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My latest contribution to the Expert Discussion Panel this one focusing on whether the West foregoes “incalculable benefits” by continuing the Cold War. Unlike previous Panels, on which I aimed for balance, here I make no apologies at pointing a finger straight to where I believe the blame belongs:

I recently began reading Martin Malia’s Russia under Western Eyes. One of the key points he makes early on is that the Western view of Russia has rarely corresponded well with its objective strength or the actual threat it posed. To the contrary, it is when “institutions and culture” converge that the West’s “evaluation of Russia tends toward the positive”; when they diverge, the reverse. So by that theory, relations should be pleasant: After all, not only is it no longer a military threat, but in terms of political systems and values, the West and Russia are far closer now than they have even been in history.

This makes it all the more puzzling that half the US foreign policy establishment remains entrenched in Cold War thinking. Romney belongs to them. A man who now has a 39% chance of becoming President, according to Intrade, declared Russia to be a “our number one geopolitical foe.” But unlike the case in the Cold War, it is a divergence that now most afflicts the US and its satellites – namely, the idée fixe that it is globally “exceptional”, and thus called forth to express global “leadership.” This translates into the belief that it can dictate its terms – from support for the Iraq War to the pursuit of Wikileaks – to other powers without negotiation (anything else is appeasement!), and woe unto the VIRUS’s that oppose it (a cute neocon acronym standing for Venezuela, Iran, Russia).

Needless to say, such attitudes make mockeries of any genuine democracy promotion. As long as you pay the requisite cultural tribute, you get off scot free – “Bahrain’s bosses understand modern symbolism about minorities so well that the Arab kingdom’s ambassador to Washington is a Jewish woman.” They might not understand the Hippocratic Oath near so well, imprisoning doctors for treating wounded protesters, but that is of little consequence next to anti-Iranian orientations and the US naval base there. Meanwhile, Venezuela is demonized by the Cold Warriors for daring to elect a socialist to power in Latin America, even though it has some of the structurally freest and fairest elections in the world. Their hatred of Russia ultimately boils down to the same roots: It resists.

There are three ways this impasse can end. The first, and most incredible way, would be for the residual Cold Warriors to stop thinking of the world in Manichean terms, with themselves playing God’s role. The second would be for Russia to become a client state of the US. This is not going to happen short of the likes of Gary Kasparov and Lilia Shevtsova coming to power.

The third possibility is by far the likeliest, as it is already occurring. Back in the 1990’s, Western Diktat politics in relation to Russia typically worked because it was in crisis, and had no other powers to work with. They believe this is still the case, and not only the neocons: In 2009, Biden said Russia had a “shrinking population base… a withering economy”, and a banking system unlikely to “withstand the next 15 years.”). This would presumably give Russia no choice but to fall in line. They are wrong. In real terms, the Chinese economy may have overtaken the US as early as in 2010; a constellation of other sovereign, non-Western powers such as Brazil, Turkey, India, and South Africa are attaining new prominence. With the EU in permaslump, the US and Japan under accumulating mountains of debt, and oil futures now permanently sloped upwards, a new world is arising in which modernization is no longer synonymous with Westernization. Russia is one of its key players, just like the other BRIC’s.

One can’t resist gravity forever. Once the requisite relative political, economic, and cultural mass is no longer there, ideological Cold Wars will become as unsustainable as Western hegemony itself.

(Republished from Da Russophile 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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Not really arguing anything in this post, just sharing some interesting stats I found about the affluent class in Russia (as compared with BRIC’s and others).

First, as we know Russia is (in)famous for the opulence of it oligarchy. But according to the research firm Wealth-X, despite a relatively high number of billionaires, its overall share of Ultra High Net Worth Individuals (UHNW) is far more modest as you can see in the table below. As a percentage of GDP (caveat: this is comparing apples and oranges, but still instructive since national wealth is correlated to yearly output), the wealth of the Russian UHNW’s is equal to 43% of a 1.5tn GDP in 2010 (as compared with 28% in China, 43% in Brazil, 44% in the US, and 55% in India).

So, same picture as with income inequality – as I’ve noted before on this blog, Russia’s levels of inequality are in fact quite modest by world standards – with a Gini index of about 40, it is higher than most European countries (25-35) but lower than the US and China (45) and most Latin American countries (50+).

Now what’s really distinctive about Russia’s ultra-rich is that billionaires comprise a high percentage of all UHNW individuals – some 7% of them, as opposed to about 1% in the other countries; and those same billionaires control 84% of that group’s total wealth, as opposed to 33% in Brazil and China, 25% in the US, and 20% in India.

Is Russia’s concentration of wealth at the very top of the top good or bad? It’s hard to say. It ultimately depends on your view of the merits of the upper middle class and their values. If you believe it reinforces social stability and creates economic dynamism, then this is a weakness. If on the other hand restricting the emergence of a class system and enhancing state power are held to be important, then Russia’s structure is better (after all, it’s easier to influence 100 odd billionaires than keep track of thousands of multimillionaires).

One interesting (and puzzling?) thing I’ve noticed is that Sweden seems to have a similar structure of wealth ownership. This country of 9 million has 10 billionaires – that is almost as many as France (12) or Italy (13), whose populations are six or seven times bigger, and almost as many per capita as the United States. Considering that it’s one of the most equal countries in the world, this leaves very little room for the millionaire class (which I guess makes sense on account of its high income tax rates).

Second, I was trolling Forbes’ list of Russia billionaires for 2011 and counted up the wealth of those known to be friends of Putin (Gennady Timchenko of Gunvor, oil transport and Yury Kovalchuk, banking – through the Ozero dacha coop; and Arkady Rotenberg, of construction, inc. of the controversial Khimki route – through judo). It came up to around $8.1 billion of the total $432.7 billion.

That is a very comfortable sum, of course, but doesn’t really support the oft peddled line that friends of Putin are corruptly buying up most of the Russian economy. Little doubt that Timchenko et al. got by some or most of their wealth “unfairly” (and I assume they’ll be expected to return some of the favors to Putin & Co. once they retire) but that’s just really existing capitalism most places in the world for you.

* Kudos to those who got the Pelevin reference.

(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.