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

 Remember My Information



=>
Publications Filter?
AKarlin.com Da Russophile
Nothing found
 TeasersRussian Reaction Blog
/
The Economist

Bookmark Toggle AllToCAdd to LibraryRemove from Library • BShow CommentNext New CommentNext New Reply
🔊 Listen RSS

The map below shows the shifting location of the world’s economic center of gravity. It was compiled by McKinsey and reproduced by The Economist.

All is broadly as one might expect. In pre-industrial times, the world’s economic center of gravity was always basically triangulated between India, China, and the Roman Empire (later North-West Europe). By 1913, the US had became a significant world power, and in mid century it had drawn the center of gravity out into the North Atlantic. Since then the rise of the USSR, Japan, and then China, SE Asia, and India, started shifting the ball east and south at an accelerating pace. Today the speed of this transition is 140km per year. So there you have it: A cartographic representation of The Rise of the Rest.

By 2025, as shown on the map, the ball will be located somewhere in the Altai Mountains of Siberia. After that it will probably take a small dip south as India starts becoming much more prominent. Eventually however it will start going north and west again as the Arctic opens up and countries like Russia and Canada start growing much more rapidly as the century draws to a close. The cycle will retrace its ancient path.

(Republished from AKarlin.com by permission of author or representative)
 
🔊 Listen RSS

Now that the Olympics are drawing to an end, it’s now time for me to weigh in with my HBD / game perspective.

(1) What is up with India? Only 5 medals. Record-setting (3 in Beijing, 0-2 in all previous Olympics) but that’s still atrocious for a country of 1.2 billion people – even a poor and malnourished one. Michael Phelps alone has won almost as many Gold medals as India has done as a nation for as long as the Olympics existed. Why? Ryan G. will be along to lecture me soon enough on my Indophobia :) , but I think it’s due to a perfect storm of negative HBD, economic and cultural reasons. Indians like East Asians have low testosterone; they are malnourished, and it doesn’t help that many are follow an inferior diet i.e. vegetarianism; the Commonwealth Games showed them to be pretty disorganized which doesn’t bode well for athlete training programs; and finally it appears that many Indians disdain sport and physical activity (their love of cricket actually proves this: Not exactly the most physically intense sport out there). I’m sure as India gets richer they’ll start earning more medals but I doubt they’ll ever do much better than 10th or so.

(2) Russia didn’t perform badly, contrary to popular opinion. Vancouver was a disaster. This wasn’t. As of the time of writing, its total medal count (78) exceeds Beijing 2008 (73) and Atlanta 1996 (63) and isn’t far from Sydney 2000 (89) and 2004 Athens (92). It’s still third overall and given the population and commitment of China, and the advanced training facilities and Black population (let’s be realistic) of America, coming third on total medal counts is entirely respectable. This time it was overtaken by Britain in the gold medals tally, but this reflects an astoundingly good British performance rather than Russian under-achievement.

(3) Speaking of Black populations, an almost unbelievably “provocative” video from the BBC, which claims that the reason the descendants of African slaves do so well is because of natural selection through Atlantic slave trade mortality.

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

Here I actually disagree, funnily enough. It’s not so much the fact that they are slave descendants as they are West African blacks who on average have narrower hips giving them a more efficient stride, naturally lower body fat, more muscles in general, more fast-twitch muscle fibers in particular which are especially useful for explosive strength, more testosterone etc than other races.

Why it is Western hemisphere blacks who end up winning the medals might be due to the extra edge given by their slave heritage. However, there is no good evidence for that that I’m aware of. More likely it is simply because West African states are too malnourished, and too impoverished and disorganized to fund athlete elite training programs.

(4) The American flag can’t take the heat when put next to the Belorussian and Russian flags. :)

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ba-lucoW3FE]

(5) Turkish columnist gets parboiled for pointing out the obvious i.e. that women who excel in man sports (e.g. weight-lifting) will necessarily lose their feminine physical traits.

(6) Looks like China is going to come second this time on both Gold medals and total medals. Still, nothing to worry about. Beijing was probably an outlier at the time as home teams always have an advantage (see Britain in 2012). The secular trend is still upwards. If China were also to import 10 million West Africans (for sprinting) and 10 million Kenyans (for marathon) its lead will become permanently unassailable. ;)

(7) From the Economist’s Daily Charts blog.

Some very interesting data there.

(8) And another fascinating chart on male / female differences.

Quite a few female champs today would have beaten their male equivalents from a century or even half a century or so ago. Environment (advances in training and dieting regimens, shoe surfaces, etc, etc) does make a big difference.

(8) Move the Olympics back to Greece. As a rule they’re financially ruinous for the host country. But if they’re permanently ever held in one place – i.e., the place of their historic origin – an ecosystem can develop around them which will make them fiscally sustainable and even a net boon for Greece. It will also eliminate a lot of the bureaucracy/corruption inherent in choosing a new city every four years.

(Republished from AKarlin.com by permission of author or representative)
 
🔊 Listen RSS

Via Economist:

This makes sense to me. While cannabis is well-known in Russia, attitudes towards it are mostly disparaging where not hostile even in relatively enlightened Moscow. The druggies there tend to be more hardcore anyway. It is a large part of the conversation in the UK – see the debates over what classification it should get – but actually getting hold of it wasn’t easy (I never managed to at any rate, though in fairness I didn’t try; nor did I ever see a weed circle).

In contrast, weed is ubiquitous in the US – well, at least in California. There are books on cannabis horticulture openly sold on the streets (some go on to put this knowledge into practice in secluded inland forest glades). There is the 4/20 Festival in which thousands of people gather round the Bay to smoke weed. While it is illegal in theory in practice it is almost never enforced and one can easily find dealers with product. Indeed one can buy a medical certificate proving that you have an ailment that required treatment with marijuana from a doctor for a small fee.

(Republished from AKarlin.com by permission of author or representative)
 
🔊 Listen RSS

Via The Economist, I’ve come across some fascinating research by Orley Ashenfelter and Stepan Jurajda (Comparing Real Wage Rates, 2012) showing how real wages can be meaningfully compared across different regions by taking notes on prices and wages in McDonald’s restaurants.

The methodology seems solid. Big Macs are a very standardized product, hence they are already used in the so-called Big Mac Index to assess international price differences (and whether currencies are undervalued or overvalued) and REAL wage rates (prices tend to be lower in poorer countries, mitigating the effects of lower nominal wages). By combining these two measures, you can derive the quantity of Big Mac a McDonald’s worker can buy through one hour of his labor (BMPH). This in turn is a good proxy for real median wages, i.e. the life of the average Joe and Ivan in comparative perspective. While we might not want to people to buy too many Big Macs it’s a positive thing if they can actually afford to.

The results for Russia are stunning, and no doubt go a very long way why Putin has retained 70% approval ratings since 2000. Russia’s BMPH increased by 152% (!) from 2000 to 2007, and a further 43% through to 2011, leaving all other economic regions in the dust, even despite a sharp recession in the latter period. The only major region with a comparable performance is China. In contrast, the BMPH has stagnated throughout the developed world since 2000; and Not So Shining India joined them from 2007.

During the boom years of 2000-2007, real wages for lower-class workers appear to have risen sharply in Russia, China, and India; while stagnating or declining in Japan, the US, and Canada.

Furthermore, the MBPH continued rising sharply in Russia throughout 2007-2011, despite a very deep recession; and to a lesser extent, in China and the rest of Eastern Europe. Two of the BRICS, India and South Africa, had very deep declines.

The result of this growth is that even by 2007, the Russian BMPH was already at about 50% of West European and American levels; while its wages were still much lower, this was mitigated by concurrently low prices for its Big Macs.

Another noticeable thing is that the effects of higher West European minimum wages disappear as they are mitigated by higher Big Mac prices relative to the US. As a result real wage rates across the developed world seem to be remarkably similar, with Japan’s somewhat higher. But Japan too would converge by 2011.

BMPH 2000 BMPH 2007 BMPH 2011
U.S. 2.59 2.41 2.19
Canada 2.41 2.19 2.06
Russia 0.47 1.19 1.70
South Africa 0.81 0.56
China 0.36 0.57 0.71
India 0.23 0.35 0.30
Japan 3.03 3.09 2.22
The rest of Asia 0.53 0.50
Eastern Europe 0.8 0.86
Western Europe 2.23 2.12
Middle East 0.39 0.39
Latin America 0.35 0.36

Using data on BMPH growth rates from the original publication, I calculated the BMPH for 2000 and 2011 in addition to 2007 to get the figures above.

This shows the BMPH for 2000, 2007, and 2011 for each major economic region. What’s remarkable is that even in many of the countries lauded as “emerging markets” there was hardly any visible progress, and in a few cases, outright decline.

But what’s most fascinating is how Russia, whose economy has never received much in the way of praise, has emerged from Latin American-like destitution in 2000 to perch fairly close to the BMPH of the US, Canada, Japan, and Western Europe by 2011. If that is not an “economic miracle” then I don’t know what is.

This convergence is reflected in many other aspects such as Internet penetration (now equal to Greece and Portugal), new car sales (Czech Republic), GDP in PPP terms (Poland). Furthermore, as the MBPH directly reflects the earnings of lower income workers, it implicitly accounts for the relatively high – but by no means exceptional – levels of inequality in Russian incomes.

That said, the finding that Russian real incomes (as per the BMPH) are now at about 80% of American and West European levels has to be treated with some caution. After all, the Big Mac is domestically produced, but to buy stuff like quality cars or take foreign holidays you have to pay international prices which are far higher than Russian domestic prices. E.g. only 8% of Russians will vacation abroad in 2012 (5% if you just include the ex-USSR Far Abroad), compared to 20% of Americans.

As shown in the graph above, originally compiled by Sergey Zhuravlev, Russian consumption of food products, meat, fish, milk, and fruit is now essentially equal to US and West European levels. (Consumption of tobacco and alcohol is unfortunately significantly higher). But spending on clothing, housing, furniture, healthcare, transport, holidays, and restaurants is below 50% of US levels, even after accounting for price differences. (The situation vis-a-vis Western Europe is slightly better).

On the one hand, this means that whereas Russians now have full bellies, the country still lags on life’s perks and luxuries – most especially on restaurants and holidays. On the other hand, it may well presage strong growth in the years to come as Russia during the past decade has laid the base for a rich consumer society.

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
🔊 Listen RSS

Despite the generally loathsome nature of The Economist, it does have its advantages most of which can be reduced to its Daily Charts blog which focuses on statistics as opposed to rhetoric.

According to the chart above, as of 2012 ever more people, especially in the developed world, are starting to believe that the China is the world’s leading economic power. In terms of nominal GDP, and even conventional measures of GDP (PPP), the Krauts are wrong at least for now. However, as per the chart below, China is fast overtaking the US on increasing numbers of metrics by physical volume – steel (1999), CO2 emissions (2006), exports (2007), and manufacturing output, energy consumption, and car sales (2010). Indeed, according to Arvind Subramanian, in PPP terms China already overtook the US back in 2010, and I think this is plausible given that it ties in perfectly with China overtaking the US in so many key categories in that year. Regardless, by 2015 it will become increasingly hard to deny that China has the bigger economy in PPP terms, and soon after in nominal terms too as the yuan massively appreciates against an increasingly devalued dollar.

(Republished from AKarlin.com by permission of author or representative)
 
🔊 Listen RSS

I really can’t figure what this Economist editorial reeks more of: Hypocrisy, mendacity, or pure delusion?

That is as it should be, for since his decision last autumn to return to the Kremlin, Mr Putin has been stridently negative and anti-Western, most recently over Syria (see article)

Being anti-Western is “negative”, even for daring to oppose Western-backed Islamist crazies who will back-stab their handlers as soon as they’re able to.

But the reset was based in part on two misplaced hopes: that Dmitry Medvedev, who had been lent the presidency for one term by Mr Putin in 2008, would genuinely take charge of the country, and that some in his government had sound liberalising, pro-Western instincts.

Note how “liberalizing” and “pro-Western” are conflated, because one can’t possibly liberalize without kowtowing to Western interests too. Furthermore, bear in mind the unspoken assumption that normal relations (“the reset”) are only to be rewarded for said kowtowing to the West. The concept of equality and reciprocity is alien to the minds of Western chauvinists.

Those hopes were dashed by Mr Putin’s swatting aside of Mr Medvedev last September to allow his own return to the Kremlin, the rigging of elections, his crackdown on Moscow’s protesters and his new Nyet posture.

Elections in which Putin still got a certain majority, however hard The Economist tries to misrepresent otherwise, and “crackdowns” that are literally baby play compared to the violence meted out to Occupy protesters throughout the Western world (something like 50 journalists arrested to date and counting; preemptive arrests of republican demonstrators in the UK), and for adopting fines and regulations on protests that are actually fairly mild compared to most advanced democracies. Then again, in Economist world of pandering to Anglo-Saxon elites, the Occupy protesters are subhuman scum (because they are anti-elite, ergo “anti-Western”) whereas the liberal Russian protesters should be immune to all prosecution even when filmed throwing cobblestones at the police.

Really, “his Nyet posture” is the critical thing here. Like the mafia, the West won’t take no for an answer.

And why not dangle in front of the bauble-loving Mr Putin the prospect of Russian membership of the OECD rich-country club?

Well in principle, entrance to the OECD is supposed to happen based on objective criteria, most or all of which Russia now fulfills I believe now that it has joined the WTO. The Economist is essentially urging these organizations to politicize themselves, which in turn reflects their own delusion. It might have worked a generation ago but today pulling such stunts will only discredit these Western-dominated institutions all the faster given the rising influence of the BRIC’s and other non-crazy countries that aren’t self-entitled to absurdity.

Western ambassadors should not hesitate to talk to opposition protesters in Moscow just because the Kremlin objects.

I don’t think “hesitation” has been exactly a problem with McFaul. If Western countries insist on following The Economist’s advice, the correct response would be symmetrical: Have Russian ambassadors meet up with Occupy leaders, pirate groups, Muslim rights activists, etc and channel a few million dollars their way to “improve” democracy and civil rights in the West. What sauce is good for the goose is good for the gander after all.

In foreign policy, too, the West should stand firm. Russia cannot be allowed to veto America’s missile-defence plans in Europe. Nor should Mr Putin’s continued blocking of UN Security Council resolutions authorising intervention in Syria be treated as an insurmountable bar to action, any more than it was in Kosovo in 1999. G20 leaders should do their utmost to embarrass Mr Putin over his backing for Mr Assad.

Again, more than anything, it’s delusion that shines through here. (Ample hypocrisy too, however, encapsulated in just one word: Bahrain). But really delusion wins out. The Economist just like various Republican nutjobs like Romney genuinely think that the world works to the following schematic:

Step 1: Aggressively confront Russia.
Step 2: ???
Step 3: Russia comes to support US interests. Profit!

More than anything this really demonstrates far better than I could ever describe myself how The Economist is most definitely NOT a publication you want to read for facts, insights, etc.; instead, it is a barometer of Western elite opinion, or literary soul food for Western chauvinists.

If Western leaders actually insist on going through with The Economist’s recommendations, as opposed to just dreaming about them, their own global influence will dissipate all the faster.

Mr Putin respects toughness, not weakness.

What exactly is wrong with that? It is quite clear that in the past 500 years, being tough (or standing up for oneself) has worked out far better than being weak (which invites bullying and derision in addition to being inherently pitiable). That is because the West itself only ever respects strength, despite its moralistic platitudes to the contrary; something that naive fools like Gorbachev have always ended up finding to their own cost – well, their country’s cost, anyway.

This matters when it comes to his government’s more egregious behaviour, such as the jailing of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, once boss of the Yukos oil company, the killing of Sergei Magnitsky, a lawyer working for William Browder, a foreign investor, or the murder in London of Alexander Litvinenko, a former security official.

Predictably, the standard party line is repeated verbatim, as per the best traditions of Pravda, conveniently leaving out the facts that the ECHR itself disagree s that Khodorkovsky is a political prisoner or the mounting pile of evidence that Lugovoi or the FSB had nothing to do with the Litvinenko hit. Or that there are about 500 Magnitsky-like deaths in custody in the US and likewise in Russia every year, the major difference here being that he is a high-profile case who has been propagandized by William Browder, an oligarch money highly hostile to Putin.

In cases like these it is right to try to identify the individuals involved so as to deny them visas and freeze their assets, as a congressional legislative amendment related to the Magnitsky case proposes.

Their country and their right, but then it is incumbent on Russia as a self-respecting country to reciprocate in kind: Identify Western human rights abusers (e.g. those who run Guantanamo), and deny them entry to Russia and attempt to extend the sanctions abroad. As indeed has happened.

Mr Putin cultivates the image of a popular and admired strongman, but the wave of protests since he announced his return to the Kremlin has exposed his weakness and loss of support. His power base is beginning to erode.

More delusion.

Economic engagement with the West, combined with firm criticism of his democratic and human-rights abuses at home and abroad, are the best response.

Not to mention an inescapable sense of schizophrenia.

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
🔊 Listen RSS

The Economist lies about Russia, it has beef with France, and in general it is far more useful as a barometer of Anglo-Saxon elite opinion than as a good source of objective information on the real world. Nonetheless, it does have the occasional gold nugget, and even one gold vein – its Daily Charts blog.

After all, one can rarely argue with cold, raw statistics, and opinion polls.

Above is a chart from early April about the importance Europeans attach to being rich. It’s funny the extent to which it confirms almost every relevant stereotype in the book (in general, the act of stereotyping is very much maligned, but that’s for another post). Russians and Ukrainian gold-diggers, oligarchs, mafia. Israel – Jews LOL. Greeks have a reputation for being a very mercantile people. Czechs are individualists, so it makes sense that they’re high up there too.

At the other end of the scale, you have the Scandinavian countries that operate under the self-effacing principles of Jante Law, and the French with their rich anti-capitalist intellectual traditions and love for existentialist philosophy. In the middle we have quintessentially bourgeois nations such as the UK, and Germany – they love themselves some money, but Protestantism has long encouraged them to be low-key about it.

(Republished from AKarlin.com by permission of author or representative)
 
🔊 Listen RSS

This post is a follow-up to a similar one for the 2011 Duma elections. It contains an extensive list of blogger, pundit and “expert” opinions on the extent of fraud in the 2011 Duma elections. Interspersed among these opinions and analyses are results from federal opinion polls, election monitors, and other evidence.

In general, it seems we can identify three “theses” or “clubs.” The 0% Club holds the idea that falsifications were non-existent or minimal; it is advanced by Kremlin officials and supported by many opinion polls. Its polar opposite is the 15% Club, which is – unlike in the Duma elections – now only claimed by opposition forces and some liberal and Western media outlets. The 5% Club tends to arguee that Putin got a solid majority with some 56%-60% of the vote; almost all evidence converges to this figure. Most of the systemic opposition and arguably most Russians belong to this club.

The 0% Club (<2% fraud)

* PRE-ELECTIONS POLLS: Levada (66%), VCIOM (66%), and FOM (70%) all gave Putin more than its official result. However, because of the relative passivity of United Russia’s electorate – its supporters are less like to vote – raw (i.e. unadjusted) polling numbers almost certainly overstate Putin’s real electoral popularity.
* POST-ELECTIONS POLL: State pollster VCIOM reports 67% and Levada reports 60.7% responding they voted for Putin. Both figures are within their 3.4% margins of error.
* OFFICIAL RESULT: Putin has 63.60% according to the Central Elections Commission of the Russian Federation. This is more than 13% points above the 50% level that would have otherwise necessitated a runoff.
* CEC HEAD: Vladimir Churov said that “more honest elections than those in Russia will not be held in other countries in the near future, at least until they begin to adopt our technical experience” (refers to web cams at polling stations).
* PUTIN’s CAMPAIGN CHIEF: Stanislav Govorukhin said the election was the “cleanest in the history of Russia.”
* VLADIMIR PUTIN: The President-elect thinks that “there probably was some fraud, but it could only affect hundredths of one percent, well on 1% I can still imagine, but no more.”
* PRE-ELECTION PREDICTION: FOM gave Putin 61.7% on Feb 27-29, within 2% points of the official result, and Levada gave Putin 61.5% on Feb 24-Mar 1, within its 3.4% margin of error. Both couldn’t be legally published so close to election time. But p redictions may implicitly assume fraud. VCIOM gave Putin 58.6% on Feb 11-12 . But Putin’s popularity was rising during the next 3 weeks.
* EXPERT ANALYSIS: Sergey Zhuravlev estimates 1.7% fraud using statistical analysis. This approach has methodological flaws.

The 5% Club (2%-10% fraud)

* Juha Savolainen thinks 3%-5%.
* THIS BLOG’S AUTHOR: Anatoly Karlin estimates that Putin got 59%-60%, and so the aggregate level of falsifications is about 4%.
* EXIT POLL: State pollster FOM gave Putin 59.3%, implying possible fraud of 4.3%. They covered 81 regions, 800 stations, and 80,000 voters.
* EXPERT ANALYSIS: Dmitry Kobak, a programmer, estimates 4.6% fraud using statistical analysis.
* EXIT POLL: State pollster VCIOM gave Putin 58.3%, implying possible fraud of 5.3%. They covered 81 regions, 800 stations, and 80,000 voters.
* OBSERVERS: Anatoly Karlin, i.e. this blogs author, estimated a possible fraud figure of <5.9% by adjusting figures from observer protocols to get rid of the Moscow bias. This method has methodological flaws as there were few observers in the Putin-supporting countryside.
* EXPERT OPINION: Aleksandr Kireev, a prominent Russia elections analyst, estimates 6% fraud.
* EXPERT ANALYSIS: Sergey Shpilkin, veteran Russia elections analyst, estimates 6% fraud using statistical analysis. But his key assumptions are questionable.
* The difference between machine ballots and the overall result for United Russia is 6.1% as calculated by Aleksandr Kireev. This approach has methodological flaws.
* EXPERT OPINION: Boris Ovchinnikov, a Russian blogger and mathematician, thinks that Putin got 55%-58%, translating into about 7% fraud.
* EXPERT OPINION: Aleksandr Shen’, a prominent Russia elections analyst, gives a range of 5%-10% fraud.
* OBSERVERS: Protocols from Golos election observers gave Putin 54.8%, implying fraud of 8.8%. This approach has methodological flaws.

The 15% Club (10%+ fraud)

* OBSERVERS: Protocols from all election observers gave Putin 50.2%, implying fraud of 13.4%. This approach has methodological flaws; nearly 50% of all observers were concentrated in Moscow, where Putin’s support is naturally lowest.
* LOSS OF LEGITIMACY: Once fraud approaches 14%, the case can be made that Putin’s victory is illegitimate as a result of less than 50% would have necessitated a second round.
* The Economist, a British publication which the eXile called the “world’s sleaziest magazine,” strongly implies 14% fraud.
* Oleg Kozlovsky, an opposition activist, claims 14% fraud, with Putin getting no more than 50%.

Fraud In Moscow

* OFFICIAL RESULT: Putin has 46.95% according to the Central Elections Commission of the Russian Federation.
* EXPERT OPINION: Dmitry Kobak thinks Putin got a 47%.
* OBSERVERS: Protocols from all election observers gave Putin 45.18%, implying fraud of 1.8%. This may have methodological flaws.
* Statistical evidence strongly indicates that the fraud in Moscow was present but at very low levels in these elections.

Fraud In St.-Petersburg

* OFFICIAL RESULT: Putin has 58.77% according to the Central Elections Commission of the Russian Federation.
* Statistical evidence strongly indicates that the level of fraud in St.-Petersburg was a lot greater than in Moscow.
* OBSERVERS: Protocols from all election observers gave Putin 50.35%, implying fraud of 8.4%. This may have methodological flaws.

The Moscow Protests

In post-elections Мeetings, the anti-Putin one at Novy Arbat on March 10 got 10,000 (police), 22,600 (RIA estimate), 26,000 (Nikolai Pomeshchenko), or 25,000-30,000 (organizers). The precise details probably don’t matter; what ALL estimates concur on is that turnout plummeted from the 60,000+ levels of the three major post-Duma elections Meetings.

Putin’s post-victory rally at Manezh Square on March 5 got 70,000-110,000 people.

Further Reading

My best articles on election fraud in Russia:

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
 
🔊 Listen RSS

Yes, this WAS the cover to one Economist issue.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Putin Derangement Syndrome

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Spade is a Spade, and Liberals are Fascists

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where to go? Visa free travel for Russians.

Where to go? Visa free travel for Russians.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusions

So here’s the summary:

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

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

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

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

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
 
🔊 Listen RSS

The notion that Russian elections are systemically rigged to keep the “party of power” in, well, power is so prevalent and accepted in journalistic, political, and academic discourse in the West that it has little need of supporting documentation. Taking the 2007 Duma elections as an example, they were described as “not fair” by OSCE, “managed” by the head of the PACE observer team, and (possibly) “neither free nor fair” by the British Foreign Office. A German government spokesperson flatly stated that “Russia is not a democracy.”

The storm of condemnation in the media, unrestrained by any need to respect even a bare minimum of diplomatic protocol, was all the more shrill (e.g., The Economist claimed there was “[no] doubt that the poll was rigged”). As for established academia, suffice to say that a standard cornerstone of recent Kremlinology was an article titled “The Myth of the Authoritarian Model: How Putin’s Crackdown Holds Russia Back”, published immediately after that election. Its author, Michael McFaul, was recently appointed to be US Ambassador to Russia.

All in all fairly damning, no? But statistics speak louder than rhetoric. As I show in this post, the results of opinion polls have historically closely tracked actual Russian election results. This is a powerful argument against elections fraud. If the Kremlin does falsify elections, it is uniquely incompetent at it. Let’s take a closer look at the last four elections.

Russian presidential election, March 2008

OSCE refused to monitor this election in advance, ostensibly because of “severe restrictions” on its observers (the Russian Foreign Ministry denied it). The Economist said the “figures were massaged.”

Now let’s take a look at the opinion polls. According to Levada, Medvedev’s 71% mandate was exactly the same as the percentage of Russians who voted and later recalled casting a ballot for him. Zyuganov, of the Communists, got slightly less than those post-elections poll results indicated; Zhirinovsky, of the nationalist Liberal Democrats, got slightly more. Turnout was exactly the same: 69.7% according to the Central Electoral Commission, 71% according to Levada (with a further 2% who didn’t remember).

Furthermore, as of 8-11 February a huge majority of 80% intended to vote for Medvedev, which is significantly higher than the 71.3% who actually did so. Zhirinovsky’s rating of 9% translated into a straightforward 9.5% in the elections, as did the liberal Bogdanov’s <1% into 1.3%. Zyuganov’s 18.0% result was almost double that of his 11% rating. What kind of fraud is it when the “establishment” candidate gets fewer votes in real life than in opinion polls while his competitors get more?

Russian legislative election, December 2007

As mentioned above, many people – at least outside Russia – were unhappy with the Duma elections of 2007 (or maybe with their results, as no “real” opposition parties got in; “real” in their case being defined as anti-Putin, liberal, and not Communist). But look at the graph below, where the results of Levada voting intentions polls are graphed from May 2004 to the eve of the elections in November 2007 (the data points for December 2007 represent the actual results). Does the December point look wildly out of place, as one might expect if the elections were widely falsified?

[Click to enlarge. NOTES: Rodina Aug-Dec04 adds Glazyev & Rogozin factions; Rodina from Sept06 is with Fair Russia; Apr06 is for combined bloc of SPS+Yabloko so each one's rating is divided in half; Nov07 is average of two polls.]

Thought not. As of November 2007, taking the average of two polls, voting intentions were 67% for United Russia, 13% for the Communists, 7% for Liberal Democrats, and 5% for (social-democratic) Fair Russia. The actual results, respectively, were 64.3%, 11.6%, 8.1%, and 7.8%. The “true” opposition, i.e. the Russian liberals, also got results that closely tallied with their popularity (in Russia, that is, not Washington DC think-tanks). Yabloko got 1.6% (voting intentions: 2%) and the Union of Right Forces (SPS) got 1.0% (voting intentions: 1%); both were beaten out by the Agrarian Party. Sour losers don’t “dissidents” make.

Russian presidential election, March 2004

In early December 2003, 52% of Russians were ready to vote for Putin; this rose to 61% by mid-month. The two other main candidates, Zyuganov and Zhirinovsky, experienced tanking approval ratings: the former to 7%, the latter to 5% by mid-December. In the event, neither of them decided to run. By January, some 71% of Russians said they would vote for Putin. This compared with 3% for Glazyev (of the Rodina party, which would later evolve into Fair Russia), 1% for Kharitonov (of the Communist Party, in Zyuganov’s stead) and 1% for the liberal Khakamada. Everybody else scored 0%, with 8% saying they wouldn’t vote and 11% undecided. Putin had dominant support from the constituencies of all parties, with even 49% of the Communists and 67% of (liberal) Yabloko and SPS members saying they’d vote for him.

According to the final elections poll in February 2004, of Russians who intended to vote some 69.3% of Russians said they would vote for Putin (real result: 71.3%); 5.4% for Kharitonov (real result: 13.7%); 3.5% for Glazyev (real result: 4.1%); and 2.2% for Khakamada (real result: 3.8%). As in 2008, the “establishment” candidate actually lost votes relative to his competitors from what the opinion polls indicated!

Russian legislative election, December 2003

This election was (supposedly) “fundamentally distorted” and “failed in meeting many OSCE and international standards.” (A reminder of the political context: a growing rift in Russia – West relations over the Iraq War and Khodorkovsky’s arrest).

[Click to enlarge. NOTES: Oct03 is average of 2 polls].

As with the 2007 Duma elections, the data point at the end of the series represents the actual election results. United Russia got 37.6%, the Communists got 12.6%, the Liberal Democrats got 11.5%, Rodina got 9.0%, (left-liberal) Yabloko got 4.3%, and (right-liberal) Union of Right Forces (SPS) got 4.0%. A month previously voting intentions had been, respectively, 29%, 23%, 8%, 3%, 6%, and 6%.

The jump in support for United Russia does seem a bit suspicious, but may be explained by a popularity boost in the wake of Khodorkovsky’s arrest (at least for a time, this appeared to void the Communist trope that United Russia was a slave of the oligarchs). The fast rise of social-democratic Rodina, with its nationalist bent, may also explain why the KPRF plummeted. Nonetheless, of all the elections in the 2000′s, this one seems to be the least in line with what might have been expected based on the opinion polls: the only parties to see more votes than the last opinion polls had indicated – United Russia, Fair Russia, and Rodina – were all pro-Kremlin.

Russian Elections In 2000 And Earlier

Russia’s elections in the 1990′s probably weren’t any cleaner than under Putin. In particular, the 1996 election – featuring a tense runoff between Yeltsin and Zyuganov – was marred by campaign funding scandals and one-sided television coverage (though the consensus is that Yeltsin would have won in any case). Allegations of similar misuse of administrative resources would become ubiquitous only under Putin. The eXile has a good account of this mendacity in How do you spell Hypocrisy? O-S-C-E in its trademark shrill and outraged style.

Obviously, you wouldn’t learn much about this by listening to the Western MSM. In the 1990′s, Yeltsin was the man who stood against Communism’s return, and thus deserved their unconditional support. Western criticism only began in earnest from around 2003, when there appeared a growing rift between Russia and the West; and the accusations of electoral fraud reached a crescendo in 2007-8, by which time the so-called “New Cold War” was in full swing (despite that the results of those elections very closely mirrored opinion polls, unlike in 2003).

Opinion Polls Speak Louder Than Western Rhetoric

The inescapable conclusion is that election results in Russia, by and large, mirror public opinion; in all elections but the 2003 Duma elections, the “establishment” party or candidate had garnered fewer votes than was indicated by polls of Russians’ voting intentions a few weeks beforehand.

There are several possibilities for why that is the case. First, we could accept that the Russian electoral process is essentially free and honest (otherwise, far bigger gaps between the results of opinion polls and the ruling party’s election results would have been expected). Second, we can assume that it isn’t free and honest, but that United Russia’s fraud is counterbalanced by fraud on behalf of other parties (this isn’t as absurd as it sounds, as the Communists have also been accused of using “administrative resources” to skew votes in areas under their control). Third, we may posit that the opinion polling organizations themselves are compromised by the Kremlin, churning out results that don’t reflect Russian public opinion.

The third possibility can be dismissed pretty much out of hand. I will remind readers that Lev Gudkov, the current director of the independent Levada Center, writes stuff like this: “Putinism is a system of decentralized use of the institutional instruments of coercion… hijacked by the powers that be for the fulfillment of their private, clan-group interests.” Doesn’t exactly sound like the biggest fan of the regime, right?

Use Occam’s Razor. Russia’s elections might be far from Scandinavian standards, and in a few regions – Ingushetia and Chechnya foremost among them – they are, in fact, blatantly fixed. But they are the exception, not the rule – which is that Russian elections are largely free.

(This is not to say that they are fair, because of unequal TV access to the candidates, restrictions such as the 7% threshold for entry into the Duma, etc.; to varying degrees, all democracies suffer from these or similar factors. To what extent Russia’s elections are unfair relative to other democracies – e.g. the gerrymandered US; first-past-the-post Britain; the thirty or so other democracies without elections of governors, etc – should be the real object of discussion. But engaging in rhetoric about the neo-Soviet Putin dictatorship is far more fun, supports Western foreign policy objectives, and most importantly, sells more copies.)

Russian legislative election, December 2011

Current trends in opinion polls reflect just how much the priorities of the media are out of sync with public opinion. In recent months, the liberal commentariat has seized on Navalny’s characterization of United Russia as a “party of thieves and swindlers,” and hopeful editorials such as Miriam Elder’s Russians uniting against United Russia are blossoming. A lot of ink is spent on the emergence of the People’s Freedom Party (a more compact name for Russia Without Corruption And Lawlessness, a recent coalition of 1990′s-vintage liberals) and Right Cause (basically, a re-branded Union of Right Forces (SPS); the oligarch Prokhorov, who supports Medvedev’s modernization agenda, is expected to play a prominent part in it).

But back in the real world, attitudes remain distinctly unchanged. As you can see in the graph below, United Russia is now slightly less popular than it was a year ago, but it is still far more attractive to voters than the other parties by a huge margin (or even itself in the 2003 elections).

[Click to enlarge.]

As for the new kids on the block, only 2% of Russians intend to vote for People’s Freedom, and Right Cause is so unknown that it is lumped into the “Other” category which has a total of 2% voting intentions (perhaps not that surprising when you consider that Prokhorov once advocated a 60-hour workweek). Nonetheless, I’m sure that the almost certain failure of these two liberal parties, both darlings of the Western media, to achieve any success whatsoever will be blamed on the machinations of the Kremlin.

My prediction? Nothing comes out of Right Cause or People’s Freedom (or Putin’s Popular Front for that matter). Communists get 10-15%, and the Liberal Democrats and Fair Russia just make the 7% cut. United Russia ekes out more than 50%, but less than the 2/3 constitutional majority. Various journalists, democracy watchdogs, etc. will have a field day, but criticism will be more muted than in 2007 because of the new political atmosphere of “Reset.”

You can read my thoughts on the 2012 Presidential elections in my post On The Necessity Of Subjecting Kremlinologists (And Social Scientists) To Market Discipline.

PS. In the graphs, I incorrectly labelled the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia as LPDR. It should, of course, be L DPR.

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
 
🔊 Listen RSS

After a year long hiatus from interviewing Russia watchers, I decided it was time to get back in the game. As it happens, my attention first fell on a Europe blogger – and not just any incisive, counter-intuitive scribbler whose intellect and analytical acumen is matched only by the number of themes he is prepared to expound upon, but also someone who has experience in politics (work in both the US Congress and the European Parliament), journalism (with the EU policy news site EurActiv), ideological adventurer (started off very neocon, but Iraq War and education fixed that), and a fellow rootless cosmopolitan (having been raised in France and briefly in the US, and studied at the London School of Economics). I am talking of none other than Craig Willy, who writes the irreverent (and informed) Letters from Europe.

Craig Willy: In His Own Words…

What first sparked your interest in blogging and Europe, and how did the twain meet?

I’ve been in love with history, politics, thought and argument since I was maybe 14. I remember very clearly telling a friend at the time that I wanted to “be paid to say my opinion”… Perhaps not the easiest career path and not one I persistently pursued!

Blogs don’t provide money, usually, but they are an absolute liberation for the aspiring writer: costs are zero, middlemen are eliminated, and you can reach every person on the planet who has Internet. How could I not blog? I started my first blog in 2004 and I don’t think I’ve changed the mix of more analytical pieces with humor, including on Euro-nonsense.

I have always been interested in Europe as I was born and raised here (specifically in France and the UK). I have been interested in the EU insofar as it seemed to represent Europeans reclaiming their power in the world and historical agency. It usually fails in this respect and hence I used to find the United States of America – its historical role, politics and foreign policy organizations – much more interesting. I now think all areas of the world are worthy of study. The US is probably over-written about and, being based in Brussels and involved in EU journalism, I can genuinely add value writing about European affairs. If I wrote about the US I would be just another opinion. I also think Europe needs more pan-European writers: it is a very real entity but it has no public space.

Do you see yourself, first and foremost, as a blogger, journalist, or pundit? What are your best and worst experiences in these roles?

I do not see these as mutually exclusive. They all feed into each other as I often draw on my journalistic work for my blog and the people I meet through blogging often end up being professionally useful. I am not a pundit because I don’t have the fame.

My best experience, and it is ongoing, was beginning formal journalistic work in Brussels a mere three months ago. It’s the first job I really enjoy and find stimulation in, and one that doesn’t feel “false”. It’s also one in which I’ve learned a really incredible amount about how media really work, the complicity between politicians and journalists, the endless plethora of lobbies, pols, NGOs, etc trying to influence the news with their inane press releases, as well as the intricacies of various EU policy areas in practice.

The worst I don’t know. Well, as every blogger knows, blogging can be a lonely, unglamorous and perfectly un-remunerated activity. And still we do it. I don’t think we can do otherwise!

In the long run, I hope to become a completely independent blogger-journalist. In truth, objective text does not exist and to the extent that blogs recognize their subjectivity they are more honest than “normal journalism”. The main difference is in tone, a different idea of balance, and adapting to the publication’s style. In being part of a large organization – which has its culture, clients and priorities – you are obviously also far less free.

I am very attached to my freedom.

Who are the best Europe commentators? Who are the worst?

You know my Google Reader is chock full of European blogs and RSS feeds, and I have some difficulty answering that question…

Actually, the worst is undoubtedly one of the neo-Maurrassian race-baiting French pundits. I will pick Éric Zemmour as he is by far the most famous and influential of them and because as a Jew himself he should really know better than to constantly (and smugly!) demonize black and/or Muslim Frenchmen.

As to the best it is very difficult to say… J. Clive-Matthews, aka NoseMonkey, might have been the best EU blogger but he no longer writes much. Fistful of Euros was easily the best pan-European blog, but it was collaborative and the project has declined in output and coherence. There are lots of very good bloggers whom I usually disagree with but who both have large audiences and are worth reading whether Euroskeptic Tory MEP Daniel Hannan, Libération journalist Jean Quatremer or the Leninist Richard “Didn’t Get the Memo” Seymour. I wouldn’t settle on one person however and there is no really good pan-European blogger. It’s a hole I kind of aspire to fill…

You lived for substantial periods of time in France, the UK, and the US. What are their respective charms and blemishes? If you had to choose, where would you prefer to reside permanently?

The UK tends to be more down-to-earth and unpretentious than the other two. Americans, particularly those of the Midwest and my Dad in particular, have a wonderful “can-do” spirit and optimism. The French, if you can get a secure job, I think have succeeded most in reconciling the constraints of modern civilization with living a “good, flourishing life.”

Oh dear… I often go on rants about the absurdities and prejudices of this or that country. I don’t spare anyone and I could go on forever if I start… So I won’t!

If you could recommend three books about European politics and/or history, what would they be?

First, I urge everyone to read In Defense of Decadent Europe [AK: Click to buy] by the great French intellectual Raymond Aron, ideally in the original French though an abridged English version is available. Written in 1977, there is no better analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of “Western Europe” and the European Economic Community (precursor to the EU), its democracies and economies, their superiority to the Communist bloc, the unremarkable nature of the Communist countries, the course the Soviet Empire’s collapse would take, the mirage of Socialism (it appeared the Communists might win elections in Italy and a Socialist-Communist coalition nearly did in France)… The book is so lucid and right – it has nothing to do with Neoconservative simplifications and idiocies – that it convinced me a contemporary observer really can understand the world he inhabits. You don’t need to wait for time to give you “perspective” or the opening of the government archives. It is a better analysis of Europe in the Cold War than probably the majority of books that have appeared on the subject since.

Some of this might seem dated – environmentalism, neoliberalism and the War on Terror had yet to appear – but it is quite amazing how many subjects he touches upon that are still perfectly relevant, such as dysfunctional oil-rich countries and the glut of unemployed and overqualified graduates (already!). Incidentally, people should read everything by Aron. Most of it is available in English (The Opium of the Intellectuals [AK: Click to buy], Progress and Disillusion, War and Peace between Nations, Clausewitz…) but it is worth learning the French language just to be able to know his thoughts in the original.

Second, read everything by the great Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm, and in particular Age of Extremes [AK: Click to buy], his history of the “Short Twentieth Century”. It is world history but Europe dominates it. He is a very lucid, very balanced and incredibly erudite historian and you can only come out of his books feeling more knowledgeable and intelligent.

Third, I have some trouble. I have yet to read a really good book on the EU actually. Tony Judt’s Postwar is more of a continental encyclopedia and doesn’t really deal with the EU. All the books that explain the EU tend to be textbook-style and very boring. I’ve heard Alan S. Milward’s The European Rescue of the Nation-State and Edgar Morin’s Penser l’Europe are very good, the latter is resting on my bookshelf, but I’ve yet to read them. Jeremy Rifkin’s The European Dream [AK: Click to buy] and John McCormick’s The European Superpower are worth reading but are pop works rather than “great”.

I suppose I will settle on Perry Anderson’s The New Old World [AK: Click to buy]. It is a very good introduction to Europe today from a Marxist perspective. As such it is mostly critical but like Hobsbawm very informed and provides a very good overview of various national politics, enlargement, the EU itself and EU integration theory (if you’re into that sort of thing…).

The US vs. EU quality of life debate may be cliché and overdone, but I can’t help asking a Europe buff this question: which would you say offers the preferable socio-economic model? (OK, it’s obvious from your posts that EU > USA. Please expound.)

The first point I want to make is that anyone who claims lack of “government” systematically leads to more economic efficiency and better outcomes is simply misinformed, wrong and perhaps arguing in very bad faith. You have the whole history of industrial civilization contradicting them. Look at 19th century America, Bismarckian Germany, Meiji Japan, Stalin’s Soviet Union, postwar Europe and Japan, the “Asian Tigers” or China today: each of these countries achieved stunning economic and industrial growth with some combination of tariffs (all of them, basically), industrial policy (publicly-funded railroads), mercantilism (support for export-oriented “national champions”, the undervalued Yuan) or even outright State control of the economy.

So I get pretty frustrated with the whole Republican spiel about laissez-faire dynamism and sclerotic Europe. You have to be incredibly ignorant of economic history – and I would say they very probably are – to believe what they do and the slurs they sling at Europe to justify the economic and social mess they’re making of their own country.

The second point is that though I am not an economist or an expert on economic or industrial policy, I can read statistics and they tend to indicate that modern civilization leads us to produce and consume more without this necessarily adding to either national well-being or personal happiness. It is true that the US’s GDP per capita is significantly higher than Europe’s. Why is this? It is due to a proportionally larger and younger active population, to longer working hours, and – it is true – to very high productivity (slightly higher than in most European countries).

But what have they done with this wealth? The numbers are eloquent. Americans eat so poorly and are so inactive that generals warn youth obesity is a threat to recruitment and national security. Energy efficiency and transport are catastrophic: the US emits almost 40% more CO2 than Europe (including Turkey and the Balkans) despite having a smaller economy and over 300 million less people. And it isn’t like the transport system is any good! Incidentally, this inefficiency, beyond environmental concerns, is a completely needless attack on America’s energy independence and national security.

The healthcare system is an economic and social disaster, costing almost twice as much per capita as that of France (one of the more expensive European healthcare systems), for not noticeably better and much more unequal outcomes. So much for “market efficiency.” Then there’s the prison-industrial complex, some 2.3 million people behind bars, on the scale of the Soviet gulag and by far the most in the world today, with many millions more under probation and other forms of police-state supervision. This reduces the unemployment figures and provides jobs for prison wardens in certain districts, but the costs are huge: billions of dollars wasted are nothing compared to the ruin this has inflicted on the black community. This is not due principally to excess criminality, but to draconian drug laws, discriminatory justice, weak welfare, and a conscious decision that the defense of the socio-economic system should be done in the most coercive way possible.

Most of these problems are not inherent to the American character or even US politics. They can be traced back, very precisely, to the failure of Lyndon Johnson’s Liberalism and the triumph of Ronald Reagan’s Conservatism. That was when the country and its political leadership completely failed to address oil dependence, the expanding prison population, embraced the doctrine of eternal war as an integral part of American nationalism, lost the egalitarian tendency, and so on.

If anything, I do not champion Europe’s various economic and welfare models. Europe is far from perfect and no one claims it is. It’s simply that the American alternative is unalloyed crap and the discourse about it, particularly by Republicans, is so manifestly false, hollow and hypocritical. An informed person could only see the US model for what it is: sickeningly inefficient and unjust. Even Americans see this: when Americans say in polls they want the income distribution on Sweden (easily the most “Communist” country today) but elect a Republican Congress, my brain simply can’t cope with fathoming that level cognitive dissonance in the American public (you made this point once). [AK: You mean here, where I talk of American false consciousness?] It is literally maddening.

As this blog focuses quite a lot on Russia, I can’t avoid asking you for your thoughts on EU – Russia relations. Are they improving or worsening? Is it at all plausible for Russia to enter the EU by 2025, and would it serve either of the two parties’ interests?

I think relations are good. There are no fundamental problems. Of course there are serious divisions within Europe – the new members understandably being very suspicious. (Although I like to tell them it only took a few years for France and Germany to make up after the Second World War…) Russia’s relations with France and Germany, incidentally, are very good. Paris and Moscow have similar visions of a multipolar world and both aspire to be genuine world powers while Berlin and Moscow are united by economic collaboration that can get downright incestuous (see Gerhard Schröder).

I cannot say what Russia’s destiny is. On the one hand, Russia and its near-abroad make up one of the four great poles of Western civilization, the others being (Western) Europe, North America and Latin America. That is to say as an economic, cultural and geopolitical space, it is and has long been distinct from “Europe” and, in my opinion, Russia needs to think about how it can weld the post-Soviet space into some kind of coherent economic and social union. I am not someone who believes that much was gained by the replacement of a stable Soviet Union with the collection of ethnic conflicts, impoverished and corrupt oligarchies, and poxy Central Asian dictatorships we have now.

On the other hand, I often think Russia must be reconciled with Europe in some way. There is an undeniable kinship and shared history but I don’t see how closer ties could work in practice. We are still very, very different and I don’t see all that much convergence. I think there is no chance of membership by 2025. Maybe by 2050 if Russia continues to grow but also becomes much more democratic. On the other hand, in the long run, how could Russia not join? The level of economic interdependence is always growing and the logic of regional integration often genuinely ineluctable. It would certainly make the linguistic situation very interesting if the Union has 150 million Russophones and perhaps more if Ukraine and others join…

How dangerous do you consider Europe’s reliance on Russian natural gas? With the anti-nuclear fallout post Fukushima, and France’s recent banning of gas fracking, do you think this dependence will grow in the next decade?

I don’t think it is all that dangerous. Russia needs European money almost as much as Europe needs gas. Russia can pick a fight with smallish poor Eastern European countries but I don’t see what it could possibly gain in conflicts with its Western European partners and the gatekeepers to the biggest economic area in the world.

I am not sold on nuclear as a way of reducing energy independence. It can be used en masse to provide almost all your electricity, but electricity is only about 20% of the energy we use! A lot depends on whether renewables become a non-negligible source of energy and the extent to which fossil fuels are replaced by electricity (particularly in transport). Clearly nuclear has taken a catastrophic hit in Europe though, everyone but France is pretty much giving it up. France will maintain its capacity however and who can say which way the wind will blow in 10 or 15 years?

One of the biggest Russian gripes regarding Europe is its travel restrictions. To visit many European countries, Russians need to expend considerable time and effort to procure a visa. Is a visa-free regime possible within the next 5 years?

Access to its labor market is one of the most valuable things the EU can grant to another country. It is also, today, one of the most controversial due to the current anti-immigrant sentiment and race-baiting politicians. I can’t really say whether a visa-free regime will be possible within five years.

On the one hand, the very charming and funny Russian Ambassador to the EU Vladimir Chizhov said in an interview said he was upset by the recent developments in Europe because it would undermine his negotiations for a visa-free regime (by the way a very interesting interview covering lots of other subjects).

On the other hand, I was very surprised last November when EU granted visa-free travel rights to Albanians and Bosnians. They’re the sort of foreigners whose alleged criminality politicians would normally make noise about. The European Commission, which has little power itself, would normally cave in to the demands of said politicians.

HARD Talk with Craig Willy

ANATOLY KARLIN: I know that you have a great deal of enthusiasm for the European project. However, many observers – including myself – are skeptical about its longterm sustainability. The economic crisis has fueled popular resentment, e.g. the Greeks cursing outside financial authorities for imposing steep cuts to public spending, while the Germans deride them for their fiscal profligacy and dislike having to bail them out (recent polls suggest a majority of Germans want the Deutsche Mark back). The political right is enjoying a Europe-wide resurgence. National interests appear to be diverging, e.g. with France focusing on the Mediterranean, while Germany deepens ties with Russia. Border controls are reappearing. The global economic situation is cloudy, and high oil prices seem to be here to stay, presenting a further panoply of challenges to European solidarity. So is ever deeper union a realistic prospect, or is there a chance that the EU will end up as little more than a glorified free trade area by 2020?

CRAIG WILLY: As a disclaimer, I’ve gotten much, much more critical of EU officials and pols since I’ve come to Brussels. I am still wedded to the project however and I think most of the nonsense EU officials engage in is ultimately due to structural constraints imposed on them by the national governments.

The EU is not much more than an economic entity but it is much more than a free trade area. In fact, as soon as you have a commitment to a customs union (e.g.: a common external tariff and common trade negotiations with foreigners) and genuine single market, you can’t help but be a de facto economic power and have substantial integration, such as a common EU patent, common EU property rights, common EU approach to GMOs, and so on. The EU remains the world’s biggest economy and the truth is most international relations today involve economic issues above all. As such, the EU isn’t a wholly inappropriate entity for the (let’s call it) postmodern world.

I am pessimistic about further integration for at least another ten years. A lot depends on whether the national governments decide to reform the EU to actually make it democratic. There needs to be a connection between the elections to the European Parliament and the President of the European Commission. There is nothing in the treaties that makes this impossible; the pan-European parties only need to get their act together and agree on candidates. Commissioner Michel Barnier recently suggested that this happen and that the Commission and Council presidencies incidentally be merged. If this were done, there would be a genuine European politics and an identifiable face/mandated chief executive for the EU.

It is possible if they want it. Democracy is impossible without a common language but English has long been establishing itself as the lingua franca among Europeans. South Africa and India, much poorer countries with if anything harsher internal ethnic divisions, prove that multilingual and multiethnic democracy is possible. Of course, national leaders don’t want a democratic EU, like the old Italian and German princely states they prefer to maintain their own power, they prefer division to the common good. It doesn’t help that the current panoply of European leaders – Merkel, Sarkozy and Berlusconi in particular – are absolutely disgraceful for their lack of ambition and venality.

ANATOLY KARLIN: The discourse on Europe’s demography is decidedly pessimistic, though perhaps unreasonably so (in 2010, France may have overtaken the US in total fertility rates). Nonetheless, the pessimism is not without cause, as France (and the UK) are exceptions rather than the rule. Most of Europe, including the biggest countries – Germany, Italy, Spain, Poland – have been reproducing at well below replacement level rates for over two decades. What impact will this have on Europe’s economic dynamism and the welfare state? And in a world of limits to growth, could Europe’s demographic clouds have a silver lining?

CRAIG WILLY: I think the world needs less babies. Europe is less wasteful environmentally than America, but if every Asian and African achieved a European standard of living the Earth would become unlivable and exhausted within a few years.

Ageing is a huge challenge and will put incredible strain on Europe’s finances and lead to reduced power in the world. Low birthrates can also be a problem and the relative decline of France in Europe in the 19th Century can be directly attributed to the fertility of its German and British neighbors.

On the other hand, these are universal challenges characteristic of modern civilization. I would point to three things that make me optimistic about Europe:

  1. Birth rates on the whole are collapsing in developing countries. UN reports stress that, by the time they reach our oldish demographic profile, they will not have achieved the West’s current levels of wealth. As such, their pension, economic and health problems will be significantly worse than what Europe faces. (I hope that doesn’t sound like Schadenfreude!)
  2. East Asia’s birth rates and ageing are even more catastrophic than Europe’s! There is a very clear pattern here: an East Asian country develops very fast, Western commentators fret about our “decadence” and how we will be bought out by said East Asians, said East Asian country turns more-or-less gracefully into a fortified retirement home. I think of Japan of course but also of the forgotten “Tigers” South Korea, Singapore, Taiwan and Hong Kong. They all have birth rates around 1.2-1.4, lower than Europe. China, big scary China, is if anything in a worse situation. It is still very poor on a per capita basis but its fertility rate has dropped below 1.5. Given the trend in neighboring countries, I don’t know that the one-child policy is the only reason for this.
  3. The EU’s latest demography report points to some very interesting and counter-intuitive trends in terms of future family patterns that suggest godless French-style cohabitation, late-age childbearing and strong childcare policies are the cause of higher birthrates in certain countries. It is definitely worth reading the introduction at least. Another thing was that it points to the recent increase of EU fertility to 1.6 and perhaps soon to 1.7. It is unevenly divided across the Union but it not all that different from American non-Hispanic whites’ 1.8. Of course America has massive immigration and, as such, the US’s demographic weight in the world will continue to increase massively, while Europe’s has basically peaked. Speaking of “Eurabia”, Hispanics have a fertility rate of 2.9, almost 50% over the average, and immigration is not really letting up. Isn’t it much more likely that we see a Hispanicization of America? Certainly California, New Mexico, Texas and Florida look like they might be destined to return to Latin civilization…

ANATOLY KARLIN: You’re not the biggest fan of the “Eurabia” thesis. I totally agree with you, but I will play devil’s advocate. Please explain why you discount the possibility that: (1) the number of Muslims in Europe is under-counted (e.g. due to political correctness); (2) that migration from Muslim countries will not grow in the coming years, on the background of Europe’s demographic problems and population stress in Africa and the Middle East; and (3) the increasing radicalization of Europe’s Muslim populations (e.g. one third of British Muslims support the death penalty for apostasy).

CRAIG WILLY: I can’t talk to the statistics. I think they are basically accurate: 10% in France, 2-5% in most Western European countries, zero in Eastern Europe, and a certain number in Britain but outnumbered by immigrants of other origins (Indians, West Indians, Christian Africans, not to mention other Europeans…). The number of Muslims will increase over the next 40 years but will not be overwhelming.

There is clearly a strong, perhaps growing, cultural divide between European “natives” and European Muslims. Muslims are more conservative on the whole, somewhat like Hispanics in the United States but the difference is definitely more pronounced. I am not convinced Muslims are radicalizing. In France and Italy, the places where Muslims now live used to be poor working-class white areas. These areas tended to vote Communist (20-40% of the vote in France and Italy used to be Communist). I don’t see even the beginnings of mass political radicalization among European Muslims despite the fact they live in if anything more difficult circumstances. I actually would like more radical politics, not Islamist, but perhaps more of France’s anticolonial Indigènes de la République, its answer to America’s Black Power movement.

I am not convinced European countries are fully capable of accepting Muslims as equals and integrating them. Many Europeans seem to think the immigrant can and must integrate first before he is allowed to have the same job, have his children go to a decent school, or move into a nice area. It’s obviously a chicken and egg thing but many people aren’t able to accept this.

The climate and discourse in France in particular is getting pretty scary, the Front National acquiring a veneer of respectability and professionalism, and Sarkozy’s center-right actually embracing its anti-Muslim discourse. E.g.: the burqa ban, the “polygamous welfare-frauds” (our “welfare queens”), the ridiculous “Debate on National Identity,” openly racist statements by ministers (quote “too many Muslims”). It is quite depressing.

Europeans have demons sleeping inside them, like every other human being in the world. But our history has meant our demons came out in a horrifying way. Less than 70 years ago we slaughtered as many Jews and Roma we could get our hands on in a fit of organized psychosis and industrialized murder. Less than 20 years ago some Europeans decided there were “too many Muslims” and that there was only one solution to this “problem.” It’s something worth worrying about. We live in what are, even with the recession, relatively good and peaceful times. I worry for the Muslims if we ever started having really serious economic and social difficulties in Europe.

Back to the Future

Many pundits don’t like to put their money where they mouth is. Though I’m sure you’re not that type, feel free to confirm it by making a few falsifiable predictions about Europe’s future. After a few years, we’ll see if you were worth listening to.

Oh dear, I’ll have a crack at it:

  • No significant additional integration until 2020 or even 2025. No significant “rolling back” either however.
  • The Eurozone survives and expands to several Eastern European countries by 2020. Britain does not join.
  • The cultural divorce between Britain and the continent will grow. It will perhaps become insurmountable if Scotland acquires its independence. Britain will stay inside the EU however albeit with its continued semi-obstructive “yes-but-no” denialism.
  • The European economy will have near-zero growth in the coming decades for demographic reasons, productivity will continue to rise, its technological leadership will continue, and its overall size might increase if enlargement continues.
  • Turkey will not join before at least 2035, if ever. Most of the Balkans will have joined by then.
  • Socialism will not make a significant return barring an even more serious economic crisis. Social equity in Europe will decline somewhat, but not as much as in America.
  • Race relations will get worse.
  • European leaders will continue to be wholly materially and psychologically dependent on the Americans. They will not develop an independent foreign policy or a “common” foreign policy.
  • The socio-economic gap between the US and Europe will grow, as will the cultural one on abortion, gay rights, militarism and the like.
  • “European politics” will very slowly but surely emerge as interdependence becomes more glaring, the use of English spreads, and the Union is democratized. It’s an apparently undetectable process, like tectonic plates moving, but you can very clearly see the trend decade on decade.

What are your future blogging plans?

I plan on continuing with Letters from Europe but am also looking to start much more semi-professional and collaborative blogging.

These include revamping Future Challenges, a blogging platform on long-term trends funded by the Bertelsmann Stiftung. As its Western Europe editor, I’m hoping to turn it into the standard for analyzing the continent’s long-term trends on energy, demographics, migration and economics.

I’m also involved with bloggingportal.eu, a very useful aggregator that brings together the sleepy world of EU bloggers. Its readership is not incredibly high, but it includes a fair number of prominent EU journalists and communications professionals. I highly recommend you sign up to its daily RSS of best posts from the EU blogosphere (a very good filter).

Finally, I’m thinking of launching some sort of multilingual pan-European blog. It’s still a little sketchy but it would involve something like national-oriented bloggers writing in German or French (and thus it being possible to get reasonable audiences, unlike for EU-centric blogs) while also translating these posts systematically into an English main feed. You’d then have overlapping global, EU and national audiences. I don’t know if it can work but my dream would be a cross between Glenn Greenwald (God bless him) and Fistful of Euros.

Arthur Miller once said “a good newspaper is a nation talking to itself.” I think that is true. Currently, even European leaders don’t read each others’ newspapers. They discover themselves and their continent, collectively, through the pages of The Economist, the Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times. Besides the particular political agenda of these publications, there is something wrong here in having the “continental conversation” through media that are either foreign or from not the most committed European country. Besides that, Europe is hardly their main focus. I hope to contribute in a small way to creating that infamous “European public space”.

I wish you the best of luck in that endeavor, Craig, and thank you for answering S/O’s questions!

As I said at the start, I’m planning to revive the Watching the Russia Watchers (and interesting others) series again in the next few days, carrying on from the interviews with Kevin Rochrock (A Good Treaty) and Peter Lavelle (Russia Today) last year.

If you wish me to interview you or another Russia watcher, feel free to contact me.

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
 
🔊 Listen RSS

After two hundred years of global ascendancy, the West is in rapid relative decline to (re)emerging Asia, which is mounting a steady “Great Reconvergence”. Likewise, the legitimacy of today’s “neoliberal internationalist” order promoted by the West is being questioned by the more statist, neo-Westphalian visions of the leaders of the Rest, the so-called BRIC’s. This has already led to the emergence of a “world without the West” – a parallel international system based on the principles of state sovereignty, hard power, and bilateral trade relations.

The most powerful and influential member of this new world is China, which has become the “workshop of the world” since its graduated opening up from the late 1970′s. Accounting for half of global steel and cement production, China has built up an enormous infrastructure of roads, railways, and ports to support its mercantile expansion. In 2009 it became the world’s largest automobile market. Furthermore, China is now advancing higher up the ladder of added-value industries by expanding into hi-tech areas such as commercial aircraft, renewable energy, and supercomputers.

One of the most important factor making China’s rise all the more significant is that it is concurrent with the accelerating decline of Pax Americana that is spurred on by the end of cheap oil, US economic weakness, and regional threats to American hegemony from the “challenger Powers” (e.g. Russia, Iran, and China itself). Should the current international order suffer a “cascading collapse” – which is not unlikely, given the brittleness of the world financial and energy system – then it is possible that China will emerge as an equal, or even superior, pole to the US superpower as soon as 2020.

The Inevitability of China’s Return to Hegemony

Critics aver that ordinary Chinese remain much poorer than Americans, but they miss the obvious fact that with its 1.3bn+ population, China needs only a Romanian level of per capita economic output to equal the US; should they reach Portugal’s level, China’s economy would be double America’s size. (Economic power underpins military power). Nor is there any reason for supposing that China’s growth will soon falter due to social and regional inequality, environmental degradation, bad loans, population aging, or social unrest (though it may well experience a Malthusian collapse along with the rest of the world by 2050). For a refutation of the major concerns, see my old post A Long Wait at the Gate of Delusions, or in summary:

  1. Regional disparities. The sharp divide between the affluent coastal and poorer internal regions is not new in Chinese history. In the absence of firm central control, this has in the past led to fragmentation – coastal administrations orientating themselves to foreign commercial interests, the interior sinking beneath a morass of poverty and corruption. However, modern China is not the ailing China of the 19th century in the throes of Malthusian stagnation. It is now a proud and rising Great Power, its regional separatist movements are quelled, and it is under the firm control of the CCP. As such, the chances of a jaded Japan or declining USA successfully exploiting this divide are very slim.
  2. Income inequality. There is also a great deal of inequality between China’s urban and rural, between its new oligarchs and itinerant indigents, and between the privileged and non-privileged. However, this is entirely typical of capitalist societies at the height of the industrialization drive, and levels of inequality tend to fall once a more affluent state decides on expanding social welfare schemes to contain labor unrest. As will be covered in a later, related post on China’s internal debates, the ideological underpinnings for such a shift are already coming into place with the concept of the “Harmonious Society“.
  3. Environmental degradation. A major problem. An innovative attempt to start measuring economic performance with “Green GDP” (accounting for pollution costs) was quietly squashed when it indicated that China had almost no real growth. That said, localized pollution per se, like city smog or collapsed ecosystems, won’t bring about China’s fall just as they haven’t led to the fall of any other post-agrarian society. The same certainly cannot be said for anthropogenic climate change, whose effects will become devastating to China by the 2030′s (floods, droughts, desertification, dust storms, etc). The most ominous prospect is the melting of the Himalayan glaciers, though some point out that this may be a centuries-long process. Nonetheless, these potential disasters won’t come in time to prevent China’s assumption of its superpower mantle, which I predict for 2020.
  4. Bad loans. A valid point, but they only tend to result in – or more accurately, contribute to – long-term stagnation by the time high growth rates falters, such as when a developing society nears convergency with the rich world (e.g. Japan in the early 1990′s). South Korea got a severe economic shock in 1997 stemming from its structural weaknesses, but respectable rates of growth continued up until the 2008 economic crisis. Speaking of which, Western critics should be doubly cautious now when criticizing China for its bad loans. As recent history might have proven, investing in industrial overcapacity may be rather less useless than building suburbs with no future, printing money under euphemisms like quantitative easing, or whatever the latest bondoogles are.
  5. Will China get old before it gets rich? The concerns over aging are ridiculous because 1) China’s TFR is at a respectable 1.8 (OK, more like 1.6-1.7 if one accounts for their skewed sex ratios, but still…), 2) its labor force will continue growing until 2030, and 3) it still has massive labor armies locked up in the countryside which can be drawn into higher-added value economic sectors. The real problem cases in the aging department are Central Europe, the Mediterranean, and Japan. See Will China Grow Old Before Getting Rich? (Goldman Sachs) for a more comprehensive analysis which reaches the same basic conclusion.
  6. Excessive export dependency. Frankly, I’ve always thought the image of the heroic American consumer saving the world by kindly consuming much of what the the world produces to be somewhat ridiculous – and this image is already being revealed for the hallucination it really is, thanks largely to US fiscal profligacy, imperial overstretch and peak oil. But I digress. First, China’s export dependency is nowhere near as high as suggested by the official figures because much of its exports are merely assembled in China from parts made in and imported from Korea, Japan, etc. Whereas gross exports are near 40% of GDP, net exports are at just 7% of GDP. In 2008, China clocked up a respectable 8% GDP growth rate (albeit, one only enabled by prodigious credit infusions), even though its exports fell by 20%. Second, the main reason for Chimerica – Chinese saving / production – American dissaving / consumption – in the first place was it allowed China to acquire the foreign currency to pay for resource imports, build up its industrial base, and acquire advanced technologies, while the US got back cheaper goods to cushion its rising inequality and industrial stagnation. But China interest in this deal is flagging. It already has by far the world’s largest industrial base by volume and it has bought up, or stolen, most of the key technologies needed for advanced industrialism. From now on, growth will be slower as it is curbed by stagnant world demand, accumulating bad loans, diminishing returns, etc, – it will likely be around 5-7% a year in the 2010′s, rather than the 10% typical of the 1980′s to 2000′s. Nonetheless, growth should continue at a fast enough rate to soak up the new landless labor, ease social tensions and enable China to launch a geopolitical breakout. The inevitable transition from a centrally-weak, disbalanced and commercialized nation-state, to a more centralized, balanced, hegemonic empire will not be smooth, but China’s forward momentum is simply too large to derail its rise to superpower status.
  7. Social unrest. Unlikely to happen in a big way as long as fast economic growth continues, which it likely will for the next decade. China still has plenty of room for economic convergence, and its investments in human capital are going to be paying off handsomely in this period – “during the past decade, China has produced college and university graduates at a significantly faster pace than Korea and Japan did during their fastest-growing periods” (Goldman Sachs). Nor are resource or ecological limits to growth likely to intrude in the next ten years. Of course, this situation won’t last forever and by 2030 at the latest, China will be forced to radically reform its model to hold together, e.g. to nationalist expansionism or ecotechnic dictatorship.
  8. China’s monolithic and non-democratic nature. Though the CCP projects an image of internal unity on the world, under its placid exterior there is a flux of dynamic debates about how China should reconcile growth with environmentalism, capitalism with socialism, democracy with stability, and cultural influence with military strength. The necessity of liberal democracy for success is a figment of the Western end-of-history mentality, and will be recognized as such by the time the West realizes history doesn’t end.

In conclusion, China has the tools at its disposal to become the world’s last industrial superpower (the US and Japan are in relative decline, Russia has too few people, India is coming to the party too late). The creeping dissipation of the global financial system will remove the US from its position as the system’s intermediator, and with it will go a key pillar of neoliberal internationalism. This will clear the foundations for the emergence of a new symbiosis between the oil-exporting nations of the Middle East and a China which can provide them with cheap consumer goods and security guarantees in place of a deindustrialized, unpopular, and increasingly insular America. These trends will become the conventional wisdom by 2020.

China and the World: Coal, CO2, and Geopolitics

By that date, the age of scarcity industrialism will be in full bloom. Three issues will come to the forefront of all discussions about China’s global significance.

First, the impact of 1.3bn people enjoying rising levels of personal affluence on the global environment. Its electricity generation fueled almost entirely by coal, China has recently overtaken the US to become the world’s biggest CO2 emitter. Today, given the absence of any egalitarian, spiritual, or ultra-nationalist ideology keeping the country together, China requires rapid growth to prevent spiraling unemployment and social unrest. The CCP wants to remain in power, and for that it needs stability, and that needs growth, and that needs more and more coal plants every year. Hence the reason for China’s unwillingness to agree to any but the weakest CO2 emissions targets – i.e., a non-binding resolution to a 45% reduction in Co2 intensity per unit of GDP by 2020 from the levels of 2005. However, since China’s GDP is expected to treble or even quadruple from 2005 to 2020, its emissions will grow by 50-100% even if it achieves this non-binding target. Needless to say, this will be catastrophic for our efforts to contain climate change to a global temperature rise of below 2C, at which point runaway dynamics are expected to become predominant. As the last superpower, I expect China to take the lead in any global or national “final gambit” at geoengineering our way out of runaway climate change.

Second, China’s ability to generate industrial growth from its own resources is shrinking. It is already a major oil importer and its grain production is on a slowly dipping plateau, thanks to increasing urbanization and environmental damage (desertification, salination, depletion of fossil aquifers, etc). It is already restricting exports of the strategic Rare Earth Metals that constitute key components of hi-tech devices such as hard drives, wind turbines, and electric cars. This is a major problem for the world outside China, since China accounts for a stunning 95% of global REM production. It will take a decade to reopen the old mines, and in the interval the West could experience a severe “tech crunch”.

Since the bulk of Chinese electricity consumption comes from coal and its geo-economy is not structurally dependent on cheap oil on the same massive scale as the US, China will not be as hard hit by peak oil as the Anglo-Saxon world; besides, its manufacturing prowess and foreign currency reserves will allow it to outbid most competitors for the black gold. However, the downside to using coal is that it too will peak – in China’s case, perhaps within 10 to 15 years, after which it will go into a rapid decline. As such, China can be expected to “lock in” foreign energy supplies with long-term contracts, increase exploitation of unconventional fossil fuel sources such as coal seam gas, and accelerate its current attempts to force through a renewable transition. In 2009, China became the world’s largest producer of both wind turbines and PV panels; however, they have made nary a dent in its CO2 emissions, and are unlikely to do so any time soon. Coal is much cheaper and more importantly, provides the vital base load power that intermittent wind and solar flows cannot.

Third, China’s military power and neo-colonial influence is set to increase in the coming decades. After suppressing military spending from the late 1970′s to the early 2000′s in order to free up its energies for rapid economic growth, the People’s Liberation Army is now being paid back handsomely for its patience. A prescient quotation from the Economist in 1986, from the days when the magazine was still worth reading:

For China’s military men with the patience to see the economic reforms through, there is a payoff. If Mr. Deng’s plans for the economy as a whole are allowed to run their course, and the value of China’s output quadruples, as planned, between 1980 and 2000 (admittedly big ifs), then 10 to 15 years down the line the civilian economy should have picked up enough steam to haul the military sector along more rapidly. That is when China’s army, its neighbors and the big powers will really have something to think about.

That time is now. Defense spending is now rising faster than GDP, as China intensifies military modernization and acquires new capabilities in electronic, information, and anti-satellite warfare. The overall strategic balance has also changed. The dissolution of the Soviet Union meant that the old Chinese fear of a tank invasion from the north has dissipated; coupled with the growing importance of maritime trade and foreign energy supplies, this has produced a reorientation to coastal defense and broader power projection to the south and east. China’s most ambitious military project is its decision to embark on the construction of a real blue-water navy, a vital tool in the renewed “gunboat diplomacy” we are likely to see in the years ahead.

In the short term, this has extended to China acquiring Russian weapons such as four Sovremenny-class guided missile destroyers, twelve Kilo-class diesel-electric submarines, and advanced anti-ship missiles and supercavitating torpedoes such as the Sunburn, Sizzler, and Shkval. Domestic production of naval vessels is expanding rapidly: whereas US shipbuilding is withering away, China now accounts for a third of global shipbuilding and “is in the midst of a shipbuilding and acquisition craze that will result in the People’s Liberation Army Navy having more ships than the U.S. Navy sometime in the next decade”, including four aircraft carriers by 2020. China’s military modernization has already tipped the regional balance of power. A recent RAND study indicates that China is already be able to establish air superiority over Taiwan in the event of a hot war over the straits, and on current trends it will probably be able to conquer it outright within the decade.

In tandem with its military modernization, which is mostly geared to fighting and winning possible local wars in south-east Asia (Taiwan, Spratly Islands, Vietnam), China is pursuing a far-sighted “string of pearls” strategy of naval base construction on its outlying coastal islands and friendly nations such as Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and Pakistan. They will host radar stations and anti-ship batteries, and will form logistics hubs for naval operations. The underlying strategy is to reinforce China’s coast against foreign encroachment and to protect its sea lines of communication (SLOC) – especially the vital energy routes supplying it with Middle East oil.

Finally, the broadest form of China’s projection of influence is its rush to buy out mines, arable land, oil field concessions, and foreign national elites, from Australia to Brazil to Ukraine to Angola; indeed, Africa is a focal point of interest, with up to half a million Chinese already working on building up the continent’s industrial infrastructure and tapping its energy and mineral wealth. Closer to home in South-East Asia, most nations are both appreciative and fearful of China’s rise, bandwagoning with the US on security while engaging with China economically. The fact of America’s accelerating decline means that this state of affairs is not permanent. Any future “downsized” US empire will have minimal interests in East Asia, and will concentrate its energies on the Americas, Africa, and perhaps the Middle East (though it will be largely displaced by Turkey and China there).

The second greatest East Asian Power, Japan, will have neither the will to mount a serious challenge to China’s emerging hegemony, nor the strategic foundations. Japan is almost entirely reliant on foreign supplies of energy, and as soon as the PLA Navy surpasses the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force, it will be utterly eclipsed by China. Why struggle, when Japan can instead exist as in a comfortable symbiosis with a China whose post-1978 growth it actively nourished – spats over their wartime history to the contrary? Japan is capital-rich, China is labor-rich; both share Asian values based on paternalism, state capitalism, and national sovereignty… Japan has two choices. It can try to construct an encircling alliance encompassing Russia, Korea, India, and the US to contain China, but this is a truly ambitious undertaking because 1) Russia has – and by that point the US will have – no overriding reason to confront China, 2) the “pan-Asian” appeal of China, 3) Japan has territorial disputes with Russia, whereas Russia in turn has close if suspicious relations with China through the SCO, and 4) as argued by the late Samuel Huntington, Asian societies have a tendency to bandwagon with the leading regional power – now it’s the US, in the future it will be China. The other alternative, and I would argue the likelier and more natural one, is for Japan to acknowledge Chinese regional hegemony. Once Japan takes this plunge, every other nation in in the region will follow.

Conclusion

It is no exaggeration to say that whither goes China goes the world. It is already the world’s greatest industrial power, at least as measured by physical throughput, energy consumption, and pollution emissions. Though still technologically backward, it is much less so than 10 years ago. China’s purchases of foreign technology, copying, and industrial espionage are rapidly closing the gap, and China’s rapidly expanding R&D workforce will be able to successfully hit the ground running once there arises the need for indigenous innovation.

The extent to which China will be able to solve its energy, minerals, food, and water problems will have major impacts domestic and international, and its success or lack of at reducing – or mitigating – its greenhouse gas emissions, is probably going to determine whether the world as a whole will be able to wriggle out of its Limits to Growth predicament. Finally, China’s cultural, economic, and neo-colonial influence is going to metastasize – in the process transforming it into an East Asian regional hegemon and primary pole in world geopolitics.

China’s greatest challenges lie in geopolitics (how to manage its own rise?), coal (how to power growth?), and CO2 (how to grow, or just stay still, sustainably?). The answers to these questions will determine its future political, social, and economic trajectory. It is therefore vital to to find out how its elites are planning to stand up to this panoply of perils and opportunities, which will be the subject of my next post on China.

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
 
🔊 Listen RSS

This is a list of common Russophobe myths about Russia and its people, and the successor to a March 2008 post on a similar theme. Please be sure to check the supporting notes at the bottom before dismissing this as neo-Soviet propaganda. Also partially available en français & на русском thanks to Alexandre Latsa’s translation.

1

MYTH: Life has only improved for a few oligarchs, while the poor and everyone outside Moscow remain impoverished.

REALITY: During Putin’s Presidency, poverty rates more than halved and wages nearly tripled, fueling an on-going consumption boom shared across all regions and social groups.

2

MYTH: Russia is in a demographic death spiral that has gotten worse under Putin and which will soon sink its economy.

REALITY: The birth rate has increased, the death rate has fallen and mortality from murder, suicide and alcohol poisoning has plummeted. Projections of Russia’s future dependency ratios are no worse than for China or the G7.

3

MYTH: Putin abused human rights, personally murdered 200 journalists and returned Russia to its totalitarian past.

REALITY: Too bad that only 3% of Russians agree, despite having easy access to such views via the press, cable TV and the Internet. The number of journalists killed under Putin (17) is less than under Yeltsin (30), and only five of them can be definitively linked to their professional work. Elections have been mostly free and fair.

4

MYTH: Russia’s economy is one big oil bubble, and the severity of Russia’s recession in 2009 confirms this.

REALITY: The extractive industries contributed a negligible amount to Russia’s real GDP growth during the Putin Presidency and the big collapse in output at the end of 2008 was mostly due to Western banks cutting off the credit flows on which many Russian companies had unwisely come to rely upon during the boom years. Russia exports few manufactured goods because its comparative advantage lies in resource extraction.

5

MYTH: Heroic Americans with their British sidekicks won World War Two, while the Russians just threw billions of soldiers without rifles in front of German machine guns and raped every last Prussian wench when they finally arrived in Berlin.

The vast majority of German soldiers were killed, taken POW or otherwise incapacitated on the Eastern front. The Soviet to Axis loss ratio was 1.3:1 and the USSR outproduced Germany in every weapons system throughout the war. The number of alleged rape victims is vastly inflated for propagandistic purposes, and in any case does not come close to the scale of German barbarism which resulted in the deaths of fifteen to twenty million Soviet citizens.

This popular myth appeared because self-serving former Wehrmacht officers wanted to rehabilitate the German Army after World War Two and their goals were shared by American policy-makers in the strained atmosphere of the Cold War.

6

MYTH: Russia brutally invaded Georgia, a beacon of freedom and democracy in the Eurasian darkness.

REALITY: Hours after President Saakashvili promised friendship to the Ossetian people, his forces were invading South Ossetia and raining down indiscriminate rocket fire on sleeping Tskhinvali. Russia’s retaliation was a just and proportionate response to the murder of its citizens and UN-mandated peace-keepers.

The beating of opposition protesters and the shutdown of anti-regime TV networks are serious blemishes on Georgian democracy.

7

MYTH: Russian liberals are altruistic campaigners for justice and the true voice of the oppressed Russian people.

REALITY: The Russian “liberals” (or liberasts, as they are often called) get low single-digit approval ratings from the Russian population, which is not at all surprising given their reputation for mendacious hypocrisy, Bolshevik-like rhetoric and dogmatic support for the West regardless of Russia’s national interests.

8

MYTH: Russians are sexists and xenophobic racists who hate the West.

REALITY: Russian women live longer and are better educated than men, enjoy full abortion rights and participate extensively in the economy. Few Russians are predisposed against the US and there are far fewer anti-Semitic incidents in Russia than in France, Germany and the UK.

9

MYTH: Russia is an aggressive state which is hated by its neighbors.

REALITY: Unlike some superpowers, the Russia Federation has yet to invade another country unprovoked. Most of its neighbors view Russia favorably and a plurality of Ukrainians would be happy to join it.

10

MYTH: The barbarous state of Muscovy arose in the sixteenth century when Ivan the Terrible climbed out of the trees.

REALITY: The more than 1000-year old civilization of Kievan Rus’ was literate, affluent, governed by a legal code that abhorred cruel and unusual punishments (including the death penalty) and accorded women extensive property and inheritance rights.

11

MYTH: Russia is soon going to see a sub-Saharan scaled AIDS epidemic, causing mortality rates to soar and plunging its demography into utter oblivion.

REALITY: These “pessimistic” models rely on assumptions that HIV transmission patterns in Russia will be similar to those prevailing in Africa. This is patently ridiculous given even a cursory acquaintance with differences in their host populations and epidemic dynamics.

The percentage of pregnant women testing HIV positive reached a plateau in 2002 and tended down ever since. Furthermore, since few Russians are malnourished they have greater immune resistance than Africans. Unlike the case in sub-Saharan Africa, in Russia medical equipment tends to be sterilized and having many sexual partners is socially unacceptable.

12

MYTH: Russians are a pack of uncultured illiterates.

REALITY: Russia leads the world in literacy, level of tertiary attainment and the quality of its mathematicians and programmers. It possesses a world-class literary, musical and artistic heritage and to claim otherwise is in fact to admit oneself ignorant and uncultured.

13

MYTH: A nation with European birth rates and African death rates cannot have a future.

REALITY: Sure it can. The post-Soviet collapse in fertility rates was a result of childbirth postponement caused by the transition shock, not a fundamental values shift, and as such can be expected to reverse itself in the next decade. Meanwhile, Russia’s “hypermortality” primarily affects older Russian men who do not directly contribute to population reproduction.

14

MYTH: Russia has fallen to Tsarist levels of inequality and is plagued by endemic, African-level corruption. Both of these have become much worse under Putin.

REALITY: Russia’s level of income inequality and of corruption is average by world standards. Under Putin, they have registered a slight deterioration and slight improvement, respectively.

15

MYTH: Chechnya’s heroic freedom fighters deserve their independence and will soon get it, Insha’Allah!

REALITY: When they had de facto independence, the Chechens created a criminalized, Wahhabi state, practiced ethnic cleansing against local Russians and launched armed raids against border regions. Much as the Russophobes and jihadists may wish otherwise, it is difficult to see how Chechnya could repeat this considering that the region is stabilized, reconstruction is in full swing and the war officially ended in 2009.

16

MYTH: All Soviet space programs were developed by German prisoners of war, who are still kept in labor camps in Siberia.

REALITY: Sorry, but wrong country. All German leading hi-tech professionals, including rocket scientists, surrendered to the Americans and many worked on their space program.

17

MYTH: The Western media is accurate and objective in representing Putin as a ranting autocrat and Medvedev’s puppeteer.

REALITY: Putin is frequently mistranslated, quoted out of context and censored by the Western press in its efforts to portray him as a neo-Soviet fascist overlord. The tandem’s relationship is based on cooperation and they share a longterm goal of transforming Russia into a liberal, affluent society.

18

MYTH: Chinese settlers are taking over the rapidly depopulating Russian Far East and the region is under increasing threat from the People’s Liberation Army.

REALITY: A few hundreds of thousands of Chinese seasonal labor migrants pose no demographic threat to the more than five million Russians in the region. Even if China abandons its traditional focus on south-east Asia and the unthinkable happens, a Chinese conventional attack on Russia will be repelled by tactical nuclear weapons.

19

MYTH: Russia’s industrial base is hollowed out and obsolete, and the stationary bandits who rule it have no interest in making long-term investments into areas like hi-tech. As such, it is doomed to remain a resource appendage of the West.

REALITY: Russia has seen healthy manufacturing expansion aided by a weakened ruble, the creation of special economic zones and a robust industrial policy geared towards gradual import substitution. State funding for education, nanotechnology and other hi-tech ventures has soared in recent years.

20

MYTH: The Soviet Union was doomed to collapse because of its internal contradictions and dependence on oil exports.

REALITY: Theoretical work shows that the Soviet system was fundamentally stable, albeit stagnant. Output collapse was precipitated by Gorbachev’s abandonment of central planning in the absence of evolved market mechanisms, which simply led to ruinous insider plunder and political crisis.

21

MYTH: Russia has proven itself uncooperative and untrustworthy as a Western partner.

REALITY: Bearing in mind the USA’s record of broken promises and undisguised aggression towards Russia coupled with arrogant dismissal of Russian protestations (as seen on Kosovo, NATO expansion, Georgia’s aggression, missile defense, color revolutions, Jackson-Vanik, etc), perhaps the question of just who is uncooperative and untrustworthy should be reconsidered.

22

MYTH: Russia’s youth is liberal and pro-Western, and will soon kick Putin and his KGB goons out of the Kremlin.

REALITY: The most pro-American section of the Russian population are the middle-aged. Russian children and youth are at least as skeptical as their grandparents, despite that – and because – they are the most sophisticated and globally-minded age group.

23

MYTH: New schoolbooks aim to rehabilitate Stalin, steeping the next generation of Russians in the glories of sovereign democracy.

REALITY: The controversial textbook in question had a very limited print run and is in any case one of a huge number of other permitted textbooks. Nor does it leave out Stalin’s repressions and liquidation of entire social classes. Its main “sin” is that it also dares to point out Stalin’s positive achievements and refuses to unequivocally condemn him in the belabored, moralizing way commonly expected of such textbooks.

24

MYTH: Ethnic Russians invent grievances about how they are being discriminated against in Estonia and Latvia,

REALITY: Many human rights organizations have documented that the Russophone minority in Estonia is subject to severe language and citizenship laws. This results in the disenfranchisement of around a quarter of their populations and discrimination against Russophones in employment and education. SS veterans proudly march through the streets of Riga while anti-fascist conferences and protests are brutally broken up.

25

MYTH: Ten million Ukrainians died from the organized famine-genocide of 1932-33, which Russia continues to deny. Understandably most Ukrainians yearn to break free from Russia’s baleful orbit.

REALITY: The famine was caused by the misguided collectivization campaign and aggravated by poor harvests. Though there were around two million excess deaths in Ukraine, overall losses in the Soviet Union were twice as high because South Russia, the Volga region and Kazakhstan were also badly affected. Russia’s position is that the famine was directed against the kulaks (the social class) and not Ukraine (the nation), which is an academically valid point of view; Ukraine on the other hand illiberally criminalizes “Holodomor denial”.

The hardline position on Russia and the Holodomor is exclusively pursued by the discredited Orange elites. In stark contrast, the vast majority of Ukrainians like Russia and Putin would probably win if he could run for the Ukrainian Presidency.

26

MYTH: Russia’s military technology is obsolete, its doctrines are outdated and its armed forces are increasingly decrepit. It will get crushed if it goes to war with China or NATO.

REALITY: Russia is developing fifth-generation capabilities in fighters, surveillance, electronic warfare, information warfare and precision weapons. Upgrading old Soviet platforms with modern electronic technology multiplies their effectiveness. It has major strengths in asymmetric counters like air defense, anti-ship cruise missiles and submarines. Russia retains its Soviet-era military-industrial complex, massive mobilization capacity and huge nuclear forces.

27

MYTH: Stalin killed 62 million innocent souls, making him a far worse tyrant than Hitler.

REALITY: During the entire 1921-53 period, some 4.1mn people were condemned for counter-revolutionary activities, of them 0.8mn to death and 1.1mn of whom died in camps and prisons. After adding the 3.5-5.0mn excess deaths from the collectivization famines, it is hard to see how Stalin could have been responsible for more than ten million deaths at the absolute maximum. Figures in the tens of millions have no basis in physical evidence or demographic plausibility.

Even in just the occupied territories of the USSR, there were there were 13.7mn deaths due to Nazi reprisals, labor requisitioning and famine. Even excluding the vast war casualties, the deaths of about 20mn Slav civilians, 6mn Jews, 3-4mn Soviet POWs and up to a million Roma can be attributed to the Nazis during the far shorter period 1941-45. If Nazi plans had come to fruition, then all the Slavs of eastern Europe would have been exterminated, helotized or driven into Siberian exile. As such, it is hard to see how the latter could be construed as being worse except by the most diehard Russophobes and fascists.

28

MYTH: Putin instigated a vicious clampdown on judicial independence and assaulted Russian civil society with restrictive NGO laws.

REALITY: Under the Putin administration the number of plaintiffs seeking redress through Russian courts increased sixfold and acquittal rates soared from 0.8% to 10%, mainly thanks to the introduction of jury trials, and claimants win 71% of cases against the state. There is now a system of free legal aid, more privacy protections and increased accountability.

The infamous NGO laws merely required the registration of all NGOs, simplified the registration process and extended their rights against bureaucratic interference.

29

MYTH: People have been saying Russia will be great in the future for nearly a thousand years. And every year, Russia keeps getting worse.

REALITY: Popular perceptions of Russians were always bifurcated in the West between optimistic and pessimistic viewpoints, with little room for nuance. However, Russia tends to perform best soon after Russophobe rhetoric reaches its peak and it has indeed improved by almost all meaningful metrics since the late 1990′s.

30

MYTH: Because of the above, Russia is doomed to continued stagnation culminating in collapse and disintegration.

REALITY: Only in your dreams…and in the Economist‘s, which predicted fifteen of the past zero Russian collapses.

It is far more likely that its impressive human capital, macroeconomic rationalism and energy windfalls stand Russia in good stead for convergence to First World living standards by the 2020′s.

31

MYTH: Khodorkovsky was a progressive entrepreneur who is being prosecuted by the evil siloviks for pursuing transparency and democracy. Even if he did steal state assets in the 1990′s, every other oligarch was doing the same so this is selective political persecution.

REALITY: Khodorkovsky transgressed against Putin’s early deal with the oligarchs to leave their ill-gotten fortunes alone in return for halting their meddling in the country’s politics. He bribed Duma members and tried to stack it with his own people in an effort to lower his taxes, which he was already evading on a massive scale. He subverted Russia’s security by insisting on his own pipeline route to the east, maintaining close contacts with Washington neocons and trying to merge his oil company YUKOS with Exxon. There is strong evidence that Khodorkovsky’s employees murdered those who got in his way.

32

MYTH: Yeltsin was a heroic democrat and hero of the people.

REALITY: He might have posed on a tank after checking the hardline Communist coup in 1991, but just two years later those same tanks were bombarding a Duma which dared object to his corrupt privatizations and assault on social welfare. He prosecuted a criminally incompetent war in Chechnya, used administrative resources to win the 1996 elections and surrounded himself with nepotistic cronies. Despite this – or more likely because of this – he was praised and supported by the West.

33

MYTH: Russia uses energy blackmail to intimidate its neighbors and exploits its energy clout to project political influence.

REALITY: It has full rights to charge its neighbors whatever it pleases for its gas, so this is not blackmail. The second part is true enough, but ignores that this is common to all Great Powers – as demonstrated by Western control of international trade and finance organizations and energy imperialism like the Iraq War.

34

MYTH: The Russian Empire was a backward despotism populated by illiterate peasants.

REALITY: Not really a myth, but this perception was becoming increasingly dated during the last years of Tsarism. By 1913 Russia had near universal primary schooling enrollment, a (rapidly growing) literacy rate of 41% and the fastest industrial growth rate in Europe.

35

MYTH: Russia is ruled by the neo-Tsarist Slavophile Soviet-nostalgic Eurasianist ultra-nationalist Orthodox-theocrat quasi-fascist statist Stalinist corporatist gangsta-capitalist Putin

REALITY: And perhaps the fact that he has so many ideologies ascribed to him actually means that he is extremely pragmatic, rational and post-ideological.

36

MYTH: Russia will become an Islamic Caliphate by 2050.

REALITY: Ethnic Russians still account for 80% of the Federation’s population, and since the fertility rates of all major Muslim ethnic groups have declined to below replacement-level rates it is certain that Russians will retain a firm majority into the foreseeable future. And even if Russians and Tatars magically swap demographic places, almost nothing will change because vodka has long since dissolved away the Koran in Russia.

37

MYTH: Stalin wrecked the Red Army by purging all its officers, did not anticipate his buddy Hitler’s attack and blundered by concentrating his forces on the Soviet borders instead of conducting defense in depth. This resulted in the huge casualty disparities between the Wehrmacht and the Red Army in 1941.

REALITY: Though the purges were detrimental to the Red Army, the main reason it experienced officer shortages was its massive expansion from 1.2mn to 5.0mn men during 1938-41. Stalin fully anticipated an eventual German attack, but Soviet intelligence was far from unambiguous about its timing.

Defense in depth at the strategic level would have led to defeat in detail and catastrophe; the policy of mounting constant diversionary attacks on the German flanks, though costly, distorted the shape and sapped the strength of Barbarossa. This ultimately saved Moscow and averted total defeat in 1941.

Though heavily skewed, Red Army loss ratios in 1941 were no worse than those of the Poles or the French when pitted against the Wehrmacht.

38

MYTH: By teaming up with Nazi Germany in the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, the Russians were just as culpable for the outbreak of World War Two as the Germans.

REALITY: Munich. The USSR had been pressing for an alliance with the Western democracies to contain Hitler as early as the 1930′s, but they repeatedly sold it down the river – most notably by betraying Czechoslovakia in 1938, which was partitioned between Germany, Hungary and Poland soon after.

Realizing the West was most interested in having Germany and the USSR duke it out between them, Stalin stalled for time by cautiously cooperating with Hitler while rapidly building up Soviet military-industrial potential.

39

MYTH: Unlike Germany’s reconciliation with its Nazi past, Russia has never apologized for its Soviet past.

REALITY: Why should modern Russians apologize for policies pursued by the small clique that ruled them a long time ago, and many of whom were non-Russians to boot?

No European state has made much effort to fully account for its imperial legacies; the main feature of German exceptionalism was that you were supposed to confine your genocides to colored peoples in hot, sticky places, and in any case a) the Nazi regime was not morally comparable to the Soviet Union and b) even so the only reason Germany apologized so much was because it was occupied. Turkey criminalizes affirmation of the Armenian Genocide, Japan brushes off complaints about its brutal conduct in China during the Second World War and the Baltic states whitewash their involvement in the Holocaust.

Speaking of whom, apologies imply acceptance of responsibility and unleash demands for reparations… Latvia has already set up a commission to calculate a bill for “Soviet-era losses” to present to Russia, which ironically had to be disbanded recently because of the economic crisis.

And yet despite all this, Russia did apologize profusely under Yeltsin. The main difference under Putin is that he dares to chart a more objective course on historical truth, acknowledging past wrongs but refusing to one-sidedly smear Russia’s proud Soviet legacy, unlike his alcoholic predecessor in the Kremlin.

40

MYTH: The difference between a “russophobe” and a “russophile” is that while both “love” Russia, they define “love” differently: the “russophile” does everything he can to destroy the country, while the “russophobe” does everything he can to save it from destruction.

REALITY: The difference between a “Russophobe” and a “Russophile” is that while both “love” Russia, they define “love” differently: The “Russophobe” does everything she can to smear and condemn the country and those who defend it from within her own blinkered frames of reference, while the “Russophile” does everything she can to understand Russia on its own terms.

41

MYTH: Berezovsky is a heroic crusader for democracy.

REALITY: General Lebel said of him, “Berezovsky is the apotheosis of sleaziness on the state level: this representative of the small clique in power is not satisfied with stealing–he wants everybody to see that he is stealing with complete impunity”. He died in a plane crash.

The journalist Paul Khlebnikov christened him, “Godfather of the Kremlin”. He was gunned down on the streets of Moscow.

Berezovsky was involved in multiple scams during the 1990′s and there are strong links tying him to several unresolved murders in the 1990′s. With friends like these, the Russophobes need no enemies.

42

MYTH: The FSB goon Lugovoi assassinated the heroic dissident Litvinenko in the heart of London using ultra-rare polonium only produced in a few reactor cores in Russia. Putin’s refusal to extradite Lugovoi makes him complicit in nuclear terrorism.

REALITY: There are many, many things that don’t fit in this kitschy feel-good (for Westerners) account. Usual claims to the contrary, plutonium is not that rare and is usually a major byproduct in early nuclear weapons development programs. Nonetheless, it would have been much more convenient, easy and reliable to kill him with a gun or knife.

There is also evidence that Litvinenko was in prolonged contact with polonium before the fatal ingestion. One of his associates, the shady Italian, Scaramella, became contaminated before meeting Lugovoi or Kovtun, the two main suspects. Hence only Litvinenko could have contaminated him. (Scaramella was later imprisoned in Italy for attempting to plant incriminating evidence on a suspected nuclear-component smuggler). Russian requests for actual evidence as to the guilt of Lugovoi were stonewalled by the British, who nonetheless arrogantly insisted on extradition in contravention of the Russian Constitution.

Litvinenko could have been an MI6 pawn tasked with investigating a nuclear smuggling ring. Or he could have been complicit himself, either for profit or to incriminate certain Russians. There are many possible interpretations and the James Bond-like version of evil FSB spies silencing dissent abroad expertly spun by Berezovsky and his acolyte Goldfarb is far from the most likely one.

43

MYTH: Human rights abuses and authoritarian trends in Russia are transmitted top down from the Kremlin.

REALITY: If anything, Putin is more liberal than 70% of the Russian population. Russia is a post-totalitarian society with many features of the old order still hanging around in institutions like the police, the penal system and the bureaucracy. It is fully capable of evolving its own brand of democracy, but that requires time and a measure of political consolidation.

44

MYTH: Russia is Mordor.

REALITY: Scratch a Russophobe, and you find a talentless fantasy writer. Sorry to disappoint you folks, but there aren’t billions of orcs beneath the Ural Mountains preparing the final phase of their assault on the West. Not as far as I know, anyway.

45

MYTH: Rising up against the crony pro-Moscow Communists who rigged the elections in Moldova, masses of heroic young democrats tried to Tweet their their nation back into the light of Western iCivilization.

REALITY: The Communists enjoy a broad level of support across all age groups, run a fully democratic country and always steered a course between Moscow and the West. Of their biggest electoral opponents, one was a pro-Romanian nationalist and admirer of fascist dictator Antonescu, and the other had a reputation as the biggest thief in Moldova. The unruly protesters were an unholy mix of Romanian nationalists, common hooligans, and liberast provocateurs with shadowy connections to Atlanticist “pro-democracy” outfits.

46

MYTH: The Kremlin supports Hamas and aids Iran in its pursuit of nuclear weapons.

REALITY: Putin has never met with Hamas and Foreign Minister Lavrov made it clear they would be treated as “undeveloped teenagers” until they recognize Israel. Russia’s relations with Iran are complex – on the one hand, it strongly opposes nuclear enrichment on Iranian soil and refuses to rule out economic sanctions. On the other hand, Iran’s gas reserves pose a substantial long-term threat to Russian energy influence in Europe and it is in Russia’s interests to keep tensions between Iran and the West high.

47

MYTH: A radar and ten interceptor missiles in central Europe will have absolutely no chance of stopping Russia’s huge nuclear arsenal, so it’s just using the issue as a bargaining chip to further its imperial ambitions.

REALITY: Should the US acquires the capability to decapitate Russia’s leadership and destroy its decaying nuclear arsenal in a first strike, then even a small ABM system could mop up any Russian retaliation. Furthermore, once the basic Air Defense Ground Environment is built up, massively expanding the system becomes much cheaper. Though this is a paranoid way of looking at things, only the paranoid survive. Especially in the military.

48

MYTH: Nations that have embraced the West like Georgia and Ukraine are much more economically dynamic than Russia, which proves the bankruptcy of the Kremlin’s economic model.

REALITY: Since Georgia and Ukraine are much poorer than Russia and collapsed farther after the dissolution of the USSR, they are supposed to have higher growth rates. But they actually don’t. Ukraine’s growth rate of 7% was similar to Russia’s during the boom years from 2000-2008 and its year on year GDP collapsed by a stunning 20%+ in Q1 2009. Though Georgia’s growth rate of 9-10% under Saakashvili’s market fundamentalism was substantially higher, it started from a much lower base and was accompanied by rising social iniquity, deindustrialization and the removal of the social safety net.

49

MYTH: Since most Russians are lazy, irresponsible and submissive sovok sheeple, they will remain backwards and under the thumbs of Kremlin thugs for a long time to come.

REALITY: Ushering in the new era of legality, markets and social activism is the so-called Putin generation, which has vastly differing values from those of older generations – initiative, boldness, hierarchy, individualism, cosmopolitanism and patriotism. Furthermore, many Soviet-era values like love for the Motherland, confidence in tomorrow, community spirit, social justice, courage, tolerance and skepticism remain highly respectable.

50

MYTH: Russians are extremely pessimistic, unhappy and spiritually doomed. A people who don’t believe in a better tomorrow can’t have one.

REALITY: After a long period of disillusionment, at the end of 2006 more people began to believe Russia was moving in a positive than in a negative direction, and from early 2008 more people felt confident in tomorrow than not. Though the economic crisis dented confidence, social morale is still far higher than during the Time of Troubles in the 1990′s.

Notes:

1. According to Rosstat, from 2000-2007 poverty rates have more than halved (from 30% to 14%). In real terms during 2000-2007, pensions have grown by a factor of 2.3 and wages by a factor of 2.6 (while the Gini index of inequality has remained roughly steady). A consumption boom has seen soaring automobile ownership, greater average living spaces and cell phone and Internet penetration by 2008 exceed 100% and reach 28%, respectively.

2. From 2000-2008 per thousand people, the birth rate has increased from 8.7 to 12.1, while the death rate has fallen from 15.3 to 14.8 – thus, natural population growth has improved from -6.6 to -2.6. Similarly, infant mortality has tumbled from 15.3/1000 to 8.5/1000. (In fact, increased migration meant the total population fall in 2008 was just -0.09%, i.e., virtually flat and not substantially different from Japan, Germany or just about any central-east European nation). During the same period, mortality from alcohol poisonings, suicide and murder has nearly halved.

However, all of this misses the point that in economics what matters isn’t the population or its growth rate per se, but the dynamics of the working age population as a percentage of the whole population – in this respect, Russia’s projected decline is no more severe than that in the the G7 or China (see pg.8 of this Goldman Sachs report). Fiscal problems will occur only if a) the old-age dependency ratio is high and b) old age social security systems are too generous or improperly structured. Russia’s old-age ratio is not projected to get excessively high even by 2050, while the World Bank believes long-term fiscal sustainability will be assured if the primary non-oil budget deficit remains below 4.7% of GDP.

For more on Russia’s demography, please see my articles Rite of Spring: Russia Fertility Trends and Through the Looking Glass at Russia’s Demography.

3. The Western notion that Putin has strangled Russia’s nascent democracy is not one shared by the silent Russian majority. 64% of Russians think Putin has had a positive influence on democracy and human rights, while only 3% think it was ‘very negative’ (see recent BBC World Service poll and Fedia Kriukov’s excellent commentary on it). The data on journalists is taken from the Committee to Protect Journalists‘ database and Fedia Kriukov’s audit of it. See also Nicolai Petro in Russia through the looking glass and Russian democracy: a reply to Mischa Gabowitsch.

No election watch-dog has been able to point out anything other than vacuous allegations that I’m aware of. For instance, on the topic of the 2008 Presidential elections, please consult the response of independent Russian election monitor GOLOS (here):

GOLOS Association observed that the Election Day was held in a relatively quiet atmosphere in contrast to the State Duma election day. Such large-scale violations observed then as campaigning next to polling stations, transporting of voters, intimidation of voters and others were practically non-existent. Polling stations were better prepared and the voting process was better organized. At the majority of polling stations voters’ lists were properly bound, there were fewer representatives of administration at inside polling stations. In general the process of opening of the polling stations went well without any major incidents.

4. To take 2007 as an example, Russia’s economy grew by 8.1%, driven by construction (16.4%), retail (12.0%), finance (10.4%) and manufacturing (7.9%) and weighted down by the extractive industries (a meager 0.3%) (source). This pattern has held since 2005, and even in the 2000-2004 period only a third of growth was due to increasing hydrocarbons production according to Rudiger Ahrend of the OECD. See also the Economist Intelligence Unit’s (which unfortunately the Economist itself ignores) Russia’s booming economy, which illustrates the bankruptcy of several conceptions about Russia’s economy, including a) its hydrocarbons dependence and b) supposed stagnation in investment and manufacturing. Continuing increases in oil prices during 2003-2008 masked volume growth in non-hydrocarbons exports. Before the crisis, Russia had a healthy current account surplus, 600bn $ in foreign currency reserves and healthy budget surpluses intended to break even at 65$ / barrel oil.

For an insight into the vital importance of Western intermediation towards funneling credit into the Russian economy and its problems stemming from lacking an indigenous financial system, check my The Importance of Self-Sufficiency.

During the fat years, Russia bought up foreign currency reserves (e.g. T-Bills, US state-guaranteed mortgage securities, etc) to prevent an excessive ruble strengthening, which would have hurt manufacturers and exporters. However, this starved the local market of capital, thus forcing the domestic corporate sector to access foreign debt finance – therefore the rapid rise in official reserves were matched by a corresponding rise in private indebtedness, albeit the latter proceeded at a slower pace and allowed Russia to remain a large net creditor nation. This was a conservative and pricey choice, since the interest on the borrowing was substantially greater than the yields on Russia’s sovereign assets, thus forcing Russia Inc. to pay a ‘very substantial “spread” between the yield on its assets and the cost of the private debt in return for this foreign intermediation’. In light of the global credit crunch, it ended up providing only an ‘illusory degree of security’ for a ‘hefty price’. This is because now the Russian corporate system faced a triple whammy as credit availability dried up, existing creditors demanded repayments and and the commodity prices on which their balance sheets depended plummeted.

5. This can actually be said to encompass four myths, which I comprehensively refuted in The Poisonous Myths of the Eastern Front. I will quote summaries; please see the post for supporting notes:

MYTH I: Heroic Americans with their British sidekicks won World War Two, while the Russian campaign was a sideshow.

REALITY: Although Western Lend-Lease and strategic bombing was highly useful, the reality is that the vast majority of German soldiers and airmen fought and died on the Eastern Front throughout the war.

MYTH II: The Russians just threw billions of soldiers without rifles in front of German machine guns.

REALITY: The vast majority of German soldiers were killed, taken POW or otherwise incapacitated on the Eastern front. T he Soviet to Axis loss ratio was 1.3:1 and the USSR outproduced Germany in every weapons system throughout the war. [For comprehensive stats on the matter, check out Colonel-General G. F. Krivosheev's authoritative book Soviet casualties and combat losses in the twentieth century; another good source / summary is Sergei Fedosov's article поБеда или Победа: как мы воевали].

MYTH III: Though the Wehrmacht fought with honor and dignity on the Eastern Front, the Russians killed all the German POW’s and raped and looted east Germany when they conquered it.

REALITY: The Great Patriotic War was an absolute war that was more brutal than anything seen in the West by orders of magnitude throughout its entire length. The hundreds of thousands German civilian and POW deaths at Soviet hands, though tragic, pale besides the up to 15-20mn Soviet civilian dead and the 60% mortality ratio of Soviet POW’s in German camps. Set against these numbers, the Red Army rapes in east Germany seem almost irrelevant. [See Fedia Kriukov's refutating comment about the validity of "megarape" estimates attributed to the Red Army].

MYTH IV: The mainstream Western narrative on the Eastern Front during the Second World War was formed by academic historians and is fundamentally fair and objective.

REALITY: The exigencies of the Cold War, coupled with traditional US anti-Communism, meant that many Americans sympathized with the German narrative of the war. In particular, the Wehrmacht officers talked, networked and wrote about how the German military was not complicit in Nazi war crimes so as to cement West Germany (not to mention their own careers) into the Western alliance on equal terms. The complexities and compromises of military involvement in genocide in the East was whitewashed into a kitschy image of the German soldier as a patriot braving the odds to defend family and Heimat from the Bolshevik hordes. The US military and politicians were just fine with this, because they faced an ideological struggle and possible land war with the Soviet Union. Though there is serious and reasonably objective Western academic work on the Eastern Front, popular culture is still dominated by German memoirs and a-historical romanticizers.

6. There is a wealth of evidence for the position that Georgia initiated the 2008 Ossetia War. For a summary, see Spiegel‘s A Shattered Dream in Georgia: EU Probe Creates Burden for Saakashvili: Other key articles include my The Western Media, Craven Shills for their Neocon Masters; How to Screp up a War Story by Mark Ames; and this BBC documentary about the evidence of Georgian atrocies – What really happened in South Ossetia?

There are many articles even in the Western media covering Saakashvili’s strong-arm tactics against the opposition, though the difficult issue of Western complicity (through silence) in it – especially when contrasted against the howls and cries whenever an unsanctioned protest in Russia is broken up – is rarely raised. Because it would reveal the moral bankruptcy behind the West’s support for Saakashvili, of course.

Read Russia’s Limousine Liberals (Anatol Lieven) and Why Russian Liberals Lose (Nicolai Petro).

8. For abortion laws, see Wikipedia. For other stats, see the WEF Gender Gap Index 2007 Russia section, according to which women are better educated, healthier and constitute 38% of decision-makers and 64% of professional workers. (Admittedly, the political subsection isn’t as good, though it should be noted that since the last Duma elections, the percentage of women in parliament has increased from 10% to 14% and two women have entered the Russian Cabinet). Only 8% of Russians view Americans very negatively (an attitude not shared by most people in Latin America and the Middle East). In 2006, a typical year, there were 136 violent anti-Semitic incidents in the UK, 97 in France, 74 in Canada, 38 in Germany and 34 in the Ukraine, compared to just 30 in Russia (according to the Stephen Roth Institute for the Study of Contemporary Anti-Semitism and Racism).

9. 81% of Ukrainians, 78% of Bulgars, 59% of Slovaks and 54% of Chinese view Russia favorably (in each country, that’s more than those who view the US in a positive light). These opinion polls are from the 47-nation PEW survey Global Unease with Major Powers. (Ok, admittedly the same cannot be said for Poles and the Czechs). Some 54% of Ukrainians are positive about joining the Union of Russia and Belarus, while only 24% are negative (see this poll). More Ukrainians would prefer to join the Union of Russian & Belarus (43%) than the European Union (30%) (see Levada poll here), and this is still the case as of 2009 – see Would the real Ukraine please stand up?

A Ukrainian public opinion study recently published by the Kiev-based Research and Branding polling institute found that top Russian politicians, including Dmitry Medvedev and Vladimir Putin, enjoy sky-high public approval ratings—much more impressive than those of their Ukrainian counterparts. Moreover, the number of Ukrainians who want a union state with Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan is greater than the number of those rooting to join the European Union.

According to Gallup polls in recent years, all the former Soviet countries except Armenia and Georgia massively approve of the Russian leadership and in all post Soviet nations except Azerbaijan pluralities want at least an economic union. Though some might quibble with the assertion that Russia has not invaded any sovereign states in the post-Cold War period, citing Georgia. This is unfair and disingenuous – please see Myth #6.

10. Read the Kievan Rus’ wiki and consult its sources for confirmation and more information. Just to pre-empt any confrontations, I am aware that some Ukrainian nationalists consider the history of Rus’ to be exclusively theirs, dating the emergence of the Russian state to the late medieval expansion of Muscovy. This is a ridiculous viewpoint. Firstly, Kievan Rus’ also covered modern-day Belarus and most of European Russia west of the Volga. Secondly, even Muscovy can trace its ancestry from the principality of Vladimir-Suzdal’, which was nearly as old as Kiev or Novgorod.

11. See my article Myth of the Russian AIDS Apocalypse:

In 2007 [Russian government anti-AIDS crusader] Pokrovsky believed that there were “as many as 1.3mn” people infected with AIDS, very far from the multi-million rates he was predicting just five years ago, and not a catastrophic increase from “expert estimates” of 0.8mn in 2000. [Comprehensive] Russian government data shows that the percentage of pregnant women testing HIV positive reached a plateau in 2002 and tended down ever since. The models used by Eberstadt and co. are themselves critically flawed, because according to the international research program Knowledge for Action in HIV/AIDS in Russia, they assume that “the epidemic would be essentially heterosexual in nature and follow trends observed in sub-Saharan Africa”, which is “not borne out by current surveillance data from Russia”. (They are also not borne out by the slightest acquaintance with comparative development and sociology. Few Russians are malnourished and hence have greater immune resistance, their medical equipment tends to be sterilized and it is socially unacceptable for them to have many partners or engage in anal sex; all this cannot be said for sub-Saharan Africans).

12. Russia has universal literacy (see World Bank). Statistics on the percentage of the population with tertiary education from the OECD. In PIRLS 2006 (Progress in International Reading Literacy Study), Russia came first in the world on the average combined reading literacy score. In mathematics, 17% of all Fields Medal winners (and 36% since the RF came into existence) have been Russian/Soviet nationals (see Wikipedia). Programming prowess is indicated by articles such as these (The next Silicon Valley: Siberia) and reflected in things like Maths Olympiad and programming competition results.

13. See, in particular, the short intro Through the Looking Glass into Russia’s Demography.

…First, fertility expectations today are little different from those of the late Soviet era, when the TFR was still relatively healthy. According to numerous surveys since the early 1990’s, Russians consistently say they want to have an average of 2.5 children. This is broadly similar to respondents from the British Isles, France and Scandinavia, who have relatively good TFR’s of around 1.7-2.1. This suggests Russia’s post-Soviet fertility collapse was caused by “transition shock” rather than a “values realignment” to middle-European norms, where people only want 1.7-1.8 children.

Second, a major problem with the TFR is that it ignores the effects of birth timing. A more accurate measure of long-term fertility is the average birth sequence (ABS), which gives the mean order of all newborn children. If in one fine year all women in a previously childless country decide to give birth for some reason, the TFR will soar to an absurdly high level but the ABS will equal exactly one. In Russia the ABS remained steady at 1.6 children per woman from 1992-2006, little changed from Soviet times, even though the TFR plummeted well below this number. This indicates that many women were postponing children until they settled into careers and improved their material wellbeing – a hypothesis attested to by the rising age of mothers at childbirth since 1993. Though this may be a false positive if many women remain childless, the 2002 Census indicated that only 6-7% of women did not have any children by the end of their reproductive years. This indicates that childlessness is not in vogue and worries about widespread sterility are overblown.

Third, a new confident conservatism has recently taken hold in Russian society. After two decades of disillusionment, at the end of 2006 consistently more Russians began to believe the nation was moving in a positive than in a negative direction. It is likely no coincidence that it the TFR began to consistently rise just then – from 1.3 in 2006 to about 1.5 in 2008, though generous new child benefits helped.

High mortality rates only have a direct impact on replacement-level TFR when significant numbers of women die before or during childbearing age, as in Third World countries. Russia’s infant mortality rate of 8.5 / 1000 in 2008 is close to developed-country levels and not statistically significant. Though tragic and unnecessary, its “hypermortality” crisis mainly affects older men and as such has negligible direct effects on fertility.

For a more in-depth explorations of these issues, consult my Rite of Spring: Russia’s Fertility Trends (recommended by Thomas PM Barnett), Russia’s Demographic Resilience (what the economic crisis means for Russia’s demography) and Faces of the Future (my own models of future Russian demography).

14. Russia’s income Gini coefficient (a standard measure of income inequality) of around 41.3 as of 2007 is high only by the standards of socialist European countries. It is lower than in the US, China and the vast majority of developing countries. It has remained almost completely constant from 1994-2003, and by projection, to 2007 (see HDR05 RF: Rusia in 2015, p.33). Only 17% of Russians paid a bribe to obtain a service in 2007 (see Transparency International’s GCB) – putting them into the same quintile as Bulgaria, Turkey and the Czech Republic, i.e. slap bang in the middle of world corruption rather than at the end. Even according to the World Bank (control of corruption 16.5 in 2000; 24.3 in 2006) and Transparency International (CPI of 2.1 in 2000; 2.3 in 2007), which crucially rely on foreign perceptions of corruption in Russia, transparency has slightly improved under Putin. I have already discussed issues of inequality and corruption (in particular the problem with CPI) here and here. To quote A Normal Country (Andrei Shleifer & Daniel Treisman, Foreign Affairs, Mar/Apr 2004) in extenso:

Yet what about sources less dependent on the perception of outsiders? In the summer of 1999, the World Bank and the EBRD conducted a survey of business managers in 22 postcommunist countries. Respondents were asked to estimate the share of annual revenues that “firms like theirs” typically devoted to unofficial payments to public officials “in order to get things done.” Such payments might be made, the questionnaire added, to facilitate connection to public utilities, to obtain licenses or permits, to improve relations with tax collectors, or in relation to customs or imports. Respondents were also asked to what extent the sale of parliamentary laws, presidential decrees, or court decisions had directly affected their businesses, in the hope of measuring the extent to which policymakers were co-opted by business.

On both the “burden of bribery” and “state capture” dimensions, Russia ranked right in the middle of its postcommunist peers. On average, Russian firms reportedly paid 2.8 percent of revenues on bribes, less than in Ukraine and Uzbekistan, and far less than in Azerbaijan (5.7 percent) and Kyrgyzstan (5.3 percent). The percentage who said it was “sometimes,” “frequently,” “mostly,” or “always” necessary for their firms to make extra, unofficial payments to public officials in order to influence the content of new laws, decrees, or regulations was also about average: 9 percent, compared to 24 percent in Azerbaijan, 14 percent in Latvia and Lithuania, and 2 percent in Belarus and Uzbekistan. In both cases, Russian responses were very close to what one would predict given Russia’s relative level of economic development.

How does corruption in Russia affect individuals? The UN conducts a cross-national survey of crime victims. Between 1996 and 2000, it asked urban residents in a number of countries the following question: “In some countries, there is a problem of corruption among government or public officials. During [the last year] has any government official, for instance a customs officer, a police officer or inspector in your country asked you, or expected you, to pay a bribe for his service?” The percentage of positive responses in Russia was about average for the developing and middle-income countries surveyed. Some 17 percent of Russians said they had been asked for or had been expected to pay bribes in the preceding year, fewer than in Argentina, Brazil, Lithuania, or Romania. Again, Russia’s relative position was almost exactly what one would expect given its per capita income.

15. See the Chechnya section from my old article What we Believe.

Re-allegations of “Russian genocide”. Note that from 1989 to 1994, the 250,000 ethnic Russians living in the two Chechen regions of the River Terek were reduced to just 20,000, i.e. they were ethnically cleansed from the area under the kind attentions of “free Chechnya”. Meanwhile, from 1989 to 2002, according to the census results of those respective years, the Chechen population in the Russian Federation increased by 42% from 957,000 to 1,360,000. If this is an anti-Chechen genocide, then it must have been the most incompetent in history.

16. See Brother Karamazov’s comment from the original Top 10 Russophobe Myths post:

All German leading hi-tech professionals, including rocket scientists, surrendered to Americans. Many of them were working in the USA; for some time as half-prisoners, e.g. Wernher von Brown’s team. Wernher von Brown was placed in charge of American space programmes in the end of 50s in order to close the gap with the soviets. He successfully completed the task by landing Americans on the Moon. In contrast, soviet space research was lead by ethnic Russian Sergei Korolev. Boris Raushenbakh, the highest ranked ethnic German in the soviet rocket program, was born to an ethnic German family settled in Russia well before the revolution. He grown up and was educated entirely in the USSR. He was imprisoned in a soviet labour camp in the very beginning of his professional career during the war alongside with many other ethnic Germans who lived in the USSR, similar to the detention of ethnic Japanese in the USA.

17. See The Unfathomable Depths of Western Hypocrisy and Is CNN Getting Kicked Out of Russia? by Yasha Levine for the full story of CNN’s odious censorship of its Putin interview. Basically, it transformed his coherently argued points about the historical origins of the Georgian-Ossetian antagonism, the justice of Russian intervention and inconvenient questions about US involvement in the affair, to seem like a crazy rant about global neocon conspiracies and embargoes on dead chickens (in contrast Saakashvili got regular 5-10 min slots at CNN, unedited).

Another good example is the famous Putin speech from 2008 stating that, “крушение Советского Союза было “крупнейшей геополитической катастрофой века” , which translates as “the greatest geopolitical disaster of the century”. True enough. But now for the all-vital context: Putin was acknowledging the fact that there was some good in the USSR (e.g. values of fairness, idealism, etc), and that its collapse was brought about in corrupt and incompetent ways that ended up making the whole thing catastrophic for many folks (as confirmed by a myriad of socio-economic statistics). Yet during that 2005 speech he also stressed that “the development of Russia as a free and democratic state to be our main political and ideological goal”, and praised the steps taken towards that even amidst the chaos and disintegration of the Yeltsin era. So this is hardly the ravings of a Russian chauvinist dead-set on resurrecting the Soviet empire. Another example – the (in)famous Munich speech in 2007, in which his (rather measured and rational) criticism of US military unilateralism was reinterpreted to sheer absurdity by the neocons.

Re-Putin and Medvedev, their old relationship is one of Putin the mentor and Medvedev the protege. As such it is not surprising that it is generally still Putin who takes the international limelight, but this will presumably change as Medvedev finds his own feet – much as Putin remained in the shadow of the oligarchs in the first few years of his Presidency. More sources about the dynamics at the heart of the Putin circle include The Great Transformation: How the Putin Plan altered Russian Society and The Medevedev Moment by Nicolai Petro and Eric Kraus’ critique of ideas that Medvedev is a stooge / threat to Putin.

So in conclusion, it pays to be extremely wary of Western media reports on anything Putin, or Russian officials in general, say.

18. See my Myth of the Yellow Peril.

19. Russia saw a vigorous manufacturing revival during the 2000′s, with soaring domestic production of consumer goods substituting those previously imported. The ruble was kept artificially weakened, special economic zones were created and foreign firms carrying out assembly work in Russia were given incentives to draw their supplies from domestic producers. Automobile production rose from 1.2mn in 2000 to 1.8mn in 2008 (OICA), the company Power Machines (Силовые машины) is one of the world’s leading producers of turbines and the country has successfully joined in supplying the regional jet market with the Sukhoi SuperJet.

Though it is undeniable that there is still a large degree of unproductive rent-seeking and corruption in the Russian economy (that it has its share of “stationary bandits”, to use Mancur Olson’s terminology), it is folly to deny the obvious progress in manufacturing production made and the improvements in the business climate that made it possible. After all, unlike the “roving bandits” of the 1990′s, their stationary counterparts actually have incentives to improve their assets and profit from them, instead of stripping them down and making with the proceeds to Miami Beach or Londongrad. Furthermore, as proved by successful emerging markets like South Korea such economic policies can indeed work (see Putvedev is Russia’s White Rider). Finally, if there’s one thing that the economic crisis revealed is that Westerners should not be so complacent about the absence of rent-seeking and corrupt parasites in their own economies.

To gauge the seriousness with which Russia is pursuing an innovation economy, check out Russia’s Nanotechnology crash program and this forum thread about Russian nanotechnology investments, developments, etc. Though one can argue this is a waste of state resources, the historical evidence suggests that some level of state support is necessary for incubating successful hi-tech industries. This is especially the case in Russia which has traditionally pursued state-backed modernization programs.

20.See Are command economies unstable? Why did the Soviet economy collapse? by Mark Harrison.

21. Just a few examples would include: NATO broke its early guarantees disavowing eastern expansion in return for German reunification; criminally attacked and dismembered Serbia on false pretenses of genocide without listening to Russian concerns; encouraged enmity against Russia throughout the post-Soviet space; possibly allowed Georgia to go ahead with its criminal assault on South Ossetia; unilateral abrogation of the ABM (Anti-Ballistic Missile) Treaty in 2002; financial and moral support for color revolutions throughout the post-Soviet space; pushing a Russophobic agenda from the highest political levels; pushing Georgia and Ukraine into NATO, despite the fact that Georgia has outstanding territorial claims and most Ukrainians are firmly opposed to joining NATO, the retainment of the Jackson-Vanik amendment penalizing trade with Russia despite the fact that it is no longer a Soviet Union which restricts Jewish emigration, the blocking of WTO entry, etc, etc, etc…

That said Russia can certainly cooperate with Washington in an atmosphere of mutual respect, e.g. work towards containing nuclear proliferation, combating terrorism in Central Asia (Moscow recently allowed transport of goods, including military goods, across its territory to support military efforts in Afghanistan).

22. The social group most disillusioned with the West are young Muscovite university-educated men. Susan Richards in Russians don’t much like the West:

The obvious response to these findings is that attitudes will change over time, as people get richer. But this study appears not to bear out these hopes. For where you might have expected young Russians to like the West more than their parents, in fact, the opposite is true. The youngest respondents (20-year-olds) showed the same degree of dislike of the US as their grandparents, while the 35-45 year olds were less hostile to the US.

This is not, however, because of Putinist brainwashing – contrary to what one might believe. Nicolai Petro in Russia’s New Cyberwarriors:

…unlike their elders who were uncomfortable dealing with the outside world, today’s young Russians are not about to let insulting stereotypes about their lives and their values pass totally unchallenged. To earn their respect, one has to give it.

Until recently, Russians rarely ever saw what was said about them in the Western media. When they did, language barriers and scarcity of internet access meant they had no way to respond in a timely manner, and to set the record straight.

But now that a quarter of the population has regular internet access, they can read what is being written about their country in real time on Russian translation sites, and they are finding out, as Daniel Thorniley, Senior Vice President of the Economist Group recently put it, that it is “95 percent rubbish” (true, he was talking about business–an area where the coverage is still relatively favorable).

For the first time in history, the global reach of the internet is allowing large numbers of Russians (and others within the former Soviet Union) to talk to the West directly, rather than only through the filter provided by visiting journalists and pundits. This means the free pass given by Russians to those who write about them, something that most of us here have long taken for granted, is rapidly coming to an end. We already see the first signs of the new era in the blistering comments from outraged Russian readers that now appear regularly on the web sites of major British newspapers…

There attitudes are becoming prevalent even amongst Russian schoolchildren, but unfortunately the West has no-one but themselves to blame (see #21).

23. See my translation of the controversial chapter in question The Case of the “Stalinist” Textbook, as well as a summary of my arguments about the textbook and the Western media’s malevolent approach to it in Manipulating Russia’s Manipulation of History.

24. According to the Amnesty International report Estonia: Linguistic Minorities – Discrimination must end, Russophones who arrived after Estonia’s incorporation into the USSR, and their children, were denied citizenship except upon the completion of strict language proficiency exams. This is unrealistic for the many older folks who arrived in the 1950′s- 1960′s and helped build up the Estonian industrial economy, who have now been discarded as worthless detritus. They are unable to vote in national or European elections. Unemployment is two to three times higher amongst Russophones than ethnic Estonians, and many of the former have left to find work in other countries of the EU or returned to Russia. All public sector jobs and the vast majority of non-manual private sector jobs, even in almost completely Russian cities like Narva, require certificates of language proficiency in Estonian. There is a lot of petty discrimination against Russians on the part of ethnic Estonian nationalists. The ominously-named outfit the “Language Inspectorate” goes about making unannounced visits to workplaces to check up language skills and fine employers and fire workers who do not show the requisite Estonian-language abilities. The Polity IV project has given Estonia a democracy score of 6/10, making it only marginally democratic by their definition. The LSE study Discrimination against the Russophone Minority in Estonia and Latvia characterizes the two Baltic states as “ethnic democracies” who place “extensive policy regimes of discrimination” based on restrictions on Russophones under three policy pillars – citizenship, language, and participation. This is despite the fact that the vast majority of Baltic Russians, perhaps naively in terms of their own interests, supported the independence of their newly-adopted nation, not knowing that it would refuse to reciprocate the favor.

Nicolai Petro in Russian rights and Estonian wrongs:

…The government’s discriminatory policies have included: the passage of laws requiring that all political meetings and private businesses be conducted by “fluent” speakers of Estonian, the removal of the popularly elected mayor of the town of Sillamae for not speaking Estonian well enough, the prosecution of elected officials in the town of Narva under hate-crimes statutes for taking part in a World War II memorial service under the slogan “Narva is against fascism!” and the abrupt cancellation of all 25 Russian television channels by cable operators in the capital, Tallinn (watched by a quarter of city’s population).

In the early ’90s it was deemed more important to encourage the disintegration of the Soviet Union. Later, in the mid-’90s, during the debates over expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, it was said that security concerns should be paramount. At the turn of the century, European Union expansion was given precedence. At each turn, non-native residents were assured by Western leaders that Estonia’s inclusion in these organizations would soon take care of all their problems. Instead, however, Estonian leaders have taken approval of membership in Western organizations as proof that they can safely ignore the civil rights of their non-native minority…

Given this history, it is scarcely surprising that minority sensitivities registered so little with the government that a monument to the fallen of World War II was dismantled nearly on the eve of Victory Day, the one holiday universally revered by former Soviet citizens of all nationalities.

…How can anyone take human rights seriously if Western politicians scream bloody murder at the detention of a few score demonstrators in Moscow, but then try to sweep the arrest of more than 1,000 and the injury of several hundred in Estonia quietly under the rug .

These issues came to the fore when the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was dismantled, resulting in vigorous Russophone protests against discrimination that were brutally crushed. To add insult to injury, Russia was also baselessly accused of conducting “cyberterrorism” against Estonia and a NATO cyberwar center is being built in that country.

Latvia also prosecutes “economic saboteurs” who suggest it may have to devalue its currency.

25. Serious estimates of Ukrainian deaths range from 3.0-3.5mn (Stanislav Kulchytsky), who is championed by those claiming it as genocide (thus 3.5mn is the absolute upper limited). A more modern estimate is 2.2mn (Jacques Vallin). Declassified Soviet statistics indicate excess deaths in Ukraine from 1932-33 numbered 1.5mn, out of 3.2mn deaths across the whole Soviet Union – though they have problems of reliability. The statistical distribution of famine’s victims among the ethnicities closely reflects the ethnic distribution of the rural population of Ukraine. Though Ukraine was undeniable one of the regions most affected, areas like Southern Russia, the Volga region and Kazakhstan also suffered greatly. As such, there is no grounds for calling this a Russian-chauvinist organized famine-genocide against Ukrainians (especially since Russians were even not that prominent amongst the Soviet leadership, e.g. Stalin and Beria were both Georgians).

In 2008, Russia condemned the Soviet regime’s “disregard for the lives of people in the attainment of economic and political goals”, along with “any attempts to revive totalitarian regimes that disregard the rights and lives of citizens in former Soviet states.” yet stated that “there is no historic evidence that the famine was organized on ethnic grounds.” This is a valid position to take that is not at odds with academic views on the subject; on the other hand, Ukraine’s criminalization of “Holodomor denial” by ” a fine of 100 to 300 untaxed minimum salaries, or imprisonment of up to two years” – pushed through the Rada by a slender-thin majority in 2006 – is extremely anti-historical and ideological in nature.

In reality the Holodomor was caused by willful negligence, poor climatic conditions and an ideological fervor against kulaks in the midst of the collectivization campaign which aimed to produce a food surplus to fund industrialization. That said, it was overall ineffective since it was followed up by a halving of livestock numbers, losses of the most experienced farmers and a 66% fall in grain exports in 1933-34 from 1931-32, which kind of defeated its purpose of increasing foreign currency earnings to fund industrialization (though it was partially made up by increasing electrification and mechanization by the late 1930’s).

As for the alleged Ukrainian dislike of Russia, please see Myth #9.

26. New Russian versions of Integrated Air Defense Systems are able to counter all aircraft in the US fleet except the F-22 Raptor and B-2 heavy bomber, which are reliant on prohibitively expensive stealth features, and are highly mobile and survivable; in any case, even they will become increasingly vulnerable. Russia is rapidly developing / stealing / implementing stealth technologies, resulting in that upgraded Russian fourth-generation fighters:

the notion that contemporary production Russian fighters are inferior in technology, performance and overall capability to their US/EU peers is largely not correct, and predicated on assumptions about Russian technological capabilities which ceased to be true a decade or more ago.

On the high seas, US aircraft carriers – the bedrock of US maritime supremacy – are under increasing threat from new developments in supersonic anti-ship cruise missiles, silent diesel submarines armed with supercavitating torpedoes, UAVs / drones, and modernized fourth-generation fighters like Flankers. Not only can Russia manufacture and use these things itself, but it can also sell them on to unfriendly nations like Iran. In the long run this may spell the end to global US military hegemony.

It is true that Russia is hobbled by a lack of a professional, motivated army, organizational inefficiencies and the lack of great power projection capabilities. Nonetheless, it is in the middle of major military reforms that aim to address these problems by decreasing the numbers of officers in the ranks, moving to a brigade rather than divisional system and instituting a state of permanent readiness amongst its military units.

Russia continues to have one of the world’s two greatest nuclear arsenals and fully independent military-industrial complexes (along with the US). Should there be severe international tensions, it can return to the permanent war mobilization footing of the USSR, for it retains a “dormant structurally militarized potential” (Russia in the 21st Century: The Prodigal Superpower, Steven Rosefielde). Though no-one will win, it will destroy its enemies at least as thoroughly as it is destroyed itself in the case of a nuclear war.

27. Archival evidence here. Note also that a) not all sentences were carried out due to the system’s inefficiency and b) the death rate in the Gulag labor camps never exceeded 10% a year except in the dearth years of 1934 and 1943-44 – so in total out of the c.3.3mn imprisoned, around 1.1mn or a third died.

As for the scale of Hitler’s democide, consult Myth III in The Poisonous Myths of the Eastern Front.

28. See Russia through the looking glass and The Great Transformation: How the Putin Plan altered Russian Societ y by Nicolai Petro. Note that the high conviction rates are not unique to Russia: Japan is infamous for forced confessions and 99%+ conviction rates. As for the NGO laws, see Russia through the looking glass (Nicolai Petro):

For example, registration can no longer be denied on the whim of local officials; and without one of four specific reasons, registration has to be granted within thirty days. The proposal also limits review of NCO activities to once a year, and stipulates that any administrative actions have to be done under court supervision. The much-touted issue of the closing of foreign organisations is a red herring, since the proposed legislation specifically deprives bureaucrats of the ability to act on their own in this regard.

29. A few quotes to illustrate the point.

At present, all we see is chaos, struggle, economic collapse, ethnic disintegration – just as the observers of 1918 did. How could they have foreseen then that a decade or so later the USSR would have begun to produce chemicals, aircraft, trucks, tanks, and machine tools and be growing faster than any other industrialized society? By extension, how could Western admirers of Stalin’s centralized economy in the 1930’s know that the very system contained the seeds of its own collapse? [ Preparing for the Twenty First Century, Ch. 11, ‘The Erstwhile USSR and its Crumbled Empire’, pp. 249, Paul Kennedy (1993) ]

And from John Scott in Behind the Urals, who spent a few years living and working in the USSR during the 1930′s:

In talking with people in France and America I was impressed by the interest in the Soviet Union and the widespread misinformation about Russia and all things Russian. Everyone I met was opinionated [aren't we all lol!]. The Communists and their sympathizers held Russia up as a panacea…Other people were steeped in Eugene Lyons’ stories and would not concede the possibility that Russia had produced anything during recent years except chaos, suffering and disorder. They dismissed the industrial and material successes of the Russians with an angry wave of the hand. Any economist or businessman should have been able to see that the tripling of pig-iron production within a decade was a serious achievement, and would necessarily have far-reaching effects on the balance of economic and therefore military power in Europe.

30. Re-The Economist, from Press Review: Press Review: The Economist’s Three Stooges by Kirill Pankratov:

Of course, its Russian coverage is far from the only of magazine’s bloopers. The list is long. There’s the famous March 1999 cover story predicting an “endless era of cheap oil,” which appeared the same week that oil prices began their steady ascent from the lowest point in a quarter century. Perfect timing! Then there were The Economist’s strident editorials in favor of Bush’s invasion of Iraq in 2003.

First up is Edward Lucas, the Moscow correspondent who in the annual glossy “The World in 1999″ issue, issued this prediction for Russia, at once gloating and apocalyptic:

“1999 will be the year of Russia’s disintegration… Trade between Russia’s regions will plunge at least until they hit on a stable, trusted currency in which to do business. That is hardly likely to be the rouble, and the planned coupons and currencies which some regions have been planning look equally unattractive substitutes… foreign invasion, albeit of a peaceful and benevolent kind, is exactly what Russia’s regions should want… The probable decline in Russia’s wealth in 1999 will be around 10%… expect yet another bleak and miserable year”.

For why I am bullish on continuing high growth in the future, see my own article Kremlin Dreams sometimes come true and Goldman Sachs thinks that Russia is the only member of the BRICs (Brazil, Russia, China, India) with the potential to reach Western levels of GDP per capita in the foreseeable future.

31. Lots of sources on this on the Internet. Re-murders, I’d mention Former YUKOS Security Chief Gets 20 Years for Murder. Also from Russia Blog in 10 Western Media Stereotypes About Russia: How Truthful Are They?

YUKOS was practicing tax evasion on a massive, multi- billion-dollar scale. A deeper investigation is now underway, and Khodorkovsky’s aides face charges of murder and attempted murder in the process of conducting company business. They were also charged with unlawful business practices, such as tax evasion, fraud and money laundering. In addition, Israeli lawyers are working with Russian prosecutors to extradite Khodorkovsky’s former partner Leonid Nevzlin, as many political circles in Israel find his presence harmful to their country’s image. Israeli lawyers are investigating allegations that Nevzlin fraudulently obtained his Israeli citizenship in 2003 after Russian prosecutors indicted Mikhail Khodorkovsky. In March 2005, Alexei Pichugin, the former chief of security for YUKOS, was sentenced to prison time for multiple counts of murder. Many oligarchs do face prosecution, but not because of their political beliefs; rather, they face punishment for actual crimes they have committed

32. E.g. see Remembering Yeltsin for a hard look at Yeltsin’s real, anti-Russian character. He won the 1996 elections despite losing a war and having approval ratings in the single-digits, which were immediately endorsed by Western election observers like OSCE. See Who Killed The OSCE? by Alexander Zaitchik and Mark Ames.

Well, that’s one way of looking at it. Another way is that the recent Russia-OSCE door-slamming episode is the inevitable outcome of years of cynical Western manipulation of an organization that once held enormous promise and impeccable credentials, but is now with good reason considered a propaganda tool for the West.

If that last sentence sounds like the paranoid rant of a Putin-era silovik revanchist, then think again. It’s the view held by none other than the man who headed the OSCE’s 1996 election mission in Russia, Michael Meadowcroft. “The West let Russia down, and it’s a shame,” said Meadowcroft, a former British MP and veteran of 48 election-monitoring missions to 35 countries.

In a recent telephone interview with The eXile, Meadowcroft explained how he was pressured by OSCE and EU authorities to ignore serious irregularities in Boris Yeltsin’s heavily manipulated 1996 election victory, and how EU officials suppressed a report about the Russian media’s near-total subservience to pro-Yeltsin forces.

“Up to the last minute I was being pressured by [the OSCE higher-ups in] Warsaw to change what I wanted to say,” said Meadowcroft. “In terms of what the OSCE was prepared to say publicly about the election, they were very opposed to any suggestion that the election had been manipulated.” In fact, he says, the OSCE and the West had made its mind up about how wonderfully free and fair Boris Yeltsin’s election was before voting even started.

Though it is true that Putin also probably abuses administrative resources to win elections – though the extent and scale are small and should not be exaggerated, as I point out in Lying Liars and their Lies and More Reflections on Election Fraud, a) OSCE and the West now condemns him for this because Putin is not their stooge and b) it doesn’t matter nearly as much because Putin has the overwhelming support of the people and would win in any case.

33. Yes, Russia uses (at times underhanded) means to tie up world energy sources and uses its energy clout to exert economic and political pressure. But the US and all other Great Powers do the exact same thing, in ways ranging from the Iraq War to support of economically-subordinate theocratic or authoritarian regimes like Saudi Arabia to the Chiquita Banana case. Note that the counter-refutation to the Iraq War as energy imperialism thesis – that US companies did not particularly benefit from new contracts – doesn’t really hold water, because the whole point was to unlock Iraq’s oil supplies into the world market and to establish a firm military presence in the critical (for energy) Middle East region.

34. Re-education, see National Literacy Campaigns (By Robert F. Arnove, Harvey J. Graff). Re-industry, the fast rate of late Tsarist growth is pretty well known to economic historians.

35. Western treatment of Russia signifies an erosion of reason (Vlad Sobell) – argues that Western views on the “post-totalitarian” society of Russia have ossified since the end of the Cold War and are no longer able to recognize that it has embarked on its own path to liberal democracy.

Or as noted by Gregor in Deformable Mirror,

What type of political ideology privatises land, nationalises petroleum, introduces a flat tax, uses soldiers to verify tax accounts, enforces protectionism, celebrates diversity, celebrates patriotism, celebrates science, introduces state protection for the National Church, supports the NATO war in Afghanistan, opposes the war in Iraq, is strongly democratic but largely authoritarian, takes power from an atheist, alcoholic Communist apparatchik and leaves it in the hands of a devout, prissy lawyer? For want of a better word we could call it ‘reactionary’… or maybe Putinism? This somehow highlights one of the oddest paradoxes about British Russophobia. Putin is only called a ‘reactionary’ because British ‘intellectual’ culture has frozen to such an extent that we have no real word for his ideology.

Hence commentators like John Dimbleby resort to calling Russia a “totalitarian regime in thrall to a Tsar who’s creating the new Facist empire”.

36. Consult the Myth of Dhimmitude part of my Rite of Spring: Russia Fertility Trends article.

37. See this post and comments at Fedia Kriukov’s blog.

Re-army purges, there are revisionist arguments that they did not have a major effect in absolute terms, e.g. from this book review (although it is true they contributed to greater rigidity in military thought prior to the war, which would have been damaging – that said, its effects should not be overstated):

Stalin’s Reluctant Soldiers makes two fundamental points about the history of the Red Army, as well as several important observations. The first fundamental point is that the impact of the political terror of the 1937-38 was, in absolute and relative terms, less than it is generally taken to have been. A number of newly uncovered sources, notably General E.A. Shchadenko’s report of May 1940, make it possible to conclude that net losses of officers and commissars (taking into account reinstatements) was some 23 000. Reese also reassesses the size of the total officer corps, making it 150 000 in 1937. Previous historians have estimated higher losses and assumed a much smaller officer corps, and Reese convincingly shows a smaller percentage loss.

The second fundamental point is related to the first. The basic reason why the Red Army fought so badly in 1941. Reese argues, was not the purges. What really mattered was the army’s incohesiveness, which resulted from shortcomings across the interwar years, but especially the too rapid expansion in the late 1930s. The crucial weaknesses of the Red Army were inadequately trained junior officers and poor platoon-level organization. Both weaknesses were accentuated by a lack of career NCOs. This general point is developed especially well by Reese in an archivally based case study of the Kiev military district.

Re-unanticipated attack of Hitler. Stalin did not dismiss intelligence reports. Note that Soviet intelligence did not unambiguously predict the German attack – there were many contradictory reports and sophisticated German disinformation. He was understandably cautious about trusting British sources given their past duplicity and latent interest in drawing the USSR into the war. Second, Stalin finally erred on the side of caution and authorized the forward deployment of the second operational echelon around June 17, which however did not reach their destinations when the war broke out. “Moreover, on June 21 Stalin signed a directive (which later came to be known as Directive No 1) authorizing all formations deployed along the border to take up defensive positions (in effect, partially implement covering plans). Unfortunately, when the war started, this directive was still stuck being decrypted somewhere at the MD and army level.”

Re-defense in depth. It’s a somewhat overused cliche nowadays.

First, we need to look at what it is exactly. At the tactical level, it means creating a cluster of strong-points separated by gaps filled with mines, dragon’s teeth, and other obstacles, such that enemy would be channeled into assaults on the strong-points one by one. But the Red Army of 1941 was too unwieldy and unprepared for this, and the question of why? should be directed more towards the military establishment than to Stalin.

And not only for them, but to the militaries of all countries. No rifle formation of the time, the Wehrmacht included, had the ability to repulse a single Panzer division concentrated on a narrow front. It would inevitably be sliced up and the (slow) remnants enveloped and destroyed by mobile enemy forces (i.e. the ones which spearheaded Barbarossa – though it is true as you say that the bulk of the German army was relatively immobile, it was still much more so than the Soviet in 1941 and its mobile elements were extremely well trained with plenty of RL experience).

This was the major bane of Soviet forces which was only significantly reversed in Kursk, two years into the war, when the Soviet Army reached a level of competence and organization an order of magnitude higher than was the case in 1941. (it should be noted also that it was only after 1943 that Axis-Soviet losses on the Eastern Front equalized).

But if you’re talking of the operational level (which is a question that relates more directly to Stalin’s role), “defense in depth” is utterly bankrupt since the depth to the defense can only be provided at the tactical level, and trying this on the operational scale implies splitting up your divisions and suffering defeat in detail.

“Against such an army, trading space, defending in depth, was the appropriate method. Eventually the Soviets learned this, and implemented it at Kursk in 1943.”

And from above, we see it would have led to utter disaster in 1941 and it is to their credit that the Soviet military leadership recognized this (unlike all prior German opponents). Thus they instead pursued an “active defense” based on constant initiative-seizing counterattacks, which although predictably a failure on the tactical levels distorted the shape and flow of Barbarossa by forcing the Germans to reinforce their flanks at the cost of their points – and was a much better idea than simply throwing rifle division after division against armored spears that would just effortlessly slice through them.

At the time, encirclements were inevitable because the German Panzer divisions were quicker than Soviet rifle divisions, and stopping them was hopeless (no country had managed that before, and it was not until 1943 that the Soviets first managed to contain a German armored assault). The idea rather was to launch constant counter-offensives to blunt and divert the overall German attack, which though a failure at tactical and operational levels succeeded at the strategic level.

“Stalin effectively did the same thing by massing near the border. It was necessary to trade space for time. Space was what the USSR had in abundance.’

On this point, I would repeat the above point that a) intelligence was highly contradictory about German intentions, especially since the latter mounted a well-planned disinformation campaign, and b) most fortifications near the border were in the stage of construction – again, because the Soviet leadership genuinely believed that Hitler was not ready to attack until 1942 at the earliest (and more likely the mid-1940’s) and c) you can’t really say they were that massed at the border, when the earliest really big encirclements took place in Minsk / Kiev (places which are gateways to the Soviet heartlands and really needed to be defended for strategic and political reasons).

I would also note that even with constant Soviet counter-attacks and diversions, the Germans still managed to reach the gates of Moscow, and again got uncomfortably close to cutting off the Caucasus oil supply in 1942. Russia’s has a lot of space but it’s not infinite.

38. See here at Sergei Fedosov’s site for a full account of the diplomatic events in the run-up to World War Two.

Specifically re-Munich and the sincerity of Soviet intentions to coordinate with the Western Allies to contain and if necessary fight Germany over Czechoslovakia (all quoted from commentator rkka here):

To start with, Soviet intentions to militarily aid Czechoslovakia are indicated by the delivery of Soviet-built combat aircraft in August and September 1938 through Romanian airspace, Soviet willingness to set aside the issue of Bessarabia in discussion of Soviet forces transiting Romania in the event of a German attack on Czechlslovakia, the mobilization of 10 Tank and 60 Rifle Divisions in the fall of 1938, and the diplomatic note to the Polish government warning that hostile Polish action against Czechoslovakia would void the Polish-Soviet Nonaggression Pact. The Czech leader Benes makes it clear that Soviet support was unstinting:

“In September, 1938, therefore, we were left in military, as well as political, isolation with the Soviet Union to prepare our defense against a Nazi attack. We were also well aware not only of our own moral, political, and military prepardness, but also had a general picture of the condition of Western Europe; as well as of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, in regard to these matters.

At that moment indeed Europe was in every respect ripe to accept without a fight the orders of the Berchtesgaden corporal. When Czechoslovakia vigorously resisted his dictation in the September negotiations with our German citizens, we first of all recieved a joint note from the British and French governments on September 19th, 1938, insisting that we should accept without amendment the draft of a capitulation based essentially on an agreement reached by Hitler and Chamberlain at Berchtesgaden on September 15th. When we refused, there arrived from France and Great Britain on September 21st an ultimatum accompanied by emphatic personal interventions in Prague during the night on the part of the Ministers of both countries and repeated later in writing. We were informed that if we did not accept their plan for the cession of the so-called Sudeten regions, they would leave us to our fate, which, they said, we had brought upon ourselves. They explained that they certainly would not go to war with Germany just ‘to keep the Sudeten Germans in Czechoslovakia’. I felt very keenly the fact that there were at that time so few in France and Great Britain who understood that something much more serious was at stake for Europe than the retention of the so-called Sudeten Germans in Czechoslovakia.

The measure of this fearful European development was now full, precipitating Europe into ruin. Through three dreadful years I had watched the whole tragedy unfolding, knowing to the full what was at stake. We had resisted desperately with all our strength. And then, from Munich, during the night of September 30th our State and Nation recieved the stunning blow: Without our participation and in spite of the mobilization of our whole Army, the Munich Agreement – fatal for Europe and the whole world – was concluded and signed by the four Great Powers – and then was forced upon us.”

Dr. Eduard Benes “Memoirs”, Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, 1954, pgs 42 – 43.

“I do not intend to examine here in detail the policy of the Soviet Union from Munich to the beginning of the Soviet-German war. I will mention only the necessary facts. Even today it is still a delicate question. The events preceeding Munich and between Munich and the Soviet Union’s entry into World War II have been used, and in a certain sense, misused, against Soviet policy both before and after Munich. I will only repeat that before Munich the Soviet Union was prepared to fulfill its treaty with France and with Czechoslovakia in the case of a German attack.”

Benes, pg 131.

39. No European state has made much effort to fully account for its imperial legacies; the main feature of German exceptionalism was that you were supposed to confine you genocides to colored peoples in hot, sticky places (e.g. the Belgians in the Congo, the “Victorian Holocausts” under the British Raj, the Irish Potato Famine which was no different from the Holodomor except that the ideology that it was conducted under was laissez-faire capitalism…)

The Baltic states whitewash their involvement in the Holocaust, Turkey criminalizes affirmation of the Armenian Genocide and Japan brushes off complaints about its brutal conduct in China during the Second World War. The only reason Germany apologized was because it was occupied, and in any case the Nazi regime was not morally comparable to the Soviet Union. And apologies imply acceptance of responsibility and demands for reparations…Latvia had already set up a commission to calculate a bill for “Soviet-era losses” to present to Russia, which ironically had to be disbanded because of the economic crisis.

One example of Russia’s apologies: “When President Yeltsin visited the Czech Republic in 1993 he was not speaking just for himself, he was speaking for the Russian Federation and for the Russian people. Today, not only do we respect all agreements signed previously – we also share all the evaluations that were made at the beginning of the 1990s…I must tell you with absolute frankness – we do not, of course, bear any legal responsibility. But the moral responsibility is there, of course.”

For Russian attitudes to their history under Putin, I recommend my article Manipulating Russia’s Manipulation of History and Airbrushing History by Patrick Armstrong.

40. See my Responses to common Russophobe arguments for an insight into the sheer intellectual bankruptcy of the Russophobe worldview.

41. See the seminal Forbes article Godfather of the Kremlin (Paul Khlebnikov) or read the book of the same name.

42. The Specter that haunts the Death of Litvinenko (Edward Jay Epstein) and The Alexander Litvinenko Story Revisited (David Habakkuk) are vital primers on the very murky circumstances of his death.

Before the extradition dispute, Russian investigators, in theory, could have questioned relevant witnesses in London. Their proposed roster of witnesses suggested that Russian interest extended to the Russian expatriate community in Britain, or “Londongrad,” as it is now called. The Litvinenko case provided the Russians with the opportunity for a fishing expedition, since Litvinenko had at the time of his death worked with many of Russia’s enemies, including Mr. Berezovsky; his foundation head, Mr. Goldfarb, who dispensed money to a web of anti-Putin websites; his Chechen ally Akhmed Zakayev, who headed a commission investigating Russian war crimes in Chechnya (for which Litvinenko acted as an investigator), and former owners of the expropriated oil giant Yukos, who were battling in the courts to regain control of billions of dollars in its off-shore bank accounts.

The Russian investigation could also have veered into Litvinenko’s activities in the shadowy world of security consultants, including his dealings with the two security companies in Mr. Berezovsky’s building, Erinys International and Titon International, and his involvement with Mr. Scaramella in an attempt to plant incriminating evidence on a suspected nuclear-component smuggler — a plot for which Mr. Scaramella was jailed after his phone conversations with Litvinenko were intercepted by the Italian national police.

The Russians had asked for more information about radiation traces at the offices of these companies, and Mr. Lugovoi had said that at one of these companies, Erinys, he had been offered large sums of money to provide compromising information about Russian officials. Mr. Kovtun, who also attended that meeting, backs up Mr. Lugovoi’s story. Such charges had the potential for embarrassing not only the security companies that had employed Litvinenko and employed former Scotland Yard and British intelligence officers, but the British government, since it had provided Litvinenko with a passport under the alias “Edwin Redwald Carter” to travel to parts of the former Soviet Union.

The British extradition gambit ended the Russian investigation in Londongrad. It also discredited Mr. Lugovoi’s account by naming him as a murder suspect. In terms of a public relations tactic, it resulted in a brilliant success by putting the blame on Russian stonewalling for the failure to solve the mystery. What it obscured is the elephant-in-the-room that haunts the case: the fact that a crucial component for building an early-stage nuke was smuggled into London in 2006. Was it brought in merely as a murder weapon or as part of a transaction on the international arms market?

There is little, if any, possibility, that this question will be answered in the present stalemate. The Russian prosecutor-general has declared that the British case is baseless; Mr. Lugovoi, elected to the Russian Parliament in December 2007, now has immunity from prosecution, and Mr. Scaramella, under house arrest in Naples, has been silenced. The press, for its part, remains largely fixated on a revenge murder theory that corresponds more closely to the SMERSH villain in James Bond movies than to the reality of the case of the smuggled Polonium-210.

After considering all the evidence, my hypothesis is that Litvinenko came in contact with a Polonium-210 smuggling operation and was, either wittingly or unwittingly, exposed to it. Litvinenko had been a person of interest to the intelligence services of many countries, including Britain’s MI-6, Russia’s FSB, America’s CIA (which rejected his offer to defect in 2000), and Italy’s SISMI, which was monitoring his phone conversations.

His murky operations, whatever their purpose, involved his seeking contacts in one of the most lawless areas in the former Soviet Union, the Pankisi Gorge, which had become a center for arms smuggling. He had also dealt with people accused of everything from money laundering to trafficking in nuclear components. These activities may have brought him, or his associates, in contact with a sample of Polonium-210, which then, either by accident or by design, contaminated and killed him.

To unlock the mystery, Britain must make available its secret evidence, including the autopsy report, the comprehensive list of places in which radiation was detected, and the surveillance reports of Litvinenko and his associates. If Britain considers it too sensitive for public release, it should be turned over to an international commission of inquiry. The stakes are too high here to leave unresolved the mystery of the smuggled Polonium-210.

43. Re-the first sentence. This is one rare thing on which Khodorkovsky and I are in perfect concord. See Putin’s political reforms need not be viewed as anti-democratic by Vlad Sobell and Nicolai Petro’s work on the subject for more.

44. This last myth is a bit tongue in cheek, although on the topic of Mordor I’ve actually managed to find a Russophobe who makes the comparison explicitly.

But as time since 1991 passed and the two countries drifted in their development further and further away from each other, the city was increasingly attached to Estonia because of the dark presence of its evil twin, Russian Ivangorod (right). …

Crossing the river bridge into Ivangorod makes those numbers quickly grow in flesh and obtain form in miriad of differences, which set Russia apart from Europe, starting with sickening public toilets and ending with the hopelessness in the people’s eyes.This is why looking again at the crude limestone fortress almost invisible at night with only the howling of wild beasts giving away the presence of life on the other side of the vast body of water I can’t help it but recollect the following verse:

…to bring them all and in darkness bind… in the land of Mordor, where the shadows lie.

I have a feeling that this attitude could be just one of several things uniting myself and many decent Narva inhabitants. And this feeling is good.

And then there’s this gem (or rather, a Ring) from dear old Ed Lucas, who explicitly compares Russia to Mordor, Putin to Sauron and the his silovik henchmen to the Orcs.

But as the skies darken once again over the European continent (or Middle Earth if you prefer) , the temptation to find analogies in the Lord of the Rings trilogy is overwhelming. Mordor is clearly the Russian Federation, ruled by the demonic overlord Sauron (Putin). His email address, to give a contemporary note, might be sauron@gov.morder.me (the suffix is for Middle Earth). The threat from Mordor—symbolised by the Ring—is the combination of dirty money and authoritarian political thinking.

And Sauron’s henchmen the Orcs are clearly the murderous goons of the old KGB. The new twist—the Uruk-Hai, is the mutation of the old Soviet intelligence service with organised crime and big business. Sauron’s allies—the Nazgul—are the Siloviki, the sinister chieftains of the Kremlin’s authoritarian capitalist system. Like the Nazgul, we seldom see their faces.

…Picking out the cast on the bad side runs the risk an encounter with England’s ferocious libel laws. It is not too hard, however, to see candidates to be Wormtongue, the slimy propagandist for Mordor who weakens the will of the King of Rohan, Theoden. His kingdom could be almost any country in Europe, but had better be Germany. And it is easy to think who might count as Germany’s foremost expert on Russia and a biographer of Sauron. Saruman is more difficult still—a hero of past wars who has switched sides to disastrous effect. He could be any one of the top West European leaders who have so disastrously forgotten the lessons of the Cold War and have been seduced by Mordor’s dirty money

45. Read my article Twitter Terror in Moldova for insight into just how convuluted, murky and “virtual” the events in Moldova really were.

46. Re-Hamas, see 10 Western Media Stereotypes About Russia: How Truthful Are They? from Russia Blog. Re-Iran, see The Medvedev Doctrine and American Strategy from Stratfor. The US potentially faces a trade-off between “a hegemonic threat from Eurasia and instability and a terror threat from the Islamic world”, and the keys to these threats are Russia and Iran, respectively. It is in Russia’s interests for the US to keep focused on the Middle East, so as to give itself a freer hand in Eurasia – and inflaming relations between Iran and the West is an excellent way to do it.

47. See the classic Foreign Affairs article The Rise of US Nuclear Primacy (Keir A. Lieber and Daryl G. Press).

Re-Russian ICBMs would be launched over the North Pole, so central Europe wouldn’t play a role argument. Not really, because the US has radar installations at Thule, Greenland, and has substantial numbers of ground based interceptor missiles at Fort Greely, Alaska. It also has rapidly increasing sea-based ABM capabilities. This is not to say that the US has plans to launch a debilitating first strike on Russia or other strategic competitors, but ABM is certainly a destabilizing force in world security and risks unleashing an arms race in which countries like Russia are forced to upgrade the penetration capabilities of their nuclear delivery systems.

48.The nations of the former USSR are still very much economically integrated with Russia, meaning that they are subject to Russia’s cycles; furthermore, almost all of them are significantly poorer so they should grow faster because of their greater potential for economic convergence.

See the Georgian Economy under Saakashvili, which asserts that much of Georgia’s growth was one-off based on state asset sale and government lay-offs, which were accompanied by accelerating deindustrialization, continued emigration and poverty, the destruction of all remaining safety nets and the pressure put by the government on independent businesses to provide “voluntary contributions” in return for not bankrupting them under prosecutions for corruption.

Stats on growth rates taken from IMF.

49. Ushering in the new era of legality, markets and social activism is the so-called Putin generation, which has vastly differing values from those of older generations – initiative, boldness, hierarchy, individualism and Westernized patriotism (consult Economic Modernization and System of Values by Evgeny Yasin for an interesting study that shows that the values of the new Russia differ much more from traditionalist / Tsarist and Soviet values, which are surprisingly similar).

Also as I once pointed out, there are plenty of good sovok attributes…and even some of the bad ones aren’t actually all that bad upon closer examination.

50. I’ve aggregated Levada’s measures of Russia’s social mood since the late 1990′s here. My letter to the Moscow Times cites recent opinion polls, again from Levada, to disprove the contention that morale during this crisis has collapsed back to 1990′s / pre-”oil boom” levels.

The notion that Putin has strangled Russia’s nascent democracy is an exclusively Western one. 64% of Russians think Putin has had a positive influence on democracy and human rights, while only 3% think it was ‘very negative’ (see recent BBC World Service poll and fedia’s excellent commentary on it). For more information, please consult this blog’s stated position on HR in Russia and my appearance on Al-Jazeera. The data on journalists is taken from the Committee to Protect Journalists‘ database and fedia’s audit of it. Finally, on the topic of the election, no election watch-dog has been able to point out anything other than vacuous allegations that I’m aware of. For instance, on the topic of the 2008 Presidential elections, please consult my blog post on it (including the Western media’s shameless manipulation of the response to the Moscow protests) and the response of independent Russian election monitor GOLOS (here):

GOLOS Association observed that the Election Day was held in a relatively quiet atmosphere in contrast to the State Duma election day. Such large-scale violations observed then as campaigning next to polling stations, transporting of voters, intimidation of voters and others were practically non-existent. Polling stations were better prepared and the voting process was better organized. At the majority of polling stations voters’ lists were properly bound, there were fewer representatives of administration at inside polling stations. In general the process of opening of the polling stations went well without any major incidents.

PS. After publishing this, I noticed that rather appropriately this post is the 100th in the Da Russophile blog. So perhaps I should have done 100 myths, but I only have so much time and patience! ;)

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
 
🔊 Listen RSS

Let’s start with two excellent new resources I’ve recently come across. Russia: Other Points of View states its objectives thus:

We believe there is need in the public forum for a venue which offers opinions and facts that at times may differ from the prevailing view in western media.

Hmm… Sounds quite similar to Da Russophile, in fact, and makes a substantial part of our News posts redundant. As such I’ll be referring to it frequently.

The other is the Moscow Defence Brief, an English-language quarterly that offers analysis on Russian, Eurasian and world military affairs from a Russian perspective.

Moving onto developments in Russia, the economy continues to boom, driven by investment and consumption. The vast majority of foreign investors have made handsome gains and are bullish about future prospects, despite recent global financial perturbations that have cut the RTS back below 2000 by around a quarter from its peak. Manufacturing growth remains strong at 8.4% for the first half of 2008 (artificially brought down by 0.6% yearly growth on June, due to the effects of celebrating Euro08 successes on Russian productivity). Overall industrial growth of 5.8% is as usual lowered by anemic growth of 0.5% in the extractive sectors, including a 0.6% fall in oil production (as covered in the previous News, Russia has now almost certainly reached its oil production peak). While slowing down in Moscow, the construction boom continues apace in the rest of the country. Russia’s mean salary has surpassed 700$ this year and as of May in real terms salaries and pensions had increased by 14.5% and 13.8%, respectively, on the same period last year. The Sukhoi SuperJet 100 made its maiden flight and Cisco announces investment in venture capital fund to focus on Russia and CIS.

No wonder then that Russia has overtaken Germany as Europe’s biggest car market, with 3.8mn units expected to be sold this year (compared with 3.2mn in Germany) and Russia (with 2% of the world population) predicted to account for 20% of global growth in the automotive market through to 2015. The Economist has a much more detailed (and, unusual for it, quite professional) overview of Russia’s bourgeoning car market. Exploding purchasing power means car sales are expected to approach 4.5mn units by 2010, when it is expected car ownership will rise to 253 / 1000 people. Government industrial policy has led to the world’s major car producers rushing to build factories in Russia, with their new capacity by 2012 estimated at 1.6mn units (in effect doubling Russian car production from 2007).

On the other hand, the Economist‘s oily hallucinations continue (“Is it “peak oil” or a speculative bubble? Neither, really”). The last “really” says it all, really. When you were so really, really wrong on predicting 5$ oil back in 1999, might as well burrow your head even deeper into the conventional ‘wisdom’. (Really reminds me of Newsweek‘s ‘Russia is really, really weak‘ line, made fun of in the eXile.) And to connect these issues together, the Economist repeats its catechism that a) Russian oil production is stagnating due to a lack of investment as opposed to basic geological limits and b) its economy is more dependent than ever on oil. This is in stark contrast to the Financial Times (‘Running on empty? Fears over oil supply move into the mainstream‘), which is beginning to see the light. Gazprom predicts oil will reach $250 in 2009.

Nikitsky Fund released an apocalyptic-sounding issue of its excellent Truth and Beautnewsletter, the Crack of Doom. Many things, from medium-term American economic prospects to long-term global sustainability, do indeed look apocalyptic…

The World Bank has revised its GDP estimates for 2007. According to the new figures, Russia overtook the UK last year to become the sixth-largest economy in the world and second in Europe behind Germany. Its PPP gross national income per capita reached 14,400 $, which is comparable to that of Croatia or Poland.

Russia has managed to occupy 9 places in the list of the world’s top 500 supercomputers in June 2008. Although it doesn’t sound impressive, it is a significant improvement on previous releases of the list; and besides, it is dominated by just a few players (the UK, Japan, France, Germany and above all the US, which accounts for more than half). As I pointed out here, national strength in things like supercomputers, nanotechnology and electronic connectivity will be to this century as steel, oil and literacy were to the last. Moscow State University also released a list of the Top 50 supercomputers in Russia and the CIS.

Medvedev’s new Presidency has brought a new burst of rhetorical energy to themes such as fighting corruption, easing bureaucratic regulations on small businesses and computerization. My interpretation on this is that just as restoring state power and implementing a national industrial and socio-economic policy were the dominant talked-about themes at the start of Putin’s first and second terms respectively, and followed up by measures to that effect, so this is the prelude to the sort of institutional reforms that are becoming increasingly important for further economic growth and rapid convergence to advanced industrialism. But we’ll see.

Western hypocrisy is heroically exposed by Gorbachev, Russia’s UK ambassador and Medvedev.
The demographic situation continued to improve over the first five months of May, as noted in my recent Demographics series of posts. There was an almost 10% increase in the crude birth rate, which nonetheless strongly suggests the TFR will exceed 1.5 this year and thus more than exceed the projection in the High scenario. On the other hand mortality has stagnated, the crude death rate rising by 0.7%. Nonetheless, I strongly suspect this is just a short-term flunctuation, in particular in view of the fact that the alcohol / food price ratio has plunged this year due to huge food inflation (the close link between that ratio and death rates was explored in Demographics II; the fact death rates have stagnated, rather than plummeted (as in 1994 and to a lesser extent post-1998), may actually be a positive sign, since it would indicate mortality is slowly but incessantly becoming divorced from the affordability of alcohol). Here’s a table showing mortality and fertility in Jan-Apr 2008 by region and change over the previous year. A few notes. Lower mortality in Muslim and rich Russian regions (Moscow, Tyumen oblast), higher birth rates in Muslim and less densely populated (e.g. Urals, Siberian, Far East) regions.

(Two remarks. It seems that the bigger the increases in number of births per month, the bigger the increase in deaths. For instance, January and April both saw relatively big increases in mortality and fertility as compared to the previous year; February to a lesser extent. March saw a small increase in fertility and small drop in mortality. May say smaller fertility and a big drop in mortality. As far as I’m aware the number of days per month remains constant from year to year (with just one minor exception, leap year Februaries), Russian maternal mortality and even infant mortality is statistically insignificant here. So I ask the question, do more babies lead to more heart attacks or something? (Most mortality increase was due to heart attacks; deaths from external causes fell). Secondly, a prediction – mortality will increase during July. With all the celebrations ensuing after Russia’s football successes that month, this is more or less inevitable.)

I found an interesting demographics opinion piece from the Moscow Defence Brief, Russia does not need a pro-immigration policy. It is true that the benefits of immigration as a source of cheap labor (as opposed to an intelligent policy of letting in only well-qualified, easy to integrate, ‘especially desirable’ workers) are overstated. I disagree with two of its claims, however. The idea that Russia’s hypermortality doesn’t actually exist because of the effect of illegal immigrant deaths is complete nonsense (they make up, ultimately, only a small fraction of Russia’s population and most of them will be young people with comparatively very low death rates). Secondly, it is not a good idea to replicate American suburban planning (for the purposes of increasing fertility, according to the article) as it is even now becoming obsolete with the era of expensive oil.

Boosting Population a Vague Science – comprehensive, conventional article about Russian demographics from Moscow Times. Happiness in Russia has increased, which should help lower mortality (unhappy people tend to die younger and Russia, as with other post-Soviet republics, have one of the world’s lowest levels of happiness).

Rampant inflation and political crisis in Ukraine do not stop it from intensifying Russophobic moves in language, religion and NATO enlargement.

Russia, along with China, vetoed sanctions against Zimbabwe in the UN (pushed most aggressively by the UK, who I suppose dislike this particular African tinpot despot because unlike the others he messed with the British whites who got the land they stole from indigenous blacks, stolen back. And I find it a bit suspicious that you have all these piteous people who whine about supposed torture, genocide, etc, but seem free enough to find and talk with Western journalists, especially those from the BBC). While this is certainly not an altruistic action on Russia’s/China’s part, it’s not as if the West concerns itself itself much (at all) over the plight of ordinary working Zimbabweans, as proved by British insistence that their companies withdraw from the country and their ruthless, cowardly support for sanctions.

Tensions have risen over Abkhazia, with both Georgia and Russia warning of a risk of war, while Russia and the US have hosted suspiciously simultaneous war games in the region. The Rise and Fall of Georgia’s UAVs casts doubt on whether the video of a Russian fighter shooting down a Georgian UAV (as shown in the previous News).

As for the video provided by Georgia, there are several reasons why their authenticity is in doubt. First, UAVs are made to observe objects on the earth, not in the air. Their cameras are housed in a semisphere on the underside of the vehicle, which makes it extremely difficult to focus on another flying object. The chances that this sort of camera could have caught another flying object at the very moment when it fired a missile are simply nonexistent.

Second, as a rule, high-definition photos and video are stored on board the UAV, while only low-quality pictures are sent in real time, due to the restricted bandwidth of the transmission system. The video shown by the Georgians was ostensibly captured in real time, since the UAV was destroyed, and the low quality of the video does not allow for the identification of the type of plane, let alone the country to which it belongs. Arguments to the effect that «the aircraft has a twin rudder and is therefore Russian» simply do not stand up to examination.

This article concludes that the “Georgian Army would be quickly defeated if Tbilisi tries to settle the conflict by force”.

Further to the excellent NY Sun article casting doubt on the mainstream Western account of Litvinenko’s death (poisoned by polonium by nefarious KGB agents), the Independent produces a piece worthy of its namesake, The Litvinenko files: Was he really murdered? It mostly covers the same points.

BP has been treating Russians as subjects (Financial Times) - the point of view from the Russian oligarchs, who reject British claims of Russian intimidation and strong-arming, and argue that BP has thwarted the company’s expansion plans abroad and long-term strategic development, in a bid to shore up reserves for BP itself.

Assessing Russian fighter technology concludes that since the end of the Cold War, Russian military aviation has for all practical purposes closed the technological gap with the West. Very succinct and detailed. Nagorno-Karabakh: Shift in the Military Balance analyzes the balance of power between Armenia and Azerbaijan, and concludes it is tilting towards Baku. Russian nuclear forces, 2008. Baiting the Russian bear – US plans for ballistic missile defences in eastern Europe risk alienating Russia and stirring up old resentments.

I liked Sean’s little insightful scribblings, Surveying Putin’s Generation and Putin: Leader or Revolutionary? He also penned a cynical critique of Nemtsov’s White Paper.

Kissinger penned Unconventional wisdom about Russia, emphasizing for US concern for Russia’s strategic interests if it wants to have its way in the world.

Russia’s energy drive leaves US reeling – Russia continues to strive for greater control over Eurasian energy flows under Medvedev, this time venturing into Africa. Washington’s reprisal (blocking Russian oil companies’ access to Iraq) was met by further Russian interest in a gas OPEC, with Iran as the other main partner.

The ever brilliant Nicolai Petro reports on yet another Western MSM smear job on Russia in Mr. Levy and the Magic Media.

The Misconception of Russian Authoritarianism – PhD thesis by an American graduate student at the University of St.-Petersburg makes a forceful argument that Russia has decisively shed its authoritarian past and is engaged in building up stable long-term democratic institutions.

Russia’s Other Great Victory – the War Nerd’s colorful (as usual) account of Russia’s crushing defeat of Japan in Manchuria in 1945. A Japanese POW’s life-affirming account of his time in Siberia.

Russia’s hawks (rather tellingly) support McCain, who will accelerate America’s decline (as per contributor Brother Karamazov’s theory). Not that that’s very relevant however since Obama will almost certainly win.

Michael Averko pens some excellent articles, including Chechnya, EU-Serbia and a Disputed Lands Update, Contradictions to the “New Cold War” Theme and book review of Not My Turn to Die.

For a laugh take a look at this Russphobic drivel (its volume continues to increase). School-child spanking afficianados from the conservative neo-imperialist Telegraph have decided Bully-boy Russia needs a lesson in manners. Loco Lucas indulges in more of his heartfeld mad rantings in Kremlin’s blast from the past in the Daily Mail (a British tabloid read by their near-illiterate football hooligans) and his spymania and Molotov cocktail fetish. The poor maiden Georgia is in jeopardy. Professional Russophobe freak Max Hastings belives Hopes of close cooperation between Russia and the west are now dead. I have a lively exchange with deranged La Russophobe here and sent a letter complaining about the inaccuracies in the Enough Rope for Russia WSJ Op-Ed, albeit to no avail.

Russia: A totalitarian regime in thrall to a Tsar who’s creating the new Facist empire takes the cake, however. The title alone wins it.

Russia performed far better than generally expected in Euro2008, losing only to the champion. I think it certainly has the potential to win the World Cup in South Africa; perhaps Hiddink’s luck could make it finally realize that potential. In any case it’s certainly not a bad bed (most bookies give returns of 25:1).

Finally, polls. Plans for summer holidays – since 1997, the number of Russians without money for holidays decline (from 30% to 20%), while a constant percentage plan to remain at home or on their dacha. Those planning to go abroad or to the Black Sea region remain few in number abut are on the increase. Russians tend to be positive about Israel and neutral/apathetic on the Palestine issue. Most Russians favor a policy of diplomacy and restraint towards regions of the former USSR. This detailed poll on corruption shows most Russians are tired of it, want greater measures against it and think it has registered a slight improvement over the past three years. Internet penetration is spreading fast but is still at relatively low levels nationally, especially amongst the older generations. Most Russians continue to read avidly.

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
 
🔊 Listen RSS

Chavez is frequently shafted in the Western media, who allege that the only reason the Venezuelan economy is doing well is because of record oil prices. This is not to mention all the invective hurled against the Chavez administration for its supposed disrespect for democracy, from refusing to renew the licenses of TV stations support foreign-sponsored coup attempts against him (while ignoring human rights violation in friendly countries in the region like Colombia, where more union workers are killed annually in than in the rest of the world combined) to the latest smear job by the Economist about crime.

But let’s focus on the economic-boom-is-because-of-oil mantra. Having disproved similar claims about Russia, I decided to investigate this further. Novel Prize winning economist Stiglitz has praised Venezuela’s economic policies. And I found this excellent paper, Update: The Venezuelan Economy in the Chávez Years by Mark Weisbrot and Luis Sandoval from 2008. I’ve quoted its main findings.

Venezuela has experienced very rapid growth since the bottom of the recession in 2003, and grew by 10.3 percent in 2006 and about 8.4 percent last year. The most commonly held view of the current economic expansion is that it is an “oil boom” driven by high oil prices, as in the past, and is headed for a “bust.” The coming collapse is seen either as a result of oil prices eventually declining, or the government’s mismanagement of economic policy.
There is much evidence to contradict this conventional wisdom. Venezuela suffered a severe economic growth collapse in the 1980s and 1990s, with its real GDP peaking in 1977. In this regard it is similar to the region as a whole, which since 1980 has suffered its worst long-term growth performance in more than a century. Hugo Chávez Frías was elected in 1998 and took office in 1999, and the first four years of his administration were plagued by political instability that had a large adverse impact on the economy. (See Figure 2). This culminated in a military coup that temporarily toppled the constitutional government in April 2002, followed by a devastating oil strike in December 2002-February 2003. The oil strike sent the economy into a severe recession, during which Venezuela lost 24 percent of GDP.

But in the second quarter of 2003, the political situation began to stabilize, and it has continued to stabilize throughout the current economic expansion. The economy has had continuous rapid growth since the onset of political stability. Real (inflation-adjusted) GDP has grown by 87.3 percent since the bottom of the recession in 2003. It is likely that the government’s expansionary fiscal and monetary policies, as well as exchange controls, have contributed to the current economic upswing. Central government spending increased from 21.4 percent of GDP in 1998 to 30 percent in 2006. Real short-term interest rates have been negative throughout all or most of the recovery (depending on the measure—see Figure 4).

The government’s revenue increased even faster than spending during this period, from 17.4 to 30 percent of GDP over the same period, leaving the central government with a balanced budget for 2006. The government has planned
conservatively with respect to oil prices: for example, for 2007, the budget planned for oil at $29 per barrel, compared to an average price of $65.20 dollars per barrel for Venezuelan crude last year.
The government has typically exceeded planned spending as oil prices come in higher than the budgeted price, so it is possible that spending would be reduced if oil prices decline.

The Chávez government has greatly increased social spending, including spending on health care, subsidized food, and education. The most pronounced difference has been in the area of health care. For example, in 1998 there were 1,628 primary care physicians for a population of 23.4 million. Today, there are 19,571 for a population of 27 million. The Venezuelan government has also
provided widespread access to subsidized food. By 2006, there were 15,726 stores
throughoutthe country that offered mainly food items at subsidized prices (with
average savings of 27 percent and 39 percent compared to market prices in 2005 and 2006, respectively).

The poverty rate has been cut in half from its peak of 55.1 percent in 2003 to 27.5 percent in the first half of 2007, as would be expected in the face of the very rapid economic growth during these years. (See Table 3). If we compare the pre-Chávez poverty rate (43.9 percent) with the first half of 2007 (27.5 percent) this is a 37 percent drop in the rate of poverty. However this poverty rate does not take into account the increased access to health care or education that poor people have experienced. The situation of the poor has therefore improved significantly beyond even the substantial poverty reduction that is visible in the official poverty rate, which measures only cash income.

Inflation itself is a problem, now running at 22.5 percent. But it should be emphasized that double-digit inflation rates in a developing country such as Venezuela are not comparable to the same phenomenon occurring in the United States or Europe. Inflation in Venezuela was much higher in the pre Chávez years, running at 36 percent in 1998 and 100 percent in 1996. It has fallen through most of the current recovery, from 40 percent annual rate (monthly, year-over-year) at the peak of the oil strike in February 2003 to 10.4 percent in May 2006, before climbing again to its present rate (see Figure 3).

Because of its large current account surplus, large reserves, and low foreign debt, the government has a number of tools available to stabilize and reduce inflation – as well as eventually bring the currency into alignment – without sacrificing the growth of the economy. It appears the government is committed to maintaining a high rate of growth, in addition to its other goals. Venezuela is also well-situated to withstand negative external shocks, including a likely U.S. recession or even a serious global slowdown, a significant drop in the price of oil, and problems in the international credit and financial system. Therefore, at present it does not appear that the current economic expansion is about to end any time in the near future.

In sum, the performance of the Venezuelan economy during the Chávez years does not fit the mold of an “oil boom headed for a bust.” Rather it appears that the economy was hit hard for the first few years by political instability, and has grown rapidly since the political situation stabilized in the first quarter of 2003. High oil prices have certainly contributed to this growth, as has the government’s expansionary fiscal and monetary policy. Containing and reducing inflation, as well as realigning the domestic currency, appear to be the most important challenges in the intermediate run; in the long run, diversifying the economy away from its dependence on oil is also a major challenge.

However, the declining public debt (as a percentage of GDP), the large current account surplus, and the accumulation of reserves have given the government considerable insurance against a decline in oil prices. This favorable macroeconomic situation has also left the government with much flexibility in dealing with inflation and the related imbalance in the exchange rate. Since the government is committed to maintaining solid growth, it does not seem likely
that it would sharply curtail economic growth in order to bring down inflation, as is often done. This is especially true since it has not exhausted other alternatives. Venezuela is also well-situated to withstand negative external shocks, including a likely U.S. recession or even a serious global slowdown, a significant drop in the price of oil, and problems in the international credit and financial system. Therefore, at present it does not appear that the current economic expansion is about to end any time in the near future. The gains in poverty reduction, employment, education and health care that have occurred in the last few years are likely to continue along with the expansion.

A few more remarks.

1. Yes, Venezuela has become more oil-intensive as measured by its (nominal) GDP figures during Chavez’ rule. However, this is because oil has exploded in price. In real terms, oil production has actually been in decline and a weight on GDP growth; the biggest growth, by sector, was in construction, mining, utilities, retail, finance, transport and communications. I.e., pretty much everything except oil.

As put by the Council on Foreign Relations, “critics of Chavez think he should be pouring money into infrastructure to ensure a sustainable oil industry rather than allocating so much for social and foreign policy initiatives.” While that is certainly in American and oil-importing countries’ interests, that does not apply to ordinary Venezuelans.

But that’s beside the point, because the reason Venezuelan oil production is in decline is not that the state-owned oil company, PDVSA, has been supposedly stuffed by incompetent Bolivarian ideologues, burdened by non-oil related social and industrial obligations and had its share increased in “strategic associations” (between PDVSA and foreign companies) from 40% to 60%.

While the three above factors have played apart, it all ultimately comes down to peak oil. All the big discoveries were made before 1960 (which led to the first oil peak in 1970) and, with the exception of a small blip in the mid-1980′s (which, together with modernization and deregulation led to the second oil peak in the late 1990′s), have now ceased. And from now on it is predicted Venezuela’s oil production will be in continuous, relentless decline, following in the footsteps of countries like the US itself.

As an aside, the Orinoco fields are not a solution. The only place in the world where heavy oil refining is a major enterprise are the tar sands in Canada, which have not delivered impressive results despite the huge amounts of fresh water, natural gas and capital expended on them.

2. The most comprehensive (and non-hysterical) critique of Chavez is An Empty Revolution: The Unfulfilled Promises of Hugo Chávez by Francisco Rodríguez, who worked for a time Consolidated Social Fund, clashed with the administration and was eventually ousted. A condensed version was reprinted in the IHT.

He attacks the root of the Chavistas’ claims to superiority, claiming that ‘the “Chávez is good for the poor” hypothesis is wrong’. Basically, he suggests that even in those areas where things didn’t get worse (scarcities, access to running water, percentage of underweight babies, wealth unequality, etc), poverty reduction, illiteracy, infant mortality and spending on education and housing would not have been any worse without his presence. In other words, the oil windfall was mismanaged.

3. On the other hand Weisbrot immediately wrote a (convincing) rebuttal of the above claims in An Empty Research Agenda: The Creation of Myths About Contemporary Venezuela, showing most of those claims to be either half-truths or outright falsehoods.

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
🔊 Listen RSS

This is how the Economist celebrates Russia’s presidential election – the Trouble with Russia’s Economy, represented by a bear gorging itself on oil (i.e. invoking the Myth of the Russian Oil Curse, which we have debunked far too many times to count on this blog). Guess we’ll have to do it again.

Never mind that organizations like the the World Bank, academic econometricians and even their own Economist Intelligence Unit disagrees, and that there is also OECD academic work that argues that ‘the resource curse – if it exists – is at least no fatalité’.

But whatever. Let’s analyse the article on what it says..

The emergence of genuine businessmen like Mr Bulanov, and their acceptance in society generally, may be Russia’s biggest achievement—and one reason why the economy is growing at 7% a year. But this has nothing to do with Vladimir Putin, who is standing aside as president this week. Mr Bulanov is no fan of Mr Putin; he prefers freedom to fear and corruption. “The only things that will stop me”, he says, “are a bullet or a prison cell.”

From the get go, the machine gears itself up for agitprop mode. Obviously the views of this one businessman reflect the views of the entire Russian business community.

Next they proceed to admit the blindingly obvious – yes, the Russian economy is no longer a basket case; yes, it has half a trillion dollars of FOREX reserves; yes, there is a consumption boom. (This is the difference between Soviet and Western propaganda: the latter, being much more subtle and nowhere near as overtly propagandistic, is thus far more effective and insidious than the latter). Of course, this tone doesn’t last.

By the end of 1999 Russia was already growing by more than 6% a year. In 2000 growth accelerated to 10%, a rate still not matched eight years later.

Immediately after they throw in a red herring, ostensibly proving that there is a gap between Russia’s potential growth rate of 10% and its real growth rate of 7%. Of course, what they decline to mention is that is that this is coming hard to on the heels of post-Soviet collapse and the 1998 financial crisis (which by official statistics shaved off around 40% of Russia’s GDP from its Soviet peak to post-Soviet nadir) – recovery is typically quick in the aftermath of economic downturns, as all that is involved is filling back underused capacity.

To be fair, at first Mr Putin worked hard to consolidate growth. His government simplified and cut taxes. Budget reform brought clarity and stopped the government making unrealistic pledges on spending. Mr Putin not only chose a liberal economist, Andrei Illarionov, as his economic adviser, but also listened to him. For the most part Russia used its oil windfall prudently, repaying debt, building up reserves and filling its stabilisation fund.

They deign to acknowledge Putin’s early achievements, although the attributal of it specifically and exclusively to Mr. Illarionov (a neocon dinosaur who disputes global warming, cites Freedom House reports and can’t even get the size of Russia’s GDP right) is dishonest.

Where did it go wrong? Mr Illarionov, who quit his post in 2005, argues that the breaking point was the attack on Yukos that began in mid-2003…The share of
crude-oil production controlled by state and semi-state companies doubled. Growth in oil output, which before the Yukos affair had been running at about 9% a year, slowed to just 1% by the end of 2007.

Three points have to be made.

Firstly, it is true that state ownership has increased in the hydrocarbons and some other extractive sectors. It is also true that the trend growth rate for oil extraction dropped from 9% from 2000 to 2004 to 2.5% from 2005 on. To project a linear relation between this and a slowdown in production, however, is simplistic at best. To see why, analyze the graph below.

This shows Russian oil production, historic and projected, from 1990 to 2050 (the table itself was compiled around 2000). The shaded areas show the the amount of oil discovered in that particular year.

Anyone familiar with the theory of peak oil will be aware of the fact that the amount of economically viable black gold is limited (at a specified price). Russia already had its oil peak, in 1987. Continuous big new discoveries have practically ceased since 1990.

Now from the late 1990′s a confluence of factors ensured that Russia (and the post-Soviet world in general) experienced a second peak. These were a) privatization of oil companies, b) increased investment due to post-2000 oil price rises and, mostly importantly by far, c) an influx of Western technical expertise, which vastly increased recovery rates. Indeed, the second peak has mostly been driven by increased extraction at Siberian super-giant fields due to improved technology.

Nonetheless, this only had the effect of increasing recoverable reserves; it did not increase them per se. Indeed, many analysts (including the one who compiled that graph) have been projecting Russia’s oil peak to around about 2010. Since the Hubbert peak is bell-shaped (i.e. slopes rapidly up, slowly approaches a plateau, and then increasingly slopes downwards), it would make sense for Russia’s oil production to be slowing from the mid-2000′s. Hence the aforementioned reduction in production was far more likely due to general peak oil dynamics rather than to government intervention in the sector.

Yes, state ownership in the oil industry rose from below 20% in 2004 to over 50% in 2007. Nonetheless, there is still a huge swathe of Russian oil companies not under government control (the mainstay being Lukoil, which accounts for some). Even here, there are several caveats. For starters, state-owned oil and gas companies do not necessarily have to perform worse than private ones – even in the case of Russia, Lukoil’s hydrocarbons production grew by 2% in 2007 – slightly below the 3% average of 2007 for the industry as a whole. Secondly, it is not clear whether increasing production is even currently desirable for Russia from a longterm perspective, since the value of oil is only set to increase in the future.

Finally, the Economist, like capitalists and the BBC, conveniently sells us the rope by which we’ll hang them. Yes, oil output growth has plumetted from 2000-2004 to 2005-2007. But this makes a mockery of the argument that Russian recent growth has been based on oil. This is because acording to Rosstat, GDP growth has been 6.9% from 2000-2004 (i.e. including the anomolous year of 2000, when growth was 10%). During this period, around a third of Russia’s GDP growth came from increasing hydrocarbons production, according to academic studies. From 2005-2007, however, growth was 6.4% in 2005, 7.4% in 2006 and 8.1% in 2007, for an average of 7.3% over the period. In other words, despite the step drop in oil output rise to a sluggish 2-3% per year, real GDP growth has actually increased!

“The problem is not that the Russian legal system is weak,” says Vitaly Naishul, who watches Russian institutions. “The problem is that it does not exist. The Russian justice system has as much to do with justice as the Soviet system of
trade with trade.”

I’m not sure what they’re doing quoting Naishul. Even this libertarian’s views are much more nuanced than those of the Economist.

That problem is as old as Russia, but under Mr Yeltsin the courts, however corrupt, were at least independent of the Kremlin. Under Mr Putin, judges have again turned into bureaucrats who rubber-stamp dubious administrative decisions.

Quoting Nicolai Petro’s excellent essay Russia through the Looking Glass in extenso will suffice to refute.

Historically Russians have had little faith in their legal system, but this too is changing under Putin. Thanks to a new criminal code and code of criminal procedures passed in 2002, a judge must approve arrest warrants, and the accused charged with a crime within two weeks, or released. Nationwide jury trials, another Putin innovation, today acquit 20% of cases; in 2005 Russia had its highest acquittal rate ever.

The constitutional court under chief justice Valery Zorkin has set a more independent course, criticising the December 2003 electoral law, striking down restrictions on media coverage of elections, and strengthening the rights of defendants and the role of juries. There are also clear signs that this liberalisation is continuing. In January 2006, the annual conference of chairs of regional courts proposed sweeping reforms that would virtually eliminate closed judicial proceedings. The state Duma (lower house of parliament) also passed, in a first reading, an important initiative in defence of privacy rights. This established a federal agency where a citizen can find out what information the government is gathering about him or her, and where this information is being kept.

It should therefore come as no surprise to learn that the number of citizens turning to courts for redress of their grievances has shot up from one million under Yeltsin to six million under Putin, and that 71% of plaintiffs win the cases they bring against government authorities.

Next.

“After Yukos nobody can feel safe,” says the owner of a factory making kitchen shelves in Kaluga. Instead of cultivating the rule of law, as Mr Putin promised, Russia was subjected to the rule of thugs, says Mr Illarionov.

Oh dear. A kitchen shelves manufacturer in a provincial backwater and a neocon maverick. Can’t they do any better? Disappointing effort, chaps.

The deterioration of Russian institutions has been tracked by the World Bank, Transparency International, the World Economic Forum and Freedom House. Russia’s corruption is on a level with Togo’s.

1. I have searched and I have found no World Bank metric that tracks institutions. If anyone can enlighten me please do so. The only thing vaguely related to this is the World Bank Group’s Doing Business project – while Russia’s rank there is far from impressive (106th out of 177 countries), conditions in 2008 are better than in 2004, when it was started.

Edit 25/03/2008: I have succeded in finding what they were talking about – WB Worldwide Governance Indicators. In fact, there was no broad deterioration – rather, stagnation. From 1996-2006, “control of corruption” slightly improved, “rule of law” stagnated and “voice and accountability” fell a little, to take a sample. A word of caution, however – like Transparency’s CPI, it is a measure of perceptions rather than objective reality. This is reflected in the rather absurd figures for ‘political stability’, which imply Russia was as stable in 2004-2006 as in 1996-2000 (when Yeltsin was appointing a new PM every other week).

2. It’s true that Russia’s Corruption Perceptions Index has fallen from 2.8 in 2003 to 2.3 in 2007. However, the Myth of Russian Endemic Corruption has been shown for what it is (a myth) in my article Reading Russia Right. I’ve quoted the relevant parts and inserted further comments in italics.

While there’s no denying Russia is plagued by corruption, to suggest it is endemic like in a failed state is ludicrous – and would frankly be obvious to anyone who has visited the countries on that list. The problem with the the Corruption Perceptions Index is that it’s a survey of outsider businesspeople and their subjective perception of the situation. While improving perceptions is an important goal, it does not necessarily correlate perfectly with reality. TI’s Global Corruption Barometer asks ordinary people how affected they are by corruption, for instance, have you paid a bribe to obtain a service this year? In 2007, 17% of Russians did – putting them into the same quintile as Bulgaria, Turkey and the Czech Republic. In other words, slap bang in the middle of world corruption, rather than at the end. As another example, Cameroon (2.4) is above Russia (2.3) in the CPI – however, some 79% of Cameroonians had to pay for a service in 2007, compared with 17% of Russians.

3. As for the WEF’s Global Competitiveness Rankings from 2006 to 2007, that’s an outright lie. Russia’s score went from 3.68 in 2004, 3.53 in 2005 and 4.08 in 2006 to 4.19 in 2007. It has also improved on its global rankings.

4. As far as I’m concerned Freedom House is a CIA front and its ‘findings’ should be taken with a pinch, or rather a barrelful, of salt.

Yet foreign and domestic investment keep rising, along with Russia’s credit rating. A survey of 106 foreign firms in Russia last year showed that 82% were broadly satisfied with the investment climate. Russian businessmen may grumble, but they still put up their money. Last year fixed capital investment rose by a record 21%, leading some economists to talk of an investment boom.

And as far as I’m concerned, these statistics mean more than any number of Western think-tank reports.

The real cost is one of lost opportunities. Growth of 7% sounds good, but it is far below Russia’s potential. Over the past few years, Russia has been outstripped (though from a lower base) by the former Soviet republics of Ukraine and Georgia, which have no oil. If Russia enjoyed the rule of law, was not stifled by inefficient monopolies such as the gas giant Gazprom and had roads rather than vague directions, its growth—given the oil boom—could surely have been in double digits.

According to IMF figures (note: 2006 and 2007 are projections: as such, I replaced them with official figures), from 2000 to the present average annual GDP growth was 7.3% in the Ukraine and 7.2% in Georgia, as compared to Russia’s 7.0%, so to talk of Russia being ‘outstripped’ is misleading, to be charitable. Secondly, this has been from much lower bases (GDP per capita in 2007 was 14,600$ in Russia, 6,900$ in Ukraine and 4,200$ in Georgia). Thirdly, unlike Russia, which to date has overtaken its 1992 GDP index by 11%, Georgia and Ukraine are both at around 80% of their immediate post-independence figures. Furthermore, average growth rates for Russia, Ukraine and Georgia from 2005-2007 (when oil production became a burden rather than a driver for Russia) were 7.3%, 5.5% and 9.5% respectively, so the real question should be – why is Ukraine growing so slowly?

The share of oil and gas in Russia’s GDP has increased, according to the Institute of Economic Analysis, from 12.7% in 1999 to 31.6% in 2007. Natural resources account for 80% of exports. Like a powerful drug, oil money has masked the pain caused to the Russian economy by the Kremlin. But the disease remains.

So we return back to Russia’s economy is an oil bubble thesis. OK. Oil prices have risen from 16.56$ / barrel in 1999 to 64.20$ / barrel in 2007 – in other words, by a factor of 3.9. On the other hand, its share in the Russian economy increased by just 2.5. While far from economically rigorous, this does suggest that in real terms the contributions of oil and gas to Russia’s economy have fallen. It also misses out the fact that since 1999 Russia’s MER GDP has expanded more than sixfold (from 196bn $ to 1286bn $), so even by that metric its non oil-related growth at international prices is extremely impressive.

It is true that natural resources account for 80% of exports (as opposed to 70% in 2000 – but this is again thanks to increases in the oil price). However, this is because of Russia’s comparative advantage in oil production. It strengthens the ruble, drives up labor costs and makes life difficult for manufacturers who want to export stuff. If Russia didn’t have oil, its export structure would be similar to Ukraine’s (machinery, equipment and metals). Resources aren’t a curse; they’re a blessing.

The problem, says Peter Aven, the head of Alfa Bank, is that Russia has failed to convert the oil stimulus into domestic production. Imports are growing much faster than manufacturing.

So what is their solution? Use the oil money to subsidize industrial expansion like in the Soviet Union? I also don’t see the link between imports and manufacturing – surely he doesn’t fall into the fallacy of thinking manufacturing is somehow more important/real than other sectors? Is retail, construction, finance, transport, any less important to a productive economy (all of which have been growing at 10+%)?

The rapid real appreciation of the rouble is hurting Russia’s producers, and many goods are of poor quality. This is why Algeria says it wants to return 15 military jets it purchased from Russia.

So what is their solution? The Central Bank does have a fine balancing act to carry out with limiting ruble appreciation and limiting inflation. In any case currency appreciation should typically force manufacturers to become more competitive.

Productivity remains far below that of most developed countries. In the first years after the 1998 crisis, labour and capital efficiency went up by 5.8% a year. But that growth was driven by using spare capacity left from Soviet times. Sustaining it will require more investment.

Without citing specific time frames or providing more recent estimates, this information is meaningless. As for investment, they have answered their own concerns. Do they even bother proof-reading this drivel?

Last year fixed capital investment rose by a record 21%, leading some economists to talk of an investment boom.

Next.

Officials have been trying to persuade themselves and others that Russia is an island of stability in a sea of economic troubles. But Yegor Gaidar, a liberal economist and former prime minister, says the Russian economy is highly sensitive to swings in the world economy.

True, at least as far as the resources and financial services based part of the economy goes. But as has been pointed out in this blog here and elsewhere, Russia has a twin surplus, half a billion dollars in FOREX reserves and minimal exposure to the mortgage crisis, which should stand it in better stead relative to many of the advanced industrial nations.

When the oil price is unpredictable and inflation is in double digits, spending more money seems unwise. Yet this is what Russia has been doing. After years of fiscal discipline, last year’s budget saw spending rise by 20% in real terms…The main beneficiaries of the spending increase last year were newly created state corporations, including those involved in nanotechnology and the 2014 winter Olympics—and those bureaucrats, who are skilled at enriching themselves.

Russian inflation is powered above all by foreign currency inflows and the global tendency towards expensive food and oil. Increased spending on strategic investments like this are unlikely to have much impact. It should also be borne in mind that nanotechnology in particular is a very wise strategic investment, as I’ve argued here.

It is little wonder that the gap between the top 10% and the bottom 10% of the population is growing, along with a sense of injustice. Russians have turned a blind eye to all this because average incomes are rising. If the trend reverses, they may start to ask harder questions.

Since 1994, the Gini index has remained generally constant in Russia according to the World Bank.

It’s said that to knock down a creaky old house you only have to kick the door in and the whole rotten structure will come tumbling down. I think I’ve done that here. The article is a mass of red herrings and ocassional false statements, narrated throughout by a deranged neocon (Illarionov). Once again the Economist is revealed as nothing but a highbrow rag when it comes to Russia coverage.

Well, that’s my bit done fighting the Russophobes. Here’s the news from other fronts:

Sean rips McFaul a new one – the full article can be read here on the eXile, critisizing his ridiculous Myth of the Authoritarian Model thesis (nothing there that you wouldn’t find in the writings of the likes of Lucas, just couched in quasi-academic language). For a comprehensive debunking see Fedia’s A Brave Kremlinologist. Too bad for him., which uncovers two outright lies and numerous statistical manipulations in the article. (For a laugh, read Stoner-Weiss’, the co-author’s reply, or more likely someone who claims to be her. Entertaining either way).

Taling about Fedia, he has also put up an absolutely excellent post exposing the lies and manipulation that lie at the heart of the Committee to Protect Journalists, which claims to apply ‘strict journalistic standards’ to investigate suspicious journalist deaths resulting from their professional work. He does this by examining all 17 cases reported in CPJ’s database of confirmed deaths during Putin’s presidency (2000-present day) to see if they belong to “confirmed” cases of journalists killed in the line of duty. I quote the summary of An Audit of the Committee to Protect Journalists’ Claims.

In summary, CPJ claims that 17 journalists were killed in Russia in since 2000 due to their professional activities. Examination of each case found that out of 17 claims, only 5 were correct (Domnikov, Khasanov, Klebnikov, Makeev, Politkovskaya), 8 were complete falsifications (Skryl, Ivanov, Scott, Shchekochikhin, Sidorov, Kochetkov, Maksimov, Safronov), and 4 were partial falsifications (Yatsina, Yefremov, Markevich, Varisov). If we assign the truthfulness value of 50% to partially falsified claims, the overall truthfulness rate of CPJ, given this sample, is 41%. Clearly, CPJ’s definition of “strict journalistic standards” as being only 40% truthful is at variance with what any reasonable person would expect. But it is very much in line with what one would expect from a propaganda outlet.

Of course, the desire to protect journalists’ lives is very noble. But the end does not justify the means. Engaging in outright falsifications while making the outrageous claim that “strict journalistic standards” are being followed discredits journalism as a profession and raises the obvious question of why should any special emphasis be placed on protecting that kind of people?

Demented Russophobe Loco Lucas continues his ravings, this time swallowing his laissez-faire capitalist instincts to pander to the left-wing readers of the British daily the Guardian with his messianic revelation of the New Cold War in Putin’s Playground. As can be gleaned from the Comments, his readers aren’t much impressed, nor most of those commenting on his blog (including yours truly).

There’s also his delightful 19th January Daily Mail piece (a British rag mostly read by their unwashed football hooligans) – Putin: the brutal despot who is dragging the West into a new Cold War – I demolished his thesis on Lucas’ blog here, as well as having a flame war with the Estonian crypto-fascist Giustino. The eXile also trashed it, both before and after publication.

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
 
No Items Found
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.