM has, of course, rushed to blame the Russian hacker Ivan. However, as more level-headed people have pointed out, what would be the point of doing this at the last moment? Macron is the least Russia friendly of the four major candidates – his campaign has scandalously barred the Russian media outlets RT and Sputnik from his events – and, the logic goes, would now be even less well disposed towards Putin.

On the other hand, a more cynical view might be that the Kremlin views the prospects for cooperation with a Macron-led France as being so dismal anyway that it might as well begin destabilizing him straight away.

Two other possibilities:

(1) Bryan MacDonald: “My bet is other state actors trying to ruin any chance of a future Macron-Putin arrangement or freelance Russians acting the maggot.”

(2) Technically competent, disgruntled Leftist/Communist supporter who wants to undermine Macron, but who doesn’t want Le Pen to benefit from it.

 
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The other day a Levada poll was released showing an apparently lackluster performance by Navalny in a hypothetical Presidential race against Putin and the other candidates.

If there were elections on the coming Sunday, who would you vote for? (The figures below exclude those said they don’t know, or don’t intend to vote).

Apr13 Apr14 Apr15 Jan16 Apr17
Putin 64 81 82 83 83
Zhirinovsky 7 6 5 4 5
Zyuganov 13 7 9 6 4
Shoigu 3 2 <1 3 2
Navalny <1 <1 1 1 2
Medvedev 3 <1 <1 <1 1
Mironov 1 1 1 1 1
Prokhorov 4 1 1 1 <1
Other 4 2 1 2 2

This seems very bad for “Alexey 2 Percent,” as he was just styled by the great Paul Robinson.

On the one hand, he is certainly correct in his main point that one shouldn’t be rushing to buy the hype around Navalny generated by the Western media.

OTOH, I don’t think it’s quite as catastrophic for Navalny as the professor makes it out to be. For instance, in February 2012, (adjusted for non-voter’s/don’t knows) about 6% of Russians intended to vote for Prokhorov. In the event, he got 8%, which would have been closer to 9% without electoral fraud.

Of perhaps greater relevance, Levada and VCIOM opinion polls were giving the Kremlin-backed candidate Sobyanin about 70% versus 9-13% for Navalny in the Moscow mayoral election of 2013. In the event, Sobyanin only narrowly avoided a second round with 51% to Navalny’s 27%.

navalny-voting-intentions Even more worrying for the Kremlin though is that the percentage of Russians saying they were “probably” or “definitely” going to vote for Navalny increased from the 5% level he enjoyed from March 2012 to February 2017 (i.e. encompassing the period of the Moscow elections) to 10% in March 2017 following the release of the Medvedev corruption video.

Now just to make it clear I am not implying that Navalny is any sort of serious electoral threat to Putin – at least for now. In particular, the President’s ratings are at a consistent ~80% since Crimea, whereas during the 2012-13 period they were hovering at a nadir of ~60%.

Putin’s relatively greater popularily will, presumably, mostly or even wholly cancel out Navalny’s momentum.

And, of course, the question of whether Navalny will even be allowed to run is still an open one. Just a few hours ago a Russian court upheld the five year suspended sentence given to Navalny for the Kirovles Affair, which might be grounds for formally barring him from the Presidential race – though as in 2013, it is possible that it will not be enforced. Still, I’m not going to bet on that. Navalny is far more charismatic than Prokhorov, he is the only liberal candidate with a reasonable chance of making inroads into the (considerably bigger) nationalist electorate, and the recent attack on him by kremlin-affiliated thugs – which threatens to make him blind in one eye, if his own assertions are true – might create a martyr effect for him (as the murky dioxin poisoning of Viktor Yushchenko in 2004, which helped drive Ukrainians to stage the Orange Revolution). It would not be wise for the kremlins to risk a Navalny run.

One other very interesting, and even more interesting development, is the complete collapse of Zyuganov’s (Communist) support – he has gone from 13% in April 2013, to just 5% today; practically level pegging with the nationalist Zhirinovsky, who has also declined, but by a far more modest degree, despite losing part of his nationalist base to Putin after Crimea.

russia-elections-2016-party-support-age-group As I have long pointed out, the Red base of pensioners is dying out – there are three times fewer Communist voters in the youngest age group versus the oldest, whereas the LDPR’s share, conversely, doubles – and the demographics are now fast translating into electoral politics.

What this means in practice is that in the unlikely scenario that Navalny does run, I strongly suspect that he and Putin will between them compress the two fossils of Russian politics – that is, Zyuganov and Zhirinovsky – into the single digits, and will manage to come a distant second, perhaps 15% to Putin’s 70%.

 
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hi-reddit-russia A couple of weeks back I had an AMA (Ask Me Anything) with /r/Russia.

Direct link: Hi /r/Russia! Anatoly Karlin, writer for The Unz Review / Анатолий Карлин, “пейсатель” о России, геополитике. AMA!

Thought I would reprint some of the questions and answers there so that they don’t vanish into the digital ether.

***

Politics

You were at the March 26 protests

Can we confidently say that the Kremlin lost young voters forever.

Does Russia have a new protest generation?

For example in the west, there was the contrast between the WWII conservative generation and the young generation of the 60s( this so-called counterculture )

Yes, here’s my account of the March 26 protests.

I don’t think the Kremlin has lost young voters, though some kremlins are definitely trying to. Ultimately, Putin after Crimea still has the steady support of about 80% of Russians, so that precludes any great dip in support amongst young people.

My impression is that paradoxically, both liberal and pro-Putin sentiments might be somewhat higher amongst the younger generations, alongside a melange of other, more idiosyncratic ideologies like monarchism and whatnot. Why? Because Communist sympathies collapse amongst younger Russians. That is, relative to the older generations, there are still plenty of “vatniks,” but many fewer “sovoks.”

If there is going to be a strong youth-based protest movement in the future – which isn’t the case now, 8,000 protesters in a city of 12 million is nothing – I suspect nationalists will play a big role in it.

***

Two questions

  1. In your opinion, what are the most important politcal challenges facing our country and how can those challenges can be adress?
  2. What should the federal government’s top three priorities be in setting a sound foreign policy vital to our interest?

(1) The lack of a clearcut succession mechanism is a serious problem. Putin after Crimea has become sort of what the poli-sci types call a “charismatic leader,” so his own power is quite secure, but you can’t say the same for the beigeocratic bugmen who make up his entourage from Medvedev on down. Hopefully he can groom an adequate replacement in his remaining years as President.

(2) It all boils down to this: Be smarter.

pushkov-need-to-be-smarter

Alexey Pushkov: “Russia invested $200bn in Ukraine’s economy in the past 20 years, the US – $5bn in the “development of democracy.” Looks like we didn’t invest correctly. Important lesson.”

The lack of a clearcut succession mechanism is a serious problem. Putin after Crimea has become sort of what the poli-sci types call a “charismatic leader,” so his own power is quite secure, but you can’t say the same for the beigeocratic bugmen who make up his entourage from Medvedev on down. Hopefully he can groom an adequate replacement in his remaining years as President.

What do you think might happen if Putin fails to produce a successor in time (for one reason or another)? Are there any political elites or oligarchs who might be plotting an aggressive move to be executed against Putin (if his support wanes over time) or shortly after him suddenly stepping down (ill health, death, or something else)? Maybe someone in the military or siloviki? Indeed, the lack of any clear mechanisms will cause chaos, which will be an opportunity for some.

I am just as skeptical about the prospects of an internal coup against Putin as about the prospects of a color revolution (detailed article about this).

Putin’s approval rating hasn’t consistently dipped below 60% since late 1999. Any event or development that brings it down into dangerous territory is likely to be so unexpected and traumatic that little could be meaningfully predicted about it. If Putin steps down due to “life” reasons (e.g. ill health), Medvedev would be the immediate logical successor. He will get by in the short to medium term, I suppose, though being much less popular and charismatic than Putin his position will be shakier.

***

How much of a role did the US have in the Russian troubles in the 90s? Mostly talking about the domestic problems. Aside from their monetary support of Yelstin in the 1996 election, can’t think of any nefarious actions, while some claim that the CIA conspired with the oligarchs to destroy the country, and then with the Chechens to destroy it again, and so on. From what I’ve read, the US (as a whole, with the exception of some officials including presidents) was mostly disinterested in Russian domestic problems, leaving it to its own problems.

Do you think that if the US managed to execute a Marshall plan-style aid for Russia back then, it would have been a better place now?

I think US role in that is overdone in “patriotic” Russian propaganda. Most of the damage was either self-inflicted (the kleptocratic nature of the privatizations), or inevitable (reintroducing markets after 60 years of central planning – you can turn a fish into a fish stew, but turning a fish stew into a fish is harder, as the economists joked).

To be sure, the oligarchs pretty much were Western agents of influence, but I agree with you that the dominant US policy towards Russia was disinterest.

Russian opinion towards the US was extremely positive in the early 1990s, through to the war against Serbia. There were even serious considerations of pursuing NATO membership through to the early 2000s. If there ever was an opportunity to draw Russia within the Euro-Atlantic orbit and preempt a Sino-Russian alliance, it was then. Instead, Washington D.C. considered itself the victory in the Cold War and chose to expand NATO (a policy opposed by both George Kennan and Henry Kissinger).

***

Do you think Lenin will be buried? How do you expect the 100th anniversary of his revolution will be “commemorated” in Russia?

Lenin was a traitor, so if his body has to be disposed of in some way, it should be cremated and scattered to the four winds.

That said, it does have some historical value as the oldest well preserved body in the world, so perhaps it could be moved to an outskirt of Moscow. Maybe the commies could crowdfund a “shrine” of some sort there.

***

If Vladimir Zhirinovsky had a daughter named Martine could she lead the LDPR to power?

Martine Lebedeva would be a good name for a video game anti-heroine.

***

Political Theory

Any favorites among right-wing thinkers from nineteenth century? Do you think that, say, Pobedonostev still holds water today as an actual political philosopher, or he should be read from purely historical POV? Name your three favorite russian philosophers, right-wing or not.

I haven’t studied Pobedonostev in any great depth, but I’m not enarmored with him; too often he seems to adopt egregiously reactionary positions just for, well, the heck of it.

I do recall him having some good thoughts on how the mass media operates, rushing to print anything without fact-checking (#fakenews?). But his proposed solutions tended to be antagonistically authoritarian, and some were outright crazy, like his arguments against mass schooling.

Favorite 3 Russian philosophers:

  1. Ivan Ilyin
  2. Vladimir Vernadsky
  3. Nikolay Berdyaev

***

What’s your take on classic Moldbug writings from 2008-2013, and separately, on current state of neoreactosphere?

I am not a big fan of Moldbug.

For instance, he not only denies AGW, but also seems to be under the impression that this makes him some sort of dissident against the “weaponized memeplex of Hypercalvinist Atheo-Oecumenic conspiracy,” as opposed to just subscribing to one of the tenets of Conservatism Inc. (USA).

As for his big idea, neocameralism – dividing up sovereignty into shares to be bought up by Silicon Valley oligarchs? Congratulations, neoreactionaries – you’ve just handed the SJWs absolute political power on a platter.

My view on NRx (in its original formulation) is that it was just libertarians trying to deal with the fact that the average person has an IQ of 100. Since I was never a libertarian, it never appealed to me all that strongly, despite certain sympathies for it. To be sure, there was also an “ethnonationalist” strain in NRx, but my impression is that it has since pretty much merged into the Alt Right (as Michael Anissimov predicted a couple of years back).

***

Let me just say that I greatly value your blogging over the years. It’s a breath of fresh air. Western coverage of Russia is 100% propaganda but the simpletons over at RT are not much better. I realise your biases – you’re open about them – but I much prefer that over feigned ‘neutrality’ which always end up in a monotone demonisation.

Now to my question. Putin strikes me as less of a nationalist than an imperialist . An imperialist believes in a larger, over-arching idea. Rome went from being a nation-state to an Empire, and being “roman” moved from an ethnic concept to a universal concept. Same is true with America.

In my view, if you’re a Russian nationalist, then you should be against imperialism. This isn’t to say that you don’t want Russia to be strong(which is often confused with being an imperialist by naïve people). Because only nationalism will preserve the Russian nation(see the Central Asian immigration problem).

So, with such a large preamble, do you A) agree with my characterisation of Putin and B) what do you think are the chances of purely ethnic Russian(with some allowances for other ethnicities, as long as they meld into the larger Russian core) nationalism? I’m thinking post-Putin mostly given that he is in his mid-60s and is unlikely to change.

I am a Russian nationalist, but I subscribe to the concept of the triune Russian nation – i.e., of Great Russians, Little Russians, and White Russians – as the nation-building core of a prospective “Big Russia.”

This implicitly demands the eventual reunification of the Russian lands – not as an imperial project, but a nation-(re)building one.

The most “imperial” aspects of Russia are (1) Chechnya/Ingushetia/Dagestan and (2) Central Asia, both of which were only brought within the Russian Empire in the middle of the 19th century. And I am indeed lukewarm about whether or not the former should remain within Russia, and am certainly opposed to any significant degree of integration with the latter (not least for demographic reasons: There are about now as many young Central Asians as there are ethnic Russians).

With that out of the way, to answer your specific questions:

(A) Putin is an imperialist, a nationalist, as well as a conservative, a liberal, a liberal-conservative, a patriot, a sovok, an opportunist, and so forth. His modus operandi has always been to balance between different political and ideological factions.

(B) Support for this strain of nationalism is certainly growing – as of the latest polls, “Russia for [ethnic] Russians” enjoys about 50% support, and that viewpoint is relatively far more prevalent amongst the younger generations.

***

Geopolitics

Who will take power next in Ukraine? Do you think the Kremlin’s decision to take a passive approach will be vindicated? My impression is that Ukraine is a bit of a dumpster fire at the moment, which will make anyone who steps inside regret it. But then, vigorous action might have and might yet restore the status quo ante of a reasonably large and friendly buffer state (minus west Ukraine).

I speculated about developments in Ukraine here. There’s a possibility that Tymoshenko is mounting a slow-motion coup against Poroshenko with the help of Turchinov, Kolomoysky, and his pet far right batallions.

I unenthusiastically supported Minsk II at the time, however I think since then its detractors have been proven right – as of Q4 2016, the Ukrainian economy was growing by close to 5% (after all, even Ukraine has to hit bottom at some point). That said, Trump’s election victory is an unexpected wild card that may yet rescue the day, and Ukrainian nationalists have proved to be reliably helpful.

restore the status quo ante
friendly buffer state

Pick one. Pre-Maidan Ukraine was not friendly.

Yes, this is true. Yanukovych only turned to EEU at the last moment, right after running an extensive pro-EU campaign. Genius!

The demographics in Ukraine are also very unfavorable in terms of attitudes towards Russia. The Far West is growing vigorously – it has some of the highest fertility rates in Europe – whereas the Donbass was in a true death spiral even before the war.

Moreover, even I can sympathize with Ukrainians who don’t want their country to be a buffer state. While both the EU and Russia can sell tantalizing (if unrealistic) visions of what is possible – TyschaVDen’ to the west, space race victory to the east – literally like, nobody, wants to be a “buffer” between a bunch of gayropean degenerates and sovok cretins. :)

***

What is your opinion on the syrian intervention and how much longer in your opinion will we stay in the country?

I initially supported it on the theory that its goals were to provide cheap real life training for the Russian Air Force; secure itself a couple of useful bases in the MENA region; use it as a bargaining chip with the US in future discussions about spheres of influence in Eurasia.

I have since become more skeptical about it. There is now a much larger degree of involvement, including ground involvement, and it seems like Russia is taking its own rhetoric about fighting the terrorists in Syria so as not to have to fight them in Russia itself seriously. That said, I still support it, though I now have major reservations about the dangers of overextension.

If there is no further substantial US intervention, I expect Syria to be eventually divided between the Syrian government west of the Euphrates, and Kurdistan east of it, maybe by 2019-20. They will come to some kind of confederal arrangement. If however the neocons win out and move forwards with HRC’s no fly zone ideas, who knows what will happen. Nothing good, that’s for certain.

***

What’s the general sentiment towards Germany? What do Russians think about Germany today and how much did the feelings towards Germany change after our relations took a change for the worse recently? Also, what do you think would need to happen to better the German-Russian relations?

(1) Were generally good until 2014. I can’t find polls on Levada, but I would imagine Russian opinion of Germany tracks that of the EU, which was consistently higher than opinion of the US, but converged after 2014.

(2) AfD comes to power in Germany. Khodorkovsky comes to power in Russia.

More realistically, if the US goes full neocon and goes gallivanting on Middle East adventures again. There are committed Atlanticists in Germany like Julian Roepcke, but they are still a minority. German assessments of US trustworthiness have already plummeted from ~60% under Obama to close to 20% after Trump (similar to the current figures for Russia), and especially if the SPD takes back power and anyone other than Macron or Hamon win in France, I could just about see the reformation of the Paris/Berlin/Moscow bloc that opposed the Iraq War. Still, it’s a huge longshot.

Thank you! Military misadventures of the US are the most realistic possibility for an improvement in my eyes, too. But such an outside influence wouldn’t be a very substantial one and also may only be short lived.

Still, it’s a bit paradox that while the “West” seems to be united in its condemnation of and mistrust towards Russia, Germany is building NordstreamII and some german lower rank politicians like Seehofer keep traveling to Moscow, seemingly to keep relations from dropping too low. I think Germany is caught in the middle, having to appease its main and most influential ally, the US, while trying to maintain some contact with Russia and access to the Russian market on which can be build upon in the future, if the situation improves and allows for it.

A last note on why I asked my question… I was very moved by Putin’s speech at the German Bundestag in 2001 and felt like the vision of a shared EU/Russian market, common security policy and general cooperation between the EU and what is now the EEU would have been a true path to stability and prosperity for our region and most of the world and it saddens me very much that this vision is more or less dead now.

***

What do you think of use of military force to achieve Russian goals? Syria seems to me to be a success, regardless of many possible concerns, however instances like Georgia and Ukraine seem to be very much a mixed bag. In short – was it worth it, and was there a viable alternative?

Georgia – Russian peacekeepers were directly attacked, no choice but to respond forcefully.

Ukraine – Crimea was an undisputed success that saved it from Donbass’ sad fate. If anything, a timely Russian large-scale intervention in early 2014 would have resulted in far fewer overall deaths and suffering.

Syria – See here.

***

Technology

Will Russia return to the cutting edge of space exploration (and/or exploitation, colonization, etc.) technology in the near future?

How does the Russian military stack up against the US and China when it comes to the space domain?

No. In fact, I expect Russia to continue slipping behind.

Ultimately, there is only so much $3.5tn economy and $3bn Roskosmos budget can sustain versus a $20tn economy (USA, China) and a $35bn NASA budget/$6bn and rapidly growing Chinese space budget.

That said, I don’t expect space colonization to occur on any substantial scale in this century, Musk’s rhetoric regardless.

***

As a transhumanist myself I don’t really understand how transhumanism and nationalism mixed together in you. The idea of transhumanism transcends the ideas of nations, races and even the human nature. Technological evolution should unite the humanity and as long people become more and more connected today with each other – the ideas of national goverments and nations will be rendered oblosete with time.

Good question.

Very legitimate one, of course. I am sure that once we get to computer superintelligence or CRISPR ourselves up to 175 average IQs, the world will become thoroughly cosmopolitan (support for tolerance, open borders, free trade, etc. tends to increase with IQ).

Problem #1 – developing those technologies takes brains. Elite brains. “Smart fractions,” as they’re known in the psychometric literature. As well as the appropriate technological growth-friendly institutions, which again need a certain level of average national IQ to maintain.

Problem #2 – the evidence suggests that mass immigration from the Third World has negative effects on average national IQ. There is also good recent economic research that suggests that immigrants tend to carry over their home country cultural attitudes, with negative impacts on the quality of institutions in the host countries. See Garett Jones.

Can you envision the US or Japan (average IQ ~100) launching a singularity? It doesn’t seem entirely implausible.

Can you envision Brazil or Indonesia (average IQ ~85) launching a singularity? Sub-Saharan Africa (average IQ ~70)? Seems rather less likely.

As the neoreactionaries say, you can’t cultivate gardens without walls. We don’t know what kind of smart fraction ingenuity would be necessary for the biosphere to complete its transition into a disembodied noosphere. As such, it makes sense to play it safe.

Thank you for broad answer! Technological singularity is my dream. I wish would live long enough only to see the start of it. I have limited knowledge about general AI and even less about gene alteration technology, but guts of the computer engineer say that achieving artificial or virtual intelligence is faster way to help humanity to solve difficult problems. Only after development of such system humanity would reach the level when they will “gene-engineer” the humanity itself. Putting it simply – be smart enough to become smarter first and use this knowledge later.

Sometimes I think that sometimes society and technology develops way ahead of human basic behavior – eat, dominate and multiply – and that creates problems we have worldwide.

***

Economics

Russia’s economic growth 2000-2008: how much is luck and how much is sound fiscal management/ macroeconomic policy? I find this to be a fundamental question when it comes to assessing Putin’s legacy.

Russia’s future economic growth: will Putin be able to deliver solid numbers or do you agree with me that the preferable route for Russia going forward would be to be led by liberal reformists such as Medvedev/Kudrin?

EEU: Does it make sense for Russia economically? Should it continue to be pursued for geopolitical purposes? Bonus: should Russia seek closer ties with Europe or do it’s own Eurasian thing?

Also, do you share my assessment that Putin’s domestic policy since 2008 of increased authoritarianism etc has been a bad thing and that there is a need for a change in direction?

(1) Russia did about average for the ex-Soviet region – much better than Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova, most of the Central Asian states; about the same as two of the “Baltic tigers,” Latvia and Lithuania; and worse than Estonia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Azerbaijan.

Oil production in the latter two greatly increased relative to the peak Soviet period, whereas Russia’s only recovered to where they were. It might have done better without hasty corruption-wracked privatizations; even star reformer Poland didn’t rush with them, and they did very well. Even just doing what Belarus did would have probably been better. Their GDP stopped falling around 1995. OTOH, it wasn’t a total disaster like Ukraine. I don’t know if the Estonian example is extendable to Russia given its status as a tiny entrepot.

(2) What does “reform” even mean? Russia is now 40th in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business ratings. I call that successful reform.

Then there is the “cult of reform” which involves installing pro-Western yesmen into power for a temporary bump to the stockmarket in return for selling state assets for pennies on the dollar, unilateral geopolitical concessions, etc.

Kudrin once went on record calling on Russians to drink more vodka for the good of the budget. Vodka bingeing is the leading cause of premature mortality in Russia. I don’t think Russia needs “economic geniuses” like that, regardless of the opinions of Davos bugmen.

(3) I supported the EEU when it appeared to be something around which Russia could return to its older borders through peaceful economic integration. Since then it has started to look more like a mechanism to send cheap labor to Russia, styming automation, suppressing wages, helping Central Asian sovok dictators stay in power, and perhaps eventually turning Russia into Greater Turkestan. I support a wall with Central Asia and the regathering of the Russian lands.

(4) “Bonus: should Russia seek closer ties with Europe or do it’s own Eurasian thing?”
Meaningless question. Whoever speaks of Europe is wrong. Europe is a geographical expression. – Bismarck. For instance, even today there are huge differences in attitudes towards Russia, from Russophobic Swedes to Russophilic Italians.

(5) I don’t have any cardinal disagreements with the setup of the Russian political system, though there are certainly many specific points of disagreement (e.g. the lack of a clear succession mechanism; the undeniably high levels of corruption within the elites; etc).

Thank you for the reply.

1) This does not really answer my question. Basically, how much credit can Putin take for Russia’s fast economic growth? His critics would say he simply “got lucky” as he was able to export expensive oil and gas.

2) I have noted the progress in the “doing business” ranking. However, how significant is this in practice? By “reform”, I mean modernisation and diversification away from energy dependence. The govt seems to have largely failed in this regard – would you agree?

4) Andrei Tsygankov divides Russia’s political class into three ‘schools’: Westernisers, statists and civilisationists. Westernisers (Medvedev, Kudrin etc) perceive Russia as a “European” country and argue that Russia should join the ranks of Western countries and seek closer ties with the EU and disregard Eurasian integration initiatives – essentially, become as “normal” a European state as it can.

5) What about heavy state ownership of the media? On corruption – is it fair to say that Putin does not appear to have done enough? Are you familiar with any of the intricacies of it – ie how difficult would it be to actually “clean up” Russia and get it to Northern European levels of corruption? Saakashvili appears to have managed to do something like this in Georgia, for all his flaws.

(1) The point that I tried to make, perhaps unsuccessfully, is that this is a very hard question that might be impossible to answer without rewinding history. Perhaps Russia could have done a bit better – though not necessarily through “Western approved” methods, as Belarus showed – but it’s also easy how it could have gone considerably worse (see Ukraine).

(2) The ease of business rankings seem to be pretty important in that (a) they are objective, unlike many other indices, such as the CPI; (b) businesspeople pay a lot attention to it; (c) n=1, but it syncs with my own impressions that the Russian bureaucracy has improved, if from a very low base.

Consider diversification practically, instead of as a slogan. Since Russia produces as much oil as Saudi Arabia, diversification away from it is not easy, just as it is not for, say, Norway, or Australia (both fully developed countries with large natural resource sectors). Unlike, say, Saudi Arabia, Russia does have a substantial manufacturing base – comparable in scope to that of France, Italy, India, and Brazil. In my opinion, the problem with the Russian economy isn’t so much that there’s no diversification beyond oil and gas – there is – but that it tends to be technologically underdeveloped.

(4) There is a difference in becoming a “normal European country” (which is good, and something that Russia has been doing anyway, not unsuccessfully as was pointed out by Treisman & Schleifer as early as 2003) and pursuing European integration, which right now is akin to boarding a sinking ship, and was never a realistic option for Russia anyway.
(5) “What about heavy state ownership of the media?”

The (realistic) alternative is ownership by oligarchs who wish their own and pro-Western agendas. Here’s the famous quote on this from Pelevin (only in Russian, unfortunately):

“On corruption – is it fair to say that Putin does not appear to have done enough? Are you familiar with any of the intricacies of it – ie how difficult would it be to actually “clean up” Russia and get it to Northern European levels of corruption?”

Yes, that’s fair. He is far too easy on corrupt members of his entourage. Which, frankly, is most or all of them.

That said, I am very skeptical that Russia can “solve” corruption for a variety of historical (both Tsarist Russia and USSR failed to), comparative (Italy, Greece, etc. haven’t come anywhere near Northern European standards, despite decades of institutional convergence by dint of EU membership), and cultural/biocultural (see hbdchick’s theories on the Hajnal Line) reasons.

Obviously we should aim to become better, but expectations should be kept realistic. I am pretty sure that liberal appetites for corruption are constrained only by their own lack of access to power, not ethics, and besides, Ukraine next door has now – twice! – demonstrated that color revolutions do nothing for improving corruption.

“Saakashvili appears to have managed to do something like this in Georgia, for all his flaws.”
Commented on this here:

“6% of Georgians reported paying a bribe in the past year in 2004, the first year of Saakashvili’s Presidency, and before his reforms could reasonably be expected to have taken effect; in 2013, the last year of his President, it was 4%. An improvement, sure, but not a particularly radical one. Actual opinion polls by Transparency International suggest that lowlevel corruption was not a big problem in Georgia pre-Saakashvili, and its reduction under him could just as easily have been a simple matter of the general withering away of the state’s regulatory agencies under his libertarian reforms. For instance, the near wholesale removal of university tuition subsidies – essential for democratic access to higher education in a country as poor as Georgia – led to a plunge in tertiary enrollment by almost a third relative to the early-to-mid-2000s. Fewer students automatically translates to fewer bribes for grades. These examples can be extended indefinitely: Less contact with the state automatically leads to “lower” corruption. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s “good” in all cases.”

Share of exports does not equal level of dependency. Natural resources may make out a large part of Norwegian exports, but they siphon only a very small percentage​ of this income into the state budget (<4% per annum). Russia has clearly taken a bigger hit from the recent crisis than many other energy exporters.

It seems I may have fallen prey to the myth of Saakashvili’s ingenuity on this front. How come Georgia’s level of corruption was already so low? Did they not go through the same decade of looting during the 90′s? In any case, does Georgia’s relative similarly to Russia (in terms of history and culture) not suggest that Russia should be able to reach a similar level?

The revelations by Navalny suggest something bordering on complete apathy towards corruption on the part of the Russian elites, wouldn’t you agree? You don’t really see the same level of – let’s face it – looting among the leaders of less corrupt countries. This leads me to suspect they are ultimately responsible for the high levels of corruption.

On the topic of inequality – I assume you agree it is a significant problem in Russia. Do you see any remedies for it? Would you favour additional Khodorkovsky-style, let’s call it, “acquisitions” by the state? Russia appears to be in quite a unique position in that it could massively improve its level of inequality by dealing only with a few select individuals. Again, my suspicion is that the political elite much prefers the current situation, wherein it enjoys free access to these looted assets.

I wasn’t aware there was any unified consensus on what exactly constitutes oil & gas dependency (i.e. share of the budget, share of exports, share of GDP, or some combination of the three).

But speaking of the budget… The share of oil & gas in the consolidated budget is now 21%, so I don’t think the situation is exactly catastrophic. Ultimately, despite the recent collapse in oil prices, the Russian budget has avoided slipping deep into the red.

I don’t think Georgia is similar to Russia at all. It is Orthodox Christian, but otherwise they speak a totally different language, belong to another (older) civilization, are genetically distinct, etc. It is also much more rural. Don’t think its very extendable to Russia at all.

Re-corruption. Mostly agreed. I would also note that there are different kinds of corruption, e.g.:

  • Everyday corruption – high by European standards though not an outlier (not only Ukraine but Romania, Hungary, Lithuania are similar); seems to be constant under Putin.
  • Business corruption (e.g. pay to get construction permit) – high by European standards though not outlier; massively improved according to World Bank Enterprise Surveys under Putin.
  • Elite corruption – very hard to measure – not exactly like you can poll them on this, like you can random individuals and businesses – but seems to be very high; trends hard to ascertain, though my guess would be that the situation is modestly better than in the 1990s, but hasn’t seen any major improvement under Putin.

Re-inequality. The political elite as such, though wealthy, doesn’t enjoy access to most of those “looted assets.” They mostly belong to the oligarchs who became rich off the 1990s privatizations, and who were explicitly told to stay out of politics (Khodorkovsky disobeyed).

Should those oligarchs be expropriated? I don’t know. On the other hand, it might frighten businesspeople and discourage longterm investment (the standard economists’ argument). On the other hand, it’s not as if they don’t deserve it, and so long as this issue remains unresolved, the consequences of privatization will remain a potential source of political illegitimacy.

I wasn’t aware there was any unified consensus on what exactly constitutes oil & gas dependency (i.e. share of the budget, share of exports, share of GDP, or some combination of the three).

I don’t think one exists, hence my objection to going simply by “share of GDP”.

But speaking of the budget… The share of oil & gas in the consolidated budget is now 21%, so I don’t think the situation is exactly catastrophic.

That doesn’t seem too bad. However, I wonder what the number would be if you included indirect income from the oil and gas sector – ie payroll taxes on employees and even the economic activity generated by their spending (this isn’t measurable, but I’m sure some estimates could be generated). This could be quite significant simply given how much more profitable this sector is than other sectors of the Russian economy.

I don’t think Georgia is similar to Russia at all. It is Orthodox Christian, but otherwise they speak a totally different language, belong to another (older) civilization, are genetically distinct, etc. It is also much more rural. Don’t think its very extendable to Russia at all.

I can see how there are certain differences, but I don’t see why they should result in such a disparity re corruption levels. You also have to factor in the 70 years spent as part of the same union. IQ levels and GDP per capita also point in Russia’s favour in this sphere (though the latter point may be negated by the “resource curse” argument).

I find your distinction between different types of corruption useful. This leads me to believe that “elite corruption” (what I guess you could also term “inequality”) is the real problem here. This, coincidentally, appears to be the domain over which Putin should be able to exert the most influence.

I’m not sure if this is so much about the political elite, in general, as about the small clique surrounding Putin. As Navalny’s most recent work revealed, the oligarchs’ assets appear to be largely at the disposal of this inner circle. For example, Usmanov gifted Medvedev his personal homes and allowed him to stay in his residence​ in Italy. Why give that up?

Even if Putin did want to break the piggy bank this would be an extremely risky (even potentially lethal) project, as the remaining guys would do anything they can to protect their assets. However, desperate times call for desperate measures and Putin will need to maintain his “performance legitimacy” somehow.

It will be interesting to see how Putin’s popularity develops going forward. Any ideas? I assume it can only go so low post-Crimea, but the lacklustre economic predictions are not very reassuring. Absent regular foreign policy victories (which is hardly a reliable political strategy despite recent successes), I suspect there may be clouds lining up in Putin’s horizon. If there’s one thing Navalny’s documentary showed, it’s that people are eyeing the oligarchic piggy bank and they may grow increasingly unhappy with Putin if he does not let more of its contents flow into their pockets.

I kind of do and kind of don’t buy the economic argument against re-acquisition of assets. On the one hand, I believe it could be done in a way that would clearly single out the top 6-7 cats. These would be distinct from foreign investors in that they will be natives and their assets will have formerly belonged to the state and often be related to natural resources. On the other hand, I guess you can always trust clueless foreign investors with zero local knowledge to completely fail to understand what’s going on and proceed to get their panties in a twist.

Sure, the indirect effects of the oil & gas sector certainly has positive downstream effects – certainly inflates consumption to some extent – though of course similar considerations would apply to all large per capita oil & gas exporters.

Pretty much agreed with everything you say about corruption here. that seems to describe reality.

I am actually quite optimistic about economic growth in the next 5 years, barring any major political or geopolitical shocks. We’ve had a two year period of gloom, but this period also saw a tight monetary and fiscal policy, the taming of inflation, and a demographic shock as the numbers of workers entering the labor force plummeted (minimum fertility in Russia was in 1999). But the negative aspects above should attenuate soon, while the positive ones stand the Russia economy in good stead for a strong recovery in the near future.

I’m not categorically against re-appropriation. As you say, it’s not entirely obvious that the reaction will be all that bad, and certainly few people would feel sorry about the likes of Usmanov or Abramovich getting their (belated) just desserts.

I did not think of the demographic factor. I wonder if it will be sufficient to bring about decent growth figures. I wish I shared your optimism, but I feel like significant structural changes are needed to see anything above 2% growth.

***

Which sectors you believe are likely to become future drivers of Russian economy?

Probably the current mainstays: Oil & gas, steel, the military-industrial complex.

I am actually pretty pessimistic on the long-term prospects of the Russian economy, though not for the usual reasons such as demographics and corruption. Automation in manufacturing is extremely low, scientific output is minimal however you try to measure it, on virtually any hi-tech metric from numbers of supercomputers to numbers of high-thoroughput sequencers, Russia is on the level of small European countries like Sweden and Switzerland.

Despite a few areas of excellence such as nuclear power, Putin’s preference for football stadiums (and the Rotenbergs’ wallets) over R&D funding is increasing Russia’s technological lag, and I’m concerned even the MIC will simply be unable to compete with the likes of the US or China past c.2025.

Considering Putin’s past job of “acquiring” foreign technology in the DDR, he must be aware of Russia’s technological weakness.

What are the prospects of reindustrialisation and foreign investment in Russia considering the collapse in oil prices, Western sanctions as well as more positive economics aspects such as a cheaper Ruble and turning to non-Western sources of investment.

Edit: How well will raising trade barriers work for encouraging domestic manufacturing like how agriculture is benefitting now.

He’s no doubt aware of it, and has even said as much (recall the nanotech initiative back around 2008? Or his promise of 20mn (?) hi-tech jobs in 2012? There was also, of course, Skolkovo. But none of these seem to have been particularly successful to my knowledge. Rosnano was handed over to Anatoly Chubais (LOL), who I think preceeded to invest most of it in Western startups, perhaps after skimming some off for himself.

I don’t know what Russia can do to change to radically improve the situation. Even the East-Central European states that have integrated with the EU haven’t developed strong hi-tech sectors; neither has Mediterranean Europe. It’s something that remains largely confined to the US, North-West Europe, Japan, and increasingly, China. Maybe its just a combination of superior human capital and/or institutions.

However, less money on show-off sporting events and more money for R&D would surely be a good start. There’s also a huge amount of bloat and corruption in Russia higher education, from university rectors to paid-for dissertations (they constitute approximately 10% of the total according to the Dissernet plagiarism detection organization). This must be tackled, but with Putin himself being the recipient of a fictive PhD, not to mention a good percentage of the Russian elites, that probably isn’t going to happen anytime soon.

.

 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Nationalism, Neoreaction, Politics, Russia, Ukraine 
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Probably unintentionally, but still.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MwqIY80nEdw

The video, subtly titled “Hitler 1945/Navalny 2018,” basically argues that if you oppose Medvedev’s corruption and the importation of infinity Moslems into Russia then you are Hitler.

Its current Dislikes to Likes ratio is at around 10.

According to Navalny himself, the man behind the video is Sergey Kiriyenko, the First Deputy Chief of Staff of the Presidential Administration.

The kremlin connection is probably true.

First, it obviously has a high production value, and has many of the stylistic features of the My Duck’s Vision studio, known for its goofy hyperbolic rhetoric and CGI overkill, which nobody really uses nowadays apart from the kremlins.

Second, the video has been shown to [edit 4/20: as has just been brought to my attention by Alexey Kovalev, they were actually shown another video, about Navalny's involvement in the Kirovles affair (an alleged corruption scandal for which Navalny had been convicted), not the one about how he is Hitler; in his post on the matter, Navalny had implied otherwise, which serves as a good reminder that what Navalny says should be fact checked as well] students of Vladimir State University, some of whom had allegedly been forced to go there as punishment for participating in the protests against corruption on March 26.

After the video, the head of the regional law school’s department for counter extremism outreach amongst youth, one vibrantly named Alla Byba lectures the disgruntled students for their temerity in asking her that she also show some of Navalny’s videos – for example, on how Dmitry Peskov wears watches worth three times his annual salary – in the interests of academic neutrality.

“You all know there that is an information war against the Russian Federation,” she informs the students, “No wonder that terrorist organizations are intensively recruiting across the Internet.”

So the basic takeaway is that as we well know actual terrorists have no religion or nationality, discussing Medvedev’s corruption and opposing infinity Moslems in Moscow makes you an extremist, a supporter of Adolf Hitler, and a member of the sixth-column ala Dugin.

You can hardly find a better way to inflate Navalny’s otherwise very modest approval ratings and smother away his real failings, such as a lack of knowledge about policy.

Indeed, as Egor Prosvirnin argues, calling Navalny a Russian fascist is perhaps the one thing that can save him – because it is evidently false to just about everyone who is not in the over 50, no Internet connection, sub-90 IQ demographic. But by attacking him on the basis of his supposed nationalism, the kremlins may well actually end up forcing Navalny to (re)adopt Russian nationalism. In the current climate, that could well increase Navalny’s popularity by a factor of of two or three, making him a real political threat to the kremlins.

All of which begs Milyukov’s classic question: Is this treason, or stupidity?

Well, judge for yourselves.

Some biographic data on Kiriyenko from the English Wikipedia (no mention of this in the Russian version, incidentally):

Sergei Kiriyenko’s grandfather, Yakov Israitel, made his name as a devoted communist and member of the Cheka, and Vladimir Lenin awarded him with an inscribed pistol for his good service to the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.

Sergei Kiriyenko, son of a Jewish father, was born in Sukhumi, the capital of the Abkhazian ASSR, and grew up in Sochi, in southern Russia. He adopted Ukrainian surname of his mother.

He was also one of the Gaidar’s “young reformers” responsible for the theft-ridden privatizations of the 1990s, and was Prime Minister during the 1998 default. After that, he spent the next seven years in inconsequential posts, until Putin plucked him out of obscurity to head Rosatom, the state nuclear power behemoth.

There have also been rumors in the press (which he denied) that he attended Scientology seminars in his hometown of Nizhny Novgorod.

Speaking of weird quasi-Masonic associations… Kirienko’s direct boss now is Anton Vaino, a descendant of Estonian communists. On becoming head of the Presidential Administration, the Internet quickly discovered his dissertation about the “nooscope,” a theoretical device that tracks “the collective conscience of mankind” thought a system of “spatial scanners” that monitor “changes in the biosphere.”

Many Russians expressed the hope that Vaino had paid someone to write it, because having an academic fraud in a position of power is par for the course in Russia, and far preferable to him being the deranged madman who wrote many dozens of pages about this pseudoscientific nonsense.

Apart from “treason” and “stupidity,” I suppose there is also a 666D chess explanation, a “mnogokhodovka” so to speak. If the kremlins could get nationalists to hop back aboard the Navalny bandwagon – meme Navalny into becoming a Russian Richard Spencer, as one Twitter user just suggested to me – then perhaps the kremlins could use the opportunity to shut down Russian nationalists along with Navalny himself in a future crackdown (for instance, if it coincides with the surrender of Donbass).

However, I don’t think that’s true, because I don’t think the kremlins are any smarter than Trump.

 
• Category: Ideology • Tags: Alexei Navalny, Politics, Russia 
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On March 15, the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine, headed by Alexander Turchinov, a hardliner who launched the “Anti-Terrorist Operation” as the interim President after Euromaidan, signed off on the legalization of the Donbass blockade, and transmitted a request to Ukraine’s Central Bank to finalize a plan to put sanctions on Russian banks operating in the country.

In what has long been typical of Ukraine, both actions were preempted by Ukrainian nationalist radicals, and both hurt Ukraine itself far more than anyone else.

Formally, the legalization of the Donbass blockade is a response to the LDNR’s nationalization of Ukrainian (aka Akhmetov’s) enterprises on its territories. In practice, this was a forced response to the blockade itself, which was being carried out by far right militant groups – probably financed by Kolomoysky, Akhmetov’s oligarchic rival – in contravention of official Kiev’s wishes.

We know that this is the case because Kiev did half-heartedly send armed policemen to do… something, to get the blockade lifted. But the “activists” proved a tougher bunch, spraying pepper spray into the cops’ faces and forcing them to retreat with their tails between their legs. It is also worth noting that Ukraine’s European backers are shocked and distraught by the legalization of the blockade, which effectively puts an end to Minsk II. Finally, Poroshenko himself described a law currently being touted in the Rada to formally cut off the LDNR economically as something that would “cut away these territories, build a wall, and gift them to Putin.”

But whereas the resulting “Transnistriazation” of the LDNR is not in Kiev’s interests – LNR head Igor Plotnitsky has already announced the possibility of a new referendum on joining Russia – being seen as weak and not in control of its own armed batallions is even more potentially fatal, so this is probably best seen as a face-saving measure more than anything else; a facade of vindictive incompetence meant to hide the even more damning fact that it is the armed militants, not Kiev, who wield the real power in the country.

We should look at Turchinov’s second edict, the request to put sanctions on Russian banks operating in the Ukraine, in the same vein.

Remarkably for a supposed “aggressor” country – the long-suffering denizens of Donbass can only wish! – Russia has been by far the biggest investor in the Ukraine. Since 2014, its banks and corporations have invested an astounding 175 billion rubles, including $1.7 billion in 2016 alone – that’s 38% of total investment. This has happened even as many of the Euromaidan’s most ardent fans, such as Thomas C. Theiner, have long since given up on the new Ukraine as a corrupt sinkhole).

According to Central Bank vice head Jacob Smoly, the sanctions will illegalize “all operations that benefit the mother banks – such as the allocation of interbank credits, the purchase of securities, and the payment of dividends and other operations” (incidentally, why isn’t CB head Valeria Gontareva making this statement? Is she packing her bags already?).

This came on the heels of “activist” attacks on Russian state bank Sberbank buildings in Kiev and Dnepropetrovsk.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DXlCtmzhV0Q

For its part, Sberbank has instituted limits on withdrawals from its Ukraine branches. Should the government take over the banks, it will still have to guarantee Ukrainians’ deposits in those banks. In the worst case, this might usher in a more general bank run. Even though that is unlikely, it still can’t be any good from the perspective of Ukraine’s creaking banking system, which has yet to fully cope with the nationalization of Kolomoyksy’s PrivatBank three months ago.

In any case, Russian pro-Donbass and nationalist websites are cheering this news, since they view it as a well-deserved strike against a “financial fifth-column” that has, in effect, subsidized Ukraine’s ATO while being too cowardly to provide services to Donbass or even Crimea.

Alexander Mercouris connects this to a power play by Yulia Tymoshenko against Poroshenko. As he noticed, these recent events come in the context of her secret visit to Washington D.C. in early February, where she allegedly had a short meeting with Trump; her longstanding alliance with Turchinov; and, more speculatively, a more recent alliance of convenience with Kolomoysky and his mercenary batallions.

ukraine-elections-2019-polling As Mercouris argues, this is but the next step in the factional struggle between Poroshenko-Groysman and Tymoshenko-Kolomoysky, with the latter becoming increasingly ascendant.

As of the past year, opinion polls have shown Tymoshenko consistently ahead of Poroshenko in a direct runoff. Since Poroshenko has presided over a depression, failed to achieve any of the Maidan’s promises, and now has an approval rating lower than Yanukovych’s lowest, this can hardly be surprising.

Outright rebellions by restive oligarchs in 2016 were checked by US intermediation, when in the course of a ten hour conversation Obama’s VP Joe Biden made it clear to Kolomoysky and Poroshenko’s reticent PM Yatsenyuk that mutiny would not be tolerated.

This time, however, the US is less likely to intervene to save Poroshenko’s bacon. Trump is a man known to bear grudges, so in all likelihood he has it out for Poroshenko and his allies, who (unsuccessfully) tried to sabotage his own election in favor of Hillary Clinton.

If this interpretation of events is more or less accurate – that Poroshenko has lost substative control of the functions of state to allies of Tymoshenko, and that Tymoshenko herself has acquired Washington D.C.’s “jarlig” authorizing her to rule the Ukraine – then the Chocolate King’s days in power are surely numbered.

 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Politics, Ukraine, War in Donbass 
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goodbye-cuckryan This is one beautiful defenestration:

In the Oct. 10, 2016 call, from right after the Access Hollywood tape of Trump was leaked in the weeks leading up to the election, Ryan does not specify that he will never defend Trump on just the Access Hollywood tape—he says clearly he is done with Trump altogether.

“I am not going to defend Donald Trump—not now, not in the future,” Ryan says in the audio, obtained by Breitbart News and published here for the first time ever.

Now, Ryan—still the Speaker—has pushed now President Donald Trump to believe his healthcare legislation the American Health Care Act would repeal and replace Obamacare when it does not repeal Obamacare. Ryan has also, according to Trump ally Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), misled President Trump into believing that Ryan’s bill can pass Congress. Paul and others believe the bill is dead on arrival in the U.S. Senate since a number of GOP senators have come out against it, and there are serious questions about whether it can pass the House. This is the first major initiative that Trump has worked on with Ryan—and the fact it is going so poorly calls into question whether Speaker Ryan, the GOP’s failed 2012 vice presidential nominee who barely supported Trump at all in 2016, really understands how Trump won and how to win in general. …

“The President gave Ryan a chance,” one source close to the President said. “If he doesn’t get his act together soon, the President will have no choice but to step in and fix this on his own. He’s the best negotiator on the planet, and if this were his bill not Ryan’s it would not be this much of a mess.”

It’s not exactly a conspiracy theory that the main dividing line in the White House is between the MAGA revolutionaries Trump and Bannon, and the representatives of the GOP’s old neocon orthodoxies, Paul Ryan, Reince Priebus, and Mike Pence.

But they are not united. For instance, Mike Pence has long been a political opportunist, and can be expected gravitate towards the stronger force.

Paul Ryan, however, will always be a wrecker, riding The Donald to impose the GOP’s anti-working class agenda and ditching him soon afterwards.

Wouldn’t it be great if Bannon could twist in the shiv just as Ryancare faces its inevitable collapse?

Let the old GOP choke on its own retarded ideological obsessions. Replace Obamacare with a single-payer system once the dust settles. Move on to more important things, such as immigration, protectionism, and dismantling the neocon infrastructure.

Now, on top of all of this, this new audio file raises questions as to how loyal Ryan is to Trump politically—and is asking the new president to use precious political capital to push through legislation that seems arithmetically destined for congressional failure. That could doom or at least dampen other key elements of the Trump agenda, like tax reform, immigration reform, national security efforts, budgetary reforms, building up of the U.S. military, trade renegotiation and more.

As such, as Breitbart News has previously reported, there are now rumblings among House Republicans that they may want a replacement not just of Obamacare but a replacement of Paul Ryan as Speaker. A new Speaker, some argue, would make life much easier for President Trump as he moves forward with his agenda. So the argument goes, as some House GOP members have told Breitbart News, is that if healthcare is this rocky then tax reform, immigration, trade policy and other key Trump agenda items will be worse.

david-frum-trump-is-stupid This is 7D chess – and most convenient, the bad guys are convinced Trump is playing checkers.

 
• Category: Ideology • Tags: Politics, United States 
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cant-cuck-the-king

This isn’t even half of it.

For instance, last July, there was this:

“I’d ask you to go back through history and figure out where are these contributions that have been made by these other categories of people that you are talking about? Where did any other subgroup of people contribute more to civilization?”

He is completely correct, of course.

murray-human-accomplishment

He is also reasonably sane on Russia, at one point pointing out that if Putin really was a dictator, he’d have had Kasparov whacked a long time ago.

In reality, as I pointed out, life for opposition minded Russians is considerably safer under Putin than it was under Yeltsin.

So naturally he rejects the conspiracy theory that Russian hackers stole the US election as a CNN narrative, while Democratic Senators and Louise Mensch want the US to go to war with Russia over it.

 
• Category: Ideology • Tags: Politics, United States 
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I know Preet Bharara for two things:

bout-time(1) Prosecuting Viktor Bout, who didn’t do nothing wrong. He was an equal opportunity arms’ trader who sold to everyone, even to the US in support of its Middle East misadventures. Then he made one “sale” to the wrong people, was arrested in the US puppet state Thailand, and extradited, where a US kangaroo court convicted him of a “crime” that happened outside US jurisdiction. Bharara was the main guy behind this political repression against Russian entrepeneurship.

(2) Cracked down on online poker in 2011, an illegitimate assault on Internet freedoms, which incidentally happened to be making me some money back then. This put my carefully cultivated NEET lyfe in temporary peril, which I consider to be a gross violation of my human rights.

So all things considered I am very happy that Trump has had that freedom hater fired.

He was no doubt plotting against him anyway.

Don’t want to overburden Trump at this point, but it would be nice if he could engineer a pardon for Bout. (There have been claims that Bout was a Russian intelligence services, but coming as they did from the usual Russophobe/neocon quarters, plus the lack of significant Russian efforts to negotiate his release as would happen with real spies, that is implausible. He was just an entrepreneur maligned by racist SJWs who think that Africans and Arabs shouldn’t to buy weaponry. From non-Western sources, anyway).

 
• Category: Ideology • Tags: Politics, USA 
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Up until very recently, Russia was viewed more favorably by the Liberals/Left than conservatives in the US.

Many of the conservatives were people who had grown up at the height of the Cold War, saw the letters KGB in Putin’s eyes like McCain, and tended to suffer from a bad case of your brain on Judeo-Christian values.

All things considered, the Liberals/Left were a bit… less unhinged.

russia-friend-or-foe

But in the past year, the situation has cardinally reversed itself.

Now, a more recent NBC News poll confirms this trend:

approval-russia-democrats-vs-republicans

There are several possible reasons for this:

(1) There is the direct influence of Trump himself, who is exceptionally pro-Russian – in the American political context, one is almost tempted to say irrationally (as he himself recognizes: “I know politically it’s probably not good for me“).

(2) I suspect that the blatant Trump Derangement Syndrome of the mainstream media has perhaps made some more introspective conservatives ask just how fair their media has been to Russia all these years. It helps, of course, that Putin Derangement Syndrome is closely associated with TDS, if not approaching outright convergence with it, as Patrick Armstrong suggests:

Since Trump was inaugurated on 20 January, I have noticed that Putin Derangement Syndrome is being pushed aside in the punditry by a crescendo of Trump Derangement Syndrome. Just as Putin has been diagnosed at a distance, so has he: “Is Donald Trump Mentally Ill? 3 Professors Of Psychiatry Ask President Obama To Conduct ‘A Full Medical And Neuropsychiatric Evaluation’” and his signature gives cause for concern. “As Trump prepares his kissy face for Putin, a glimpse into the dictator’s soul“. PDS is replete with such remote sensing of Putin’s inner self. The student of PDS will recognise the magazine covers about Trump of which the standout is Der Spiegel’s (no small purveyor of PDS itself) showing Trump decapitating Lady Liberty à la Daesh. Since under-estimating Trump was so successful, why not continue to? Some writer thinks he’s just a puppet of Steve Bannon. But maybe they’re converging: “Manchurian Presidency: Why Angry White America Fell for Putin“. But the most beautiful example of convergence, one that brings everything together is: “The Russian ‘philosopher’ who links Putin, Bannon, Turkey: Alexander Dugin“!

(3) Russia itself has become markedly more conservative since 2012, if more in official rhetoric than reality. Then again, it’s not like young Trumpists are particularly hardcore social conservatives either. Which brings us to the last point:

(4) Most interestingly, and this is a new finding, the NBC poll reveals that there is a YUGE gap in attitudes towards Russia between young and old Republicans – that is, between the New Right/”Alt Right” (e.g. at /r/The_Donald) and the crusty Cold Warriors.

An amazing 73% of 18-29 year old Republicans view Russia as friendly or an ally, whereas almost the exact same number – 69% – view it as unfriendly or an enemy amongst 65+ year old Republicans.

approval-russia-republican-generations

But the crusty Cold Warriors are steadily dying off, and as this happens, we are returning to the more stable and traditional pattern of Western attitudes towards Russia after the abberation of the Soviet period.

For if you take the long historical view it is the Liberals/Left who have historically been far less enamored ofRussia.

Who talked of the “gendarme of Europe” and “prison of peoples” in 19th century political discourse? Socialists, not conservatives. Marx had very little good to say about Russia and Eastern Europe in general, the idea being that the advanced Western nations were the only ones of interest from a Communist revolutionary perspective. (Though he did modify this view somewhat towards the end of his life).

Early Russian Eurasianist philosopher Nikolay Trubetzkoy makes the same point.

In stark contrast to the situation even just a few years ago, the Russophobia/Russophilia spectrum now runs from the “militant cosmopolitanism” of European socialism (which today is homosexualist neocon SJWism of the Kirchick sort), to the outright Russophilia of a large part of the Alt Right and neoreaction.

 
• Category: Ideology • Tags: Politics, Republicans, Russia, Russophobes, USA 
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Russian human rights lawyer Matthew Tszen speculates:

I suspect that the global Womens March was originally conceived of as a sort of victory parade to mark the inauguration of the first US female president (Hillary Clinton). And only the unexpected victory of Trump forced them to change not even so much its character, as its tone – from that of a festive victory, to a protest. This is evidenced by its own international character – for instance, the concept that “French women are celebrating the election of a woman to the US Presidency” makes sense, but the concept of “French women protesting against the election of President Trump” is practically meaningless. Not to mention the fact the the “protesters” aren’t really able to formulate what, exactly, they are protesting, and what their demands are. Some of their slogans, e.g. “pussy grabs back,” would have looked much more natural against the background of a Clinton victory.

I still think it was organized largely after the fact by a panicking Soros, but this is an interesting theory.

It would tie in well with my speculations that a great deal of fireworks – both literal and figurative – were painstakingly choreographed to go off on Hillary Clinton’s election, possibly including a serious purge of “fake news” instead of the decidedly slapstick affair we actually got.

I am getting the distinct impression that this is a very well planned information operation that was that was meant to kick into high gear upon Hillary Clinton’s election, perhaps in conjunction with the “Russia bombed The Last Hospital in Aleppo” meme to set up the groundwork for a showdown in Syria (there are hints that this is indeed what Hillary Clinton was planning upon assuming the Presidency).

I suppose we now don’t really have any choice but to continue speculating, at least until some new whistleblower comes along to leak the deep state’s secrets to Wikileaks. Still, that’s far preferable to having had them play out in reality.

 
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Robert Stark has just released his latest podcast in which we discussed all sorts of topics including My American Decade along with co-host “PillEater.”

Robert Stark is a journalist who specializes in interviewing various interesting figures from the Alt fringes. So you could I suppose view him as The Unz Review on podcasts.

Here are some of my previous episodes with him:

Some notes/highlights:

  • My thesis from American Decade that American society has been “Europeanizing” this past decade.
  • The fragmentation of the US political spectrum: “Clinton democrats, Sanders socialists, Rubio/Bush etablishment conservatives, Cruz Bible-bashers, and Trump nationalists.”
  • A big chunk of US income inequality (relative to Europe) disappears once you adjust for race.
  • My political views: “Fairly socially liberal (except for rejecting political correctness, and radical feminism), economically centrist, and closest to Rabbit’s AltLeft.” (The main reason I don’t overtly identify as Alt Left is that I am probably considerably to the right of most of them on economics).
  • The SJW problem – today’s campus Pink Guards will be future elites in 20-30 years.
  • The Bay Area and its remarkably high density of interesting people.
  • The first global warming models were constructed by the Swede Svante Arrhenius, who was also – in what will surely blow the minds of Kochservatives – a eugenicist.
  • Amtrak as a little-known national treasure of America.

This didn’t make it into the podcast due to time constraints, but we also had a little discussion about the ideas of Michael Hudson, an economist (and UR columnist) who criticizes the financialization of the US economy. I am not actually convinced the problem is especially acute in the US – according to the statistics I’ve looked at, the financial sector’s assets relative to GDP are higher in the EU than in the US, and twice as large in the UK. That said, it is surely a pretty big misallocation of cognitive resources at the global level. The people now eking out a few more percentage points in greater economic efficiency (=a couple of years of normal growth) could instead be designing nuclear powered spaceships.

 
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esoteric-pepe

Trump has fulfilled the prophesies of Kek.

That was clear pretty early on, as soon as it became clear he was winning Florida and the markets started tumbling as they realized the false song of globalism was about to end.

That is because Trump and his protectionist platform was almost certainly going to perform much better, relatively speaking, in the rustbelt than it would in the less industrial South and West – and that is indeed exactly what happened.

I did think there was a shy Trumpist effect that would make the election very close, much closer than the polls were letting on – I very much doubted there would be a 300+ HRC landslide, unlike mainstream opinion – but I did underestimate its magnitude, just like I did with Brexit; I thought Florida and most of the rustbelt would both be extremely close, but overall for HRC by the smallest of margins.

Of the closest swing states only North Carolina did I consider safe for Trump.

Instead, he has confidently smashed his way through almost the entire Midwest and seems to be on track to end up with 300+ electoral college votes.

lse-no-like-trump

I spent the election roundup drinking at a London School of Economics student common room. I am pretty sure that I and the Russian student who invited me were the only Trump supporters there out of 30 or 40 people. This is not that surprising when one considers that Trump Derangement Syndrome is universal throughout Yurop and Britbongistan, and furthermore, that this was: (a) London; (b) millennials; (c) students; (d) at a pretty elite institution, which made for a quadruple whammy. It was all good though since I got to feel like the physical embodiment of trollface.jpg.

Though I do regret not sticking to my guns and continuing to insist on a Trump victory as I had been doing a couple of months previously, I am nonetheless very happy to have been wrong. The bankers might not be so happy, but who cares.

 
• Category: Ideology • Tags: Politics, United States, US Elections 2016 
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us-elections-2016-predicted

Final EC Prediction – Will be very happy to be wrong. I do think there is a Shy Trumpist factor, which will really make itself felt in rustbelt Michigan, but I fear that it might be canceled out by higher Hispanic turnout, especially in Florida and Nevada.

The person who likes to bomb a couple of brown people countries every decade paints Trump as a racist for his gall at wanting to cut down on immigration to levels that are still orders of magnitude higher than in Japan and for wanting to build a wall like the Israelis have.

She has portrayed him as a national security risk even though any other person who handled top secret information like she did would be serving a long prison sentence.

Her sycophants portray her as an economic progressive even as she runs a giant money-funneling operation powered by donations from Arab oil sheikhs, Goldman Sachs, and the esteemed guests at Lynn de Rothschild’s wineyard.

And assuming the McCarthyism mantle, they have run a truly unprecedented campaign of vilifying Russia – all but comparing its actions in Syria to the Holocaust (see second debate) – and Donald Trump’s outrageous proposal to restore normal relations with the Dark Lord of the Kremlin. Instead, he has been implied, without any evidence whatsoever, to be an agent of the Kremlin – a far more serious attack on the legitimacy of the US political process than Trump’s refusal, quite understandable in these circumstances, to commit to accept the results of the elections.

The media has been so completely and utterly in HRC’s pockets – there are too many cases to count by now of media companies directly coordinating with the DNC, as revealed by Wikileaks – that it makes the Russian state media look free and partial in comparison in relation to Putin and Untied Russia.

And yet what do Americans overwhelmingly care about? Many of the same middle-aged women who made Fifty Shades of Gray into a bestseller reproach Trump for chasing skirt a decade ago. Instead of asking questions about what it says about the system of power in their country that the Bushes were in possession of this kompromat for more than a decade and released it to help their “enemy” dynasty.

Let’s be forthright: Donald Trump is a very socially savvy who might not be the most intelligent of people but who has sane, everyman views on both social policy and international relations. He does not appear to have any substantial investments in Russia (unlike Romney!), but even if he did, would you rather have Russia or the Islamic State-with-better-PR? Yes, it is likely that he used all sorts of loopholes to grow his business (welcome to real estate!) and to avoid taxes (again, like Romney!), but most people who’ve known him tend to speak very well of him – something that cannot be said for his rival.

Hillary Clinton is a corrupt, cheating, lying warmonger whose mental issues and overinflated sense of moral superiority might result in World War 3. I suppose there would be a certain comedy to living in Fallout/Metro 2033 on account of HRC’s determination to protect the bearded apemen who carried out 9/11 against her own putative country, but we will only be able to appreciate it on the most cosmic of scales.

Let’s MAGA, not war.

kek-wills-it

 
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“The churches are our barracks, the bells are our helmets, the Kremlin spires are our bayonets, and Putin trolls are our soldiers…”

… Well, it doesn’t have quite the ring of the better known poem that, having once landed Erdogan in jail, has now ensured his survival.

So people are now asking: Without Erdogan’s closer ties to a religion far more passionary than Orthodox Christianity, without his allegedly superior democratic credentials, would anyone actually bother out to defend the Dark Lord of the Kremlin cometh the Great Day of his Reckoning that every second Russia think-tank analyst in London and Washington D.C. has been prophesying for more than a decade?

Of course not. I even feel a bit stupid for putting fingers to keyboard to write this post. But nonsense has to be cleared up.

I

The first problem with thinking about a prospective Russian coup is finding even a semi-plausible candidate to play the plotters’ part.

The actors that immediately come to mind are the generals – but they are also the unlikeliest group to move against Putin. The last time the Russian armed forces had regularly played kingmaker was during the 17th century, when the streltsy acted as a kind of Praetorian guard to the Tsars. The last successful coup that relied on military support took place more than two century ago, when Catherine the Great deposed the wildly unpopular Peter III, an 18th century Wehraboo who had withdrawn Russia from a hard-fought but successful war against Prussia on account of his boyhood fascination with Frederick the Great and the Prussian Army. The Russian military would never again be politically influential. The Kornilov putsch in 1917 failed. In both 1991 and 1993, the Armed Forces remained loyal to their respective heads of state, Gorbachev and Yeltsin, even though neither man enjoyed their respect. Despite the frailty of post-Soviet polities, the entire region would only see three military coups after 1991: One successful coup in Georgia, and two coups in Azerbaijan, of which one was successful. Azerbaijan is, of course, the closest “relative” to Turkey – with its seven coups this past century alone – in the former USSR, so it is unlikely that its experience would be much extensible to Russia.

In contrast to both Gorbachev and Yeltsin, Putin has enjoyed consistently high approval ratings, and the respect of the military and siloviks in particular. He can speak their language and has furnished lavish spending on both the military and the security services. The current Defense Minister, Sergey Shoigu, is highly popular without harboring much in the way of personal political ambitions of his own. This is in contrast to his predecessor Anatoly Serdyukov, who was highly unpopular for his questionable reforms and blatant corruption. He was eventually dismissed from his post, but the corruption investigation went nowhere and was eventually quietly shut down. Although the legal impunity of the Russian political elites is one of the few real sources of popular discontent with Putinism, it may also play a role as a political safety valve. Bureaucrats who steal too much – Serdyukov, Yakunin, Luzhkov, etc. – might get dismissed, but don’t tend to go overtly hostile because, apart from their low chances of success and high risk of ruin, they also know that the next regime might not be so forgiving towards them.

It is ultimately the oligarchs who are the most credible threat to Putin’s power. After all, it was the oligarchs who were instrumental in keeping an ailing Yeltsin in power in 1996, who ruled it for a time as the Semibankirschina, and who eased the transition towards a Putin Presidency (upon which he promptly told them to get out of politics). They also played a huge role in the political life of the other post-Soviet states. In Georgia, it was essentially an oligarchic coup by the billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili that doomed Saakashvili’s attempts to set himself up for permanent rule in late 2012. In Ukraine, it was above all the defection of several key oligarchs critical to the coalition supporting Viktor Yanukovych – together with their media assets and bought up Rada MPs – that ensured the success of Euromaidan (though a false flag helped). Moldova is essentially a playground for various oligarchic and nationalist factions. So oligarchs have a record of successfully influencing politics throughout the former USSR, and moreover, as a class they have no particular reasons to love Putin. So how much of a threat are they?

They are a bigger threat than any other force, but still not all that dangerous. First, there has already been stringent selection for loyalty; recalcitrants (Gusinsky, Berezovsky, Khodorkovsky, etc.) have long been purged or exiled abroad. The 1990s class of oligarchs, who have the most reason to hate Putin, now have very little institutional influence. Khodorkovsky tried to infiltrate the system by buying up Duma MPs in the early 2000s, which no doubt contributed to the decision to bring down the hammer of the law against him. Since his release he has said he wants to lead Russia (thus once again breaking his promise not to go into politics), but his main political asset is but a slick PR campaign centered almost exclusively on the West. How that could translate into meaningful political power in Russia is unclear to say the least.

Meanwhile, the large class of billionaires created in the 2000s has no particular reason to dislike Putin, especially since he was the man who enabled many of them to acquire or expand their fortunes; nor do they have much in the way of political influence, since staying out of politics was a condition of them being allowed to do large-scale business in the first place (Mikhail Prokhorov’s 2008 Presidential run was a mutually agreed upon exception). The supportive political role of the AKP-linked construction barons in Erdogan’s Turkey, who have gotten rich on providing homes and malls for Anatolians moving to the western cities, is in Russia played by a small group of Putin’s friends, who get privileged contracts in return for their loyalty and helping out with projects of national importance. Is this corrupt? Sure. But on the flip side, nobody apart from the Roternbergs was rushing to build a bridge to Crimea, because they have too many assets tied up in the West. Incidentally, speaking of the West, far from destabilizing Putin’s domestic position as initially hoped for, the sanctions on Russian figures close to Putin have only strengthened Putin’s position, since they are more reliant on his favor than ever before now that the option of fleeing to Londongrad has been foreclosed.

II

But okay, let’s put all that aside and wave a magic wand.

While Putin is away at a UN summit, his approval at a record low due to a recent crab-related sex scandal, a group of oligarchs manage to buy off the directors of most of the main TV channels, a large chunk of United Russia MPs, and the head of the Moscow police and OMON. Putin’s Cabinet are taken into custody. Khodorkovsky and the rest of his merry revolutionaries jet in, while Putin’s plane is discovered to have mechanical problems (a group of men are seen furtively sneaking out of the hangar), delaying his return to Russia for a number of critical hours.

In this scenario, will the coup go ahead successfully, the now liberal-controlled state TV brainwashing vatnik brains overnight into avid becoming avid supporters of Khodorkovsky and holding a gay parade in his honor, or will they take to the streets to preserve their democratically elected President/evil totalitarian regime (cross out as appropriate)?

Well, the first and most obvious “problem” is that Putin’s approval rating has hovered at a steady 60%-90% through the 16 years of his rule.

putin-approval-rating-1999-2016

Color revolutions, even coups, are pretty much impossible with these kinds of ratings. Yanukovych was in his 20%’s on the eve of Euromaidan (similar to Poroshenko today), and even lower in Kiev. Even the failed recent coup against Erdogan occured when he was in his 40%’s. All three of the post-Soviet coups came at a time of double-digit annual GDP collapse and civil war/failed war against Armenia. Despite political crises in 1961 and 1968, there was never a successful coup against France’s Charles de Gaulle, the postwar West European leader with whom Putin perhaps has the most commonalities; between 1958 and 1969, De Gaulle’s approval ratings averaged 60% (Putin: 75%), and never dipped below 42% (Putin: Low 60%’s).

One popular theory advanced by Daniel Treisman used to explain Putin’s Teflon-like popularity (and popularized in his book The Return) tied Putin’s (and Yeltsin’s) approval ratings to economic performance.

treisman-putin-approval-predicted-from-economics

However, as it later emerged, this tight correlation must have been an artifact. It broke down to the downside during the 2011-12 protests over electoral falsifications, even though the economy then was chugging along more or less normally; and it veered sharply upwards after the incorporation of Crimea in 2014, even as the economy went into a long recession.

So you can’t rely on sanctions and/or The Next Recession to torpedo Putin’s ratings.

Another popular theory is that Russian pollsters are unreliable. It is also incredibly illogical, since the Levada Center is for all intents and purposes an oppositional organization, and because even Western pollsters consistently confirm Putin’s high approval ratings.

The most nuanced critique is the “mile wide but inch deep” theory of post-Soviet politics, which as repeatedly applied to Putin’s Russia means that the population is too afraid to answer pollsters truthfully, and/or supports Putin but without much enthusiasm, such that they will all defect from him once his sorceror’s spell is broken, and the mind-control Towers of Saraksh crumble. (There is also of course an ideological component here as well, namely the unwillingness of Western elites to come to terms with democratic choices that they disapprove of, as has been blatantly demonstrated in the past year by their reactions to Brexit and Trump).

putin-approval-frye-estimates

This theory, however, has been conclusively debunked by Timothy Frye et al. in 2015, who used a double list experiment – a clever way of gauging attitudes towards a potentially controversial topic without respondents having to answer it directly – to confirm that Putin’s approval ratings as measured by mainstream pollsters were accurate to at least within 10 percentage points, and concluded that the “main obstacle at present to the emergence of a widespread opposition movement to Putin is not that Russians are afraid to voice their disapproval of Putin, but that Putin is in fact quite popular.”

III

Leonid Bershidsky identifies three reasons why a coup might have better prospects against Putin than against Erdogan.

First, Bershidsky claims that as an “essentially one-party democracy,” Russian voters will not be under any great incentive to defend their votes: “Putin’s supporters are passive and often dependent on government largesse – which might still be available from whoever tries to depose the president.” This is a dangerous assumption for the coup plotters, and as shown above, almost certainly a false one.

Second, Turkey has allowed foreign media to operate widely: “As a result, it wasn’t state television but the secularist, private Dogan media group, which owns the CNN Turk TV channel, that put Erdogan on the air first so he could tell the nation he was fighting the coup attempt.” Because of course the Western media is well known for its impartiality towards Putin and its absolute respect for democracy. It’s not like they’ve spent the past sixteen years relentlessly smearing Putin and denying the democratic choices of the Russian people.

Third, Bershidsky points out that “vibrant connection to organized religion is another strength of the Erdogan regime.” Although Putin has a good relationship with the Russian Orthodox Church, it is true that that nobody is going to come out even if they were to ring their bells. However, Russia does have a means of instantly politically mobilizing its population: “Patriotic” websites and social media.

Within an hour, if not minutes, of a hostile coup, patriotic bloggers such as Nikolay Starikov are going to call their readers out into the streets. So will Sergey Kurginyan’s patriotic-Communist “Essence of Time” movement. They will have a huge immediate audience because Internet penetration in Moscow is at 80%, and close to 70% in the rest of Russia.

This is barely mentioned or remembered nowadays, but it is worth mentioning that during the 2011-12 wave of protests, when Putin’s approval ratings were at their nadir, the Kurginyanites still managed to pull off the single biggest (counter)protest of that entire electoral cycle, and they did it in the country’s most oppositional city at the time.

Even if, at the time of the coup, Putin’s approval rating were to drop to a historic low of 50%, that would still leave 16% of Russians whose “Putinism Quotient” is +1 S.D. above the average – perhaps, many of the 16% of Russians who today either have or want to acquire a portrait or sculpture of Putin – who are strong Putin supporters and who would spill over into the streets, like the 800,000 Parisians who marched against a Communist revolution and in support of Charles de Gaulle on May 30, 1968.

The 2% of Russians whose PQ is +2 S.D. above the mean – i.e., easily 100,000 Muscovites alone – would be the ones lynching coup sympathizers on the streets and engaging in battles with the Traitor Legions.

And there does exist a group of people, the +3 S.D. types, too embarassingly fanatical to be overtly associated even for your average Putin supporter, small in percentage terms but nonetheless substantial in absolute numbers, who can more or less fairly be described as Putin cultists:

The path laid by the father is not one of argument with him, but rather argument with the open world laying before us, an argument in which we are together with the father, at one with him,” it says. “We don’t fight with the power of the father, we share it, we learn the power, we master the power, together with the father we direct its energy toward our present and future.

Presumably, they will most certainly not take the coup lying down (unless it’s in front of a tank).

This is ultimately all just bell curve dynamics.

It is almost impossible that the Army or any significant portion of the security agencies would support the coupists. The Russian Armed Forces are a mix of conscripts and professionals. Conscripts tend to come from poorer, working-class families – i.e., more patriotic than hipsters who avoid service – and the professional soldiers are self-selected for greater patriotism, as with militaries almost anywhere. As for the generals, as mentioned above, it is hard to see them ditching the reliable Putin they know for an unelected emigre and convicted financial fraudster from Switzerland.

With neither the people nor the Army behind them, the coup will fail. And that is also why it will almost certainly never start.

There are several conceivable ways in which the Putin regime could end prematurely – an accident or assassination, a huge geopolitical defeat, or perhaps a liberalization of the political system that veers out of control – but a coup is not one of them under both the current and most conceivable future circumstances.

 
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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.