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In response to Putin’s (in)famous NYT op-ed, McCain told CNN he’d love to reciprocate on Pravda. He was probably surprised when they agreed to it – but he may not have gotten quite what he expected, according to’s chief Vadim Gorshenin.

“McCain Looked for a Kremlin Mouthpiece, and was not Mistaken”

The Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Internet-media holding Vadim Gorshenin on why the American Senator published his article on his site, and not in the “Soviet newspaper.”

On Thursday, the site published an article by Senator John McCain, in which he replied to Russian President Putin’s publication in The New York Times. Initially, McCain promised to publish an article in Pravda, but he later changed his mind. The Chairman of the Board of Directors of Vadim Gorshenin sat down with an Izvestia correspondent to tell us how it all happened.

Mikhail Rubin: Who suggested you publish McCain’s article, and when?

Vadim Gorshenin: It was a Foreign Policy journalist, he reads us and even writes lots of nasty things about us. When he heard McCain on CNN saying that he wanted to speak out at the Pravda newspaper, he wrote the following to the editor of our English-language version Dmitry Sudakov: “Could you refute the idea that you have no freedom of speech, and publish McCain’s text?” He replied that yes, of course he could. After this, the American journalist contacted McCain’s press secretary, who said that they’d follow through with all this. And it all ended up just as Mikhail Dvorkovich wrote on Twitter – the very fact of publication proves that everything that McCain wrote is a lie. If all the Russian media is controlled by the Kremlin, then how could such an article have appeared on what everyone calls a pro-Kremlin site?

MK: Did they understand, that and the newspaper Pravda are two different publications?

VG: Yes, of course they understood. There have even been articles in the American MSM that analyzed the nature of the newspaper Pravda today. When this entire scandal flared up and Zyuganov got the impression that McCain was going to write something for his newspaper, McCain’s aides asked us whether we were somehow associated with the newspaper Pravda.

MK: Well, are you?

VG: There is a ten year old court judgment to the effect that we have the same rights to the symbols and the name “Pravda” as the Communist Party newspaper. But the most important thing is that we have an English-language version, which has the second highest visitors’ numbers after Russia Today out of all Russian English-language MSM. Furthermore, our daily traffic is at 200,000, whereas the newspaper Pravda’s circulation is at 100,000 – and it only comes out a few times per week.

MK: And why did the article first appear on the feeds of the world’s news agencies, and only later at your site? They weren’t satisfied by your traffic numbers?

VG: They sent us their article today at 6am. And they gave it to the agencies under an embargo until 8am, in fact McCain’s people didn’t even warn us of this. They believe that Russians get up at 6am and immediately go to work under a barrage of whiplashes. We only managed to finalize everything by 10am.

MK: The Americans weren’t discomfited by the ideological component? You were, after all, Dmitry Medvedev’s confidante in the 2008 elections. And you are a Putin supporter.

VG: Yes, I’m a Putin supporter. But I wasn’t a confidante, I just worked in Medvedev’s HQ in 2008, for which he awarded me something, and in Putin’s HQ in 2012 – he too sent me a thank you letter. But this didn’t give the Americans any unease, to the contrary in fact.

MK: Why? McCain wanted to publish an article on a site that supporters Putin?

VG: McCain still lives in that era. What do they remember about Soviet times? “Pravda” and “Izvestia,” that’s what. In fact Izvestia was less well-known, because it was released for internal consumption, while Pravda was the Kremlin’s mouthpiece. And McCain wanted an article in a newspaper that was a Kremlin mouthpiece. Because Putin had published an article in The New York Times, the newspaper of the Democratic Party – they President now rules the US. McCain wanted the same, and in this sense, he was not mistaken.

Reader comments

Alexander Bocha: Everybody, calm down. McCain is a very old person – he is 77 years old, and he DOESN’T speak for all America!!! Many people in the US appreciate, love, and respect Russia – let’s stop the hysteria and extremism, ladies and gentlemen!

Андрей Карпиловский: While Putin quite accurately threw a philosophical rock at Obama, McCain just emptied a pail of dirt willy-nilly either on Putin, or on Russia, or on himself. And these people want to ban us from fingering our noses? I don’t think they’ll succeed at anything. They work stupidly.

сергей евсеев: What else can you expect from someone who was imprisoned for a year in a hole up to his neck in excrement. Even the article reeks.

Альберт Сыроежкин: McCain is a Cold War dinosaur who has lost his bearings and repeats the ramblings of cheap agitators of CIA-inspired nonsense of the 1960s and 70s.

(Republished from Russian Spectrum by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: John McCain, Media, Politics, Translations 
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According to a roundup of all the major exit polls by Kommersant, it appears that although Navalny’s performance was massively better than expected, Acting Mayor Sobyanin still managed to avoid a second tour.

Exit Polls are Pubished for the Moscow Elections

In Moscow, voting has finished for the new Mayor. According to exit polls carried out at the doors of the election stations by Alexei Navalny’s supporters, the oppositionist candidate got 35.6% of those queried. “According to the exit polls, there will be a SECOND TOUR of mayoral elections. Alexei Navalny – 35.6%, Sergey Sobyanin – 46%,” according to their Twitter. According to the Foundation of Public Opinion, the majority of Muscovites extended their sympathies towards Sergey Sobyanin – he got 52.5% of the votes, Alexei Navalny – 29.1%. The Center of Political Technologies provides the following data: 56% to the Acting Mayor of Moscow Sergey Sobyanin 56%, Alexei Navalny – 29%.

Sergey Sobyanin is leading in the Moscow elections with 53% of the votes, according to data from VCIOM’s exit polls. Alexei Navalny, according to the exit polls carried out by the organization’s workers, got 32%. “According to the results of the exit poll, the Mayor of Moscow, chosen in the first round, is Sergey Sobyanin (53% of the vote). His closest adversary, Alexei Navalny, got 32% of the vote. The other candidates’ results were far more most modest: Ivan Melnikov – 8%, Sergey Mitrokhin – 3%, Nikolai Levichev – 1%, Mikhail Degtyaryov – 1%. Some 1% of the ballots were spoiled. 27% of the respondents refused to answer,” according to VCIOM’s communique.

(Republished from Russian Spectrum by permission of author or representative)
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It is wrong to glamorize a political hustler with five criminal cases against him, says the National Bolshevik leader – who claims street cred on account of having done real time.

You Guys Need to Go and See a Shrink!

Eduard Limonov on why Navalny became a hero of the bourgeoisie.

I pay a lot of attention to Navalny. I do.

In so far as this Navalny phenomenon appears as a hitherto unknown symptom of our time.

The hysterical affection of the Moscow intelligentsia for this man is mysterious and has no rational roots: all causes of affection are irrational.

Well, yes, I do have personal reasons for treating Navalny negatively.

How is possible for me to be nice to him when I’ve been given time and done it? After doing only one night behind bars, Navalny was magically released from gaol the following morning.

In 2011, I said that I would be a candidate for the Russian presidential elections in March 2012.

What happened next was that the annex of the Hotel Ismailovo, where, on the initiative of a group of a people a meeting was to have taken place as regards nominating me as a candidate, was surrounded by the police, who allowed nobody to enter the room.

I still held a meeting there on the hotel car park. As was expected, more than five hundred people came with their passports; they registered themselves in a bus, and the meeting took place.

The Central Election Commission did not register me as a candidate.

In order to have Navalny registered as a candidate for the post of Moscow Mayor, municipal deputies from the “United Russia” party, about which Navalny has spared few expletives over all these years, chipped in and provided him with 55 votes out of the 110 votes needed.

He was registered, and now he’s conducting his election campaign as though nothing had happened.

This is a man who has been branded with five criminal cases for fraud and embezzlement – five! And you have the nerve to say that all five of them were just dreamed up by the Investigative Committee? So as to suck at a finger you need to have at least a finger.

However, for some years now this man has been shamelessly engaged in private investigation – in investigation into corruption. And now he is presenting himself to Muscovites as a candidate for the post of their mayor.

In their yearning for a hero, the Moscow bourgeoisie does not want to notice the thickness of the crust of dirt that is stuck to this character.

After all these years, I should really like them to find their hero.

Do you remember how they rejoiced in ecstasy over the “musician Yuri” {Translator’s note: Soviet/Russian poet, rock musician, protester, critic of Putin}; all right then: Shevchuk – and how they all flocked around him for a whole season? By the way, the musician Yuri turned down the role that they were about to foist on him.

They so much wanted their very own hero, did the bourgeoisie! They have been waiting so passionately that they have accepted the first comer, and quite wrongly; for in a sense he is totally the opposite of the hero that they need.

They have taken on board an energetic rogue and a swindler.

But that’s just not possible!

No matter who promoted him and for whatever purposes, this is just not on, because this character is so unsuited to the role that he has been playing with pleasure.

In fact, they have taken on a petty thief, a businessman, and he has been almost elevated to the rank of saviour of the Fatherland.

His history is clear. He comes from an adept and skilled family of New Russians, in which everyone is a Jack of All Trades. Dad retired after serving 25 years in the army. (He must have been a good administrator in the Army.) The family comes from one of the richest districts of the Moscow region, Odintsovo.

The family did some buying and selling, got into any swindles that were in the offing, wove and plaited willow cane (Reminds you of Ilf and Petrov’s “Barnyard” office!) {Translator’s note: The “Barnyard” office appears in the novel “The Golden Calf” by I. Ilf and Petrov (1931), where a dummy firm is organized for fraudulent transactions. “Barnyard” has become a byword for the one-day firms and similar organizations established for a criminal purposes}, gets into any money making operations that are in the offing – from a subcontract with Russian Mail for delivering for the firm “Yves Rocher”, to Cypriot offshore companies. There are such families and such families continue to take pride in themselves operations.

The law tolerates them as long as they keep out of gaol.

However, a politician has no moral right to have such shady scams in his CV: he ought not to have them.

All the values in society have been violated because of the hysteria that surrounds Navalny.

And the values of democracy take priority. Democracy means equality of opportunity. But what kind of equality is there? None. 32 candidates got no help from the members of “United Russia”, but Navalny and Mitrokhin did. And Gudkov did as well in the Moscow suburbs.

When chance smiled on Navalny, the newly elected governor Belykh took him on board. Navalny happily clung on to to the source of his wealth. And arising out of this period in his life, we have at least three criminal cases: one involving “Kirovles”, another a distillery and the total disappearance of millions from the “Union of Right Forces”.

And you support him?

Well, you guys need to see a shrink!

(Republished from Russian Spectrum by permission of author or representative)
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Battle of the hacks! In response to Alexei Pankin calling him an anti-Semite in The Moscow Times, Oleg Kashin pens a tongue in cheek response telling him to imagine a kitten dying every time he abuses an overworn cliche.

On the Horrors of Anti-Semitism

In which Oleg Kashin gives some advice to the politologists.

The editors asked me to reply to a columnist in the English-language Moscow Times who accused Svobodnaya Pressa of – wow, wow! – anti-Semitism. I don’t even know how to object to this dear fellow – I love the way he holds that pipe in his mouth in his avatar; as for the rest of his remarks, I will only recycle what one of my friends has already noted: The Jewish question in Russia ended when those standard (which is to say, fascist) ads for apartment rentals marked “For Slavs only” started to encompass Jews, together with Russians, Ukrainians, and Belorussians. This was unimaginable even back in 1990 – you know, the era of Pamyat, and all that. Today – be my guest! Even the lumpenproles, ready at take part in some ethnic cleansing at the first opportunity, no longer consider Jews to be foreigners. In reality, it’s stupid to ponder on the differences between Ivan and Abram when Dagestan is in the foreground; those differences are negligible.

If there was any “social thought” whatsoever in the Russian Federation, beyond what we see at Svobodnaya Pressa and at one and a half other sites, there would have long been a flood of books, lectures, exhibitions, and films meditating upon the end of Russian anti-Semitism. But social thought, sucking away on his pipe, prefers to flog 20-year old stereotypes, whose authenticity somewhat resembles Intourist stories about bears and balalaikas.

Every time I have to speak before some foreign audience – well, not even “some” audience, but one that is prepared, and interested in Russian affairs – I am forced to answer questions about the threat of a Communist comeback in my country, about Moscow’s repressive policies towards the Chechen people, and even about the possibility that Russia could try to reconquer the Baltic countries. Patiently answering these questions (“No, ladies and gentlemen, the Communist Party is part of the political system”; “Excuse me, but Mr. Kadyrov himself represses whomsoever he wants”; “If they attack Europe, they will have nowhere to keep their money”), I can see despondency in the eyes of my interlocutors – they do not believe me, because the word of some unknown Russian can’t outweigh the terabytes of nonsense issued by all these veterans of the Valdai Clubs and Pugwash Conferences from both sides of their mutually beloved Iron Curtain.

Though it’s too late to do anything about Alexander Rahr or Nikolai Zlobin, I would however like to give some friendly politological advice to their less famous colleagues, who are easier to recognize by pipe than by name. Friends, next time you’re about to reproduce your typical analytical klyukva – imagine that a little kitten dies somewhere in Russia. Imagine that the kitten dies because he simply can’t bear to watch how credulous English-language readers are fed tales of Russia’s unreadiness for democracy, the popularity of “Ethnic Slurs” among the Russian opposition, and similar bears and balalaikas. Don’t think about about visitor views, reposts, and honorariums – think of the kittens. Maybe this will seem like an unserious argument to you, but it is surely – for all that – a more serious one than what you’re scribbling.

Mazel tov, friends!

(Republished from Russian Spectrum by permission of author or representative)
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Why was there no bribery incidence data for Russia in Transparency International’s international survey of 2013? Andrey Kamenetsky at Odnako connects the dots to argue that it was simply because the results were too inconvenient to serve as propaganda.

A Crisis of Zombification: How Transparency International failed on The Russia Corruption Rating

Dear Readers! In July there took place two major crashes in Russia. Both of them were very revealing, but only one carried a wide resonance: the “Proton-M”rocket accident. We shall now have a talk about the second crash, which was in its own way also catastrophic.

The puzzle hasn’t been solved

I’m talking about the unexpected failure of the now traditional fun and games ratings that annually “equates Russia with Zimbabwe”. One of the leading international human rights organizations that regularly publishes its corruption ratings, Transparency International, has this time not included Russia in its bribe-taking rating because of a “technical fault” caused by the receipt of research information that had not been verified for its authenticity. Because of this, a whole row of data has been removed from the process, and instead of the usual solid news about how everything is terrible in Russia, there has spilled out into the media a whole pile of claims made against one another by the organizers.

What makes this story piquant is the fact that all the interested parties are organizations of word-wide renown. The research data customer, Transparency International, has come down on its research agent, the international sociological corporation Gallup. Even more interesting is that as the conflict widens, their representatives are beginning to remember things amongst themselves and have even started to talk, which used to be considered quite indecent.

“Judging by the received data, the question was either misunderstood or incorrectly set by the company that undertook the research”, pointed out Transparency International Research Director, Finn Heinrich.

Gallup, in the shape of its legal entity “Romir” – its exclusive representative in Russia and the Ukraine – does not accept this claim. Not to be outdone, “Romir” Communications Director Evgeniya Rubtsova has stated:

“After we had passed on the data, nobody contacted us further and there were no requests for clarifications and amplifications. They (Transparency International) are customers of our research data, so they interpret the data that they receive from us. Unfortunately, we have already experienced precedents in which they decided to show some data while withholding other data, with the result that Russia came out in a non too favourable light compared to other countries.”

However, the accuracy of the answers to other questions suits the research client. Anton Pominov, deputy director of the Russian branch of Transparency International Research, said that: “It is alarming that no one really believes that the anti-corruption strategy, which was begun by President Medvedev in 2008, is effective. Citizens have now completely cast off their rose-tinted spectacles. For example, 74% of people give civil servants the highest score: 5 points: that is to say, they are “very corrupt”.

In general, he thinks that “the barometer still shows a situation of some tension in society”. So while the main news fragmented as does a meteor entering the atmosphere, some fragments of the pre-planned number of mandatory headlines about the deep corruption in Russian still reached Earth.

The explanation is quite simple

Now let’s just see what data is involved. From Transparency’s final report there were omitted two answers given by Russian citizens to two questions.

In question number seven, respondents were asked to answer how often during the past year were they or members of their families in contact with some official agency, including the police, the tax authorities, medical services, educational institutions, and whether they had to pay a bribe to them.

Question number eight specifically asked what the reason for the bribe was. A choice of four answers was given: a gift/gratitude; a service at a lower price; the desire to speed up the solution of a problem; the only way to get the service.

What are the puzzling answers that Russian citizens gave concerning these choices? Largely thanks to Eugeniya Rubtsova and Anton Pominov we can try to guess what kind of “technical failure” Transparency was talking about and what it consists of.
“Corruption is not only a bribe: it involves a lot more concepts, including favouritism”, begins Anton, justifying himself for no apparent reason.

“I do not know how they checked the received data. You need to look at it dynamically. For example, if two years ago a similar study was undertaken, and suddenly, for one question there was a very large and skewed response, the alarms went off. If, for example, people say that the level of corruption has increased, but at the same time the number of people who paid a bribe has gone down, then it is clear that there is a contradiction”, Evgeniya clearly states.

The final piece to the puzzle: there was an almost identical survey made by the “Public opinion” foundation and conducted in 43 subject states of the Russian Federation in April of this year. It was no less extensive, but we are interested in only two key parameters.

Firstly, according to the survey, 79% of Russians are not faced with bribery at all. (This number has grown from 60% in 2008). Only 15% paid bribes. (In 2008 it was 29%).

And secondly, in the opinion of 84% of the respondents, the level of corruption in the country is too high, while 46% believe that it is continuing to rise.

We’ve arrived

Of course, if 80% of people rated their country as having the highest rate of corruption but say at the same time that they and their families did not give bribes to anyone last year, then there is something wrong there, and that includes the validation systems used by the Transparency International.

And that’s why Anton Pominov interprets indicators concerning bribes as evidence of corruption in general – because such indicators are quantifiable. “They spent time and money, and it turned out that something went wrong during data collection. Of course, for us it is very frustrating because it turns out that some of the work that was done has not given the expected results,” he lamented last week.

The bottom line is that we have a completely crazy situation here, where a reputable rating organization has hammered its ratings so much into its respondents’ brains that it is getting these ratings back as answers that are completely uncritical, have no connection with reality, and do not pass any logical test; they are motivated by the answers of people who have read the news and know about previous ratings. This circus can continue for a long time, especially when you consider their habit of organizing themselves to interpret the data and downplaying their part in creating the “expected result”.

The real question is, how much longer are we seriously going to interpret our unspeakably terrible problems from the point of view of outsiders, and how effective will be the measures for dealing with the naive ignorance of the population?

(Republished from Russian Spectrum by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Corruption, Politics, Translations 
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There has been some confusion about Navalny’s poll ratings due to the varying timing, phrasing, and options in the polls on the matter. The Russian Spectrum tries to clear things up.

Navalny Gaining, Sobyanin Dominant

Below is a summary of comparable polls on this subject by date from two of Russia’s three biggest polling agencies: The private Levada Center, and state-owned pollster VCIOM.

Levada, June Levada, 4-8 July VCIOM, 9-10 July VCIOM, 20-21 July
Sobyanin 68.2% 81.0% 78.3% 77.1%
Navalny 4.5% 9.5% 11.6% 12.9%

The Levada polls asked, “Which of the following candidates are you prepared to vote for in the Moscow mayoral elections of 8th September?” It divided the respondents into three groups: “All Muscovites,” “… of which prepared to vote,” and “… of which have made their decision.” Though figures were given for all three, I am listing only the first group (“all Muscovites”) to make the Levada figures comparable to all the other polls, which had no such division.

The VCIOM polls asked their respondents who they were going to vote for if the elections were held this Sunday.

All polls were adjusted to exclude those who don’t have an opinion, didn’t intend to vote, or planned to spoil their ballot, just as would happen in a real election.

The jobs agency SuperJob and the company Synovate Comcon also carried out polls.

Synovate Comcon, 27 Jun-3 July Synovate Comcon, 4-10 July Synovate Comcon, 11-16 July SuperJob, 16 July
Sobyanin 77.9% 78.% 76.2% 62%
Navalny 10.8% 10.7% 14.4% 26%

Should Navalny start celebrating that bump at the end? Probably not. The SuperJob poll only asked the “economically active” parts of the population. It is not exactly a secret that many of Navalny’s supporters are younger people, so their 26% likely overstates his actual level of support. Furthermore, pensioners tend to have higher turnout rates in Russian elections, a factor which is likely to favor Sobyanin.

There is definitely an upwards trend coinciding with the recent furor over Navalny’s conviction, and his release on bail the day after. But catching up with Sobyanin, who remains dominant, is a tall order.

PS. I did not bother include polling numbers for the other candidates. Suffice to say all the polls have them all down in the single digits. Amusingly, the Fair Russia candidate Nikolay Levichev got an absolute 0.0% in the last two Synovate polls.

(Republished from Russian Spectrum by permission of author or representative)
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With the registration period over, there are now six candidates left to compete for the position of Mayor of Moscow in the coming city elections. Who will Muscovites vote for?

Moscow on the Eve of the City Elections

Which of the following candidates are you prepared to vote for in the upcoming Moscow elections on 8 September?

Out of all Muscovites

…who intend to vote

… & have made their choice


July June July June


Sergey Sobyanin


34 61 53 67


Alexei Navalny


4 3 5 3


Ivan Melnikov (KPRF)


2 - 4 -


Sergei Mitrokhin (Yabloko)


1 2 2 2


Sergey “Pauk” Troitsky


1 1 1 2


Nikolai Levichev (Fair Russia)


<1 - <1 -


Mikhail Degtyaryov (LDPR)


<1 - 1 -


Alena Popova


<1 - 1 -


Gleb Fetisov


<1 - <1 -


Svetlana Peunova


<1 - <1 -


will spoil ballot


2 1 1 1


hard to say


42 9 33 -


won’t participate


14 - - -


(Republished from Russian Spectrum by permission of author or representative)
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Two Russian travel writers, Natalia Ko and Nikolay Varsegov, share their experiences in Belarus – very positive ones, for the most part – with readers of Komsomolskaya Pravda.

You can Gamble in Belarus, but Seances are Forbidden

The first surprise on detraining in Minsk: The taxi drivers here don’t pester you, shouting, “Where are you going?” No bums can be seen either at or near the railway station. Even after driving throughout virtually the entire capital we had yet to see a bum. Nobody could explain why there aren’t any.

Nor are there any Gastarbeiters, interestingly enough. In our three days in the city we didn’t meet a single Caucasian nor a single Asiatic. What’s more, Minsk is a very clean and well-maintained city, although it isn’t quite clear who sweeps the streets, and plants the trees. There are no spokespersons in official institutions, even big ones, because all questions are settled quickly and directly with the managers. Red tape, according to the managers themselves, is punished. If a citizen complains that such and such a department is tardy in solving his problem, its boss is liable to be fired.

There are virtually no drunk people in the evenings. Instead of guzzling bear in the forest parks, young people ride on roller skates and play football instead.

That said, there is one parasite here: Legal gambling clubs, which we have long done away with. It’s said that Russian gambling addicts fly to Minsk on the weekends. They all return, of course, without any money. On the other hand, psychics, mages, and all kinds of enchanters are banned by a decree of Lukashenko himself, which testifies to the good sense of the Belorussian President.

Incomes in Belarus aren’t very high. The average salary, according to official data, is 18,000 rubles (our rubles). Pensions range from 3,800 to 6,500 rubles, with utility services consuming 10% of that. But food is cheap. A dinner in a cafe comes out to 180 rubles for two people. In the evening we had a hearty meal with meats and beer for two, and paid 1,000 rubles for it. In Moscow this would have cost 4,000-5,000 rubles.

Although all kinds of non-criminal businesses are allowed to operate in Belarus, they are under tight control. As such, the local rich try to keep a low profile. They don’t build themselves palaces or drive expensive cars, so as to avoid the interest of the siloviki. On this control of business also allows Belorussians not to worry about counterfeit vodka or fake goods. This is probably why there are no businessmen in Belarus from the rest of the CIS. The local businessmen, grinding their teeth, are forced to work honestly – while those incapable of such are forced to leave for Russia.

Belorussians love to grumble about their President. We, the simple people, can’t go anywhere freely because of his politics, apart from Russia, oh and Ukraine. And Minsk natives dislike that the roads are closed when Lukashenko’s cortege passes.

Everyone, everywhere speaks Russian. Only on the TV is there occasionally – for whatever reason – a broadcast in Belarussian.

That said, of course our view is quite superficial. What can one take in within three days, after all? Anybody with better knowledge of Belarus can share them with us in the comments below this article.

Reader comments

Гость №9503: I was there this year. Same impressions. Everywhere you feel unusually calm and safe, especially in comparison with some Paris or London. Minsk is comfortable, well-maintained, spacious, and feels like a capital city – but at the same time isn’t overpopulated, and prices for services are reasonable even in the center. There are so many sporting facilities that it’s as if an Olympics is going to be held there. The central avenues are beautiful, and have broad sidewalks, and in general pedestrians have it really good. There is a cycle path of 27km throughout the city – that’s just great. Although true, there are few historic attractions; it’s no Kiev, in that respect. As regards Gastarbeiters – Belarus is the last country in the world with a European population.

бабуля в годах: Yurgen [pro-Lukashenko commentator], shut up! It’s disgusting to read your odes to Luka! You probably have a wad of cash from the KGB? Why don’t you try to live on my pension of $120? He created his apparatus of KGBists and other filth because he is afraid to stand before the righteous people’s court. The Belorussians tolerate a lot, but their tolerance will soon come to an end. And you, Yurgen, will have to learn to live a new life.

бабке —пенсионерке [to above]: Wherever do we have pensions of $120? I don’t know any such people. I get 2,800,000 [Belorussian rubles] – that’s $300. Our cleaning lady, who worked as a cleaner her entire life, gets 2,000,000 – that’s $220. Whence the $120? Even if you never worked you still wouldn’t get such a pension. And by the way, my pension suffices for everything, and besides my savings enable me to travel about and go stay with various people. I do have my issues with Lukashenko, but they end as soon as I pass the Belorussian borders. After the crossing of the border I start to love him very dearly.

Новая белорусска: Living in Minsk the past 2 years (Russian Siberians). To say that Belarus is paradise is, of course, impossible. We experience all kinds of things, if in small doses. Yes there are bums, and drunkards too, but they would never start stealing and killing for a bottle – fortunately, the death penalty remains in force here. The young people here make a big impression – many of them are covered in tattoes (arms and legs, completely), they have their specific hairstyles (I think they are national ones), but on the other hand it’s rare to hear swearing in public, they mostly speak about study, work, salaries. They are completely non-aggressive, and Belorussians are in general a calm people. Altercations on public transport are extremely rare. As regards salaries – true, it’s not a land of milk and honey. No comparison at all to Moscow. But if you were to compare it with some Siberian city, Belorussians can afford a lot more. For instance, quality food at reasonable prices. Transport costs aren’t even in the same league – Siberians need $2,000 just to reach the border with their families. So our Russians (not Muscovites) are much poorer than Belorussians.

(Republished from Russian Spectrum by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Belarus, Translations 
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Moskovsky Komsomolets’ Dmitry Katorzhnov takes a walk around Moscow to ask people what they feel about Navalny. The impressions he gets don’t promise anything good for his campaign.

MK’s Poll: Most Muscovites don’t Want to Vote for Navalny

Half of the respondents do not intend to go to the polls anyhow.

On Wednesday, July 10 Alexey Navalny will carry a Moscow City Election Committee paper for registering himself as an independent candidate. His powerful support organization is already prophesying his victory at the polls. The opinions of Muscovites themselves is not so clear. “MK” has talked to passers-by about Navalny and his chances of winning.

For this simple experiment, we took a completely non-representative sample of 36 people. They were all doing something: one was walking along the street, another was hurrying home, another was buying an ice cream at a kiosk. There was no filtering of the respondents: amongst them were young and old, poor and rich, men and women.

The results:

Navalny 3
Sobyanin 5
Any candidate 9
Won’t vote 19

The clear tendency: the older the respondent, the more retrograde the choice. Many of them would prefer Luzhkov.

Oksana, a graduate of Moscow University: “To be honest – for no one. It makes no sense whatsoever. No matter how many mayors there have been, the most normal was Luzhkov. And now? Look, I have friends living in the Southern District. All around where they live has been dug up and my friends joked: Is Sergei hunting for treasure? Generally speaking, there is a problem that all politicians face: as soon as they can smell money, all their opposition somehow disappears.”

Some passers-by refused to answer the question. Among them were employees of the local social security department and the police force.

The defenders of law and order said: “Young man, are you a little kid or what? They’ll tell us who to vote for, where to put our tick. It won’t start yet. They’ll say you are an oppositionist and will hunt you down.”

The social security workers: “Can’t you see we’re busy? Which Navalny, eh? We’re from social security!”

Indeed, such political engagement amongst government officials is predictable.

But amongst ordinary passers-by the general opinion wasn’t so divisive. Most believe that Navalny is a crook and a thief. Sobyanin has been mayor, so one clearly knows what to expect off him.

Alla Leonidovna, retired, a former employee of the Presidential Administration: “As Vysotsky used to say: a thief should sit in gaol. From the point of view of the election, this is probably not very important: I have already distanced myself from these matters, but my friends and I will vote for Sobyanin.”

Four builders vied with one another: “For Prokhorov! For Sobyanin! For anyone! For Luzhkov!”

A boxing coach and his colleague: “Well, he’s better than Putin. We are for Navalny. Well, as far as “we” goes, Sasha is not registered in Moscow. Generally speaking, though, we are fully behind of Sobyanin, if that is of any importance. It doesn’t mean much.”

The views of citizens:

“I’ve already voted for the grey haired one. It’s all the same to me whoever wins.”

“No, I’m not going to vote for a mayor: They are all crooks.”

“No, I will not vote for Navalny. I am voting for Sobyanin. I am a pensioner – so don’t bother me.”

“Navalny? Mayor? He’s a thief. And has been thief his whole life, of course.”

“I’m not going to vote. They are all thieves.”

“If he gets through the first stage of voting, Navalny will win. He’s a good bloke. I’m impressed by him. For Alexei and the future.”

“I’m not going to vote for anyone. The choice for an honest citizen is to boycott the election. They are all crooks, Navalny and all the rest of them.”

That’s it. It should probably lower the bar of expectations. People unfamiliar with the protest movement continue to give their vote to state nominees. Navalny fans, please do not take offence. Alas, I too was hoping for a different picture.

(Republished from Russian Spectrum by permission of author or representative)
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Russia is to spend 1.5 billion rubles building “Centers of Tolerance” to improve inter-ethnic relations in the next few years. Is this a good use of resources? Pyotr Kozlov examines the issue.

The Ministry of Regional Development to Build Centers of Tolerance for 1.5 Billion Rubles

The Ministry of Regional Development plans to start constructing Centers of Tolerance all across Russia from 2014, where anyone can go to learn more about the culture and traditions of Russia’s peoples. These learning centers will appear in 11 regions of the country: Saint-Petersburg, Omsk, Tomsk, Novosibirsk, Khabarovsk, Yekaterinburg, Rostov-on-Don, Samara, Nizhny Novgorod, Irkutsk, and Birobidzhan. According to preliminary calculations, as we were told by the Ministry’s head Igor Slyunyayev, the problem will require about 1.5 billion rubles in financing, with the first centers slated to open by the beginning of 2015.

According to the Slyunyayev, all the sites will be built to one standard design. “The main task is to revive the traditions of mutual respect and peaceful coexistence that have always characterized Russia,” he clarified.

“These Centers will help promote dialog, discuss hard issues, and tell people about how Russians live in Dagestan, Jews in the Far East, or Ukrainians in Tatarstan. We need to talk more about religion, culture, traditions, and to once again return to the roots of things – that we are one people, who have always lived as one family,” the Minister says.

The work of these Centers isn’t only connected with teaching people how to have tolerant relations with other religious confessions. It is about tolerance in the widest sense of the word, clarifies the head of the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia (FJCR) Alexander Boroda, who is involved in discussing the project concept.

It’s planned that the standard Center will consist of two or three rooms, one of which will contain a screen showing example reels of tolerant and intolerant behavior. Apart from that, there will be venues for discussion and interactive voting on the educational material, continues Boroda. Yet another room will be used for exhibits on the discussed topics.

Thanks to the wide spectrum of possibilities they offer, the Centers of Tolerance may become popular among pupils and students, the head of the FJCR believes. In addition, he considers that their work will be synchronized with Departments of Education in the regions. All the Center’s study materials and other content will be available for downloading from the Web.

“Of course this place has to become fashionable, in the best sense of the word. Above all, though the various exhibits and expositions. At least that’s our hope,” Boroda says.

The Head of the Public Chamber’s Committee for Inter-Ethnic Relations Nikolai Svanidze is happy about the Ministry of Regional Development’s initiative, but cautions that it’s still too early to judge the effectiveness of the Centers.

“The whole question here is in the content. Money isn’t an issue. Better to invest in Centers of Tolerance, as opposed to stuffing it into officials’ pockets. The main thing we have to avoid is formalism. How effective will this project be? That’s a valid question. But it will only be possible to determine this after the project starts,” Svanidze notes.

The head of the Duma’s Committee for Nationalities, Gadzhimet Safaraliev, also supports the idea, but believes that the project’s name choice could have been better.

“I don’t like the word tolerance. Maybe we can think a bit more on this and choose something like, for instance, Houses of Friendship, Houses of Nationalities? After all, we live in Russia. Is this to say we are, translating into Russian, building Houses of Tolerance? {Translator: A “house of tolerance” (“дом терпимости”) is, lit., a “maison de tolérance”, that is, a brothel} We’re better off learning to be friends, as opposed to tolerating each other,” the deputy remarked sardonically.

The Chairman of the National Anti-Corruption Committee Kirill Kabanov believes that problems of tolerance aren’t going to be solved by building Centers, but by ideological work with people.

“Whenever discussions of construction sites spring up, bureaucrats suddenly get the desire to make it into their personal project. And we know well how things are built here on the government’s account – we have repeatedly seen this in Sochi, and other places. This problem is ideological, therefore the product too has to be ideological,” he says.

The Ministry of Regional Development began developing plans for Centers of Tolerance after October 2012, when Vladimir Putin issued instructions to develop the federal target program “Strengthening the Unity of the Russian Nation and the Ethnocultural Development of the Peoples of Russia,” which is to run from 2014 to 2018.

Prior to this, the issue of inter-ethnic relations in Russia was raised in one of Vladimir Putin’s pre-elections article, in which he referred to the necessity of creating an organization responsible for “questions on national development, inter-ethnic prosperity, the interactions of ethnic groups.” The Presidential Council on Inter-Ethnic Relations was formed in summer 2012, while by the end of the year a concept for inter-ethnic relations had been developed to the year 2020.

Reader comments

Alexandr Kupriyanov: The morons don’t have anything better to do with the money? Only educational tourism in Russia’s republics could help with this issue, such as student exchanges with families, student assignments on the history of certain republics, etc., whereas these Centers are yet another money laundering operation.

Leutnant von Berg: A brilliant raspil/kickback scheme. Better to build true houses of tolerance, in the original meaning of the word {Translator: Maisons de tolérance, aka brothels}: The people will go there, and there will be a high return on investment. But if we are to speak seriously, a person who is interested in another culture will find the time and means to study it by himself, without any Centers.

Алексей Матанцев: Is it so that Russians themselves could discover explanations for why other RF nationalities behave so badly?

Дарья Костычева: Better to call them houses of tolerance from the get go. It makes more sense that way. And of course there’s nothing better to spend 1.5 rubles billion on. There are no problems in Russia at all, apart from russkie!

(Republished from Russian Spectrum by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Education, Human Rights, Society, Translations 
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According to several experts, Russia may be facing a period of protracted low growth rates now that its GDP per capita has recently exceeded $16,000. Vedomosti’s Olga Kuvshinova has the details.

Russia may Experience Minimal Growth in the Next 10 Years

A variety of reasons are brought up to explain the Russian economy’s slowdown to 1.6% growth in the first quarter by experts and officials: A stalling in investment, private consumption, weak external demand. But there is a one factor that is more critical, according to Ivan Chakarov of Renaissance Capital. It is, in fact, quite typical for quickly growing economies to slow down once they exhaust their “advantage of backwardness” – that is, the possibility of obtaining high profits thanks to low costs. After this, countries collide against barriers to growth, falling into a so-called “middle-income trap.” This is precisely what is occurring in Russia now, according to him.

This trap is typical set off when a country’s GDP per capita approaches $16,000. This year, according to Chakarov’s calculations, it will constitute $16,016.

The countries of Western Europe slowed down in a big way in the 1970s, South Korea – in 1995, Singapore and Hong Kong – at the start of the 1980s, Taiwan – at the end of the 1990s. All of these cases, according to Chakarov, were simultaneous with the crossing of the $16,000 per capita mark (in 2005 prices).

Russia is the first of the BRICs to fall into this trap, notes Chakarov. China will hit this problem in 2020, Brazil – in 2024, and India – in 2038.

Countries that fall into this trap typically lose almost two thirds of their previous levels of yearly growth, says Chakarov, citing research from the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) in the US. As regards Russia, this could mean that our previous rate of growth of approximately 4.5% (adjusting for the recession in 2009) may fall to 1.6% – that is, exactly the same as the figure for the first quarter.

Russia may be entering a decade in which rates of growth do not exceed 2% a year, with the rate of growth incomes per capita falling to just 1.9% relative to 5% for the previous decade. Chakarov worries that this could compel politicians to increase borrowing to consolidate their authority, as Greece did during 1980-2010. The U-turn regarding rgw pension and other reforms that could have forestalled the trap indicates that as regards Russia, such a scenario cannot be excluded. “Russia may become a new Greece,” he believes.

Greece reached an income level of $16,000 per capita at the start of the 1980s. In the next decade, quick growth turned to stagnation and recessions, with unemployment increasing by a factor of 2.5, inflation increasing by a factor of 1.6, and industrial growth plummeting from 10% to 1%. Greece started to increase its national debt, which went from approximately 20% of GDP at the start of the 1980s to 170% by 2011, and in so doing became the focal point for the Eurozone debt crisis.

According to NBER experts, a slowdown in growth rates typically happens at a GDP pre capita level of $15,000-16,000, but it doesn’t necessarily have to occur suddenly. It is less likely in countries with a relatively high level of secondary and higher educational attainment, as well as in those countries which have a high share of hi-tech products in their exports. Moving up the “technological ladder” is one way to escape the middle-income trap.

The theory of comparative advantage can vary according to a country’s level of developments, says Dmitry Belousov 0f the Center for Macroeconomic Analysis and Short-Term Forecasting (CMASF). He believes that Russia has already left behind the first stage, that of competitiveness based on cheap resources. The second stage revolves around price competitiveness on the consumer markets, and attractiveness on the capital markets. The third stage is about advantages in the sphere of innovation. “I wouldn’t fetishize GDP per capita,” Belousov says. Russia is now likewise leaving the stage of price competitiveness, as energy and labor converge to European levels while energy efficiency and labor productivity continues to lag far behind. “Right now, our overriding priority is investment. We have to change a lot in the institutional sphere, so as to increase our investment attractiveness. The launching of the investment process will create the groundwork for the development of innovation, but we still have a long way to go until we reach that stage,” Belousov says. He considers that Russia will not be able to grow at 1.5% a year for a long time: So many commitments have been made, and so many expectations created, that under such a slow rate neither the government, nor business will have sufficient resources.

Though it’s possible to grow by increasing debt, it is not a long-term solution, notes Belousov; under today’s consumption levels, such a road will end in a balance of payments crisis – even if oil prices remain high – and, eventually, the start of an inflation-devaluation spiral. The last devaluation actually had a similar character, but it was concealed under the cover of the global crisis, “just as a good collective farm manager hides a shortfall in the harvest by blaming it on a wildfire caused by lightning.” But lightning won’t always strike at such opportune times, warns Belousov. “If we build up competitiveness – not on account of price levels, but via an acceleration in investment, then there is a chance that we could bypass this stage,” he concludes.

There is a chance of Russia sporadically falling into recessions even without shocks due to accumulated internal problems, according to Valery Mironov of the Higher School of Economics: The rapid growth of labor costs, and capital flight in the face of repressed internal competition. Fighting these problems by pumping money into the economy is meaningless. The April consensus forecast from the Center of Development (27 experts from investment banks, companies, and research centers) suggests that Russia’s growth rate will not exceed 3.5% all the way up to 2019. The Ministry of Economic Development however forecasts that the economy will accelerate to 4.1% growth by 2015-2016.

(Republished from Russian Spectrum by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Economy, Translations 
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When they are fed to other bureaucrats. Or so argues Mikhail Rostovsky in an op-ed for Moskovskij Komsomolets, in analyzing the resignations of Surkov and Alexei Chesnakov.

Surkov for Breakfast, Medvedev for Lunch, and where do Russian Democrats come from?

Solve this riddle. What does it mean when you hear the clatter of plates, knives, and forks, loud chomping noises, and the desperate shrieks of the devoured: “I’m leaving the party! There have appeared some serious ideological differences between us!”

You haven’t guessed? Shame on your bald (and not so bald) heads! This is the acoustical accompaniment to the Russian political process – or to be more concrete, the process of the change of command at the top of the Russian vlast.

In our not so distant past, there was in Russia a fairly important official, the right hand man of the “king of public politics” Vladislav Surkov – Alexei Chesnakov. He served, this official of ours Chesnakov, and he served well, promptly implementing all the directives of “the party and the government.” But then, a new time came upon us. Neither Vladislav Surkov, nor his team remain in the Kremlin. And they “slighted” Alexei Chesnakov – they didn’t allow him to get elected to the Senate. And our model public servant Chesnakov “saw the light,” so to speak, and left United Russia, explaining the move by referring to ideological differences.

“I have accumulated some baggage of stylistic disagreements with the party. I do not agree with some of United Russia’s legislative initiatives, including those concerning regulations of the media space and the Internet. Apart from that, most bills aren’t discussed at all by the party’s regional structures, which stymies a full debate,” as Chesnakov said in his own words.

Bravo, O Heroic Democrat Mr. Chesnakov! Finally there has appeared someone to open our eyes. And we’d never even realized that under Surkov, apparently, it was all different. The authorities didn’t try to excessively regulate the media and the Internet back then. We could have never guessed that all legislative bills were floated down to parliament by United Russia – here, rubber-stamp this, if you please – as opposed to first being comprehensively and thoughtfully debated by all of the bear’s party organizations. {Translator: The logo of United Russia is a bear}

Am I hearing loud cries of “I don’t believe this!” just now, or am I imagining it? Nonetheless I, dear comrades, I not only fully sincerely believe Alexei Chesnakov, but I also consider this statement to be an important contribution to science. For we now finally have an answer to a question that has long bothered many: Where do democrats come from in Russia?

How is, for example – as it is commonly explained in the West – that one specific person has precisely these political views, rather than their direct opposites? Here is one theory, which, believe it or not, I don’t even fully consider to be a joke. A conservative – is a former liberal, who had recently been robbed. A liberal – is a former conservative, who had just spent a few sweet hours in a pretrial detention center.

But Russia, as we well know, has its own pride. As the calculations of Western political science don’t apply to us, I present you instead with a scientific discovery I made together with Alexei Chesnakov: A fresh-baked democrat in Russia – is, with a large degree of probability, a recent loyalist bureaucrat who’d been tossed out of the nomenklatura’s cage.

Naturally, despite all his obvious talents, a new “freedom fighter” like Alexei Chesnakov cannot move the Russian democratic process greatly forwards just by himself. But no need to despair. It’s quite possible that comrades-in-arms will join up with Chesnakov sooner rather than later.

The famous expert on the life of the Russian elites, the politologist Evgeny Minchenko, has recently issued yet another white paper in his cult series “Politburo 2.0.” This time round, the paper is titled thus: “One year of Dmitry Medvedev’s government – Results and Prospects.”

As one might expect, Evgeny Minchenko comes to the basic conclusion that despite the short period of its existence, Medvedev’s Cabinet already clearly has more “results” than it has “prospects.” Minchenko writes that the dismantling of the “Medvedev coalition,” – which coalesced in 2007 around Yeltsin’s “Family,” and parts of big business and the federal bureaucracy – along with the lingering elements of the tandemocracy, is accelerating and, consequently, fast becoming irreversible.

In the wake of this conclusion, Minchenko describes the Prime Minister’s “dekulakization” in detail. I was particularly impressed by the following thesis: “The main characteristics that became associated with Dmitry Medvedev’s public profile have been neutralized. Traditionally positioning himself as a liberal, Medvedev as head of government has been forced into realizing a non-liberal course of action. As United Russia’s leader, he publicly declared himself as a conservative; leadership of the ruling party has become a burden for Medvedev.”

So you now have every right to ask the following question of yours truly: If Medvedev has been turned from a liberal into a conservative, then where are the “born again democrats” going to come from? Here’s where. “The dynamics within the government are going to be expressed in the resignations of its members,” writes Minchenko, indicating that this can refer to resignations from both individual members of Medvedev’s team, as well as of the Prime Minister himself.

If Dmitry Anatolyevich is “asked” to step aside, it is unlikely he will be given the opportunity to become an open oppositionist. Far more likely, the former President will be offered a position in Saint-Petersburg, to unite all the court structures and keep his nose away from government. That said, I’m willing to bed that in private (and not so private) conversations, members of Medvedev’s team are going to claim that they suffered “for their democratic views.” Most likely, they will even believe in their own words. But I still can’t understand just one thing: Why do Russian bureaucrats only acquire democratic views then they are “served for lunch” to other officials?

(Republished from Russian Spectrum by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Politics, Translations 
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In a recent poll conducted by the Levada Center, Leonid Brezhnev was revealed to be Russians’ favorite ruler of the 20th century. Do you see his era as a Golden Age, or as a zastoi?

Russian Attitudes to Former Heads of State


(Republished from Russian Spectrum by permission of author or representative)
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As Russia develops a Migration Code to deal with recent influxes, one police official testifies that 47% of crimes in Moscow are committed by foreigners.

Interior Ministry: 47% of Crimes in Moscow are Committed by Foreigners

47% of crimes in Moscow are carried out by foreigners, according to the latest statistics. This was announced by at a meeting of a Duma working group by the deputy chief of police – the head of public order of the Main Directorate of Internal Affairs in Moscow, Vyacheslav Kozlov.

In his words, 5% of crimes are committed by migrants from the Far Abroad, while the other 42% are committed by those from the Near Abroad. These figures also don’t take into account internal migration.

Kozlov likewise noted that Muscovites themselves commit very few crimes.

“If not for crimes committed by newcomers, Moscow would be the quietest and most peaceful city,” he said at a meeting of a Duma working group on the Migration Code.

He also noted that some 120,000 people gathered at the Moscow Cathedral Mosque to celebrate the Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha.

“I heard so many drivers complaining and cursing us for the blockage of traffic during the festivities,” he added.

As our correspondent noted, this is the first meeting of the working group on this issue. The director of the Federal Migration Service Konstantin Romodanovsky, the chairman of the Committee on Constitutional Legislation and State Building Vladimir Pligin, and representatives of the research institutes of the Interior Ministry and other research organizations are taking part in the development of the Migration Code.

(Republished from Russian Spectrum by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Crime, Moscow, Society, Translations 
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The Russian Spectrum presents the results of Levada, FOM, and VCIOM polls over the past dozen years showing the rapid digitization of Russian society.

The Internet in Russia

The three questions used were all similar: “Do you use the Internet, and if so how frequently?”


Also in the latest Levada poll: “Do you use the Internet, and if so for what purpose?”

Apr-11 Nov-11 Feb-12 Apr-13
To track the latest news 18 22 24 26
To find out what’s happening here and abroad 9 12 14 16
To find needed information 32 34 39 42
To find/read books 8 9 14 15
To find/watch films 15 17 22 25
To find/listen to music 16 17 20 23
To find/buy goods or services 7 10 12 18
For entertainment 16 18 21 28
For communication 24 25 33 38
Other <1 1 1 1
I don’t use the Internet 54 50 45 41

Translator notes

A person is generally considered to be using the Internet if he uses it once a month or more frequently. In 2013, according to Levada, 48% of Russians used the Internet every day, 10% – several times a week, 2% – two or three times a month, 1% – once a month.

We see from the graph above that in Moscow (and from the data, St.-Petersburg too) reach a plateau at about 70% penetration. That is the penetration level of developed countries generally. Therefore, we can expect to see the pace of Russian Internet penetration to now drop off markedly, as the market reaches saturation.

(Republished from Russian Spectrum by permission of author or representative)
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Writing in Novaya Gazeta, Andrei Vladimirovich Kolesnikov argues that the branding of the opinion pollster Levada Center as a “foreign agent” marks Russia’s return to the bad old days of Lysenkoism.

A Sociology of Dvoechniki

Levada Center is being destroyed with Stalinist methods.

Sociological data is dope for the present-day vlast. She looks at sociological reports just like a certain famous fairytale character, and with much the same question: “Who’s the fairest of them all?” But smoothing the wrinkles spreading all over the carcass of the political system requires ever more applications of the tonal cream of court sociology. Meanwhile, real sociology – incorrect, inconvenient – is being exiled. The method for this has been found: Amendments to the law on NGOs, so that they could be exiled as “foreign agents,” involved in “political activities.”

The Levada Center is being destroyed for the second time in its history. Founded at the end of the 1980s under the name of the exceptional sociologist Yuri Levada, this professional sociological organization has already once been demolished once – few now remember that VCIOM is, in fact, the old name of the Levada Center. In 2003, when Yuri Levada was still alive, the hostile takeover was successful, but not fully so – the re-branded sociological service remained the source of the country’s most reliable sociological data. I remember well that press-conference at Izvestia’s media center – Izvestia as it was then {Translator: It was more oppositional then} – I remember Yuri Alexandrovich’s bewilderment, and the sense of surrealism about the whole thing… And now we have the second attempt to destroy it, this time by tagging scientific work with the mark of politics. The Savelovskaya prosecutor’s office took upon itself this difficult mission.

This is unadulterated Stalinism. As far as today’s vlast is concerned, sociology is no different from what state statistics were to the Stalinist vlast. No coincidence that the spirit of the era became encapsulated in the following brilliant aphorism from the economist Stanislav Strumilin: “Better to stand for high growth rates, than sit for low ones” {Translator: To “sit” in Russian can simply mean to go to prison}. The Levada people aren’t sitting yet, but the continued exist of the Levada Center has come under threat; and not only of the Levada Center, but of independent, scientific sociology such as it is…

At the same time, we see the elimination of competition on the market on sociological services: Instead of a “Big Troika” – FOM, VCIOM, and the Levada Center – we are left with just a “Big Deuce.” And with all due respect to their colleagues, it will also be a sociology of dvoechniki. Where are the voices of other professional sociologists in defense of their colleagues, of science, and of honest research? Only crickets chirping. Are they afraid?

Even if the Levada Center somehow survives, it will be easy to bankrupt it via “market” mechanisms: Such agencies mainly live off marketing research, and how many of their clients will continue dealing with an organization branded as a “foreign agent”? They would henceforth go only to Kremlin-certified agencies, which had pledged allegiance to the “correct figures.”

On this account I also have an old anecdote, which I was told by the academic Revold Entov. The unchanging director of the Soviet statistics service Vladimir Starovsky, having passed through all epochs and outlived all leaders, became famous for the following phase addressed to a colleague: “I present you with the Order of Lenin for your ability to give the correct socialist figure.” Maybe it’s just the case that of all today’s surviving Russian sociologists dream of the Order of Lenin? But as is said: Ask not for whom the bell tolls…

Any honest research, any honest civic activism, any honest voluntary movement, any honest science, any honest newspaper or magazine article, is – by the logic of the Savelovskaya prosecutor’s office and of Prosecutor D. D. Minkov, whose names will enter the annals of history in the Saltykov-Shchedrin, if not the Gogolian, sense of the word {Translator: The latter two were famous 19th century Russian satirists} – equivalent to political activity. And if it is paid just a single cent by a foreign fund, then it becomes not only political activity, but hostile to boot. Vladimir Putin was lying when he claimed that the concept of a “foreign agent” carries an exclusively legal meaning, with no allusions to darker times. The semantics here are entire Stalinist, repressive, and propagandistic. According to the Levada Center’s own surveys, our compatriots quickly got the correct bearings: More than half of all Russians support harsh sanctions, up to and including liquidation, as regards NGOs that engage in politics, receive money from abroad, and don’t register as foreign agents.

The vlast is cutting off the very branch on which it sits. It deprives itself of reliable social feedbacks. It destroys studies of the humanities. And it risks being left alone with some kind of “Orthodox sociology.” But so what? “Orthodox sociology for Orthodox Chekists” – sounds about right.

At this rate it won’t be long before we get to the “rootless cosmopolitans,” and the “Weismann-Morganists,” and finally the academician Lysenko to top things off.

Reader comments

Дмитрий Кузьмин: The vlast isn’t cutting off any branch on which it sits. The Levada Center has open statistics, while the Chekist accounts are closed… Why does the alpha crane need people to know even part of the closed statistics. Better make the people into a herd of cattle, who don’t know their past or their present reality – and then, they have no more future!!

александр46 марков: Just register as a foreign agent and continue working! But wait a second, weren’t you saying earlier that you didn’t get any money from Gosdep!?

Сергей Аникин: The foreign agents are trying their utmost to conceal their true faces.

Не Гражданин (replying to above): And what is their “true face,” in your opinion. Do think, that instead of a face, they have a Botox-inflated ass, like our beloved Mr. President?

Previously, “enemies of the people” – now, “foreign agents”; previously, “witches” – now, “blasphemers”… But, at least, yesterday, “militaria” – today, “police,” that is modernizaton Medvedev-style. Modernassization.

That’s the problem with this country – the dominance of cattle, slaves, ready to lick the ass of anybody who comes to power, which itself consists of the same artiodactyla.

Don’t blame the mirror if your mug is skewed!

(Republished from Russian Spectrum by permission of author or representative)
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In an interview with Kommersant’s Ksenia Turkova, the director of the Levada Center Lev Gudkov argues that opinion polling isn’t a political activity – and as such, that his organization is not a “foreign agent.”

“The Sphere of Public Opinion Cannot Fall under the Rubric of Political Activities”

The opinion polling agency Levada Center may cease to exist. The sociologists have received a warning from the Prosecutor’s office, in which they were accused of carrying out political activities on foreign money. The director of the Levada center Lev Gudkov discussed the situation with our Ksenia Turkova.

Why does this warning threaten the organization’s existence?

I didn’t say that it threatens us directly, but it does create serious problems which could eventually put a stop to much of our research efforts. The main essence of it is that as an in dependent research organization, we are in a sort of cul-de-sac, where the vague definitions of the concepts of “political activity” and of “foreign financing” creates scope for complete arbitrariness.

Which research efforts are under threat, precisely?

Primarily, these are electoral studies, and research into political culture, popular approval of institutions. Everything related to that wide range of areas where the citizen comes into contact with the authorities.

So one possible scenario is that the Levada Center will continue to exist, but will no longer have a political dimension to its research?

That’s what has me most concerned.

You will study what Russians like to eat, what films they like to watch?

We have now spent 25 years theoretically and empirically developing these studies, and ceasing them is pretty much the same as shutting down the Center.

In principle any opinion poll, presumably, can influence public opinion?

Just like anecdotes told in kitchens.

It could apply to anything.

That’s exactly what I’m saying, that there exists a very wide interpretation. If we lived in a normal law-based society, then the borders of politics would be clearly defined – it’s institutional activities, in the framework of party activities, and of the electoral and legislative process. The sphere of public opinion – is the sphere of publicity, or what is known in the West as the sphere of public debate and civic engagement, and in no way can it fall under the rubric of political activities.

We are not politicians, and we do not do politics. We are a research organization. Trying to equate the study of politics and politics itself is pretty much the same as doing it with the study of cancer, and cancer itself. It’s completely absurd.

Many linguists study political discourse. What are they to do now?

Shut down, and shut up – just like many others.

Did you have any specific problems with your partners after this warning?


With whom?

I don’t want to talk about it. But the problems are real enough.

Could you at least say what kind of problems they are?

Our interviewees refuse to continue working with us.

You’ve lost respondents?

You have to bear in mind that we don’t just interview ordinary people, we also pose questions to certain groups of officials, teachers, and employers, who shy away from the mere mention of foreign agents.

What are you going to do next?

Right now I can’t tell you anything for sure. We are consulting lawyers, and trying to find ways out of this situation.

Was there any reaction your open letter?

Only if you count journalists flooding our phone lines.

(Republished from Russian Spectrum by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Levada Center, Politics, Translations 
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The Latvian President has signed a law allowing Latvians to have double citizenship with other countries… except Russia. Moscow cries foul and calls on the EU to take action. Maria Efimova has the story.

Latvia Signs a Citizenship Law

Latvian President Andris Bērziņš signed the law “On Citizenship,” adopted by the Sejm on 9 May. This law allows Latvian citizens to have passports from other countries. Russia is not included in this list. Going against the recommendations of international organization, the law likewise doesn’t include the automatic conferral of Latvian citizenship to the children of “non-citizens,” which would have set a prospective endpoint to the phenomenon of “non-citizenship.” Moscow considers the law discriminatory, calling it an “ethno-political experiment” that is “unprecedented by modern European standards.”

According to the document signed by President Bērziņš, the list of countries whose citizenship can be obtained without loss of the Latvian passport include the member states of the European Union, NATO, the European Free Trade Association, Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, and some other countries with which it has agreements on double citizenship. Russia, the other countries of the CIS, and Israel are not on the list.

In addition, the law tightens the naturalization rules: People older than 45 now have to prove that they were permanently resided in the country for the past five years.

Although the new version of the law doesn’t provide for the automatic acquisition of citizenship for the children of non-citizens, as recommended by international institutions – including the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights and OSCE’s High Commissioner on National Minorities – the procedure for doing this was simplified. Now, citizenship can be granted at the request of one of the parents right after birth.

The law was signed by President Bērziņš despite the request of the biggest opposition group Harmony Center, which represents the interests of Latvia’s Russophone residents, to return it to the Sejm for further work. However, according to ITAR-TASS, the President soon after the signing of the law sent a letter to parliament calling for its further improvement, so that the list of states with which Latvians are allowed to have double citizenship can be expended in the future.

“The Latvian authorities continue to exacerbate the self-created problem of mass non-citizenship, which is unprecedented by modern European standards, and to ignore Riga’s international obligations,” according to Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, commenting on the adoption of the law “On Citizenship” by the Latvian Sejm. “This latest ethno-political experiment by Riga, which turns national minorities into permanent outcasts of a country in which they were born and lived all their lives, clearly demonstrates the democratic deficit in Latvia. We hope that the Europe Union, which took upon itself the responsibility to safeguard human rights and ethnic minority rights in Latvia upon the latter’s accession, can give its objective assessment on this.”

Reader comments

From Facebook:

Nicolas Borissov: Some countries exist only to engage in petty spitefulness. And not only towards Russia. There are these small slavering dogs, which bark all the time and strive to sneakily bite you the heels – they bear a strong resemblance to some countries.

Karina Kurchan [replying to above]: And of course it’s better not to do things the petty way, but to slam them with an Iskander straight away.

Tatyana Shunto: How long can one bear a grudge? Against whom? The government isn’t the people. How did Russia hurt them?

Karina Kurchan [replying to above]: Tatyana, it’s not about grudges. Tomorrow, Russia will say that it wishes to defend its citizens, and will start to “force them to peace,” carry out ethnic cleansing, insert military bases. It will say that it is on the request of Russian citizens. This has all happened before…

Yani Petkov: Wages are now higher in Russia anyway, so who cares.

(Republished from Russian Spectrum by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Baltics, Eurasia, Human Rights, Translations 
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In which Russian writer Dmitry Bykov compares the Russian opposition to Pugacheva, and God – for that is what most concerns Russians, and not the trivialities they typically discuss.

The Anatomy of Context

Just about the same thing has happened to the Russian opposition as has happened to the Russian intelligentsia: it has been accused of every mortal sin; but without it, one cannot live.

The opposition has become just a little bit more like Alla Pugacheva, who is hated so much – yet without her it is inconceivable that one can live one’s life: without her there would be no New Year.

Let’s agree that there is no opposition in Russia and that there has never been one. It has lost everything that it could lose; it has degenerated into buffoonery; it has compromised itself (in the eyes of the Patriots) by socializing with the liberals and (in the eyes of liberals) with the left; it did not offer a coherent programme and a specific plan of action; it did not find a common language with the people, with the authorities, with the West and with patriots. It has no goals, objectives and principles. We are agreed: it has been forgotten and buried and its inscription written. An opposition that blows neither hot nor cold insofar as it now has completely different problems.

Perhaps it would be easier to accept that it does not exist and never has, and then the provocations such as “Anatomy of Protest”, the harassment, the defamation and the professional restrictions would at last cease: there can be no reactions to nothing. But of Russia’s columnists, ranging from the completely incorruptible to those who are mostly concerned about seeking sponsors, such as Leonid Radzikhovsky, who touchingly combines wise scepticism with teenage angst and lots of BLOCK CAPITALS, – what are they all going to do?

What will happen to Arkady Mamontov and other such members of the powers that be? Finally, what will become of those with the most power, those that have neither thought up a slogan for the immediate future nor a programme – apart from fighting the opposition? What will live on in literature – for in all of the new Russian novels, from realism to fantasy – the white ribbon movement has become a common thread? What can be generally spoken of in Russian, apart from the opposition – and spies?

Just about the same thing has happened to the Russian opposition as has happened to the Russian intelligentsia: It has been accused of every mortal sin; but without it, one cannot live, because there is nothing else. The proletariat and the peasantry have long turned into something completely different – and partly, by the way, in the same way as the intelligentsia has – and there they are, and you can throw them around as though they were dead bodies. To be honest, it is about the same situation as regards God. They have all said twenty times over that He does not exist, that His existence cannot be proven, that He alone was to blame; as a result , the expression: “There is no God” has been transformed into the formulaic expression: “There is nothing but God”.

The intelligentsia, for all its notorious shirking of physical labour, has long fed Russia, has provided it with its defences and all that it possesses and with which it has been able to compete. The beginning and end of all this is the culture of the physical sciences. The opposition is the only theme of Russian conversations, because there is nothing more to talk about. There is nothing easier than to exclude it from the political field, to destroy it morally and physically, to stop constantly being reminded of it, thereby inflating its rating. But here is the rub: there is no programme for the reaction, apart from repression; therefore, the opposition is as necessary as is air. You can make any conflicting claims, especially when you consider that there are no rights and opportunities in this opposition that are primordial. In the era of this said reaction, the oppositionists and intellectuals time and again have been guilty of everything: this has been said outside, but not in their homes; they have no humility; they did not set off for the Kremlin – if they had done so the opposition would have been blamed for leading its supporters to the slaughter.

But insofar as the dominant content of the era has been the violence targeted at them – which, by the way, touches upon individual civil servants, anti-regime activists, “back-to-the-soil” activists, radicals, elderly non-conformists and the Kremlin “young guard” – then to finally bury the opposition would be inconceivable, even if it ardently wished that this be done. Surkov has gone into retirement? It was he who supported the opposition, not otherwise. Check out “RUSNANO”? This Chubais fellow under the wing of and in participation with U.S. intelligence has cultivated the opposition. Summer promises to be a hot one? The opposition is at hand!

In modern Russia people say what they want about anything – from the “Eurovision” song contest to the Rosbank scandal – but it is only in the opposition that they are really interested in; only the opposition is either abused in queues, or praised in the kitchen.

Such excessive attention can in no way be combined with incessant talk of wretchedness, nullity and security. If there were no opposition, as God was, it too would have been invented. Another thing is that our understanding of the opposition is at the same approximate and superficial, just as are our opinions about God: judging the opposition movement by what is said in abundance from meeting podiums is as mistaken as using icons to make judgements about God. God is everywhere: He is in the air – and the opposition is also everywhere; God is what emerges from our thirst to understand, to ask, to thank, and even to break into anger, and to dump any guilt – and the opposition has exactly the same mission. Atheists are kicking God just as they can break icons, having been bullied by Scripture – thus they do more for faith than does the most zealous preacher: there is no fighting with those who are not there.

God does not exist, but He will: Gorky proposed that we should be God-builders. There is no opposition, but there is a flurry of vilification; there are cries of horror; there is praise of its never tiring power to create – and as a result it becomes truly ubiquitous: any provincial student, any vendor, any taxi driver asks “When will it all end?” The whole thing is so enormous – and that includes the money that has been spent -, an array of modern Russian ideology, all the propaganda, all the fire and brimstone and utopia is hung on to by a handful of showmen who are not capable of doing anything, of writers and leftists. In this sense, the opposition is even a bit similar to Alla Pugacheva, who is hated so much – yet without her it is inconceivable that one can live one’s life: without her there would be no New Year.

Alla Pugacheva is also similar to God, a myth that has become out of date, but without whom the world would collapse. There will be no ethical or aesthetic criteria, or even gossip. However, as Brodsky observed: the only interesting things are gossip and metaphysics; in fact, they are one and the same.

As God left the clouds and turned into an idea, the opposition has gone from the street (there is very little of it left) and turned into total suspense, anger, and a secret malevolence. And the louder the assurances are that the situation is almost pre-crisis again – so audible is the laughter of the population in response to any power realities. The louder and clumsier the anti-religious propaganda, the more united are the ranks of the true believers. The more poisonous the slander of specific individuals, the more faceless, all-encompassing, secretly-gloating from the underground the opposition, which knows that the future belongs to it.

Of course, this hidden opposition is not particularly favored by me, because it has for the time being no responsibilities and is just about useless. But then the eternal reproach concerning God’s existence is that nobody has seen Him, and yet any doubt of His presence is almost impossible for any sensitive person.

People talk about football, but they are only interested in God, according to Chesterton’s puzzle. In modern Russia people say what they want about anything – from the “Eurovision” song contest to the Rosbank scandal – but just wonder about the opposition: it is either abused in queues or praised in the kitchen.

“God is objective reality given us by our senses,” said Petsukh. There is no arguing about that. The opposition today is the only reality given us by our senses. All the rest is a fiction. And the louder the authorities stamp their feet, the more certain is that reality – the only thing that is contained within our huge country, it seemingly having lost its other brands, compromised its reason and eaten up all its resources.

“Either there is no God, or everything is God”, Tolstoy wrote shortly before his death. And those six words, in my opinion are the best he wrote.

(Republished from Russian Spectrum by permission of author or representative)
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Russian blogger Anton Nossik speculates on why Ryan Fogle’s attempts to recruit Russian intelligence officers seemed to be so amateurish.

Why was the American Spy such a Dunce?

In Soviet times, there was the following anecdote:

An American spends 15 years at spying school getting ready to infiltrate the deep Soviet rear. He studies the Black Earth dialects, memorizes local maps, the manner of dress and local folklore…

Finally, he is dropped off at Kostroma oblast. Burying his parachute in the woods, he walks out onto the country road and meets an elderly village woman.

“Mother, please tell me, how far is it to the village council?” the CIA agent earnestly asks her.

“But you, my dear, are an American spy,” she replies.


“We don’t have any Negroes in Kostroma oblast.”

The explanation of this latest spy story given by former GRU operative Viktor Suvorov on TV channel “Dozhd”repeats this anecdote almost word for word.

In Suvorov’s opinion, the CIA had its work cut out of them as far as human intelligence was concerned. That was because first, the lion’s share of intelligence was collected through electronic means – satellite photograph, communications interception, etc. – as opposed to from real people. Second, the most effective American agents were foreigners, spying on their own countries, who don’t need to be taught disguises or wear makeup and wigs, as their biggest disguise was a real biography and official position. As regards this, Suvorov mentioned Colonel Oleg Penkovsky, about whom he had recently written a thriller, but we can also name the fugitive Poteyev (who had uncovered an entire rezident network for the Americans) and Alexander Litvinenko, and also a great many examples from the Soviet past, including – for that matter – Suvorov himself (who says that did not cooperate with foreign intelligence services until he fled to the West, but who knows…)

I don’t know if Suvorov’s explanation is correct, but it is at least consistent with the known facts about the man with the compass and the two wigs who was caught on the outskirts of Vorontsov Park giving a reprint of a Google Translated Nigerian spam letter to a Chekist.

The only alternative suggestion that comes to my mind is that the guy was just feeling fucked over by the Moscow winter, and he found a 100% reliable means of securing himself repatriation at the government’s expense. Maybe had he left the diplomatic service on his own accord he’d have lost any compensations and insurance, whereas the State Department could not fine him for failing the mission.

Reader comments

julie0109: Maybe the guy wasn’t fucked over by Moscow’s winter, but by life in Moscow in general.

johnbmw [replying to above]: The true dunces are the FSB who thought up this clown show.

mezanmam [replying to julie0109]: Or maybe it was you Julie who fucked him? Go on, admit it, where was your room, what did he tell you about the Agency?

izvpadini61 [replying to julie0109]: The guy isn’t a spy, he’s a Kremlin project!

(Republished from Russian Spectrum by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Espionage, Politics, Translations 
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.