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visitors-alt-media

We seem to be doing pretty well, if SimilarWeb stats are anything to go by.

The Unz Review is clearly the dominant website amongst the “Intellectual Dissident Right” (we are far ahead of VDARE, Takimag, and are even catching up on the normies at The American Cuckservative).

It is also strongly competitive amongst the “Intellectual Anti-Imperialist Left,” being far ahead of the Antiwar.com (I recall it being the alt news site during the Iraq War era), overtaking the libertarian LewRockwell, and even edging closer to Counterpunch, another stalwart of the old altsphere.

This is all the more remarkable considering that The Unz Review is run on a shoestring budget, its lack of attention to SEO or social media frills, and the bold notion of publishing both Far Right and Far Left content (I am still not sure if that repels or attracts people, on average). Meanwhile, we still manage to retain a high degree of intellectual respectability by hosting some of the most “serious” people like James Thompson.

I also included the more intellectual Alt Right publications (Kevin MacDonald’s Occidental Observer and Greg Johnson’s Counter-Currents). They are both pretty much an order of magnitude less influential than the Unz Review.

I have also included Social Matter, a central aggregator for the NRxsphere (thanks in large part to Nick B. Steve’s prodigious weekly roundups) and, at around 100,000 monthly visits, probably the most popular NRx blog overall – Nick Land’s Xenosystems is the 2 millionth most visited blog in the world, The Future Primaeval is likewise in the doldrums, only Dalrock that I’m aware of continues to eke out a presence around the 100,000 monthly visits mark. Otherwise, the public face of NRx is pretty much dead, confined to mailing lists, secret forums, and (perhaps) infiltration of the institutions.

It is also important to keep a wider perspective that in the large picture alt media remains a fairly marginal phenomenon. Any of the major flagships of the American MSM – NYT, WaPO, The Guardian, Buzzfeed, etc. – have two orders of magnitude more visits (hundreds of millions) than even the most prominent alt outlets like Counterpunch and this very publication. Even the very K-selected MSM outlets like Vox.com and FiveThirty Eight have an order of magnitude more visits. It’s an uphill struggle.

The HBDsphere

I haven’t bothered compiling detailed stats like Pumpkin Person did in 2015 since apart from The Unz Review, which hosts a huge percentage of active HBD/IQ writers, there is otherwise no real competition. Within the Unz ecosystem, Steve Sailer is of course by far the most dominant figure, accounting for perhaps half of our total traffic.

The single most influential independent HBD blogger as of today would be Robert Lindsay, the originator of the “Alt Left” (i.e. leftist HBD realists, as opposed to the object of Trump’s ramblings, for whom there is a much better name anyway: The Ctrl Left). In fairness, however, Lindsay’s was never a primarily HBD blog, and he has pretty much dropped writing about it all since Trump’s election. (Also, for whatever reason, Lindsay appears to have the strange distinction of being the only person on here to have his website blocked in Russia).

Otherwise, the most popular HBD/IQ blogger, with around 100,000 monthly visits, is… Emil Kirkegaard. This is especially remarkable since his writing tends to the highly technical and he doesn’t have even open comments.

Razib Khan and Greg Cochran both have around 50,000.

The others are barely competitive. Steve Hsu had a massive surge this past month, but is otherwise at around 20,000. hbd*chick has stopped blogging. Audacious Epigone isn’t prominent enough to get stats from SimilarWeb, through he surely deserves to with his Stakhanovite efforts in GSS mining. Ergo for Pumpkin Person, Lion of the Blogosphere, and several others.

I suppose it might also behove to mention gwern.net, a brilliant polymath who writes highly K-selected essays about the genomics of IQ and many other LessWrongy subjects like nootropics, cryptocurrencies, and the control problem. He also gets around 100,000 per month. However, classifying him as an IQ, let alone an HBD, blogger would be a massive stretch. He is much sooner part of the Less Wrong/SSC/”rationalist” cluster.

The Alt Right

visitors-alt-right

The defining feature of the Alt Right-sphere in the past year has, of course, been the meteoric rise of Andrew Anglin’s The Daily Stormer – and its near complete oblitration in the wake of Charlottesville.

When you need to change domains every other week in between confinements to the deep web, you can’t have much of a popular readership. I suspect visitorship has plummeted by an order of magnitude.

This hasn’t helped the old-school Neo-Nazis of Stormfront, long in terminal decline, to recover. They have been overtaken by The Right Stuff podcast – apparently, the recent scandal about one of their members Mike Enoch having a Jewish wife did nothing but attract them publicity and more visitors – and now joins a bevy of other sites such as Amren and Heartiste at around the one million mark.

AltRight.com has disappointed to date. Apart from some of Vincent Law’s longer pieces, their content is much less intellectual than that of Radix Journal – some of the latter’s best writers such as Guillaume Durocher and Gregory Hood failed to make the move to the new venue – so visitorship numbers should be much higher. But they’re failing to accelerate.

As with the “Dissident Right”, the influence of the Alt Right should not be overestimated, even within the general Tea Party Plus/Alt Lite/pro-Trump movement. Visitorship is capped at around 5 million. The eponymous website of the movement has no more than a million. In contrast, just Breitbart/The Daily Caller/Infowars have around 150 million monthly visits between them. There is a similar gap on Twitter, with Richard Spencer having only 80,000 followers – that’s less than Alt Lite parvenus like Laura Loomer, to say nothing of the many hundreds of thousands following Mike Cernovich, Baked Alaska, and Jack Posobiec.

The Alt Russophiles

visitors-alt-russia

Russia is distinctive in that the volume of Western MSM lies and misrepresentations about it has traditionally been so bad that it is pretty much the only country to have carved out a sort of “niche” for itself within the Western Altsphere.

Ten to five years ago, this area of the Internet was essentially a constellation of pro-Russia blogs that ranged from the highly considered and data-heavy, to the unhinged and “Russia stronk” hurrah-patriotic (I myself got my start in blogging as “Da Russophile“). Since then, they have been gradually displaced by large websites – primarily Russia Insider (Charles Bausman) and The Duran (Peter Lavelle, Alexander Mercouris, and some others) – and the universal scourge of social media. There are still a few bloggers that fall into the old categories – Paul Robinson, Patrick Armstrong, and Mark Chapman come to mind – but their visitorship numbers are basically irrelevant (they are all at around the 4 millionth mark globally).

Russia Insider and The Duran remain the two behemoths of this world, with seemingly stable visitorship numbers. However, Russia Insider reprints many of its articles, while The Duran writes about many issues other than Russia. The Duran team launched Russia Feed half a year ago to provide an outlet more specifically dedicated to Russia matters, which seems to be growing steadily, but from a low base.

There were a number of pro-Russia outlets that proliferated at the outbreak of the Donbass world, with Fort Russ (Kristina Kharlova) being probably the most prominent of these – at least of those which survived in the long-term.

Unsurprisingly, many of these outlets have connections to the wider Altsphere. For instance, Russia Insider has good relations with AltRight.com, and they reprint my articles semi-regularly (with my permission). The Saker, as most probably know, also blogs at The Unz Review, as well as (occasionally) at The Duran. So does Israel Shamir, who also writes Russian language columns for RT Russian, Komsomolskaya Pravda, and Zavtra.

On this note, I am also going to have a post on the relative performance of Russian alt news outlets in the near future.

* CORRECTION: All the graphs should state “monthly visits,” not “monthly visitors.”

 
• Category: Miscellaneous • Tags: Blogging, Western Media 
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Trump is a virtuoso at playing the media.

He mentioned he’d ban the burning of the American flag – the media rushed to show Leftists burning the American flag. He promoted the observation that many hate crimes were hoaxes – soon after, it emerged that the author of the threats against Jewish centers was a Black social justice writer for The Intercept who had been fired for making up sources. He claimed you wouldn’t believe what had happened in Sweden yesterday – we couldn’t believe what happened to Sweden tomorrow.

Bearing in mind the MSM’s consistency in “misunderestimating” Trump’s wiles, let’s move on to #Wiretapgate.

On March 4, Trump claimed that President Obama was “tapping” his phones in October, turbocharging the political scandal around his administration.

Here is a summary of the key elements, based upon this timeline compiled by Mark Levin and Joel Pollack:

  • Obama had drilled little holes all over the ship of state by “expanding the power of the National Security Agency to share globally intercepted personal communications with the government’s 16 other intelligence agencies before applying privacy protections” in January as his parting gift to Trump, ensuring the new administration would be inundated with leaks.
  • New York Times report in January that the FBI, CIA, NSA, and Treasury Department were monitoring “several associates of the Trump campaign suspected of Russian ties,” and later reports in February that the FBI had “intercepted a conversation in 2016 between future National Security Adviser Michael Flynn” and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.
  • Levin summarizes: “T he Obama administration sought, and eventually obtained, authorization to eavesdrop on the Trump campaign; continued monitoring the Trump team even when no evidence of wrongdoing was found; then relaxed the NSA rules to allow evidence to be shared widely within the government, virtually ensuring that the information, including the conversations of private citizens, would be leaked to the media.

Barack Obama’s spokesman has denied this in legalistic terms:

A cardinal rule of the Obama Administration was that no White House official ever interfered with any independent investigation led by the Department of Justice. As part of that practice, neither President Obama nor any White House official ever ordered surveillance of any US citizen. Any suggestion otherwise is simply false.

As Alexander Mercouris points out, this “does not deny that Donald Trump’s office in Trump Tower was wiretapped,” nor that his “‘associates’ (a flexible word the precise meaning of which has never been made clear) or members of his campaign team were placed under surveillance.” I would further emphasize that Obama specifically referred to “US citizens,” whereas no such protections apply to foreign citizens, and indeed we know from the Snowden leaks that it is standard strategy for the NSA to circumvent Americans’ protections by listening to American citizens’ communications with foreigners and by closely cooperating with allied foreign intelligence services, especially those of the Five Eyes (incidentally, Britain has figured prominently in this affair, from Christopher Steele’s dodgy dossier to the recent NYT article which claimed that some of the intelligence linking people in the Trump campaign and various Russians came from British and Dutch intelligence).

A further problem is that the net is cast so wide that, as the NYT inadventently admits, virtually any Russian in America with a non-hostile relationship to the Putin government is considered suspect:

The label “intelligence official” is not always cleanly applied in Russia, where ex-spies, oligarchs and government officials often report back to the intelligence services and elsewhere in the Kremlin. Steven L. Hall, the former head of Russia operations at the C.I.A., said that Mr. Putin was surrounded by a cast of characters, and that it was “fair to say that a good number of them come from an intelligence or security background. Once an intel guy, always an intel guy in Russia.”

Again, as Alexander Mercouris points out, this would encompass many of Trump’s people who have had perfectly legal and transparent business relationships with Russia, including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross. Furthermore, I would add that by this standard a huge percentage of the US government would be compromised, since promoting US-Russia business ties has been a plank of US diplomacy until 2014 (ironically, as I pointed out a year ago, Mitt Romney, who is coldly disposed to Trump and called Russia America’s “number one geopolitical foe,” probably actually had considerably more substantive business dealings in Russia than Trumputin himself).

To be sure, Trump’s claim on Twitter, at least, is likely false. But it does not appear to be a lie borne out of his idiocy, stress, fury, narcissism, or whatever the MSM’s latest projection consists of.

Consider the following: Trump has successfully whipped the media into a feeding frenzy, focusing the public’s attention on this in a way that acting low-key could never have. And the reality for the Establishment appears to be bad enough. Continuing to assume that there is no substantive meat to the ROG (Russian Occupation Government) conspiracy theory, what we are left with is a scandal of at least Watergate proportions, if not more so – as Alexander Mercouris points out, whereas under Nixon the scandal was that the CIA and FBI had refused to do his bidding against his political opponents, here you would have the even more egregious case of the US security agencies colluding against Trump by “carrying out surveillance upon him and his associates though there has never been any evidence that either he or they did anything wrong.”

This is the real story and I suspect we are soon going to see its denouement.

 
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The Guardian now loves them some Bush:

guardian-loves-bush

 
• Category: Humor • Tags: George Bush, Western Media 
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The entire rigmarole around “fake news” is very curiously timed.

So far as I’m aware the general “theory” behind it was primarily developed in the past year or so by Peter Pomerantsev and Edward Lucas under the aegis of the Legatum Institute. Edward Lucas is a Russophobe even by the standards of Economist journalists (suffice to say that he seriously compares Putin to Sauron). Peter Pomerantsev is a journalist with a very murky biography who emerged seemingly out of nowhere to become a hugely influential voice in the Russia debate as a propagator of the “post-fact”/”post-truth” meme. In their August 2016 report “Winning the Information War,” they went so far as to suggest Islamist deradicalization programs as a template for dealing with “radicalized, pro-Kremlin supporters, those on the far left and the far right, and Russian speakers.”

In the past couple months, impartial arbiters of the truth like Facebook – the same company that was recently found to have censored conservative news source from its news feed – have seized upon and ran with this theme. The same media outlets that cheered on the Iraq War now wax lyrical about “post-truth politics.” The German bloc in the EU – the most prominent outpost of Atlanticism in our new Trumpist world – has spearheaded the adoption of an EU resolution against Islamic State propaganda and Russian information warrior (adopting wholesale the equivalence proposed by Lucas and Pomerantsev).

The latest prominent example is an “expose” of fake news sites by the Washington Post, one of the most widely shared articles on the planet in recent days that garnered accolades and RTs from hundreds of prominent journalists. Ironically for an article about fake news, their source is a group of (completely anonymous) “researchers with foreign policy, military and technology backgrounds” on a website with a private WHOIS profile and no detailed explanation of their methodology but who do want the FBI and DoJ to investigate the sites on their list for pro-Russia espionage. (Yes, The Unz Review makes the cut).

I am getting the distinct impression that this is a very well planned information operation that was that was meant to kick into high gear upon Hillary Clinton’s election, perhaps in conjunction with the “Russia bombed The Last Hospital in Aleppo” meme to set up the groundwork for a showdown in Syria (there are hints that this is indeed what Hillary Clinton was planning upon assuming the Presidency).

Given the extensive ties of Western intelligence services with MSM editors, as claimed by whistleblowers such as Udo Ulfkotte and Paul Barril, and the CIA’s allegiance to the “blue empire,” the direct involvement of Western intelligence services cannot be excluded.

But Trump threw a yuuuge! spanner into the works. The operation continued, carried along by inertia, but just as a snake that has had its head cut off it, its strikes became disjointed and flailing, unable to accomplish much. Hopefully we will just have to wait long enough to avoid getting accidentally bitten by the dismembered head before Trump clears out the trash and the Europeans get the memo that a new sheriff is in town.

 
• Category: Ideology • Tags: Conspiracy Theories, Russia, Western Media 
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The front page of The Guardian on the first day of Panama Leaks:

guardian-front-page-on-panama-leaks

$2 billion!? Very impressive. Though admittedly, a rather disappointing find after more than a decade’s worth of searching for Putin’s $200 billion stash.

But still, a curious choice of whom to focus on, considering the minor detail that Putin’s name doesn’t appear in the Panama Papers even once.

putins-name-doesnt-appear

This isn’t the only curious thing about it.

For instance, there is also the observation that it comes on the heels of the tabloid stories that Putin is dating Wendy Deng, a fantastic claim which has been repeated uncritically because if it’s about Putin, it’s true.

And the Reuters story about a series of women allegedly connected with Putin all buying properties from the same real estate agent.

Not to mention the identity of the two other main “first day” targets: Messi, aka FIFA. which awarded the football 2018 World Cup to Russia, and Icelandic politicians who put banksters in jail.

Then there is also the curious fact that only 149 documents of the 11 million total were actually released in the first batch, which means that our intrepid journalists must have started off by doing selective searches on all the people they could think of who they assumed were associated with Putin from his Saint-Petersburg days in the 1990s, discovered that some of them became very rich during the economic boom of the 2000s, and tallied the total value of their assets to arrive at the not especially impressive figure of $2 billion (considering the numbers of people involved in this grand conspiracy) that they were stashing away for Putin in a tropical tax haven… just like other perfectly respectable members of the global elite, from Xi Jinping, the Saudis, and German corporations to David Cameron, Petro Poroshenko, and Mitt Romney.

None of which is not exactly news.

But it is precisely Putin who has attracted something like 50% of the media fallout from the Panama Leaks. The political class of a basically irrelevant country, albeit the only one in the world which prosecuted its banker class for their financial machinations; as well as the United States’ new bugbear, FIFA, garnered another 25%.

Leaving only 25% of the coverage for everyone else:

panama-leaks-world-map

All in all, a most curious set of coincidences indeed.

There was overwhelming demand to release all the documents and make them available in a searchable database:

wikileaks-should-we-release

Unfortunately, this time, it wasn’t Wikileaks who possessed the treasure trove. Too bad!

wikileaks-too-bad

So naturally what happened was that the range of documents that were released were from the outset tightly constricted and focused against those entities the Western order considers to be its enemies, and filtered through a journalistic establishment that it has become increasingly clear loyally serves that same order.

Even those targets that did not meet the above criteria were in general either already known (the offshore adventures of David Cameron’s father), universally suspected anyway (the Saudis), or who were either irrelevant and/or had undermined and humiliated the Western order in some way (Icelandic politicians, FIFA).

Why this might have been the case becomes a bit clearer when we look at the outfit behind the Panama Leaks. That outfit is the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, which is funded in its entirety by the US Center for Public Integrity, and which in turn is sponsored by… well, Soros, in short.

And all the other usual regime change/color revolution suspects.

icij-sponsors

Craig Murray explains the real deal:

The Suddeutsche Zeitung, which received the leak, gives a detailed explanation of the methodology the corporate media used to search the files. The main search they have done is for names associated with breaking UN sanctions regimes. The Guardian reports this too and helpfully lists those countries as Zimbabwe, North Korea, Russia and Syria. The filtering of this Mossack Fonseca information by the corporate media follows a direct western governmental agenda. There is no mention at all of use of Mossack Fonseca by massive western corporations or western billionaires – the main customers. And the Guardian is quick to reassure that “much of the leaked material will remain private.”

In effect the main targets of Panama Papers and especially Putin are mere whipping boys, politically convenient decoys to draw attention away from people asking hard questions about the banal realities of a world ruled by the 1% offshore aristocracy.

Regardless, the Guardian’s resident neocon Natalie Nougayrède, riding on the headwinds of a media storm that the media-industrial complex she serves has itself ignited, goes on to proclaim her divine knowledge of not only the most intimate details of Putin’s social ties the secrets of the Dark Lord of the Kremlin’s mind itself:

The fact that Putin’s name does not appear in the Panama Papers will not calm the paranoia and conspiracy theories that his regime thrives upon. Indeed, these revelations will be seen in Moscow’s ruling circles as part of a CIA-led operation involving the manipulation of the “Anglo-Saxon” media.

So Putin leads like 50% of the stories in Western coverage of the Panama Leaks, despite his name not appearing in any of the Panama documents even in passing, and yet thinking there is anything unusual about this makes you a conspiratard or a “useful servant” of the Russian mafia state at best, if not a proxy of Putin himself.

After all, its not like a major former editor of a prominent German outlet has ever claimed that the CIA holds extensive influence over the German media, nor have there ever been any hints whatsoever that there is an organized Western intelligence operation to undermine Putin. We know that this is just not the sort of underhanded tactics that any Western democracy would ever use.

Move along, citizen, nothing to see here.

None of this is to deny that Putin and his associates do not lead lives of luxury, have exploited their political connections to make money, or even that some of them use offshore tax havens to avoid taxes or keep their assets safe from expropriation.

To the contrary, all three of these statements are substantially true.

But possibly the single biggest irony in this entire affair is that someone positively inclined towards the Kremlin could just as easily argue that the Panama Papers prove that Russia’s fight against offshoring was actually improving in recent years, under Putin:

In internal letters contained in Mossack Fonseca files, Malyushin was identified as the “beneficial owner” behind Panama-based Anttrin Services Corp., only in 2013, when the company suddenly shut down. As it appears from letters, Malyushin was in a hurry to get rid of his company.

Most likely, this was related to changes in Russian legislation. In the first half of 2013, a new pack of anti-corruption laws was adopted forbidding Russian officials from having foreign bank accounts or using foreign financial instruments, including holding shares in companies.

This is a datapoint that the 2013 anticorruption law forbidding Russian bureaucrats from holding bank accounts abroad is actually working. Incidentally, to add to the irony, that same law had been condemned at the time of its publication by the purportedly (but actually nothing of the sort) “pro-Putin” Forbes blogger Mark Adomanis, who portrayed it as a “forcible asset repatriation” that would reinforce Russian autocracy and put Putin in a “much, much more powerful and domineering position.”

If you were a journalist with a pro-Kremlin agenda you could certainly argue this point with at least as much legitimacy as if you were to follow the Western MSM party line and focus on what Panama Leaks “prove” about Putin and his entourage.

However, that journalist would almost universally be condemned as a Putin shill and not really a journalist at all, whereas the likes of neocon blowhard Natalie Nougayrède and serial plagiariser Luke Harding are free to roam and dominate Western media op-ed spaces with their own paranoid ramblings. Of late, they have even broken free from the informed scrutiny of their readers, with the Guardian’s Russia journalism apparently having joined that triggering triad of “race, immigration and Islam” on which the Guardian no longer accepts comments from the great unwashed of the “Comment is Free” discussion boards.

Which is perhaps just as well given how thoroughly the Western Narrative has become discredited even amongst The Guardian’s readers, despite the endless purges it has instigated over the years against its critics.

 
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syrian-civil-war-09.19.2015

Source: Wikipedia. Click to enlarge.

I admit to not having been following the Syrian Civil War anywhere near as closely the war in the Donbass.

But with recent rumors of stepped up Russian involvement now being confirmed by videos – and even talk of China possibly sending troops (crazy, but a year ago you’d have said the same of Russians) – it is well past time to remedy this.

The first thing I like to do when it comes to getting up to speed on some conflict or other is studying maps. Just looking at them for an hour or two. Wikipedia has a very impressive data gathering operation that gets updated in real time. In combination with this article listing the military histories for all the major cities and towns you can get a very good idea of the ebb and flow of the conflict through time. Arguably, this is far more useful than reading any number of editorials on the subject.

Some patterns immediately jump out.

syria-ethnic-map

Source: Washington Post.

(1) The pattern of regime, FSA/Al-Nusra and ISIS control correlate exceedingly well with the ethnic and religious composition of the geographic areas in question. The coastal Alawite heartlands of Tartus and Latakia, corresponding to the old borders of the eponymous state, are near totally secure. Shi’ite and Christian minorities, such as the Druze, Assyrians, and Armenians, correlate with pockets of regime support – even the Armenian pocket around Deir es-Zor in the desert each of the country, still holding out despite being completely surrounded by the Islamic State. In contrast, Palmyra fell to ISIS this year despite being more than 150km from the nearest area of ISIS control at Kabajeb. Suweida, populated by Dzuze and other minorities, is under Assad’s control in the far south, while neighboring Daraa – entirely Arab Sunni – is held by the FSA.

All this just goes to show the extent to which this is an ethnic, tribalistic war, where the “normal” rules of military theory – where force concentrations are king, and surrounded pockets get liquidated fast – don’t apply as they do even in the Donbass War. I suspect and nothing I’ve read about Syria contradicts this that this is ultimately due to the very low combat effectiveness of Arab armies. Unlike Europeans or East Asians, who have a long tradition of nation-statehood and conscript armies, the Arabs as a people only fight well for clan and God. A dictator like Saddam Hussein or Assad can force them to fight, but not very well or enthusiastically, while a democracy can barely do anything at all – see how ISIS once steamrolled their way to the outskirts of Baghdad, even though the Iraqi forces are armed with modern US equipment that the Syrian Arab Army can only dream about). This has the effect of depressing the value of conventional military power, with the result that warfare becomes a lot like urban gang warfare, just with much fancier military toys and more rape and ethnic cleansing. In this kind of “4GW” confrontrations, the fact that rebel groups and ISIS are much more enthusiastic, more combat effective (due to fighting for clan and/or God instead of a country whose lines were drawn by the French and British), and have the option of blending in with the civilian population in areas where they enjoy support allows them to level out the military capital (tanks, artillery, etc.) superiority of the SAA. Even the SAA has over the past few years bowed to these realities and become much more of a homogenous (primarily Alawite) force and come to rely less on unmotivated conscripts and more on the locally-rooted National Defense Forces.

syria-poll-2015-assad-support

ORB International poll, Syria, July 2015.

(2) The pattern of control also tallies very well with support for Assad in opinion polls (to a large extent this will of course be an ethnic/religious confound). No area in which Assad has more than 60% support is there a very serious rebel threat. In areas where he has less than 40% support, there is either very intensive fighting or the area is entirely ruled by an opposing faction. Aleppo, the “Stalingrad” of the conflict, registers 39% support for Assad; Idleb, in between Aleppo and Alawite Latakia – and the scene of major rebel successes this year, with just a small regime garrison continuing to hold out in the Shi’ite villages around Fu’ah – registers just 9% support for Assad. Nowin fairness, opinion polls have to be treated with some caution in Syria, because none of the warring factions is exactly very nice to visible dissenters. Still, the fact that Assad registers 27% support in ISIS ruled territories, while the FSA registers 15% in areas held by the government – as opposed to near 0% in both cases – does imply that the fear of speaking one’s mind at least privately is far from total throughout Syria.

(3) More generally, many Western media propaganda/neocon talking points immediately become hollow through this simply map-viewing exercise.

For instance, the idea that Assad isn’t interested in fighting ISIS, or even that he is in some sort of alliance with them. Where the areas under Assad’s control and ISIS border each other, there is intense fighting, e.g. an entire frontline on the approach to Al Salamiyah behind which lie Homs and Hama, and the struggle to relieve the surrounded Kweiris airbase. But by far the biggest challenges the legitimate Syrian government faces right now lies in the areas of Idlib and Aleppo, which apart from being large territories under JaN and FSA control also splinter SAA forces and constitute a conduit for Turkish arms supplies to other rebel formations throughout the country. Focusing attention on this area is just military common sense – and its not like there is any cardinal moral difference between Al Nusra and ISIS anyway (Al Nusra just doesn’t act axe-crazy for the cameras).

Another common talking point that has been raised especially since Russia stepped up its involvement is the claim that Assad’s forces have killed far more Syrians than ISIS. The aim is quite transparent: Since ISIS has so ably demonized itself, associating Assad with them by way of quantitative comparison should be pretty easy to do. And I think it mostly works. I see a lot of people in comments sections raising this point in in that really smarmy, pretentious way that the more intelligent American imperialists adopt to come off as “smart” and “balanced.” Entirely absent of course is context:

  • That the SAA is fighting long, grinding campaigns primarily in the heavily built up, urbanized areas of the North-West, while ISIS specialized more in blitzes, typically moving in when its adversaries become mutually exhausted. The latter type of warfare will inevitably produce fewer civilian casualties, regardless of the mass executions and slave markets that ISIS sets up afterwards. But its certainly not account of any greater moral superiority or legitimacy; quite the contrary, in fact.
  • That there is no chance of the SAA getting “smart weapons.” Meanwhile, its relative preponderance in military capital – artillery, tanks, helicopter gunships, etc. – is the one thing it has going for it. Since the average SAA soldier is far less motivated and combat effective than his Al Nusra or ISIS counterpart (see above) and since they cannot blend into the civilian population as the various rebels can, of course the SAA has no choice but to make use of its superior firepower so as to least keep up with if not overwhelm the enemy. Not doing so would not only be criminal towards its own soldiers, many more of whom would otherwise die. The question would also quickly become entirely moot since if the SAA was to go soft it would also be quickly defeated, with tragic consequences for the Shi’ite and Christian minorities it is still heroically protecting.
  • The not completely irrelevant point that ISIS openly and proudly commits all sort of atrocities harkening in spirit all the way back to the methods of the Assyrian Empire. In contrast, the great bulk of SAA “casualties” are collateral damage from military actions, and even when it comes to the dirty but necessary task of rooting out Islamist sympathizers – who would otherwise tell SAA coordinates to ISIS or Al Nusra, or suicide bomb themselves to ease their advance – it is something that the Syrian regime does in shadowy basements, where any such actions properly belong. For those who still want to play the numbers game, in what way in particular is this different from, say, US methods in Vietnam? (With the exception that it was a voluntary intervention, whereas Assad is merely defending his own country0.

Now in fairness I do know that the neocons have a narrative to keep up and so do their shills in the media, like Michael Weiss who is constantly agitating for aggressive actions to overthrow both Putin and Assad and enjoys huge influence in the media despite having zero knowledge of either Russian or Arabic. Same goes for their dupes and bots on the comments sections. But anyone else seriously arguing that Assad is on a level with ISIS has all of this to address first.

syrian-desert-palmyra

Source: Google Maps.

(4) A single, 153km road separates Palmyra from Kabajeb, the nearest ISIS-controlled area to Palmyra prior to the month-long offensive in July 2015 that led to its capture and other tragic consequences. This area looks like it could be used to film a Mad Max sequel. It should also be exceedingly easy for anyone with a competent airforce with air superiority to make mincemeat of any attack along this route. To the contrary, the kind of out-in-the-open, logistically challenging, and lengthy ISIS operation that should have been one of the easiest to forestall went on right ahead, successfully.

So why didn’t the US with its vaunted air campaign against ISIS do anything?

Because ultimately it is entirely fine with ISIS making advances when it is at the expense of the regime. This is not too surprising, since ISIS is after America’s baby and destabilizing Assad is its entire raison d’etre – as declassified Pentagon documents, Wikileaks, and the intuitions of Syrians themselves have proved over the past few months.

Plus, ISIS is better than Assad anyway. Look at all the hundreds of articles making this point they can’t all be wrong.

The US has an air campaign that is supposedly fast “degrading” ISIS, but there is no evidence of it making any kind of dent in its military capabilities. From its unconditional demands to have Assad step down to its attempts to pressure its NATO allies to block airspace to Russian planes carrying military aid to Syria (Bulgaria obliged, Greece didn’t) the US cannot be considered a sincere partner in wishing peace upon Syria. And that will remain the case so long as the US continues to be ruled by the neocon agenda, even if the actual neocons are now mostly out of power.

 
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For those who missed this affair, the aptly urled Russian website bs-life.ru (Business Life) published a secret Kremlin directive to compensate the relatives of 2,000 Russian military KIA and 3,200 WIA .

Alarm bells should have rung from the start.

Looks like the very epitome of a serious professional website dedicated to investigative journalism.

Looks like the very epitome of a serious professional website dedicated to investigative journalism.

Start with the website. The design runs on a free, mass-use Joomla magazine template. I daresay most functional one-author blogs look nicer. WHOIS lists no contacts, the owner being identified as a “private person.” Until it became “famous” in the past few days, it did not register in Alexa’s top 100,000 global websites (for comparison, Unz.com is 53,764 on the list, and Russia Insider, launched less than a year ago, is at 27,585). That a site built in one day for $10 sometime in 2011 would be the one to acquire a leak of such seminal importance seems unlikely to say the least.

The figures also don’t pass the face validity test. Both UAF and NAF casualties are estimated around 2,500 to date, though they are likely substantial underestimates. Even so this would imply that the actual Russian Army accounted for a substantal portion, perhaps the majority, of the Novorossiyan military deaths. Considering its massive preponderance in training and equipment over Ukraine such ratios would be implausible even if it was doing the regular fighting. In actuality, the only time that we can be reasonably sure it got involved was in the Ilovaysk battle, in which the Ukrainian forces suffered a crushing defeat. The 2:3 ratio of killed to wounded is also utterly implausible for any modern army. That’s the kind of ratios you had in pre-antibiotics wars. In WW2, the ratio was 1:3. In modern wars, it’s at least 1:5.

These are some basic investigative and logical questions that any journalist writing about this should have been asking.

In their defense, though, Novy Region, the Ukrainian news site that first republished the story, is engaged in a propaganda war against Russia, as is 90%+ of the Ukrainian media. That is understandable.

And in their defense, neither Paul Goble nor Paul Roderick Gregory, the two Anglosphere pundits who did most to “break” this story in the West, can be considered legitimate journalists. Both are glorified bloggers, much like myself.

Goble’s primary schtick consists in recycling stories from marginal anti-Kremlin commentators and “laundering” them for mass citation in the Western MSM. This is a role for which he is eminently qualified by his long years of service in the CIA, RFERL, the State Department, and various democracy promoting NGOs (quadruple-sic!). As I wrote in an expose on him five years ago: “If one fine day some random Tatar blogger on LiveJournal decides to restore the Qasim Khanate, we’ll certainly hear about it on his blog… and guess what, we do!” His piece “uncovering” Russia’s military casualties for Euromaidan Press, his latest gig, is just his latest and unusually successful laundry day.

I don’t really know much about Gregory, apart from him being an economist who loves the 1%, blogs for Forbes, and really, really dislikes Putin and Russia (including up to and beyond the point of conspiracy theories). I suspect he got the story from Paul Goble since his post was published 11 hours after Goble’s and it is unlikely that they were both monitoring Novy Region, let alone BS-Life.

The real question is how come a whole range of Western media outlets reprinted these claims more or less unquestioningly, including: NBC, The Times, The Independent, IB Times.

Incidentally, The Independent is (was?) considered to be a pro-Russian paper, on account of it being owned by a Russian oligarch (as if Russian oligarchs ever cared about anything beyond their wallets). It’s coverage was singularly incompetent (see bolded), not a surprise perhaps considering the author also writes for VICE and BuzzFeed. And for some reason the Indy expects people to pay for its wisdom.

Whilst Russia continues to deny that its troops are fighting in the ongoing Ukrainian conflict, a respected news site in Russia seemingly inadvertently published secret figures that detail deaths and causalities of forces on the ground.

In fairness, some journalists were properly skeptical of this from the start, such as Leonid Bershidsky, who is likely the best (i.e. least ideological, most fact based) anti-Putin journalist writing at a high profile venue today.

A couple days later, this rumor was taken apart by RT, by revealing the elementary fact that there was no such publication as Business Life. Then the whole affair was comprehensively debunked by Ruslan Leviev (in Russian and translation), a liberal Russian journalist who has actively hunted for traces of Russian military involvement in Donbass. He uncovered that the site was a simple phone number phishing website whose owner went so far as to use stolen identities to keep the scam going.

And some Western journalists such as the AFP’s Dmitry Zaks were very, very sad to see the truth come out.

I said they needn’t worry too much. As is all too typical in this conflict, it is the sensationalist, headlines-generating news items that make the biggest impact. Reddit is probably the single biggest political discussion forum in the West, where upvotes are directly linked to visibility.

Let’s do a quick quantification using the number of upvotes at /r/WorldNews as a proxy:

BS + Reality +
Paul Goble 1129 RT 2
Forbes 374 Ruslan Leviev 0
NBC 219
Independent 28
TOTAL 1750 TOTAL 2

What can one say?

Well, first… Kremlin bots! Olgino trolls! Where the hell are you?!?

Second – the rather mundane observation the vast majority of people who only read the articles on /r/WorldNews – without delving into the comments, which at least in this case strip away the BS quite effectively – would come away reinforced in their impression that Russia is directly involved militarily in Ukraine on a large scale, is getting its ass kicked, and that popular opinion will turn against Putin sooner or later at which point the usual color revolution textbook would be pulled out. This is not an isolated case. It’s just the banal reality of information war. The people who “ordered” this story and then laundered it into the MSM don’t care that it was quickly exposed and that it thus has a short shelf life. It still dominated the Ukraine headlines for a couple of days, so it’s mission accomplished so far as they’re concerned. Only a tiny percentage will maintain interest long enough to see it debunked. So far as the rest are concerned the only effect is to reinforce the dominant narrative and the audience for that is primarily Western.

This is all rather obvious, of course, but even – especially – obvious truths still have to be repeated every so often.

 
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The Guardian’s Shaun Walker reports on the latest activities of Andrey Babitsky, the anti-Putin journalist who was fired from RFERL close to a year ago amidst a conspiracy of silence.

In an office just off Lenin Square in Donetsk, a small group of journalists is plotting the launch of a new television channel, to be based in the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic. In the polarised media climate around the conflict in east Ukraine, it is no surprise that a new channel is being set up in the Russia-backed statelet. More surprising is the journalist leading it: Andrei Babitsky, who for years was accused by many in Russia of being a traitor to his country.

Here is my full article on Babitsky’s account of his work and departure from RFERL, including translations from an interview he did with a Czech newspaper (the single biggest exposure his case had in the Western MSM).

TL;DR – Working with RFERL since 1989. Feted as an anti-Putin hero journalist for explaining how Chechens decapitating Russian POWs on camera isn’t sadism but a way of making the war more palpable. Emigrated to Prague, where RFERL has its HQ, permanently in 2000. Continued traveling to Russia occasionally, most notably for taking an interview with the terrorist Shamil Basayev – he of Beslan school siege fame – in 2005. Consistent in his support for local autonomy and self-determination, he was okay with Crimea’s reincorporation into Russia, for which he was suspended without pay from RFERL. Soon afterwards, he uncovered evidence of Aidar war crimes in Donbass, which he videod and sent back to RFERL HQ. Was almost immediately fired from RFERL.

Virtually no mention of a Russian journalist being fired from an American state-owned media organization in the Western media, apart from a single interview in a Czech newspaper several months after the fact. Compare and contrast with the days long furor in the Western MSM when an American journalist resigned from a Russian state media outlet live on air. If this isn’t evidence of the Western media being controlled – it doesn’t have to be direct – then I don’t know what is. At any rate, Babitsky evidently agreed:

“I think the situation has changed a lot since the conflict sprung up between Russia and the west. And to a significant extent, Radio Liberty, which for a long time was a journalistic organisation, has become a propaganda instrument,” Babitsky claimed in an interview in Donetsk recently.

Which is why he is now setting up a TV channel in Donetsk.

He described his new project as an “independent internal channel which will fill a new niche”. It will be called Dialogue and the idea is to hold discussions between Donetsk and the rest of Ukraine.

“We want to move away from the language of hate, to use more analysis, and to try to bring in voices from the other side of the lines,” said Babitsky. He insisted the channel was not affiliated with state structures in the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, and said the modest funding had come from local businessmen. He plans to hire around six people to get the channel up and running within a month.

“Humans should remain human in any circumstances, and that is difficult to achieve in times of war. Hatred towards the enemy twists human feelings and we need to hear calm voices.”

It is worth pointing out that Guardianista sentiment towards Babitsky is about 75% negative, accusing him of being a Putinbot and a turncloak. Here is probably the best comment there, from one “Shatford Shatford”, an amusing blend of gay fever and Putin Derangement Syndrome (the latter displayed here in the implication that his claws reach all the way to Prague):

He was given a choice:

Either you shut up and start saying you love Putin or we a) jail you for 30 years; b) gun you down in the street and blame it on homosexuals; or c) repossess the homes of all your family members and kill their pets.

Sometimes people just aren’t willing to sacrifice everything for their ideals. Not everyone is Thomas Moore.

Babitsky is no friend of Putin or even of Russia. Nor, as it now turns out, is he an uncritical friend of the West either, as Boomerang Babitsky has come flying back to make a plant square on their face.

As for his own journey, Babitsky said there is nothing surprising about someone who was once considered a traitor by many Russians now espousing pro-Kremlin views.

“At that time I felt for the Chechens, because I thought that if these people want to live by their own traditions and move away from Russia then they should be able to. Probably we should have listened to those moods and not killed so many people,” he said.

“It’s the same here. I think Russia is playing a significant role here, but the reasons are not to be found in Russia, they are internal. This is a civil war, where the interests of two parts of Ukraine that consider themselves linked to two cultural traditions are clashing with each other.”

He is simple a man for whom his own principles come first. For all too many, especially those Westerners who view themselves as being invariably on the side of the Light, Truth, Progress, and Independent Media, the very notion is well nigh inconceivable.

 
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This is the first of my promised Last Three Posts on DR. It’s been a bit more than a year since my last update on Russia’s demographic turnaround, and believe it or not, the cause of this was more than just laziness and lack of time on my part. A different question started bugging me:

Is there really a point to it?

Nobody concerns himself overmuch with the United Kingdom’s birth rate, and its portents for the economic and geopolitical destiny of that land. Well, some actually do, but said concern is of the Eurabia, not the Children of Men, variety. In contrast, the image of Russia formed after the collapse of the Soviet Union was one of a desolate wasteland where women voted with their wombs against its continued existence. This might have once had some elements of truth to it, but surely this view is increasingly fantastic now that Russia’s crude birth rate, at 13.2/1,000 in 2013 – and slated to rise even higher this year – is the highest bar none in Europe. It is also, as of 2012, higher than that of the US. The only developed countries where birth rates remain higher than Russia’s are Australia, New Zealand, and Iceland.

A major cause of this is that Russia still has a relatively high number of women in their childbearing years, even though this indicator began to drop precipitously from around 2010, when the effects of the post-Soviet fertility collapse started making themselves felt. This is an inescapable structural legacy that will be making itself felt in the form of downwards pressure on crude birth rates until well into the 2030s. This is where a concept known as the Total Fertility Rate (TFR) comes in. The TFR measures the expected number of children a woman will bear in her lifetime, and is calculated by summing up age-specific fertility rates in a single year. Its advantage is that it is independent of the population’s age structure. After plunging to a low of 1.16 children per woman in 1999 – a “lowest-low” fertility rate that was once theorized by some demographers to be irreversible – it has since climbed to 1.71 in 2013, and on the trends observed this year until August, will rise further to the mid-to-high 1.7s in 2014.

(And before you ask, no, it’s not all down to Muslims. Or even significantly so.)

fertility-rates-in-europe-2013

This map shows European TFRs as of 2013 (or 2012 in a few cases). In the late Soviet years, Russia was deep green, but plunged into the red and deep orange during the dislocations of the transition years. But it has now regained a greenish hue. A normal country, quite similar in its TFR to Finland or the Netherlands – countries not particularly known for being in a deep demographic abyss. And considerably better than the Christian Mediterranean, the Balkans, the Baltics, the Germanic lands, and East-Central Europe. It is, in fact, remarkable that the two countries considered to be Europe’s most politically “regressive” by the Brussels-Atlanticist elites – that is, Russia and Belarus – have come to possess Eastern Europe’s best TFR indicators, while star reformers such as Poland and the Balts wallow in the demographic doldrums. This must be a bitter pill to swallow for the ideologues who claimed demographic decline is a natural consequence of Putinism. Or it would be, if they ever bothered descending from their pulpits to look at actual statistics, but they don’t.

Russia performs much more poorly on measures of mortality and life expectancy. This has its roots not in Putin’s age, nor even in the Soviet collapse, but in the alcoholism epidemic that began to spread throughout the Soviet Union from the 1960s. This is when life expectancy, previously rising fast, hit a plateau at close to 70 years and then stagnated indefinitely with the occasional peak (e.g. Gorbachev’s anti-alcohol campaign) and trough (the mid-1990s).

In the early 2000s, it was estimated that excessive drinking – which in Russia takes the form of concentrated vodka (if not moonshine or other substitutes) binges, as opposed to the moderate daily wine drinking characteristic of Mediterranean countries that on paper drink abou as much as Russia – accounted for 32% of aggregate mortality (including 23% of CVDs, 42% of suicides, and 72% of homicides). In comparison, this figure was just 4% in Finland, by far the most “alcoholized”of the old EU countries. But thanks to increasing wealth, changing cultural mores, increasing state taxes on alcohol, and advertising restrictions, the prevalence of bingeing has been going down for the past decade. This trend is directly reflected in the mortality rate from alcohol poisoning, which peaked around 2003 and has since plummeted to levels significantly lower than even in 1990, when Gorbachev’s anti-alcohol campaign was still active. Suicide rates and homicide rates are also vastly down, in the process making a mockery of a large part of Michael McFaul’s academic career (he wrote a huge and hugely influential Foreign Policy article arguing that public health declined in Putin relative to Yeltsin’s time).

russia-deaths-from-external-causes-1990-2014

Overall mortality too has declined significantly, from a peak of 16.4/1,000 in 2003 to 13.0 in 2013, despite the continued ageing of the population. This resulted in very considerable growth in the life expectancy. After hovering around 65 years from the early 1990s to the mid-2000s, it started rising quickly and broke the symbolic 70 year barrier for the first time in Russian history. This positive trend continued, with the 71 year mark likely to be passed this year.

life-expectancy-in-russia-1950-2013

There is still a long way to go, of course. The Baltic states and Hungary, where alcoholism was also somewhat of an epidemic during the Communist period, have a life expectancy of 75 years (though it was more like 70 years, i.e. Russia’s today, some 5-10 years ago). In traditionally more sober – at least as regards vodka bingeing at any rate – Poland and the Czech Republic, it is 77-78 years. In Finland, a country that shares Russia’s traditional drinking culture, but avoided its Communist experience and from the 1970s acquired access to high-end healthcare, it is 81 years. But the progress that has been made in the past decade has been very considerable and is in considerable part attributable to the policies of the Russian government under Putin.

russia-cross-and-russian-hegaxon

One consequence of the big improvements in fertility and mortality indicators is that had by the 2000s, what had become pessimistically known as “the Russian Cross” – the sharp crossover between the number of births and deaths observed in Russia as the Soviet Union fell apart – has since transformed into the Russian Hexagon, my term for the return of demographic “normality.”

Perhaps the one concerning recent trend is in the migration sphere. Are Russians, or at least the Echo of Moscow liberal types – after the “sixth wave of emigration” loudly trumpeted three years back, and ruthlessly exposed on this blog – finally making good on their promise of “pora valit” (“it’s time to leave”)?

russia-migration-2012-2014

Upon a closer examination of the migration stats, it’s clear that the answer to that question is in the negative. By far the biggest portion of the recent increase in emigration accrued to member states of the CIS; rest assured that people are not going from Russia to Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, or Kyrgyzstan in search of a better life. Moreover, the emigration increase was largely matched with an increase in immigration from those countries. This suggests a bureacratic as opposed to a “real” change, e.g. better border surveillance, or a change in the reporting procedures. While there was a significant increase in emigration to the Far Abroad, its overall scale remains virtually insignificant both relative to population flows between Russia and its Near Abroad, and to Russian emigration to to the West in the 1990s.

None of the cataclysms predicted for Russia in the days when a “dying bear” article was getting published every other week have come to pass. There is no sub-Saharan African level AIDS epidemic. The Chinese have yet to take over Siberia, and the Muslims have yet to take over the Russian Army. The population hasn’t plumetted to 130-135 million, as many demographic models were predicting for 2015 just a few years ago; to the contrary, even discounting Crimea’s return to the fold, Russia’s population has decisively broken its post-Soviet pattern of decline, and is now back to 144 million and is slowly but steadily growing. Russia’s demographic trajectory in the years since I started this blog and created my own demographic models has exceeded even my most optimistic predictions.

There is no more point in talking about Russia’s (non-existent) demographic crisis or really in paying undue attention to it, except perhaps insofar as it could provide lessons to other countries on how to escape from a demographic rut (in particular, a strong argument can be made that maternal capital can have real efficacy, in contrast to the conventional demographic wisdom of ten years’ yore).

In short: The bear is not dead. Long live the bear!

The real puzzle now, if anything, is explaining how a negative Russia trope could sustain itself so long in the Western press – a Washington Post op-ed from this very month is still, risibly, talking about Russia’s “demographic decline” – long after whatever factual underpinnings it might have once had have crumbled away. It’s amazing how pundits get away with elementary mistakes like this in a press environment that at least pretends to be free, professional, and adversarial (unlike those lying goons at RT).

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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After a long break, a new contribution to the Experts Panel:

Shredding Sochi… in a Good Way

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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“Imperialist Putin “Steals” Ukraine”… If only all those hysterical newspaper articles were true!

In reality, the only thing he stole was Ukraine’s credit card debt. He’s no idiot, of course, and is in no rush to pay it off. The drama certainly hasn’t ended. But a geopolitical pivot on the model of Khmelnitsky’s 1654 decision this is not.

Let me try to explain the actual motivations of everyone involved:

(1) The EU wants the Ukraine. No, have to be more precise. The Poles, Balts, Swedes, and Anglos want Ukraine in the EU, without Yanukovych. Scratch that. They want Russia without Ukraine without a Yanukovych. As long as Ukraine politely waits in the queue alongside Turkey and Egypt and all those other peripheral countries enjoying the glories of “European civilization” with Associate memberships, all is well.

(2) Putin wants a weak Yanukovych – because Yanukovych is loyal to his oligarchs, not Putin (duh!) – in control of Ukraine. He also wants Ukraine in the Customs Union. (But not its credit card debt). To do this he has been applying pressure, with Russia banning the import of Roshen chocolates, which belong to a particularly outspoken proponent of the EU, the oligarch Petroshenko. There are warning that EU Association will mean the setting up of tariffs on Ukrainian imports (Russia does not, after all, wish to have to compete with European goods on level territory at this stage). Russia’s long-term goal (with the Eurasian Union) is gradual convergence with EU standards, and eventually even integration. But that is very far off (2040′s maybe). The greater the scope of the Eurasian Union, the more advantageous the terms on which said integration can occur. There is no hurry.

(3) Yanukovych wants what the Donbass oligarchs want. The Donbass oligarchs want to legitimize and secure their wealth by integrating into Western institutions. But the Donbass oligarchs also want their main protector to remain in power. And unfortunately, things like raising gas prices by 40%, salary freezes, and big spending cuts – as demanded by the IMF in return for loans – is going to collapse whatever remains of Yanukovych’s support in the east and south. And why does the EU/IMF demand such stringent concessions? See above. They want a Ukraine without Yanukovych! It’s all logical.

Hence, when PM Azarov says that the decision to suspect the EU deal is “tactical,” he is in all likelihood saying the truth – as opposed to opposition claims that it is all some kind of elaborate conspiracy concocted with Putin to deny Ukraine its “European choice” and return it to imperial moskali domination.

It is also worth noting that during much of the summer, Ukrainian TV channels were propagandizing the benefits of EU association. This is presumably what caused support for the EU to start exceeding support for the Customs Union/Eurasian Union. It would have been exceedingly stupid and irrational to carry out this information campaign with the ultimate intention of performing a volte face and turning back to Russia. It would just piss off the Ukrainians who had become more energized about Europe. An own goal. Why would they possibly do it?

Now that we have a more realistic idea of how things actually work – as opposed to the fanciful tales that the Lithuanians are spinning of Russian blackmail towards Yanykovych, and its faithful repetition in the Western media – we can now look to the future.

That future revolves around February 26, 2015. That is when the next Ukrainian Presidential elections are going to take place. Yanukovych, presumably, wants to win them. But he is not very popular. He has a long-standing reputation as a thug, and a slightly less long-standing reputation as an idiot. Internet commentators frequently call him a “vegetable.”

But he does want to remain President. So Tymoshenko remains in prison, while a law is being introduced to make it illegal for Klitschko to run for the Presidency, seeing as he is a tax resident of Germany. (Aside: If I were Ukrainian, the fact that a tax resident of a foreign country is probably the most popular candidate for leadership would make me profoundly depressed).

The logical course, then, would be to sign up to the Russian deal, which could stave off what many in the financial community are considering to be imminent collapse. But EU membership remains a strategic goal for the Party of Regions and the oligarchs too. So we continue to observe very arduous attempts to have the cake and eat it too. I am talking about their pleas for a three-way trade commission between the EU, Ukraine, and Russia. But too bad for them, the EU isn’t interested. Because the EU doesn’t want Yanukovych. “Look soldier, you don’t like me, and I don’t like you.” “But I like you!” “Okay. You like me, but I don’t like you.” That’s the EU and Yanukovych, in a nutshell.

So that option is out of the window. The days of playing the EU off against Russia to extract concessions is drawing to a close.

What is going to happen now?

Sign up to the Customs Union and be done with all the rigmarole. This is not a choice: Extensive Russian support is predicated on joining the Customs Union.

This is what the opposition, the worshipers of the “European choice” and haters of “Aziopa,” so fervently fear. But I suspect those fears are misplaced. The Ukrainian population under 50 is more pro-EU than pro-Eurasia, and as older people die off, the balance of electoral (not to mention street) power is going to shift West. In this scenario, the Party of Regions will bear a mounting electoral toll for depriving Ukrainians of their “European choice.” The oligarchs will be none too happy either.

Incidentally, this puts the Party of Regions in a fundamental bind. Their core electorate is very slowly but surely dissipating. But should they try to tap the electoral power of younger age groups by signing the Association Agreement, the result would wreck eastern industry and collapse their existing electorate. So they would want to postpone this until after the Presidential elections if at all possible.

Another choice is to default now, devalue the currency, and hope for recovery to pick up in a year’s time, just in time for the elections. (This is what Belarus did in 2010, minus the elections). But this is very risky. Russian gas imports will become even more expensive, and crippling to the budget – and they would be loth to throw Yanukovych a lifeline. If they maintain pressure, Yanukovych would be truly doomed in 2015, even if Tymoshenko and Klitschko are both out of the game. The EU/IMF wouldn’t help either, of course (they don’t want Yanukovych). All they’d have to do is play the waiting game and just wait for a pro-European President to come to power in 2015.

Yanukovych has no good options, that much is clear. All are fraught with varying degrees of risk. But surprisingly enough, it actually appears that – in the absence of any further involvement with the EU, which has basically thrown a hissy fit and wants to have nothing more whatsoever to do with Yanukovych – the Customs Union path is the most promising one for him. Not a good one, mind. The younger people west of Donbass and north of Crimea are pissed off at him, and presumably the oligarchs are none too happy either. But unlike the alternatives – alienation of the core electorate – these are fundamentally manageable problems. Younger people are more active, sure, but the power of the street is overrated (it was a court decision, not the Maidan, that was central to the Orange Revolution); and elderly people are more likely to vote. And what other choice do the Donbass oligarchs have?

All in all, a carnival of errors. The Party of Regions making EU integration a core part of its platform to the extent of funding an information campaign in favor of it. The EU for being so hardline on fiscal matters, which was ultimately a threat to Yanukovych’s political survival and hence unacceptable. Putin is the only one who appears to have played all his cards right.

Well, this train of thought has come to a most unexpected point. I suppose the “hysterical” articles aren’t so hysterical after all… But the outcome is accidental, not having been intended by Yanukovych.

And it goes without saying that things remain very unpredictable. For instance, there’s also the Chinese variant.

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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As far as I understand, Michael D. Weiss is one of those neocons who loves Guantanamo but has a special soft spot in his heart for those Muslims who happen to be fighting Russia or some other state that the US doesn’t like much. When he isn’t chumming it up with his jihadist pals in Syria (see below), he performs his role as the chief editor of The Interpreter – in theory, an “online journal dedicated primarily to translating media from the Russian press and blogosphere into English”; in practice, a publication that would be more aptly named The Interpreter of Novaya Gazeta, considered the open slant in its choice of which articles to translate and its consistently anti-Putin, pro-Western interventionist editorials.

michael-weiss-with-jihadists

Nonetheless, all translations are good. They are inherently neutral. This is why I wrote a letter to Weiss with a cooperation proposal, whose essence was to save both The Russian Spectrum and The Interpreter duplicating work while increasing the size of the content that we both offer. I did not think Weiss would accept and he failed to surprise to the upside. Which of course he was perfectly within his rights to decline. You’ll see no complaints whatsoever from me on that point.

But he wouldn’t let it go – and in fact later, started insisting that I was running around begging favors and threatening to publish my letter as he believed it would discredit me amongst my “Putinist chums” (which he eventually did). The conversations that resulted were not only illustrative of the neocon-Bolshevik like mentality of these people, but are also rather hilarious. It is for this reason that I’ve gathered them all together for the delectation of DR readers.

Note – There is nothing here that is not accessible to the public.

(1) It started when @CollenWinthrop posted the following episode:

1) On July 10th, while Edward Snowden was roving about the transit area of a Moscow Airport, Time Magazine’s Simon Shuster wrote an article that argued that Snowden “was taken soon after his arrival — if not immediately — to a secure location run by some arm of the Russian government.” On top of that, Shuster writes that Snowden was likely drugged by Russian officials so he can tell them what they want to know. Here is the article: http://world.time.com/2013/07/10/snowden-in-moscow-what-are-russian-authorities-doing-with-the-nsa-whistleblower/

2) Michael Weiss (the Russophobic psychopath of The Interpreter and Now Lebanon) promoted the article on his Twitter account:

{BTW, @shustry‘s report on what has likely happened to young Edward in Moscow is a must-read}

3) The article got bashed as propaganda and lies by many of the people on Time’s website and Shuster lambasted on his Twitter account, as a reply to Weiss’ acclaim:

{@michaeldweiss Thanks! the breadth of responses to this story has been amazing. From livid condemnation to your kind words. Both appreciated}

4) To which Weiss replied:

{@shustry Fuck ‘em. You know how the Cheka operates and you live there. Your stuff is consistently excellent.}

5) “Fuck ‘em”???????? Weiss is such an asshole. He cannot stand the truth, he prefers to fuck the truth instead.

(2) Conversation Number 1:

‏Anatoly Karlin @akarlin88
Account of how zhurnalizd @shustry neocon Bolshevik @michaeldweiss operate: http://www.twitlonger.com/show/n_1rlnqop via @ColleenWinthrop
5:01 PM – 3 Aug 13

{Okay, not polite on my part. But honestly – that is not how Russia discussions work there, including (especially) those involving Weiss.}

Russian Truth ‏@RussianTruth1 3 Aug
@akarlin88 @shustry @michaeldweiss @ColleenWinthrop Russian hate is a paycheck to Weiss. His baby is Israel.

michaeldweiss ‏@michaeldweiss 3 Aug
@akarlin88 @shustry @colleenwinthrop Anatoly, you should relay the story of how you asked me for a publishing agreement.

Anatoly Karlin ‏@akarlin88 3 Aug
@michaeldweiss @shustry @ColleenWinthrop It was a cooperation proposal, not a request for a publishing agreement. Please don’t lie. First.

Anatoly Karlin ‏@akarlin88 3 Aug
@michaeldweiss @shustry @ColleenWinthrop Second, I don’t divulge personal correspondence in public.

michaeldweiss ‏@michaeldweiss 3 Aug
@akarlin88 @shustry @colleenwinthrop You asked to share our material. I can produce the email publicly if you like.

michaeldweiss ‏@michaeldweiss 3 Aug
@akarlin88 @shustry @colleenwinthrop Though I wouldn’t want to embarrass you in front of your friends who might find this very odd indeed.

michaeldweiss ‏@michaeldweiss 3 Aug
@akarlin88 @shustry No, you insult people and then hypocritically ask them for professional favors. At least you’ve a comic instinct.

Anatoly Karlin ‏@akarlin88 3 Aug
@michaeldweiss @shustry @ColleenWinthrop Go ahead LOL. There is nothing damning or even controversial there whatsoever.

Anatoly Karlin ‏@akarlin88 3 Aug
@michaeldweiss I was not asking you for a favor. And you are just about the last person who should be whining about online insults (wah wah)

michaeldweiss ‏@michaeldweiss 3 Aug
@akarlin88 Who’s whining? I enjoyed it thoroughly.

(3) Conversation Number 2:

Anatoly Karlin ‏@akarlin88
Just to clarify: My proposal to @Interpreter_Mag was a *sharing* agreement (so as to avoid duplicating effort). Nothing more, nothing less.
6:15 PM – 3 Aug 13

michaeldweiss ‏@michaeldweiss 3 Aug
@akarlin88 “A mutual listing of each other as partners on a partners or links page”. Partners = slightly more, actually.

Anatoly Karlin ‏@akarlin88 3 Aug
@michaeldweiss I view it as a glorified blogroll, personally – e.g. http://russianmind.com/content/partners …. Partners pages = more visitors, SEO for all.

4) Conversation Number 3:

Anatoly Karlin ‏@akarlin88 3 Aug
.@michaeldweiss refused. More power to him. Will create more work for both @Interpreter_Mag & @RussianSpectrum, but ultimately irrelvant.

michaeldweiss ‏@michaeldweiss
@akarlin88 Strange that you’d seek to collaborate with neocon Bolsheviks, no? Thought Putinists were made of tougher stuff.
6:20 PM – 3 Aug 13

Anatoly Karlin ‏@akarlin88 3 Aug
@michaeldweiss That is because you are a with-us-or-against-us Bolshevik. That is why it seems so strange to you.

michaeldweiss ‏@michaeldweiss 3 Aug
@akarlin88 :) I like your last few defensive tweets. Don’t worry, your chums won’t hold it against you. They can’t afford to.

(5) Conversation Number #4 (a month later, in response to a satirical tweet by Mark Adomanis)

Mark Adomanis ‏@MarkAdomanis
“WE NEED TO INTERVENE IN SYRIA BECAUSE THE JIHADISTS ARE SAD” – actual foreign policy analysts
7:36 PM – 31 Aug 13

michaeldweiss ‏@michaeldweiss 31 Aug
@MarkAdomanis Who is saying that?

Russian Truth ‏@RussianTruth1 31 Aug
@MarkAdomanis @hannahgarrard Add @michaeldweiss to that list. Jihadists, AIPAC, Likudites, Bilderbergers. Sad days pic.twitter.com/JWrIANajN0

Sol Robinson ‏@SolJewEgg 31 Aug
lolwut @RussianTruth1 @michaeldweiss @MarkAdomanis @hannahgarrard

michaeldweiss ‏@michaeldweiss 31 Aug
@SolJewEgg Imbeciles of the world, unite!

Sol Robinson ‏@SolJewEgg 31 Aug
Is russia ever going to stop being just a soul sucking abomination? @michaeldweiss

michaeldweiss ‏@michaeldweiss 31 Aug
@SolJewEgg What’s interesting to me is that Booz Allen keeps hiring accidents waiting to happen. Surely that is a conspiracy worth scrutiny.

Anatoly Karlin ‏@akarlin88 31 Aug
@michaeldweiss The same Booz Allen employee who demanded Russia send Snowden packing? http://darussophile.com/2013/06/25/mark-adomanis-do-as-us-officials-say-or-else/ … @SolJewEgg

michaeldweiss ‏@michaeldweiss 31 Aug
@akarlin88 Anatoly, privyet. Unfortunately, we are still not seeking a content-sharing agreement. Feel free to apply again next year. Xoxo.

Anatoly Karlin ‏@akarlin88 31 Aug
@michaeldweiss Stop trolling or publish the email as you said you would. Go ahead – everyone is waiting with baited breath.

Nick Nipclose ‏@NickNipclose 31 Aug
@Karlsson111 @michaeldweiss @SolJewEgg There’s no excuse for Chechen jihadism, they chose to support Islamist filth no one forced them.

… {discussion by other participants on Chechnya}

Sol Robinson ‏@SolJewEgg 31 Aug
@NickNipclose @Karlsson111 @michaeldweiss Russia’s brutal repression didn’t help anyone

… {more Chechnya discussion… check the link to Twitter convo if you’re really interested}

Anatoly Karlin ‏@akarlin88 31 Aug
Oh noes @michaeldweiss BLOCKED me. wah wah wah. Whatever shall I do now?!? cc @MarkAdomanis @RussianTruth1 @SolJewEgg @hannahgarrard

Sol Robinson ‏@SolJewEgg
Lol russian propagandist. @akarlin88 @michaeldweiss @MarkAdomanis @RussianTruth1 @hannahgarrard

michaeldweiss ‏@michaeldweiss 31 Aug
@SolJewEgg Karlin is my aspiring professional partner. Hell hath no fury like a Putinist scorned.

Hannah Garrard ‏@hannahgarrard 31 Aug
@akarlin88 Join the club. I got blocked by him for criticising Al-Qaida. @michaeldweiss @MarkAdomanis @RussianTruth1 @SolJewEgg

Russian Truth ‏@RussianTruth1 31 Aug
@hannahgarrard @akarlin88 @michaeldweiss @MarkAdomanis @SolJewEgg For criticizing Al Qaeda? Did he take it personally?!

(6) The publication of my email (1, 2, 3, 4)

Anatoly Karlin ‏@akarlin88 31 Aug
I see @michaeldweiss continues to twist the contents of my email to him in public. This leaves me with no option but to publish it myself.

michaeldweiss ‏@michaeldweiss
@akarlin88 Don’t worry, Anatoly. I shall publish it now.

michaeldweiss ‏@michaeldweiss
‏@michaeldweiss Anatoly Karlin’s request to partner with The Interpreter — evidently this meant more to him than it did to (cont) http://www.twitlonger.com/show/n_1rm7dhg

michaeldweiss ‏@michaeldweiss
@akarlin88 Here you go, sweetpea. Happy blogging: http://www.twitlonger.com/show/n_1rm7dhg

(7) The damning email that will meant so much more to me than to him – in which case, why was Michael Weiss the one ranting on about it the entire time?

Anatoly Karlin’s request to partner with The Interpreter — evidently this meant more to him than it did to us:

Dear Michael Weiss/Interpreter Staff,

It is great to see you making translations of the Russian press available for a wider audience. Regardless of one’s political views, that is an unquestionably positive and effective means of fostering more informed views and dialog on Russian politics and society.

As it happens, I have a similar project at The Russian Spectrum (though it is more narrowly focused just on the translation activity). Also, to allay any concerns, it was not created to compete with The Interpreter (I had first publicly written of my intention to do such a project last September, that is, way before The Interpreter’s launch date).

Since we share a common interest in presenting “English Inosmi” services, I would like to propose a partnership or cooperation agreement to avoid needlessly duplicating work and expanding the range of translated pieces we both offer.

Here are two proposals for your consideration:

(1) A sharing agreement in which we agree to republish a number (e.g. 5?) of translations per week from each other’s site. The original translators will, of course, be credited on both sites.

(2) A mutual listing of each other as partners on a partners or links page.

Thank you for your consideration. I look forwards to hearing from you on what you think of this.

Best,
Anatoly Karlin.

Hope you’ve had fun reading through this and made it through without an aneurysm! ;)

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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james-kirchikHe got invited to RT to talk about Bradley Manning and his impending sentence. The gay journalist James Kirchick got invited to argue his viewpoint that Manning wa a traitor who deserved to be put to death. (I wonder what his newfound liberal groupies would make of that?).

Instead, he used his airtime to go off on a tirade about how Russia has criminalized homosexuality (no, it hasn’t – but who cares about facts?) and to recycle all the canards about how RT is a Kremlin mouthpiece.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MoSIpeTsXbQ

His rant lasted a whole two minutes, before RT’s host – having failed to steer Kirchick back on topic – finally kicked him off the channel. After rudely hijacking the show, the troll even had the gall to complain that RT wouldn’t pay for his taxi ride back.

There are many things one can say of this episode. One can highlight Kirchik’s sheer rudeness, chutzpah, and presumption. One can point out that Kirchick is only preaching to his own crowd here, while doing his utmost to validate the stereotype of the hystrionic homo as far as people who don’t much like homosexuals and need to be persuaded otherwise – that is, the majority of Russians – are concerned. Alternatively, one can note that Nikolai Alexeyev, the leader of Russia’s LGBT movement, basically calls him out as a hypocrite and then pens an article for RT with his own, far more nuanced views on the challenges facing the LGBT community in Russia.

I for one will note that if cutting off someone for incessant trolling makes RT a Kremlin mouthpiece, then…

… what does this make the “free” Western media?

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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Though I know I missed the train on this news, one point in particular is worth drawing attention to as regard the stabbing of (the half-Tatar) paratrooper Ruslan Morzhanov by a 16-year-old ethnic Chechen, which incited the small town of Pugachev to stage a peaceful mini-revolt against the feds.

The town has seen similar tragedies before. A brutal murder was committed in very similar circumstances in 2010. Twenty four-year-old Chechen Beslan Mudayev fatally stabbed twenty eight-year-old Nikolai Veshnyakov five times during a fight that broke out right in front of Zolotaya Bochka. Locals claim that the Chechen community, consisting of a dozen families in total, has been harassing the local population. According to official statistics, there are about 80 Chechens living in various parts of the Pugachev District.

So. Two murders, committed within the space of 3 years, from a group of 80 people belonging to a “repressed” minority. The town’s population is a mere 41,000 and in such places, a lot of people do know each other.

I would be angry as well. Moreover, I would feel unsafe. If 2.5% of a certain group are murderers, then complaints that many of the rest are thugs in general become all that more credible (at least for minds not dominated by political correctness). The popular demands made by Pugachev residents to expel those local Chechens that are not employed or registered in their city – that is, merely enforcing the law on residence, as opposed to the ethnic cleansing it has been portrayed as – though perhaps quite harsh, is not obviously unreasonable given the horrifying circumstances.

One can have some issues with Navalny, co-signing a petition condemning the federal government’s limp-wristedness on ethnic crime, its opposition to legalizing self-defense isn’t one of them, and its at times heavy-handed response to airings of legitimate ethnic Russian grievances isn’t one of them.

The Western media doesn’t see it that way of course. To left/liberals, the small-town Russian protesters are chauvinist troglodytes – with Putin at times even held responsible for this “xenophobia,” despite the government’s avowed opposition to all expressions of russki nationalism; while the conservatives/neocons salivate over the prospect that the Pugachev Affair is but the prelude to Russia’s disintegration.

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

1 - me in DC

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

2 - al jazeera bus

The Qataris sure know how to get their message out!

3 - hotel gathering

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

4 - wrf 2013

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

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

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

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

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

5 - wrf 2013

William Dunkerley had the funniest and most interactive presentation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

6 - newseum

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

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

6.5 - hero journalist

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

7 - embassy invite

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

8 - democratic protesters

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

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

9 - russian embassy

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

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

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

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

press-freedom-voice-of-russia

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

Up and down the freedom index

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

russian-cross

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

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

russian-hexagon

This is a momentous landmark in many ways.

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

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

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

russia-deaths-from-external-causes

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

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

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

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

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

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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Not often that you see Russia in some color other than bloody red on a world map of corruption or institutional quality. But according to the Open Budget Index (2012 results), the Russian budget is actually pretty transparent as far as these things go.

Of the major countries, only the UK (88), France (83), and the US (79) are ahead. The other major developed countries in the survey like Germany (71), Spain (63), and Italy (60) are all behind Russia (74), as are its fellow – and supposedly far cleaner – BRICs fellows Brazil (73), India (68), and China (11). Of perhaps greater import, only the Czech Republic (75) edges above Russia in the CEE group, whereas all the others – Slovakia (67), Bulgaria (65), Poland (59), Georgia (55), Ukraine (54), Romania (47), etc. – lag behind it. Also noteworthy is that Russia’s typical neighbors on Transparency International’s CPI, such as Zimbabwe (20), Nigeria (16), and Equatorial Guinea (0), reveal almost nothing in their national budgets.

Now of course the Open Budget Index is not the same thing as corruption. You can have an open budget but still steal from it (and this does happen in Russia frequently), and you can also have a closed budget from which few people steal, at least directly (as was the case in the USSR… or to take a more modern example, while Russia’s OBI is now higher than Germany’s, it is inconceivable that state corruption is even in the same league in these two countries).

Nonetheless, there is surely a very significant degree of correlation between the two. Having an open budget means that it is can be subjected to scrutiny; were Russia’s budget closed like China’s or Saudi Arabia’s, Navalny’s work to expose corrupt state tenders would be simply impossible (as it is, the latest ploy corrupt bureaucrats have been forced to resort to is to sprinkle Latin characters into the Cyrillic texts of state tenders so as to confound search engines).

Second, a high OBI score demonstrates the state’s commitment to fighting corruption. If Putin and Co. really didn’t care and were truly the kleptocrats they are repeatedly labeled as by the Western media, they would instead do everything in their power to hide the budget so as to remove the possibility of scrutinizing it. But they don’t. To the contrary, Russia’s OBI has increased from year to year.

As we can see above, Russia’s budget transparency in 2006 was… about middling; consistently below developed world standards, but higher than plenty of Third World countries and even quite a few CEE countries. But by 2012 it was 10th out of 100 countries. If Russia’s government were truly only committed to stealing as much as it possibly could why would it bother with the legislative and institutional improvements that enabled such a change in rankings?

It is now the most transparent of the BRIC’s, having overtaken both (consistently transparent) Brazil and (also rapidly improving) India in 2012.

Of most pertinence, Russia has massively improved its relative position to other CEE countries; only the Czech Republic and Georgia under Saakashvili have registered such appreciable improvements. To the contrary, both Poland and Romania actually registered declines in their overall levels of budget transparency.

Russia no longer even trails the developed world in this regard.

I would also note that this chimes with the findings of the Revenue Watch Index, which found Russia to be one of the world’s best countries at reporting information about revenue from the extractive sector. This in particular goes against the widespread trope of shady siloviki appropriating all the proceeds from Russian oil and gas and murdering the investigative journalists who go after them.

Conclusions

Once again I would like to emphasize that the OBI does not measure corruption. For instance, China is nowhere near as corrupt as the numbers indicate here; FWIW, my own impressions from perusing various indices and reading comments boards from both countries is that “everyday” corruption is somewhat higher in Russia and elite-level corruption is comparable. Nonetheless, the OBI is an objective measure, drawn from concrete metrics, and that alone makes it superior to Transparency International’s CPI, which is a measure of corruption perceptions.

To remove any possible insinuation that I only castigate the CPI because it ranks Russia abysmally low, I would ask the following question: Is it really plausible that Italy is more corrupt than Saudi Arabia, as implied by the CPI, when there is such a vast gulf in their levels of budget openness and other objective assessments of institutional quality?When we actually pretty much know that a substantial chunk of Saudi Arabia’s budget goes into feeding the country’s 15,000 odd princes… that the very country is named after the family that rules it? I find that very improbable. I would suggest it is somewhat more likely that the “experts” and businessmen asked to assign CPI ratings simply bumped up the Gulf states for their (admittedly) very generous and sumptuous hospitality and their pro-Western policies; all factors that would work in the reverse direction in the cases of countries like Russia, or Venezuela.

Still, all that is speculation. Much like the CPI itself. Back in the world of concrete statistics and facts, I think this further confirms my basic thesis on Russian corruption, which goes something like this:

  1. It was extremely high during the 1990′s.
  2. It declined at a steady if not breakneck rate (media narrative – it keeps getting worse every single year under Putin).
  3. The state itself is moderately but not extremely interested in curbing corruption (media narrative – Russia is a “mafia state”).
  4. Today, Russia is not an outlier or an anomaly on corruption when compared against Central-Eastern or Southern Europe. To the contrary, it is comparable to the worst-performing European countries (e.g. Hungary, Romania, Greece), and about middling in the overall global corruption ratings. (media narrative – “Nigeria with snow”).
  5. It continues to improve at a slow but steady pace.

For more information see my Corruption Realities Index, which I developed in 2010 and takes into account the OBI when computing corruption levels.

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

The Western press

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

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

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

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

Après moi le beluga…?

Gerard announces the closure of several Parisian Boulangeries.

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

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

Western democratic journalists

Unfortunately even many otherwise reasonable people were ridiculously outraged.

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

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

Mark Adomanis started out well:

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

But then he too went weird.

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

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

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

Russian liberals

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

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

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

In a class of its own: Julia Ioffe

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

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

Minor point, perhaps, but NOT defunct.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Update: Ioffe’s reply to this post

Ouch this must have struck a nerve with her!

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

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

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

SublimeOblivion:

Let us look at this rationally and by the numbers.

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

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

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

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

Beckow:

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

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

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

Dear CiF Moderators,

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks and Best,
Anatoly.

The reply:

Hello,

Thanks for getting in touch.

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

Thanks for bringing this to our attention.

Kind regards

CIF Moderation Team

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