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Recent Rasmussen poll:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

gallup-usa-views-putin

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

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

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

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

 
• Category: Ideology • Tags: Politics, Republicans, Russia, Russophobes, USA 
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starr-global-blackness

So this Fulbright alumnus writes articles about “global blackness and Russia-U.S. politics” for the Washington Post.

starr-russia-expert

Not surprisingly, he is a man of many “powerful” takes.

starr-crimea-odessa

starr-racist-russia

What is this Article 282-free nationalist paradise that he’s describing, I want there.

Anyhow there’s something of a pattern here.

reid-russia-communist

brazile-commie-russia

The blacks aren’t sending their best to ZOGPR.

 
• Category: Humor • Tags: Affirmative Action, Russophobes 
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putin-derangement-syndrome I didn’t really invent this meme, as Patrick Armstrong once credited me; there were a few disjointed mentions of it there and there from before 2011. That said, I do think I did more than than anyone else to popularize it. Anyhow, the term Putin Derangement Syndrome has finally gone mainstream, with Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibi writing about its “arrival” a few days ago (though arguably, it arrived a decade ago).

One way we recognize a mass hysteria movement is that everyone who doesn’t believe is accused of being in on the plot. This has been going on virtually unrestrained in both political and media circles in recent weeks.

The aforementioned Mensch, a noted loon who thinks Putin murdered Andrew Breitbart but has somehow been put front and center by The Times and HBO’s Real Time, has denounced an extraordinary list of Kremlin plants.

She’s tabbed everyone from Jeff Sessions (“a Russian partisan“) to Rudy Giuliani and former Assistant FBI Director James Kallstrom (“agents of influence“) to Glenn Greenwald (“Russian shill“) to ProPublica and Democracy Now! (also “Russian shills“), tothe 15-year-old girl with whom Anthony Weiner sexted (really, she says, a Russian hacker group called “Crackas With Attitudes”) to an unnamed number of FBI agents in the New York field office (“moles“). And that’s just for starters.

Others are doing the same. Eric Boehlert of Media Matters, upon seeing the strange behavior of Republican Intel Committee chair Devin Nunes, asked “what kind of dossier” the Kremlin has on Nunes.

Dem-friendly pollster Matt McDermott wondered why reporters Michael Tracey and Zaid Jilani aren’t on board with the conspiracy stories (they might be “unwitting” agents!) and noted, without irony, that Russian bots mysteriously appear every time he tweets negatively about them.

Think about that last one. Does McDermott think Tracey and Jilani call their handlers at the sight of a scary Matt McDermott tweet and have the FSB send waves of Russian bots at him on command? Or does he think it’s an automated process? What goes through the heads of such people?

I’ve written a few articles on the Russia subject that have been very tame, basically arguing that it might be a good idea to wait for evidence of collusion before those of us in the media jump in the story with both feet. But even I’ve gotten the treatment.

I’ve been “outed” as a possible paid Putin plant by the infamous “PropOrNot” group, which is supposedly dedicated to rooting out Russian “agents of influence.” You might remember PropOrNot as the illustrious research team the Washington Post once relied on for a report that accused 200 alternative websites of being “routine peddlers of Russian propaganda during the election season.”

Politicians are getting into the act, too. It was one thing when Rand Paul balked at OKing the expansion of NATO to Montenegro, and John McCain didn’t hesitate to say that “the senator from Kentucky is now working for Vladimir Putin.”

Even Bernie Sanders has himself been accused of being a Putin plant by Mensch. But even he’s gotten on board of late, asking, “What do the Russians have on Mr. Trump?”

So even people who themselves have been accused of being Russian plants are now accusing people of being Russian plants. As the Russians would say, it’s enough to make your bashka hurt.

The paranoia is matched only by its ignorance and stupidity:

Even the bizarre admission by FBI director (and sudden darling of the same Democrats who hated him months ago) James Comey that he didn’t know anything about Russia’s biggest company didn’t seem to trouble Americans very much. Here’s the key exchange, from a House hearing in which Jackie Speier quizzed Comey:

SPEIER: Now, do we know who Gazprom-Media is? Do you know anything about Gazprom, director?
COMEY: I don’t.
SPEIER: Well, it’s a – it’s an oil company.

(Incidentally, Gazprom – primarily a natural-gas giant – is not really an oil company. So both Comey and Speier got it wrong.)

As Leonid Bershidsky of Bloomberg noted, this exchange was terrifying to Russians. The leader of an investigation into Russian espionage not knowing what Gazprom is would be like an FSB chief not having heard of Exxon-Mobil. It’s bizarre, to say the least.

And it may lead to some very bad things, from entrenching the status quo…

Moreover, even those who detest Trump with every fiber of their being must see the dangerous endgame implicit in this entire line of thinking. If the Democrats succeed in spreading the idea that straying from the DNC-approved candidate – in either the past or the future – is/was an act of “unwitting” cooperation with the evil Putin regime, then the entire idea of legitimate dissent is going to be in trouble.

Imagine it’s four years from now (if indeed that’s when we have our next election). A Democratic candidate stands before the stump, and announces that a consortium of intelligence experts has concluded that Putin is backing the hippie/anti-war/anti-corporate opposition candidate.

… to war.

But if you’re not worried about accusing non-believers of being spies, or pegging legitimate dissent as treason, there’s a third problem that should scare everyone.

Last week saw Donna Brazile and Dick Cheney both declare Russia’s apparent hack of DNC emails an “act of war.” This coupling seemed at first like political end times: as Bill Murray would say, “dogs and cats, living together.”

But there’s been remarkable unanimity among would-be enemies in the Republican and Democrat camps on this question. Suddenly everyone from Speier to McCain to Kamala Harris to Ben Cardin have decried Russia’s alleged behavior during the election as real or metaphorical acts of war: a “political Pearl Harbor,” as Cardin put it. …

But when it comes to Trump-Putin collusion, we’re still waiting for the confirmation. As Democratic congresswoman Maxine Waters put it, the proof is increasingly understood to be the thing we find later, as in, “If we do the investigations, we will find the connections.”

This seems especially relevant right now for some reason.

I suppose I will now need to redouble my efforts on pushing the ROG (Russian Occupation Government) meme, which is apparently so all encompassing that an American Tomahawk strike ordered by Putler’s puppet Trump on a military base with Russian advisors is, in fact, a “manufactured Cold War 2.0 which will lead to a peace deal that includes lifting sanctions on Russia” according to the top voted comment on the relevant thread at the /r/politics subreddit.

Truly, there are no limits to the reach of ROG’s tentacles.

 
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margarita-simonyan

In a recent, widely shared Facebook post, Margarita Simonyan, the ethnic Armenian chief editor of RT, has asked what exactly a Kyrgyz national of Uzbek ethnicity did to get Russian citizenship while ethnic Russians from the wartorn Donbass struggle to even get a residency permit:

The nurse of my children and her family, whom we evacuated from Donbass after having massed a vast thicket of queues, insults, delays, examinations, etc., can’t acquire a Russian residency permit after three years. This is despite my “administrative resource,” which, I freely admit, in this particular case I freely used. This family are simply Russian people with a Russian mentality, language, faith, biographies, and connection to the Motherland. Hard-working people who would be of GREAT USE to our country where, as is well known, there is a demographic crisis and a shortage of people. Fuck them, no residence permit! But here comes Akbarzhon Jalilov, who received Russian citizenship five years ago. CITIZENSHIP!

I have two questions in this regard:

1) Who, and under what circumstances, provided this citizenship. Perhaps at the time he was just a nice schoolboy, who had solid reasons for getting citizenship in my country. Or perhaps not, especially on account of consequent events. I don’t want to judge without first knowing all the details. But I do want an answer.

2) For how long will Russia continue to be embarassed to give citizenship to Russian people just on account of them being ethnic Russians. Like how it is done in “respectable” countries from Israel to Germany. I don’t understand.

This note of protest is especially striking in light of the fact that Margarita Simonyan is the quintessential Putinist Russian patriot, and as such, an object of loathing from the pro-Western liberal opposition, who simply hate Russia and Russians, to the more extreme Russian ethnonationalists, who hate her for her Armenian ancestry and for her status as a “stalwart of the regime.”

Putin once called Russians – specifically, ethnic Russians – the “biggest divided nation in the world.” But the time has come for back up his words with actions. He can now either take the side of the Russian people, or double down on the friendship of peoples project that will eventually lead to either Navalny or Greater Turkestan.

 
• Category: Ideology • Tags: Immigration, Nationalism, Russia, Russophobes 
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A week ago, I speculated that Voronenkov was most likely killed by a Ukrainian nationalist who overdosed on svidomism, and not by the Dark Lord of the Kremlin:

That said, there is a good chance he was killed by genuine Ukrainian nationalists. They hate Poroshenko, and they cannot be very happy about the red carpet treatment rolled out for someone who not only supported but helped enable Crimea’s incorporation into Russia.

According to the latest reports, his killer – who has just died in hospital – was an ATO veteran and a member of the National Guard. Now yes, its possible that Russian intelligence services outsourced the assassination. But Occam’s Razor suggests that it was just a case of excessive svidomism.

This was strongly suggested by the fact that the gunman, Pavel Parshov, was a former member of a Donbass batallion that had participated in the ATO. He had also been convicted in 2011 for economic crimes.

More recent news have all but confirmed it. A couple of days ago, the Ukrainian journalist Alyona Lunkova revealed that Parshov wasn’t acting on his own, but came with his friend Yaroslav Levenets, who was supposed to be the getaway driver.

levenets-political-prisoner

As it turns out, Levenets also has a most colorful history.

A native of Dnepropetrovsk oblast who worked as an instructor in the Ukrainian martial art of “khopak,” Levenets was arrested in 2012 under charges of theft, fictitious entrepreneurshup, and tax avoidance. His comrades insisted this was a politically motivated prosecution on account of his actions against drug trafficking and membership in Trizub, a nationalist organization then run by Dmitry Yarosh.

After the “Revolution of Dignity,” he was recognized as a political prisoner and freed, albeit remaining under house arrest, and promptly went off to fight the Donbass rebellion as part of the “Carpatian Sich” unit of the Donbass batallion, the same unit where Vorononenkov’s killer Pavel Parshov was serving. His nom de guerre there, as listed on Right Sector’s website, was “Hunter.”

In 2015 he was once again put on the Wanted List due to his violating the conditions of his parole, and in 2016 was once again the subject of court proceedings, for which he was again put under house arrest. In both 2012 and 2015, he was vouched for by the ex-head of Donbass batallion (and Internet lolcow) Semen Semenchenko.

According to his wife, as reported by Right Sector spokesman Artem Skoropadsky, when she last talked with him half an hour prior to Voronenkov’s assassination, he said that he had gone to Kiev on business, to visit the Procuracy.

He is currently wanted to arrest, location unknown.

So there are now essentially two main versions of Voronenkov’s assassination:

(1) As suggested by the above: A pair of svidomy nationalists who both had major beef with the Ukrainian authorities decided to take out their rage on an unprincipled adventurist who voted to recognize Crimean independence, and who had nonetheless been embraced by the Maidanist elites even as true patriots like themselves were the subjects of endless prosecutions despite their “service” in the Donbass;

(2) As suggested by Poroshenko, Anton Gerashchenko, and John McCain, respectively: That this was an “act of state terror” by Russia, which carried the imprint of Russian security services, “just as has repeatedly happened in European capitals”; that Parshov was an agent recruited by Russia, who had entered the country via Belarus in 2015 to train at a school for saboteurs that “had been created in the era of Stalin’s NKVD”; that this was a “vile crime” in the “style of the KGB” to terrorize anyone against “the tyrant Vladimir Putin.”

One ever so wonders which of these is the likelier story.

 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Assassinations, Russophobes, Svidomy, Ukraine 
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Up until very recently, Russia was viewed more favorably by the Liberals/Left than conservatives in the US.

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

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

russia-friend-or-foe

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

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

approval-russia-democrats-vs-republicans

There are several possible reasons for this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

approval-russia-republican-generations

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

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

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

Early Russian Eurasianist philosopher Nikolay Trubetzkoy makes the same point.

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

 
• Category: Ideology • Tags: Politics, Republicans, Russia, Russophobes, USA 
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After a long break, a new contribution to the Experts Panel:

Shredding Sochi… in a Good Way

Western journalists have been in the business of dismissing Russian achievements and magnifying Russian failures ever since Putin drove them into a collective derangement syndrome – he even haunts their dreams, as recently revealed by the Guardian’s Shaun Walker – so the preemptive besmirching of the Sochi Olympics can’t have surprised anyone.

What is startling, though, is the unusually low competence of the effort, even by the standards of these people that are sarcastically referred to as “democratic journalists” in Russia.

The first and foremost attack revolved around the supposed corruption surrounding the Sochi Olympics. In 2010, the Russian magazine Esquire estimated that 48km of roads around Sochi consumed a cool $8 billion of taxpayer money, a sum that implied the asphalt might as well have been made of elite beluga caviar. Julia Ioffe cheerily transmitted these sophomoric calculations to the Anglosphere. The only problem with these actuarial wisecracks? Said road also included a railway, 50 bridges, and 27km worth of tunnels over mountainous terrain… which presumably made it something more than just a road. What was intended as a metaphor for Sochi corruption turned out to be, ironically, a metaphor for unfounded attacks against it.

There are incessant comparisons to the $8 billion spent during the 2010 Olympics in Canada. But this sidesteps the fact that Whistler was already a world-class ski resort, whereas Sochi’s infrastructure had to be built from scratch and at relatively short notice. The actual event-related costs of the Sochi Olympics are $7 billion, of which only half was directly drawn from the state budget. This is not to say that there was no stealing – of course there was, as corruption is a real problem in Russia, and is especially endemic in the construction industry. Navalny has created an entire website about it, and coordinated a campaign against Sochi with Buzzfeed and The New York Times. But what’s striking is that far from the pharaonic levels of misappropriation we might expected from the tone of the coverage, in most cases the markup was in the order of 50%-100% relative to “comparable” Western projects (and that’s after selecting the most egregious cases). This isn’t “good,” needless to say, but it’s hardly unprecedented in Western experience. In any case, a number of criminal cases have been opened up, so impunity is not guaranteed. (The most prominent “victim,” Akhmed Bilalov, has fled the country and claimed he was poisoned – all true to the form of emigre oligarch thieves from the ex-Sovie Union).

The lion’s share of the $50 billion investment in Sochi – some 80% of it or so – consists of infrastructure projects to make Sochi into a world-class ski resort that will provide employment in the restive North Caucasus, kickstart the development of a Russian snowsports culture, and draw at least some of the more patriotic elites away from Courcheval.

The second major angle of attack is Russia’s “persecution” of gays. This, presumably, refers to Russia’s new laws against the propaganda of homosexuality to children – no matter that very similar laws, in the form of Section 28, existed in the UK until 2003, and that sodomy remained illegal in some American states up until the same year. I bring these up not so much to engage in “whataboutism” as to point out that the moral standards that the West proselytizes so zealously have only been adopted (or dropped?) within the past decade. Furthermore, much of the rest of the world rejects those standards to a significantly greater extent than does Russia itself. As such, this campaign strikes such an absurd and nauseatingly self-righteous note that one cannot but suspect a cynical motive behind it. Snowden and Syria, in particular, come to mind.

The third, and by far the most repulsive, category of Western concern trolling about Sochi revolves around terrorism. After every successful terrorist attack in Russia, “experts” rush in to proclaim that it is an example of “Putin’s autocracy not working for ordinary Russians” (Kathryn Stoner-Weiss), that they “cannot rely on the protection of their government” (David Satter), etc. By extension, the IOC is wildly irresponsible for “jeopardizing the safety of fans and athletes” by awarding the games to Russia (Sally Jenkins). In reality, according to the world’s most comprehensive database on terrorism, the number of casualties in terrorist attacks in Russia has plummeted in the past decade, even as the jihadist movement has been reduced to a shadow of its former self; suffice to say that suicide bombing a bus in a second-tier city like Volgograd is now considered a great success among their ranks. I do not wish to tempt fate by ruling it out entirely, but with the “ring of steel,” pervasive telecommunications monitoring, and cooperation with foreign intelligence agencies that characterize Sochi security, the likelihood of a successful terrorist attack is surely low.

Consequent criticisms become increasingly deranged and unhinged from reality, much like the murderous HAL supercomputer fading away into childish gibberishness after it gets turned off. Thousands of people got evicted, their land stolen from them… except that the average compensation per person was $100,000. Sochi is apparently built on the bones of Circassians… well, if it’s a graveyard, I wonder what that makes the North American continent – a death world? The assertion that Sochi is an “unsuitable subtropical resort” with no snow… an assessment that would surely surprise the denizens of California’s Bay Area, who go skiing in Tahoe up until late April, and where average February temperatures are significantly higher than around Sochi. If anything, conditions are looking downright steezy. The metaphorical rock-bottom was attained by the BBC’s Steve Rosenberg, who made a photograph of a pair of side-by-side toilets that were then splashed around the media – up to and including The New York Times – as evidence of the graft and imbecility that characterized the Sochi preparations. The only problem being that the photograph was taken in the middle of a renovation. But, hey, we wouldn’t want to deny the Brits their toilet humor, now would we…

All this is not to say that the Sochi Olympics are some kind of pure monument to virtuous sportsmanship and international friendship. Of course not. From their origins in ancient Greece, they were always about money, competition, and prestige. Putin himself openly states that one of its goals is to showcase a new Russia. There are no rules preventing Western states from waging a media campaign against Sochi, and refusing to send their top leaders to the opening ceremonies – petty and unseemly, such actions only reflect badly on their authors. So be it… gapers won’t be missed.

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

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

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

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

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

Fortunately, he soon clarifies his position.

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

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

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

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

Note also the overt double standards.

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

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

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

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

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

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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If you ever manage to get a troupe as diverse as Latynina, Mark Adomanis, the Cypriot Communist Party, virtually every financial analyst, Prokhorov, and Putin united in condemning your crass stupidity and cack-handedness, it’s probably time to stop and ponder. But it’s safe to say that’s not what the Troika – the European Commission, European Central Bank, and IMF – tasked with managing the European sovereign debt crisis is going to be doing any time soon. They seem to be living in la la land.

Here is the low-down. Contrary to German/ECB propaganda, Cypriot public finances, while nothing to write home about, are not in a catastrophic state. The debt to GDP ratio, far from ballooning out of control like Greece’s, was actually lower than Germany’s as late as 2011! This was despite Cyprus being steadily hammered by the global financial crisis and the massive explosion at a naval base in 2011 that cost it about 10% of its GDP.

cyprus-debt-dynamics The main problem was in its financial sector. Although it should have been safe on paper, Cypriot banks had the bad fortune to have had many operations in Greece – which hemorrhaged money as Greek debts were restructured under EU guidance. These involved painful austerity, but the principle that bank deposits would be inviolable held across the PIIGS. But for Cyprus, the Eurocrats – egged on by Schäuble in particular – decided to make an exception, demanding a “bail-in” as part of any financial rescue package. For the ultimately trifling sum of $6 billion, they were prepared to erode basic principles such as sanctity of property that the EU is founded on.

According to Edward Scicluna, the Maltese Finance Minister, his Cypriot counterpart Michalis Sarris was for all intents and purposes brow-beaten into accepting the deal – a 6.75% levy on deposits of less than 100,000 Euros, and 9.9% on everything above that – that the country’s parliament would later decisively reject. The Europeans, according to him, were dead-set on “downsizing” Cyprus’ supposedly overgrown financial sector and in particular its status as a tax haven and alleged center of Russian money laundering. After 10 grueling hours of discussions, Sarris finally conceded, and as soon as that happened, “Schäuble demanded that all wire transfers to and from the Cypriot banks would cease forthwith.”

In other words, they wished to destroy Cyprus’ financial system, and it seems certain that they have succeeded in this. As soon as the banks reopen (now delayed until at least May 26th), who exactly will continue to keep their deposits in a Cypriot bank?

This wanton destruction however seems to have been based not so much on any sense of pan-European fairness or social justice as misconceptions about the nature of the Cypriot banking system, or even more mercenary motives such as a desire to help Merkel win the upcoming elections or encourage capital flight from the PIIGS to German banks (the latter possibility was raised, only half in jest, by Craig Willy). As we see above, Cyprus’ sovereign debt situation was manageable. While it is true that it had a huge financial sector relative to its GDP, this is not atypical for a nation of its small size and location (consider Luxembourg, or London were it independent from the UK), and this sector did not experience any critical difficulties until the EU-spearheaded restructurings of Greek debt into which C ypriot banks were heavily invested, as a natural result of their geographic and cultural position.

How Cypriots see the Cyprus crisis.

How many ordinary Cypriots see the Cyprus crisis.

Nor is it even true that the Cypriot banking system mainly serviced dodgy offshore aristocrat types. Of the €68 billion in deposits as of end-January 2013, some 63% were held by Cypriots, and 7% were held by citizens of Eurozone countries, while 30% were held by nationals of other countries *. Although according to honored representatives of the Eurocrat class like Jean Pisani-Ferry, it is the Cypriots’ own fault for banking in their own damn country as opposed to Germany:

And of that 30%, not all was held by Russians, as Cyprus is popular among Chinese and Iranians too (indeed, an acquaintance who was there recently saw far more signs in Chinese than in Cyrrilic). As for the notion that all or even the majority of Russians with money are “oligarchs”, “mafiosi”, and “Chekists” (interchangeable terms, to many of the people who engage in this kind of rhetoric)… well, no way to statistically prove it one way or another, so anecdotes will have to suffice. Ironically enough, the only Russian I know with a bank account in Cyprus is actually a fairly anti-Putin liberal, and as far as I know not an oligarch or a mafiosi – unless you consider journalists to be such. The commentator JLo also reports a liberal acquaintance with money in Cyprus. No doubt those two will be thrilled to hear from former Economist Russia journalist Edward Lucas, whose Russophobia is frankly pathological, that as Russians with money in Cyprus they should be automatically expropriated.

This is not of course to argue that having such a large segment of the Russian economy “offshore” is a good thing. Many Russians really do have accounts in Cyprus because of its perceived benefits such as the local (English-based) legal system, greater financial security, greater ease of capital movement around the world, and yes, tax evasion or “tax optimization” as it is euphemistically called – and productively utilized by entirely respectable Westerners like Mitt Romney. It would undoubtedly be a good thing if there was less of that and ironically the Troika’s ham-fistedness will have only helped Russia in its struggles to de-offshore its economy. But what is entirely mendacious is to start throwing around terms like “money laundering” as if they were synonymous with offshore banking, or “the Russian mob” as if it was synonymous with “oligarchs”, “Russian politicians”, “Russian bureaucrats”, and all Russians in Cyprus in general for that matter. There is of course some overlap between all these categories but to conflate them all as the Lucas types insist on doing is pathologically Russophobic, and frankly driven by the very same Bolshevik spirit that they profess to despise but actually embody.

Many Western papers even went so far as to hint that the reason Russia was so “concerned” about Cyprus was because Putin and other members of his inner circle had money in Cyprus. This was echoed by the (viciously anti-Putin) Russian business newspaper Vedomosti, which alleged that “it is hard to believe, but it appears as if European politicians are ready to risk a lot in order to pressure a certain influential politician secretly hiding money in Cypriot banks.” They did not have the courage of their convictions to say it outright, but the hidden subtext is obvious to all. We call these conspiracy theories. Were this true, in fact, it would be indicative of severe schizophrenia on Putin’s part – that is, if he actually DID have quadrillions parked in Nicosia – considering that previous discussions on Russian loans to Cyprus had been linked to Cyprus becoming more proactive about revealing the identities of Russians with bank accounts there to the Russian tax authorities.

How the Western media/political class see the Cyprus crisis.

How the Western media/political class see the Cyprus crisis.

At this point it hardly bears mentioning that, as an institution that so regularly and pompously lectures Russia about things like rule of law and sanctity of property rights, it is quite hilarious that the Troika would “demonstrate” those concepts by doing things like retroactively abrogating European-wide deposit insurance of 100,000 Euros and freezing and confiscating the savings accounts of the very Russians whom they expect to listen to their pontifications.

But as these recriminations and general debility went gone back and forth, Nicosia burned. The initially proposed “medicine”, it seems, will turn out to be the deadly pill that kills the Cypriot financial system. It is hard to imagine anyone, be they foreigner or even Cypriot, now willingly leaving their money in Cypriot banks; trust has been destroyed, and short of capital controls, massive bank runs and capital outflow seem to be all but inevitable whenever the banks open again. The original $15 billion that could have nipped this problem in the bud is probably no longer sufficient. I don’t pretend to have any precise idea of how things will develop now – Will Cyprus hurtle out of the Eurozone? Will contagion spread to Spain and Portugal? Will Gazprom get exploration rights to the recently discovered oil fields in return for loans? Will China get involved? – but a few things I think we can be pretty sure of: (1) The ECB/Eurocrat class are either utterly, frightfully oblivious, or have altogether darker ulterior motives; (2) The Cypriot banking system is finished; (3) It will be a reality check for Russians who firmly believe their assets are automatically safe abroad and will help the de-offshoring process, though I don’t expect any sudden radical changes because there are still plenty of alternatives like Latvia which I hear is getting pretty hot with Russian money nowadays.

PS. For further reading (and people who influenced my perception of this) consult Mercouris, Dmitry Afanasiev (Russian version at Vedomosti), and Craig Willy’s Twitter.

*UPDATE: The commentator Temesta links to an article by Paul Krugman in which he points out that “Cypriot residents” very likely directly include foreigners:

I’ve done some asking around, and cleared up something that was puzzling me. Officially, only about 40 percent of the deposits in Cypriot banks are from nonresidents, which would imply resident deposits of almost 500 percent of GDP, which is crazy. But the answer is that I do not think that word “resident” means what you think it means. Some of the money is from wealthy expats living in Cyprus; much of it is from rich people who have resident status without, you know, actually living there. So we should think of Cypriot deposits as mainly coming from non-Cypriots, attracted by that business model.

That said, speculation is one thing, concrete numbers are another: “Cyprus Central Bank Gov. Panicos Demetriades, in an interview published Thursday in Russian newspaper Vedomosti, offered more specifics. “The deposits of Russians range from €4.943 billion to €10.225 billion, depending on how you count them,” he said.” Even if the highest estimates of $20 billion are correct, it would still mean that the total value of Russian deposits there account for less than 25% of the total.

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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My latest for the US-Russia Experts Panel and VoR.

In this latest Panel, Vlad Sobell asks us supposed Russia “experts” whether Freedom House’s “alarmist stance” towards Russia is justified. Well, what do YOU think? I don’t think you need to be an expert to answer this; it’s an elementary issue of common sense and face validity. Consider the following:

Freedom House gives Russia a 5.5/7 on its “freedom” score, in which 7 is totalitarianism (e.g. North Korea) and 1 is complete freedom (e.g. the post-NDAA US).

This would make Putin’s Russia about as “unfree” as the following polities, as we learn from Freedom House:

  • The United Arab Emirates, a “federation of seven absolute dynastic monarchs whose appointees make all legislative and executive decisions”… where there are “no political parties” and court rulings are “subject to review by the political leadership” (quoting Daniel Treisman and Freedom House itself);
  • Bahrain, which recently shot up a ton of Shia demonstrators, and indefinitely arrested doctors for having the temerity to follow the Hippocratic oath and treat wounded protesters;
  • Any of the 1980’s “death-squad democracies” of Central America, in which tens of thousands of Communist sympathizers or just democracy supporters were forcibly disappeared;
  • The Argentinian junta, which “disappeared” tens of thousands of undesirables, some of whom were dropped from planes over the Atlantic Ocean;
  • Yemen, which lives under a strict interpretation of sharia law and where the sole candidate to the Presidency was elected with 100% of the vote in 2012 (which Hillary Clinton described as “another important step forward in their democratic transition process”).

Putin’s Russia is also, we are to believe, a lot more repressive than these polities:

  • South Korea in the 1980’s, a military dictatorship which carried out a massacre in Gwangju on the same scale as that of Tiananmen Square, for which China would be endlessly condemned;
  • Turkey, which bans YouTube from time to time, and today carries the dubious distinction of hosting more imprisoned journalists – 49 of them, according to the CPJ – than any other country, including Syria, Iran, and China. (Russia imprisons none).
  • Mexico under the PRI, which falsified elections throughout the years of its dominance to at least the same extent as United Russia.
  • Singapore, whose parliament makes the Duma look like a vibrant multiparty democracy and uses libel law to sue political opponents into bankruptcy. (In the meantime, Nemtsov is free to continue writing his screeds about Putin’s yachts and Swiss bank accounts).
  • Kuwait, where women only got the vote in 2005.

I’d say it’s pretty obvious that Freedom House has a definite bias which looks something like this: +1 points for being friendly with the West, -1 if not, and -2 if you also happen to have oil, and are thus in special urgent need of a color revolution. Then again, some call me a Kremlin troll, so you might be wiser to trust an organization that was until recently chaired by a former director of the CIA, an avowed neocon given to ranting about Russia’s backsliding into “fascism” among other things. If that’s the case you’re probably also the type who believes Iraq was 45 minutes away from launching WMD’s and that Islamist terrorists “hate us for our freedom.”

PS. If you want a reasonably accurate and well-researched political freedoms rating, check out the Polity IV series. Unfortunately, while it’s a thousand times better than Freedom House, it’s also about a thousand times less well-known.

(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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One of the standard memes about Russia’s demographic trajectory was the “Russian Cross.” While at the literal level it described the shape of the country’s birth rate and death rate trajectories, a major reason why it entered the discourse was surely because it also evoked the foreboding of the grave.

russian-cross

But this period now appears to have come to a definitive end. Russia’s population ceased falling around at about 2009; in the past year, it has increased by over 400,000 thanks to net immigration.

Meanwhile, against all general expectations, the birth rates and death rates have essentially equalized. Whereas in 2011 natural decrease was still at a substantial 131,000, preliminary figures indicate that it has subsided to a mere 2,573 for this year. It could just as easily turn positive once the figures are revised. For all intents and purposes, the “Russian Cross” has become the “Russian Hexagon.”

russian-hexagon

This is a momentous landmark in many ways.

(1) More than anything else, Russia’s demographic crisis during the past two decades has been advanced as a quintessential element of its decline. Phrases such as the aforementioned “Russian cross”, the “demographic death spiral”, and “”the dying bear” proliferated in respectable journals and books. Until a few years ago, some entirely serious demographic projections had Russia’s population falling to as low as 130 million by 2015. This “deathbed demography” imagery was in turn exploited by many journalists to implicit condemn the rottenness of the Russian state in general and Putin in particular. Will they now rush to trumpet Russia’s demographic recovery, which was only possible through directed state intervention to improve the population’s health, cut down on the alcohol epidemic, and provide generous benefits for families with second children? For some reason I suspect the amount of ink that will be spilt on this will be but a tiny, minuscule fraction of that used to herald Russia’s demographic apocalypse. They will predictably move on to other failures and inadequacies – both real or perceived.

(2) For many years there has existed the notion among some demographers that once a society’s total fertility falls to a “lowest-low” level, there can be no return. It was theorized that the social values of childlessness and small families would spread, and that the resultant rapid aging would make it impossible for young families to have many children anyway. Russia’s total fertility rate fell to a record low of 1.16 children per woman in 1999, but rose above 1.30 in 2006, reached 1.61 in 2011, and rose further to an estimated 1.70 in 2012. It is thus so far the biggest and most important exception to this “lowest-low fertility trap hypothesis.” In reality, what was actually happening was that many Russian women were postponing the formation of families – a process common to most nations that reach a certain level of development. This in turn laid the foundations for the mini-baby boom that were are now seeing.

(3) There was likewise widespread pessimism that Russia’s life expectancy would ever significantly improve for the better. In the best case, it was assumed it would creep upwards, reaching 70 years or so in another few decades. However, the experience of other regions with Russia’s mortality profile, such as North Karelia in the 1980′s or the Baltic states in the 2000′s – very high death rates among middle aged men who drank too much – suggested that rapid improvements are possible with the right mix of policy interventions. This has happened. Russia’s life expectancy in 2012 was about 71 years, still nothing to write home about; however, it was higher than it ever was in the USSR, where it reached a peak of 70.0 years at the height of Gorbachev’s anti-alcohol campaign in 1987, and equal to Estonia’s in 2002, Hungary’s in 1998, and Finland’s in 1973. If it were now to follow in Estonia’s mortality trajectory – and this is not an unreasonable supposition, considering Russia is now passing the tough anti-alcohol and anti-smoking taxes and regulations typical of developed countries – it would be on track to reach a life expectancy of 75 years by 2020 (Putin’s goal of 2018 is however probably too optimistic).

russia-deaths-from-external-causes

In particular, it should be noted that the worst types of deaths – those from external causes – have been cut down the most radically. Though they only account for a small proportion of total deaths, they tend to happen at earlier ages and thus have a significant impact on the workforce and overall life expectancy out of proportion to their actual prevalence. A calculation from 2005 showed that the effect of a 40% decline in deaths from external causes would be as good as a 20% decline in deaths from all circulatory diseases at extending male life expectancy. This has been achieved; as of 2012 it was at 125/100,000, down from an average of about 250/100,000 during the “demographic crisis” period but still far, far short of the 40/100,000 rates more typical of developed countries with no alcoholism epidemics. But as I’ve said before and will say again, while Russia’s “hypermortality” crisis isn’t anywhere near as severe as it once was, it is nothing to write home about; a great deal remains to be done. But the trend-lines are pointing firmly down, and the economic crisis of 2009 had zero effect on the underlying processes. This is extremely encouraging, as it implies that Russia has now become a “normal country” in which improvements in health and mortality steadily advance regardless of economic fluctuations.

I have anticipated many of these developments, and indeed, ventured forth with projections of my own. Here are some predictions made on the basis of my research and analysis from 2008:

  1. Russia will see positive population growth starting from 2010 at the latest. CHECK.
  2. Natural population increase will occur starting from 2013 at the latest. CHECK.
  3. Russia’s total life expectancy will exceed 68 years by 2010 and reach 75 years by 2020. Looks increasingly LIKELY.

There is no need for false modesty. I put my neck on the line and came out best against most of the established expert opinion.

But this is no time to rest on laurels and reminsce on past glories. The 2010 Census is out. Demographic data up till 2012 is available. It’s been a long four years since I wrote that model. It is high time to update it. I’ve been planning to do that for my book anyway, but now that I think about it, why not publish a paper at the same time? I have long been a fan of open access anyway, especially as regards academia.

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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I had great fun observing the fallout over Depardieu’s “defection” to Russia. The reason for the apostrophes is of course because it had nothing to do with it. It was Depardieu trolling Hollande and the French “Socialists”, and Putin trolling Westerners and his own homegrown “democratic journalists.” (Or maybe not? In any case, I for one have a difficult time comprehending why anyone would care so much.) This trolling was both entertaining and successful, because it elicited so, so much beautiful rage and loathing from all our favorite quarters.

The Western press

Predictable enough, coverage of this on the right-wing sites like the Wall Street Journal was schizophrenic. After all the writers and readers have to decide on who they hate more: Socialist France or Putin’s Russia? Of course the faux-left/neoliberal press like Le Monde and The Guardian had no such problems. They went stark raving apoplectic:

Gérard Depardieu isn’t enough to change Russia’s image by our good friend Andrew Ryvkin: “The actor may be taking Russian citizenship, but convincing citizens life is better than in the west is a difficult PR exercise” – I hardly think that was ever the point.

Gérard Depardieu joins very small club of adoptive Russian citizens, by Howard Amos: “Few foreigners seek Russian citizenship and even fewer are granted it, with the tide generally going in the opposite direction.” Ah, the (completely discredited) Sixth Wave of Emigration trope. What makes this especially funny is that 300k-400k Brits leave Britain every year, whereas the equivalent figure for Russia (with more than 2x the population) is slightly above 100,000 this year.

But best of all was the Guardian’s caption competition to the above photo. Here are some of the Guardian picks:

Après moi le beluga…?

Gerard announces the closure of several Parisian Boulangeries.

The hilarity of this is that the Guardian is a major mouthpiece for “fat acceptance”; indeed, it is not atypical for its contributors to write inanities like this: “While obese is a medical term, fat is the language of the bully. It’s not a word doctors should use.”

While I certainly have no problem with making fun of fat apologists and their enablers, but what’s hilarious is that the Guardian CiF is notoriously censorious and would have surely deleted those comments had they been directed at anyone the Guardian likes for violating its “community standards.”

Western democratic journalists

Unfortunately even many otherwise reasonable people were ridiculously outraged.

https://twitter.com/theivanovreport/status/286916844370161665

https://twitter.com/theivanovreport/status/287202688507195393

Mark Adomanis started out well:

https://twitter.com/MarkAdomanis/status/286972111665377280

But then he too went weird.

As the details of his newly minted Russian citizenship Depardieu has (justifiably!) been roundly condemned by right, left, center, and everywhere in between.

https://twitter.com/MarkAdomanis/status/288338539287044096

Quite a change from this in 2010, no?: “All of the US-run freedom indices aren’t merely slanted (that’s to be expected) but usually also have some truly weird crap thrown in the mix.” ;)

Russian liberals

Via politrash, who noted that writing this much have torn the democratic journalist in question (Gleb Razdolnov) to pieces: Please Answer, Depardieu!… (Open Letter)

A must-read for anyone interested in Russian liberal psychology. Go to your Google Translate.

And Depardieu knows all the correct things to say to troll and wind them up even further.

In a class of its own: Julia Ioffe

Gerard Depardieu’s Russian Citizenship Is a Passport to a Westerner’s Playground for TNR.

Days earlier, Putin, by presidential fiat, had extended Russian citizenship to Depardieu, who recently declared that he would abandon his native France, allegedly because of high taxes: Russia’s flat 13 percent tax rate looked a lot better than Francois Hollande’s now defunct proposal to raise taxes to 75 percent for those making over 1 million euros.

Minor point, perhaps, but NOT defunct.

The inaugural trip to Mordovia, observers noted, was a strange choice given what the republic is generally known for: penal colonies. The Mordovian economy subsists almost entirely on these alone; roads are merely strings connecting the colonies, some of which date back to Stalin. Most visitors to Mordovia are likely to see not yodeling singers in colorful frocks, but a depressed region where the free population seems split into two camps: the prison guards, and the day drinkers.

I have no doubt that Depardieu didn’t see and will not see this side of Mordovia, nor will he have met with the region’s most famous inmate, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, of the band Pussy Riot.

The state of Oklahoma, generally known for the Trail of Tears. Southern Poland, generally known for Auschwitz. Nanking, generally known for its rape. Any others you can think of?

Nor will Depardieu see Russia as it exists for 99.9 percent of his now fellow countrymen. As Putin’s pet, he will be shielded from the collapsing infrastructure and a ramshackle poverty inexplicable for a country that pumps more oil than Saudi Arabia. He will never have to go to a poorly trained, overworked, and underpaid Russian doctor who would likely misdiagnose him anyway. He will never get caught in the teeth of the corrupt justice system; he won’t be extorted for bribes, whether or not he runs afoul of the law.

So specifically Russian. But the best is yet to come:

Of course, this can be said of any wealthy Russian, or any celebrity anywhere in the world. The difference here is the orientalism of such Western men—and they are always, always men—who decamp to Russia and praise the place for its freedom and simplicity. The women, they say, are more beautiful and better (read: more sparsely) dressed, more deferential to men (especially men with money), and always aim to please, sexually.

Because ugly, badly dressed, rude, frigid, and – incidentally – worse paid relative to men is a far superior lifestyle?

Without examining why Russian women might be like this, Western expats use these qualities as evidence for a quietly long-held view that feminism is the crude weapon of the ugly Western woman.

Well…

The whirl-a-gig unpredictability of the place rarely stops being fun because it’s never entirely real. In these men’s eyes, it is not lawlessness; it is freedom from annoying rules.

In my years living in Moscow, I have come across many such Western men. In Moscow, their wealth gives them the kind of reality-bending leverage that it couldn’t in New York, London, or Paris. In Moscow, their wealth—and, in Depardieu’s case, fame—made them brilliant and sexually attractive, especially to the leggy, barely legal girls from the provinces; in those Western cities, their money merely made them rich.

Okay, I think she’s basically confirmed my theory from an older post:

One thing that really stands out is that it is female Jews who dislike Russia more than anything, at least among Western journalists. As this post has already pushed well beyond all respectable limits of political correctness, I might as well go the full nine yards and outline my theory of why that is the case. In my view, the reasons are ultimately psycho-sexual. Male Jews nowadays have it good in Russia, with many Slavic girls attracted to their wealth, intelligence and impeccable charm (if not their looks). But the position of Jewesses is the inverse. They find it hard to compete with those same Slavic chicks who tend to be both hotter and much more feminine than them; nor, like Jewish guys, can they compensate with intelligence, since it is considered far less important for women. This state of affairs leads to sexual frustration and permanent singledom (pump and dump affairs don’t count of course), which in turn gives rise to the angry radical feminism and lesbianism that oozes out of this piece by Anna Nemtsova bemoaning Russia’s “useless bachelors”. Such attitudes further increase male aversion to them, thus reinforcing their vicious cycle of singledom. And the resulting frustration indelibly seeps into their work…

Basically in Russia, Ioffe is surrounded by massively superior competition to what she’d find in her hometown, massively diminishing her relative attractiveness and male attention/commitment. This is understandably hard on the ego. In that respect, Washington DC is the polar opposite of what she’d have found in Russia.

So, no wonder that Ioffe has been so angry during her time in Russia and bugged out of the place much sooner rather than later. Why else would she spend so much column space ruing the far superior sexual choice available to expats in Russia?

I mean there’s nothing wrong with her disliking Russia for that, it’s a perfectly understandable and natural reaction. People are drawn to places where they enjoy more attention, respect, and sexual market value. That is why it is “always” male expats that enjoy the place as she points out. Whereas an American female journalist might hook up with some Latino lothario in Brazil, in Moscow she’d have to settle for beetroot-stained runts in vests and tracksuit pants.

But at least the foreign expats she is so so evidently butthurt about are, by her own admission, honest about their motivations. They want to keep 75%-13%=62% of their money, not have their cars periodically torched by “youths”, and have the freedom to look over a girl without going to jail for it.

Update: Ioffe’s reply to this post

Ouch this must have struck a nerve with her!

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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Here is the article, by Nick Cohen. And below are the two comments (one by myself) that were censored. I have corrected a few grammatical points in this post.

They were eventually restored, wonder of wonders, but only after two days – and therefore all interest – had passed, and after I had sent an email of complaint to the Guardian CiF moderation team.

As already noted, on the Guardian, while comment is free, some comments are freer than others.

SublimeOblivion:

Let us look at this rationally and by the numbers.

(1) How can Karpov afford this? This is doubtless a question that will be examined in great deal in the actual trial. It is not necessarily, of course, his own money. One explanation is that the Russian government is funding it if it thinks there is a high chance that a British court would find Browder’s claims to be libel. After all, it is its reputation that has been hardest than anyone else’s in this entire sordid affair. Another alternative is that the lawyers that Mr. Cohen castigates think the defendant has a good case and are prepared to work on a no win – no claim basis. Both alternatives were suggested by a British lawyer friend of mine with experience in libel cases (no not the ones in the article).

(2) Likewise the question of how Karpov could afford a one million dollar flat will also be examined in detail given the heart of Browder’s allegations is that Karpov and his buddies murdered Magnitsky to prevent him from reporting on Karpov’s own corruption. Needless to say that this is a question of vital interest that is well worth spending public taxpayer money on because in addition to its legal aspects it has also had wide-ranging political and diplomatic ramifications (although, this being a libel case, that would not be the case anyway, as it will be the losing party that will also have to pay any court costs).

(3) Some people are complaining that it is political and it is wrong to let foreign let alone Russian criminals “abuse” the British legal system to suppress Browder’s right free speech. The reality however is that it was always going to be political because of the political nature of Browder’s activities, which were to lobby for the Magnitsky Act and similar legislation in other parliaments. If however one of the key alleged figurants turns out to be demonstrably innocent, that in turn will put major question marks over the rest of Browder’s narrative. To the contrary, if the court finds that the libel claim is baseless, then that will provide some degree of legitimacy to the Magnitsky Act, something which it desperately needs (because the persons it sanctions have not turned up there by way of a legal process, but on the say-so of Browder – who, needless to say, has his own private motives for doing so).

As such, the only people who should logically oppose this case are those who are not interested in helping establish the truth, but either want to fight a new cold war (on which Mr. Cohen qualifies, I imagine) or protect characters like Karpov, whose activities have been undeniably shady, from scrutiny.

Beckow:

Good summary, but I don’t have the same faith in UK courts as many here. Courts are reluctant to go against policy of their country. If no evidence is shown against Karpov, they might avoid embarrassing UK/US Congress, by dismissing it on some technicality or muddling the verdict. That’s the way it usually happens, but it is worth the entertainment.

Regarding Karpov’s money – there are plenty of people in E.Europe who own expensive real estate, but are cash-poor. After 1990, flats/houses were given to may who lived in them and as real estate sky-rocketed, they became wealthy overnight. Could be that Karpov’s mom is one of them. It also matters very little if Karpov is rich or not, it proves nothing. As it would prove nothing in the West.

And finally, as a matter of possible curiosity, the email I sent:

Dear CiF Moderators,

I am the user “SublimeOblivion”. As I have been forwarded to this email by Matt Seaton, could you please explain why my comment at 06 January 2013 10:54 PM to this article by Nick Cohen was deleted?

It did not break any of the Guardian’s “community guidelines” that I could possible see. I did not insult anyone, and my reply was a great deal more restrained than any number of others I can point out there. I did not even disagree with one of Cohen’s main points which was that Karpov’s ability to afford expensive lawyers was suspicious (although of course as I understand, in theory CiF does not censor comments for mere disagreement anyway).

As Rozina said in the last comment to that article as of right now (which I hope you will not likewise delete):

Also I wonder why previous comments by Sublime Oblivion, Beckow, myself and others were moderated. SO’s comment looked reasonable and he questioned Karpov’s ability to pay his legal costs. If there are certain things posters are not allowed to mention because they concern details of the court case, then either the original article should have included a warning that any comments referring to facts about Karpov and Browdler which will be part of the trial’s scope may be subject to moderation, or the article should not have invited comments at all.

I would appreciate it if you could send a copy of my comment with the part that was objectionable in particular marked out so that I can avoid repeating any such mistake in the future.

Finally, I would also like to note the deep irony of a comment being deleted to an article that complains of libel lawyers and Russian litigants purportedly infringing on the right to free speech of British citizens. It would be interesting and deeply appreciated to hear a comment on this too.

Thanks and Best,
Anatoly.

The reply:

Hello,

Thanks for getting in touch.

On review I have decided to reinstate your comment (please see: http://discussion.guardian.co.uk/comment-permalink/20433454).

Thanks for bringing this to our attention.

Kind regards

CIF Moderation Team

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(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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Keeping up with the Guardian’s stream of textual diarrhea in its Russia coverage is a quixotic task, and one that I do not really have the stamina for (although Alex Mercouris does this remarkably effectively). Still, when it comes to certain issues I’m particularly interested in, such as demography, or China-Russians relations as in this case, I feel pressed to comment.

The main thrust of this article is about comparing the neighboring cities of Manzhouli and Zabaykalsk to make some wider point about the two countries. And the comparison is not flattering to Russia:

Twenty years ago, Zabaikalsk and Manzhouli, which face each other across the border marked by a few strips of barbed wire, were settlements of about 15,000 people. But while Zabaikalsk remains a dusty border town, Manzhouli now has high-rise buildings, an indoor skiing facility, 3D cinemas and a population approaching half a million people. Russians flock to it for the shopping opportunities.

The only problem with this comparison? Zabaykalsk has 12,000 people as of the 2010 Census, whereas Manzhouli has 300,000. Furthermore, Manzhouli had 137,000 people in 1990 to Zabaykalsk’s 9,000 in 1989. Were the Guardian’s fact-checkers hung over from their Christmas celebrations?

But the wider and more important point is that this comparison is beyond absurd. It’s about as valid as comparing the 600,000-strong city of Khabarovsk (which is incidentally a success story; it might not have skyscrapers, but it is picturesque, prosperous, and consistently ranked as one of Russia’s most comfortable and business-friendly cities) with the bordering, 20,000-strong “dusty” village of Fuyuan to “prove” Russia’s superiority over China. I do not, of course, because I am not a propagandist like the Guardian, nor do I have an agenda, nor do I hold my readers in such contempt that they would fail to see the absurdity of apples-to-apples comparisons of cities that differ by an order of magnitude.

Now in all fairness the Guardian’s contempt for its readers is largely justified based on most of the comments. But not all of them. Lost in the scrum of Bear vs. Dragon fantasists (of whom there are far fewer in both Russia and China than in the West) was one comment by “Nobul” that’s well worth reprinting in full:

Let’s get real, stop screaming “yellow peril” and “Russian Far East on a knife’s edge”. There are not many (300,000 according to reputable Russian stats, not 3 million in the scaremongering gutter press) and won’t be many more coming Russia’s way because:
1. China does not have a “massive” population pressure. Its population is growing at a meager 0.5% a year and aging fast. If you followed the news in the last couple of years, there are now a labour shortage across the country. There are no surplus population to “export”.
2. People go where the money is. It is in the rapidly growing cities in China. The Chinese peasants do not want be pioneers in a foreign land as illegal squatters and get one crop a year with no means of guaranteeing profit or property rights.
3. Scaremongers repeat ad nauseum there are 100 million Chinese across the river from 6 million Russians, but fail to mention the population density of Heilongjiang is 80/km2, similar to that of the Ukraine (the UK at 250ish) and just as fertile with its own black earth. Do you expect Ukrainian hordes to invade Russia? The peasants there would rather seek better paid opportunities in numerous Chinese cities where they speak the same language than dilapidated ghost towns of the Far East.

In addition to 1), come to think of it, the Russian Far East is now if anything in better demographic health than North-East China, or Dongbei. According to the latest Census, China’s TFR is at 1.4, and the three major North-East provinces have China’s lowest birth rates outside the major metropolises. Russia’s average TFR is 1.6 as of 2011 and is higher than average in the Far East specifically.

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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My latest contribution to the US-Russia.org Expert Discussion Panel this one focusing on whether the West foregoes “incalculable benefits” by continuing the Cold War. Unlike previous Panels, on which I aimed for balance, here I make no apologies at pointing a finger straight to where I believe the blame belongs:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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