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visits-russia-patriotic

Russian nationalists and “patriots” – much like the “Alt Right” and Alt Lite in the United States – each have their own media ecosystems, though overlap is inevitable.

As in the United States, “patriotism” is at least an order of magnitude more prevalent than nationalism (indeed, it is one of the defining strands of Putinist ideology in general). As regards the media scene, one example of a flagship “patriotic” resource would be Komsomolskaya Pravda, with more than 50 million monthly visits (despite the name, it has nothing to do with the USSR). A few other examples would be RT Russian, LIFE News, and Argumenty i Fakty. Whereas in the United States there are several CNN’s and MSNBC’s for one FOX, in Russia the division between “patriotic” and “liberal” (Vedomosti, Gazeta.ru, etc.) is more even.

Towards the right end of the “patriotic” spectrum the two big (>10 million) strongly players would be VZ.ru (the brainchild of Konstantin Rykov, the United Russia deputy who promotes Maria Katasonova, Russia’s premier cheerleader for Trump and Le Pen) and the military-affiliated Zvezda TV channel (which for a time employed British Donbass correspondent Graham W. Phillips).

Also rather influential, with around 10 million monthly visits between them, are the blogs of Colonel Cassad (Boris Rozhin) and El Murid (Anatoly Nesmiyan). Both are one-man content factories, forged in the fires of the Donbass War, who have now shifted their attentions to the Syrian Civil War and general geopolitical and military matters. Rozhin is a Crimean Communist (and chess master); Anatoly Nesmiyan is associated with Igor Strelkov, who also has a blog, though not a very influential one. However, both Nesmiyan and Strelkov are strongly skeptical of the Putin regime, so it’s more accurate to describe them as “national patriots” than “patriots.”

In my article on Russian Nationalism 101, I described Tsargrad TV as a semi-nationalist resource, especially after its ouster of the Eurasianist Alexander Dugin and replacement by the conservative-nationalist Egor Kholmogorov. It is also perhaps Russia’s closest approximation of Breitbart, down to the oligarch funding (Mercer/Malofeev) and American conservative-style focus on religion and “culture war” issues (the most recent example being its furore over the film Matilda), and ambiguous relation with Russian nationalists (Egor Kholmogorov also used to contribute articles to Prosvirnin’s Sputnik i Pogrom, but more recently, Tsargrad included Prosvirnin in its list of the country’s top 100 Russophobes). In any case, it has been interesting to see its visitorship numbers this past year skyrocketing from around the level of Sputnik i Pogrom to 50% of the level of Zvezda/VZ, and 20% of Komsomolskaya Pravda. (That said, questions have been raised as to what extent this sharp uptick is legitimate traffic).

visits-russia-national-patriotic

Sputnik i Pogrom (Egor Prosvirnin), the flagship magazine of Russian nationalism, was at 1.5 million monthly visits and on an upwards trend until the Russian censorship authority Roskomnadzor blocked it this July on trumped up reasons. The drop in readership has not been as catastrophic as might have been expected, probably because its texts are highly K-selected and its audience tend to be young, intelligent, and technically literate. It is highly oppositionist in nature, but it is read by a wide swathe of the Russian political elites regardless.

Regardless of this setback, Sputnik i Pogrom’s visits number are still comparable to those of Nikolay Starikov and Zavtra and Nikolay Starikov, the two main flagships of “Soviet nationalism” and the most hardcore/zealous strain of “patriotism“, respectively.

Nikolay Starikov is a sort of “uber-patriot” who peddles in Stalin apologetics and petrodollar conspiracy theories. He is also slavishly loyal to the Kremlin and Putin: After spending early 2014 demonizing the “Nazi junta” in the Ukraine, he made an abrupt heel turn, coming out against the recognition of the LDNR and stressing the necessity of a “united Ukraine”… so as to avoid being drawn into an evil American plot to draw Russia into WW3. This was essentially a Kremlin talking point – the decision against overt military intervention had been made early on in the conflict – but couched in a language understandable to Starikov’s rabid, foathing-at-the-mouth uber-patriotic herd. With a few exceptions, the articles there are highly r-selected.

Zavtra is the newspaper of Alexander Prokhanov, a Soviet ultranationalist who supported the hardliners during the coup attempt of 1991. However, they have not evolved since, and as a result their articles inevitably follow a set of themes: Praise for Lenin and Stalin; condemnations of Gorbachev for “betraying” the USSR; and other staples of Third Position political rhetoric, such as the petrodollar conspiracy theories. Also a liberal dose of late Putinist era multinationalism: Just checked back, and Prokhanov appears to be writing odes to the Kadyrovs nowadays. It is hard to avoid the impression that Zavtra is fading into obscurity.

However, at least some people still visit it. The same cannot be said of Alexander Dugin’s two Eurasianist sites, Katehon and Geopolitica.ru – they have no more than 500,000 combined monthly visits. As I have long pointed out, Dugin is far more popular amongst Western neoliberal Intellectuals Yet Idiots and confused US Alt Rightists than he is in Russia itself. That is because there are few Russians who have much use for Dugin’s fusion of “anti-imperialist”/”anti-racist” Soviet-Eurasianism and the more obscurantist strains of Orthodoxy liberally, speckled with conspiracy theories about the liberal “sixth column” responsible for Islamist terrorism and the Atlanticist evils of surfing (no, seriously).

google-trends-dugin-limonov-prokhanov

Google Trends: Dugin; Limonov; Prokhanov – Russia – Last 5 years

The National Bolshevik Eduard Limonov is somewhat more prominent than Dugin, and also has gigs at more mainstream “patriotic” places like RT Russian. Although his ideas have become dated, as with Dugin and Prokhanov, he is, at least, more entertaining than either one of them, which might explain his greater prominence. This is more of a subjective observation, but I would also note that as someone who has spent some time in France and the United States, he is also more realistic about many aspects of the world relative to his Eurasianist and Soviet peers.

Sut’ Vremeni (Essence of Time) is another Soviet-nostalgic movement led by Sergey Kurginyan. It has zero intellectual content and frankly comes off like a cult, but is allowed to exist thanks to its slavish loyalty to the Kremlin.

It is important to note that just as the Right Altsphere in the United States can’t compete with the collective Vox, so Russian nationalists, Far-Rightists, and sundry “national patriots” and “national conservatives” of whatever flavor are far more marginal relative to neoliberalism.txt’s Russia branch. The two flagship Far Liberal outlets, Echo of Moscow and Meduza.io (successtor to Lenta) each have 30 million monthly visits; TVRain, whose crew is a fixture at any Navalny demonstration, has 12 million visitors; The Village, the journal of Moscow’s SWPL’s, gays, and SWPLy gays, has 8 million; the highly K-selected Republic.ru (formerly Slon) has around 3 million. The nationalist/liberal gap isn’t quite as loaded in favor of the latter as in the United States or Europe, but it is still very big.

 
• Category: Miscellaneous • Tags: Blogging, Russian Media 
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An anti-Putin journalist gets her throat slashed by an intruder forcing his way into one of the last bastions of “free, independent journalism” in Russia.

As if that wasn’t enough, it came on the background of a recent Russian TV geopolitical drama series called “The Sleepers” – sort of a Russian analogue of “The Americans” – about CIA attempts to foment a color revolution in Russia, which was prominently featured on leading TV station Channel 1 and evidently enjoyed official support thanks to its “patriotic” themes. In particular, one scene featured the murder of a female liberal journalist by getting her throat cut, as part of a terrorist campaign against the pro-Western opposition that is orchestrated by the CIA as a false flag to discredit the Kremlin.

So not only was this a picture seemingly perfectly made for Western cameras, but it was also one further accentuated by the paranoia fuel provided by this dark example of fiction seeping into reality.

Predictably, the Russian liberal crowd wasted no time in rushing off to blame the Kremlin, Putinists, Channel 1, and Russians in general.

navalny-on-stabbing

Alexey Navalny: Nothing is clear yet. But they have already concluded: No politics, nothing to do with journalism. How interesting. First thing RIA and Interfax rush to tell us is that this is hooliganism, personal motives, and has no relation to journalism.

orlova-on-stabbing

Karina Orlova (Russia correspondent for The National Interest; also affiliated with Echo of Moscow): Everyone who doesn’t consider himself to be the lowest worm must name Minaev (the author of the scenario) a bastard, must name Ernst a bastard, must name the director Bykov a bastard, must name every actor in this series a bastard, and must stop communicating with them, greeting them, being friends with them, doing selfies with them. Any of my friends who are also friends with Minaev or any of the others, go fuck yourselves, you bitches, unFriend me immediately. And those of you who complained about the [liberal campaign of] smears against Bykov, please get the fuck out of here too.

dzyadko-on-stabbing

Tikhon Dzyadko (a well-known name in the narrow circles of the Russian liberal opposition): There are many psychos amongst Echo of Moscow’s listeners. If they learn from TV that Echo is an enemy, then they will draw their knives. You shitheads from Channel 1 – you are responsible for this.

Well, the least you could say was that he got the “many psychos amongst Echo of Moscow’s listeners” part right.

boris-grits

The man who stabbed Tatyana Felgenhayer, a liberal journalist at Echo of Moscow, was literally a mentally ill Jew, Israeli resident, and anti-Putin Ukraine supporter who believes she was telepathically hacking his brainwaves. Or, in other words, as many Russians joked, your representative Echo of Moscow listener (just substitute Putin for Tatyana Felgenhauer).

No, seriously, the perpetrator, Boris Grits, has been posting all about it on his blog since 2015. Here is his last post on the matter: https://bgrits68.wordpress.com/2015/12/16/diary/

Today I was finally convinced that hackers are working for this Felgengauer bitch.

For the last couple of days she started to look for a way to control my heart. She was trying to find a way to control and stop my breathing for a long time now. However, yesterday morning I woke up with a feeling of a steel ring around my heart. And this morning I had a feeling of heavy cold in my heart.

Due to this situation, now that she has transitioned from using me to satisfy her sexual desires to threatening my life, I have turned to a famous Moscow psychic, Mikhail Perepelitsin; I have known him for over 30 years, from my childhood days, when he treated me for nephritis.

I’ve asked him to have a look at this person, the person who follows me with such ruthless persistence and cruelty. Mikhail Lvovich asked me to send a photo of the person. And guess what happened at the exact moment I’ve tried to download her photo of the Internet? It broke. It worked fine before that, but I had to restart my mobile phone (I only have Internet access through my phone) several times to make it work again.

Now I’m not surprised that she instantly knows what I say and write, she watches me constantly.

Apart from giving us his Very Valuable Thoughts on how to contain Russia in Syria and the Ukraine, most of Grits’ blog is him whining about his failure to get an academic position at an Israeli university, despite having completed a postdoc at U.C. Davis and the University of Tel Aviv. This may have been the cause of his mental health problems.

Or Mossad (j/k).

boris-grits-jews-literally-did-this

What’s even funnier is that not only was Grits literally a “psycho Echo of Moscow listener,” he even had direct contacts with that clique.

Earlier this year, Grits had written to one Natalia Barschevskaya, asking her to provide him with legal advice (presumably to do with his failure to find academic employment). Accorging to her Twitter, Barschevskaya is a liberal socialite residing in “Moscow, London, and the entire world,” most of whose posts seem to be devoted to pouring dirt on Russia. Grits mentioned to her that he bathed her when she was 5-6 years old at a beach on the Black Sea. Back in 2014, Barschevskaya had written of a “romantic meeting” with Alexey Venediktov, the scandalous Jewish chief editor of Echo of Moscow, which suggests she revolves in that world.

The victim, Tatyana Felgenhauer, is herself an ethnic Russian, being the adoptive daughter of Pavel Felgenhauer, the military analyst who has predicted twelve of Russia’s past zero military defeats.

tl;dr version: It’s like a Jewish anecdote.

What happened: Schizo Jew suffering from paranoid delusions about Jews tries to murder the Russian adoptive daughter of a Jew at an anti-Putin media outlet headed by a Jew and financed by Gazprom.

Whom Russian liberals believe to be responsible: Putler, Channel 1, and Russian fascist scum in general.

 
• Category: Humor • Tags: Jews, Russia, Russian Media 
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Nossik was an Jewish-Russian journalist who perhaps more than anyone else shaped the contours of the Russian Internet. Apart from having a hand in starting up a huge percentage of the online news leviathans that still dominate the sphere, as an outspoken political personality he was also one of the most popular bloggers in his own right (dolboeb).

He has died at the age of 51, apparently after a vodka binge at a friend’s dacha.

prosvirnin-with-nossik Nossik heyday was “before my time” (he was becoming a name on Fidonet political discussions in Israel about Russia in the early 1990s; I started blogging in 2008). So I am not exactly qualified to write a balanced obituary about him, nor am I particularly interested in doing that. Instead, I will just write describe a few vignettes from his late life that I think tie in with my own blog’s themes.

But first, to set the political scene, Nossik’s fundamental convictions were “liberal” (see caveats) and pro-Western. Really, mostly the latter. For instance, in 2010 he attacked Assange for recklessly spilling American secrets and cooperating with the “Holocaust denier” Israel Shamir in Russia.

That said, this did not stop him from maintaining productive relations with media personalities in both the pro-Kremlin camp (e.g. Maksim Kononenko, Konstantin Rykov) and Russian nationalists (e.g. Sputnik i Pogrom’s Egor Prosvirnin, see right).

At the end of the day he was a Jewish/Zionist nationalist. He was rarely seen without with yarmulke, and was always very explicit about how his concern for Israel took precendence over the more… universalistic ideals that he at times claimed to profess.

For instance, here is a transcript of his interview with the liberal Gazprom-funded Echo of Moscow in October 2015, where a conversation about Russian misdeeds in Syria between the handshakeworthy crowd took a bit of an unexpected turn:

Nosik: What is Russia doing [in Syria]? It’s killing women, children, old people.
Interviewer: And you support this?
Nosik: Sure. They’re Syrians.
Interviewer: But they’re people.
Nosik: No, they’re Syrians.
Interviewer: So Syrians aren’t people?
Nosik: In what sense? They present a danger to Israel.
Interviewer: And women and children and old people too?
Nosik: I don’t care, if they present a danger to Israel.
Interviewer: But what danger can women and children and old people constitute?
Nosik: Women? They give birth to Syrian soldiers. If they are bombed, they won’t give birth to Syrian soldiers. And thank God!

L means Learn calm, moderate nationalism from the Jews,” sarcastically commented Sputnik i Pogrom.

He immediately followed it up with a blog post where he called on Syria to be wiped from the face of the Earth.

Now this wouldn’t have led to any consequences in Western countries, where hate speech laws only really applies to criticism against Jews, Muslims, and various sexual minorites. However, retrograde as Article 282 – Russia’s prime hate speech law – might be, it does at least tend to be applied more consistently. For instance, back in the 2000s, the Russian “journalist” Boris Stomakhin served a term for encouraging terrorism against ethnic Russians (Western human rights outfits such as the Committee to Protect Journalism predictably labeled him a victim of Putler’s regime). This is, incidentally, a state of affairs that European institutions are very, very sad about, repeatedly calling on Russia to make Article 282 less “politicized.” That is, only have it apply to nationalists, as in Europe, and as was the intention of the mostly Jewish “liberals” and “human rights activists” who had pushed it through the Duma in the first place.

Anyhow, the Jewish nationalist Nossik must have failed to take this specificity of Russian law into account, and was charged with Article 282 in 2016. (That said, in all fairness, I should point out that Nossik himself was not a hypocrite about this – he has been criticizing Article 282 for more than a decade on his blog). Unlike many other less prominent people, he escaped the two year jail sentence recommended by the prosecutor, and got off with a 500,000 ruble fine (lowered to 300,000 rubles on appeal).

Which for him was pocket change anyway. This morning, I was amused to see one of the “thought leaders” in Russian transhumanism criticize Nossik on Facebook because he had apparently paid the man $10,000 in 2010 to propagandize radical life extension, but Nossik just took the money and promptly forgot all about it. (Amusingly, $10,000 would have been just sufficient to pay off the original fine at today’s exchange rate).

The lesson to be drawn from this? “And now Anton Nossik has died. What more can I say? He should have done more for life extension.” I would also add: Goys should always put contracts to paper.

 
• Category: Ideology • Tags: Jews, Russian Media 
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Apostrophes around “opposition” because even something like the Communist Party is far more deserving of the label than the gaggle of discredited 1990s-throwbacks who constitute the Western-approved challengers to Putin’s rule in RPR-PARNAS.

But I digress.

Anyhow, latest news: Mikhail Kasyonov (known as Misha 2 Percent for the percentage he took as kickbacks on government contracts when he was Prime Minister in the early 2000s) and his sidekick Vladimir Kara-Murza (essentially a political blogger funded by Khodorkovsky) traveled to the US to lobby Congress putting Russian journalists – that is, “propagandists” – on a no entry list. Their crimes? They did not speak well of Boris Nemtsov, the famous but politically impotent anti-Putin politician who was brazenly assassinated a month ago in the center of Moscow. Apparently that makes them “complicit.”

In a time when Russia is in a geopolitical standoff with the West, in a time when pro-Russian journalists are getting killed with impunity under the Western-backed “democratic” Ukrainian regime, in a time when the Western media itself is fighting a full-fledged propaganda war against Russia (coverage of Nemtsov’s murder exceeded all of the recent pro-Russian journalist and politician murders in Ukraine by more than a hundredfold) and is purging all those who don’t its line exactly, the leaders of Russia’s premier pro-Western liberal opposition party believe their most pressing political task is to slightly inconvenience journalists they disagree with by handing over denunciations of them to the Washington Obkom.

And then they will with clockwork predictably whine and rage about falsifications when elections next come rolling by and they get their typical, well, 2 Percent.

I would hazard that in the short-term, nothing will come out of this. Their lobbying influence is limited, Congress doesn’t work fast, and in any case, there might even be something of an aversion to sanctioning journalists amongst some US politicians because of how culturally central the First Amendment is. But in the longer term, and perhaps even more so the EU and non-US Anglo countries, things might start becoming bureaucratically… difficult for Russian journalists and pundits who prefer to shill for Eurasia instead of the Atlantic. Arguably, the Rubicon was already crossed more than a year ago when Dmitry Kiselyov, the controversial head of the Rossiya Segodnya media holding that runs Sputnik News amongst other projects, was banned from entering the EU. In the UK, there are several ongoing Ofcom investigations against RT for alleged bias in its Ukraine coverage. The day may dawn when, like Press TV, it is forced off the air.

Tit-for-tat retaliation is pointless. While they might harp on and gloat about it, the Russian “liberals” are right on one thing: Influential Western opinionmakers don’t exactly keep bank accounts in Moscow-City, or go skiing in Sochi. But there are asymmetrical responses. China, and I believe Israel, have both figured this out. Foreign journalists are free to report in their countries, but as soon as their coverage veers too far in an unfriendly direction, their welcome becomes overstayed and visa problems appear. They are expelled and effectively barred in short order. This results in a sort of “natural selection” of more positive media coverage as the most egregious Sinophobes are sent packing, while the rest are incentivized to exercise greater caution and editorial restraint.

Russia doesn’t do this, with the result that even before the Ukrainian conflict, all that rhetoric about Putin’s dictatorship actually resulted in Americans and Europeans being on average less favorably disposed to it than they were to China – even though it goes without saying that China is far more authoritarian. Sure, this kind of control/harassment of Western journalists that China practices isn’t exactly “fair.” But then again, neither is barring entry to Russian journalists on account of their opinions, or subjecting Russian media organizations to selective regulatory hurdles. If things become worse rather than better in the months and years ahead – as I suspect they will – and screws in the West tighten, then Russia will have to think hard about securing its own information space.

And if in consequence the results are bad for some Western journalists in Russia, presumably the most egregiously Russophobic ones, then that is just… too bad? After all, by the logic of their own friends in the Russian liberal opposition, they themselves are critical “accomplices” to this sad state of affairs, and as such, should lie in the bed of their own making.

 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Russian Media 
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RIA Novosti, Russia’s main state-run news agency, is going to be dissolved. So is Voice of Russia, a publication that I’ve written for, and Rossiyskaya Gazeta and its Russia Beyond the Headlines project*. They are to be merged into a new organization confusingly called Rossiya Segodnya (“Russia Today”), which is NOT the same as the (in)famous TV station. The Russia Today that we know and love (or hate) has long formally rebranded itself as RT, though it continues to be colloquially referred to as “Russia Today” by friends and foes alike.

This is an important point to make, as some Western media outlets – most notably, the Guardian – have claimed otherwise. Amusingly enough, a few of their commentators now say they are boycotting RT (the TV station) because the new director of Russia Today (aka Rossiya Segodnya), Dmitry Kiselyov, is apparently somewhat of a homophobe. At least, that is the only information about him (other than being pro-Putin) that the Guardian deemed worthy to include.

Why is RIA being folded up? I think there are two main reasons. Reading their article on their own demise will give you a clue as to the first:

The move is the latest in a series of shifts in Russia’s news landscape, which appear to point toward a tightening of state control in the already heavily regulated media sector.

In a separate decree published Monday, the Kremlin appointed Dmitry Kiselyov, a prominent Russian television presenter and media manager recently embroiled in a scandal over anti-gay remarks, to head Rossiya Segodnya.

This is representative of RIA’s typical editorial slant, which is usually critical of the government position. (So much so that The Independent’s Shaun Walker described it as “surprisingly decent”).

This is okay and indeed appropriate if RIA was primarily a Russian language service catering to a Russian audience. But its not. Its primary audience are Westerners, who don’t exactly suffer from a lack of access to negative Russia coverage. To take but the latest example, their coverage of the recent unrest in Ukraine was explicitly pro-Euromaidan. Konstantin Eggert has a column there called “Due West,” which is exactly what it says on the tin: A pulpit from which to incessantly proclaim how Russia sucks, why RT should be defunded and Assange imprisoned, and why the West and Saakashvili are the best things since sliced white bread. Vasily Gatov, one of RIA’s most senior people, claimed that “Grozny” was afraid that the FBI would take the second Boston bomber alive (presumably, because the FSB trained him up, or something). Make no mistake, I do think that freedom of speech is good and it’s great that Eggert enjoys it in Russia – though it’s worth mentioning that the sentiment is not reciprocal – but the notion becomes rather absurd and even distorted when a state news agency consistently attacks and undermines the government in the eyes of foreigners.

This does not happen in the West. Whatever their domestic disagreements, there is an implicit understanding among American politicians that criticism of the US and the US government is off limits so far as foreigners are concerned. The same goes for America’s “soft power” media. You will simply not find much anti-US material on RFERL or Voice of America. The same goes for the BBC, Al Jazeera, CCTV, France 24, and Deutche Welle as regards the foreign policies of their respective countries (aka sponsors). Russia making an exception on this issue is maladaptive and not even widely appreciated to boot.

In this respect, RIA has long been somewhat of aberration, and frankly the only thing surprising is that it took the Kremlin this long to comprehend and rationalize the situation. Western journalists complain about clampdowns and neo-Sovietism all they want. The Russian taxpayer owes them nothing. In the meantime:

“Russia has its own independent politics and strongly defends its national interests: it’s difficult to explain this to the world but we can do this, and we must do this,” Ivanov told reporters.

In that respect, RIA didn’t help; it hindered.

The second reason is that it was not a very efficient organization. The official reasons for RIA’s dissolution have to do with “saving money and making state media more effective.” I know a few people in RIA, and they generally agree that it is an over-bureaucratized and unresponsive behemoth. One acquantaince (who sometimes comments here) had a more concrete complaint:

I needed to license two images from the RIA-Novosti photo archive for my book, and it took FOREVER. Just getting a reply to my original inquiry took weeks. It was as though they didn’t understand that I was trying to *give* them money to provide the service they actually advertise.

And here is Peter Lavelle on his experience with working with RIA:

Some thoughts on the demise/restructuring of RIA Novosti: For a short time I worked for RIA as a website commentator and unofficial English language editor. This was around 2004-05. Before that I was writing for United Press International as a (slave) stringer. I wrote about 20 articles a month for the sum total of $1990! Yep, I was rolling in it! And to top it off, UPI would not pony up to pay part of my yearly visa expense. With my income, that visa was expensive.

I had heard that the now defunct Russia Profile was looking for a journalist-correspondent. I interviewed for the position. I wasn’t what they were looking for. However, a deal was cut with RIA – I would have a half-time job with Russia Profile, and the second half with RIA. The money was better, but nothing to cheer about and the visa was taken care of. Working for Russia Profile was more or less fine. Working with RIA was bureaucratic and cumbersome. I ended up sitting with the very nice people in the English language wire service. I wrote my daily comments among them, while often proof reading wire stories before they went out online. But after a few months, I was told to slow down “Peter, you write too much, you work too hard.” Strange, yeah?

Within a week or so, I was writing one or two pieces a week – for the same salary. Later I was told privately the other (Russian) columnists had complained that “this foreigner” works too hard and makes us all look bad. Then RT (then Russia Today) came along. This is an entirely different story (and will wait for later). Two remaining things stay with me about RIA.

First, they wouldn’t let me quit! No, I would have to stay, even if I didn’t write for them I stayed and would be paid. That lasted for about six months. I don’t recall collecting my wages from them in remaining months; it was so idiotic.

Second, as RT expanded (literally in the RIA building), RT staff was treated like second-class citizens. Our ability to move about the building was at times bordering on the ridiculous. In the end we were segregated to certain entrances, and ordered to a separate smoking area. RIA had no interest in even sharing resources for professional purposes – like sharing video and other journalistic assets. I will not miss RIA Novosti as an organization. However, I hope to stay in contact with some very good friends who have worked there, particularly at the Moscow News. They never have had any influence over policy making.

Those who remember those days at RIA know I recollecting only 1% of the saga…

Say what you will about it, but RT is generally acknowledged to be far more responsive and dynamic.

Funding for Russian media activities abroad is going to be reduced in the coming years, so it’s not illogical to rationalize it. This is a long known fact that is linked to the general budget austerity that will predominate in 2014-16. But the various Russian foreign media projects and scattered, and all too often compete with each other as opposed to cooperating. In addition to the big ones, RIA and RT, there is also the Voice of Russia (which in turn has competing bureaus in Moscow, London, and Washington DC) and Russia Beyond the Headlines (which is a project of the state newspaper Rossiyskaya Gazeta, and which in turn has a panoply of sub-projects such as Russia & India Report and a sponsored section – which basically noone accesses or reads – in The Daily Telegraph). All their websites are subpar, even relative to RT, which is ironic since RT is primarily TV whereas RIA is now most deeply rooted in the Internet.

A rationalization of this unwieldy mess of Soviet-era legacy organizations is well past due, and that is seemingly what is going to happen. RIA, Voice of Russia, and RBTH will all be consolidated into Russia Segodnya. RT will remain separate.

There are difficulties and unresolved issues. For instance, RIA itself has a vast and rather disorganized number of projects, such as RAPSI (provides legal information, esp. on trials and sucklike), Valdai (meetings of foreign and Russian experts to discuss Russia’s trajectory, culminating in yearly meetings with Putin), and InoSMI (a resource that translates foreign media into Russian). Many of these projects are genuinely useful, and while RIA itself may be superfluous, I very much hope that they will continue either under Rossiya Sedognya’s umbrella or independently. But so far there’s no news on that front. Senior RIA people are just as much in the dark as everyone else.

tl;dr. There are two main reasons for merging RIA and a few other Russian media projects into a new organization: (1) To rein in the pro-Western liberals who have seized control of RIA’s editorial policy, and (2) to rationalize their wasteful and inefficient bureaucracies in a period of moderate budget austerity. On balance, these are “good” and much-needed reforms.

* Not exactly, see RBTH comments on recent changes in the Russian media landscape.

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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This June I had the pleasure of once again attending and speaking at the World Russia Forum. The event now happens twice a year, in Washington DC and Moscow, and is intended to draw together Russian and American experts, academics, journalists, and policy-makers in an effort to improve relations between these two nations. An account of it, and the subsequent reception at the Russian Embassy to mark Russia Day, follows below:

1 - me in DC

It was raining with near monsoonal intensity when I disembarked off the train*. I have no complaints; these downpours dispel the sultry oppressiveness inherent to a city originally built on swampland, so far as I was concerned the more rain the merrier.

2 - al jazeera bus

The Qataris sure know how to get their message out!

3 - hotel gathering

Four of the WRF’s speakers in the hotel dining room. From left to right: Pamela (Patrick’s wife); Martin Sieff; Patrick Armstrong; William Dunkerley; your humble servant.

4 - wrf 2013

From farther to nearest: Patrick Armstrong, Martin Sieff, Edward Lozansky, Nicolai Petro, and William Dunkerley (plus Sergey Markedonov, but he was absent when the photo above was taken). Lozansky, the organizer and financier of the World Russia Forums, is giving the keynote speech.

Each of us gave a 5-10 minute presentation on what we saw as the problems of – and possible solutions to – strained relations between Russia and the US. Common themes included the malevolent roles of aggrieved oligarchs (like Berezovsky and Khodorkovsky); the lack of economic ties making Russia a convenient punch-bug (can’t offend your Chinese bankers or Saudi oilmen too much); the weakness and lethargy of the Kremlin’s PR, as expressed in its slow – and at times, non-existent – response to media stories that portray it in a bad light.

Then we talked about possible solutions. Patrick Armstrong, for instance, has long pushed for creating a list of “Russia memes” that are commonly accepted as fact in the media but have no factual basis (e.g. Putin’s billions of dollars in Swiss bank accounts, that sort of thing). Martin Sieff stresses that responses have to be very quick, since a rule of thumb in the media is that as soon as the first 30 minutes pass, the story becomes set, no matter its truth value. It would be a good idea to combine these two points in the form of a PR team checking stories in the Western media against a handbook of these “Russia memes” and sending out corrections, complaints, letters to the editor, etc. as appropriate.

The main problem is, of course, implementation. Both Nicolai Petro and William Dunkerley raised this issue, as an academic and a media expert, respectively. Contrary to what has been scribbled about this group in some corners of the Internet, it is not affiliated with the Kremlin nor does it even have its official support; it is the product of a private American citizen’s personal initiative and enthusiasm. This translates into a frustrating reality in which a lot of good ideas are generated in these meetings but all too many of them are never followed through for a lack of official coordination, financial, or official support. This is why I can only laugh when the likes of Lucas start raving about Kremlin-paid “agents of influence” hiding beneath every bed and whatnot. The banal reality is that Russia is not very competent at PR (unlike Israel or Saakashvili’s Georgia), and what money it does give out typically goes to big, disinterested firms like Ketchum that eke out a couple of “pro-Russian” articles for The Huffington Post in exchange for millions of dollars.

My own speech, naturally, focused on The Russian Spectrum. I have already explained why that project is a great idea for improving Russia’s image, so I won’t bother doing so again.

5 - wrf 2013

William Dunkerley had the funniest and most interactive presentation.

After that there were questions from the audience and lively discussions. Here are a few observations:

Tons of journalists from Voice of America, some from Voice of Russia including its new US bureau chief. None from RIA (there might have been a couple but I didn’t run into them). Some representatives of Russia/America business forums, PR and “knowledge transfer agencies,” etc.

A former bureaucrat who mentioned that there is already a program that translates foreign media into English. (Those of you subscribing to the JRL will have come across some of their translations). The only problem with it? Unlike Russia’s Inosmi, which is free, only certain government employees and private businesses willing to fork over many thousands of dollars per year can have access to it – even though it’s funded by the American taxpayer. He said he’d inquire about opening it up to the general public, but the chances of success are minimal for obvious reasons. If the bureaucracies that be were interested in public access, then the public would already have access.

A senior editor at The American Conservative. Knows Ron Unz, pro-Ron Paul, libertarian, White Russian – also anti-Putin, and supports Magnitsky Act, but otherwise doesn’t want confrontation with Russia specifically. If China and Saudi Arabia aren’t being confronted, both states with far worse human rights records, then why on earth should Russia be confronted? This outlook I suppose is all quite consistent with libertarian, minimal state/constitutional rights/isolationist principles).

A senior member of a family values organization from the Mid-West. Described how he went from thinking of Russia as an atheist evil empire type of place to viewing it as the modern equivalent of the kingdom of Prester John (I do exaggerate, of course, but that’s the gist of it), to the extent that the next major summit of his organization is going to be taking place in Moscow. This stands to reason, as conservatives in the American heartland are increasingly discovering that in many if not all respects ordinary Russians and even the Russian government shares their values.

One lady sewed together some peace rugs for the UN and treated us all to a 15 monologue about it. Absolutely fascinating. :|

6 - newseum

After that I visited the Newseum, a museum about the news. Although its basically a shrine to the Mainstream, and got anodyne at times, there were nonetheless a lot of fun things to see there. My favorite section was the one with the ancient books and historical articles/editorials/ads (“Spanish Indian woman that can do all sorts of of Houshold Work with her Boy about half a Year old: To be sold Inquire of Mr. William ManBrasier in Dock-square, Boston” – yes, the world sure has changed quite a bit).

Above is a photo of a Nezavisimaya Gazeta editorial or op-ed or whatever from immediately after the abortive 1991 coup attempt: “The bloody political dealings of these “S.O.B.’s were just going on and on. We got tired of being afraid. This is why the coup failed.” No-holds barred approach of the hero journalist!

6.5 - hero journalist

Speaking of “hero journalists“… Now THAT is a hero journalist! Yulia Latynina? I’m afraid having a crazy hairdo and the hots for our favorite Georgian tie-muncher doesn’t qualify.

7 - embassy invite

JUST WHAT IS THIS?! I suppose it will now be impossible for me to deny being a Kremlin flunky ever again.

8 - democratic protesters

Protests at the Embassy. One of the guys had the placard, “Putin eats babies.” Supporters of Pussy Riot chanted slogans next to a burqa-covered woman with a Syrian flag. Most unlikely allies…

The Embassy itself was a big, square, solid, monumental structure. Apparently it was built by Soviet laborers specifically imported for the task so that the NSA people wouldn’t get a chance to lay any bugs. They did try to remedy the situation by digging a tunnel under the Embassy, but the plan was foiled thanks to FBI turncoat Robert Hanssen.

9 - russian embassy

They sure know how to throw a party. The Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary Sergey Kislyak gave the keynote speech. As expected with such events, the focus was mostly on networking – and the big businessmen, professional politicos, and military attaches who were generously represented there were out of my league as far as practical matters are concerned. Still, I had a lot of fun there, along with the other Forum members invited to the reception.

* Yes, you read that right. I took a train all the way to DC from San Francisco, and stopped by at many of the cities in between. I will be posting an account of this journey at the other blog.

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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My latest for VoR/US-Russia Experts panel:

I think we have to make a distinction here between “soft” soft power and “hard” soft power.

The US’ “soft” soft power is, of course, overwhelming. By “soft” soft power, I mean its accumulated cultural capital: The popularity of the English language, Hollywood, the Ivy League, Apple and American Pie, and so forth. If this were a Civilization game, the Americans would be maxing out the “culture” meter. There is no feasible way for Russia to ever overtake the US in this respect, if only because its limited population constrains the ultimate scope of its civilization (China is another matter).

What is of greater interest, and CAN be influenced relatively cheaply, is “hard” soft power. By “hard” soft power, I mean the ability to harness support for a sovereign internal and foreign policy line. “Hard” soft power is promoted by media and cultural organizations catering to foreign audiences, and can be measured by indicators such as a country’s international approval rating, which the BBC World Service measures every year. This rating can, in turn, affect diplomatic influence, investment attractiveness, and promulgate a general sense of moral vindication among the citizenry.

Lavishing resources into raising international approval ratings – that is, building up “hard” soft power – can produce vast returns on investment. There are several ways this can be done:

(1) Avoiding embarrassing situations so far as possible, and responding to them in a timely and comprehensive way AS SOON AS they arise. The entire Magnitsky debacle is a case study in how NOT to manage a genuine screw-up followed up by an oligarchic PR attack. Khodorkovsky is an earlier example. The ECHR eventually concluded that the case was NOT politically motivated, but so far as everyone and their dog is concerned the Menatep bandits are martyrs for democracy. The scope of the PR failure here is astounding. But the Russian government just doesn’t seem to care, leaving the heavy lifting to bloggers (!) like PoliTrash.

(2) Countering negative “hard” soft power. As one of the few countries to pursue a truly sovereign foreign policy – China is another example; so is Venezuela and Iran – it is not surprising that Russia would come under intensive information attack. One need do little more than recall Western coverage of the 2008 South Ossetian War, in which the victim was literally presented as the aggressor. Even institutions like the EU were later forced to acknowledge the truth, but no matter – the first week of coverage permanently implanted the perception it was big bad Russia that attacked plucky democratic Georgia, and neocons continue to push the lie even though a 5 minute perusal of Wikipedia would totally discredit it.

Information attacks are an inescapable price of sovereignty. However, the effects of such attacks can be minimized by establishing a special office that could coordinate the writing of press complaints to combat factually wrong and/or defamatory coverage; working with non-Western countries to reduce Western dominance in various international financial and regulatory bodies; promoting the integration of the Russian media space into the global media space, first and foremost via the Internet; creating and popularizing alternate, more objective indices of freedom and corruption than the politicized Transparency International and Freedom House ratings.

(3) Building up the keystone institutions of “hard” soft power. Every self-respecting country needs a channel or two to promote its views abroad (The BBC, France 24, RFERL/Voice of America, CNBC, Al Jazeera) and Russia, through RT, RIA, the Voice of Russia, and RBTH, performs solidly in this respect. But other aspects need touching up. For instance, the main vector of Russian cultural influence abroad is Rossotrudnichestvo, which no foreigner can even pronounce properly; compare and contrast with the British Council, the Goethe-Institut, or the Confucius Academies. It definitely has to step up its game here: Rebrand (Pushkin Schools?), and expand.

“Hard” soft power is fairly easy to increase with targeted investments (unlike “soft” soft power), and it is comparatively very cheap (unlike “hard” military-industrial power). There are no Great Power wars on the horizon, which makes the vast spending on military modernization rather questionable; while the task of building up “soft” soft power isn’t a matter of years, but of decades or even centuries. In contrast, “hard” soft power can be maximized relatively cheaply and quickly. Although Russia is much better in this respect than it was even a decade ago, there are still many low-hanging fruits left to picked.

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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Another day, another Internet project.

Or more specifically, reviving an old project – the “English Inosmi” concept of translating articles and blog posts from the Russian media for a Western audience. The only problem was that I was perpetually dissatisfied, even if at a subconscious level, with the name: RossPress*. An elementary problem which I had somehow overlooked was that the double “s” is simply incorrect. And “RosPress.com” is already taken.

But apart from that, I was focusing my efforts not so much on translation, as on getting funding. Which isn’t all that easy for some random guy with a blog. It’s much easier if you also have a random NGO, but setting up said NGO is quite a lengthy procedure. So while that’s in process I thought I might as well restart work on the site and even offer a few translations. At the least, it would tie in well with The Russia Debate**.

[polldaddy poll=7088726]

But I still need a good name for it.

The RussoSphere: Solid, distinctive name – less than 2,000 Google hits on it, amazingly. Logo can be of a “sphere” with images of Russian newspaper front pages wrapped around it.

The Russian Spectrum: Another solid name that sounds respectable as a newspaper name, while at the same time alluding to its mission – translations from a wide variety of ideological viewpoints***.

Right now I’m slightly leaning towards The RussoSphere.

* Sorry Craig.

** You don’t know what is The Russia Debate? It’s a forum for discussing Russian politics and history. Come, comment, conquer!

*** Unlike the recent “Interpreter mag,” which as Nils van der Vegte rightly points out might as well call itself “The Interpreter of Novaya Gazeta.”

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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Here it is in Russian: Вверх-вниз по рейтингу свободы. This translation here is of a longer version at my Russian language blog.

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

press-freedom-voice-of-russia

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

Up and down the freedom index

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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For background see here, here.

Russia Voices is good because it powerfully hints at what the project is all about: Giving the Anglo-sphere some sense of what Russians from all sides of the political spectrum are saying. But downside is it’s similar to Voice of Russia (a radio station), and besides, the more “intuitive” Russia nVoices.com has already been taken.

RossPress is succinct and powerful; my innumerable thanks to the glorious Craig J. Willy for suggesting it. Only downside is that many Westerners don’t know that Russia, in Russian, is Rossiya.

I can’t say I’m 100% happy with either choice but c’est la vie. This issue should be gotten out of the way sooner rather than later.

RossPress (RossPress.com) 24
Russia Voices (RussiaVoices.com) 17
Other 3

Only vote “Other” if you really hate both of them (preferably provide an alternative in that case). Thank you all for your participation.

Finally, I’d like to note that today I have translated the first two articles ever specifically for RV/RP. They are:

I have chosen to translate liberals because to date I have mostly only translated “patriots”, conservatives, and Putin supporters. This is to demonstrate and affirm that the site will be a non-partisan affair to the maximum feasible extent possible.

Edit 2013/2/2: As there is strong support for both options, I will test them out via Google Adwords and come to a decision by next week (which is when I plan to launch the site anyway).

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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As long-term readers will be aware, I am working on two big projects: A book on myths about Russia, and a website specializing in translating articles from the Russian press into English.

(The idea being that even if it does nothing else, Western institutions will no longer be able to credibly say Russia’s level of media freedoms are on par with Zimbabwe’s).

While the preliminary name I’m going with before the site is unveiled is “Russia Voices”, this is far from set in stone. First, it would sound better as “Russia n Voices.” Second, a Voice of Russia already exists. Maybe there is a better alternative? I would appreciate it if you could vote on and provide feedback on other possible names for this site.

Update: Guess there’s no longer a need to keep the poll running. It’s already clear that Russia Voices is the only one of the original suggestions with any support. The majority of you think that it needs to be something else.

Russia Voices (russiavoices.com) 4
Russian Points of View (russpovs.com) 2
Press of Russian Federation (pressrf.com) 1
Other 12

Please feel free to make your own suggestions. Note that the .com hyperlink has to be available for a name to be seriously considered. Thanks.

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

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

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

… and Victor Davidoff at the St. Petersburg Times.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This image is however almost entirely false.

Laurie Penny hints at it in the Guardian:

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

Max Fisher in the Washington Post spells it out clearly:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Guatemala

Romania

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

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

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

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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In one of his regular columns for mafia state news agency RIA Novosti he wrote (h/t Mercouris):

Valentina, an acquaintance of mine, is a third year Moscow University student. She told me recently: ‘Whenever I or my friends and college mates hear ‘Georgia’, the reaction is nearly universally positive – food, people, culture and now democracy! The Georgians succeeded where our rulers failed”. The Kremlin may well hear more from Saakashvili – and Georgia’s growing fan-base in Russia itself.

But wait! This sounds… remarkably similar to a Facebook conversation with one Valentina Filippenko on Eggert’s wall. (She is a student at the Journalism Faculty of Moscow State University, presumably another democratic journalist in the making). Except that “food, people, culture and now democracy!” or even “nearly universally positive” (≠ “Georgia’s image becoming more and more positive”) don’t figure anywhere in her comment. This is what she actually said, in translation:

You know, I’m noticing in my “youth” circles: The connotative coloring of Georgia is becoming ever more positive – this the Kremlin and United Russia will find hard to deal with.

Now it’s more likely than not, I suppose, that Ms. Filippenko would not disagree with Eggert’s apparent amplification of what she actually said. Still, unless she further expounded on this topic to Eggert on the telephone, one has to conclude that he is guilty of the same thing that ruined Johann Hari’s career.

PS. In case Eggert deletes this:

Note also another gem, in the third section. One journalist Ramil Gataullin comments, “Saakashvili above all entered history as a killer of Russian peacekeepers.” In reply, Sergey Medvedev, a professor of Economics at the (neoliberal) School of Higher Economics replied, “Russian peacekeepers got lost in the mountains and ended up in the wrong territory…)) Konstantin, excellent commentary.”

Needless to say, it was Medvedev who got most of the Likes on Eggert’s page, not Gataullin.

Little surprises me from these people, but still, even I am taken aback by this degree of loathing for their country. They really do think it excellent that Saakashvili bombarded the barracks of their own soldiers and killed some of them. To them, Kasparov and his ilk meeting Saakashvili in solidarity immediately after the war wasn’t a cause for disenchantment; it was taking a heroic stand against the Kremlin! It’s not like I care about their views that much, they are of course entitled to them, but what’s hilarious is that these liberals genuinely can’t figure out why they are considered revolting by much of the rest of the country.

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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This post is a continuation of the last, and can otherwise be called “Konstantin von Eggert: A Case Study In Democratic Journalism (part 2).” Alternatively, one might view it as a refutation of claims that the Kremlin controls or censors the Russian media (Eggert’s own protestations, hilarious and Orwellian in the context of what follows, to the contrary). In this fascinating piece for Kommersant (a moderately liberal Russian newspaper, believe it or not) Eggert takes out his frustrations on Assange for the unpardonable offense of humiliating his journalistic profession – Wikileaks produced more big news stories in a year than dozens of journalists do in their entire careers – and even worse, presenting in a bad light the West that he worships.

***

“Russia Today Hired You To Talk About the Cynicism and Wickedness of the West”

Konstantin von Eggert, writing for Kommersant (January 26, 2012).

Julian Assange will soon be a columnist for Russian state TV channel Russia Today. Kommersant FM’s columnist Konstantin von Eggert decided to write a letter to his new colleague.

Dear Julian! I would like to extent a warm welcome to our club of Russian journalists. Perhaps after you present us with your ten interviews with the politicians and even “revolutionaries” that RT promise, you will finally understand what is journalism. You see, it is not a waste basket, even a flash card-sized miniature one; it is a laborious process of fact checking and protection of sources. I myself, Julian, could have told you this in a private meeting – for my own name figures a few times in Wikileaks publications.

Visual summary of everything Eggert hates.

By all means, thanks for the publicity. But I suspect it would be better if the basics of the profession were to be explained to you by the families of those Afghans, Iranians, and Arabs who had the misfortune to have confidential conversations with American diplomats. Their relatives died when you released details of these conversations on the Web. They died because of your irrepressible vanity and your no less irrepressible hatred for the United States, and the West in general.

By the way, Julian, you’re a grown man and should understand this: Russia Today took you on as one of their staff precisely because of this – to tell the international audience about the cynicism and wickedness of the West, CIA plots, and the lack of democracy in countries like the United Kingdom. Because that is where you, Julian, heroically fought extradition to Sweden (on that small and insignificant matter of rape) in the face of absolutely brutal pressure from the Washington Obkom and the counterintelligence of Her Majesty’s Courts. But now you’ll get even with them all!

I think I can guess at least a few of the guests on your mobile studio: For instance, Bashar Assad (hurry up, you might be late!) and the builder of “Bolivarian socialism” and darling of leftists all around the world, Hugo Chavez (here, I think, you still have time). I am confident, that you will not forget about that other idol of the refined global left, the scholar and writer Noam Chomsky. He hates rotten American pseudo-democracy so much that he’s lived and worked there successfully his entire life.

Don’t forget Thierry Meyssan. This brave Frenchman wrote a book. In it, he revealed that the terrorist attacks of 9/11 weren’t actually organized by Islamists, but by George Bush. But I’m afraid that Raul and Fidel Castro are best left alone. In the light of recent reforms in Cuba, they have now presumably become too spinelessly bourgeois for your broadcasts. Although who knows, maybe the old “Comandante” will loosen up and reminisce with you on the good old days of the anti-imperialist struggle on Soviet – that is to say, my – money.

By the way, speaking of money… Don’t be shy, ask for more! First, everyone has already began to forget about you, so this might be your last chance to hit the jackpot. Second, that is what real fighters for truth do anyway. They go to work for a state propaganda channel – be it Russian, Iranian, or even Georgian or Chinese – and uncompromisingly reveal the whole truth in the eyes of the public. All this will be especially pleasing to your young and sincere fans, Julian, who’d once seen you as a beacon of free speech. I’m afraid many of them will become disillusioned with you. But this is a mere trifle in comparison with the joy of continuing your great struggle – of course, all strictly within the framework of Russia Today’s editorial objectives.

***

I have no desire to systemically identify all the smears and fisk the lies and aspersions cast about by this democratic journalist. I believe the article speaks for itself and shows up its author in a worse light than I could possibly manage myself.

Still, there are a few points that absolutely have to be made:

(1) Needless to say, the “sheer snobbery and pretentiousness” and “unpleasantly sarcastic, sanctimonious, hypocritical” tone (in Mercouris’ words) is on full display. Note the false and overly polite nature of this “letter”, accompanied by repeated kicks straight in the nuts. He waxes poetic on journalism’s preoccupation with “fact checking”, but his own spiel consists almost entirely of rumors, smears, and innuendo. He slams Chomsky for writing critically about America and living there, in the “love it or leave it!” vein of argumentation, while doing the exact same in Russia (with the important difference that Chomsky criticizes all sorts of countries, while Eggert concentrates his venom on his own homeland and other countries that aren’t very friendly with the US). His assessment of his ideological opponents consists of pure caricature, and he absolutely refuses to engage with the substance of their arguments; while this might be acceptable on a personal blog, what exactly such pieces are doing in a major newspaper I do not know.

(2) No, absolutely no, deaths among Arabs, Afghans, etc. have been connected to Wikileaks (despite very great efforts to identify such). However, we do know that there have been dozens of collateral deaths from US drone strikes in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, etc. for every terrorist killed. Somehow, I don’t imagine Eggert ever writing anything critical about that.

(3) The flippant and dismissive attitude to the numerous signs of political motivations behind the Assange rape accusations. These include, but are most certainly NOT limited to:

  • One of the “victims” tweeting about what a great guy Assange was the day after the supposed “rape” (since deleted from Twitter, of course, but fortunately you can’t really delete things from the Internet).
  • The condom used as evidence against Assange not containing his DNA, or any DNA/semen for that matter.
  • Why did Anna Ardin not warn Sofia Wilen that Assange was a rapist?
  • The remarkable intensity with which Britain is willing to pursue Assange for a crime that is not even a crime on its own soil (up to and including threatening to storm a sovereign embassy)
  • The tons of circumstantial evidence that the US is indeed seeking to charge and prosecute Assange.

(4) His assumptions about RT setting editorial policy on Assange’s interview were quite simply wrong. For instance, Assange openly criticized Hezbollah chief Nasrallah’s support for Assad in the first interview, in direct contravention of official Russian policy. Not that Eggert ever picked up on that; his response to that was predictable as clockwork: “It is shameful that the Russian taxpayer funds anti-Semitic propaganda.”

I for one was very glad and interested to hear Nasrallah’s perspective on the Middle East and Israel. I did not notice anti-Semitic statements (unless one considers statements like “Palestine belongs to the Palestinian people” to be anti-Semitic, which is admittedly quite possible in Eggert’s case). I am also glad that Russian taxpayers helped Assange reach a far broader audience than what was possible in the “free” West.

Finally, I am also glad that Russia does not suppress voices like Eggert’s, who wants to ban free speech to defend free speech (that is, “free speech” within the narrow confines of his little Orwellian world). After all, I am not a democratic journalist. I think the Russian people should know their “democratic” heroes.

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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There is a term on Runet, popularized by the satirical “dissident” Lev Sharansky, called “democratic journalist.” Of course, this term is every bit as satirical as its main propagator. In the Russian context, it denotes a journalist who is obsessed with free speech, human rights, democracy, the whole turkey. But they are “obsessed” with them in a rather peculiar way. Namely, when Russia violates these things in some way, real or imagined, they raise a loud howls of protest that reverberate around the globe: Formal condemnations, calls for the persecutors to be banned from Western countries and their financial accounts frozen, trade sanctions against Russia, etc, etc. But when the West does things that are just as bad or even worse, they are either silent on it, or blame the victims themselves (there are of course many exceptions… but then they are not “democratic journalists” in the first place). Those who call them out on their hypocrisy are assailed with the strawman label of “whataboutism.” To these people, the world is built on Manichean principles: There are enemy states, whose victims are “worthy” and deserve unalloyed attention (e.g. Pussy Riot, Iranian protesters); and then there is the West – that is, the US and its allies – which can do no real wrong, and as such, their victims (e.g. Assange, Bahraini protesters) are “unworthy”.

A case in point: In 2010, an RT crew was arrested and detained for 32 hours for covering protests against Fort Benning, the infamous School of the Americas with a dark reputation around its training of Latin American right-wing paramilitaries. With the honorable exception of Ilya Yashin and Boris Nemtsov, Russia’s liberals took a rather different view. For instance, in the comments section to their blogs, one user wrote, “So that democracy can survive in civilized countries, they have to limit the activities of agents of influence of barbaric fascist regimes on their own territory.” This was not a lone voice; to the contrary, at least half the comments reflected similar sentiments. Lyudmila Alexeyeva, who used to sit on President Medvedev’s Council on Human Rights blamed the RT journalists themselves for their own arrests (incidentally that Council, before it was recently – and in my opinion none too soon – restaffed under Putin, also spent much of 2011 compiling a 400 page report on the purported unfairness of Khodorkovsky’s conviction; one would think there were more things worthy of their attention in the evil empire than the fate of a major crook who probably ordered contract murders, and whose conviction was maintained multiple times by the ECHR, but that’s just me).

This phenomenon of “democratic journalists” is however best illustrated by the Russian liberal intelligentsia’s reaction to Wikileaks and Cablegate – which is to say, parroting the US Establishment and their Western colleagues, they started to disparage, loathe, smear, hate on, mock, and condemn Julian Assange. One of these “democratic journalists” is Peter Savodnik. Yet another is Konstantin von Eggert. In his vitriolic, froth-on-the-mouth reactions to Assange’s plight; in his attacks on his critics; in his privileged position in the Russian media (which we are meant to believe is controlled by Putin), he represents all of the hypocrisy of your stereotypical Russian liberal. If there was a holotype specimen for “democratic journalist” he’d be an excellent candidate for it.

As far as I’m aware, Eggert first made his views known in 2010. The title says it all: “The tabloid freedom of Wikileaks.” But first note at the onset that it was published in English at RIA Novosti, the official Russian news agency. Personally, I do not decry that Eggert is employed there. First, it would be hypocritical of me, as I write for Al Jazeera and get money from them for articles that are hardly in line with official Qatari foreign policy (though at this point I should note that Eggert does have a problem with me writing for Al Jazeera, or any MSM outlet for that matter). Second, whenever somebody claims that the Kremlin controls the Russian media, one can simply point to Eggert’s scribblings for its main news agency. So in this regard, Eggert in his own way serves the Kremlin; though not, I think, in quite the way he imagines it.

Assange thinks of himself a some kind of Internet-age messiah, but in fact his worldview is not much different of your average salon leftie from Harvard or Islington, ever ready to believe any smear about the United States and to apologize for any tyrant, as long as the latter claims to be a socialist and dislikes the US. … The “bien pensants” of the Western left think that their governments are wicked – despite leading prosperous and protected lives under those same governments.

Apparently, he is a radical leftist and committed anti-American, stubbornly unwilling to realize how free he really is (to be financially embargoed and effectively imprisoned on trumped up charges for years on end?):

Somehow, I do not expect many cables from the Burmese Foreign Ministry (or Myanmar if you like it) or minutes from North Korea’s Politburo meetings to be revealed any time soon by Wikileaks.

Note that despite being an ardent critic of whataboutism, like many democratic journalists, Konstantin von Eggert feels free to liberally engage in it himself when the occasion calls for it. How dare Assange expose Western dirty laundry without first doing the same for dozens of other nasty regimes? To (very) loosely paraphrase Miriam Elder, another democratic journalist: “It’s unclear what Eggert, or his sponsors, would prefer. That Assange avoid leaking stuff about Western countries until he spills all the beans on Iran, Syria, Burma, North Korea, China, and Russia too?” (Contrary to what Western democratic journalists wrote at the beginning of the saga, of those Russia at least is NOT going to kill Assange for revealing stuff about it).

***

But the shit really started hitting the fan when news emerged that RT (Russia Today) was teaming up with Assange to product a ten-part series of interviews with the world’s movers and shakers, he went on an all-out offensive, publishing a new round of hit pieces at Kommersant (January 26, 2012) and Russian Forbes (January 27, 2012). Let’s start with the latter:

After the news that RT is going to use the services of Julian Assange, I got a phone call from a Reuters correspondent. She asked me whether I knew whether the Kremlin would pay the Wikileaks founder for his program. I don’t have a clue of course. But with RT, this weird Australian might as well work for free. For his alliance with the main organ of Russian state propaganda on the world stage – is an alliance of kindred spirits.

After this, he goes on to criticize RT for its “conspirological” bias, by “interviewing marginal people” and catering to Westerners who are “marginal” and for whom “The Guardian and The New York Times are too leftist.” Is this guy for real? In what universe is The Guardian and the NYT leftist? But I guess to a neocon of his calibre anything that marginally deviates from the US party line is automatically leftist. Furthermore:

… As a rule, [these conspirological audiences] really don’t like Israel. For natural reasons, for Jews are frequently the heroes of various conspiracy theories. For these audiences, RT frequently invites “fighters against Zionism” from the ranks of rather paranoid Western researchers, such as Norman Finkelstein. He is a hero of multiple scandals and for all intents and purposes denies Israel its right to existence.

A bit of background on Norman Finkelstein. True, he does not like the Israeli state, perhaps irrationally so (much in the way that Eggert himself doesn’t like RT, or Wikileaks, or – for that matter – Russia). Unlike Eggert, however, who is given a privileged position in the Russian media, Norman Finkelstein has been hounded out of academia for his views, detained and expelled from from Israel at the airport (recall the uproar when Luke Harding was expelled from Russia for overstaying his visa?), and – the mark of Cain in America – has been branded an anti-Semite, which permanently blacklists him from the US media. Here is another view of him, from Peter Lavelle:

Norman Finkelstein is a hate figure for many of those who know of him in America and for many in the worldwide Jewish community. He is another person who is blacklisted by Western mainstream media for speaking his mind and revealing the frauds of others.

A child of Holocaust survivors – Finkelstein’s father was on a death march in Auschwitz and his mother was a survivor of the Majdanek death camp – he challenges anyone who tries to use his deceased parents’ memory for geopolitical advantage when invoking the Nazi genocide against the Jews.

I understand where Finkelstein is coming from. I lived in Poland for 12 years and visited every Nazi death camp. To this day I am left speechless by how the human condition can succumb to evil. Thankfully we have Norman Finkelstein to remind us that honoring the memory of the Holocaust does not automatically mean supporting Israel and Washington. As someone aware of how ideologies literally destroy people, Finkelstein is worth listening to when it comes of the suffering of the Palestinian people.

When prominent US politicians like Romney say there can be no peace with congenitally violent Palestinians – and are backed up on this in the op-eds of major American papers such as the WSJ – contrary voices like Finkelstein’s are clearly needed for a balanced debate. Konstantin von Eggert, however, would do his best to suppress it; and condemns RT for giving Finkelstein the freedom of speech he does not enjoy in America.

They say, that Assange will interview for RT famous people. I suspect they will mainly be opponents of America and the West, both internal and external. Ahmadinejad and Huge Chavez, Bashar Assad and Evo Morales, Noam Chomsky and John Pilger, Sean Penn and Susan Sarandon, Slavoj Zizek and Robert Fisk…

There is little more left to say here. In the Kremlin-controlled Russian media (according to this democratic journalist, let us not forget, the Russian elites “rule like Stalin and live like Abramovich”), Konstantin von Eggert is basically waging a McCarthyite campaign (“enemies internal and external”???) against supposed Kremlin (China, North Korea, etc) friends. What kind of idiot totalitarianism that allows this does Russia run anyway? (This is sarcastic, of course; I genuinely love the fact that Eggert gets the opportunity to write these things in the Russian media, both in itself (a free media is good) and for mercenary reasons (one can always cite him to the various hacks who claim otherwise). Now as for smearing the child of Holocaust survivors as anti-Semitic, or in bracketing people like Robert Fisk and Assad in the same category of miscreants, I will not dwell on that… I leave it on Eggert’s conscience (if he has any).

There is a paradox that a person around whom is constructed the aura of a global fighter for free information, not sits in one dugout with employees of an organ of state propaganda. On the principle of “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.”

The hypocrisy is oozing out of his every slimey pore. The stench is so nauseating that even the readers of this fairly pro-Western publication, Russian Forbes, call him out on it. Here is one representative comment by alexz105:

Ah, Kostya, Kostya. If you can’t do the job – don’t take it. A fine advert you make for Forbes. The all-encompassing usage and constantly repeated of this juicy little word “marginals” reminds one of the rhetoric about the Weismann-Morganists [AK: Practitioners of "bourgeois" genetics, persecuted under Stalinism]. You’re a sovok bast shoe, even if you do have a “von” in your name.

To which Eggert replied with anti-Semitic accusations.

All as I thought. No relevant comments. Banal fighters with the “Jewish conspiracy” soloing. And, as expected, they mention the “von” thing. … You have nothing to say. It’s boring – noone to argue with.

And so on in the most dismal vein. The commentators started to identify themselves with the “marginals” to piss Eggert off. To which Eggert responded by correcting their spelling mistakes. Now I don’t often agree with La Russophobe (LOL), but she’s right that when have to resort to pointing out spelling or grammar mistakes to attack your critic, you’ve probably already lost the argument.

***

This is a fascinating case study, and there is plenty more to come. Stay tuned. The next part will deal with Eggert’s articles for Kommersant smearing Assange with rape, lying about his release of the unredacted Cables, and repeating the “he’s anti-American!” In fact, I’m half of a mind to translate this gem in full and reprint it my book as evidence of Russian media diversity (I mean he can’t complain, right? I will be making more people aware of his work. I’ll be doing him a favor!). There may also be a third part dealing with his personal attacks on me and other critics of his work.

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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It’s been a few months in the building, since the decision to launch it at the WRF 2012, and I feel it is now developed enough to make it more widely known. I hope it will become as prominent as the current best specialized English-language Russian politics resource on the Internet, Russia: Other Points of View.

US-RUSSIA.org will also have regular discussion panels featuring short commentaries on topical issues of the day by members of its think-tank, moderated by Vlad Sobell. The very first one will be out soon and will focus on the assaults on the US’ Middle East embassies and what it implies for US relations with Russia.

It is the brainchild of Edward Lozansky, Soviet dissident turned promoter of US-Russian cooperation. (He also has an excellent restaurant in Washington DC which I highly recommend you visit anytime you’re there; it’s on the pricey side, but service, atmosphere, and – unusual for traditional/”Soviet” Russian eateries – the food itself are all top notch).

(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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One of the most common arguments made to explain why Russians don’t finally overthrow the evil Putin in a bloody bunt is that they are brainwashed by the regime’s TV propaganda stations.

This isn’t actually very accurate at all. Russian TV isn’t any more propagandistic than in the West, and on some issues, less so; but that is for another time.

The more relevant issue that is presupposes that there few Russians have means of accessing the “free information on the Internet, which even Western propagandists acknowledge is not controlled in Russia. But today this is no longer actual, as revealed by this history of polls on Internet penetration from FOM.

As you can see, Internet penetration in Russia as of Spring 2012 went over the 50% mark. Those people can read all the Navalny, Snob and Echo of Moscow they want to.

Of those 51%, a much larger proportion access the Internet daily as opposed to the several years ago.

Internet penetration is at basically developed country levels of 70% in Moscow and St.-Petersburg, and in Med-like 50%’s in other urban areas.

The most “connected” regions lead only by 2-3 years.

Finally, a graph of Russia Internet penetration compared to developed countries (Germany, the US, Italy, Greece); BRIC’s; and Ukraine. A few interesting observations can be made:

(1) Internet penetration in Russia increased at very rapid rates throughout the 2000′s.

(2) They have now almost caught up with those of Greece and Portugal, and lag Italy by just 2-3 years. The US and Germany however both reached Russia’s current Internet penetration rates a decade earlier.

(3) Ukraine has the same Internet penetration rate in 2011, at 31%, as did Russia’s rural areas in the same type period – or Russia as a whole in 2009.

(4) Not related to Russia as such, but pertaining to one of the themes over at AKarlin, China is head and shoulders above India.

(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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Typically when Westerners write about Chinese and Russians they stress the negative aspects of the relationship. Russians are invariably racist towards the Chinese and fear them in xenophobic reaction to their (non-existent) swamping of Siberia. The Chinese for their part laugh at the alcoholic, non-productive Russkies. And quite likely they will soon invade and take back Outer Manchuria. Unlike the Putinist kleptocracy the Chinese model at least incorporates fast growth, public service and rule of law.

Of course as regards opinions on China-Russia relations, the Westerners are the least relevant of the three parties. When Russians themselves reference China in online discussions, my impression is that it is usually in positive and self-critical terms: “They are growing so much faster than us”; “They shoot corrupt bureaucrats”; “Their prices are so low and thus they are now richer than us.” (For reasons that should be obvious there are critical caveats to all these views which renders the Chinese situation less relatively impressive once accounted for). Of course there are negative views too. In particular, all too many Russians buy into the thesis of a Chinese military threat to the Far East (thanks to propagandists/publicists Golts, Latynina, Aleksandr Khramchikhin, etc). It’s like they’re unaware of certain critical innovations in bombing technology since 1945.

The view that I am least familiar with is the Chinese. My impression based on reading translations from the website chinaSMACK is that typically the Chinese feel quite positively towards Russia. A few have lingering resentments over events in 1858 and suchlike but these are not widespread sentiments. However what was really pleasantly surprising was to see that some Chinese at least have high opinions of Russian governance relative to their own, at least in response to the news that the Mayor of Krymsk and other senior local bureaucrats had been arrested in response to recent flooding that took 170 lives. (Typically, both Russians and Westerners disagree, regarding Chinese governance as superior). This I know because Inosmi translated the comments of Chinese netizens on the Krymsk arrests on Sina Weibo (their equivalent of Twitter). I re-translate them into English.

Chinese comments on the flooding in Krymsk and Beijing on Sina Weibo

Inosmi; original translator: Tatyana Schenkova.

The Chinese blogosphere is actively commenting on the arrests of Krymsk bureaucrats and the actions of the Russian authorities in response to the flooding, while drawing parallels with the heavy rains over Beijing on the night of 21-22 July, which resulted in the deaths of 37 people.

Somnus_1028: I wonder if the Mayor of Beijing would have been arrested for this?

Mountain Range Stepper: I hate Russian bureaucrats!

Chen Tsyao027: And what about our government? We have too many criminally negligent organizations.

A Man Without Complexes: When have we ever had someone criminally prosecuted for flooding? Surprise surprise, just another blessing of socialism.

Huxinyu: We should also seize a few officials in Beijing. “Learn from Big Brother*”, so to speak.

Victor2236: If we had done the same, then few people would have seen the sea. But as it is the cars of our city folks were turned into land cruisers.

Brother Bear: The Russian government tries the patience of our government, first with pensions**, then by firing on fishermen*** and arrests of bureaucrats. Would beat their face if the occasion presented itself.

13 Prince: Putin solves problems pitilessly!

Onion Welcoming Guests of Huangshan: When the rain is over, the appropriate heads will be rewarded!

Kindhearted rot: Because of the rain in Beijing 10 people died, and who will answer for this? If in previous times when there was a downpour in the city, people drowned, would anyone now have paid attention to these 10 dead people? Who will answer for this bloody retribution?

Zhengxiangyu: Hateful capitalism wants to destroy the harmonious Chinese society.

Gentle Jasper Bush: Putin is responsible for his words, he says something – he does it.

Caesar of an Era: And as if it is possible to organize an impeachment in a dictatorial country? Don’t forget, that in Russia there exist many parties, and that even if none of them can compare with Putin – these other parties can still check and audit him.

Strolling in Xian: Who allows such people to become bureaucrats in Russia?

The Carrot is also a Root Vegetable: No, in China you can’t do this [arrest bureaucrats], or else nobody will be left in government. Because if one set can’t cope, then it will be necessary to pick others.

Searky: I’ve never seen someone removed from office in China for something like this. And if they were removed they were reinstated at once in another post. This is what is meant by “with Chinese characteristics.”

Wangzaigewoye: And this is the difference between the popular vote and non-direct elections!!! Which variant do you prefer???

Papa Clean As A Mirror: In that exactly same non-market Russia, managed by a strong hand, at least they may remove a few bureaucrats to pacify the anger of the people. But here they can only pretend, that everything is going smoothly, and remove comments. Therein lies the fundamental difference, which the ballot carries.

***

(1) No, I am NOT saying that this proves that Russian officials are less corrupt or more accountable than Chinese officials, as the usual trolls will probably try to claim. Many and probably most Russians consider China to be cleaner than Russia. Personally, I do not think there are huge differences. In my objective Corruption Realities Index, China scores a “6.2″ and Russia scores a “6.1″.

(2) One thing that fascinated many of the Inosmi commentators to this article is the “creativity” of many of the commentator’s names. This is a natural function of their writing system in which entire concepts can be expressed with one character. Another consequence of the writing system is that even on platforms like Twitter or Sina Weibo one can easily compose what are almost mini-essays.

* The USSR was called “big brother” during early Maoism because it provided technologies, industrial plant, ideology, etc. Many Chinese of the 50′s have exceptionally warm associations with the Soviet Union whereas the 80′s generation are far more Westwards-orientated.

** Probably in reference to Russia having a universal pensions system, whereas it is still lacking for Chinese in rural areas and the informal sector.

*** Russian coast guard fires on Chinese fishing vessel.

(Republished from Da Russophile 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.