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 Russian Reaction Blog / Vladimir PutinTeasers

Western journalists have this weird habit of making fun of Putin for his yearly marathon phone-ins with the Russian public. It’s populism. It’s all staged.

Well, sure, it’s all that. I can see how a class that writes articles with titles such as “It’s Time for the Elites to Rise Up Against the Ignorant Masses” might be uncomfortable with that. To be fair I find the usual fair – personalistic appeals to the sovereign to fix some road or reign in some tyrannical local bureaucrat to be pretty boring as well.

But still, it’s a nice gesture, and partly explains why he retains such popularity.

putin-brezhnev My impression is that Putin has started to decline as a leader, starting with how he speaks. Though he started his Presidency as a very poor speaker, he evidently got tuition, and became much better at it by the end of his first term. In the past couple of years, however, this has started to reverse. I thought that last year’s disappointing Q&A might have been an exception, but this year’s confirms that it is a trend.

But far more worrying was the content, which failed to articulate any coherent vision for the next few years and revealed an alarming complacency with respect to foreign policy and the other burning social issues of the day.

This was reflected in Putin’s comments on Ukraine, where he has tried to opt for another “mnogokhodovochka” (4D chess). In response to a Russophile from Kiev, asking him why he doesn’t do more to support Russia sympathizers in Ukraine, Putin told him, “We don’t want to give any public support, because we don’t want to harm you and we try not to get involved in internal Ukrainian political affairs.” Meanwhile, hundreds of Russia sympathizers continue rotting in the Maidanist regime’s jails. With friends like these…

Several minutes later, however, he casually mentioned that Viktor Medvedchuk, the godfather of Putin’s daughters and one of the most energetic champions of integration with Russia before Euromaidan, was actually a Ukrainian nationalist. But, he continued, Ukrainian nationalism, according to its 19th century sources such as Grushevsky, Franko, Dragomanov, Chernovol, stood for a federated state, for democratic, and for individual rights; some of them didn’t even consider Crimea to be part of Ukraine (no shit they didn’t – it never was until Khrushchev handed it to the UkSSR in 1954). Maybe so, but does anyone care? Medvedevchuk’s supposed “colleagues” in the OUN promptly clarified he has nothing to do with them. Perhaps having finally realized his “dear partner” Poroshenko wasn’t coming round, Putin has started thinking of allying with the Banderists. The whole episode is just bizarre.

question-ukraine Meanwhile, the one legitimate question about Ukraine – “When you shake Poroshenko’s hand, are you not afraid to dirty yourself with Donbass blood?” – was removed from the screen within seconds.

The one “gotcha” moment he got in was his riposte to Poroshenko’s comments bidding “farewell to unwashed Russia” on getting visa-free travel with the EU, quoting a line from the well-known Russian poet Lermontov. Putin quite skilfully counter-cited Ukrainian national poet Taras Shevchenko, quoting a line on how after winning the liberal struggle, her children are crucifying her worse than the erstwhile Polish oppressors. “I hope that at some point this period of Ukrainian history will come to an end.”

But he then followed it up with a suggestion to Poroshenko that if he truly wanted to be European he should part with his offshore accounts. Not bad, but it would have been more convincing if Putin’s own elites weren’t wrapped up in analogous schemes – indeed, the Panama Papers, which revealed Poroshenko’s offshore accounts, also revealed some $100 million+ in assets connected with Roldugin, an old celloist friend of Putin’s who was his other daughter’s godfather. In last year’s Q&A, Putin had clumsily explained those accounts as having been used to buy rare historical instruments for talented young Russian musicians.

Speaking of anti-corruption investigations: “We all know that unfortunately, the mass media in general and the Internet are also used to spread fake news, in service of the political struggle. What to do, this is life, there is nothing unusual here. But I must always double check it through the opportunities I have, and I have many such opportunities.” Meanwhile, the utterly compromised Medvedev remains PM, Russophile emigres from Ukraine continue getting deported back into the loving embrace of the Maidanists to make more space for Tajiks, and new laws are under consideration by the Duma to ban VPN services and to greatly limit people’s ability to make FOI requests about bureaucrats’ properties to the land registry.

No bold new ideas about social, economic, or foreign policy. There was a vague statement to the effect that a transition to a “new technological order” was needed, but no further details.

gallup-poll-us-russia

Parallel reality so far as relations with the US are concerned (Putin commented that Russia has “many supporters” in the US, no matter that approval of Russia in the US is at near record lows, and that on this very same day that there was a 97/100 bipartisan vote in the Senate to further sanctions against Russia).

The repetition of old tropes. “We need to strengthen the Syrian Armed Forces.” Meanwhile, more than a year after the start of the Russian intervention, the great bulk of the SAA remains militarily useless, with the hard fighting done by Hezbollah, the Iranians, about 20,000 just about competent SAA fomrations, and increasingly, Russian mercenaries in the Wagner Company.

Though the Presidential elections are less than a year away, it is now clear that Putin does not appear to have any any new ideas, plans, or visions for the long-term future apart from hunkering down and perhaps hoping that the state apparatuses in the US and Western Europe continue degrading even faster than in Russia. He is sitting on his 80% approval laurels, his status as the “inevitable” candidate assured.

Although I have to date avoided the comparison, because I had considered it inapplicable, the Brezhnevite critique is now becoming ever more germane.

 
• Category: Ideology • Tags: Russia, Vladimir Putin 

The other day a Levada poll was released showing an apparently lackluster performance by Navalny in a hypothetical Presidential race against Putin and the other candidates.

If there were elections on the coming Sunday, who would you vote for? (The figures below exclude those said they don’t know, or don’t intend to vote).

Apr13 Apr14 Apr15 Jan16 Apr17
Putin 64 81 82 83 83
Zhirinovsky 7 6 5 4 5
Zyuganov 13 7 9 6 4
Shoigu 3 2 <1 3 2
Navalny <1 <1 1 1 2
Medvedev 3 <1 <1 <1 1
Mironov 1 1 1 1 1
Prokhorov 4 1 1 1 <1
Other 4 2 1 2 2

This seems very bad for “Alexey 2 Percent,” as he was just styled by the great Paul Robinson.

On the one hand, he is certainly correct in his main point that one shouldn’t be rushing to buy the hype around Navalny generated by the Western media.

OTOH, I don’t think it’s quite as catastrophic for Navalny as the professor makes it out to be. For instance, in February 2012, (adjusted for non-voter’s/don’t knows) about 6% of Russians intended to vote for Prokhorov. In the event, he got 8%, which would have been closer to 9% without electoral fraud.

Of perhaps greater relevance, Levada and VCIOM opinion polls were giving the Kremlin-backed candidate Sobyanin about 70% versus 9-13% for Navalny in the Moscow mayoral election of 2013. In the event, Sobyanin only narrowly avoided a second round with 51% to Navalny’s 27%.

navalny-voting-intentions Even more worrying for the Kremlin though is that the percentage of Russians saying they were “probably” or “definitely” going to vote for Navalny increased from the 5% level he enjoyed from March 2012 to February 2017 (i.e. encompassing the period of the Moscow elections) to 10% in March 2017 following the release of the Medvedev corruption video.

Now just to make it clear I am not implying that Navalny is any sort of serious electoral threat to Putin – at least for now. In particular, the President’s ratings are at a consistent ~80% since Crimea, whereas during the 2012-13 period they were hovering at a nadir of ~60%.

Putin’s relatively greater popularily will, presumably, mostly or even wholly cancel out Navalny’s momentum.

And, of course, the question of whether Navalny will even be allowed to run is still an open one. Just a few hours ago a Russian court upheld the five year suspended sentence given to Navalny for the Kirovles Affair, which might be grounds for formally barring him from the Presidential race – though as in 2013, it is possible that it will not be enforced. Still, I’m not going to bet on that. Navalny is far more charismatic than Prokhorov, he is the only liberal candidate with a reasonable chance of making inroads into the (considerably bigger) nationalist electorate, and the recent attack on him by kremlin-affiliated thugs – which threatens to make him blind in one eye, if his own assertions are true – might create a martyr effect for him (as the murky dioxin poisoning of Viktor Yushchenko in 2004, which helped drive Ukrainians to stage the Orange Revolution). It would not be wise for the kremlins to risk a Navalny run.

One other very interesting, and even more interesting development, is the complete collapse of Zyuganov’s (Communist) support – he has gone from 13% in April 2013, to just 5% today; practically level pegging with the nationalist Zhirinovsky, who has also declined, but by a far more modest degree, despite losing part of his nationalist base to Putin after Crimea.

russia-elections-2016-party-support-age-group As I have long pointed out, the Red base of pensioners is dying out – there are three times fewer Communist voters in the youngest age group versus the oldest, whereas the LDPR’s share, conversely, doubles – and the demographics are now fast translating into electoral politics.

What this means in practice is that in the unlikely scenario that Navalny does run, I strongly suspect that he and Putin will between them compress the two fossils of Russian politics – that is, Zyuganov and Zhirinovsky – into the single digits, and will manage to come a distant second, perhaps 15% to Putin’s 70%.

 

“The churches are our barracks, the bells are our helmets, the Kremlin spires are our bayonets, and Putin trolls are our soldiers…”

… Well, it doesn’t have quite the ring of the better known poem that, having once landed Erdogan in jail, has now ensured his survival.

So people are now asking: Without Erdogan’s closer ties to a religion far more passionary than Orthodox Christianity, without his allegedly superior democratic credentials, would anyone actually bother out to defend the Dark Lord of the Kremlin cometh the Great Day of his Reckoning that every second Russia think-tank analyst in London and Washington D.C. has been prophesying for more than a decade?

Of course not. I even feel a bit stupid for putting fingers to keyboard to write this post. But nonsense has to be cleared up.

I

The first problem with thinking about a prospective Russian coup is finding even a semi-plausible candidate to play the plotters’ part.

The actors that immediately come to mind are the generals – but they are also the unlikeliest group to move against Putin. The last time the Russian armed forces had regularly played kingmaker was during the 17th century, when the streltsy acted as a kind of Praetorian guard to the Tsars. The last successful coup that relied on military support took place more than two century ago, when Catherine the Great deposed the wildly unpopular Peter III, an 18th century Wehraboo who had withdrawn Russia from a hard-fought but successful war against Prussia on account of his boyhood fascination with Frederick the Great and the Prussian Army. The Russian military would never again be politically influential. The Kornilov putsch in 1917 failed. In both 1991 and 1993, the Armed Forces remained loyal to their respective heads of state, Gorbachev and Yeltsin, even though neither man enjoyed their respect. Despite the frailty of post-Soviet polities, the entire region would only see three military coups after 1991: One successful coup in Georgia, and two coups in Azerbaijan, of which one was successful. Azerbaijan is, of course, the closest “relative” to Turkey – with its seven coups this past century alone – in the former USSR, so it is unlikely that its experience would be much extensible to Russia.

In contrast to both Gorbachev and Yeltsin, Putin has enjoyed consistently high approval ratings, and the respect of the military and siloviks in particular. He can speak their language and has furnished lavish spending on both the military and the security services. The current Defense Minister, Sergey Shoigu, is highly popular without harboring much in the way of personal political ambitions of his own. This is in contrast to his predecessor Anatoly Serdyukov, who was highly unpopular for his questionable reforms and blatant corruption. He was eventually dismissed from his post, but the corruption investigation went nowhere and was eventually quietly shut down. Although the legal impunity of the Russian political elites is one of the few real sources of popular discontent with Putinism, it may also play a role as a political safety valve. Bureaucrats who steal too much – Serdyukov, Yakunin, Luzhkov, etc. – might get dismissed, but don’t tend to go overtly hostile because, apart from their low chances of success and high risk of ruin, they also know that the next regime might not be so forgiving towards them.

It is ultimately the oligarchs who are the most credible threat to Putin’s power. After all, it was the oligarchs who were instrumental in keeping an ailing Yeltsin in power in 1996, who ruled it for a time as the Semibankirschina, and who eased the transition towards a Putin Presidency (upon which he promptly told them to get out of politics). They also played a huge role in the political life of the other post-Soviet states. In Georgia, it was essentially an oligarchic coup by the billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili that doomed Saakashvili’s attempts to set himself up for permanent rule in late 2012. In Ukraine, it was above all the defection of several key oligarchs critical to the coalition supporting Viktor Yanukovych – together with their media assets and bought up Rada MPs – that ensured the success of Euromaidan (though a false flag helped). Moldova is essentially a playground for various oligarchic and nationalist factions. So oligarchs have a record of successfully influencing politics throughout the former USSR, and moreover, as a class they have no particular reasons to love Putin. So how much of a threat are they?

They are a bigger threat than any other force, but still not all that dangerous. First, there has already been stringent selection for loyalty; recalcitrants (Gusinsky, Berezovsky, Khodorkovsky, etc.) have long been purged or exiled abroad. The 1990s class of oligarchs, who have the most reason to hate Putin, now have very little institutional influence. Khodorkovsky tried to infiltrate the system by buying up Duma MPs in the early 2000s, which no doubt contributed to the decision to bring down the hammer of the law against him. Since his release he has said he wants to lead Russia (thus once again breaking his promise not to go into politics), but his main political asset is but a slick PR campaign centered almost exclusively on the West. How that could translate into meaningful political power in Russia is unclear to say the least.

Meanwhile, the large class of billionaires created in the 2000s has no particular reason to dislike Putin, especially since he was the man who enabled many of them to acquire or expand their fortunes; nor do they have much in the way of political influence, since staying out of politics was a condition of them being allowed to do large-scale business in the first place (Mikhail Prokhorov’s 2008 Presidential run was a mutually agreed upon exception). The supportive political role of the AKP-linked construction barons in Erdogan’s Turkey, who have gotten rich on providing homes and malls for Anatolians moving to the western cities, is in Russia played by a small group of Putin’s friends, who get privileged contracts in return for their loyalty and helping out with projects of national importance. Is this corrupt? Sure. But on the flip side, nobody apart from the Roternbergs was rushing to build a bridge to Crimea, because they have too many assets tied up in the West. Incidentally, speaking of the West, far from destabilizing Putin’s domestic position as initially hoped for, the sanctions on Russian figures close to Putin have only strengthened Putin’s position, since they are more reliant on his favor than ever before now that the option of fleeing to Londongrad has been foreclosed.

II

But okay, let’s put all that aside and wave a magic wand.

While Putin is away at a UN summit, his approval at a record low due to a recent crab-related sex scandal, a group of oligarchs manage to buy off the directors of most of the main TV channels, a large chunk of United Russia MPs, and the head of the Moscow police and OMON. Putin’s Cabinet are taken into custody. Khodorkovsky and the rest of his merry revolutionaries jet in, while Putin’s plane is discovered to have mechanical problems (a group of men are seen furtively sneaking out of the hangar), delaying his return to Russia for a number of critical hours.

In this scenario, will the coup go ahead successfully, the now liberal-controlled state TV brainwashing vatnik brains overnight into avid becoming avid supporters of Khodorkovsky and holding a gay parade in his honor, or will they take to the streets to preserve their democratically elected President/evil totalitarian regime (cross out as appropriate)?

Well, the first and most obvious “problem” is that Putin’s approval rating has hovered at a steady 60%-90% through the 16 years of his rule.

putin-approval-rating-1999-2016

Color revolutions, even coups, are pretty much impossible with these kinds of ratings. Yanukovych was in his 20%’s on the eve of Euromaidan (similar to Poroshenko today), and even lower in Kiev. Even the failed recent coup against Erdogan occured when he was in his 40%’s. All three of the post-Soviet coups came at a time of double-digit annual GDP collapse and civil war/failed war against Armenia. Despite political crises in 1961 and 1968, there was never a successful coup against France’s Charles de Gaulle, the postwar West European leader with whom Putin perhaps has the most commonalities; between 1958 and 1969, De Gaulle’s approval ratings averaged 60% (Putin: 75%), and never dipped below 42% (Putin: Low 60%’s).

One popular theory advanced by Daniel Treisman used to explain Putin’s Teflon-like popularity (and popularized in his book The Return) tied Putin’s (and Yeltsin’s) approval ratings to economic performance.

treisman-putin-approval-predicted-from-economics

However, as it later emerged, this tight correlation must have been an artifact. It broke down to the downside during the 2011-12 protests over electoral falsifications, even though the economy then was chugging along more or less normally; and it veered sharply upwards after the incorporation of Crimea in 2014, even as the economy went into a long recession.

So you can’t rely on sanctions and/or The Next Recession to torpedo Putin’s ratings.

Another popular theory is that Russian pollsters are unreliable. It is also incredibly illogical, since the Levada Center is for all intents and purposes an oppositional organization, and because even Western pollsters consistently confirm Putin’s high approval ratings.

The most nuanced critique is the “mile wide but inch deep” theory of post-Soviet politics, which as repeatedly applied to Putin’s Russia means that the population is too afraid to answer pollsters truthfully, and/or supports Putin but without much enthusiasm, such that they will all defect from him once his sorceror’s spell is broken, and the mind-control Towers of Saraksh crumble. (There is also of course an ideological component here as well, namely the unwillingness of Western elites to come to terms with democratic choices that they disapprove of, as has been blatantly demonstrated in the past year by their reactions to Brexit and Trump).

putin-approval-frye-estimates

This theory, however, has been conclusively debunked by Timothy Frye et al. in 2015, who used a double list experiment – a clever way of gauging attitudes towards a potentially controversial topic without respondents having to answer it directly – to confirm that Putin’s approval ratings as measured by mainstream pollsters were accurate to at least within 10 percentage points, and concluded that the “main obstacle at present to the emergence of a widespread opposition movement to Putin is not that Russians are afraid to voice their disapproval of Putin, but that Putin is in fact quite popular.”

III

Leonid Bershidsky identifies three reasons why a coup might have better prospects against Putin than against Erdogan.

First, Bershidsky claims that as an “essentially one-party democracy,” Russian voters will not be under any great incentive to defend their votes: “Putin’s supporters are passive and often dependent on government largesse – which might still be available from whoever tries to depose the president.” This is a dangerous assumption for the coup plotters, and as shown above, almost certainly a false one.

Second, Turkey has allowed foreign media to operate widely: “As a result, it wasn’t state television but the secularist, private Dogan media group, which owns the CNN Turk TV channel, that put Erdogan on the air first so he could tell the nation he was fighting the coup attempt.” Because of course the Western media is well known for its impartiality towards Putin and its absolute respect for democracy. It’s not like they’ve spent the past sixteen years relentlessly smearing Putin and denying the democratic choices of the Russian people.

Third, Bershidsky points out that “vibrant connection to organized religion is another strength of the Erdogan regime.” Although Putin has a good relationship with the Russian Orthodox Church, it is true that that nobody is going to come out even if they were to ring their bells. However, Russia does have a means of instantly politically mobilizing its population: “Patriotic” websites and social media.

Within an hour, if not minutes, of a hostile coup, patriotic bloggers such as Nikolay Starikov are going to call their readers out into the streets. So will Sergey Kurginyan’s patriotic-Communist “Essence of Time” movement. They will have a huge immediate audience because Internet penetration in Moscow is at 80%, and close to 70% in the rest of Russia.

This is barely mentioned or remembered nowadays, but it is worth mentioning that during the 2011-12 wave of protests, when Putin’s approval ratings were at their nadir, the Kurginyanites still managed to pull off the single biggest (counter)protest of that entire electoral cycle, and they did it in the country’s most oppositional city at the time.

Even if, at the time of the coup, Putin’s approval rating were to drop to a historic low of 50%, that would still leave 16% of Russians whose “Putinism Quotient” is +1 S.D. above the average – perhaps, many of the 16% of Russians who today either have or want to acquire a portrait or sculpture of Putin – who are strong Putin supporters and who would spill over into the streets, like the 800,000 Parisians who marched against a Communist revolution and in support of Charles de Gaulle on May 30, 1968.

The 2% of Russians whose PQ is +2 S.D. above the mean – i.e., easily 100,000 Muscovites alone – would be the ones lynching coup sympathizers on the streets and engaging in battles with the Traitor Legions.

And there does exist a group of people, the +3 S.D. types, too embarassingly fanatical to be overtly associated even for your average Putin supporter, small in percentage terms but nonetheless substantial in absolute numbers, who can more or less fairly be described as Putin cultists:

The path laid by the father is not one of argument with him, but rather argument with the open world laying before us, an argument in which we are together with the father, at one with him,” it says. “We don’t fight with the power of the father, we share it, we learn the power, we master the power, together with the father we direct its energy toward our present and future.

Presumably, they will most certainly not take the coup lying down (unless it’s in front of a tank).

This is ultimately all just bell curve dynamics.

It is almost impossible that the Army or any significant portion of the security agencies would support the coupists. The Russian Armed Forces are a mix of conscripts and professionals. Conscripts tend to come from poorer, working-class families – i.e., more patriotic than hipsters who avoid service – and the professional soldiers are self-selected for greater patriotism, as with militaries almost anywhere. As for the generals, as mentioned above, it is hard to see them ditching the reliable Putin they know for an unelected emigre and convicted financial fraudster from Switzerland.

With neither the people nor the Army behind them, the coup will fail. And that is also why it will almost certainly never start.

There are several conceivable ways in which the Putin regime could end prematurely – an accident or assassination, a huge geopolitical defeat, or perhaps a liberalization of the political system that veers out of control – but a coup is not one of them under both the current and most conceivable future circumstances.

 

Based on a December 22, 2015 WIN/Gallup International poll:

world-map-putin-approval-2015-details

[Click to enlarge].

Note that this indicates net approval, that is, the percentage of people with a favorable view of Putin minus the percentage of people with an unfavorable view of him.

global-putin-approval-2015 One immediately striking thing is just how how uniform Western attitudes are. Note how countries where net approval of Putin is below -20% are almost exclusively Western countries, while the only two notable countries in the Western geopolitical bloc to approve of Putin are Greece and Bulgaria. Both of which happen to belong to Orthodox civilization, going by Huntingtonian definitions.

Really, Ukraine is the exception that proves the rule. Although Putin’s approval rating of -38% is considerably negative and far worse than before 2013, one has to admit – regardless of his particular opinion on the Maidan and the Donbass conflict – that most Ukrainians have no obvious cause to love Putin and plenty to hate him. Nonetheless, remarkably, far more people the US (-44%) and especially Europe (-50% to -70%) dislike or hate him.

What all this says about the agenda and central management (if any) of the Western MSM I leave as an exercise in speculation to the reader.

Incidentally, Americans dislike Putin considerably less than Europeans. This is a lot less surprising that it might seem at first glance because there is a powerful socially conservative but counter-culture demographic that is cool with Trump and spawned NRx and the Red Pill, admires the cartoons of the real Ben Garrison and makes counter-signal memes for fashy goys, provides an audience for The Unz Review, etc. This demographic is much less prevalent in Europe, where the Right tends to be crusty old Cold Warriors and the Left has been more comprehensively hijacked by Social Justice than even in the US. This reaches a symbolic apogee in second-to-last Sweden Yes! which gives Putin a -77% net approval rating.

Incidentally, this is not a new development, I wrote about it half a year ago and Russia watcher Patrick Armstrong presaged its appearance even earlier:

It’s a fun and counterintuitive fact but Putin is more popular in the US (21%) than he is in any major NATO country bar Germany (23%). Moreover, the US takes the lead if only West Germany is counted (19%), since the overall German score is influenced by the unusually Russophilic attitudes of the East (40%). Maybe because Americans respect manliness, at least marginally more so than limp-wristed Europeans if dank memes on the Internet are anything to go by?

Most of the rest of the world outside the West either couldn’t care less about Putin (e.g. Latin America, Africa) or continue to be positive towards him (e.g. India, China). Incidentally, this just goes once more to confirm that at least from a global demographic point of view, talk of Russia’s “isolation” from the international community is complete and utter nonsense. This is rather obvious but even – especially – obvious things need to be repeated when they are so strenuously and regularly denied by the media.

There are a few countries where Putin is even more popular than he is in Russia itself. The highest on the list, giving him a 79% net approval rating, is Armenia. This is also unsurprising since relations between Armenia and Russia more than passingly resemble those between Israel and the US when it is run by Republican Presidents, down to the influence of powerful ethnonationalist lobbies. On that front, they have recently integrated their air defense systems. Another prominent member of that crowd is Serbia, where Putin is as popular as in Russia. No surprise there, and they certainly have no reason to love NATO.

 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Opinion Poll, Vladimir Putin 

According to Forbes, yes he is, for the third time in a row.

most-powerful-people-2015

A natural question would be – how on Earth do you actually quantify such things? Forbes relies on an index consisting of a political/demographic component (control over people), a financial component (wealth), prominence in various spheres (e.g. automative, space, financial, etc.), and whether they actually used their power.

Even so, is it really plausible for Merkel to be ahead of Obama? For semi-retired Bill Gates to be ahead of virtually all other national leaders? For the Pope to be ahead of Xi Jinping? (Stalin’s jibes about how many divisions the Pope has regardless, I really don’t see how the leader of an emerging superpower could be less powerful than a media celebrity priest).

Perhaps a slightly more interesting and legitimate way of calculating individual power would be to calculate what share any one person has over the “power” of his country or countries. (The reason for this is that, like it or not – and rhetoric about globalization to the contrary – the nation-state remains far and away the most dominant actor on the international stage. Even if you think that lobbying groups, corporations or even the Illuminati rule the roost, nation-states are still the vectors by which they exercise their influence).

According to my estimates of comprehensive national power (CNP) for 2015, the leading country is the US, set to 100, followed by China (52), Russia (28), UK/France (both 20), India (18), Japan (17), and Germany (15).

Does this mean that Obama and Xi Jinping are more powerful than Putin? Not necessarily.

Putin, arguably, has far more relative power over Russia than either of them. In particular, both Obama and Xi Jinping are subject to a two term limit (even if they are enforced very differently). Putin’s two term limit is a mere formality. Although Putin has to satisfy some key interest groups, and as a fairly intelligent person consults widely with experts and opinion polls, he still has an astounding degree of leeway over Russian policy. In contrast, the position of the General Secretary in the Chinese Politburo has been characterized as merely “first amongst equals.” Any US President needs to contend for power with the other branches of government, first and foremost, the legislature. This makes him even less relatively powerful.

So if we posit that, say, Putin “controls” 75% of power in Russia, versus 40% for Xi Jinping and 20% for Obama – this is just about plausible, I think – then the Forbes ranking would be confirmed. But it is impossible to imagine how Merkel could conceivably take second place. That is just the recent media furore making itself felt on Forbes’ pages.

 
• Category: Miscellaneous • Tags: Human Achievement, Power, Vladimir Putin 

putin-with-book Pumpkin Person (PP), an up and coming IQ blogger, has estimated Putin’s IQ to be about 127.

He derives this based on a z-factor analysis of Putin’s status as the most powerful White person in the world (135), based on the 0.4 correlation between IQ and income (and presumably, power), minus an adjustment for his relatively dimunitive height (-8), based on the 0.24 correlation between IQ and height.

The method is of course questionable for any number of reasons. That said, for someone who openly admits to knowing “virtually nothing” about Putin, this is entirely understandable. Even people who know more about him will have a hard time making very good estimates because of the paucity of public records of Putin’s academic performance.

That said, I think in general that is a fair estimate, not least because my own impression of Putin’s IQ has also long been about 130.

Below I will be trying to substantiate this estimate with more detail.

First off, a little expounding on PP’s argument

historical-height-of-russian-men PP probably makes too much of the height thing. First of all, he uses an estimate of 63.5 inches (161cm), versus the official figure of 67 inches (170cm), on the basis that there is a conspiracy theory to inflate Putin’s height. Second, he compares Putin’s height with old American dudes (174cm), whereas the proper comparison would be with old Russian dudes (168-170cm as shown right). In fact, if we posit that there is no conspiracy to overstate Putin’s height, and it really is 170cm, then he would be entirely typical of men of his generation. (This would make him similar to Napoleon, another very powerful man who was reputed to be short but was in fact entirely average in that respect for a late 18th century Corsican).

Of course these points are also rather moot in the sense that you’d also then have to adjust down for Flynn Effect, especially since this is the 1950s USSR you’re talking about, i.e. still a semi-Third World country in socio-economic terms, with residual malnutrition. This would have almost the same exact effect of knocking 5-10 points off and getting 125-130.

(Another point raised by the commentator SFG is that another issue to consider is that shorter dudes face face extra headwinds to success due to purely social factors, so the IQ of a short person who manages to attain power nonetheless might be expected to be higher, if anything. PP argues that the correlation between height and money is actually very slight once adjusted for IQ. But I am not sure you can so cavalierly extend this from from money – which you can make without much in the way of social status – to power – where having status and a telegenic presence is a necessity).

Additional arguments for Putin having an IQ of 130

He got into Leningrad State, one of the USSR’s elite universities (though not the most elite Moscow institutions – but then as far as I know he didn’t apply to them anyway). His performance, though classified, was evidently good enough for him to be eventually accepted into the KGB’s foreign espionage department. However, his career progression in the KGB was slow. He only began to rise fast after joining the world of 1990s Russian politics.

He is known for making witty rejoinders and having a very good grasp of facts, numbers, and statistics in discussions.

He is fully fluent in German. Since becoming President, he has also developed semi-fluency in the English language, despite an obviously crowded schedule. All this hints at a solid degree of intelligence.

According to insider accounts, his typical reading material consists of bulky historical tomes. That suggests high intelligence and discipline.

He is also genuinely religious, and religiosity has a negative correlation with IQ. His family are both working class; grandfather was a chef for Lenin and Stalin. But the Putin family is also surprisingly long-lived, especially by Russian standards – most of them tend to live into their late 80s and even 90s. Longevity is positively correlated with IQ.

Though I have trouble recalling any very specific examples, my general impression is that he is NOT at an elite level of intelligence (i.e. 145+). This loose impression is backed up by another commentator at PP’s blog, Konstantin Surzhikov, who appears to be both Russian and familiar with psychometrics (he might be this guy with an IQ of 144).

Hi there. I am blessed to know several persons with recorded IQ’s from 123 to 142 (sd 15,age-addjasted western norms). So, I’d like to put my 50 cent here. Putin acts and talks as a person with IQ definitely lower than 137, but slightly higher than 125. My subjective impression that it can be a bit higher than 127, but all in all it fits your guess very well/ I understand clearly that this kind of approach can hardly be better than your calculation , but my only – but important – advantage is that I am a Russia citizen, a native Russian, watching that very active and talkative guy on TV here for years. Well done anyways!

Could Putin’s IQ be much higher than 130? The argument from geopolitics.

There is a well-established stereotype of Putin “outplaying” Obama on the world stage (see all the Putin playing chess while Obama plays checkers rhetoric floating around), which PP alludes to.

One problem with estimating Putin’s IQ at 127 is that there is reason to believe Obama’s IQ is close to 140. Can Obama really be smarter than Putin when we keep seeing reports that Putin is always outsmarting Obama.

It has been found that IQ correlated postively with assessments of US Presidential leadership performance, so this is certainly worth bearing in mind.

However, there are two caveats to be borne in mind here.

First, we will only know how geopolitically successful (or not) Putin truly is not today, but in a decade’s time or so. As I have covered on this very blog, the concept of mnogokhodovka – the concept that Putin is carrying out a long-term, very intelligent series of chess moves that will end up in the creation of Novorossiya and the defeat of the US empire that – is fast becoming a laughing stock amongst both liberals and anti-Kremlin nationalists. Even the pro-Kremlin nationalists who created this concept are now abandoning it.

Second, there are reasons to believe the correlation between IQ and leadership performance in Russia might not hold nearly as strongly in Russia as it does in the US. That is because the Russian elites are far less loyal to Russia than American elites are to the US. Some literally care more about having access to French cheese than the lives and wellbeing of their less privileged compatriots in Crimea. Much more exposed to Western influence thanks to their international contacts and English language proficiency, they tend to develop a cargo cult mentality towards the West, which expresses itself in cringing obeisance to Western foreign policy and the wholesale adoption of Western ways, and should the people object, they could always be dissolved and another elected (as per Bertolt Brecht). This is based on the idea that Western acculturation will reap great dividents and that the West itself has Russia’s best interests at heart. Of course, neither has been true historically.

It is worth noting in particular that Gorbachev, possibly the USSR’s most intelligent leader, was also the one who failed in the most singular, spectacular way: His country ceased to exist, and his approval ratings in Russia remain within polling margins of error to this day.

This does not just apply to the politicians, but to voters too. A map of voting patterns in Moscow shows the richest places displaying the highest support for liberal pro-Western figures like Navalny, with the very highest support for them registering in areas around elite universities. As such, supporters of patriotic and conservative currents in Russian politics (as opposed to liberal) suffer from a cruel bind – we are objectively dumber than the people who would have us kneel before the likes of Obama.

However, as the HBDsphere will know better than anyone else, this does not mean we are wrong.

The media and academia are constantly promoting multiculturalism and these elites may make more of an effort to brainwash high IQ people because they’re the future elites. Little effort is made to convince low IQ whites to embrace multiculturalism because it doesn’t matter what they think; and indeed allowing low IQ whites to dwell in racialism further stigmatizes it as low class, which is exactly what the intelligentsia wants. Further, low IQ whites might be harder to brainwash anyway because they don’t have enough brains to wash.

Ergo Russians and the Western media/political complex.

Could Putin’s IQ be much lower than 130? The argument from plagiarism, aggression, corruption, and unwillingness to engage in debates.

Putin did have his PhD thesis written for him in the 1990s, but every Russian politician was doing the same thing. In Russia’s context, that say’s nothing about Putin’s IQ.

Aggressiveness is negatively correlated with IQ. Probably so is corruption.

putin-vs-obama Putin is undoubtedly more “aggressive” than the average Western politician, as humorously documented by numerous Internet memes like the one on the right. In his series of 1999 interviews documented in the book From the First Person, Putin admitted to being involved in street fights and consorting with riffraff in his schoolboy days (though this may have motivated by a strategy to project an “everyman” image). Even so, no conclusions can be made from this on his intelligence. That is because Russian politics and business is systemically more aggressive than in Western countries. That’s simply what you have to do to survive there.

For instance, take Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Thanks to a skilful and well-funded “rebranding” campaign and cultivation of ties with American neocons in the 2000s, he is primarily known in the West as a genteel Jewish intellectual of moderate social democratic views who got repressed by Putin for supporting corporate transparency and human rights. But in the long-forgotten 1990s, he had the reputation of a gangster who abused minority investors and had his business and political rivals whacked. And yet this very unscrupulous and possibly outright murderous man undoubtedly has a very high IQ.

And these examples can be extended almsot indefinitely so far as the Russian elites are concerned.

Ergo for corruption. Though it need hardly be said that everyone is still waiting for any evidence of his $70 billion offshore fortune.

One final observation is that Putin has studiously avoided debates with political rivals. Performance in debates correlates well with IQ, so if Putin’s was low, he might feel afraid to take on his political challengers so directly. But this has a perfectly rational explanation. In all Presidential elections to date, his poll ratings have massively outstripped those of the Communist, nationalist, and liberal candidates. He is not obligated to debate any of them by law. Doing so would only introduce the chance of him making some costly rhetorical blunder and suffering a big blow in the polls. As such, to participate in them at all would be a mistake.

While he has not participated in debates, he does field unrehearsed questions from journalists and citizens on a somewhat regular basis. My observation is that for the most part, his answers tend to be lucid, erudite, and witty. This is a fair but not great indicator of IQ.

 
• Category: Humor • Tags: Intelligence, Vladimir Putin 

After a week-long absence, the Internet is growing rife with rumors about Putin’s health and whereabouts.

Has he produced a heir with Alina Kabaeva? Is he plotting nuclear war with the West from his bunker at Mount Yamantau? Has he been abducted by aliens? Or is the Mausoleum about to get a new occupant??

putin-mausoleum

Let’s consider the possibilities one by one:

Putin is ill

This is according to an anonymous Kazakh official, following the cancelation of a planned visit to Astana. This is being denied by Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov, who said Putin was “breaking hands” in response to a question about his handshake. Naturally. But it has to be admitted that a week and counting is a long time in politics. Still, everyone gets the flu now and then, and in a highly personalistic power system like Russia’s it might not do well to display the fact. When alpha male chimps become ill, rather than weather challenges from young upstarts while they are relatively incapacitated, they prefer to wander into the forest, come back when they get better, and act as if nothing out of the norm had happened (or they die). It would not do for people to see the Tsar and arbiter of the Kremlin clans coughing, sneezing, and bedridden like some old geezer.

Putin is incapacitated or dead

Perhaps he had a stroke or heart attack. Maybe he’s dead, and Maidanist Ukrainians can jump in glee, like the Prussians did in the correct belief that Elizaveta had died and the war against them would soon end, or the top Nazis in 1945 on the incorrect belief that the death of FDR would presage the unraveling of the Alliance.

Unfortunately for them, this is almost certainly out of the question, and not only because keeping such a development in Russia, which after all is still a largely open information space, is practically unfeasible.

The first reason to treat rumors of Putin’s death from health complications is that he is an extremely healthy physical specimen, a genuine judoka who starts his day with a few laps in the swimming pool and rarely drinks. This alone would make the average Russian male life expectancy of 65 years completely inapplicable to him. Second, he enjoys basically billionaire-level healthcare. Yeltsin, an obese alcoholic who suffered from heart attacks every other year, still managed to eke out 76 years with the help of elite healthcare. Finally, the Putins appear to be an unusually long-lived family in general. His mother, Maria Ivanovna, died at the age of 87, and his father, Vladimir Spiridonovich, at 88. His paternal grandfather, Spiridon Putin, who incidentally happened to be a cook to Lenin and Stalin, died at the age of 86. His other children also tended to die at advanced ages – Anna at 80, and as far as I can establish, Alexander (born in 1920) and Ludmila (born in 1926) were alive at least until 2000, though I’m uncertain about Mikhail (born in 1913). Only one of Spiridon Putin’s children died early, but that was from a German shell or bullet in 1941. Longevity is moderately heritable, and such consistently high lifespans are highly unusual for 20th century Russia. Of course a healthy lifestyle, genetics, and elite healthcare are no absolute guarantee against a premature death, but when virtually all the variables are stacked in your favor, it makes it very unlikely. I may have to eat a bullet on this, but I fully expect Putin’s lifespan to be comparable to Castro’s.

One final reason to treat claims of Putin’s premature demise with skepticism is that this is hardly the first time it’s happened. There is a small minority of Russians who desperately and fervently wish him dead, and are more than happy to provide grist for the rumor mill, and there is a much larger group of Westerners who would be very happy at treat the resulting product as wheat when all the evidence points to it being chaff. There was an analogous case in 2012, when Putin also disappeared for a few days following what was likely a minor back injury during judo practice. That didn’t stop Russian emigre journalist Leonid Bershidsky from upgrading it to spinal cancer, a claim which seems to have been originally posted by a minor Russian oppositionist and soon afterwards actively propagated by the Chechen Islamist terrorist website Kavkaz Center:

Today I learned from a source in the presidential administration, that our alpha dog is not simply sick but he is sick with spine sarcoma (spinal cancer,) and 3 months are left for the life of this guy. The cancer cannot be treated, and there is already a struggle inside the KGB for powerful positions.

A probable successor will actually be the shaman Shoigu (Russia’s new defense minister), and soon there will be a lot of interesting events, in particular, before the next special operation to transfer the throne from one thief to another; half of the of weapons are planned to be confiscated from the population. So, in 2013 there will be fun. We must prevent a new thief from the Putin’s gang to move to the Kremlin.

This has all the usual Kremlinological dreck, which we’ll come to in a sec, but first, a litte aside: The reference to “shaman” is on account of Shoigu’s Buddhism. I did say this is an extremist Islamist website, which openly and proudly celebrates terrorist attacks on Russian soil. But funnily enough, it happens to be hosted without any problems on a Finnish server. One can only imagine the problems, say, Al Qaeda or ISIS would have if they were to try to get hosting in a Western country. It pays for an Islamist terrorist group to have the right sugardaddy.

Coup

Anyhow, moving on. Images of tanks and APCs on Red Square… that happened to be several years old. Rumors that the Kremlin was to make an important announcement this weekend, and orders to journalists to remain in Moscow… soon proved a fake. Black helicopters over the Kremlin. Medvedev is now calling the shots. Or Primakov in a liberal palace coup. Or Sergey Ivanov in a hardliner uprising. Or maybe Putin himself is preparing a massive political reorganization, such as firing Medvedev’s Cabinet in favor of Ivanov, the Chief of Staff of the Presidential Administration.

Problem: Mounting a coup against Putin is hard. No major interest group has beef with him: The non-systemic opposition is impotent, truculent oligarchs have long since been purged or coopted, and the political elites – especially the siloviki, or security personnel – are largely agreed with his domestic and foreign policy course. The civiliki, or liberal technocrats, might not be quite as happy, but they are also divided and frankly don’t have the requisite balls to attempt a coup anyway. Even if they did, they would still have to figure out how to manage a population that at this point in history virtually adulates Putin; at last count, his approval rating was at an astronomical 88%.

And the last, concrete argument against the coup theory is that the events of the past week don’t hew to the standard patterns of historical coup. The hard men at the FSB or the MVD would not be taking so long about it. The Army would be getting involved. Considering that they overwhelmingly sided with Gorbachev in August 1991, when his popularity was already at rock bottom, it is inconceivable that Russia’s apolitical generals would side against Putin. There would almost certainly be blood in the streets. No, the chances of a coup are infinitesimal. Putin is more likely dead from a stroke than under house arrest or something that approximates to it.

Out of all these options, the only more or less remotely feasible one is that Putin is preparing some kind of major new denouement, such as the formation of a new government, or a major change of policy – there are mixed signals, so it could be in either direction – on Ukraine.

The Grozny Gambit

In 1564, getting tired of the aristocracy’s incompetence and venality, Ivan Grozny (mistranslated as “The Terrible”) left his throne for a monastery in disgust. Unable to govern and threatened by the Moscow mob, the boyars begged him to come back. Ivan agreed, but only on condition that they vest him with absolute power. The boyars acceded to his ultimatum. Ivan returned in 1565, and created the infamous oprichnina, with their Nazgul-like black attire and black horses, and pommel-mounted dog heads and brooms to “sniff out and sweep away” treason. The Russian state became centralized as never before, but at the cost of eventual ruin and economic collapse.

ivan-terrible-grozny-and-people

Is Putin doing the Grozny Gambit, betting that Russia will become ungovernable in his absence and that the boyars and the people will demand his return on any condition?

Much as this image of Tsar Putin would satiate the hearts and minds of romantics and neoreactionaries… no. Just no. Putin isn’t one for the melodramatic, or the taking of unnecessary risks for gains that he doesn’t even aspire to it in the first place.

Kabaeva love child

Putin’s amorous relationship with rhythmic gymnast and Olympic champion Alina Kabaeva has been the stuff of Kremlin rumors and febrile imaginations for the past seven years. The general story is that Putin and Kabaeva became engaged in 2008, married in 2013, and had a child in Switzerland this February. Though strongly denied by Putin’s spokespeople, the timing of his divorce from his first wife Ludmila, in 2013, is certainly interesting. And a Twitter account, most convincingly named @kabaeva_russia, claimed that she “just had a son” two days ago.

Which doesn’t square with the “Es ist ein Madchen!” soundbyte adopted by the media. Or with why a privacy-conscious Putin would go to Switzerland; it’s not like Russia doesn’t have any elite obstetrics facilities. Or with Kabaeva’s figure a couple of months ago, which doesn’t exaclty look seven months pregnant.

kabaeva-not-pregnant

Frankly, the likeliest possibility is that Putin’s team tolerates and even gently promotes these rumors, since virility is generally considered to be a good thing in leaders – better than being sick, at any rate.

Still, Leonid Bershidsky is ON IT, so that must at least count for something.

Schrodinger’s Putin

My bet is still on a particularly nasty flu or maybe a mild-to-moderate health issue, which if so would probably be highly visual, like Botox gone wrong. 88% approval rating or not, he’d still be a laughing stock.

But surely I am not alone in hoping for Putin’s glorious emergence on Red Square soon before the assembled people, a cyborg robot suit in place of torso, Monomakh’s Cap on his head, and a swaddled infant-heir in his arms, proclaiming the foundation of the Imperial Russian Horde.

Either way, we’ll find soon enough. Appointments have been scheduled, prior postponements have to be made good; we are unlikely to be waiting for answers for very much longer.

 
• Category: Humor • Tags: Russian Politics, Vladimir Putin 

(1) Just as with Manning, it is beyond dispute that Snowden broke US law. As such, the US government is perfectly entitled to try to apprehend him (on its own soil), request his extradition, and prosecute him. This is quite perpendicular to whether Snowden’s leaks were morally “justified” or not. In some sense, they were. In my opinion, privacy as a “right” will go the way of the dodo whatever happens due to the very nature of modern technological progress. The best thing civil society can do in response is to make the lack of privacy symmetrical by likewise exposing the inner workings of powerful governments, the increasing numbers of private individuals connected to the government who enjoy its privileges but are not even nominally accountable like democratic governments, and corporations. In this sense, I agree with Assange’s philosophy. That said, it’s perfectly understandable that the government as an institution begs to differ and that it has the legal power – not to mention the approval of 54% of Americans – to prosecute Snowden. But!

(2) It preferably has to do so in a way that’s classy and follows the strictures of international law. As I pointed out in my blog post on DR and article for Voice of Russia, treason is not a crime like murder, rape, terrorism, or theft which are pretty much universally reviled (though even these categories have exceptions: Luis Posada Carriles – terrorism; Pavel Borodin – large-scale financial fraud). One country’s traitor is another country’s hero; one man’s turncoat is another man’s whistle-blower. So throwing hysterics about Russia’s refusal to extradite Snowden isn’t so even so much blithely arrogant as it is stupid and cringe-worthy. Would a Russian Snowden, let’s call him Eddie Snegirev, be extradited back to Moscow should he turn up at JFK Airport? To even ask the question is answer it with a mocking, bemused grin on one’s face.

(3) It is true that the US, as a superpower, can afford to flout international law more than any other country. There is no point in non-Americans whining about it – that’s just the way of the jungle world that is international relations. Nonetheless, it can be argued that making explicit just to what extent the European countries are its stooges and vassals – as unambiguously revealed in the coordination between France, Portugal, Spain, and Italy that created a wall of closed off airspace preventing the return of Bolivian President Evo Morales to his homeland on the mere suspicion that Edward Snowden is on board – is perhaps not the best best thing you can do to draw goodwill to yourself. While European governments are by all indications quite happy to be vassals and puppets, many of their peasants don’t quite feel that way – and having the fact presented so blatantly to their faces is just going to create resentment. Why such a drastic step is necessary is beyond me. Why pursuing Snowden so vigorously, who has already leaked everything he has to leak, is in any way desirable beyond the fleeting thrill of flaunting imperial power must remain a mystery.

(4) While Snowden personally comes out as sincere and conscientious, he is profoundly lacking in political awareness. Unlike Snowden and Correa, the Russian authorities have apparently correctly guessed that the US wouldn’t balk at grounding aircraft if they suspected the fugitive was on board; hence, according to British lawyer (and occasional AKarlin contributor) Alexander Mercouris, why Correa ended backing off the asylum offer – getting to Latin America is simply surprisingly difficult. Same as regards Maduro. Russia all but offered Snowden asylum on a platter. Putin’s condition that he “stop hurting the US” was but a formality for Western consumption – considering that Snowden had already, presumably, divulged everything to Wikileaks and Glenn Greenwald, and in any case it is standard practice for political asylum claimants to clear anything they wish to say with the authorities of the country offering them sanctuary so as to avoid hurting their interests.

But Snowden, perhaps driven by some mixture of personal principles as well as his perception of Russia as a non-democratic country, withdrew his application for asylum in Russia, and proceeded to send applications to dozens of other countries – including outright vassals like Poland, which wouldn’t bat an eyelid at extraditing him (the country’s Foreign Minister Radosław Sikorski is married to Anne Applebaum, a US neocon). That was completely unprofessional, a cheap PR stunt that doubled as a slap in the face to Russia and a display of legalistic ignorance (many countries require the political asylum claimant to be physically present on their territory). I concur with Mercouris’ assessment that Snowden appears to be getting appallingly low quality legal advice from Sarah Harrison/Wikileaks, at least if and insofar as getting real political asylum is his actual goal.

(5) Where can Snowden get asylum? Russia would be the obvious choice, but he seems to have ruled that out as mentioned above. He probably regards it as a non-democratic country, and took Putin’s stated conditions of asylum – no more leaks that embarrass the US – a bit too literally. I originally thought Germany might be feasible – tellingly, it *didn’t* close off its airspace to Morales’ airplane – but then they refused anyway. Venezuela, which is now touted as the likeliest destination, is a fair choice, but it will be difficult to get there, or to Latin America in general. Giving Snowden a military escort to get asylum in a foreign country would be impractical and unseemly in the extreme for Russia. And if European countries are prepared to overturn decades of international legal conventions to – for all means and purposes – hijack the plane of a national leader, even if of a weak and unimportant country, they would have no qualms whatsoever about doing the same to commercial airliners.

An additional problem is that Bolivia, and to a lesser extent Ecuador and Venezuela, are politically unstable – with the opposition consisting of hardcore Atlanticists. Should there be a change of power in those places – be it through the gun or the ballot box – the new authorities would send the likes of Snowden back to the US within the week and apologize for their shameful earlier lack of subservience to boot. Russia too has Atlanticist elements within their opposition, but they enjoy the support of only about 10% of the population – while almost half of Venezuelans voted for Capriles in their last two elections. Besides, as WaPo’s Max Fisher points out, Russia has never extradited any Western defectors – not even during the rule of Gorbachev or Yeltsin. Finally, while being confined to just Russia for decades or even the rest of one’s life is hardly the best of prospects, it surely beats Venezuela not to mention Bolivia (no disrespect to those two fine nations).

(6) There have been calls, including from The Guardian and his dad, for Snowden to show he’s truly a whistle-blower and not a traitor or spy by returning home. The choice is presumably his, of course, but if he heeds them, then more idiot he. While it is perfectly reasonable to say that Russia, Venezuela, or Ecuador are less democratic or free or whatever than the US, that’s kind of beside the point; what concerns Edward Snowden specifically is whether Russia, Venezuela, or Ecuador are less democratic and free than a US supermax prison. And the answer to that is blindly obvious to all but the most committed freedumb ideologues. Even North Korea would win out on that one.

(7) The final thing I would say about this is episode is that it has really demonstrated the breath-taking scope of US power. Power that is not wisely wielded, perhaps, but power nonetheless. It is absolutely impossible to imagine so many European countries jumping through legalistic hoops, burning bridges with one of the world’s major economic and cultural regions, and drawing the massed ire of their own citizens at the request of any other country. And that’s assuming the US even made that request in the first place, i.e. could they have merely been trying to curry favor with their master?

At some level it has always been clear that the Euro-Atlantic West acts as a united bloc – see a map of (1) the recognition of Kosovo and (2) the non-recognition of Palestine – for visual proof of that. Or read the Wikileaks cables for an insight into how European politicians stumble all over themselves in their eagerness to tattle on everything in their country to American diplomats. Still, the grounding of Morales’ jet makes plain the sheer depth and scope of official European subservience better and more concretely than any other event or affair that one can recall. It also makes a mockery of their stated “concern” over NSA spying, deserving only ridicule and mocking dismissal. This is not a moral failing of the US, in fact it can only be commended and admired for bringing so many countries into complete political and cultural submission to it. It is only the lack of backbone and of the will to establish national sovereignty that is contemptible.

While it’s beyond dispute that the Europeans are complete doormats, it’s still worth noting that cautious, business-like China was eager to get rid of Snowden as quickly as feasibly possible – despite the major propaganda coup he delivered unbidden into their hands by demonstrating that computer hacking wasn’t just a one-way street between China and the US. Putin, too, is notable unenthusiastic. One can’t help but entertain dark speculations about the kind of dirt the NSA might have on him should he ever become too enthusiastic about that whole sovereign democracy thing. Counter-intuitively, it is Latin America – the land explicitly subjected to the Monroe Doctrine – that is mounting the most principled stand in support of government transparency and against Western exceptionalism and double standards.

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

Okay, I promise this will be the last post on the matter. But some of the tropes that come up time and time again in coverage of Chavez’s legacy, from neocons and faux-leftists alike, just have to be addressed for me to rest easy. Note that this is NOT meant to be comprehensive; just some things that continuously get slipped in on the side and tend to get taken for granted.

Chavez rigged elections. Look, I like to think I’m objective here. Some politicians I like rule countries where electoral fraud is widespread. But Venezuela isn’t Russia in this respect. Not only are election results consistent with pre-elections, unbiased polls, but Venezuela’s voting technology makes fraud extremely difficult. See Mark Weisbrot:

In Venezuela, voters touch a computer screen to cast their vote and then receive a paper receipt, which they verify and deposit in a ballot box. Most of the paper ballots are compared with the electronic tally. This system makes vote-rigging nearly impossible: to steal the vote would require hacking the computers and then stuffing the ballot boxes to match the rigged vote.

Unlike in the US, where in a close vote we really have no idea who won (see Bush v Gore), Venezuelans can be sure that their vote counts. And also unlike the US, where as many as 90 million eligible voters will not vote in November, the government in Venezuela has done everything to increase voter registration (now at a record of about 97%) and participation.

Chavez closed down critical TV stations. And yet the old case of the failure to prolong RCTV’s broadcasting license continues to be cited as the main evidence of this media “suppression.” E.g. from the faux-liberal Daily Beast:

And yet Latin America’s new democratic leaders rarely spoke against the excesses of Chávismo, turning a blind eye when he canceled the operating license of independent broadcaster RCTV in 2007…

What typically goes studiously unmentioned is that RCTV gleefully and one-sidedly supported the foreign-backed coup attempt against the legitimately elected Chavez administration in 2002. In many other countries, this would have been considered treason, with the attendant penalties of long-term imprisonment or even execution. In humane Venezuela, however, you just lose your broadcasting license.

Electricity blackouts. Guardianista presstite Rory Carroll, who clearly has an agenda:

He leaves Venezuela a ruin, and his death plunges its roughly 30 million citizens into profound uncertainty.

Because that exactly describes an increase in GDP per capita from $4,105 in 1999 to $10,810 in 2011 (according to his own newspaper). As Craig Willy says:

But particularly hilarious is this statement:

Underinvestment and ineptitude hit hydropower stations and the electricity grid, causing weekly blackouts that continue to darken cities, fry electrical equipment, silence machinery and require de facto rationing.

Because of course they never happen in pro-Western, investor-friendly countries.

Chavez stole $2 billion. These are rumors that keep slithering about in the comments from various neocons, although they rarely pop up into mainstream media texts outright. Apparently this claim comes from some right-wing law firm in Miami that claims the Castro brothers of Cuba are billionaires too. I find it about as credible as claims about Putin’s $40 billion fortune (or is it $70 billion now?), initially made by some non-entity Russian political scientist, and Gaddafi’s $200 billion fortune, probably spread by the CIA or somesuch in the course of NATO’s assault on the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya (very ironic, coming from thieves who had seized Libya’s foreign-based assets). Funny how it’s always those who dare stand up to Western imperialism who get accused by their flunkies of massive corruption, no? I wonder if one causes the other?

Oil dependence. A lot of the presstitutes have accused Chavez of increasing Venezuela’s oil dependence, e.g.:

Former minister Gerver Torres points out that in 1998 oil represented 77 percent of Venezuela’s exports but by 2011 oil represented 96 percent of exports. That means today only around 4 percent of the goods that Venezuela exports are non-oil products! The Venezuelan economy relies almost exclusively on the price of oil and the ability of the government to spend oil revenues.

That’s kind of what happens when the oil price goes from being $11.91 per barrel (in 1998) to $87.04 (in 2011)! Funny how they harp on about how rising oil prices “unfairly” helped Chavez but then instantly shut up about it when making THIS particular point.

Higher violent crime. Not a myth. In fact, as I made clear, it’s one of the Chavez administration’s very biggest failings. Then ago, we also have many of the presstitutes claiming he was a dictator – even though the precise opposite happens with real dictators (they don’t tolerate alternate sources of violence, and they don’t bother with legal niceties; they just put all the suspected mafiosi up against a wall – put the two together, and violent crime almost always plummets under the rule of real dictators. The Sicilian Mafia actually provided help to Allied troops against the Mussolini regime).

He was friends with Ahmadinejad. Plenty of Western politicians are friends with Saudi prices. Drop the double standards.

He was anti-American. Well, what can you expect if you plot a coup against someone and then incessantly demonize him for not respecting democracy? Like Castro, incidentally, he actually started out fairly pro-American. It didn’t have to be this way.

He didn’t build skyscrapers. This has to be read to be believed. From AP’s Pamela Sampson:

Chavez invested Venezuela’s oil wealth into social programs including state-run food markets, cash benefits for poor families, free health clinics and education programs. But those gains were meager compared with the spectacular construction projects that oil riches spurred in glittering Middle Eastern cities, including the world’s tallest building in Dubai and plans for branches of the Louvre and Guggenheim museums in Abu Dhabi.

The author’s agenda speaks for itself. (Not to mention her ignorance – while Venezuela remains fiscally sound, Dubai’s big tower remains 80% unoccupied and needed a $10 billion bailout. Had Chavez listened to people like these then Venezuela would have gone bankrupt for real, not just in their sordid, bitter like imaginations).

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

It’s been a great year! To recap, in rough chronological order, 2011 saw: The most popular post (with 562 comments and counting; granted, most of them consisting of Indians and Pakistanis flaming each other); Visualizing the Kremlin Clans (joint project with Kevin Rothrock of A Good Treaty); my National Comparisons between life in Russia, Britain, and the US; my interview with (now defunct) La Russophobe; interviews with Craig Willy and Mark Chapman; lots of non-Russia related stuff concerning the Arctic, futurism, Esperanto, and the Chinese language; possibly the most comprehensive analyses of the degree of election fraud in the Duma elections in English; TV appearances on RT and Al Jazeera; and what I hope will remain productive relationships with Al Jazeera and Inosmi. Needless to say, little if any of this would have been possible without my e-buddies and commentators, so a special shout out to all you guys. In particular, I would like to mention Alex Mercouris, who as far as I can ascertain is the guy who contributed the 20,000th comment here. I should send him a special T-shirt or something.

In previous years, my tradition was to review the previous year before launching into new predictions. I find this boring and will now forego the exercise, though in passing I will note that many of the defining traits in 2010 – the secular rise of China and of “The Rest” more generally; political dysfunction in the US; growing fissures in Europe, in contrast to Eurasian (re)integration; the rising prominence of the Arctic – have remained dominant into this year. The major new development that neither I nor practically anyone else foresaw was the so-called “Arab Spring”, as part of a pattern of increasing political stress in many other states: Occupy Wall Street and its local branches in the West; the Meetings for Fair Elections in Russia; Wukan in China and anti-corruption protests in India. I don’t disagree with TIME’s decision to nominate The Protester as its person of the year. However, as I will argue below, the nature of protest and instability is radically different in all these regions. I will finish up by reviewing the accuracy of my 2011 predictions from last year.

tsar-putin 1. There is little doubt that Putin will comfortably win the Presidential elections in the first round. The last December VCIOM poll implies he will get about 60%. So assuming there is no major movement in political tectonics in the last three months – and there’s no evidence for thinking that may be the case, as there are tentative signs that Putin’s popularity has began to recover in the last few weeks from its post-elections nadir. Due to the energized political situation, turnout will probably be higher than than in the 2008 elections – which will benefit Putin because of his greater support among passive voters. I do think efforts will be made to crack down on fraud so as to avoid a PR and legitimacy crisis, so that its extent will fall from perhaps 5%-7% in the 2011 Duma elections to maybe 2%-3% (fraud in places like the ethnic republics are more endemic than in, say, Moscow, and will be difficult to expunge); this will counterbalance the advantage Putin will get from a higher turnout. So that’s my prediction for March: Putin wins in the first round with 60%, followed by perennially second-place Zyuganov at 15%-20%, Zhirinovsky with 10%, and Sergey Mironov, Mikhail Prokhorov and Grigory Yavlinsky with a combined 10% or so. If Prokhorov and Yavlinsky aren’t registered to participate, then Putin’s first round victory will probably be more like 65%.

2. I will also go ahead and say that I do not expect the Meetings For Fair Elections to make headway. Despite the much bigger publicity surrounding the second protest at Prospekt Sakharova, attendance there was only marginally higher than at Bolotnaya (for calculations see here). So the revolutionary momentum was barely maintained in Moscow, but flopped everywhere else in the country – as the Medvedev administration responded with what is, in retrospect, a well balanced set of concessions and subtle ridicule. Navalny, the key person holding together the disparate ideological currents swirling about in these Meetings, is not gaining ground; his potential voters are at most 1% of the Russian electorate. And there is no other person in the “non-systemic opposition” with anywhere near his political appeal. There will be further Meetings, the biggest of which – with perhaps as many as 150,000 people – will be the one immediately after Putin’s first round victory; there will be the usual (implausibly large) claims of 15-20% fraud from the usual suspects in the liberal opposition and Western media. But if the authorities do their homework – i.e. refrain from violence against peaceful protesters, and successfully reduce fraud levels (e.g. with the help of web cameras) – the movement should die away. As I pointed out in my article BRIC’s of Stability, the economic situation in Russia – featuring 4.8% GDP growth in Q3 2011 – is at the moment simply not conductive to an Occupy Wall Street movement, let alone the more violent and desperate revolts wracking parts of the Arab world.

3. Many commentators are beginning to voice the unspeakable: The possible (or inevitable) disintegration of the Eurozone. I disagree. I am almost certain that the Euro will survive as a currency this year and for that matter to 2020 too. But many other things will change. The crisis afflicting Europe is far more cultural-political than it is economic; in aggregate terms, the US, Britain and Japan are ALL fiscally worse off than the Eurozone. The main problem afflicting the latter is that it suffers from a geographic and cultural rift between the North and South that is politically unbridgeable.

The costs of debt service for Greece, Portugal, Italy, and Spain are all quickly becoming unsustainable. They cannot devalue, like they would have done before the Euro; nor is Germany prepared to countenance massive fiscal transfers. The result is the prospect of austerity and recession as far as the eye can see (note that all these countries also have rapidly aging populations that will exert increasing pressure on their finances into the indefinite future). Meanwhile, “core Europe” – above all, Germany – benefits as its superior competitiveness allows it to dominate European markets for manufactured goods and the coffers of its shaky banking system are replenished by Southern payments on their sovereign debt.

The only way to resolve this contradiction is through a full-fledged fiscal union, with big longterm transfers from the North to the South. However, the best the Eurocrats have been able to come up with is a stricter version of Maastricht mandating limited budget deficits and debt reduction that, in practice, translates into unenforceable demands for permanent austerity. This is not a sustainable arrangement. In Greece, the Far Left is leading the socialists in the run-up to the April elections; should they win, it is hard to see the country continuing on its present course. On the other side of the spectrum, the Fidesz Party under Viktor Orbán in Hungary appears to be mimicking United Russia in building a “managed democracy” that will ensure its dominance for at least the next decade; in the wake of its public divorce with the ECB and the IMF, it is hard to imagine how it will be able to maintain deep integration with Europe for much longer. (In general, I think the events in Hungary are very interesting and probably a harbinger of what is to come in many more European countries in the 2010′s; I am planning to make a post on this soon).

Maybe not in 2012, but in the longer term it is becoming likely that the future Europe will be multi-tier (not multi-speed). The common economic space will probably continue growing, eventually merging with the Eurasian Union now coalescing in the east. However, many countries will drop out of the Eurozone and/or deeper integration for the foreseeable future – the UK is obvious (or at least England, should Scotland separate in the next few years); so too will Italy (again, if it remains united), Greece, the Iberian peninsula, and Hungary. The “core”, that is German industrial muscle married to Benelux and France (with its far healthier demography), may in the long-term start acquiring a truly federal character with a Euro and a single fiscal policy. But specifically for 2012, I expect Greece to drop out of the Eurozone (either voluntarily, or kicked out if it starts printing Euros independently, as the former Soviet republics did with rubles as Moscow’s central control dissipated). The other PIGS may straggle through the year, but they too will follow Greece eventually.

I expect a deep recession at the European level, possibly touching on depression (more than 10% GDP decline) in some countries.

4. How will Russia’s economy fare? A lot will depend on European and global events, but arguably it is better placed than it was in 2008. That said, this time I am far more cautious about my own predictions; back then, I swallowed the rhetoric about it being an “island of stability” and got burned for it (in terms of pride, not money, thankfully). So feel free to adjust this to the downside.

  • The major cause of the steep Russian recession of 2008-2009 wasn’t so much the oil price collapse but the sharp withdrawal of cheap Western credit from the Russian market. Russian banks and industrial groups had gotten used to taking out short-term loans to rollover their debts and were paralyzed by their sudden withdrawal. These practices have declined since. Now, short-term debts held by those institutions have halved relative to their peak levels in 2008; and Russia is now a net capital exporter.
  • I assume this makes Russia far less dependent on global financial flows. Though some analysts use the loaded term “capital flight” to describe Russia’s capital export, I don’t think it’s fair because the vast bulk of this “flight” actually consists of Russian daughters of Western banking groups recapitalizing their mothers in Western Europe, and Russians banks and industrial groups buying up assets and infrastructure in East-Central Europe.
  • The 2008 crisis was a global financial crisis; at least *for now*, it looks like a European sovereign debt crisis (though I don’t deny that it may well translate into a global financial crisis further down the line). There are few safe harbors. Russia may not be one of them but it’s difficult to say what is nowadays. US Treasuries, despite the huge fiscal problems there? Gold?
  • Political risks? The Presidential elections are in March, so if a second crisis does come to Russia, it will be too late to really affect the political situation.
  • Despite the “imminent” euro-apocalypse, I notice that the oil price has barely budged. This is almost certainly because of severe upwards pressure on the oil price from depletion (i.e. “peak oil”) and long-term commodity investors. I think these factors will prevent oil prices from ever plumbing the depths they briefly reached in early 2009. So despite the increases in social and military spending, I don’t see Russia’s budget going massively into the red.
  • What is a problem (as the last crisis showed) is that the collapse in imports following a ruble depreciation can, despite its directly positive effect on GDP, be overwhelmed by knock-on effects on the retail sector. On the other hand, it’s still worth noting that the dollar-ruble ratio is now 32, a far cry from what it reached at the peak of the Russia bubble in 2008 when it was at 23. Will the drop now be anywhere near as steep? Probably not, as there’s less room for it fall.
  • A great deal depends on what happens on China. I happen to think that its debt problems are overstated and that it still has the fiscal firepower to power through a second global crisis, which should also help keep Russia and the other commodity BRIC’s like Brazil afloat. But if this impression is wrong, then the consequences will be more serious.

So I think that, despite my bad call last time, Russia’s position really is quite a lot more stable this time round. If the Eurozone starts fraying at the margins and falls into deep recession, as I expect, then Russia will probably go down with them, but this time any collapse is unlikely to be as deep or prolonged as in 2008-2009.

new-eurasia 5. Largely unnoticed, as of the beginning of this year, Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan became a common economic space with free movement of capital, goods, and labor. Putin has also made Eurasian (re)integration one of the cornerstones of his Presidential campaign. I expect 2012 will be the year in which Ukraine joins the Eurasian common economic space. EU membership is beginning to lose its shine; despite that, Yanukovych was still rebuffed this December on the Association Agreement due to his government’s prosecution of Yulia Tymoshenko. Ukraine can only afford to pay Russia’s steep prices for gas for one year at most without IMF help, and I doubt it will be forthcoming. Russia itself is willing to sit back and play hardball. It is in this atmosphere that Ukraine will hold its parliamentary elections in October. If the Party of Regions does well, by fair means or foul, it is not impossible to imagine a scenario in which accusations of vote rigging and protests force Yanukovych to turn to Eurasia (as did Lukashenko after the 2010 elections).

6. Russia’s demography. I expect births to remain steady or fall slightly (regardless of the secular trend towards an increasing TFR, the aging of the big 1980′s female cohort is finally starting to make itself felt). Deaths will continue to fall quite rapidly, as excise taxes on vodka – the main contributor to Russia’s high mortality rates – are slated to rise sharply after the Presidential elections.

7. Obama will probably lose to the Republican candidate, who will probably be Mitt Romney. (Much as I would prefer Ron Paul over Obama, and Obama over Romney). I have an entire post and real money devoted to this, read here.

The US may well slip back towards recession if Europe tips over in a big way. I stand by my assertion that its fiscal condition is in no way sustainable, but given that the bond vigilantes are preoccupied with Europe it should be able to ride out 2012.

8. There is a 50% (!) chance of a US military confrontation with Iran. If it’s going to be any year, 2012 will be it. And I don’t say this because of the recent headlines about Iranian war games, the downing of the US drone, or the bizarre bomb plot against the Saudi ambassador in the US, but because of structural factors that I have been harping on about for several years (read the “Geopolitical Shocks” section of my Decade Forecast for more details); factors that will make 2012 a “window of opportunity” that will only be fleetingly open.

  • Despite the rhetoric, the US does not want to get involved in a showdown with Iran due to the huge disruption to oil shipping routes that will result from even an unsuccessful attempt to block of the Strait of Hormuz. BUT…
  • While a nuclear Iran is distasteful to the US, it is still preferable to oil prices spiking up into the high triple digits. But for Israel it is a more existential issue. Netanyahu, in particular, is a hardliner on this issue.
  • The US has withdrawn its troops from Iraq. In 2010, there were rumors that the US had made it clear to Israel that if it flew planes over Iraq to bomb Iran they would be fired upon. This threat (if it existed) is no longer actual.
  • The US finished the development of a next-generation bunker-busting MOP last year and started taking delivery in November 2011. But the Iranians are simultaneously in a race to harden and deepen their nuclear facilities, but this program will not culminate until next year or so. If there is a time to strike in order to maximize the chances of crippling Iran’s nuclear program, it is now. It is in 2012.
  • Additionally, if Europe goes really haywire, oil prices may start dropping as demand is destroyed. In this case, there will be an extra cushion for containing fallout from any Iranian attempt to block off the Strait of Hormuz.
  • Critically, the US does not have to want this fight. Israel can easily force its hand by striking first. The US will be forced into following up.

The chances of an Azeri-Armenian war rise to 15% from last year’s 10%. If there is any good time for Azerbaijan to strike, it will be in the chaotic aftermath following a US strike on Iran (though the same constraints will apply as before: Aliyev’s fears of Russian retaliation).

world-crude-oil-prodcution-and-fitted-growth-oil-drum

[Source: The Oil Drum].

9. Though I usually predict oil price trends (with great and sustained accuracy, I might add), I will not bother doing so this year. With the global situation as unstable as it is it would be a fool’s errand. Things to consider: (1) Whither Europe? (demand destruction); (2) What effect on China and the US?; (3) the genesis of sustained oil production decline (oil megaprojects are projected to sharply fall off from this year into the indefinite future); (4) The Iranian wildcard: If played, all bets are off. But I will more or less confidently predict that global oil production in 2012 will be a definite decrease on this year.

If investing, I would go into US Treasuries (short-term) and gold to hedge against the catastrophic developments; yuan exposure (longterm secular rise) and and US CDS (potential for astounding returns once SHTF). Property is looking good in Minsk, Bulgaria, and Murmansk. Any exposure to Arctic shipping or oil & gas is great; as the sea ice melts at truly prodigious rates, the returns will be amazing. I do think the Euro will survive and eventually strengthen as the weaker countries go out, but not to the extent that I would put money on it. Otherwise, I highly agree with Eric Kraus’ investment advice.

10. China will not see a hard landing. It has its debt problems, but its momentum is unparalleled. Economists have predicted about ten of its past zero collapses.

11. Solar irradiation was still near its cyclical minimum this year, but it can only rise in the next few years; together with the ever-increasing CO2 load, it will likely make for a very warm 2012. So, more broken records in 2012. Record low sea ice extent and volume. And perhaps 100 vessels will sail the Northern Sea Route this year.

12. Tunisia is the only country of the “Arab Spring” that I expect to form a more or less moderate and secular government. According to polls, 75% of Egyptians support death for apostasy and adultery; this is not an environment in which Western liberal ideas can realistically flourish. Ergo for Libya. I can’t say I have any clue as to how Syria will turn out. Things seem strange there: Russia and Israel are ostensibly unlikely, but actually logical, allies of Assad, while the US, France, the UK, and the Gulf monarchies are trying their best to topple him. These wars are waged in the shadows.

I've got some ways to go before I reach Navalny's demagogic stature.

I’ve got some ways to go before I reach Navalny’s demagogic stature.

13. As mentioned in the intro, 2011 has been a year of protest. As I argued in BRIC’s of Stability, in countries like China, Russia, or Brazil they will remain relatively small and ineffectual. Despite greater scales and tensions, likewise in Europe (though Greece may be an exception); these are old societies, and besides they are relatively rich. They won’t have street revolutions. I do not think Occupy Wall Street has good prospects in the US. By acting outside the mainstream (as part of a “non-systemic opposition”, to borrow from Russian political parlance) it remains irrelevant – the weed smoking and poor sartorial choices of its members works against its attaining respectability – and municipalities across the US are moving to break up their camps with only a few squeaks of protest. (This despite the arrests of 36 journalists, a number that had it been associated with Russia would have cries of Stalinism splashed across Western op-ed pages). I say this as someone who is broadly sympathetic with OWS aims and has attended associated events in Berkeley.

The nature of protest in the Arab world is fundamentally different, harkening back to earlier and more dramatic times: Bread riots, not hipsters with iPhones; against cynical and corrupt dictators, not cynical and corrupt pseudo-democrats; featuring fundamental debates about reconciling democracy, liberalism and religion, as opposed to weird slogans like “Occupy first. Demands come later.” Meh.

14. The world will, of course, end on December 21, 2012.

What about the 2011 Predictions?

1) My economic predictions were basically correct: “Today I’d repeat this, but add that the risks have heightened… The obvious loci of the next big crisis are the so-called “PIGS” (Portugal, Italy, Greece, Spain), and Ireland, Belgium and Hungary.”

2) Neither the Iranian war (chance: 40%) or an Azeri-Armenian war (chance: 10%) took place. If they don’t happen in 2012, their chances of happening will begin to rapidly decline.

3) Luzhkov still hasn’t been been hit with corruption charges, but merely called forth as a witness. Wrong.

Prediction of 3.5%-5.5% growth for Russia was exactly correct (estimates now converging to 4.0%-4.5%).

With headlines this December cropping up such as “End is nigh for Russia’s ‘reset’ with US“, my old intuition that US – Russia imperial rivalry couldn’t be set aside with a mere red plastic button may have been prescient: “In foreign policy, expect relations with the US to deteriorate.”

4) Pretty much correct about the US and the UK, though I didn’t predict anything drastic or unconventional for them.

5) “Oil prices should stay at around $80-120 in 2010 and production will remain roughly stable as increased demand (from China mostly) collides with geological depletion.” Totally correct, as usual.

6) China will grow about 9.4% this year, well in line with: “China will continue growing at 8-10% per year. Their housing bubble is a non-issue; with 50% of their population still rural, it isn’t even a proper bubble, since eventually all those new, deserted apartment blocs will be occupied anyway.”

7) 2011 was the warmest La Nina year on record, so in a sense thermometers did break records this year.

“Speaking of the Arctic, as its longterm ice volume continues to plummet and sea ice extent retreats, we can expect more circumpolar shipping. I wouldn’t be surprised to see up to 10 non-stop voyages along the Northern Sea Route from Europe to China, following just one by MV Nordic Barents in 2010.” If anything, I low-balled it. 34 ships made the passage this year! Sea ice cover was the second lowest on record, and sea ice volume was the lowest. So in the broad sense, absolutely correct.

“Likewise, expect the Arctic to become a major locus of investment.” This year, plans were announced to double the capacity of the Port of Murmansk by 2015.

8) Wrong on the Wikileaks prediction. The insurance file was released by The Guardian’s carelessness (whose journalists, David Leigh and Luke Harding, then proceeded to mendaciously lie about it), not by Assange. And the extradition proceedings are taking far longer than expected, though my suspicions that his case is politically motivated is reinforced by US prosecutors’ apparent pressure on Bradley Manning to implicate Assange in the theft of the State Department cables.

9) On Peter’s enthusiastic reminder, I did get my Russia Presidential predictions for 2012 wrong. Or 75% wrong, to be precise, and 20% right (those were the odds that I gave for Putin’s return back in May). I did however cover it separately on a different post, here. That said, I do not think the logic I used was fundamentally flawed; many other Kremlinologists ended up in the same boat (and most didn’t hedge like I did).

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
 
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.