The Unz Review - Mobile
A Collection of Interesting, Important, and Controversial Perspectives Largely Excluded from the American Mainstream Media
Email This Page to Someone

 Remember My Information

Topics/Categories Filter?
Foreign Policy Politics Western Media Russia Society Russophobes Western Hypocrisy Human Rights Economy USA Corruption Ukraine Opinion Poll Liberal Opposition Putin Ideology Demography International Relations Translations Core Article History Elections Military Geopolitics Humor Race/Ethnicity IQ China Futurism Psychometrics Democracy UK Georgia Blogging International Comparisons Moscow Crime Russian Media Convergence Human Biodiversity Sociology Education Soviet Union Admin Economics Medvedev Miscellaneous Public Health Putin Derangement Syndrome Germany NATO Energy Obama PISA Science United States Immigration Climate Change France Imperialism War Finance India Islam Baltics Belarus RealWorld Wikileaks Chechnya Guardian Islamism Jews The Economist Expert Discussion Panel Culture Forecasts Translation Venezuela Inequality Islamophobia Israel Nick Eberstadt Open Thread Poland Syria Terrorism Feminism Iran Kompromat Literacy Migration Alcoholism BRICs Caucasus Estonia Internet Population Growth Soviet History The AK Turkey Communism Demographics Europe Fertility Rates Gender Relations Greece Law Mortality Nationalism news-2008 Statistics Armenia Conspiracy Theories Donald Trump Journalism Near Abroad Peak Oil SJWs Sociobiology Video War In Donbass Development East Asians Espionage Far Abroad Flynn Effect Interviews Living Standards Manufacturing Media Pax Americana Syrian Civil War AIDS Alcohol Arab Spring Big History Canada Crisis Economic History Finland Food John McCain Literature Mitt Romney Sweden Technology TIMSS Trade Whites Al Jazeera Alexei Navalny Azerbaijan Brazil Color Revolution Death Penalty Environment Nuclear Weapons Nutrition Obesity Philosophy Racism Rationality Richard Lynn Ron Unz Singapore Taiwan Trump Derangement Syndrome Ukrainian Crisis US Blacks US Elections 2016 Vladimir Putin World War II Anti-Semitism Censorship East Asian Exception Egypt Iceland Intelligence Law Levada Center Malthusianism Neocons Political Economy Poverty Projects Saudi Arabia United Kingdom WSJ Academia Alexei Kudrin Apollo's Ascent Arctic Sea Ice Melting Bahrain California Corruption Perceptions Index EROEI Freedom Green Guest Hezbollah Hillary Clinton Homosexuality Infrastructure Islamist-liberal Alliance Italy Japan maps Mexico Middle East Military Technology Nazism Opposition R&D Russian Economy Russian Politics Sex Ratio Socialism Svidomy Transhumanism Travel Trolling Tsarist Russia Agriculture Ancestral Health Arabs Assange Berezovsky BigPost Cars Central Asia Chinese History Dark Lord Of The Kremlin Edward Snowden Eurasia European Union Genetics Global Warming Hubbert's Peak Ideologies Islamic State kremlinology Languages Learning LGBT Liberalism North Korea Norway Paris Attacks Philosophy Pigs Prediction Psychology Ray Kurzweil Russian Far East Russian History Scandinavia South Korea stalin Superintelligence systems-modeling The Bell Curve The Russian Spectrum Thermoeconomics 2010 Census 2012 US Elections Afghanistan Aging Alexander Mercouris Alt Right Anthropology Arctic Resources Blacks Bolivarian Revolution Capitalism Chinese IQ Chinese Language CNN CO2 Emissions Coal Crimea Czech Republic discussion Drugs Eastern Europe falsifiable-predictions Fantasy FEMEN Financial Times Football Foreign Policy Glenn Greenwald Great Powers Guardian Censorship Health Hindu Caste System Hispanics Human Achievement Illegal Immigration Indians Inequality IPCC Ireland Jared Diamond John Michael Greer Joseph Tainter Julian Assange Junta Latin America Libya life-expectancy Malnutrition Masculinity Milan Kundera Militarization Military History Money Moscow Mayoral Election 2013 NAMs Natural Gas navalny ngos Novorossiya Paper Review race-realism Robert Ayres Romanticism Russia Debate Russian Demography Russian Orthodox Church sergey-zhuravlev Sex Social Media Space Sport Steven Pinker Switzerland Urbanization Yemen 2008-south-ossetia-war Abortion Administration AGW Denial Ahmadinejad Anatoly Karlin Andrei Korotayev Arctic Civilization Asian Americans Australia authoritarianism Beer Cartoon CEC Charles Murray Chinese Economy Chinese People Christianity Cliodynamics collapse Copenhagen Summit Cousin Marriage Cuba Demoscope Dmitry Medvedev Dysgenic Dzhokhar Tsarnaev Earth Day Economist Democracy Index Ecuador Effective Altruism EMP Weapons Eugenics Genetic Engineering Gérard Depardieu Globalization Hanzi Healthcare Hist kai Hitler homicides human-capital immigrants inosmi Iranian Nuclear Weapons Program Iraq Islam Ivan Bloch Jorge Luis Borges Kenneth Pomeranz Kremlin Clans la-russophobe levada Life Limits To Growth Malthusian Loop Map Marxism Massive Ordnance Penetrator me Monarchy Navalny Affair Netherlands New York Times Niall Ferguson Nuclear Power Occupy Oil Diet PDVSA Peter Turchin Police Propaganda Protestantism Rape Razib Khan Review RFERL rise-of-the-rest RTS Stock Market Russian Military Russian Reaction RussPol San Francisco Sci-Fi Scotland Debt Space Exploration Tamerlan Tsarnaev Taxes The Sublime Tim Ferriss Twitter UN Unemployment World War I Zoology 9/11 Aesthetics Affirmative Action Africa Age Of Malthusian Industrialism Airborne Laser Aircraft Carriers American Media Anarchism Apocalypse ARCS Of Progress Arctic Methane Release Argentina Arthur H. Smith Arthur Jensen Assad Aubrey De Grey Austria Automation Bangladeshis Barbarians Bashar Al-Assad Berkeley Books Boris Berezovsky Brahmans Brexit Brezhnev Brighter Brains Business Calisthenics Charlie Hebdo Chechens china-russia-relations Chinese Communist Party Chuck Schumer CIA Class Climate Cognitive Elitism Cold War Collapse Party Colmar Von Der Goltz Colombia Confucianism Marriage Conservatism Crimean Tatars Crispr Cultural Marxism Cyprus David Moser Demographic Transition Digital Philosophy Dostoevsky Drought Dubai Elites Enemy Belligerent Act Of 2010 Ester Boserup Eurabia European History Evolution Family Fascism fat-diets FEL Weapons Fertility fertility-rate Fossil Fuels Free Speech Freedom Of Speech Friedrich List Gail The Actuary Gaza Flotilla Raid Geography George Friedman George Soros GMD Goldman Sachs Graham Turner grains Greeks Green Party USA Gregory Clark Guantanamo Guns Half Sigma Hank Pellissier Hashemi Rafsanjani HBDchick Himachal Pradesh Hong Kong HplusNRx Hungary Ibn Khaldun ICBMs Idiocracy IMF incarceration-rate Indian Economy Indian IQ industrialization Inflation interview IT James Kunstler James Lovelock Jennifer Rubin Jezebel Jim O'neill John Yoo Kant Karlinism Khamenei khodorkovsky konstantin-von-eggert Korean Cuisine Laissez-faire Lazy Glossophiliac Libertarianism limp-wristed-liberals Linguistics LNG london luke-harding Malthus Maoism mark-adomanis Matt Forney Max Weber Meme Middle Ages Moltke The Elder Muammar Gaddafi Muslims NCVS Neoreaction Nick Bostrom Nobel Prize Norman Finkelstein Novorossiya Sitrep NYT oligarchs open-discussion orientalism Orinoco Belt Orissa Orthodoxy Pakistan Palestine Patriot Missiles Paul Chefurka Pedophilia People's Liberation Army PIRLS PLAN Podcast Polar Regions Political Correctness Poll Productivity protests pussy-riot Race/IQ Reading RIA Novosti RossPress Russia-Germany Relations russian-cuisine Russian Society Schlieffen Plan schools Schopenhauer Science Fiction Serbia sergey-magnitsky Sergey Nefedov Shanghai Singularity Sisyphean Loop Slavoj Zizek SLBMs SM-3 sobornost Social Evolution Songun space-based-solar-power Spain Steve Sailer Strait Of Hormuz String Of Pearls Sublime Oblivion Suicide Supercomputers Survivalism Tamil Nadu THAAD The Bible The Guardian The Lancet The Matrix The Oil Drum War transparency-international UAE UAVs UC Berkeley Ugo Bardi UKIP Universities US Navy us-russia-relations vegetarianism Vekhi Velayat-e Faqih Vietnam Viktor Yushchenko Wall Street wealth-creation Welfare Willem Buiter william-burns William Catton Womyn's Studies World Health Organization World Values Survey Writing yulia-latynina Zombies
 Russian Reaction Blog / Putin Derangement SyndromeTeasers

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

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

Paul Robinson explains:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Butthurt Belt detekted.

Why won’t Putler pay attention to me?

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

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

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

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

It’s just a bit ironic that the figurehead of a movement (best known to the general public as the author of the world’s most popular Harry Potter fanfic) that emphasizes “politics is the mindkiller” has lapsed into all-out Putin-Trump Derangement Syndrome and fake news generation.


Not entirely unexpected, though – Arthur Chu, an SJW activist and onetime Yudkowsky disciple, famously admitted to “mindkilling” himself on a “regular basis” because that is what “you have to do to be a feminist anti-racist progressive.” I suppose going hardcore like that might marginally increase your messaging effectiveness by reducing internal cognitive dissonance, but at the cost of… well, 98% of people regarding you as an unhinged loon.

Which makes it all the more difficult for people to take you seriously on the actually serious matters like the AI alignment problem (that is, people outside the LW/EA bubble).

Anyhow, the background: Vladimir Bukovsky, a Russian “dissident” who lives in Britain, and the “hero” of the NYT article cited by Yudkowsky, was found to have child pornography on his computer in 2015. He has since been charged by the Crown Prosecution Service with possession. On his part, Bukovsky has insisted that he was framed. (Incidentally, this was an explanation that The Unz Review’s John Derbyshire was curiously eager to buy into. I suppose boy fiddlin’ might be a kebab pervasion when practiced by Asian grooming gangs, but it is also a hallowed tradition of the English upper class, and hey, dey culcha has to be respected).

Quite why the Russian intelligence services would want to set up an irrelevant has-been whom nobody outside a 100m radius of Echo of Moscow HQ even knows exists must remain a mystery. Though one can only admire their dedication – apparently, there were thousands of images, downloaded over a 15 year period. Putin must have started the operation almost as soon as he first became President!

In short, we have come to the point – at least amongst a certain “rationalist” segment of American society – where maintaining “traditional” stances on child pornography is now tantamount to being a Putler shill.

One is tempted to assume that this is the usual shitlibbery at work. But still, there are other curious coincidences. Like, why would Yudkowsky start kvetching about this now of all times? Surely it can’t have anything to do with certain pizza-related rumors that have begun to circle and gain media attention on the altsphere this past month.


The front page of The Guardian on the first day of Panama Leaks:


$2 billion!? Very impressive. Though admittedly, a rather disappointing find after more than a decade’s worth of searching for Putin’s $200 billion stash.

But still, a curious choice of whom to focus on, considering the minor detail that Putin’s name doesn’t appear in the Panama Papers even once.


This isn’t the only curious thing about it.

For instance, there is also the observation that it comes on the heels of the tabloid stories that Putin is dating Wendy Deng, a fantastic claim which has been repeated uncritically because if it’s about Putin, it’s true.

And the Reuters story about a series of women allegedly connected with Putin all buying properties from the same real estate agent.

Not to mention the identity of the two other main “first day” targets: Messi, aka FIFA. which awarded the football 2018 World Cup to Russia, and Icelandic politicians who put banksters in jail.

Then there is also the curious fact that only 149 documents of the 11 million total were actually released in the first batch, which means that our intrepid journalists must have started off by doing selective searches on all the people they could think of who they assumed were associated with Putin from his Saint-Petersburg days in the 1990s, discovered that some of them became very rich during the economic boom of the 2000s, and tallied the total value of their assets to arrive at the not especially impressive figure of $2 billion (considering the numbers of people involved in this grand conspiracy) that they were stashing away for Putin in a tropical tax haven… just like other perfectly respectable members of the global elite, from Xi Jinping, the Saudis, and German corporations to David Cameron, Petro Poroshenko, and Mitt Romney.

None of which is not exactly news.

But it is precisely Putin who has attracted something like 50% of the media fallout from the Panama Leaks. The political class of a basically irrelevant country, albeit the only one in the world which prosecuted its banker class for their financial machinations; as well as the United States’ new bugbear, FIFA, garnered another 25%.

Leaving only 25% of the coverage for everyone else:


All in all, a most curious set of coincidences indeed.

There was overwhelming demand to release all the documents and make them available in a searchable database:


Unfortunately, this time, it wasn’t Wikileaks who possessed the treasure trove. Too bad!


So naturally what happened was that the range of documents that were released were from the outset tightly constricted and focused against those entities the Western order considers to be its enemies, and filtered through a journalistic establishment that it has become increasingly clear loyally serves that same order.

Even those targets that did not meet the above criteria were in general either already known (the offshore adventures of David Cameron’s father), universally suspected anyway (the Saudis), or who were either irrelevant and/or had undermined and humiliated the Western order in some way (Icelandic politicians, FIFA).

Why this might have been the case becomes a bit clearer when we look at the outfit behind the Panama Leaks. That outfit is the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, which is funded in its entirety by the US Center for Public Integrity, and which in turn is sponsored by… well, Soros, in short.

And all the other usual regime change/color revolution suspects.


Craig Murray explains the real deal:

The Suddeutsche Zeitung, which received the leak, gives a detailed explanation of the methodology the corporate media used to search the files. The main search they have done is for names associated with breaking UN sanctions regimes. The Guardian reports this too and helpfully lists those countries as Zimbabwe, North Korea, Russia and Syria. The filtering of this Mossack Fonseca information by the corporate media follows a direct western governmental agenda. There is no mention at all of use of Mossack Fonseca by massive western corporations or western billionaires – the main customers. And the Guardian is quick to reassure that “much of the leaked material will remain private.”

In effect the main targets of Panama Papers and especially Putin are mere whipping boys, politically convenient decoys to draw attention away from people asking hard questions about the banal realities of a world ruled by the 1% offshore aristocracy.

Regardless, the Guardian’s resident neocon Natalie Nougayrède, riding on the headwinds of a media storm that the media-industrial complex she serves has itself ignited, goes on to proclaim her divine knowledge of not only the most intimate details of Putin’s social ties the secrets of the Dark Lord of the Kremlin’s mind itself:

The fact that Putin’s name does not appear in the Panama Papers will not calm the paranoia and conspiracy theories that his regime thrives upon. Indeed, these revelations will be seen in Moscow’s ruling circles as part of a CIA-led operation involving the manipulation of the “Anglo-Saxon” media.

So Putin leads like 50% of the stories in Western coverage of the Panama Leaks, despite his name not appearing in any of the Panama documents even in passing, and yet thinking there is anything unusual about this makes you a conspiratard or a “useful servant” of the Russian mafia state at best, if not a proxy of Putin himself.

After all, its not like a major former editor of a prominent German outlet has ever claimed that the CIA holds extensive influence over the German media, nor have there ever been any hints whatsoever that there is an organized Western intelligence operation to undermine Putin. We know that this is just not the sort of underhanded tactics that any Western democracy would ever use.

Move along, citizen, nothing to see here.

None of this is to deny that Putin and his associates do not lead lives of luxury, have exploited their political connections to make money, or even that some of them use offshore tax havens to avoid taxes or keep their assets safe from expropriation.

To the contrary, all three of these statements are substantially true.

But possibly the single biggest irony in this entire affair is that someone positively inclined towards the Kremlin could just as easily argue that the Panama Papers prove that Russia’s fight against offshoring was actually improving in recent years, under Putin:

In internal letters contained in Mossack Fonseca files, Malyushin was identified as the “beneficial owner” behind Panama-based Anttrin Services Corp., only in 2013, when the company suddenly shut down. As it appears from letters, Malyushin was in a hurry to get rid of his company.

Most likely, this was related to changes in Russian legislation. In the first half of 2013, a new pack of anti-corruption laws was adopted forbidding Russian officials from having foreign bank accounts or using foreign financial instruments, including holding shares in companies.

This is a datapoint that the 2013 anticorruption law forbidding Russian bureaucrats from holding bank accounts abroad is actually working. Incidentally, to add to the irony, that same law had been condemned at the time of its publication by the purportedly (but actually nothing of the sort) “pro-Putin” Forbes blogger Mark Adomanis, who portrayed it as a “forcible asset repatriation” that would reinforce Russian autocracy and put Putin in a “much, much more powerful and domineering position.”

If you were a journalist with a pro-Kremlin agenda you could certainly argue this point with at least as much legitimacy as if you were to follow the Western MSM party line and focus on what Panama Leaks “prove” about Putin and his entourage.

However, that journalist would almost universally be condemned as a Putin shill and not really a journalist at all, whereas the likes of neocon blowhard Natalie Nougayrède and serial plagiariser Luke Harding are free to roam and dominate Western media op-ed spaces with their own paranoid ramblings. Of late, they have even broken free from the informed scrutiny of their readers, with the Guardian’s Russia journalism apparently having joined that triggering triad of “race, immigration and Islam” on which the Guardian no longer accepts comments from the great unwashed of the “Comment is Free” discussion boards.

Which is perhaps just as well given how thoroughly the Western Narrative has become discredited even amongst The Guardian’s readers, despite the endless purges it has instigated over the years against its critics.


In a recent interview with the opposition Dozhd TV channel – which is, incidentally, available for public viewing in Russia as part of the NTV Plus satellite TV package – for the first time openly declared he wants to be President. He also speculated about the motivations behind the Kirovles fraud case being brought against him. (He expects to get a suspended jail sentence that will disbar him from electoral politics).

However, I think other parts of the interview were at least equally interesting and telling about what sort of politician Navalny would be. First, he unequivocally said that he would send Putin and his friends to jail. It is rather ironic that the self-appointed leader of the extra-parliamentary Russian opposition doesn’t bother, unlike Putin, to even pay lip service to the rule of law and judicial impartiality that he supposedly espouses. Second, his tendency to intemperately react to critics – even those who support him – is, once again, on full and inglorious display.

Below is a translation from the relevant part of the interview.

Host: Many people interpreted you as saying, I paraphrase, “I am Alexey Navalny and I will put you in prison, once I become President.”

Navalny: I don’t know about a President Navalny, but one day there will come to power those who will put him in prison. It’s a general feeling, I or we altogether, in another regime we would put him…

Host: [interrupting] [unclear] is it we or I?…

Navalny: Well, I, because I feel myself as part of this process, and I will do everything possible to make sure that he, and Putin, and Timchenko, and the entire list go to prison. To me these are all chains in this odious, kleptocratic regime, from the policeman who breaks your arm to Timchenko who steals oil, it’s all related…

Host: [interrupting] Do you want to become President?

Navalny: I do want to become President. I want to change life in this country, I want to change the system of administration, I want to make it so that the 140 million people of in this country – who are surrounded by oil and gas that flows out of the ground – would no longer have to live in destitution and hopeless squalor, but lived normally, like in any European country. We aren’t any worse than Estonians!

Host: Do you have a clear, well-planned program? Because as we know, and I think we raised the issue a year ago with you, you said that one shouldn’t lie and steal, and we got questions from many people like this on air: “To not steal and lie is all well and good, but what can we concretely do about it?”

Navalny: These “many people” are all idiots. We don’t need to do anything other not lie and not steal.

Host: So everyone will cease to not lie… will cease lying and will cease stealing…

Navalny: [interrupting] It’s the principles that are important.

Host: … and the Sun will start shining?

Navalny: If the top echelons of government will no longer lie and steal, but will do what is expected of it, and will at the least start to realize those nice programs of Putin such as Strategy 2020… All the reforms we need have already been compiled, down to roadmap detail. But none of them are being fulfilled.

Host: [interrupting] [unclear] … So the plans suit you. At least as they are on paper.

Navalny: No. They don’t exist. The plan for Russia’s development, and reforms, has been reworked multiple times, and overall everybody pretty much understands and agrees… We have this strange situation where we have a consensus between Left and Right as relates to the reforms we have to carry out, but they aren’t getting carried out, because the essence of the current regime is corruption. Everybody more or less understands how to combat this corruption, and we bring very concrete and constructive proposals on how to combat corruption to Medvedev’s anti-corruption conferences…

Host: For example Rospil.

Navalny: Yes Rospil, and our Anti-Corruption Fund, and many other suggestions, and many people there agree with those suggestions, but nothing happens further.

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

Anti-corruption efforts have been significantly stepped up in recent months, both in terms of headline making events (e.g. the dismissal of Serdyukov) and the less heralded progress in the introduction of new laws to combat the source. One of these is a ban on Russian bureaucrats holding foreign bank accounts (this represents a watering down of the original provision, which would have also banned foreign property holdings).

Not everybody is happy with this law, as to be expected. What is not to be expected is who exactly that is. For instance, Mark Adomanis, a liberal anti-Putin blogger who is nonetheless one of the most informed and objective Russia watchers out there (which many of his detractors take as evidence that he is a Putin stooge). Well, judge for yourself, based on his reaction to a press conference with Presidential Chief of Staff Sergey Ivanov, in which he said that bureaucrats would have three months to move their assets back to Russia.

“Forcible asset repatriation”? That’s some strong rhetoric there! I must have missed the part where the Kremlin was holding a gun to the heads of those offshore chinovniki forcing them to continue working for the government. Why is no-one being arrested for extortion??

As an informed observer, Mark Adomanis surely knows that quite a number of Duma deputies and other officials have already resigned their seats because they’d rather keep their foreign nest eggs than continue in political life. Nobody is forcing them to make the latter choice, so how does “forcible” describe anything?

Fortunately, he soon clarifies his position.

Oh, I see. Less corrupt bureaucrats equals a more powerful Putin. And because Putin is the Dark Lord of the Kremlin, it’s for the best if bureaucrats were to remain just as corrupt and apatride as they are now. Essentially he would have Russia cut off its nose to spite Putin’s face.

Note also the overt double standards.

Now just to make things absolutely clear, I don’t have an issue with that. Mark Adomanis has a perfect right to his own political views on Russia and to air them on his blog and Twitter account. What I do however want to point out is that many people, including some fairly high profile ones, seriously consider him to be a “Russophile” or even a paid-up stooge of the “Putin regime.” (Some of the more conspiratorial-minded even consider Masha Gessen, who wrote a biography of Putin called “The Man without a Face,” to be a Kremlin flunky). In reality, as far as his priorities go, cleaner and more effective government in Russia takes a clear second place to the prime imperative of politically undermining Putin. All this just serves to illustrate how utterly divorced from reality the mainstream commentary is when it comes to Russia and Putin.

PS. Since I scheduled this to be published, Adomanis has written an entire blog post about it, where he in addition also takes exception to the Russian government not bailing out Russian deposit holders in Cypriot, in addition to expounding on the points he already made on Twitter.

The fact that many Russian officials had accounts in foreign banks acted as a (very!) crude check on Putin and the center’s ability to control things: true autocracy is impossible in a situation in which any mid or high level official can, at a moment’s notice, go abroad and live off the accumulated assets in their foreign bank accounts. … Assuming the Kremlin actually can get officials to “repatriate” their foreign holdings (a very big if, I grant you) they will be in a much weaker position to question or resist anything the President demands. Basically, completely banning the holding of foreign accounts would make the Russian government even more unaccountable, unpredictable, and arbitrary.

The evidence for these assertions that Adomanis brings to the table are precisely zilch. This is especially disappointing coming from a pundit who has based a substantial part of his blogging career on expounding the extremely tenuous nature of the ties between autocracy/democracy, and things like economic performance and demographic health. So why now this supposed link between corruption and democracy? Aside from the general lack of data and incoherence, for a man so concerned with “autocracy” in Russia, I wonder if Adomanis realizes that simply translating his article would make for excellent propaganda for Putin (e.g. by feeding “the good Tsar stymied by his bad boyars” trope).

PPS. And it’s been translated at Inosmi, with most of the reactions as predicted above. E.g. the commentator AndrewGur: “Did I get this right? This journalist is suggesting that one component of democracy – is the possibility not to obey the orders of the President while under the control of a foreign enemy who controls them by dint of them having their money there?”

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

By the usual standards of Guardian reporting on Russia, this one by GQ Russia editor Andrew Ryvkin is… well, about par for the course.

Citing a recent PwC report that Russia will overtake Germany to become Europe’s biggest economy in 2030, he asks, “Should we believe them?

Well, the PwC is just repeating predictions made almost a decade earlier by Goldman Sachs, which has thus far proved very accurate on the growing prominence of the BRICs in general, and of Russia in particular (regardless of repeated attempts to kick it out of that grouping, against the judgment of Jim O’Neill, the inventor of the BRICs concept himself).

So in effect Ryvkin is asking us whether we should trust a range of organizations with a great predictive record on the issue to the uninformed ravings of a Guardian hack.

Forget Russia’s very reasonable and respectable growth rates compared to the other Central-East European countries. According to Ryvkin, Russia’s downfall will be because it is “politics”, and not “strict economic policies”, that “rule these wintry lands.” What is the primary example he uses to demonstrate this?

One should also have sedatives close to hand while reviewing the figures. Russia has become one of the most corrupt countries in the world, and is barely making an effort to hide it. For instance, one of the Sochi 2014 Olympic projects – a 50 km road – costs nearly $8bn.

This meme was popularized by Julio Ioffe in the Western press on Russia back in 2010. It has also long since been long debunked, including on this very blog – although it continues to float around as a cliche among Russian liberal and journalist circles.

The only problem with looking at Russia through this failed state prism, without bothering to corroborate sources, is that in no sense can the Adler-Krasnaya Polyana route be described as just a “roadway”. Intended to be completed within 3 years in an area with a poorly developed infrastructure, this so-called “road” also includes a high-speed railway, more than 50 bridges, and 27km of tunnels over mountainous, ecologically-fragile terrain!

Then there’s this bizarre statement: “Germany, is currently associated with its policy of austerity, Russia is known for precisely the opposite.” That’s certainly news to me, as Russia has run balanced budgets for the past 2 years* – in stark contrast to, well, pretty much the rest of the developed world (including Germany for that matter).

And here you’re inevitably faced with a question: how would the Russian government act if it became a leading European economy and faced a crisis like the one in we have now in the eurozone, considering that this government has allowed the construction of a $160m/km road?

That is an extraordinarily remote possibility, seeing as Russia has fiscal unity and no significant sovereign debt (i.e. the lack of which define the European crisis). The very question is not only based on a faulty premise (the so-called “caviar road”) but essentially meaningless.

After some of the usual moralizing and content-free platitudes about the absence of Russian democracy, as well as the further extremely bizarre idea that the Chinese economy is not politicized like Russia’s**, Ryvkin wanders back on track with the usual spiel about how Russia is Nigeria with snow.

Here’s a question: who would want a Russian-made car, when even Russians don’t want them? Another one: who wants to fly Russian aeroplanes, when even in Russia people choose to fly on a Boeing or Airbus? But these huge industries still exist, resembling Frankenstein’s monsters of Soviet industrial might, brought to life by heavy injections of oil money and created by businesses that ultimately cannot produce a competitive product.

It goes against almost every aspect of economic, market-oriented logic, but it has nothing to do with the economy, because it aims to keep the workforce loyal to the government and project an image of a neo-Soviet industrial power. So is securing votes at the cost of your country’s economic development today a strategy worthy of someone who is going to lead the European economy in seventeen years? Is the strategy even smart?

Back in the world of hard facts and statistics, Russian car production was at 2.0 million units in 2011 (increasing by a further 15% in 2012) compared to 1.2 million units in 2000. Many foreign automakers have moved manufacturing into Russia, but that one presupposes is a good thing; that indigenous Russian brands haven’t done as well doesn’t mean much (which British brands are doing well apart from Rolls Royce?). There are few countries in which automobiles are a major export staple – incidentally, China with which Ryvkin incessantly compares Russia with isn’t one of them – and there is no good reason to expect Russia to become a major exporter of cars under any government, be it Putin’s or “even [a 10-year-old] (as long as he was smart enough not to stop the flow of oil and gas).”

That is because hydrocarbons are Russia’s comparative advantage, a concept which likewise explains why say Australia and Norway do not export much manufactured goods either. Ironically, the surest way to solve this “resource dependency” would be to get Ryvkin’s 10 year old President to ACTUALLY stop the flow of oil and gas.

That is also the reason why Ryvkin doesn’t work as an analyst at PwC but writes articles for the Guardian.

* Actually latest estimates show that 2012 had a deficit of 0.02% of GDP, but that’s of course basically a rounding error.

** Where to even begin here? For a start, consider the fact that the HQ’s of all the major Chinese companies have a “red machine” with a telephone link to Party functionaries

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

I really did think it was getting better there under Joshu Yaffa, certainly it’s not typical of him to write such vitriolic but more importantly factually inaccurate articles. Let’s hope the world’s sleaziest magazine was getting one of their old-timers to file for him that day, instead of representing the start of a new descent into Lucasian raving.

As usual, I will ignore the emotive and hyperbolic language which starts from the get go with the title “Herod’s Law“. Though I would note from the outset that The Economist would never in a million years use similar terms to describe, say, the child victims of the US drone wars. That is because its main function is to serve as a mouthpiece of the Western ruling class.

So here is the list of its lapses in journalistic integrity:

(1) Citing only anti-Kremlin figures: Alexei Venediktov (of Echo of Moscow), an opposition deputy, and an organization headed by Kudrin. No honest attempt is made to question the (57% of) Russians who support the law.

(2) Extremely and almost certainly willfully misleading usage of statistics:

Over the past 20 years American families adopted 60,000 Russian children with 19 recorded deaths among them. Adoption in Russia is relatively rare. Even so, in the same period 1,500 adopted children died in Russian families.

Thanks to Charles Clover, the 1,500 figure very likely originated from a release by the Public Chamber of the RF that argued against the idea that foreign adoption is dangerous. But the Economist did not see it fit to give the full quote (my bold for emphasis):

According to data from Russian experts, in the past 20 years US citizens adopted nearly 60,000 Russian children; during this period, 19 children died by the fault of their adopted parents. In the same period, in the families of Russian citizen adopters, there died nearly 1,500 children.

See what they did there? Needless to say, the numbers of children dying by the “fault of their adopted parents” vs. the numbers who just died (by other murderers; by house fires, traffic accidents, medical complications, etc) are IN NO WAY COMPARABLE! And yet the Economist misleading treats them as the same.

In addition, it is subtly implied that per capita risk may be even greater than the impression generated by the absolute numbers. In reality as I already pointed out adoptions by Russians with the exception of two years have always exceeded foreign adoptions (of which Americans account for one third):

What’s more, the 19 recorded cases mentioned may well be – indeed, are quite likely to be – underestimates, because tracking mechanisms for Russian adoptees in the US are poorly developed (indeed, this was one of the main issues of contention between Russia and the US on adoptions).

(3) Internal contradictions: This is literally one of the most hilarious, keep-your-head-in-a-vise texts I’ve read this week:

Having acquired considerable wealth and freedom of movement, Mr Putin’s elite is growing increasingly tired of his rule. Whereas before he offered wealth and impunity in exchange for loyalty, he now demands that they take sides in the Magnitsky case, a sacrifice that could yet jeopardise their position in the West. Instead of uniting the elite behind him, this could turn more people against him.

So “more people” (57% of whom, BTW, support the Dima Yakovlev Law) are going to turn away from Putin… because his actions threaten the yachts and villas of “Putin’s elite” in the West??

The reaction would be just the opposite because that “elite” is loathed and despised, whereas Putin has overwhelming popular approval. Only a moment’s thought would reveal the absurdity of The Economist’s statement, however I suppose there is no time for reflection when there is a propaganda hit piece to be written.

(4) Edit – this is a new addition. This is the photograph the Economist uses to demonstrate this “Herod’s Law.”

It is captioned “One of the victims of a shameful law.” Thing is, however, that there is a WAITING LIST for adopting children under the age of 3 by Russian citizens. As such using this photo of a toddler to illustrate the piece together with the caption is nothing more than blatant and cynical emotional manipulation.

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

1. For Russian orphans life is much more dangerous in Russia than in America. Let’s agree to disregard the hidden subtext which implies that any country ought to give over its orphans to foreign nationals should it be ranked safer for children. Let’s first examine if the claim that Russia is 39 times more dangerous for adoptees than the US is even true.

This number most prominently featured in a March 2012 article at the liberal website Ttolk, perhaps (probably?) it originated there. It then spread to the rest of the Internet via Yulia “Pinochet” Latynina at the Moscow Times

According to official government statistics, a child adopted by Russian parents is 39 times more likely to die than one adopted by parents in the West.

… and Victor Davidoff at the St. Petersburg Times.

It is also well-known that the chances a child will die after being adopted by a family in Russia are almost 40 times higher than if adopted by a family in the West.

While it’s no great secret that Western countries are safer than Russia, the differential struck me as absurdly high. Especially when I checked mortality rates, according to which on average Russian children have approximately twice the risk of death as do their American counterparts (or the same as the US in 1980). This is pretty much as to be expected, as Russian healthcare despite intensive modernization in the past decade still lags developed country standards.

So we have a paradox: While Russian children are on average are “only” 2x as likely to die as American ones, adoptees in particular are supposedly 39x more at risk. The differential between the two groups is simply too high to be credible.

Thankfully one gelievna had already done most of the work. Here is what the article in Ttolk wrote:

Already for several years semi-official documents cite the following number: Since 1991 to 2006, i.e. over 15 years, there died 1,220 children who had been adopted by Russian citizens. Of them 12 were killed by their own adopters.

During this same period, from 1991 to 2006, there died 18 Russian children in adopting families in the West. Knowing the number of adoptees there and in Russia (92,000 and 158,000, respectively) we can calculate the relative danger of adoption in these two worlds. It turns out that there is one dead child per 5,103 foreign families, whereas in Russian families this ratio is at one dead child to every 130 families. This means that adoptees in Russian families are in 39 times more danger than in foreign ones.

Well isn’t that shocking? Surely a humanitarian intervention is called for to rescue Russia’s children and place them in American homes. The only problem is that the 1,220 figure doesn’t refer to deaths at all. Here is what the original source, a 2005 report, actually said:

In 2005, the Ministry of Education and Science gathered preliminary statistics for the past 5 years on cases of death and incidences of ill treatment of orphans, adopted by Russians or taken into guardianship or a foster family, according to which:

Out of 1220 children, 12 died by the fault of the adopters and guardians;

Out of 116 children, whose health was for various causes subjected to heavy harm, 23 suffered by the fault of the adopters and guardians

So the article at Ttolk is basically comparing apples and oranges, i.e. the numbers of Russian adoptees who died in foreign countries vs. the numbers of Russian adoptees that were ill treated in Russia. Of course the latter figure is always going to be much, much higher.

What concrete findings we have (assuming the rest of the article is accurate) is that 18 Russian adoptees died in foreign countries (of those we know! there is no systemic tracking) during 1991-2006 vs. 12 Russian adoptees died by the fault of their foster parents specifically during 1999-2004 or so.

So while an exact comparison remains elusive we can know be fairly certain that in fact the risk of murder is broadly similar for a Russian adoptee in both Russia and the US. Basically it is (thankfully) extremely rare in both countries. I would also point out that this is far from a “Russophile” or “Russian chauvinist” conclusion, knowing that a lot of Russians harp on about the supposedly everyday shooting rampages in schools all over America. In reality this is just the usual anti-guns hysteria mixed in with Americanophobia, American schools are actually extremely safe with only 1-1.5% of all violent deaths of children occurring on school premises in any single year. (Even a very “catastrophic” event like the Newtown shooting would only raise this by about one percentage point).

This whole episode strongly reminds me of similar cases in the past when some wild figure was misquoted, spread in Russian liberal circles, and then transferred to the West. E.g. an imaginary spike of abortions in the wake of the economic crisis. Or the wild exaggeration of Russian emigration figures.

2. It was a cynical and pre-planned ploy to “punish” the US for the Magnitsky Act. Mercouris has already very elegantly demonstrated why this is the wrong way to look at it so one can do worse than quote him in extenso:

“I gather the Federation Council has now voted unanimously to support the adoption ban. This is a direct result of the campaign against it.

The adoption ban looks to me like an emotional response not just to the Magnitsky law but also to the way in which the original Dima Yakovlev law was first formulated. This very wisely limited sanctions to US officials who have violated the human rights of Russians. By doing so Russia has avoided the ridiculous situation created by the Magnitsky law by not extending its jurisdiction to US citizens whose actions have nothing to do with Russia. Understandably enough someone decided to name the law after Dima Yakovlev, who is not a Russian whose rights were violated but who as a child makes the ideal poster boy for this sort of law. However by naming the law after Dima Yakovlev the whole subject of the mistreatment of Russian children in the US was opened up and someone (Putin?, Russia’s Children’s Ombudsman?, someone within United Russia?) in what was surely an emotional response decided to tack on an adoption ban to the original Dima Yakovlev law. That this was not pre planned is shown by the fact that the Russian Foreign Ministry was until recently busy negotiating the agreement with the State Department to protect Russian children that I discussed previously. I gather this agreement was reached as recently as last month i.e. November not September as I said in my previous comment. It is scarcely likely that the Russian government negotiated an agreement it planned to cancel, which shows that the adoption ban must have been an emotional afterthought.

Since the adoption ban was almost certainly an emotional afterthought that almost certainly had not been properly thought through the best way to defeat it would have been to try to reason the Russian parliament and government and Russian public opinion out of it. The point could have been made that adoption is a private matter, that the number of Russian children abused by their US adoptive parents is microscopically small, that it is unfair on other intended US adopted parents to discriminate against them because of the bad behavior of a very few bad US adoptive parents and that the problems involving Russian children with the US authorities and with the US courts have hopefully been addressed by the agreement with the US State Department, which should be given a chance to work. It could also have been pointed out that the adoption ban sits uneasily with the rest of the Dima Yakovlev law, which is intended to hit out at US officials who violate the rights of Russian citizens and not at innocent US citizens who want to adopt Russian children.

All of these arguments have been lost by the hysterical and hyperbolic reaction to the adoption ban. Thus critics of the law have accused Russian legislators of cynically acting contrary to the interests of children, which unnecessarily offends those Russian legislators who may genuinely have thought that by supporting the adoption ban they were trying to protect Russian children. They have also all but said that Russia is incapable of looking after its own orphaned children, which must offend patriotically minded people generally. They have even come close to insinuating that Russian children are better off being brought up in the US than in Russia, which must offend patriotically minded people even more. For its part the US has behaved equally crassly by using the Magnitsky law to threaten Russian legislators in a matter that has nothing to do with either human rights or with Magnitsky and by apparently saying that the adoption ban violates the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which is doubtful but which is also crass if it is true as I have heard that unlike Russia the US is one of the two or three countries which have not ratified it.

The totally predictable result is that the adoption ban has not only been overwhelmingly supported by the parliament and is now certain to become law but Russian public opinion has consolidated behind it.”

3. The law meets fierce population opposition within Russia. Here is what the Guardian writes:

But inside Russia the bill has been criticised by opposition figures as “cannibalistic”, with a petition against the act being signed by more than 100,000 people.

The Western media has spread the idea there is huge grassroots opposition to the Dima Yakovlev law. In addition there has been coverage of a petition floating around the White House to place Duma deputies who voted for the adoptions ban to be placed on the Magnitsky list as “human rights abusers” and denied entry to the US.

This image is however almost entirely false.

Laurie Penny hints at it in the Guardian:

Not all the adopted children thrived, as the populations “back home” are painfully aware. In 2008 Dima Yakovlev, a Russian toddler adopted by Americans, died after being left in a sweltering car for hours. His adopted parents were found not guilty of involuntary manslaughter. Russia’s new bill is named after Dima Yakovlev.

Max Fisher in the Washington Post spells it out clearly:

As it turns out, the ban on American adoptions is remarkably popular in Russia. A new Russian survey finds that 56 percent support the ban and 21 percent oppose, a ratio of almost three-to-one. The support seems to stem from a belief that American families are dangerous, cruel, and at times violent to their adoptive Russian children.

Here is the link to the FOM poll. What’s especially noticeable is that a majority of all major social groups support it: 44% of Prokhorov voters; 50% of young people; 48% of people with a higher education; etc.

If one believes that only the scum of the earth like Putin could write the Dima Yakovlev Law, then it would be incongruent not to extend the hatred towards ordinary Russians. La Russophobe is one of the few who gets points for consistency.

4. The Russian government was very enthusiastic about the Dima Yakovlev Law. No, it wasn’t. As Mercouris wrote above, it basically torpedoed months of negotiations with the Americans for Russian officials to get more information about the status of Russian orphans in the US. That is presumably why FM Lavrov was against it as were at least two other Ministers. It was the Duma taking the initiative.

In a further irony, I found an article at the Communist Party website that criticized United Russia for not supporting a similar law back in 2010.

NOTE: The following points are taken pretty much directly from the very разоблачительная article “Orphans Q&A” by gloriaputina.

5. Russia has an inordinately huge number of orphans. The number is 654,355 as of end-2011, however the vast majority are so-called “social orphans” (their parents have been found incapable of parenting). Furthermore, even if a social orphan is adopted, he still remains in the social orphan category. The analogous figure for the US is 3 MILLION.

Ironically, as argued by the blogger, there is an inverse correlation between the rate of orphans and children’s safety. Basically when the state makes children into orphans, the numbers of deaths of children falls (presumably because they are taken away from violent and/or abusive parents). Now yes of course this is not positively good, sometimes there are ridiculous cases, but in Russia at least he is correct in that there is a correlation: As the numbers of parents who had children taken away climbed from 31,000 in 1995 to 53,000 in 2000 and 74,000 in 2008, overall child mortality has plummeted throughout the period (although of course other factors like better healthcare and less alcohol consumption would also play major roles).

Very few Russians abandon their children. They account for 1% of the total number of orphans, vs. 4% both of whose parents died, and 95% “social orphans”.

6. Russians don’t adopt, if there are no kind Americans to take up some of the slack, Russian orphans will be condemned to slow death in state orphanages.

It’s not so much a matter of Russians and Americans not adopting as few people anywhere being interested in adopting children over the age of three. Here is a graph.

In the above graph green represents adoption by Russian citizens, blue by foreign citizens, in 2009. In state orphanages, 90% of children are older than 11 years; 70-80% are older than 14 years. There is a waiting list for adopting children under the age of 3.

7. The majority of Russian orphans have to live in orphanages. Wrong, and this apparently has never been the case.

The yellow bars represent children who are transferred to foster parents (which I think is distinct from “adopted” as in the US), the blue bars represent the numbers of children who are housed in state institutions at any one year. The ratio between the two is steadily increasing and converging to the typical Western model, in which almost all children are taken in by foster parents.

7. Russians only adopt healthy children, while only kind foreigners take those with disabilities. Again, wrong.

30% of the children in the federal database are children with some registered physical disability; the vast majority of them are living with families, only 5% of their numbers live in child institutions.

Now since 1995 about 10% of Russian children adopted by both foreigners in general and Americans in particular were registered as having a disability. In 2011, the US adopted 44 children with disabilities, whereas Russians adopted 188 children with disabilities. In 2009-2011 more than 20,000 orphaned (0-6 age range) children left Russia, whereas as of January 2012, the waiting list for them in Russia was 12,900 long.

8. Russia is alone in being a nasty country that (now) bans American adoptions of children.



In any case adoptions from Russia had been dropping rapidly since 2004 anyway, constituting less than 1,000 by 2011.

There are in fact quite a number of countries that make foreign adoptions very difficult stopping short of outright bans including many in the ECE area. Russia’s ban is the only one the Western media decides to politicize however (although in fairness it’s a two way street given the absurd association on Russia’s part to portray it as a response to the Magnitsky Act).

9. I think that the Dima Yakovlev Law is a good idea. No, I don’t, I’m just clearing up major misconceptions in this post. While there may be valid grounds to much more stringently regulate foreign adoptions (e.g. ensuring all Russians wishing to adopt have the chance to, and ensure children don’t fall into the hands of pimps/organ traders/etc), the decision to only target Americans and to present it as a response to the Magnitsky Act is crude and idiotic, and just one of the many examples of the Russian government shooting itself in the foot PR-wise.

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

The latest Expert Discussion Panel focused on an assessment of Putin’s historical legacy, on the occasion of his 60th birthday. Here I try to answer whether history will see Putin as the “founder of a modern and successful Russia”, or as a tragic figure who threw away his chance of greatness to the “delusion of indispensability”:

While there are several criticisms one can make of Putin’s practice of democracy, his prolonged stay in power isn’t one of them.

As Evgeny Minchenko pointed out, there are many Western examples of very long, but non-authoritarian rule. Canadian PM Jean Chrétien ruled for 20 years, the Federal Chancellor of the FRG Helmut Kohl – for 16 years. Icelandic President Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson has been in power from 1996 to the present day (nobody even bothered challenging him in 2000 and 2008). Charles de Gaulle, one of the figures Putin quotes as his inspiration, ruled for 11 years; the student protests against him in 1968, ironically, only ended up increasing support for him. Another of Putin’s heroes, Franklin D. Roosevelt, was US President from 1933 until his death in 1945, and remains a political colossus in the American imagination.

Nor is there anything particularly anti-Constitutional about what Putin did. Unlike in Georgia, where Saakashvili planned to retain power by moving powers to the Prime Ministership (but was foiled in this by an oligarchic coup), or for that matter in the “new democracy” of Hungary, where the ruling Fidesz Party headed by Viktor Orbán recently rewrote electoral law to cement its dominance for what may be many decades to come, Putin has strictly abided by the letter of the Constitution. United Russia did not use its Constitutional majority to extend the number of allowed Presidential terms, transform Russia into a parliamentary republic, or tweaking electoral law away from proportional representation towards majoritarianism (this would have a far bigger effect in consolidating United Russia’s power than low-level electoral fraud – and be much less politically damaging besides).

While one might argue that Putin went against the “spirit of the Constitution” by seeking a third term, that is an inescapably vague and ambiguous concept, one suited only for rhetoric. If we are going to consider the “spirit” of things, would it not then be against the “spirit of democracy” to condemn Putin for returning to the Presidency when he remains by far Russia’s most popular politician, enjoying a 10% lead over Medvedev even during the latter’s heyday?

In 2004, Putin said, “Our aims are absolutely clear: They are a high living standard in the country and a secure, free and comfortable life.” This is not the place to cite reams of statistics, but on practically any socio-economic indicator one cares to mention – economic, demographic, crime, etc. – the Russia of 2012 is unrecognizable from the Russia of 1999. It’s simply another world. To find historical precedents, one needs to look far, far back. To another Putin hero, Stolypin? But the saplings he planted didn’t survive the Bolshevik winter. Both Peter the Great and Stalin transformed Russia, but in ways that were many orders of magnitude crueller and more bloodthirsty than all but the most deranged of Putin’s critics would accuse him of. Alien ideologies were impressed on Russia in these “revolutions from above”, leading to social stresses and upheaval; Putin, to the contrary, is profoundly a-ideological (and that is surely for the better, no matter the hand-wringing by some over Russia’s no longer having a “national idea” – fact of the matter is, “national ideas” have rarely led it to anywhere good).

Perhaps a more appropriate comparison is to Catherine the Great, who expanded Russia’s borders, made legal reforms, and removed internal barriers to trade. But serfdom was also further entrenched, and Russia kept slipping backwards relative to the developed world; in contrast, under Putin, Russia has gone from being the poor man of Europe to being a country where salaries and personal consumption are now converging with those of the poorer (original) EU members like Greece or Portugal. Maybe his true predecessor is none other than Yaroslavl the Wise, under whom Kievan Rus’ became unified, established links with Western Europe (which is today East Asia), formally codified Russian laws, and ushered in a golden age of culture and civilization. Although one should be careful of making parallels with developments a millennium ago, there are undeniable similarities between Yaroslavl’s achievements and Putin’s project: Consolidating the state, and now moving towards a Eurasian Union; legal reforms that supplanted late-Soviet “understandings” and Yeltsinite chaos; and the ongoing (re)integration into the world economy.

Regardless of the historians’ final verdict, it is now hard to see what Putin can possible do now to compromise the “father of the nation” status he has already gained in the popular consciousness – a status that should survive, based on comparable figures like De Gaulle or Park Chung-hee, even as the “dissatisfied urbanites” and “hamsters” – much like the Parisian student protesters against De Gaulle in 1968 – are relegated to the margins of history. The “democratic journalists” and other Putin Derangement Syndrome sufferers who portray this Goethe-quoting patriot and conservative restorer as a mafiosi thug or neo-Stalinist dictator will be in for endless disappointments as future Russians, just as today’s Russians, will continue to reject their bleak, screed-like denunciations of Putin’s legacy.

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

And the final results are:

Putin Derangement Syndrome 14
Dark Lord of the Kremlin 27
No preference / can’t decide which I hate more 13

Surprised to see such a clear lead for DLK… thought it’d be closer to a tie. But it’s my favorite too, so Dark Lord of the Kremlin it will be.

Thanks to all for participating in the polls to decide on the name of the book.

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

Feel free to suggest the appropriate title/subtitle combination for the book, or to propose new ones.

EDIT 9/11: And the final results are:

Putinophobia 3
Putin Derangement Syndrome 10
Through Western Eyes 7
When the Truth Doesn’t Matter 7
Kremlin Maligned 0
False Truths 1
Potemkin Russia 2
Manufactured Russophobia 4
If It’s About Russia, It’s True 8
Black-Washing Russia 4
Russia NOT for Dummies 5
Dark Lord of the Kremlin 11
Other 4

And for the subtitle:

Western Discourse on Putin’s Russia and the New Cold War 6
How The Western Media Fuels A New Cold War With Russia 20
Russia in the Press 2
Putin Derangement Syndrome and the American Press 4
How The Western Media Misrepresents Putin’s Russia 10
The Western Media’s War Against Putin’s Russia 14
Other 1

Thanks for all the suggestions, and voting.

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

It’s already a pretty big list, so I won’t be taking nominations for more. I hope to write reviews of all of them as they’re (re)read.

  • The Return (Daniel Treisman) – the best Russian politics books out there. 5/5
  • Armageddon Averted (Stephen Kotkin) – TBR (to be read)
  • Putin (Chris Hutchins, Alexander Korobko) – TBR, but has to be good as it quotes me.
  • Soviet Fates and Lost Alternatives (Stephen Cohen) – 5/5
  • Virtual Politics (Andrew Wilson) – too much PoMo, but solid. 4/5
  • Drug, Sex and Libel in the New Moscow (Mark Ames, Matt Taibbi, Edward Limonov) – TBR, for the lulz.
  • From the First Person (Putin) – all Western journalists would benefit from reading this series of telling interviews. 5/5
  • The Oligarchs (David E. Hoffman) – TBR
  • Popular literature with satires of politics/economics including Metro 2033 and works by Pelevin.
  • The New Cold War (Edward Lucas) – to remind myself of hack enemy talking points. 1/5
  • Vekhi (anthology) – key book from 1909 that informs current Kremlin ideology.
  • Putin’s Comeback (Chen Xiaomeng) – TBR, can’t say I’ll read all or even most of it, as it exists only in Chinese and my Chinese isn’t that good, but it will sure make a refreshing change from Western harping.

Obviously these are just the books, I’ll be looking over tons of papers and news articles too.

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

I feel that my blogging in terms of influencing the discourse on Russia has leveled off into something resembling a plateau. I now write the occasional op-ed; appear every so often in magazines, research articles, and even books; and the blog itself attracts about 500 daily visitors. But truth is I am barely making a dint relative to the likes of Harding or Lucas.

To this end I am embarking on two big projects that will consume the bulk of my creative efforts for at least the next year.

(1) I am writing a book with the preliminary title PUTIN DERANGEMENT SYNDROME: How Western Journalists Are Fueling A New Cold War Against Russia. (I’m not 100% happy with it and will welcome alternate suggestions).

As I have argued for close to 5 years now, Western media coverage of Russia tends to be woefully biased, frequently malicious, and – most unforgivably – factually wrong. This does not mean there is nothing to criticize about Russia and Russians and I will not refrain from doing so in the book. However, said criticisms must be grounded in statistical data, an appreciation of the viewpoints of ordinary Russians, and a judicious comparative perspective (which is NOT equivalent to “moral relativism” or “whataboutism” as many hardcore Russophobes claim).

In 1926, Will Rogers said, “Russia is a country that no matter what you say about it, it’s true.” It is high time to make this way of thinking obsolete.

The book will be divided into about a dozen chapters, covering all aspects of Russia which are either heavily misrepresented, or around which there exist powerful misconceptions. Here is a short sample list of such “Russia tropes”:

  • “Dying Russia”
  • The Manichean view of Russian politics
  • “If This Happened in Russia”
  • Putin the fascist, Stalinist, neo-Tsarist, kleptocratic mafia thug
  • Stagnation
  • Pariah state
  • The strange obsession with “Kremlin TV”, i.e. Russia Today
  • How big bad Russia raped plucky democratic Georgia

In addition to my own original work, the book will also feature guest articles from various political and legal experts, as well as original translations from the “unfree” Russian media. By revealing the lies and misrepresentations on which so much Western commentary on Russia is rooted, the book will hopefully serve as a catalyst for rethinking and concrete change. Ведь так больше жить нельзя.

(2) As blog readers will recall, back in May I attended a Washington conference, chaired by Edward Lozansky, devoted to brainstorming ways to improve Russia’s dismal image abroad. Several fruitful suggestions came out of the meeting, one of which has already been brought into being: The site

My own modest contribution was a site devoted to translating the Russian media into English, a reverse-Inosmi if you will. Its preliminary name is RUSSIA VOICES.

There are several core structural features that make Western coverage of Russia as bad as it is. One of these is that there are more questions than can be answered; as argued by Patrick Armstrong, it takes 10x longer to write a rebuttal to a lying article, than the lying article itself (and claims of Kremlin-paid bloggers to the contrary, – I wish! – we don’t have a hundredth of either the resources or the media exposure of the Lucas and Harding types). Other such features include the “propaganda model” and exiled oligarch funding of anti-Putin kompromat. These are systemic forces that need a systemic response.

Should it become a significant feature of the media landscape, RUSSIA VOICES will accomplish three major things:

  1. Improve perceptions of Russian media in general (i.e., not Zimbabwe).
  2. Improve perceptions of Russia in general (i.e., complex array of liberal, Kremlin, statist, patriot, nationalist, & leftist forces; NOT a Manichean struggle between Padawan Navalny and Darth Putler).
  3. Publicize Russian voices on global affairs (e.g. Syria).

After all, what would YOU, as a media consumer, rather read about: Top Russian sci-fi novelist Sergey Lukyanenko’s thoughts on the Russian elections, or Miriam Elder on how Putin stole her dry-cleaning ticket?

Exactly. And I am sure the same goes for many academics, students, expats, businesspeople, and intelligent open-minded laymen. RUSSIA VOICES will translate from all sides of the ideological spectrum, be they pro-Kremlin or anti-Kremlin; Western media consumers will then have the freedom to independently judge exactly how “unfree” is the Russian media (and Russia in general) for themselves.

The only problem is that unlike the book, RUSSIA VOICES will require not insubstantial funding to get off the ground. Translators gotta be paid. I will be working on this issue in the next several months.

Blogging here will not come to a stop, nor at the other site. But intensity probably will fall off a bit.

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

Imagine a respected American financial newspaper such as the WSJ writes an article investigating elections fraud in favor of the Democrats. To illustrate the rightness of their point, they include a photo of a ballot for the Republicans that – they allege – wasn’t tallied by the dodgy Solyndra machines rolled out for use in California in 2012. The ballot has “Obama, Go Fuck Yourself!” written out in big red letters. The captions below read: “Correctly filled out ballot, ruled spoiled.” A few days later, the newspaper’s owner fires a high-ranking editor and a CEO at the paper, noting that the publication of that photo “bordered on petty hooliganism.” The paper then apologizes to its readers and advertising partners. The Russian business paper Vedomosti titles its account of this episode “Washington Editor Fired Over Election Coverage”, while Russia Today does a documentary on the retreat of press freedoms in America without even bothering to mention the source of the controversy. You’d think this was a case of severe journalistic bias and incompetence in Russia, no?

I’m glad you do, because this is basically the saga of Kommersant Vlast’s publication of its investigation on falsifications in the Russian legislative elections. It has not been removed from the Internet, to the contrary you can still read it on their site and comment on it. It is an extensive work, titled “United Stuffers” (a play on United Russia) featuring a collection of twelve articles. The only part of it that was subject to “censorship” – and the reason given by its tycoon owner Alisher Usmanov for the dismissal of the editor who approved it – is the photograph below:


The literal translation is different, it sounds something along the lines of “Putin go to the cock” but the meaning is as above. Okay, you might think this is edgy, controversial stuff; perhaps grounds for a warning, but probably not a firing. But then consider the caption: “Correctly filled out ballot, ruled spoiled.” If you think this is anything but a double entendre used by an editor to spell out his feelings for Putin, I have a bridge to sell you to Russky Island. Needless to say, whatever your personal feelings about swearwords, there is no doubt that this would be completely unacceptable in a major newspapers in reference to any Western political leader. This is the Russian version of the NYT we’re talking about, not The eXile.

What this would have looked like in the US… How long would the editor who approved the photo to the right keep his job? Hmm… a few minutes?

It is telling that even in the comments to the article (which was left unchanged apart from the removal of the offending photo) most readers – and Kommersant’s readers tend to be relatively liberal – agree that it was unacceptable.

And now you can’t find Putin’s cock on Kommersant! (Yes, the file was literally called that)

Incidentally, this particular article itself was about the voting in London. It was pretty interesting. Our good man Andrei Sidelnikov, the Strategy-31 Abroad organizer whom I’ve written about here, makes an appearance. There were clear violations of the electoral law (e.g. anti-United Russia political campaign materials close to the polling station). The ballot with big orange letters “addressed personally to the Prime Minister” (as the writer calls the ballot that is the subject of this post) was marked spoiled, which apparently is “in contradiction of the law” because, despite its defacement, there was nonetheless a clear cross next to Yabloko. Nonetheless, that one “stolen” vote didn’t stop Yabloko from voting 43% of the vote in that station, followed by 21% for the Communists, 16% for Fair Russia, and 10% for United Russia. Pretty much what one can expect of Londongrad.

Courtesy of our Strategy-31 Abroad friends and great champions of free elections like Berezovsky.

In reality, this entire ridiculous episode was made out to be like Putin’s oligarch henchmen clamping down on Russian criticism of the elections (which in reality has been widespread and with no serious consequences for the journalists involved to date).

Possibly the most dishonest reporting of this came via The Telegraph (Russian media tycoon Alisher Usmanov fires two after reporting election fraud), which implies that journalists were fired for fulfilling their journalistic duties whereas the actual facts of the matter is that it was a senior editor and business manager getting the boot for things like breaking Kommersant’s own code of conduct. The other photo that The Telegraph alleges the Kremlin / Usmanov took a dislike to – “another photograph from London of a spray-painted image of Putin with the slogan in English “Public Enemy No. 1″” – was unaffected and remains online.

A recent analogue in Western coverage of the Russian media’s “persecution” is the case of the translator who left Inosmi because – according to him – they forbade him from translating “harsh stories” about Putin and United Russia (or to least not feature those stories on the front page). His case was likewise championed in the Western media as evidence of the endless and permanent disintegration of media freedoms in Russia. My guess is that he thought his job sucked and decided to go out with a bang. Whatever the case, a single visit to Inosmi and use of Google Translate will reveal thus story for the absurdity it is; Inosmi not only posts regularly anti-UR and anti-Putin material but positively delights in doing so as it provokes the most voluminous and salacious responses from its varied audience.

Now that’s a wise and tasteful vote.

There are two further points I want to make.

First, Kommersant is privately owned, and theoretically Usmanov can hire and fire pretty much as he pleases. Though parts of his career are shady to say the least, his claims that he does not interfere in Kommersant’s editorial policy are valid, as evidenced by the fact that they had some of the best and most critical coverage of the elections and falsifications. But weren’t the Western commentariat claiming that all Russian media is Kremlin-controlled anyway? Ah, but Usmanov is an oligarch who serves the Kremlin, so there’s no difference. Not unlike our free and independent watchdog press. (To appreciate the scorn in that last reference just read any Glenn Greenwald article on the Western media).

Second, it is especially ironic to see these criticisms coming from American media, where many journalists have been dismissed for far more circumspect criticism of Israel (i.e. not using schoolyard insults) or trying to consider Arab or Islamist viewpoints (not endorse them; just consider them on their own merits). As a general rule the mass media is subservient to the taboos established by power in all societies, but I would venture to say that in 2011 the Russian media, especially print media, has proven to be a much better watchdog of freedoms – as evidenced by the generally excellent coverage of the elections and protests – than has been the case in the US (and much of the West) for years. Which reminds me. Shouldn’t outlets like the WSJ or NYT be covering shit like this as opposed to Russian editors losing their jobs for acting like teenagers?

I guess not. A Russian editors’ obsession with Putin’s cock is far more important.

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

On reading Western commentary on the upcoming Russian Duma elections, I realized that they can’t decide between two narratives: either the popularity of United Russia is sinking faster than Herman Cain’s following his sex abuse scandals, thus meaning that it will manipulate the votes to get its desired majority; or Russian elections are complete shams anyway (as we all know) and thus irrelevant, which does away with the inconvenient fact that for all the liberals’ harping about United Russia being the “party of crooks and thieves” consistently more than 50% of Russians still insist on voting for it.

The reality is quite a bit simpler than these convoluted attempts to discredit Russian democracy (thought some are quite simple and transparent in their propaganda: given the data from opinion polls, it is hard to believe Miriam Elder, who wrote in the Guardian that when she asked a classroom of 22 students whether they would vote against United Russia, “every single student raises their hand”). As I wrote back in July, opinion polls of voter preferences closely correlate to election results. And unfortunately for some it just so happens that the “decline” of United Russia’s popularity is really little more than the product of fevered imaginations: as you can see from the list of opinion polls on Wikipedia, United Russia’s share of the vote (excluding the undecided and those who won’t vote) has stayed largely steady and well ahead of all the other parties.

As you can see from the graph of Levada polls above, United Russia remains head and shoulders above the KPRF (Communists) and LDPR (populists). The only major change of recent months – far surpassing the largely insignificant fluctuations in UR’s dominant support levels – is that Fair Russia looks that it will overcome the 7% barrier. Before its 5-10% point fall in popularity, UR looked like it would retain a slight constitutional majority, from today’s 70%, to something like 67%, by virtue of Fair Russia not getting in due to its low support levels. However, the late night (and unexpected) increase in Fair Russia’s popularity means that it is increasingly likely that it WILL clear the 7% barrier and get into the Duma again, meaning that United Russia will be left with with something like 55% of the seats. I.e., a reduction from 315/450 seats to 253/450 seats, which means a loss of its current constitutional majority. It will remain comfortably dominant, just not quite as overweeningly so as before. The two liberal parties remain irrelevant: Yabloko for being pathetic (their unstinting support for Euro-integration especially doesn’t look good now on the background of the current Euro crisis), and Right Cause are neoliberal ideologues who’ve Russians already had a lifetime of in the 1990′s.


Fun tidbit: UR has a good sense of humor, as shown in its campaign video above (h/t A Good Treaty). Proudly embracing Navalny’s “party of crooks and thieves” accolade to “demonstrate” its inclusiveness and the envy it arouses within lazy malcontents: ballsy, and effective.

Will there be cheating? Obviously, there will be some violations and falsifications. There ALWAYS are in practically any democracy. It’s fairly predictable (based on past history) that many Western journalists and election will cry foul regardless, because they suffer from Putin Derangement Syndrome, believe that anybody who doesn’t put Western interests before their own country’s must necessarily be a dictator and a kleptocrat, and thus disparage UR as an authoritarian party that stuffs ballots as the only way to retain power against all those Russians who earn for the kind of true democracy enjoyed by Libya and Egypt. But these are dishonest and mendacious arguments as long as election results remain in line with opinion polls – which, on past experience, they will be. Bearing in mind that voting intentions for United Russia have fluctuated from 49% to 60% in the past two months – and for the entire past year, for that matter – as long as its election result remains in the 50%’s, it will be very hard to build a credible case that it did electoral rigging. If it scores SIGNIFICANTLY more than 60%, say 65% or more, only then could it be said with some certainty that there was systemic manipulation (I will also acknowledge that and burn the Putin portrait on my wall). Likewise if it polls significantly less than 50%, say 45%, one can then say: WTF? Is the Kremlin rigging votes against itself?

The eternal question of whether Russia’s elections are fair (they are quite obviously free as far as such things realistically go in most of the world) is a bit too for this post. The article on whether Russian elections are rigged quoted in this piece has many good comments on that topic.

(Reprinted from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
Alas and alack, there's only so many grants for foreign "intelligents" at Western think-tanks.

Alas and alack, there’s only so many grants for foreign “intelligents” at Western think-tanks.

If I had a cent for every Russia story from the past week that featured the (conclusively debunked) “sixth wave of emigration” meme…

And if wishes were fishes. Still, the coverage of Russian reactions to Putin’s return does demonstrate the venality and general fecklessness of the Western MSM. As Adomanis correctly noted, it is “negative value added” – you come away from reading them understanding less than you did before.

But let’s for a moment ignore that all the demographic statistics indicate that emigration is currently at very low levels, having flattened out in the late 2000′s and stayed down since. Let us ignore the much bigger levels of immigration – and not only from Central Asia or the Caucasus, but the fact that the migration balance even with many “developed countries” is beginning to turn positive.

Instead, let’s ask ourselves two different questions: what kinds of Russians are actually willing to migrate, and where would they go?

Putin Derangement Syndrome

Well, an inkling of the answer to the first question can be gleaned just from reading the comments of emigres to be, and the places where they discuss it. For instance, here is one comment – not at all atypical – from this post “What did Putin do to me?” at (a social network for wealthy Russians that, unlike Facebook, you actually have to pay for):

I began to go to Russia regularly, 2-3 times a year in 1994. I liked everything. How the country was changing, becoming a part of the modern world, how the people, my friends, were waking up from the lethargic, swamp-like stagnation of the Soviet era and opening their eyes to the modern world. I liked the informality and disorder of the Russian government: the Russian state was always far too powerful, and its weakening could only be welcomed. Other power centers appeared. Mikhail Khodorkovsky, for instance, opened a fund called “Open Russia.” The name itself was priceless.

On returning to NY from Moscow and sharing my observations… Elderly Russian Jews shook their heads in dismissal and answered my youthful enthusiasm thus: “Remember, nothing good will ever come out of that country.”

I laughed at them, dismissed them. They didn’t understand that today is different and everything is changing, and they answered: “Yes. Changing. But remember… nothing good will ever come out of that country.” I shook my head and stopped the pointless conversation with these stupid old people. I blame Putin most of all for now having to stand in shame before those (now mostly deceased) wise old Jews, and eat my hat.

One question: does this sound like someone representative of ordinary Russians? In contrast to twats flying in from NY, practically all Russians who actually lived there consider the 1990′s to have been utterly disastrous. In particular, 1994 saw the nadir of several indices – falling economic output, life expectancy, the beginning of a corrupt and unsuccessful war in Chechnya. And this freak – I’m afraid there’s no other word for him, gloating at government dysfunction which directly resulted in pensioners and state workers not being paid for months on end and criminal mafias ruling the street- paints this year as the high point of Russia’s development.

Needless to say, his views don’t represent about 99.99% of Russians.

A Spade is a Spade, and Liberals are Fascists

Because an unknown Euro blueblood is so much more legitimate than an elected President with 70% approval ratings.

Because an unknown Euro blueblood is so much more legitimate than an elected President with 70% approval ratings.

Now what about that Pora Valit website, featured by Western journalists as the voice of Russia’s liberal consciousness wanting to emigrate? (The name means “time to shove off”). That site is more representative of Russian liberal opinion – that is, the liberals who aren’t rootless cosmopolitans who subscribe to Snob, not because they don’t want to but because they’re too poor and crude for it. One of their posts describes how they would much rather live under a restored Prussian monarchy in a separatist Kaliningrad than under the Chekists.

[Kaliningrad] is suitable for an “Egyptian scenario” today. For not many want to live under Putinism, and ethnic Russians need their own state. The clever, educated and honest will go to live there.

The ideal legitimate decision after a revolt in Kaliningrad will be the introduction of a monarchic form of rule as in England. The best candidate for this is the Grand Duke George Mikhailovich, who belongs to the Russian dynasty and the historic Hohenzollern dynasty, which ruled these regions since the 13th century… The monarchy will be recognized by all the monarchs of Europe, and the Grand Duke will also retain his right to the Russian throne, which will enable him to become a real splinter in the eye of Putinism. Our very existence in the heart of Europe will tell Putin: You are an usurper! You are illegitimate!

Only a monarchy headed by representatives of the Russian and Prussian dynasties will allow us to guarantee that we will not return to a USSR-2. It will give us free development, democracy, and real lustrations – or even better, the expulsion of everyone with ties to the Putin regime. In principle all that’s left is to solve this question with the US and the EU…

But not only do these kinds of posts illustrate a flat out insanity and utter disconnection with mainstream Russian sentiment that cannot afflict anything more than a marginal percentage of a population where the numbers of people saying the country is “going in the right direction” actually ros e in the wake of the announcement of Putin’s return, the fact is that this talk of aristocracy and a state for ethnic Russians actually hints at the racism and nasty ethnocratic sentiment that passes for Russian “liberalism.”

There are more than hints of this at other places. For instance, in a post discussing what they actually DON’T like in the US, they cite itsexceedingly high tolerance and ass-licking of African-Americans, feminists, fags, etc.” I’m sure Troy Davis or the gay soldier booed at a Republican conference would beg to differ, but then again no doubt the liberals think that they actually got off TOO LIGHTLY, obsessed as they are with lustrations, ethnic cleansing and deporting anyone who disagrees with their sick ideology. But that doesn’t stop bastions of Western journalism like The New York Times and The Economist from prominently featuring and praising them.

If Russia is a Sinking Ship, then the West is the Titanic

Now that we have established who are the people who want to emigrate so much at all costs – and whether it is in the interests of any normal country to accept them, it is worthwhile to consider another key question left out by the Western media in its “sixth great wave of Russian emigration”-spiel: where would they actually go?

Where to go? Visa free travel for Russians.

Where to go? Visa free travel for Russians.

First, going anywhere in the First World (remember that the liberals, being very racist, tend to despise anything else) is unfortunately fairly hard for Russians. See the map above. Obviously there are ways to get into the EU and the US, such as paying for an education abroad, or getting a job with a company, but for that you actually need some set of skills, motivation and easy-going character – not qualities that every bitter Russia liberal has in spades.

But okay, assume it’s not a huge issue. What next? The problem is that the entire Western world is wracked by economic troubles, with the Great Recession now giving way to the Great Stagnation. US economic output is lower now than in 2007, median incomes have plummeted, and many Americans themselves cannot find jobs. Unless they have very specialized skills and a good command of English, what is a new Russian emigrant to do there? The same goes for the UK and most of the EU. Anti-immigrant sentiment is growing everywhere (and sorry to say but it doesn’t give a fuck whether you’re pro- or anti-Putin). If you are a foreigner who want to work in the West, you could scarcely have picked a worse time.

What about the future? As Golts claims, isn’t it a fact that “Russia’s fiscal ship is sinking”, about to go down as soon as unsustainably oil prices crash? Won’t there be hordes of Russians wanting out soon? But let’s look at the other countries, because in these matters everything is relative. The EU – average budget deficit at 6.5% and debt over 100% of GDP, with countries like Greece down and Spain, Italy, and Portugal close to the brink of fiscal insolvency. The US – budget deficit of 11% of GDP, debt at nearly 100% of GDP, its monetary firepower exhausted, and facing a new recession on top of it all. The UK is a smaller version of the US. In stark contrast, Russia’s debt is negligible, its foreign reserves substantial, and the budget is actually in SURPLUS at 3% of GDP for the first half of 2011. If this means Russia’s fiscal ship is sinking, then the West must be the Titanic.

Okay, now I’m sure that oil may fall for a long period, assuming a few conditions are met (e.g. massive new easily-accessible oil discoveries or a long depression in both the West and China, both of which there is approximately zero sign of), and in that case, Russia will be in quite a pickle. But this scenario kind of presupposes absolute economic apocalypse in the West, and since most normal non-ideological people make decisions on whether to emigrate or not on relative economic opportunities, exactly what grounds are there to expect a mass exodus out of Russia when the world outside is an economic wasteland?

Of course, there will be a few ideologues who will leave regardless because of their Putin Derangement Syndrome. This kind of reminds me of 2004 in the US. I’m sure a few dozen or so Americans left for Canada in the wake of Bush’s re-election. But they were a tiny, tiny fraction of the hordes of liberals loudly proclaiming they would leave the US. In the end analysis, 99% of them were just too lazy or demotivated to go through with it. Likewise in Russia.

Now some forms of emigration are looking increasingly attractive for Russians, namely “downshifting” which is already well-known in the West. This involves getting a Russian (preferably Moscow) salary, or other source of income (e.g. rent) which are nowadays fairly respectable by global standards, and living like a king in some cheap foreign place with lots of sunshine like Goa, the Philippines, Argentina, etc. The economics work out. For instance, renting out a Moscow apartment can net you $500 per month; an Internet job not tied to any physical location may yield another $1000 per month. This may not seem that much in the US or Europe, but it can go a long, long way in a place like Laos or Central America. This concept of exploiting differential international prices, called geoarbitrage, is a rational and fulfilling way to live life and becoming increasingly popular in Russia. But it is profoundly different from the apocalyptic connotations associated with Western coverage of emigration from Russia. First, only a small percentage of the population can exploit it – at least, not until most jobs because “dematerialized”. We can’t all rent out our flats and earn money from Internet businesses. Second, it is hardly a confirmation of backwardness. To the contrary, only relatively savvy and free-thinking individuals in relatively developed countries can partake of such a lifestyle.

Obviously, the Russian liberals have no interest in such a life. With their quasi-racist and colonialist complexes, they naturally prefer rainy Britain and its bourgeois dictatorship to places they think of as Third World sinkholes that are little better if at all than their own country that they hate and despise so much. They want to go West for its slogans and self-serving propaganda about its own supposed transparency and lack of corruption, its freedom of speech and freedom of assembly, etc. that are all absent under the Putin regime. Fortunately, these psychos are few in number, and they will not be missed by Russia. Скатертью вам дорога, друзья!


So here’s the summary:

1. Few Russians are leaving. Many are coming in. Many of those who do leave go for entirely respectable reasons such as education abroad or taking advantage of international price differentials that are par for the course in any developed nation.

2. Furthermore, far more people want to leave most of the developed countries whose journalists sneer at Russia than do Russians themselves.

3. A few, perhaps a few dozen per year, leave on ideological grounds – mostly involving some irrational fear or hatred of Putin (“Putin Derangement Syndrome”, the Russian equivalent of Bush Derangement Syndrome); hatred towards Muslim immigrants into Russia; and a ridiculously warped and rose-tinged view of the pureness and integrity of Western civilization.

4. Most Western countries are too preoccupied with their own economic problems to offer any promise to new Russian immigrants, utterly regardless of their philosophical and political mutterings.

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

I have gone on record with the following odds on Russia’s next President: Medvedev – 70%, Putin – 25%, Other – 5%. The first betting site to offer odds on the Russian Presidential election has other ideas. As of June 2011, the British online gambling site Stan James is offering the following odds: Putin 4/7, Medvedev 11/8, Zyuganov 66/1, Zhirinovsky 80/1, Bogdanov 100/1*.

Converted into non-gambler terminology, this means that they view VVP as the clear favorite. Whereas a $100 investment into Putin will yield just $56, betting right on a second Medvedev Presidency will net you $138. All the other candidates are (rightly) considered to be insignificant fry – e.g., correctly betting $1 on a Zyuganov win will get you $66 (with the additional EV-lowering risk that it may be promptly confiscated as a product of speculation if you’re in Russia))). Or from the viewpoint of implied odds, you need to have >63.64% confidence that Putin will win OR >42.11% confidence that Medvedev will win to profitably bet on the respective candidates**. So if I had the opportunity I’d totally bet on DAM, but unfortunately that site is closed to US-based political gamblers.

Bookies structure their odds in such a way that they win most of the time; note that the total implied odds add up to nearly 110%. But you can still win despite the handicap, by having special insight or knowledge of the topic. Needless to say, most “Russia watchers” will no doubt claim they have those, at least implicitly (otherwise, what right do they have to their editorials, salaries, etc?). I have previously exposed the self-appointed Kremlinogist priesthood for being full of cranks hiding their fundamental ignorance behind credentials, citations, post hoc narratives, etc. Here is their chance to prove me wrong, all ye Leon Arons and Ariel Cohens and Loco Lucases of the world! And get fabulously rich into the bargain!!!

All social (so-called) scientists should be subjected to this “trial by casino.” As the price of holding publicly funded positions, economists should be forced into investing their money into their own predictions of GDP growth or unemployment; political scientists should use their unique insights to bet on political candidates, parties, and revolutions; etc. Think of this as an idea for an institutional safeguard against fraud, an antidote to the snake oil and two-bit experts polluting economic, social, and political discussions. Because when these “experts” fail, they experience no accountability – largely, by conjuring explanations for why they were wrong, or sweeping their old claims under the carpet altogether – while the common folks who pay for their sated and comfortable upkeep suffer the repercussions of their failed predictions. By subjecting the “experts” to the market discipline of the casino, the quacks will be exposed and bankrupted in a Darwinian struggle for (reputational, pecuniary, etc) survival, and thus cleaning up social sciences and benefiting productive society.

But for now I’ll limit this challenge to Kremlinologists, an especially odious, malign and mendacious strain even by social “science” standards. Come on, bet some of that money you leech off your readers and/or taxpayers. If you don’t, like the pathetic quackacademic you probably are, then consider yourself lower than the meanest bookie on the planet. He at least puts his money where his mouth is.

UPDATE 6/11: Two further things I want to mention. Patrick Armstrong kindly pointed me to this site, which is based on punters’ estimates (as opposed to bookies). There, as of today, the traded odds are that there is a 75% chance that Vladimir Putin will “announce he intends to run for Pres. of Russia before midnight ET 31 Aug 2011.” So betting here – i.e. selling shares – is even more profitable. Not only does it cut out the bookie and get one even better odds that from Stan James above, but that prediction also flies against the Kremlin tradition of announcing their candidate within a half-year of the elections (Yeltsin announced Putin as his preferred successor on Jan 1st, 2000; Putin did the same for Medvedev on Dec 10th, 2008).

Why on Earth could the odds be so tilted? First, this trade isn’t enjoying a lot of volume so lots of potential for skew. Second, the Western media coverage, which focuses on how DAM is a puppet of VVP and on how the master wants his old job back to reassert dictatorship or some such. As with the Russian stock market in the past decade, it offers an excellent opportunity, paraphrasing Eric Kraus, to profit off the difference between the media’s perceptions of Russia and reality.

PS. Speaking of prior elections… I noted that Sean Guillory posted about the Presidential odds in August 2007. Back then, the bookie consensus was that Sergey Ivanov – presumably because of his silovik background – was the favored successor with odds of 2.2/1 (45%), as opposed to DAM with 3.75/1 (27%).

PPS. Track the odds below:


* I’d also be willing to take odds of c. 200/1 on figures like Igor Shuvalov or Sergey Naryshkin. They’re very unlikely, of course, but they are dark horse candidates and the payoff, in the event that they are nominated by the Kremlin – after which the chances of theirs winning will skyrocket to near 100% – would be huge.

** That is the reason I took 7/4 odds to bet on a Republican Presidency in 2012. The implied odds for that are 36.36%. My own assessment is that it’s basically a coin flip, because everything hinges on where the economy goes, which in turn depends on whether oil prices spike again between now and summer 2012. I view the odds of that as being significant, about break-even actually. Hence my bet.

EDIT: I was wrong.

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

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

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

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

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

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

INTERVIEW: Anatoly Karlin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LA RUSSOPHOBE: Same question for Alexei Navalny.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, that’s a no.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is a reprint of my article for the Sep/Oct 2010 issue of Russian Life magazine. It is a condensed version of Rosstat and Levada are Russophobia’s Bane. Enjoy!

There is a Catechism that dominates American discourse on Russia today. Just flip through The Washington Post’s editorials, peruse American political science journals or listen (cringe) to a Joe Biden interview. It goes something like this:

In the past decade, Putin’s Russia has forsaken Western values and returned to its authoritarian past. Ordinary Russians, bribed by the Kremlim’s oil largesse and misled by its controlled media, expressed only apathy at this development. Granted, the regime may enjoy superficial support (given Putin’s strangely stratospheric approval ratings), but the accelerating population decline proves that Russians are discounting the nation’s future with their loins. And so should we, for what’s the point of taking a “Potemkin country” ruled by a “kleptocratic thugocracy” seriously?

There’s only one problem – many of the underlying assumptions of this Catechism are unsupported by any facts, figures or statistics.

A major cornerstone of the Catechism is that electoral manipulation under Putin has become so egregious that the regime has lost the political legitimacy that many Westerners believe only stems from democracy. But opinion polls from the Levada Center strongly belie these concerns. In the 2008 Presidential elections, Medvedev’s 71% mandate was exactly the same as the percentage of voters who later recalled casting a ballot for him (and significantly lower than the 80% who intended to vote for him three weeks prior). [see poll 1 & 2] Obviously, this is not the Soviet-scale fraud of Kremlinologist fantasy.

There are two main rejoinders to this argument. First, doesn’t the Kremlin make ample use of its “administrative resources” – unfair media access, illicit campaign financing, etc. – to skew election results to its liking? True. As a “plebiscitary regime,” it not only relies on but revels in popular approval. But it’s genuine approval for all that – because if it weren’t, one would expect most Putinistas to be old, sour-mouthed “sovoks” who are fed news from state TV, right? But that’s not the case. Though pro-Kremlin, West-skeptical views are prevalent across all major social groups, they run highest among young, university-educated Muscovites – the very Russians most exposed to the West through the internet and foreign travel.

But that’s heresy! Don’t these inconvenient results imply that the Kremlin has coopted the polling agencies? Sorry, false cause fallacy. Furthermore, Lev Gudkov, the current director of the Levada Center, writes stuff like this: “Putinism is a system of decentralized use of the institutional instruments of coercion… hijacked by the powers that be for the fulfillment of their private, clan-group interests.” Doesn’t exactly sound like a raging, pro-Kremlin fanatic, does he?!

A second major theme of the Catechism is that Russia’s plethora of economic and social ills – best manifested in its demograpthic “free-fall,” “death spiral” (insert your own appropriately apocalyptic term here), etc. – doom it to decline and eventual irrelevance. Yet according to the state statistics service, Rosstat, the population stopped falling in 2009, as part of an ongoing recovery from the “lowest-low” fertility and “hyper” mortality rates of the post-Soviet transition period. True, its long-term sustainability is uncertain, and Russia’s demography is still nothing to write home about; for instance, death rates for today’s middle-aged men are unchanged from those of late tsarism (also according to Rosstat). That said, considering today’s Russia has an above-European average fertility rate and a stabilized population, there is no point in flogging this “death of a nation” meme any further.

Locked within their larger Meta-Catechism of Western universalism, the Commissars of Kremlinology are oceans separated from the lives of ordinary Russians, who by and large like their country, consider Putinism a fair balance between order and freedom, and are relatively optimistic about Russia’s future. One does not have to be a useful idiot, Kremlin stooge or “whataboutist” apologist for “Chekist dictatorship” to point this out – all it takes is a few minutes and a few mouse-clicks online.

So, until the Western commentariat can provide evidence that the claws of the Kremlin extend to Rosstat and Levada – as opposed to relying on generalized claims, hearsay and tea leaves – its Catechism of a secret police dictatorship leading brainwashed Russians to a national pyre is best appreciated as dystopian fantasy.

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

So you know how the Western commentariat carries on about how Russia Today fawns over the Kremlin and propagates anti-Western propaganda, while shamelessly peddling itself as a paragon of universal truth and uncompromising objectivity? Welcome to the next installment in the never-ending annals of Western media hypocrisy, brought to you courtesy of Dorothée Olliéric, hack zhurnalizdka extraordinaire of state TV station France 2.

On the morning of August 10, at the height of the Great Russian Heatwave, Olliéric contacted Alexandre Latsa, a Moscow-based French blogger*, through Facebook. “I’m in Moscow again for a few days,” she said, “I’m looking to interview someone on the failure of the Putin system in this crisis, if possible a blogger who goes to the real news away from Russian state TV, etc”. After a few hours, in response to Latsa’s queries, she clarified that the interview’s purpose would be to link the news on the wildfires and deaths to “explain the failure of Putin’s system” and on how to get access to information in a country where the state “says nothing, hides everything”. She concluded by asking Latsa if he or a Russian friend could participate in an interview.

In the late evening, she asked Latsa if he had received her message and asked him if he could do an interview the next morning on the subject of “bloggers who are looking for true information to report on the crisis and on the failures of the Putin system”. After failing to get a response after a little more than an hour, a seemingly flustered Olliéric wrote, “Well then Alexandre, no longer responding to France 2???”

You can find Latsa’s answer to Olliéric in French, Russian and English at his post France2 – Франс 2 и Я… In my view, this fictionalized response from Olliéric, written by one of the commentators, just about sums it all up: “I’m too lazy and incompetent to do my dirty work myself, so I’m looking for someone who is silly enough to do my dirty work for me and lowly enough to distort the facts to please my editor… If I fail to cook the story his boss wants, I’ll fail to sell it to my editor. And if my stories fail to sell with my editor at France 2, I’ll be outta my job faster than you can say independent western media“.

In the event, the presenter Olliéric had to do most of the cooking herself. On the next day, the day that Latsa’s interview may have been, she was “semi-obsessively repeating the assertion that Putin’s system failed” and (falsely) claiming that the Kremlin wasn’t accepting international aid.**

As I noted in my own post on Russia’s torrid summer, the main reason for the savage wildfires was the unprecedented magnitude of the heatwave, which may have been the most severe to hit Central Eastern Europe in 15,000 years! Barring findings to the contrary by objective researchers – as opposed to the hack journalism purveyed by Dorothée Olliéric or Julia Ioffe (who even found a way to blame the poor Mongols!) – it is not unreasonable to posit that, in general, the Russian state made the best it could out of a bad situation.

Yes, I know. There were many cases of of unresponsive authorities, of information censorship, of outright corruption in saving the homes of rich dacha owners before state property. But consider this from another angle. Why did more than three times fewer Russians die of wildfires than did Australians in their (milder) Black Saturday bushfires last year?

Ultimately, even most Russians themselves – the people, you know, who actually had to live with the wildfires – would disagree with the stories peddled by the Western media about them. The two most attributed causes of the wildfires, according to an opinion poll by Levada, were the unprecedented severity of the heatwave and the Soviet-era policies of draining the peat bogs. And, contrary to the many proclamations floating about last month that the regime’s popularity was crumbling in the heat, the latest approval ratings indicate that the wildfires made nary a dent in the tandem’s political fortunes.

* And latter-day Walter Duranty, if Ukrainian nationalists are to be believed. ;)

** For more on the rigorous standards of French coverage of Russia’s wildfires, see also Le Figaro et la Russie… ou comment des grévistes de la faim sont choisis pour illustrer la canicule.

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

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

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

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