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Alexander Mercouris has a typically excellent writeup at Russia Insider.

I have to say that it is quite a masterpiece of redpill trolling. Here are some of my own highlights of the speech and brief commentary:

In 1945, the countries that defeated Nazism joined their efforts to lay a solid foundation for the postwar world order. Let me remind you that key decisions on the principles defining interaction between states, as well as the decision to establish the UN, were made in our country, at the Yalta Conference of the leaders of the anti-Hitler coalition.

Good start. In fact, at that time, Crimea was literally part of the RSFSR. Always good to work in a reminder of that.

However, I’d like to point out that there have always been differences in the UN throughout the 70 years of its history, and that the veto right has been regularly used by the United States, the United Kingdom, France, China and the Soviet Union, and later Russia.

Now that the bulk of vetoes has moved on from protecting Israel from verbal microaggressions to protecting various countries the neocons dislike from military aggressions, there is – how predictably – growing pressure to “reform” the UN by abolishing single country vetoes. Especially since France is for all intents and purposes Washington’s bulldog – arguably more so even than the UK, nowadays – this stands to reason.

We should all remember the lessons of the past. For example, we remember examples from our Soviet past, when the Soviet Union exported social experiments, pushing for changes in other countries for ideological reasons, and this often led to tragic consequences and caused degradation instead of progress.

Favorite Putin theme that reliably triggers crusty American Cold Warriors. They don’t like to be reminded that it is their country that is now the world’s leading exporter of ideology and revolution…

It seems, however, that instead of learning from other people’s mistakes, some prefer to repeat them and continue to export revolutions, only now these are “democratic” revolutions. Just look at the situation in the Middle East and Northern Africa already mentioned by the previous speaker. Of course, political and social problems have been piling up for a long time in this region, and people there wanted change. But what was the actual outcome?

… that tends to end in tragedy for all concerned…

I’m urged to ask those who created this situation: do you at least realize now what you’ve done? But I’m afraid that this question will remain unanswered, because they have never abandoned their policy, which is based on arrogance, exceptionalism and impunity.

… for all their American exceptionalism rhetoric.

And now radical groups are joined by members of the so-called “moderate” Syrian opposition backed by the West.
They get weapons and training, and then they defect and join the so-called Islamic State.

In fact, the Islamic State itself did not come out of nowhere. It was initially developed as a weapon against undesirable secular regimes. Having established control over parts of Syria and Iraq, Islamic State now aggressively expands into other regions. It seeks dominance in the Muslim world and beyond. Their plans go further. …

It is equally irresponsible to manipulate extremist groups and use them to achieve your political goals, hoping that later you’ll find a way to get rid of them or somehow eliminate them.

I’d like to tell those who engage in this: Gentlemen, the people you are dealing with are cruel but they are not dumb. They are as smart as you are. So, it’s a big question: who’s playing who here? The recent incident where the most “moderate” opposition group handed over their weapons to terrorists is a vivid example of that.

Can anyone disagree?

In the days to come, Russia, as the current President of the UN Security Council, will convene a ministerial meeting to carry out a comprehensive analysis of the threats in the Middle East. First of all, we propose exploring opportunities for adopting a resolution that would serve to coordinate the efforts of all parties that oppose Islamic State and other terrorist groups. Once again, such coordination should be based upon the principles of the UN Charter.

Just don’t call it UNATCO. ;)

We hope that the international community will be able to develop a comprehensive strategy of political stabilization, as well as social and economic recovery in the Middle East. Then, dear friends, there would be no need for setting up more refugee camps. Today, the flow of people forced to leave their native land has literally engulfed, first, the neighbouring countries, and then Europe. There are hundreds of thousands of them now, and before long, there might be millions.

Regardless of your opinion on what is to be done about the European immigration crisis, it should always be remembered that the immigrants themselves bear no responsibility – regardless if they’re genuine refugees or economic migrants. It is the neocons who made it all possible.

Sadly, some of our counterparts are still dominated by their Cold War-era bloc mentality and the ambition to conquer new geopolitical areas. First, they continued their policy of expanding NATO – one should wonder why, considering that the Warsaw Pact had ceased to exist and the Soviet Union had disintegrated.

Nevertheless, NATO has kept on expanding, together with its military infrastructure. Next, the post-Soviet states were forced to face a false choice between joining the West and carrying on with the East. Sooner or later, this logic of confrontation was bound to spark off a major geopolitical crisis. And that is exactly what happened in Ukraine, where the people’s widespread frustration with the government was used for instigating a coup d’état from abroad. This has triggered a civil war. We are convinced that the only way out of this dead end lies through comprehensive and diligent implementation of the Minsk agreements of February 12th, 2015

This has been Russia’s standard position for a long time. Doesn’t hurt to reiterate.

I would like to note one more sign of rising economic selfishness. A number of nations have chosen to create exclusive economic associations, with their establishment being negotiated behind closed doors, secretly from those very nations’ own public and business communities, as well as from the rest of the world. Other states, whose interests may be affected, have not been informed of anything, either. It seems that someone would like to impose upon us some new game rules, deliberately tailored to accommodate the interests of a privileged few, with the WTO having no say in it. This is fraught with utterly unbalancing global trade and splitting up the global economic space.

He is of course talking about the TPP here. Incidentally, “enlightened” people who reflexively wave off conspiracy theories as the stuff of tinfoiled lunatics would do well to study the negotiations behind the TPP. Quite revealing.

Ladies and gentlemen, one more issue that shall affect the future of the entire humankind is climate change. It is in our interest to ensure that the coming UN Climate Change Conference that will take place in Paris in December this year should deliver some feasible results. As part of our national contribution, we plan to limit greenhouse gas emissions to 70–75 percent of the 1990 levels by the year 2030.

No reason not to make the environmentalists happy. Especially since doing so is trivially cheap (Russia is already at 1990 CO2 emissions levels due to the collapse of a large chunk of Soviet heavy industry).

Russia is confident of the United Nations’ enormous potential, which should help us avoid a new confrontation and embrace a strategy of cooperation. Hand in hand with other nations, we will consistently work to strengthen the UN’s central, coordinating role. I am convinced that by working together, we will make the world stable and safe, and provide an enabling environment for the development of all nations and peoples. Thank you.

And the US wasn’t mentioned once in his speech, but it was clear to everyone that it was the main target. No wonder Obama was so unhappy.

 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Imperialism, Neocons, Putin, Speech, UN 
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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.

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

https://twitter.com/MarkAdomanis/status/319241695415906304

“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.

https://twitter.com/MarkAdomanis/status/319246516160180224

https://twitter.com/MarkAdomanis/status/319246635446194176

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.

https://twitter.com/MarkAdomanis/status/319246244365099008

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?”

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

I will either return to the Kremlin on a white horse, or in a black limousine to the Mausoleum.

It is customary to say something nice about the recently deceased, so here goes… *ahem.* If not for Berezovsky, Putin probably wouldn’t be President.

UPDATE: As expected, the conspiracy theories have inevitably began to crawl out of the Internet’s woodwork. As one of my Facebook friends put it, my own radical conspiracy theory is that Berezovsky was rather old, depressed, and out of shape.

The “depressed” part, in particular, is backed up by this account of Berezovsky’s last interview at Russian Forbes, which is full of regrets about his life choices. This also supports Putin’s PR spokesman Peskov’s claim that Berezovsky had written to Putin to ask forgiveness and allow him to return to Russia without facing charges. My guess is that Putin simply didn’t answer him. Certainly no other response could have disturbed a man as narcissistic and beset by delusions of grandeur as Berezovsky the more.

UPDATE 3/25: Richard Behar: Did Boris Berezovsky Kill Himself? More Compelling, Did He Kill Forbes Editor Paul Klebnikov.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusions

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

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

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

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

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

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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The latest US-Russia.org 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.

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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Natalia Zubarevich’s concept of “The Four Russias” is one of the most reasoned and perceptive political analysis from the liberals, and as such I think it important enough to translate it (mostly I disagree with its core assumptions and conclusions though I do think it is a useful way of envisioning Russian politics). As such I am translating Четыре России from Vedomosti (there is also a longer version, translated here).

The Four Russias

Natalia Zubarevich

The events of 2011 demonstrated that the authorities’ habit of looking at the country through a “vertical incision” played a cruel joke on them. In reality, there is not one Russia, but rather three or even four. And this is a reality with which both the government, and the opposition, will have to come to terms with.

The Four Russias: First Russia – urban, educated (white); Second Russia – urban, industrial (blue); Third Russia – rural, apolitical (green); Fourth Russia – ethnic, poor (red).

The First Russia is a country of big cities. They aren’t great in number, but the 12 city-millionaires as well as Perm and Krasnoyarsk, which have close to a million residents, constitute 21% of the country’s population, i.e. every fifth Russian, while Moscow and Saint Petersburg by themselves account for 9%. In the past 20 years, the biggest cities cities ceased being industrial – only in Ufa, Perm, Omsk, Chelyabinsk, and Volgograd do Soviet industrial enterprises continue to dominate the economy. Although the fastest post-industrial transformations are observed in Yekaterinburg, Novosibirsk and Rostov-on-Don, all the city-millionaires have seen a change in employment patterns: The percentage of qualified “blue collar” workers rose, there appeared more employees of small businesses, and even the public sector attracted more qualified workers. There is quick adoption of the metropolitan model of consumer behavior, even though earnings are 1.5-2x lower than in Moscow. It is precisely in the bigger cities that we see a concentration of those middle class “disgruntled urbanites.” Migration flows in Russia are directed towards these bigger cities, so their share of the population is growing. The only difference is that the two federal cities of Moscow and Saint Petersburg, and their adjoining agglomerations, attract migrants from all over the country, accounting for up to 80% of net migration in Russia, while the other big cities for the most part draw migrants from their own regions.

We can also include cities with a population of greater than 500,000 into the First Russia, raising its share of the population to 30%. The most optimistic variant – all cities with a population greater than 250,000, which altogether account for 36% of all Russians, or 51 million people. Of course, these are very different cities – from the progressive university and research center Tomsk, with its half a million people – a fifth of them students, as well as its own independent TV channels and rich cultural life; to Saransk with its 300,000 people, which – as does the entire Republic of Mordovia – votes exclusively for United Russia.

It is in precisely in the big and biggest cities where we see most of the 35 million Russian Internet users and the middle class that wants change. Its animated activity isn’t based on advancing economic crisis, but on the frightening prospect for a multi-year Putinist stagnation that would stall the lifts of social mobility. Although there’s an economic factor too – in a corrupt country, the deficit of investments translates into a deficit of new, quality jobs for urban professionals. The First Russia’s appetite for protest appeared without any stimulus from the crisis; it sprang not from the instincts of homo economicus, but from moral revulsion. In the event of a new crisis, the educated urban class will be hit hard, but the mobility and higher competitiveness of big city residents will enable them to quickly adjust to new circumstances.

The Second Russia is a country of industrial cities, most of them with 20,000-30,000 to 250,000 people, but occasionally bigger: Up to 300,000-500,000 (Cherepovets, Nizhny Tagil, Magnitogorsk, Naberezhnye Chelny) and even 700,000 (Tolyatti). Not all of these middling cities preserved their industrial character in the post-Soviet years, but its spirit remains strong, as are Soviet values and ways of life. In addition to a significant industrial “blue-collar” workforce, there cities also have many public sector workers, most of them with lower qualifications. As a rule, small businesses do not thrive – either the residents’ purchasing power is low, or there are high institutional barriers to entry due to local cronyism. There are of course exceptions – for instance, small business is well-developed and diverse in Magnitogorsk, but it crucially depends on the financial fortunes of its Magnitogorsk Iron and Steel Works; any fall in wages for its metallurgists would collapse demand for services.

About 25% of the country’s population lives in the Second Russia, and its most unstable parts – the single-industry “monotowns” – account for 10%. There are twice fewer of these towns than reported by the Ministry for Regional Development. According to official statistics, there are 334 mono-profile towns, but this number includes a hundred small settlements, two mono-profile villages, and even one mono-Cossack village (a kind of Russian peculiarity). Humming monotowns, with more or less stable working enterprises, account for half the official figure – about 150, whereas in the other towns enterprises already drastically reduced employment rolls way back in the 1990′s, and it no longer makes much sense to consider them mono-profile.

Should there be a second wave of the crisis, it is the Second Russia which will be hardest hit – industry falls more than other sectors of the economy, and the mobility and competitiveness of its population are low. Will there be enough money in the federal budget to raise transfers to the regions by a third, and increase unemployment support many times over, as in 2009? If not, it will be the residents of the industrial cities who will become the main motor of protest with their demands for work and wages, which will increase pressure on the government to make populist decisions. Many of these zombie enterprises should have been closed a long time ago now because of their lack of competitiveness and profitability, but this wasn’t done during the crisis, and most likely, it won’t be done in the next. As shown in 2009, the authorities both realize the dangers of an agitated Second Russia, and know how to quench it. The struggle for employment and wages leaves the Second Russia entirely indifferent to the problems that concern the middle class. The authorities understand this and try to play it off against the First Russia. This, however, has no future; time works against them. When the economy was growing, wages in the industrial cities grew slower, than in the regional centers, and fell into crisis faster. The population of the industrial cities is rapidly shrinking, as young people move to the regional centers. So there’s no point in intimidating the capital with Nizhny Tagil.

The Third Russia is the vast expanse of the periphery, consisting of the residents of villages, settlements, and small towns. They constitute 38% of the country’s population. The Third Russia “lives off the land”, outside politics, for the calendar of agricultural work doesn’t depend on changes of government. Their depopulating small towns and settlements, with their heavily aged populations, are scattered all about the country – but there are especially many of them in Central Russia, the North-West, and in the industrial regions of the Urals and Siberia. The rural population is more concentrated in the Southern and North Caucasus Federal Districts, which account for 27% of Russia’s rural residents. In the other regions, the only viable rural populations are those close to the big cities; their populations are young, more mobile, and earn more. The periphery’s protest potential is minimal, even should a crisis create delays in paying pensions and wages.

There is also a Fourth Russia, which we need to distinguish from the previous three. These are the republics of the North Caucasus and southern Siberia (Tyva, Altai) which accounts for less than 6% of the population. They have big cities, and small cities, but almost no industrial cities. According to statistics, Makhachkala has 580,000 residents, but this figure rises to close to a million with the inclusion of its densely packed suburbs. The urban educated middle class is low in numbers, and transient, frequently migrating to other regions. The rural population is young and growing, but its young people are migrating to the cities. For the Fourth Russia, plagued by local clan wars for power and resources, as well as ethnic and religious strife, it is only important to maintain stable flows of federal aid and investments. In 2009-2010 federal transfers to underdeveloped republics and their people’s income both grew at fast rates, and so they could give the party of power a nice present in the elections. And even if the crisis comes again, nothing is likely to change, for federal spending on them is actually relatively modest: The total volume of transfers to the North Caucasus republics in 2010 was 160 billion rubles, or just 10.7% of all regional transfers from the federal budget, and if we include Tyva and Altai too – then 12%. For comparison, Moscow spent twice as much in 2012 on its transport infrastructure.

It might appear at first glance that the political “carrying pole” – the 30% more educated and modernized population of the big cities and the 38% residents of the village and small towns – consistently leans towards the side of patrimonial mores. And the protest sentiments of the residents of the middling industrial cities of Second Russia can likely be satiated in the event of a new crisis. However, the passing of 2011 should remind us of the laws of physics – the density of brains is higher. Sooner or later, the First Russia will tip the balance.

The author is a director of the regional program of the Independent Institute for Social Policy.

***

Disagreements

Disregarding the obvious ideological slant of the author (“Migrants, of course, can also create problems, by bringing their rural conservatism to a city that suffers enough from this already”)…

First, it treats white-collar professionals in the “First Russia” as irrevocably opposed to (some unchanging and monolithic власть, or authority). In reality we know that even Moscow’s richest precincts favored Putin over Prokhorov in the 2012 elections. Second, the differences between the Russias aren’t anywhere near as radical as she makes out (one can even say she buys into the Kremlin’s strategy to side with Nizhny Tagil against Moscow LOL); your average industrial city resident is only 10% points likelier to vote for Putin than Moscow, and the rural resident – 15% points. Third, it assumes that in the long-term, quantity is on the side of the First Russia; whereas in fact that is far from self-evident as it assumes that migrants there will “modernize” their outlooks. In reality there is no reason for the “heartland” (The Second and Third Russias) not to continue playing a decisive political role; if anything, the influence of their “rural conservatism” may increase as this Russia gets richer, more politically engaged, and wired up to the Internet.

In short, Zubarevich seems to suffer from the common liberal delusion that more wealth and Internet –> more support for her ideological comrades and the West. That is not really how Russia (or the world) works.

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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I can’t be bothered deconstructing it as I did with the demographic section of Boris Nemtsov’s last (seventh) white paper. But there are some things to be said about its claims as regards Putin’s lifestyle and its coverage in the Western media.

(1) The definitions of what constitutes one of Putin’s “residences” is very loose. For instance, take this from Fred Weir at the CSM:

Nine of Putin’s state domiciles, including the lavish Konstaninov palace in St. Petersburg, have been constructed recently on his orders

The problem is that I have been to Konstantinovo Palace in 2003… as part of a tourist group. $250 million was indeed spent on it, but this was a Tsarist era palace that had been damaged in WW2 and otherwise fallen into neglect during the Soviet years. What happened is that it was repaired and reconstructed in the early 2000′s. It was used for official functions and conferences – it was the centerpiece of the G8 Summit in Saint-Petersburg in 2006 – but when it isn’t, you could book an excursion for a small fee. (The guide made a joke about how the bridges on the moat surrounding the palace could be drawn up to imprison visiting VIP’s who drew Putin’s displeasure).

Here is a picture of me (awfully dressed) inside a room, outfitted to look like a ship’s cabin, where Putin and Bush discussed stuff on several occasions.

So yes, Putin does have “access” to 20 odd residences. It’s not however like they are his personally and nobody else can go there. Speaking of Konstantinovo (again, as I was actually there) it has many tourists, and an art museum is also being built there.

(2) An additional point is that this is all paid out of the Budget for Presidential Affairs, which is set at about $2.5bn per year. Is that excessive? It is from this account that all the suits, watches, yachts, residence construction and maintenance, etc, etc are funded. Is it excessive compared to other, similarly-sized countries? I do not know. As Mark Chapman pointed out, it’s not as if some other leaders of pretty respectable European countries don’t have expensive tastes in watches.

What about that sawed-off elf-eared president of France, Nicolas Sarkozy? Sticking with the swanky-watch theme, Sarkozy has a dazzling collection, ranging from his el cheapo $5, 245.00 Breitling Navtimer through the lovely $32,500.00 Girard-Perregaux that even-lovelier wife Carla Bruni gave him for his 55th birthday (the model pictured in his collection is not the same as the full-calendar automatic he was given), all the way up to his $118,199.99 Breguet Classique Tourbillon. Sweet, Mr. President – you have impeccable taste, both in women and in watches.

This is not to say that this is a good thing. I don’t particularly care, but I can see why some more left leaning folks might have a problem with it. It’s pretty clear that in the general scheme of things the Russian Presidential Administration is definitely on the more profligate side of the spectrum. However, the key difference from the “playboy oligarchs” and “Persian Gulf sheikhs” with whom Nemtsov compares Putin with is that all these objects do not belong to him personally – as he himself begrudgingly admits:

The report does not dwell on the question of Mr. Putin’s personal wealth, but suggests that it may not be as enormous as many have suggested. The reason he “maniacally clings to power,” the report says, is the “atmosphere of wealth and luxury he has become accustomed to, and categorically does not want to part with.”

(3) As in additional note, it is noteworthy that all of Nemtsov’s arguments in “Life of a Galley Slave” were reprinted and discussed in the Russian media. At this point it need hardly be said but this would never happen in anything resembling a real dictatorship.

Addendum 8/30: Commentator apc27 wrote:

K.F., it is not all that difficult to go to the site of Presidential Affairs Department:http://www.udprf.ru/ and find that it employs 50000 people and looks after the residences and enables the activities of ALL branches of the government of the Russian Federation, including the judiciary and the legislature.

So essentially, these $2.5 billion are spent on maintenance and activities of the top representatives of all 3 branches of government. In that context the amount of money seems much more reasonable, is it not? Now, next time, would it not be better to spend 5 extra minutes on research, rather than look REALLY silly, spluttering with outrage over nothing?

50,000 top bureaucrats? 20 residences? A fleet of airplanes? Everything becomes pretty standard and reasonable now.

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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There’s tons of criticism that Russia no longer has a “national idea.”

The sentiment comes from almost everyone: Nationalists, liberasts, Communists, foreign critics, Russian “experts” with far too much time on their hands, and even some otherwise astute observers.

I don’t disagree with the thesis, but do ask: Why is that such a bad thing?

Grand narratives and universal theories tend to be poor at describing the world as it really is, and not infrequently lead to large-scale mistakes and suffering when pursued with excess zeal. The USSR is a classic example of a country with a “national idea.” So was the US under the neocons.

Even when they don’t lead to stupid outcomes they are almost inevitably farcical when promoted by politicos, under virtually any political system. Instead of inspiring, the only thing “universal” about them is that everyone mocks them. Suffice to mention “The Big Society” (Tories, UK); “sovereign democracy” (Surkov, Russia); “harmonious society” (the Chinese Communist Party).

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S5c3BrylMLc]

Putin himself put it best, in response the question, “When will Russia get an idea for which one can live for and create for?” He said, “Galina Dmitrievna, – for our children, our grandchildren, for our Motherland, Russia, it always was, is, and will be worth living for and creating for. What else is there? However we might try to come up with a national idea, it has to be said directly: There is nothing closer to someone than his family, his close ones, and his own country.”

Alternatively, the joke website Lurkmore too has a good article on the concept.

National ideas suck. Putin emphasizes pretty mundane things like conservatism, patriotism, pragmatism, and a growing GDP and I for one am more than satisfied with that.

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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A PR disaster: Five views on Pussy Riot’s war.

Go, read. Comment there if possible.

Just a couple more notes:

  • Since I submitted the article, commentator peter made one of the most convincing arguments against the validity of the sentence against Pussy Riot. I suppose this will be raised in PR’s appeal.
  • Just to clarify, as I said in the piece above, I do not think consider 2 years to be a fair sentence. I’d have given them 50-100 hours of community service. I agree with Kononenko here.
  • But the law’s the law in Russia as elsewhere. On that note, see this story (h/t Jon Hellevig) in which it is said that three German PR supporters who disturbed a service in Cologne cathedral may be liable for imprisonment of up to 3 years.

Other non-MSM line coverage of the PR not mentioned in my Al Jazeera case includes this, this, this, this, this, this.

There is also an active discussion of my Al Jazeera piece at reddit (h/t Sam Bollier).

PS. Also apparently the second link I threw in about Iran(ian universities banning women) isn’t as straightforward as that. h/t Fatima Manji

Addendum 8/24: There have been a number of reactions to this article at AJ, Reddit, Twitter, and other platforms, and it is good to see that a majority of them have been positive even if they picked over some details. I don’t disagree with that. This is a culture war and as such there are going to be vehement disagreements; besides, it’s not exactly like I’m in the “hardline” camp that wants to lock em up and throw away the key either.

That said, a few reactions have been strongly negative, and I want to draw attention to them. Not because I think they’re correct (duh) nor because of my narcissism (at least not primarily so) but because in my opinion they very considerably illuminate the mind frames of Russian liberals and Western journalists in Russia.

Exhibit one: Miriam Elder, Western democratic journalist.

[tweet https://twitter.com/MiriamElder/status/238888198997164033]

Do not see what relevance this has to anything. But as I told her if she dislikes the fact that much, she already knows how to remedy it: Go tittle-tattle to The Guardian.

Exhibit two: Tomas Hirst, Western democratic journalist.

[tweet https://twitter.com/tomashirst/status/238891570135461889]

Aka I don’t like what AK says ban him from the MSM wah wah wah. How very democratic.

Exhibit three: Konstantin von Eggert, Russian democratic journalist.

[tweet https://twitter.com/kvoneggert/status/238939875745873923]

So if you don’t have a higher degree, you’re not allowed to comment. In my experience, people who place a lot of emphasis on someone’s educational credentials tend to be incredibly vapid. Most of this commentary seems to be about praising NATO and smearing Assange.

Eggert, BTW, in his very person also puts the lie to any notion that the Russian media is substantially controlled by the Kremlin, seeing as he regularly writes for state news agency RIA Novosti and newspaper Kommersant.

[tweet https://twitter.com/kvoneggert/status/238941886746857472]

Also as above unlike many “democratic journalists” he is quite explicit about his double standards. That is quite rare though not unheard of.

Exhibit four: Andrey Kovalev, editor of Inosmi and a liberal with principles.

[tweet https://twitter.com/AnatolyKarlin/status/239090147843506176]

That I can respect. Though I don’t really agree with the “undemocratic” aspect. I consider myself very democratic (which is not synonymous with “liberal”).

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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One of the things that most annoys me about Western coverage of St.-Petersburg’s law against homosexual propaganda to minors, the case against Pussy Riot, etc., is how it is almost always presented as a show-down between “liberated” and “creative” Russians and the macho dictator Putin.

In reality, of course, it’s a culture war – and as a result the majority is on the conservative side of the spectrum and the government merely accedes to this fact. This is the case with Pussy Riot. It is also the case with the anti-homosexual laws. According to the polls, which no Western journalist cares about for all his feigned concern for the opinions of “ordinary Russians”, 14% of Russians support homosexual marriages, 84% oppose; 8% want to allow gay parades, 82% are against. Three quarters consider homosexuality to be a deviancy, a disease, or a mental illness.

A honorable exception to this rule is Sam Bollier, whose recent piece for Al Jazeera I highly recommend: Madonna to sing out on ‘gay propaganda’ law.

Yet whatever their own ideological leanings Western journalists pay no mind whatsoever to these elementary realities. Liberal Guardianistas believe that most Russians think just like them when they are oddballs even in Britain. One might think Conservatives might have a more nuanced view, but that is not the case. As noted by Kononenko, they pass off the prosecution of Pussy Riot as a political punishment for their song “Holy Mother of God, chase Putin out!”; whereas as meticulously documented by Alex Mercouris there is nothing tying Putin to the case (indeed one wonders why Putin would wish to involve himself at all with those freaks with colored bags over their heads) and the prosecution is for a hooligan act that is in contravention of Russian laws that are not dissimilar from laws in numerous European countries*.

I don’t agree with all its arguments, but another very good article I came across recently was Robert Kaplan’s STRATFOR piece Putin’s Geopolitical Logic.

Regrettably, it’s behind a paywall, but its well worth quoting in extenso:

Tyrants who kill millions or at least hundreds of thousands are well known to history and are consequently seen as impersonal forces of nature, like hurricanes or tornadoes. But the dislike of Putin is quite personal**. He is not a mass murderer, but he gets under the skin of Western elites in ways that mass murderers do not.

Even Syria’s notorious dictator, Bashar al Assad, is always nattily dressed in a suit and tie. Not so Putin, who sometimes wears a leather jacket and occasionally rides bare-chested on a horse. Putin flaunts the mores and conventions of the global elite. A black belt in judo, he affects the appearance of a manly bully in a world where high culture is increasingly cosmopolitan and feminine. …

In fact, it is Putin’s very rational foreign policy that truly insults Western elites. These elites, whether liberal internationalists or neoconservatives, are intent on Progress — in the magisterial uppercase sense of the word. … Putin is no warmonger. For when all sides are looking out for their own interests, they comprehend the interests of their adversaries, and therein lies compromise. It’s often when the national interest is equated with a moral absolute that conflict tends to become violent, because in that case your adversary is judged to be immoral, and thus compromise becomes harder to achieve.

To be sure, it is the West that has played the warmonger in Iraq, Libya and Syria — in terms of rhetoric, if not always in terms of action. And while the West’s goals may have certainly been laudatory in some cases, they have also been at times self-righteous and destabilizing. …

The West considers Putin’s hostility to regime change in Libya and Syria immoral. But what I think secretly enrages Western elites is that they themselves know that Putin’s hostility is not immoral at all: It is amoral, or morally indifferent. An immoral foreign policy can be easily attacked as such. But an amoral policy — a policy rationally based on geopolitics, on geographically-based self-interest, that is — is a greater threat to Western elites because it is an assertion that the world has actually changed less than they thought following the toppling of the Berlin Wall. It is an assertion that fundamental opposition to what the West wants is not necessarily evil or even necessarily wrong.

Exactly. This is Putin Derangement Syndrome in a nutshell.

* Of course, before all the trolls pile in, that is not to argue that such laws are correct in principle – be they on the books in Russia or in Western Europe. In the US, for instance, the First Amendment pretty much guarantees that a case like Pussy Riot would never reach the courts. Nonetheless, for all that I am pretty sure that quite a lot of the people foaming at the mouth at Pussy Riot’s treatment were quite happy to see Emma West imprisoned for 21 weeks for holding a racist rant in a tram.

** Indeed, the only other major personage who arouses quite the same level of visceral hatred in your standard Western journalist be (s)he liberal or conservative is Julian Assange. I have long come to the conclusion that deeply psychosexual (feminist / beta male orbiter) reasons underlie both the hatred of Putin and Assange.

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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From their latest Editorial / anti-Putin rant, via Mercouris. It is not with the ideological rhetoric that I have an issue with; it’s The Guardian, after all. Nor am I especially interested in defending Pussy Riot’s prosecution (my own views on the matter jive with Kononenko’s). I do however have an issue with the The Guardian explicitly misrepresenting or outright lying to support its agenda – a modus operandus that is now all too common to it and makes a mockery of the “facts are sacred” values it claims to uphold. In this “fisking”, I will only highlight the most egregious violations of basic journalistic standards.

“Their protest is not made of slogans and placards, but is crafted from art, dance and performance. Putin and his henchmen know how to deal with the former – the hundreds of thousands who have spilled into the streets in the last eight months – but their handling of the these women is much less assured.”

The Protests for Fair Elections got at very, very most 100,000 at the biggest such rally, the one on Prospekt Sakharova in December – a count made by Russia’s most liberal mainstream newspaper. (Other estimates ranged 60,000-80,000). That is, they numbered in the tens of thousands. If they want hundreds of thousands, they had better look elsewhere… say, Spain.

“The trial takes place in the same courthouse where alleged fraudster and billionaire Mikhail Khodorkovsky, former boss of the Yukos oil company and Putin’s political enemy, was tried.”

Not an alleged but a CONVICTED fraudster, in a judgment ruled sound by the ECHR.

“The treatment meted out to these ordinary, playful, even harmless young women and mothers has shocked and outraged ordinary Russians.”

April poll, Levada: 47% of “shocked and outraged ordinary Russians” think 7 years is an adequate punishment; 32% think it is excessive; and a mere 10% do not think they should be criminally prosecuted at all.

April poll, VCIOM: How do Russians look at Pussy Riot’s “punk prayer”? Hooliganism – 46%; sacrilege – 21%; political protest – 13%; PR – 10%; 4% – encouragement of hatred towards religious groups; 1% – art. In other words, only 14% of Russians agree with The Guardian’s interpretation. 86% think Pussy Riot should be prosecuted.

July poll, Levada: 36% approve of the prosecution of Pussy Riot, 50% disapprove.

July poll, FOM: 34% of Russians think that several years in prison is a just sentence, whereas 37% disagree. If they were asked to write a sign a letter in defense of Pussy Riot, 28% say they would and 51% say they wouldn’t.

Based on the above polls there is no consensus on what to do with Pussy Riot but most certainly the case has no shocked or outraged many Russians. For that matter very significant minorities consider that a prison sentence of several years would not be out of place. Whether or not one agrees with or is horrified by that is quite irrelevant. What IS relevant is that The Guardian has cardinally misrepresented Russian social attitudes to its readers in order to push its own partisan agenda.

Why does The Guardian so often conflate its own left-liberal views and biases for that of the “ordinary people” it pretends to speak for? (This is a rhetorical question)

“… brought him, until as recently as 2010, approval ratings of around 80%. That is no more. His ratings have plummeted.”

Does this look like a “plummeting” approval rating to you? (chart via Mark Adomanis via Levada Center)

“Resentment towards the political elite, the widening gap between the immensely rich and the poor, the deteriorating social security system, the collapse in oil prices and what Forbes has called “a stampede” of investors out of Russia – an outflow of $42bn in the first four months of 2012 – means the economy is flagging.”

Russia’s Gini index of inequality was 41.6 in 2011. This is virtually unchanged from the 38-43 range is has been in since 1993. Wrong.

Russia’s GDP grew 4.9% in Q1, and is estimated to have increased by 4.0% in Q2. (For comparison, the UK is in an outright double-dip recession). Russia’s industrial PMI for June 2012 is higher than in Brazil, China, and all G7 countries bar Canada. On what basis then is the Russian economy “flagging”, especially in the context of near-recession in the Eurozone and an appreciable slowdown in China?

One can take issues with several other characterizations in that paragraph. Oil prices have hardly collapsed (they are still higher than in any year bar 2008 and 2011); it is unclear what exactly The Guardian means by “resentment” or “deteriorating” (certainly it is unlikely to be backed by statistical data if the other claims are anything to go by); and the points about capital outflow as usual do not go into the structural specifics of said outflow (hint: A large portion of it is European daughter banks in Russia recapitalizing their mothers in the Eurozone).

But the complaint is not about those claims shoddy as they mostly are. It is about the two outright, demonstrable LIES in this paragraph.

“… the new laws include a requirement for non-governmental organisations to carry a “foreign agent” tag”

“The new laws include a requirement for non-governmental organisations THAT ENGAGE IN POLITICAL ACTIVITIES AND RECEIVE FOREIGN FUNDING to carry a “foreign agent” tag.” Fixed.

As per the best Western traditions, as pointed out by Mark Chapman.

Well, who has to register in the United States, under FARA? Persons who are acting as agents of foreign principals in a political or quasi political capacity. Quasi-political? Isn’t that a little vague? Well, perhaps they’re a little more specific in the Frequently Asked Questions section. Here, we learn that “foreign principals” means “…foreign political parties, a person or organization outside the United States, except U.S. citizens, and any entity organized under the laws of a foreign country or having its principal place of business in a foreign country” (emphasis mine), and that the purpose of the Act is “…to insure that the U.S. Government and the people of the United States are informed of the source of information (propaganda) and the identity of persons attempting to influence U.S. public opinion, policy, and laws“.

Why is The Guardian so contemptuous of even the most accessible facts when they go against its own narrative? (This is a rhetorical question)

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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I’m not a big fan of analyzing Russian politics via “Kremlin clans”. Estimating their relative power seems to involve mostly tea leaf reading, and in any case the entire exercise is of dubious predictive value. Even the exact compositions and identities of the various clans differ from analyst to analyst! Besides, clans are hardly unique to Russia; every US President seems to bring over some of his friends and cronies, but do we spend much time going over their histories and connections? For the most part, no.

That said, the investigative magazine Russian Reporter (which, by and by, happened to be Assange’s Russian partner in Cablegate) has compiled what is easily the most impressive research – at least visually and methodologically – on the Kremlin clans. Their efforts are translated below.

The Anti-Clan Revolution

Viktar Dziatlikovich, Kristina Khutsishvili, Philip Chapkovsky

The new Cabinet has been rid of clannishness, but at the same time it no longer has competing centers of influence. These are the main conclusions that can be drawn after studying its composition using a special technique developed by “Russian Reporter”, which takes into account officials’ personal ties before their assumption of one or another post.

A detailed study of the Kremlin clans was published by “Russian Reporter” in Issue 35 of 2011. Back then the study of these “social connections” between Russian bureaucrats allowed us, essentially, to prove that Russia is governed by a more or less wide circle of centered around Vladimir Putin, the so-called St.-Petersburg clan – a close group of people, who have long been close friends with each other. Applying the same method to the Dmitry Medvedev government, we find striking differences. One can now say, that the principles by which the Cabinet is formed have changed cardinally.

The Clan is Compressed

The government of 2011 formed a maximally interconnected network. Generally speaking, even before their appointment, everyone was already linked to each other (studied or worked together, were friends, interacted with each other). On the one hand, this consolidation worked to strengthen the power structure; on the other hand, it blocked the process of elites renewal. An analogous network for the new government would be substantially thinner, in fact it would not be a network at all but its relics. Neutral figures, who were not tied to any of their current colleagues before their work in government, are now in the vast majority. The old schematics are compressed by new forces. There has been a renewal and a rejuvenation (the youngest Minister is 29 years old) of the elites, albeit a shell of the old network still remains. But the size of this shell no longer allowed us to talk of the clannish characteristic of government. Consequently, it is hard to criticize the new government: It is indeed relatively young, there was in fact a rotation of the elites, and that it has “many respectable people” say both politologists, and businessmen.

The Dissipation of Centers of Power

In the past year, in comparing the governments of the years 2011 and 2000, we noted that the Cabinet of the early Noughties had many more centers of power.

In the government of Vladimir Putin, which has now receded into history, there remained only two such centers of power: Putin’s own group, and the “reforming” group of Kudrin and Chubais. After Alexey Kudrin’s firing, there was no point in expecting the formation of an alternative center of power within the new Cabinet. And so it wasn’t.

Now there is only one center of influence – Dmitry Medvedev, and there can be no alternatives by definition. But on our graph Medvedev isn’t in the center. Why? According to our methodology, the person at the center of the graph, is the one with the maximum quantity of connections. And that person remains Putin. He still has more connections than Medvedev, even despite the fact that we didn’t include in our study those people who no longer nominally hold high positions either in government nor in the Presidential Administration, but who will clearly continue to exercise influence over Putin, and thus too over the policies of the Cabinet – e.g., Tatyana Golikova and Andrey Fursenko.

That is, the second center of influence is located outside the government. His strength doesn’t only accrue from those people we named, but also those who are not even formally connected with the Presidential Administration and government. So, Igor Sechin, stepping down as director of Rosneft, will almost certainly retain influence over policy making on the national energy industry.

It is in this kind of sense that the current power schematics make trigger a low-intensity conflict. It may be assumed that the “clan” will try to continue influencing decision making, and the main question consists of the extent to which Medvedev’s government will be able to establish itself as an independent center of decision making.

***

A few of my own observations and opinions.

(1) This network based approach to analyzing Kremlin clans is definitely a lot more “scientific” than the seemingly unsystematic, ad hoc approach favored by Pribylovsky and the others (eXile, Stratfor). Most importantly, it makes sense (face validity). In the early Noughties, there were many jostling clans; a carry-over from the 1990′s, redolent of Ukraine; patently clientelistic, and no doubt fostering a lot of corruption. 2011 then could be seen as the peak of the so-called Power Vertical, in which all the clans got centered around Putin. 2012 represents a cardinally new phase that is technocratic, an assessment a person with such polarly opposite views to mine such as Anders Aslund can agree with.

(2) Ironically, judging by RR’s model, President Putin in 2012 is nowhere near as clearly dominant as PM Putin in 2011. Is this part of the modernization agenda? A mistake? A compromise with Medvedev for his agreeing not to run for a second term? Or is this “over analysis”? Another interesting thing of note is that whereas Kudrin was second dog in 2011 (as opposed to Sechin, in Pribylovsky’s version) while Medvedev was nothing special, as of 2012 Medvedev is rather dominantly second. I wonder to what extent this could account for Kudrin’s scandalous spat with Medvedev once Putin endorse the latter for the Presidency. Also interesting to notice that very few of the people tied to Kudrin survived into the 2012 government relative to Putin’s and Medvedev’s.

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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Yet another oft-repeated Western trope about Russian politics is that Putin has “lost the middle classes” (Brian Whitmore, paging Kudrin), that it is liberals who speak for the middle class (Fred Weir), or even that it is not just the middle class who are against Putin but the masses too (Masha Gessen).

Let’s look at some numbers, figures, statistics, etc.

Putin appears to be as popular as ever. After reaching a multi-year of 63% approval in December 2011, he is now back at his typical 69% (Levada). Another poll indicates th at 52% of its respondents would vote for Putin if elections were held tomorrow, compared with 9% for Zyuganov, 7% for Zhirinovsky, and 6% for Prokhorov (FOM). Likewise United Russia remains by far the most popular party, at 44% versus the second place Communists with 12%, despite the propaganda against it and well-publicized recent electoral losses in a few cities. So obviously there is no “mass movement” against Putin.

Now what about the more minimal form of this argument, that while Putin might retain support among blue-color workers (disparaged as uneducated, unenlightened, etc) the middle classes have deserted him?

But in that case, why did a plurality of even the richest Muscovites vote for Putin?

The graph above shows that whereas it is true that Putin becomes less popular as you move into more expensive areas of the city, the lines never converge. There is not a single area of Moscow in which Prokhorov, the liberal candidate, scores better than Putin. Note further that Moscow is the most oppositional region in Russia and the scene of 75%+ of all the recent protests against Putin.

Could anyone please explain what how anyone could possibly, honestly argue, in light of the evidence above, that the middle class is “lost” to Putin?

One can certainly argue that the pillars of Putin’s support has shifted from the middle class to the blue-collar heartlands. One can also argue that some sections of the middle class – such as the young, those who go to elite universities, and various cultural/occupational subgroups such as hipsters and journalists – are indeed more against Putin than for him. However, these people do not constitute the middle class. They are an even narrower slice of Russian society.

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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Le Nouvel Observateur recently compiled opinions on Russian democracy from each of the ten French Presidential candidates. While the Left is highly critical of the authoritarian Putin regime, the Right is more favorably disposed to the Russian President-elect. On the eve of the first round of the French Presidential elections, I provide a translation of Russie: Ce qu’en disent les candidats.

Nicolas Sarkozy

“After the crash of the 1990′s, it was at the cost of a takeover that the authority of the state was restored and the economy recovered. There was brutal repression in Chechnya, the war in Georgia, and most recently the contestations about the elections, even if they do not give cause to question the legitimacy of the next President. Today the Russians want political reform and I think it is the will of their leaders too. France’s role should be to encourage this movement, but not to read Russia lectures or stigmatize this great country which, despite our differences, is one of our major partners. Let’s not forget that it is only 20 years since Russia emerged from a long totalitarian night.”

Sarkozy is the current center-right President and head of the ruling UMP, who is likely to lose to Hollande in the second round according to opinion pollsters.

François Hollande

“Russia agreed to commitments, especially those of the Council of Europe, which she must respect. I especially wish this so that we can build the partnership with Russia which we need to create a growth-friendly environment in Europe and to construct other international balances. This is particularly the case in the UN Security Council where Russia cannot continue to go its own way, complicit in the massacres in Syria. Russian society is changing, as evidenced in the recent elections during which a real demand for democracy was expressed. It is now important that the Russian government pursue its announced democratization efforts. All over the world, France must support the rule of law, civil liberties, media independence, and respect for human rights, all while respecting the sovereignty of peoples. This requires a deep dialog and cooperation with Russia, which is a major partner for France and the EU, both economically and strategically.”

Hollande is the center-left head of the Socialist Party, and is the pollsters’ favorite to take the French Presidency.

François Bayrou

Russia’s society and economy have undergone profound changes, but nonetheless fundamental liberties are still too often stymied, notably those which concern press freedom and freedom of speech. The current situation is clearly not comparable to that which prevailed under the Communist regime, but democrats cannot be satisfied. We must convince Russia to make further progress, though the decisive impetus will come from the Russians themselves.

Bayrou is a centrist politician who is head of the Democratic Movement and polling about 13%.

Marine Le Pen

There is no evidence to suggest that Russia is not a democracy from a constitutional perspective. It is not a one-party state and no serious analyst can assert that Vladimir Putin does not enjoy a solid majority and popular legitimacy. If you read Russian newspapers, you will see that the tone of the opposition press is much freer and more virulent against Putin than it is in France against Sarkozy. The problem we have as regards Russia is that our perceptions are influenced by the strategic representations that American and European ideologized networks, hostile to the Russians’ policy of national pragmatism, installed in the heart of our mainstream media.

Marine Le Pen is a far-right politician who is head of the Front National and polling about 15%.

Eva Joly

The recent Russian elections have shown us that Vladimir Putin considers elections and democracy as mere formalities before reattaining his full powers, which he had never ceased exercising in the first place. This can be described as the exercise of autocratic power, while hundreds of thousands of Russian citizens simply asked for free elections worthy of a modern democracy. But the most lamentable thing in all this is the deafening silence of French and European leaders as regards the disputed re-election of Vladimir Putin on March 4. So during this campaign I called upon all the Presidential candidates to make a clear commitment to democracy and human rights in Russia.

Eva Joly is the head of Europe Écologie–The Greens and has insignificant support.

Philippe Poutou

If Putin’s party arrived well ahead in local elections in Russia, it is the result of massive fraud, intimidation, and arrests of activists. For the first time in Russia, the voters went out into the streets to express their anger. In Moscow, many opposition candidates did not have the right to stand and the opposition parties did not have access to the media. In Astrakhan, the incumbent mayor used gangster methods to prevent his opponent from getting elected. So I obviously do not consider the Putin regime to be a democracy.

Philippe Poutou is the head of the New Anticapitalist Party and has insignificant support.

Nicolas Dupont-Aignan

Putin’s Russia is a complex country that has come a long way since not only Communism, but also since the decade of transition that profoundly destabilized it. Putin ended a period of decline and ended the looting of the country by the oligarchs and we can understand that the Russians are grateful to him. Russia is not yet a Western democracy but it is democratizing. We hope that the coming years will bring new progress in this domain and in the struggle against corruption. Either way, I do not think that provoking Vladimir Putin through external interventions, as some will have it, will bring any progress in this field. We must give it time.

Nicolas Dupont-Aignan is a Gaullist and former UMP member, who has insignificant support.

Jacques Cheminade (Solidarité et Progrès)

There are no more democracies left in the world. Europe is not an example when it sends Greece to the garrote. If she had a real policy, which is impossible with Mlle. Ashton, it should initiate peace through mutual development starting from the complementary economic interests of Russia, China, and the other Asian countries.

Jacques Cheminade is the head of Solidarité et Progrès, the party of the LaRouche movement in France, and has insignificant support.

Nathalie Arthaud

Even going by criteria accommodating to Great Powers claiming to be “democratic”, the Putin regime is an authoritarian regime. Putin’s predecessors, from Stalin to Gorbachev, betrayed the Communism which they themselves laid claim to: They were in fact defending the interests of the bureaucratic layer that usurped the revolutionary power founded by the workers and peasants in 1917. Putin, however, does not betray the values of the capitalist world to which he lays claims to, judging by the methods of other heads of state.

Nathalie Arthaud is the head of Workers’ Struggle and has insignificant support.

Jean-Luc Mélenchon (Left Front)

Declined to answer the questions of La Nouvel Observateur.

The leader of the French communists declined to answer the question. He is predicted to get about 13%.

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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Yes, this WAS the cover to one Economist issue.

It’s all so predictable. In its main piece on the elections, The Economist wrote:

And by some estimates vote-rigging added at least ten percentage points to Mr Putin’s tally. The main victim was Mikhail Prokhorov, a business tycoon and the only fresh face in the election. Officially he got 8%. His real vote was probably nearly twice that, says the League of Voters, a group set up by civil activists after a rigged parliamentary election in December.

Note that the “at least” (my emphasis) part is supposed to give the impression that Putin’s result may well have been less than the 50% needed to avoid a second round, thus making him illegitimate.

They totally glide over the inconvenient fact that the League of Voters observers were concentrated in Moscow, where the results are naturally lowest. Even Dmitry Oreshkin, the head of the project, is forced to admit this even if he does do a lot of weaseling about in the process: “Most likely, our sample isn’t entirely adequate.” As I showed in this post this is a detail that CARDINALLY changes the picture.

Furthermore, note two more brazen lies. First, the Economist asserts, “middle-class Muscovites… mostly voted against Mr Putin.” No, they didn’t; even in the richest neighborhoods Putin got 10% points more than their beloved Prokhorov.

Second, they make out that Putin is “not recognised as a legitimate president by a large minority of Russians and by a majority in Moscow.” Note their unstated (but self-evident) assumption that Russians who didn’t vote for Putin are so partisan and contemptuous of the democratic process that they would all refuse to accept the majority’s choice. Perhaps this describes some of The Economist’s idols like Navalny or Yulia “Pinochet” Latynina or Chirikova (We must dissolve the Russian people and elect another!” – Alex Mercouris, by way of Bertolt Brecht) but I for one think that far from all Russians who didn’t vote for Putin hate democracy.

Needless to say, for every straight out lie and misrepresentation like the above there are about ten different smears and aspersions. But what else can one expect of The World’s Sleaziest Magazine?

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
 
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Once again, a picture that’s worth a thousand words, courtesy of Alex Kireev: A map of how Russians abroad voted in the 2012 elections (see below).

Quantitatively, they split into three main groupings, each accounting for about a third of the votes from abroad: (1) Residents of Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Pridnestrovie; (2) Other republics of the former USSR, or the “Near Abroad”; (3) the “Far Abroad”, which is basically the rest of the world. Each of these have specific electoral patterns.

1) Here support for Putin is overwhelming: 91.1% in Abkhazia, 90.4% in South Ossetia, and 87.2% in Moldova. Though very high, practically North Caucasus-like, I do not consider these figures suspicious. All of these states – most of the Moldova voters are from Pridnestrovie – owe their de facto independence to the Russian Army, and to the Kremlin’s foreign policy. Russian military, security, and diplomatic officials stationed in these areas would also be largely pro-Putin.

2) In the former USSR, Putin too has dominant support among Russians (more so than in Russia itself): 92.6% in Tajikistan, 90.7% in Kyrgyzstan, 88.5% in Armenia, 80.9% in Uzbekistan, 76.1% in Ukraine, 77.5% in Kazakhstan, and 66.4% in Belarus. It is ironic that his lowest score would be in Belarus, ostensibly the post-Soviet country with which Russia is closest integrated: Could it be an indirect protest vote against Lukashenko, or is that Belorussian TV’s propaganda campaign in 2010 against Putin as a thief has taken root? The Baltics follow the same pattern: 89.1% in Latvia, 85.4% in Estonia, and 75.7% in Lithuania. It is perhaps indicative that the more Russians are oppressed in a Baltic country, the greater their support for Putin.

Blue: Putin wins; Darker blue: Putin wins in first round; Darkest blue: Putin wins with more than 75%; Green: Prokhorov wins. [click to enlarge]

3) In the Far Abroad, there is a real contest, but not between Putin and Zyuganov – who is unpopular practically everywhere – but between Putin and Prokhorov. There are a few further subdivisions here.

(A) In countries where the Russian presence is dominated (in relative terms) by diplomatic and/or security staff, Putin is dominant. This describes much of Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East.

In the BIC’s countries, where there are also many business-types, there is more of a contest with Prokhorov but Putin still wins: China (VVP 40.7%, MDP 34.3%); Brazil (VVP 45.1%, MDP 28.4%); India (VVP 46.2%, MDP 24.5%). (India is also curious in that Mironov performs very well there, by his standards, getting 16.6%; I wonder if @FarEasterner was one of his voters there?).

In the South-East Asian emerging markets, where the non-official presence is probably dominated by businesspeople, it is a close race between Putin and Prokhorov: Indonesia (VVP 41.3%, MDP 39.4%); Malaysia (VVP 35.2%, MDP 32.6%); Thailand (VVP 38.3%, MDP 39.7%). However, Russians in Singapore almost give Prokhorov a first round victory with 48.8%. In most other emerging markets, however, Putin wins comfortable: 63.6% in Turkey, 55.8% in Argentina, 54.3% in Mexico, 53.5% in Egypt, 51.1% in Venezuela and Colombia, 43.8% in South Korea, 43.1% in South Africa.

Putin is dominant in Orthodox and Russia-friendly Greece (84.1%), Macedonia (81.6%), and Serbia (68.0%), but one of the most popular locations for Russian relocating abroad, Cyprus, gives a lower score, 56.8%.

(C) In the Western countries, Putin is either level-pegging with Prokhorov, as in much of post-socialist East Central Europe, the Med, Scandinavia, and the Germanic lands; or decisively behind him as in the Anglosphere.

In the following Western countries, Putin would have to fight a second round with Prokhorov: Hungary (VVP 49.9%, MDP 27.9%); Poland (VVP 48.5%, MDP 30.2%); Italy (VVP 48.3%, MDP 32.1%), Israel (VVP 48.1%, MDP 38.8%), Finland (VVP 44.0%, MDP 36.2%); Spain (VVP 40.8%, MDP 37.0%); Sweden (VVP 37.0%, MDP 36.5%).

In the Anglosphere, and a few other Western countries, Prokhorov leads Putin: Japan (VVP 38.2%, MDP 36.2%), France (MDP 41.2%, VVP 31.3%), Czech Republic (MDP 43.4%, VVP 36.0%), Australia (MDP 43.5%, VVP 33.1%), Canada (MDP 43.8%, VVP 36.2%), Switzerland (MDP 44.8%, VVP 32.0%), and the Netherlands (MDP 46.4%, VVP 27.8%).

In the two major Anglo-Saxon countries, Prokhorov would win the first round outright: The US (MDP 52.4%, VVP 30.0%), and Great Britain (MDP 58.0%, VVP 28.1%).

Looking at the map, there is a striking correlation – especially for the Far Abroad nations – between the level of Russophobia (especially in the media) and Putin’s result.

In a place like Germany, though the media is highly critical of Putin, coverage is however on the whole far more balanced and sophisticated than elsewhere in the West; that might be why Putin won. The French media is highly anti-Russian – on Runet discussions, the “глюк” is used as a unit of measurement for Russophobia, inspired by André Glucksmann – however, from the comments, my impression is that the French aren’t quite as taken in by the propaganda as the British or Americans. Broadly similar things may be said of Italy.

As for the UK, it hosts people like Zakayev, Berezovsky, and Chichvarkin (him on Putin voters: “Zombies, who wake up after drinking beer and vodka and switch on the first (state-controlled) TV channel. They don’t want to think, they don’t want to work, they don’t want to learn”). It is also the global center of the radical anti-Putin opposition, represented by people like Andrei Sidelnikov, who was along with Berezovsky’s PR man Alex Goldfarb the driving force behind the establishment of the anti-Putin campaign Strategy-31 Abroad. Practically all of its major newspapers without exception take a hysterically anti-Putin tone, and in the case of the Guardian actively censor people who argue otherwise (or who question their censorship for that matter). So no wonder that the UK Russians love the robber baron Prokhorov so much, the one who got a mere 6% in Norilsk, the Russian town where he is the major employer, and whose people presumably know him well – too well, perhaps. One can only hope that Prokhorov will leave for Britain to join his oligarch buddies there, to answer his true calling in life which is to be President of Londongrad.

Needless to say, the US media is also highly Russophobic, though perhaps not quite as vitriolic as the British press (for instance, the New York Times is certainly a lot better in that regard than any major British paper). No surprise then that Putin got the second least amount of votes in the US.

The results at the polling station of the San Francisco consulate (where I happened to vote) were 57.1% for Prokhorov and 26.7% for Putin, the biggest discrepancy in all the Russian polling stations in the US. My experience is that of the people from Berkeley, votes were split evenly between Prokhorov and Zyuganov (what do you expect? It’s a leftist place), with Putin taking up third place. However, in the wider Bay Area, the electorate is dominated by Silicon Valley types, who tend to be people who emigrated from Russia during the Soviet era and who associate it with backwardness, anti-Semitism, etc., and coupled with the libertarian / bourgeois nature of their views, Prokhorov is a perfect fit for them.

In the BIC’s nations, and most of the emerging markets, where the media environment is fairly neutral as far as Russia goes – as opposed to its highly Russophobic nature in the West – Putin ends up winning comfortably, including in countries that everyone accepts to be liberal democracies like India, Brazil, Turkey, etc. In fact they are very close to the results in Russia itself, especially when one adjusts for the types of people who are likely to be abroad (richer, well-educated) to their equivalents in Russia. This is evidence that whatever supposed pro-Putin bias the media may have in Russia (and I would say that on average it is now more negative than positive) it is far, far outweighed by the anti-Putin and Russophobic bias of the Western, and especially Anglo-Saxon, media, as testified to by the fact that Russian voters in the US and the UK would rather vote for a confirmed Yeltsin-era thief and oligarch than Putin.

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
 
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Since yesterday, the following image from an article by liberal journalist Evgenya Albats has been making the rounds on the Internet. It shows that whereas Putin’s official tally was 65%, independent observers put it close to or below the 50% marker that would necessitate a second round, such as Golos’ 51% and Citizen Observer’s 45%. Predictably, these figures were seized upon by the liberals to condemn the legitimacy of the elections. As Putin ended up getting 63.6%, while the average of all observers was 50.2%, one could conclude that the level of fraud was 13% or more.

However, as pointed out by Kireev, this is a gross misuse of statistics for political ends, because of the severe sampling problems: Golos observers were concentrated in Moscow, St.-Petersburg, and a few other large cities where Putin is less popular, while Citizen Observer is almost entirely confined to the capital. The website http://sms.golos.org/ collates the results from all the big Russian observer projects, and from the regional data, we can see that about half the election protocols compiled to create these figures were from Moscow; almost another quarter were from Moscow oblast and St.-Petersburg.

Nonetheless, while looking through the regional data, I realized that if it were to be adjusted for its pro-Moscow (anti-Putin) sampling bias, we could get a fairly a good estimate for the level of fraud in this election; or at least, an upper limit for it. And so that’s what I proceeded to do.

After assembling the data, I came up with the following table. The first column are the different provinces. The second column is Putin’s vote according to the observer protocols for that region. The third column is Putin’s vote according to the Central Election Commission. The third column is the difference between the two. It may represent fraud, but it may also be (1) sampling bias – more on this later, (2) natural margins of error, which are especially high in regions where there were few observers. The fourth column is the total number of ballots (both real and spoiled) cast in this region.

ВВП (набл.) ВВП (ЦИК) Х бул.
Республика Адыгея (Адыгея) 59.72 64.07 4.35 220481
Республика Башкортостан 63.21 76.38 13.17 2300258
Республика Карелия 50.56 55.38 4.82 309439
Республика Коми 70.28 65.02 -5.26 525780
Республика Марий Эл 57.11 59.98 2.87 381148
Республика Татарстан (Татарстан) 72.21 82.70 10.49 2378904
Удмуртская Республика 62.50 65.75 3.25 784405
Чувашская Республика – Чувашия 59.01 62.32 3.31 702957
Алтайский край 50.90 57.35 6.45 1175430
Краснодарский край 59.96 63.72 3.76 2692090
Красноярский край 55.33 59.53 4.20 1303846
Приморский край 40.97 57.31 16.34 989669
Ставропольский край 66.80 64.47 -2.33 1195740
Хабаровский край 52.21 56.15 3.94 653997
Амурская область 59.35 62.84 3.49 399704
Архангельская область 54.83 57.97 3.14 575014
Астраханская область 60.46 68.76 8.30 432603
Белгородская область 49.22 59.30 10.08 899973
Брянская область 50.01 64.02 14.01 699848
Владимирская область 50.03 53.49 3.46 638010
Волгоградская область 58.91 63.41 4.50 1278416
Вологодская область 58.88 59.44 0.56 608595
Воронежская область 55.05 61.34 6.29 1304344
Ивановская область 60.33 61.85 1.52 519239
Иркутская область 50.49 55.45 4.96 1072723
Калининградская область 47.82 52.55 4.73 457483
Калужская область 54.18 59.02 4.84 506933
Кемеровская область 66.51 77.19 10.68 1642580
Курганская область 53.68 63.39 9.71 482391
Курская область 56.91 60.45 3.54 606717
Ленинградская область 55.86 61.90 6.04 810757
Липецкая область 54.70 61.00 6.30 626535
Московская область 52.71 56.85 4.14 3545368
Мурманская область 58.58 60.05 1.47 407311
Нижегородская область 53.58 63.90 10.32 1857953
Новгородская область 51.49 57.91 6.42 309970
Новосибирская область 52.15 56.34 4.19 1352726
Омская область 42.80 55.55 12.75 974829
Оренбургская область 50.91 56.89 5.98 1014937
Орловская область 45.22 52.84 7.62 450151
Пензенская область 53.43 64.27 10.84 765541
Пермский край 59.62 62.94 3.32 1170209
Ростовская область 58.15 62.66 4.51 2113180
Рязанская область 54.16 59.74 5.58 620967
Самарская область 52.98 58.56 5.58 1557667
Саратовская область 60.52 70.64 10.12 1323161
Сахалинская область 53.76 56.30 2.54 228350
Свердловская область 60.06 64.50 4.44 2073983
Тверская область 54.67 58.02 3.35 667496
Томская область 50.93 57.07 6.14 458311
Тульская область 58.16 67.77 9.61 867569
Тюменская область 73.19 73.10 -0.09 836179
Ульяновская область 53.99 58.18 4.19 666159
Челябинская область 60.76 65.02 4.26 1729399
Забайкальский край 60.94 65.69 4.75 498407
Ярославская область 48.58 54.53 5.95 670972
Город Москва 45.11 46.95 1.84 4247438
Город Санкт-Петербург 50.33 58.77 8.44 2388567
Ханты-Мансийский автономный округ 65.12 66.41 1.29 707504
Чукотский автономный округ 44.84 72.64 27.80 29337
Территория за пределами РФ 65.17 73.19 8.02 441931
Всего в регионах с наблюдателями 56.11 61.97 5.86 63151581
РОССИЯ 63.60 71701665

Sources: CEC regions data, Kommersant elections map, Golos’ SMS-ЦИК observer data aggregation project.

As you can see, the figures are more or less as what we can expect from analysis already published on this blog. In Moscow, fraud is minimal, the difference between observer protocols and the official result being less than 2%. We can be fairly certain about this: The protocols analyzed have data on over a million, i.e. some 1,021,810 votes, out of a total of 4,247,438 cast; at almost 25%, this is excellent coverage. Furthermore, the real fraud figure may be smaller than the 1.84% given above because the observers made sure to cover all the stations with the most suspicious 2011 results.

Coverage in St.-Petersburg is far smaller at 5%, but the fraud figure of 8.44% can still be treated as very reliable. It is backed up by other statistical evidence.

To get a figure for the regions in SMS-ЦИК dataset, which accounted for 88% of Russia’s total votes, I took the regional observer protocols’ figures for Putin and weighing them by the total number of ballots in that region. My final fraud figure using this method came out to 5.86%.

Five Caveats

This is not a conclusive fraud figure, of course, there still being at least five factors that would further influence it. Two of them are negative, one is probably neutral, and two are positive.

(1) This is a negative factor, but one that is very hard to quantify. The pro-Putin votes are weighted according to turnout, however, it is also the case that regions with greater turnout tend to have more fraud – this is because one of the most common methods of fraud is inflating turnout that almost invariably benefits Putin. But it is important stress that this relationship does not necessarily imply fraud, for it is also the case that there are subgroups of the Russian population – primarily, rural dwellers – among whom turnout is naturally higher. So we can expect turnout to be higher in some of the more rural provinces without fraud being responsible. Separating out the two is extremely tricky and is closely tied to a related problem – to what extent is fraud, or subgroups with specific voting patterns, responsible for Putin’s and United Russia’s long tails?

(2) The neutral factor (more or less) are the margins of error that come from only having a very limited numbers of observers in the more remote regions. For instance, it seems pretty unlikely there was 5% fraud AGAINST Putin in the Komi republic. ;) I am assuming that since there margins can either be positive or negative, they will largely cancel themselves out by the time we calculate the aggregate total.

(3) This is a negative factor. Some regions, accounting for 12% of the total votes, are missing from the SMS-ЦИК dataset: Altai Republic, Buryatia, Daghestan, Ingushetia, Kabardino-Balkaria, Kalmykia, Karachay-Cherkess, Mordovia, Sakha Republic, North Ossetia, Tyva, Khakassia, Chechnya, Kamchatka krai, Kirov oblast, Kostroma oblast, Magadan oblast, Smolensk oblast, Tambov oblast, Jewish autonomous oblast, Nenets autonomous oblast, Yamalo-Nenets autonomous oblast, and Baikonur (Kazakhstan).

The FOM exit poll data showed that even though the North Caucasus was the region most wracked by fraud, it also showed, at 68.4%, the highest genuine support for Putin. The election in Stavrapol krai appear to have been fair – the official figure there was actually higher than the observers’ – so let’s leave its result as is. Assuming that turnout in the ethnic minority republics of the North Caucasus was only 50% or so, as seems more likely based on anecdotal evidence rather than the 90%-like official turnout, then the real, average Putin vote across those areas would then be about 71% – still above the Russian national average, but only moderately so – as opposed to the official 89%. This would raise Putin’s real average score by a bit, but by less than he would lose from the large amount of fraud embodied in them.

Similar things can be said, albeit to a smaller extent, for the other ethnic republics (a few of which, like Buryatia, seem to be quiet fair; others, like Mordovia, which are as fraudulent as anything observed in the North Caucasus). The average Putin vote officially in all the non-North Caucasus, non-observed regions is 68%; of the ethnic Russian majority ones, only about 62%. These regions are already almost or entirely consistent with the national average, so they will have only the most insignificant impacts.

Including all the other regions will up the official score to 63.6% (by definition), but will also increase both the level of fraud and Putin’s real score. So perhaps Putin will go up to 57.0% (thanks to the genuine North Caucasus votes), but fraud will also increase to maybe 6.6%.

(4) Now this is already looking very bad, as bad as the 2011 elections, but fortunately there are two major mitigating factors. First, just as nationwide observers are biased towards Moscow, then logically at the regional level they would likewise be biased towards major urban areas. If a crew of observers volunteer in some Russian backwater province, after hearing Navalny’s call over the Internet, chances are they would hail from the big local urban center. And there are significant voting differences between town and city in Russia, with the rural voters consistently both turning out in greater numbers and giving the Kremlin candidate around 10% or even 15% more votes (e.g., in FOM’s last pre-elections poll, only 43% of Muscovites and 47% of people living in cities of more than one million said they’d vote for Putin, compared to 51% of small towners and 58% of rural folks).

Now some 25% of Russia’s population is rural, and another significant part lives in small towns; the observer presence there is all but minimal, in any one region. As such, the observer protocol figures would systemically understate Putin’s vote. To what extent? Crude back of the envelope calculation, but I think it’s valid: 25% of a subgroup that gives Putin 10% more would give him 2.5% more, and they are very much underrepresented in the poll; add another 0.5% for the small town people. Putin’s real score rises to 60.0%, while his fraud score is compressed to 3.6%; total remains, by definition, at 63.6%.

(5) It is also known that observers concentrated most on polling stations that had a legacy of suspicious results from the 2011 elections. Since it is likely that those stations are still more likely – relative to others – to be bad apples this time round, the focus on them means that the level of fraud may be further artificially skewed.

Interpretation

There are many ways one can interpret these results.

One can cite the 5.86% figure as the most precise one, but one that doesn’t take into account a number of complicating factors. Alternatively, one could argue for a significantly lower figure, like 3.6% – or even lower once you adjust for the last factor. Alternatively, one can argue that the positive factors cancel out the first factor, which is unknown in magnitude but surely significant, and so return to a fraud estimate of 4%-6%. This range would back the two most comprehensive exit polls, FOM which gives Putin 59.3% (possible fraud: 4.3%) and VCIOM, which gives him 58.3% (possible fraud: 5.3%).

Either way, one thing is absolutely clear: A proper analysis of the observer protocols statistics can in no way support the theory that Putin got less than 50%.

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
 
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Analysis of the election data is now trickling in, so I feel I can now make some real preliminary estimates of the degree of fraud (eventually, I will compile a list of estimates as I did for the 2011 elections). My assessment is that in these elections it was on the order of 3%-4%, which is lower than my estimated range of the 5%-7% fraud in the Duma elections, but still far too high by developed country standards. The geographical distribution of fraud has changed significantly: Moscow actually appears to be very clean this time wrong (in stark contrast to 2011, and 2009). However, there were little to no changes for the better in the ethnic minority republics, which is where the great bulk of the falsifications are now concentrated.

The most reliable evidence, in my opinion, is the FOM exit poll which gave Putin a vote of 59.3% in contrast to the 63.6% official tally – a difference of slightly more than 4%. (VCIOM gave him 58.3%, but I consider it slightly less reliable: It polled 63 regions, to FOM’s 81, and the missing regions included places like Ossetia and Daghestan where support for Putin is higher than average – even if so is the level of falsifications). Below is a table of regional falsifications, courtesy of Kireev. As you can see, the highest discrepancies between official and exit poll results – and the only ones exceeds the margin of error – are now in Federal Districts with many national ethnic minority republics: North Caucasus (Daghestan, Chechnya, etc), the Urals (Tatarstan, Bashkortostan), and the South (Kalmykia, Adygea). Across Russia as a whole, the discrepancy was 4.3%, relative to 6.3% in 2011.

FOM exit poll Official Difference
Central FD 53.8 56.6 2.8
Northwestern FD 56.3 59.1 2.8
Southern FD 59.0 63.8 4.8
North Caucasian FD 68.4 82.7 14.3
Volga FD 61.3 68.1 6.8
Urals FD 64.4 67.0 2.6
Siberian FD 61.0 62.1 1.1
Far East FD 60.3 59.9 -0.4
Russia 59.3 63.6 4.3

Moscow May Not Trust Tears But It Does Trust Gauss

Readers of the blog will know that my assessment is that Moscow was marred by extensive fraud in 2011, with United Russia getting 30%-35% as opposed to its claimed result of 46.6%. Now Putin is always 10%-15% more popular than United Russia, so the very fact that he got virtually the same score – 47.0%, to be precise – in Moscow as did United Russia three months later is damning of the capital’s 2011 elections by itself. But there is also stunning graphical evidence of this, courtesy of Maxim Pshenichnikov. The graphs below show the votes for turnout (horizontal) vs. the votes for UR/Putin (vertical), in the 2011 election (left) and the 2012 election (right). Observe the vast change from two clusters in 2011, with the bigger one around 55% representing stations where there was fraud, and the very tight, elegant cluster around 45% representing the vote for Putin in 2012.

Question to everyone who expressed skepticism that there was mass fraud in Moscow in 2011: How would you explain this difference?

The ironic thing, of course, is that the cleanness of the 2012 elections implicitly condemn the results of the 2011 elections in Moscow. Nonetheless, its still a huge boost for Putin’s legitimacy, first and foremost because Moscow is the focal point of the protests against his rule. The protesters, at least at their local level, will no longer have a leg to stand on; nor will they be able to be able to parade about with signs like the one below.

Moscow trusts in Gauss, so they will now have to trust Churov too as the two now agree with each other.

Fraud in St.-Petersburg

The picture was far worse in St.-Petersburg, with it seeing significant falsifications to the tune of perhaps 5%-6%.

There appears to be little difference between 2011 and 2012; if anything, this year there were quite a few stations with close to 100% turnout and 100% pro-Putin votes, as shown by the cluster to the top right. There is also a second cluster at a turnout of 60% and pro-Putin vote of 80%; there, too, are falsifications beyond doubt, as they are all concentrated in just two Territorial Electoral Commissions and 32 identifiable polling stations. Beyond those two patently false clusters, the spread too is very suspicious, contrasting as it does with Moscow’s elegant oval.

Graphs For All The Russias

Again from the same source, the 2011 and 2012 elections visually compared.

As I argued in my epic post on statistical methods for detecting fraud, a positive correlation between turnout and votes for Putin, or United Russia, is not necessarily indicative of fraud (First, different socio-economic subgroups are known to have different electoral patterns in Russia under fair elections, e.g. rural areas have higher turnouts, higher votes for incumbents, and bigger spreads; Second, if this correlation were proof of fraud, one must then also conclude elections in Israel, Germany, and the UK are falsified too).

Nonetheless, they are useful in the sense that they can be compared from one year to the next. And as we can see above, overall 2011 seems to have been substantially more fraudulent; in particular, the unnatural cluster near the 100%/100% mark is both bigger and darker (i.e. denser) in 2011 than in 2012.

Furthermore, the center of the huge circle in 2012 – largely representing results from the ethnic Russian urban areas – is unambiguously above the 50% mark, at about the 55% point, compared to the official result of 64.6% (difference: 10%), which means that Putin definitely got enough votes to avoid a second round. In contrast, the center of that big circle was at around 30% in 2011, compared to the official result of 49.3% (difference: 20%). Though one cannot glean direct figures from this – again, urban ethnic Russians vote more uniformly and less enthusiastically for the establishment candidates – one can get a sense of the relative scale of fraud, and this back of the envelope calculation implies that overall fraud perhaps nearly halved in 2012 compared to 2011. As fraud was 5%-7% in 2011, with an absolute reasonable upper limit of 10%, this constitutes further support for my estimate that it was close to 3%-4% this time round.

More graphs for Russia as a whole:

Number of votes vertically, result for each candidate horizontally. Putin is dark red, Zyuganov is red, Prokhorov is green.

Prokhorov has an interesting bimodal distribution, because of the influence of subgroups: The bulk of the Russian electorate (first peak), then the urban metropolises of Moscow and St.-Petersburg (second bump).

Part of the “long tail” of Putin’s and United Russia’s results are because of fraud, however part of them are also the innocent result of, again, subgroup voting patterns, namely that of rural voters among whom turnout and support for Putin are both higher than in the urban areas.

Number of votes vertically, level of turnout at which they got those votes horizontally. Putin is dark red, Zyuganov is red, Prokhorov is green.

The above shows the turnout (horizontal) vs. the median vote for each party or candidate at that level of turnout.

Anyway you look at it, all graphs would suggest aggregate falsification was less in 2012 than in 2011.

The North Caucasus: Is It Fraud, Or A Communal Voting Culture?

The most egregious discrepancies come from the Caucasus. Whereas the exit polling evidence does indicate that Putin has very high “true” support at 68.4% in the North Caucasus Federal District – when one discounts the ethnic Russian region of Krasnodar (where he got 65%) then perhaps as high as 75% for the Muslim republics, the official results – 90%+ in all the Muslim republics, including 99%+ in Chechnya – are nonetheless incredible.

Kireev has a very interesting post on the mechanics of voting in Daghestan, where officially there was 91% turnout and a 93% share of votes for Putin. An observer watched one polling station via the http://webvybory2012.ru/ website, and as the station was equipped with a voting machine, it allowed him to calculate both the correct turnout and share of votes for Putin (i.e. by excluding the people throwing in more than one ballot). The results of those who voted fairly, with turnout at just 36.3% with Putin getting 60.3% and Zyuganov getting 28.1%, differed substantially from the official tally of 94.3% turnout with 84.7% votes for Putin and 10.8% for Zyuganov.

Of the non-standard voters, there were many people who turned up there with 2 or 3 bulletins, i.e. they were not “mass” ballot stuffers. The possibility exists that they were simply voting for absent family members, and as such that not all the “stuffed” votes in this category were for Putin. Then there were a few people who came in with big packs of bulletins, who really did fit the characteristic of ballot stuffers.

In their case however, my pet theory is that it may not be quite so much a case of nefarious fraud as a reflection of Daghestan’s and the North Caucasus ethnic republics’ voting cultures; namely, the practice of voting not by individuals but by teips, i.e. the clans that form the heart of Chechen, Ingush, and Daghestani society. The teip decides on a single candidate for the teip to support; Putin would get the nomination in almost every case (after all, the exit poll shows ordinary Daghestanis giving him twice as much support as the next nearest candidate, Zyuganov); and the headman would send a representative to vote for Putin on behalf of everyone in the teip.

The “non-stuffed” result in that station, with 36% turnout with 60% voting for Putin, may then represent the true “representative” feeling of urban Daghestani society, as expressed by its urban residents that are not closely affiliated to a teip. The other part of Daghestani society works on communal principles, that if you think about it actually – de facto if not de jure (because the practice is formally illegal under Russian law) – resemble the winner takes all “first past the post” system in the UK.

That said, I stress that this is a theory, an alternate way of looking at the voting in places like Daghestan, Ingushetia, Kabardino-Balkaria and Adygea that shines a slightly more positive light than the standard interpretation that their elections are marred by huge fraud; it is not fact. The possibility that communal voting is an accepted electoral practice in those regions is further supported by the presence of a similar phenomenon in local elections in Arab villages in Israel. The topic needs further research.

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
 
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András Tóth-Czifra, our heroic winner.

András Tóth-Czifra, our heroic winner.

Before the 2012 Russian Presidential elections, 23 particularly courageous (or foolhardy?) netizens and Russia watchers participated in a contest on this blog to predict its results for the chance of eternal glory and a free S/O T-Shirt.

The winner is the person with the least aggregate error, i.e. the sum of the absolute discrepancies between his or hers prediction and the official tally for each of the candidates, as well as the percentage of spoiled ballots. With 99%+ of the votes counted, it is now safe to announce the winners.

Ladies and gentlemen, please give it up for… András Tóth-Czifra!

Contestant Aggregate Error (%)
Andras Toth-Czifra 7.94
Mark Sleboda 9.84
PK 10.30
Juha Savolainen 10.54
Hunter 11.82
Moscow Exile 12.34
Mark Chapman 13.02
Gladstone 13.24
AK (i.e., me) 13.84
Andy Young 13.90
Tony 14.36
donyess 14.68
FyRuPolitics 15.23
Andor 15.90
NinaIvanovna 15.90
SH 15.90
Alex Mercouris 19.44
aap 22.48
Ernst Krenkel 25.16
Carl Thomson 27.46
Alexandre Latsa 29.54
Timothy Post 31.82
Alexey Sidorenko 39.16

Furthermore, not only did Andras have the best overall prediction, but he also called Putin’s result to within 0.5% points – also the best result. Hunter and Mark Sleboda were runners up.

VVZh GAZ SMM MDP VVP X
AK 3.27 0.19 3.65 1.82 4.76 0.15 13.8
showdown_2012 1.77 0.19 1.35 3.22 0.56 0.85 7.9
Mark Sleboda 2.77 2.19 2.15 0.82 1.76 0.15 9.8
Alex Sidorenko 0.77 8.81 9.15 4.82 14.76 0.85 39.2
Juha Savolainen 2.27 1.19 2.65 0.32 3.76 0.35 10.5
PK 1.67 1.49 2.25 0.88 3.66 0.35 10.3
Moscow Exile 0.17 0.49 4.15 3.22 2.46 1.85 12.3
Gladstone 5.77 2.19 0.85 0.82 2.76 0.85 13.2
Hunter 4.17 4.59 0.65 1.32 0.84 0.25 11.8
Andor 4.77 1.19 0.15 0.18 6.76 2.85 15.9
Mark Chapman 3.47 2.01 1.55 0.48 4.96 0.55 13.0
Andy Young 2.77 1.19 2.15 1.18 5.76 0.85 13.9
Carl 6.77 4.81 2.15 5.82 7.76 0.15 27.5
donyess 2.77 7.19 0.15 2.18 2.24 0.15 14.7
Tony 3.17 2.01 1.35 1.62 5.56 0.65 14.4
NinaIvanovna 1.27 2.19 4.05 0.68 5.76 1.95 15.9
Ernst Krenkel 3.77 3.81 4.15 1.82 10.76 0.85 25.2
Alex Mercouris 4.66 0.36 5.06 1.88 7.32 0.16 19.4
FyRuPolitics 3.54 2.83 0.54 1.47 6.14 0.71 15.2
Alex Latsa 5.57 1.69 7.35 3.82 9.26 1.85 29.5
SH 4.77 2.19 2.15 0.58 5.76 0.45 15.9
Timothy Post 2.77 0.81 0.15 12.18 15.76 0.15 31.8
aap 1.73 7.19 4.15 2.32 6.34 0.75 22.5

As for the others… Zhirinovsky’s result was best predicted by Moscow Exile; Zyuganov’s result was jointly best predicted by Andras and myself; Mironov’s result was jointly best predicted by Andor, donyess, and Timothy Post; Prokhorov’s result was best predicted by Andor, followed by Juha Savolainen and Mark Chapman; and the percentage of spoiled votes was jointly best predicted by Mark Sleboda, Carl Thomson, donyess, Timothy Post, Alex Mercouris, and myself.

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

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

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

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