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There is a term on Runet, popularized by the satirical “dissident” Lev Sharansky, called “democratic journalist.” Of course, this term is every bit as satirical as its main propagator. In the Russian context, it denotes a journalist who is obsessed with free speech, human rights, democracy, the whole turkey. But they are “obsessed” with them in a rather peculiar way. Namely, when Russia violates these things in some way, real or imagined, they raise a loud howls of protest that reverberate around the globe: Formal condemnations, calls for the persecutors to be banned from Western countries and their financial accounts frozen, trade sanctions against Russia, etc, etc. But when the West does things that are just as bad or even worse, they are either silent on it, or blame the victims themselves (there are of course many exceptions… but then they are not “democratic journalists” in the first place). Those who call them out on their hypocrisy are assailed with the strawman label of “whataboutism.” To these people, the world is built on Manichean principles: There are enemy states, whose victims are “worthy” and deserve unalloyed attention (e.g. Pussy Riot, Iranian protesters); and then there is the West – that is, the US and its allies – which can do no real wrong, and as such, their victims (e.g. Assange, Bahraini protesters) are “unworthy”.

A case in point: In 2010, an RT crew was arrested and detained for 32 hours for covering protests against Fort Benning, the infamous School of the Americas with a dark reputation around its training of Latin American right-wing paramilitaries. With the honorable exception of Ilya Yashin and Boris Nemtsov, Russia’s liberals took a rather different view. For instance, in the comments section to their blogs, one user wrote, “So that democracy can survive in civilized countries, they have to limit the activities of agents of influence of barbaric fascist regimes on their own territory.” This was not a lone voice; to the contrary, at least half the comments reflected similar sentiments. Lyudmila Alexeyeva, who used to sit on President Medvedev’s Council on Human Rights blamed the RT journalists themselves for their own arrests (incidentally that Council, before it was recently – and in my opinion none too soon – restaffed under Putin, also spent much of 2011 compiling a 400 page report on the purported unfairness of Khodorkovsky’s conviction; one would think there were more things worthy of their attention in the evil empire than the fate of a major crook who probably ordered contract murders, and whose conviction was maintained multiple times by the ECHR, but that’s just me).

This phenomenon of “democratic journalists” is however best illustrated by the Russian liberal intelligentsia’s reaction to Wikileaks and Cablegate – which is to say, parroting the US Establishment and their Western colleagues, they started to disparage, loathe, smear, hate on, mock, and condemn Julian Assange. One of these “democratic journalists” is Peter Savodnik. Yet another is Konstantin von Eggert. In his vitriolic, froth-on-the-mouth reactions to Assange’s plight; in his attacks on his critics; in his privileged position in the Russian media (which we are meant to believe is controlled by Putin), he represents all of the hypocrisy of your stereotypical Russian liberal. If there was a holotype specimen for “democratic journalist” he’d be an excellent candidate for it.

As far as I’m aware, Eggert first made his views known in 2010. The title says it all: “The tabloid freedom of Wikileaks.” But first note at the onset that it was published in English at RIA Novosti, the official Russian news agency. Personally, I do not decry that Eggert is employed there. First, it would be hypocritical of me, as I write for Al Jazeera and get money from them for articles that are hardly in line with official Qatari foreign policy (though at this point I should note that Eggert does have a problem with me writing for Al Jazeera, or any MSM outlet for that matter). Second, whenever somebody claims that the Kremlin controls the Russian media, one can simply point to Eggert’s scribblings for its main news agency. So in this regard, Eggert in his own way serves the Kremlin; though not, I think, in quite the way he imagines it.

Assange thinks of himself a some kind of Internet-age messiah, but in fact his worldview is not much different of your average salon leftie from Harvard or Islington, ever ready to believe any smear about the United States and to apologize for any tyrant, as long as the latter claims to be a socialist and dislikes the US. … The “bien pensants” of the Western left think that their governments are wicked – despite leading prosperous and protected lives under those same governments.

Apparently, he is a radical leftist and committed anti-American, stubbornly unwilling to realize how free he really is (to be financially embargoed and effectively imprisoned on trumped up charges for years on end?):

Somehow, I do not expect many cables from the Burmese Foreign Ministry (or Myanmar if you like it) or minutes from North Korea’s Politburo meetings to be revealed any time soon by Wikileaks.

Note that despite being an ardent critic of whataboutism, like many democratic journalists, Konstantin von Eggert feels free to liberally engage in it himself when the occasion calls for it. How dare Assange expose Western dirty laundry without first doing the same for dozens of other nasty regimes? To (very) loosely paraphrase Miriam Elder, another democratic journalist: “It’s unclear what Eggert, or his sponsors, would prefer. That Assange avoid leaking stuff about Western countries until he spills all the beans on Iran, Syria, Burma, North Korea, China, and Russia too?” (Contrary to what Western democratic journalists wrote at the beginning of the saga, of those Russia at least is NOT going to kill Assange for revealing stuff about it).


But the shit really started hitting the fan when news emerged that RT (Russia Today) was teaming up with Assange to product a ten-part series of interviews with the world’s movers and shakers, he went on an all-out offensive, publishing a new round of hit pieces at Kommersant (January 26, 2012) and Russian Forbes (January 27, 2012). Let’s start with the latter:

After the news that RT is going to use the services of Julian Assange, I got a phone call from a Reuters correspondent. She asked me whether I knew whether the Kremlin would pay the Wikileaks founder for his program. I don’t have a clue of course. But with RT, this weird Australian might as well work for free. For his alliance with the main organ of Russian state propaganda on the world stage – is an alliance of kindred spirits.

After this, he goes on to criticize RT for its “conspirological” bias, by “interviewing marginal people” and catering to Westerners who are “marginal” and for whom “The Guardian and The New York Times are too leftist.” Is this guy for real? In what universe is The Guardian and the NYT leftist? But I guess to a neocon of his calibre anything that marginally deviates from the US party line is automatically leftist. Furthermore:

… As a rule, [these conspirological audiences] really don’t like Israel. For natural reasons, for Jews are frequently the heroes of various conspiracy theories. For these audiences, RT frequently invites “fighters against Zionism” from the ranks of rather paranoid Western researchers, such as Norman Finkelstein. He is a hero of multiple scandals and for all intents and purposes denies Israel its right to existence.

A bit of background on Norman Finkelstein. True, he does not like the Israeli state, perhaps irrationally so (much in the way that Eggert himself doesn’t like RT, or Wikileaks, or – for that matter – Russia). Unlike Eggert, however, who is given a privileged position in the Russian media, Norman Finkelstein has been hounded out of academia for his views, detained and expelled from from Israel at the airport (recall the uproar when Luke Harding was expelled from Russia for overstaying his visa?), and – the mark of Cain in America – has been branded an anti-Semite, which permanently blacklists him from the US media. Here is another view of him, from Peter Lavelle:

Norman Finkelstein is a hate figure for many of those who know of him in America and for many in the worldwide Jewish community. He is another person who is blacklisted by Western mainstream media for speaking his mind and revealing the frauds of others.

A child of Holocaust survivors – Finkelstein’s father was on a death march in Auschwitz and his mother was a survivor of the Majdanek death camp – he challenges anyone who tries to use his deceased parents’ memory for geopolitical advantage when invoking the Nazi genocide against the Jews.

I understand where Finkelstein is coming from. I lived in Poland for 12 years and visited every Nazi death camp. To this day I am left speechless by how the human condition can succumb to evil. Thankfully we have Norman Finkelstein to remind us that honoring the memory of the Holocaust does not automatically mean supporting Israel and Washington. As someone aware of how ideologies literally destroy people, Finkelstein is worth listening to when it comes of the suffering of the Palestinian people.

When prominent US politicians like Romney say there can be no peace with congenitally violent Palestinians – and are backed up on this in the op-eds of major American papers such as the WSJ – contrary voices like Finkelstein’s are clearly needed for a balanced debate. Konstantin von Eggert, however, would do his best to suppress it; and condemns RT for giving Finkelstein the freedom of speech he does not enjoy in America.

They say, that Assange will interview for RT famous people. I suspect they will mainly be opponents of America and the West, both internal and external. Ahmadinejad and Huge Chavez, Bashar Assad and Evo Morales, Noam Chomsky and John Pilger, Sean Penn and Susan Sarandon, Slavoj Zizek and Robert Fisk…

There is little more left to say here. In the Kremlin-controlled Russian media (according to this democratic journalist, let us not forget, the Russian elites “rule like Stalin and live like Abramovich”), Konstantin von Eggert is basically waging a McCarthyite campaign (“enemies internal and external”???) against supposed Kremlin (China, North Korea, etc) friends. What kind of idiot totalitarianism that allows this does Russia run anyway? (This is sarcastic, of course; I genuinely love the fact that Eggert gets the opportunity to write these things in the Russian media, both in itself (a free media is good) and for mercenary reasons (one can always cite him to the various hacks who claim otherwise). Now as for smearing the child of Holocaust survivors as anti-Semitic, or in bracketing people like Robert Fisk and Assad in the same category of miscreants, I will not dwell on that… I leave it on Eggert’s conscience (if he has any).

There is a paradox that a person around whom is constructed the aura of a global fighter for free information, not sits in one dugout with employees of an organ of state propaganda. On the principle of “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.”

The hypocrisy is oozing out of his every slimey pore. The stench is so nauseating that even the readers of this fairly pro-Western publication, Russian Forbes, call him out on it. Here is one representative comment by alexz105:

Ah, Kostya, Kostya. If you can’t do the job – don’t take it. A fine advert you make for Forbes. The all-encompassing usage and constantly repeated of this juicy little word “marginals” reminds one of the rhetoric about the Weismann-Morganists [AK: Practitioners of "bourgeois" genetics, persecuted under Stalinism]. You’re a sovok bast shoe, even if you do have a “von” in your name.

To which Eggert replied with anti-Semitic accusations.

All as I thought. No relevant comments. Banal fighters with the “Jewish conspiracy” soloing. And, as expected, they mention the “von” thing. … You have nothing to say. It’s boring – noone to argue with.

And so on in the most dismal vein. The commentators started to identify themselves with the “marginals” to piss Eggert off. To which Eggert responded by correcting their spelling mistakes. Now I don’t often agree with La Russophobe (LOL), but she’s right that when have to resort to pointing out spelling or grammar mistakes to attack your critic, you’ve probably already lost the argument.


This is a fascinating case study, and there is plenty more to come. Stay tuned. The next part will deal with Eggert’s articles for Kommersant smearing Assange with rape, lying about his release of the unredacted Cables, and repeating the “he’s anti-American!” In fact, I’m half of a mind to translate this gem in full and reprint it my book as evidence of Russian media diversity (I mean he can’t complain, right? I will be making more people aware of his work. I’ll be doing him a favor!). There may also be a third part dealing with his personal attacks on me and other critics of his work.

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
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One might have thought that football is one of those few places where politics can be left at the door. At least that’s the position of UEFA who constantly talk of the game’s potential to build bridges, etc.

However, consider the following litany of attacks. First, it is looking into punishing Russia for displaying the banner below. Because it is “far right extremist sloganeering” according to some anti-racism organization that has nothing better to do. What exactly is racist about it? How exactly was it brought into the stadium if the Poles themselves didn’t want it?

Then there were the clashes with the Poles when Russian fans marched in Warsaw to mark Russia Day. According to numerous papers like the WSJ and Daily Mail both sides were at least equally at fault, but more likely the Russkies.

Consider the image right. The WSJ writes: “Ahead of the countries’ Euro 2012 Group A match up, a Russian soccer fan, left, fights Tuesday with a Polish supporter in Warsaw.” However, as is obvious to anyone who is not a cretin, the man on the left throwing a punch is a Poland supporter. Though it is not surprising as the WSJ excels in lying on Russia as on other subjects and plagiarizing too.

UEFA also has its knickers in a twist over some Russian “imperial” flags (the white, gold and black) displayed in the arena. Apparently they are “racist”. This is Western hypocrisy at its unsurpassed finest because Westerners do not have any trouble with these flags whatsoever when they’re seen in anti-Putin demonstrations.

As can be observer in the video below, it was mostly the Polish nationalists who were attacking Russia supporters. Scroll to 0:41 to see some shaved leather-clad thug run up and punch a Russia supporter in the neck from behind in a most low-life manner.



This might also seem funny and petty until one realizes that in addition to a $150,000 fine (which is peanuts to the Russian FA) they are also threatening it with a 6 point handicap in the qualifiers to the next Euro Cup. This is a huge disadvantage and if followed through Russia might as well boycott those games and try to persuade other FA’s to do likewise to bring down those UEFA blowhards a notch.

Edit: The liberal Leonid Vershidsky, of the aptly named Snob magazine, blames Polish attacks on Russians on Putin and the Soviet Union. Celebrates the fact that Russia didn’t win but drew with Poland. No doubt one of those folks who then wonders why people don’t like or vote for his fellow liberals.

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Football, Poland, Russophobes, Sport, WSJ 
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On December 28th, the WSJ published an article on “Russia’s Dubious Election” by Gregory White and Rob Barry (it’s behind a paywall, but you can read it her e). In it they described the most famous argument for the 15% Club (i.e., the purported scale of fraud in the 2011 Duma elections) – namely, that of Sergey Shpilkin. A brief description of his approach: Observe that a higher turnout means more votes for United Russia; make a blanket assumption that all these extra votes are suspect, remove them as “irregularities”, and voila! United Russia’s plummets from 49% to about 34%! (Neither he nor the WSJ, to their credit, claim that it proves fraud; they use the more qualified phrase “cast doubt”). In the process, not only the elections are discredited but pretty much the entirety of Russian opinion polling and exit polling (a reminder: all the pre-elections polls gave United Russia 50% or more, and the most comprehensive exit poll, FOM, was 6% lower than its official tally).

What other Russian bloggers have pointed out is that a whole lot of other countries – Germany, the UK, Israel – have similar voting tendencies. There, more turnout means more votes for their conservative parties (Christian Democrats, Tories, Kadima, respectively). So since most readers would agree that those countries have clean elections, the “more turnout and more votes for one party MUST MEAN fraud fraud fraud!!!” thesis can’t exactly be universally valid.

This linear relation between more turnout and more votes for United Russia further makes sense because, whereas a party like the Communists has a hard core of supporters who tend to turn out reliably (with proportional representation, their votes aren’t “lost” even though the party has no real chance of winning), United Russia’s electorate is much more apathetic, a “silent majority” according to economics blogger Sergey Zhuravlev. More turnout means it manages to mobilize more people to go out and vote; naturally, a greater turnout means more votes for the party of power. This is a constant in Russian politics that stretches back to the 1990′s (recall the 1996 election when Yeltsin was appealing to Russians to go out and vote to forestall the Communist victory that would have resulted had they remained at home in large numbers).

The WSJ did not mention these counterarguments to Shpilkin, neither did they outline any of the numerous alternate methods, of which there are legion, from either the 0% Club or (especially inexcusably) from the 5% Club. Then again, if you wanted balanced Russia coverage the WSJ shouldn’t exactly be on your reading list anyway. So why am I bothering with this post?

Ah, the plagiarism! Or more specifically, non-attribution. The WSJ wrote this:

For its analysis, The Wall Street Journal designed a computer program to assemble this month’s official voting totals from the 95,228 electoral precincts across Russia. A subsequent statistical analysis revealed phenomena that scholars who study vote data say are suggestive of vote-rigging.‬ …

There is no reliable way to use the statistical analysis to calculate how many votes were falsified. But a rough calculation that eliminates the unusually high levels of support for United Russia at the precincts with unusually high turnout raises questions about as many as 14 million of the 32.4 million votes that United Russia claimed.

Sounds very close to Shpilkin’s estimate. In fact, I publicly said as much in response to a comment by Jeremy Putley yesterday: “I suspect the WSJ method, which gives 14 million falsified votes, is basically Shpilkin redux.” I was far more correct than I realized.

In their brief section on methodology, the WSJ wrote this:

Russian election authorities post official vote results on the Internet, but not as a single database. To obtain the data for individual precincts, The Wall Street Journal wrote a computer program that downloaded 2,957 web pages posted on Russia’s Central Election Commission website.

Using another program, reporters mined the pages for precinct-level data, extracting outcomes for 95,228 precincts spread across 2,745 electoral commissions. The largest precinct, in Derbent, Dagestan, reported 3,470 votes. The smallest was one vote in Kaspiisk, Dagestan. The average precinct size was 690 votes.

Is it fair to say that all this text very strongly implies that it was the WSJ itself that came up with these models?

Where have we seen these pictures before?? They look strangely familiar to anyone who’s been trawling through political Runet the last few weeks, no?

As well they should. In a post after that article’s publication, Shpilkin called the Wall Street Journal the “motherland of elephants” (translation: Takes all the credit for itself, not matter how implausibly).

… After the elections, I was contacted by the Moscow bureau of the WSJ, who requested a consultation on fraud calculations. They said that they wanted to repeat my calculations independently and write an article on it.

I described my methods at length, including formulas, preliminary estimates, and the rules of calculating turnout from the protocols. I naively assumed that this a consultation would merit a mention as one of the sources in the article. To my surprise, there were no links to me on their article. Furthermore, I later found out that they collectivized borrowed from not other sources too – for instance, the picture with the spikes at nice percentages for United Russia were field published by Maxim Pshenichnikov, and the [theoretical proof for the irregularity] of those peaks was provided by Dmitry Kobak.

I expressed my bewilderment in a letter to the head of the WSJ’s Moscow bureau, but he replied, “I had hoped to include you and everyone else we talked to in the story but there simply wasn’t space, particularly because we had to include the surkov news, as well.”

So if you’ve got any further questions – it’s all Surkov’s fault.

Incidentally, both Pshenichnikov and Kobak wrote blog posts confirming the WSJ’s non-attribution.

Now as far as I can see, the WSJ article makes at least two major violations of journalistic ethics and integrity here.

(1) One-sided coverage. As far as I can see, this is not an op-ed, but a regular news item. But no efforts are made to cover the numerous alternate methods or counter-arguments to Shpilkin’s methodology that have been mentioned on this blog. His argument is reproduced exactly and with all the flaws that have already been picked up by other Russian elections analysts.

(2) Non-attribution at best, plagiarism at worst. Shpilkin himself edges away from using the P-word in his public complaint letter to the WSJ, describing it as non-attribution, but I think the line is a fine one here. The WSJ replicates his exact method after consulting him. It does not cite him once in its article, making it clearly and convincingly evident to its readers that it was specifically the Wall Street Journal that “designed” and “wrote” the computer program (i.e. after getting all of Shpilkin’s formulas).

A few hours after the WSJ started getting complaints from the Russian elections blogging community, they did give Shpilkin a mention in a new blog post on the WSJ’s Emerging Europe blog – i.e., not published in print, and far less widely read – but if anything it adds insult to injury by describing him as a “Russian amateur” (in contrast to Western professionals, presumably) who only makes “preliminary estimates” (as opposed to the WSJ, which presumably has a monopoly on “confirming” them).

What an insipid, insidious rag. But can we really expect anything better from a publication that proclaims a new era of brain drain from Russia just as it is – back in the world of facts and statistics – coming to an end?

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
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Despite Olga Kryshtanovskaya’s disapproval, I thought it would be interesting and useful to compile a comprehensive list of blogger, pundit and “expert” opinions on the extent of fraud in the 2011 Duma elections. Interspersed among these opinions and analyses are results from federal opinion polls and other evidence.

In general, it seems we can identify three “theses” or “clubs.” The 0% Club holds the idea that falsifications were non-existent or minimal; it is advanced by Kremlin officials and supported by many opinion polls. Its polar opposite is the 15% Club, which is supported by several statistical analyses; its adherents include the liberal and non-systemic opposition. The 5% Club argues that United Russia should not have gotten a Duma majority, but many of their proponents believe that the elections are legitimate nonetheless. Estimates range from 2% to 10%, with a wealth of opinion polling and statistical analysis in support. Most of the systemic opposition and arguably most Russians belong to this club.

The 0% Club (<2% fraud)

* PRE-ELECTIONS POLLS: Levada (53%), VCIOM (53.7%), and ISI (49.6%) all gave United Russia more than its official result. However, because of the relative passivity of United Russia’s electorate – its supporters are less like to vote – raw polling numbers almost certainly overstate its real results.
* OFFICIAL RESULT: United Russia has 49.32% according to the Central Elections Commission of the Russian Federation. This gives it a mandate of 238 seats in the Duma.
* OFFICIAL OPINION: Vladimir Churov, the Chairman of the CEC, has argued fraud is minimal in Russian elections and considers these to be the best conducted elections in the past 20 years. His arguments are based on a suspiciously small sample of just 25 regions where there is reason to suspect fraud was low.
* EXIT POLL: State pollster VCIOM gave United Russia 48.5%, within its 2% margin of error. They covered 62 regions, 1764 stations, and 250,000 voters.
* POST-ELECTIONS POLL: Independent pollster Levada reports 48% responding they voted for United Russia, within its 3.4% margin of error.
* Mark Sleboda, a Eurasianist thinker, thinks fraud was at about 2% but benefited all parties equally.
* OFFICIAL OPINION: Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s spokesman: “Even if you add up all this so-called evidence, it accounts for just over 0.5% of the total number of votes.”

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

* LOSS OF DUMA MAJORITY: United Russia falls below 225 seats in the Duma once its result dips below 46.4%, meaning that fraud of 3% or more starts having a significant impact on the political balance.
* Gordon Hahn, a Russia analyst estimates 3% fraud: “In reality [United Russia got] 46%. More distortion from media control and pressured and voluntary collective voting in the nationally, especially titular Mulsim republics.”
* Andrei Liakhov, lawyer and Russia politics watcher, thinks 3%-4%.
* Patrick Armstrong, a Russia analyst estimates “less than 5%because “opinion polls rule!”
* @grafomonka thinks it’s around 5% thanks to “fraud in Moscow & ethnic republics.”
* CROWD WISDOM?: In a post-elections Levada poll, a simple majority of Muscovites believed that either fraud was minor and would only have knocked back United Russia by a couple of percentage points or that it was serious and should have lost United Russia its majority. So their average viewpoint on fraud at the federal level seems to be around 5%.
* Readers of this blog, on average, also support the 5% Thesis.
* The KPRF gave 5.4% less to United Russia in a parallel count of CEC protocols during the 2007 Duma elections; may be of relevance as vote rigging appears to have been comparable between now and then.
* Mark Galeotti, a Russian crime analyst, estimatesmaybe 5% but not evenly distributed”, with the caveat that it doesn’t include possible cases of coerced voting.
* Andy Young, a Russia blogger, estimates at least 2.5% from the Caucasus alone, so I’m grouping him with Toth-Czifra whom he inspired.
* Andras Toth-Czifra, a Russia blogger, estimates 5-6% fraud using Young’s method for the entire country.
* Mark Adomanis, a “Russia hand”, guesses 5-6% with “huge regional variations.”
* hist_kai, a programmer blogger, estimates 5-7% fraud using statistical analysis.
* EXPERT ANALYSIS: Sergey Zhuravlev estimates 5-6% fraud using statistical analysis. This approach has methodological flaws.
* THIS BLOG’S AUTHOR: Anatoly Karlin estimates “the aggregate level of falsifications is probably at around 5%, and almost certainly less than ten per cent.”
* Nils van der Vegte, Russia blogger, says “I would support ur claims master :P.”
* EXIT POLL: State pollster FOM gave United Russia 43.1%, implying possible fraud of 6.2%. They covered 80 regions, 800 stations, and 80,000 voters.
* EXPERT ANALYSIS: A study by Samarcand Analytics (Alex Mellnik, John Mellnik and Nikolay Zhelev) estimates 6.6% fraud using statistical analysis.
* Joera Mulders, a “Russia watcher”, argues that the “questionable percentage of votes received by United Russia is about 5%-10%.”
* William Partlett, Russia analyst, estimates 5%-10%.
* @biznesslanch makes a “reasonable guesstimate” of 5%-10% in “most places.”
* Juha Savolainen guesses 7%.
* EXPERT OPINION: Aleksandr Kireev, a prominent Russia elections analyst, estimates 8-9% fraud. He also built a map of fraud estimates by region.
* Ani Wandaryan’s “wild guess” is that there was 8%-10%, not including coerced voting.
* LOSS OF LEGITIMACY: Once fraud begins to exceed 10%, is it fair to say that the Duma ceases reflecting the will of its electorate?

The 15% Club (10%+ fraud)

* Max Sjöblom, a Russia blogger, thinks “about 10%.”
* Sean Guillory, a Russia blogger, thinks 10% fraud (or that it is “closer to” 10%-15% than to 5%).
* Nina Ivanovovna, a Russia blogger, thinks 10% or “a little more.”
* EXPERT ANALYSIS: Dmitry Kobak, a programmer, estimates 11% fraud using statistical analysis. But his key assumptions are questionable. He also built a map of fraud estimates by region.
* Alexey Sidorenko, Runet analyst, thinks “between 10-13 mln votes” were stolen, which translates to 9%-13% fraud.
* EXIT POLL: ISI gave United Russia 38.1%, implying possibly fraud of 11.2% but it is constrained by a low sample. They covered 24 regions, 81 stations, and 2562 voters.
* BACK TO 2003: Fraud of greater than 12% would mean that United Russia should get 37% or less and hence fewer Duma seats than in 2003.
* NON-SYSTEMIC OPPOSITION LEADER: Boris Nemtsov claims 13 million votes were stolen, or about 12.5% fraud.
* MACHINE DISCREPANCY: The difference between machine ballots and the overall result for United Russia is 12.8% as calculated by Sergey Shpilkin, only counting regions that have machines. This approach has methodological flaws.
* Gregory White and Rob Barry, writing for the Wall Street Journal, say irregularities “cast doubt” over “as many of 14 million” votes, or about 14% fraud.
* OBSERVERS: The site RuElect, a site that collects election protocols, tallies 34.75% for United Russia (as of 12/28), implying possible fraud of 14.6%. Possible problem: are not observers likelier to send it protocols that don’t match official results?
* EXPERT OPINION: Aleksandr Shen’, a prominent Russia elections analyst, gives United Russia a range of 30%-40%, translation into 9%-19% fraud.
* EXPERT ANALYSIS: Sergey Shpilkin, veteran Russia elections analyst, estimates 15.6% fraud using statistical analysis. But his key assumptions are questionable.
* Fabian Burkhardt agrees with Sergey Shpilkin’s 15.6% estimate.
* Andrei Piontkovsky, an opposition activist writing for the Wall Street Journal, claims 15-20% fraud.
* Grigory Yavlinsky, a Yabloko leader and Presidential candidate, claims 20%-25% fraud.
* Garry Kasparov, an opposition activist, claims fraud of up to 25%.
* MINSK STATION: The discrepancy between pre-elections polls and the official result of the 2010 Belarus Presidential elections suggested 40%-45% fraud. This is what an unambiguously fraudulent election looks like.
* @Pistorasia thinks it’s from 80%-99%.

Fraud In Moscow

As Moscow is generally suspected to have experienced greater fraud than the federal average, and has hosted most of Russia’s protesters, it would be appropriate to create a separate section for the capital.

* OFFICIAL RESULT: United Russia has 46.6% according to the Central Elections Commission of the Russian Federation.
* EXPERT ANALYSIS: Aleksandr Zhuravlev estimates minimal fraud in Moscow using statistical analysis. This approach has methodological flaws.
* OBSERVERS: Examination of observer protocols from stations serving 10% of Moscow’s electorate reveals a 3% discrepancy between the official results.
* CROWD WISDOM?: In a post-elections Levada poll, on average Muscovites estimated that United Russia’s real score was 35% in the capital, implying possible fraud of 12%. By party affiliation, these estimates were: United Russia – 45%; Fair Russia – 34%; KPRF and LDPR – 30%; Yabloko – 26%.
* OBSERVERS: The site RuElect, a site that collects election protocols, tallies 33.04% for United Russia (as of 12/28), implying possible fraud of 13.6%.
* POST-ELECTIONS POLL: In a post-elections Levada poll 32% Muscovites said they voted for United Russia (with a 4.3% margin of error), implying possible fraud of 15%.
* BACK IN 2009. The difference between the average of two post-elections Levada polls (46.1%; 54.5%) and United Russia’s official tally (66.3%) in the 2009 Moscow Duma elections was 16.0%. But also note that in a Levada pre-elections poll 59.3% said they intended to vote for United Russia, a difference of 7.0%. That said, it’s worth noting that Moscow communists report the numbers of complaints were an “order of magnitude” less now than in the 2009 Moscow Duma elections.
* OBSERVERS: The “Citizen Observer” initiative points out Moscow polling stations where no major irregularities were observed reported 30.3% for United Russia, implying possible fraud of 16.3%. Stations where no irregularities at all were observed reported 23.4% for United Russia, implying possible fraud of 23.2%. Criteria by which stations were chosen to be monitored not stated.
* MACHINE DISCREPANCY: The difference between machine and hand ballots for United Russia is 16.6% as calculated by Aleksandr Kireev, by comparing regions with machine voting and those without. Similar results are obtained by Maxim Pshenichnikov, Dmitry Kobak, and Dmitry Oreshkin.
* EXIT POLL: ISI gave United Russia 27.6%, implying possible fraud of 19%. But as noted above, it is constrained by a low sample; note they gave 49.3% for United Russia in St.-Petersburg, where its real result was 33.5%.
* EXIT POLL: State pollster FOM gave United Russia 23.5%, implying possible fraud of 23.1%.

The Moscow Protests

How many people turned up to the Meetings For Fair Elections at Bolotnaya (Dec 10) and Prospekt Sakharova (Dec 24)? Police estimates converge around 20k-30k; the organizers tend to throw up figures from 120k-200k. As both have a dog in the fight, I prefer to trust the geodesic engineer Nikolai Pomeshchenko, who estimated 60,000 at Bolotnaya and 56,000+ at Prospekt Sakharova. As he acknowledges the latter to be an understatement, let’s assume it to be perhaps 80,000. (Novaya Gazeta claims at least 102,000, but they only counted people going in, not those going out early).

According to a Levada poll of the protesters at Prospekt Sakharova, 56% claimed to have attended the Bolotnaya rally. If this is accurate, attendance at Prospekt Sakharova could not have been massively larger – i.e., by the commonly cited factor of two – than attendance at Bolotnaya (obviously, not everyone who went to Bolotnaya was able to or willing to go to Prospekt Sakharova). This implies that it is mostly the same people attending the protests. I suspect that with two weeks of preparation and advertising, the original Bolotnaya “hard core” had the opportunity to agitate some of their social network friends into going. That attendance was only marginally higher at the second Meeting would appear to indicate that “revolutionary momentum” is not building up. Navalny promised one million protesters for the third Meeting next February, so we’ll wait and see.

UPDATE: According to Pomeshchenko, there were 62,000 at the Bolotnaya II meeting (Feb 4), which is also in line with opinion polls. He also estimated 80,000 at the Anti-Orange Meeting at Poklonnaya (Feb 4). RIA Novosti estimated 53,600 for Bolotnaya and 117,600 for Poklonnaya.

Further Reading

My best articles on election fraud in Russia:

One of the most comprehensive summaries of the statistical evidence for Russian election fraud is Выборы и статистика: казус «Единой России» (2009, 2011) by Aleksandr Shen’.

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
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Everything’s going badly in Russia. Medvedev’s reforms are failing. The economy isn’t growing. It is moving from authoritarianism to totalitarianism (in stark contrast to civilized Western countries), and the motto “We cannot live like this any longer!” once again becomes an article of faith in the land – or well, at least among “the blogs on LiveJournal” and “the sites of the top independent and opposition groups” (who are of course totally representative of Russian public opinion). Citizens are fleeing the country like rats from a sinking ship.

Anyhow, unlike Eugene Ivanov who argues that media coverage of Russia has improved of late, I think the Western punditocracy remains every bit as wrong, idiotic and venal on Russia as it always was, and in this post I’ll use the recent WSJ article “Why Are They Leaving?” by Julian Evans as my foil (it’s illustrated with soc-realist posters of the worker and collective farm girl harkening back to the Soviet era; excusez-moi for crashing the party, but WTF do they have to do with anything in a story about Russian emigration of all things???).

“Russia’s small but educated middle-class is deserting the mother country in search of opportunities and freedoms elsewhere…” Thus from the get go the author makes the strong impression – and one that is decisively reinforced throughout the rest of the article – that Russia has a big emigration problem that is draining it of brains and talent. But let’s consult the statistics (as opposed to anecdotal evidence and online polls at Novaya Gazeta asking Russians whether they want to emigrate; yes, Mr. Evans cites the online readership of a paper written by liberal ideologues in support of his argument). Too bad for Mr. Evans, the statistics reveal his article for the sham it really is.

First off the bat, it is worth pointing out that Russia has a positive net migration rate. Far more people are going in than going out. This I’m sure will come as a shock to mindless consumers of Western media – conditioned as they are to think of Russia as a bleak wasteland full of starving nuclear scientists, hot girls wanting to score with rich British guys, and crooks desperate to park their ill-gotten assets into a Swiss bank account and get a second citizenship – but it is true nonetheless. Now granted this very minor factoid isn’t of direct relevance to the article, which is after all concerned about the disillusionment of Russia’s middle class and its growing flight abroad; nonetheless, failing to mention this inconvenient fact that many people in Central Asia, the Caucasus, and Ukraine are willing to go Russia not even once is misleading and hints at an agenda.

But the far more damning evidence is that even as regards those “civilized” countries that Russians have traditionally been emigrating to – the biggest recipient nations of Russians post-1991 were Germany, the US, and Israel – the flow of Russian emigrants had all but dried up by 2008. The overall net numbers of Russian emigrants to the world outside the post-Soviet space has been shrinking steadily from 1999, when it was at -72,000, falling to -26,000 in 2005 and just a few thousands by the late 2000′s. According to the Rosstat figures, from 2000 to 2010, the migration balance improved as follows for the five biggest host countries for Russian emigrants during that decade: Germany from -38,700 to -1,100; the US from -4,300 to -807; Israel from -7,900 to -133; Finland from -1,100 to -339; and Canada from -800 to -387. In the first four months of 2011, the migration balance actually turned positive relative to Germany and Israel (as it has already been for several years with another developed country, Greece). The graph below illustrates these trends.

[Click to enlarge. Stats for 2011 are annualized based on Jan-Apr.]

Julian Evans can cite any number of anecdotes he wants about how Russian businessmen are fleeing to Venezuela because “there are more opportunities to develop there”, or about the “young educated people” (because, of course, youth and education are synonymous with wanting to leave Russia) and “strongest and most gifted people” (quoting liberal ideologue Dmitry Oreshkin at Novaya Gazeta, 62.5% of whose online readership want to leave Russia) who can’t wait to set off for Notting Hill because of the “insecurity of property rights” in Russia. But his elitist fetish with the middle classes (that supposedly hate Putin’s Russia) blinds him and by extension his readers to the larger reality, which is that emigration is very small and continues to decrease into this year. The actual statistics flatly contradict his ramblings, and as such Julian Evans remains about as credible as… well, the same hack who six years ago was expounding on the “green Stalinist light” in Gleb Pavlovsky’s office.

Now you may at this point want to rejoinder… but AK, aren’t you a big fan of opinion polls? Didn’t you just a few days ago try to use them to argue that Russian elections aren’t rigged? And don’t Levada’s opinion polls indicate that quite a lot of Russians really do want to emigrate – 22% of them as of May 2011, up from 13% in 2009 – thus confirming Evans’ and Oreshkin’s arguments? Well, just as there are lies, damn lies, and statistics, there are opinion polls, and then there are opinion polls. Some signify more than others. For instance, in the aftermath of Bush’s election win in 2004, some Americans loudly declared they were fed up with it all and were ready to hop over the border to Canada… but when the time came to walk the walk (as opposed to talk the talk), the migration flows to Canada didn’t change in any perceptible way. That’s because just being fed up with domestic politics – that is what Evans alleges is the main reason for the “educated middle-class deserting the mother country” – is, in most cases, a frivolous reason for making a life-changing decision such as emigration, and while many might think about it in their idle moments very few follow through on it.

If you don’t believe me, let’s return to the opinion polls again. Back in 2006, The Daily Mail reported that 13% of Britons wanted to leave the UK in the near future (as you may know there has NOT been a massive flood of British hordes out of the island since, my own case and that of random drunken revelers in Prague regardless). By 2010 this figure had leaped up to 33% – higher than the percentage of Russians saying they want to leave now, BTW (and that’s despite those awesome “rule of law” and “civilized values” things that Russian liberals like to harp on about when it comes to any Anglo-Saxon country) – but nonetheless, we still see no mass exodus from Albion. Why the discrepancy? Return to that Levada poll and look at the breakdown of answers more closely. 22% of Russians may be thinking of leaving, but only 1% are actually packing their bags.

And this brings us into what should be the main starting point of any discussion about the future of Russian emigration: why would they want to? All this currently fashionable twaddle about property rights or rule of law being a major driver isn’t convincing; it’s certainly no worse than it was in previous years, and if anything is showing signs of improvement. Why would the middle-class (which is as happy as any other social group with Putin) decide to take a hike right now? Let’s be serious. In previous years, there were only two main groups of emigrants: (1) the vast majority were ethnic minorities, such as Jews and Volga Germans, returning to their national homelands; (2) educated professionals from academia who were earning breadcrumbs from Russian academic institutions with no opportunities for original research. Almost all those who would ever emigrate from the first group have already done so (see the vast decrease in emigration to Israel and Germany). Meanwhile, anybody who has been following the issue will know that the salaries of state workers have been increasing at rapid rates in recent years, including those of academics; true, the increases were from a very low base and absolute salaries remain far lower than in fully developed countries, however if the emigration statistics are anything to go by (and with the help of Russia’s lower relative prices) salaries have now reached a level that allows for a rough balance between immigrants and emigrants. In other words, the situation with Russian academia vis-à-vis the world now largely resembles that those prevailing between developed nations – scientists are free to have scientific exchanges, but with the vast majority of researchers returning to their home countries after a stay of several months or years.

PS. More details here: Гуд бай, Америка: Эмиграция из России в США достигла минимума.

Also see Nikolai Starikov’s Как создаются либеральные мифы for an account of how liberals used misquotes to create the impression that Russia is facing a second emigration wave.

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

Craig Willy: In His Own Words…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I am very attached to my freedom.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HARD Talk with Craig Willy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back to the Future

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

Oh dear, I’ll have a crack at it:

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

What are your future blogging plans?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Debunking Russophobic drivel is somewhat akin to grenade fishing – so damn easy that you almost feel a bit guilty for stooping to such a level and wasting your time. But that’s what makes it really fun. So although Fedia Kriukov, Eugene Ivanov, Eric Kraus and the folks over at Russia: Other Points of View have already blasted enough fish out of the water to feed a man for a lifetime, I can’t help but to add more to the pile. The article in question is Beware of Doing Deals with Putin by Kasparov in the WSJ.

Vladimir Putin’s regime is fighting for its political life. That’s the good news. But the bad news is that the Obama administration is sending out mixed messages that may help the Russian autocratic regime survive.

That is certainly news to me – both that the “regime” is fighting for its political life and that Obama has any influence whatsoever on whether it survives it or not.

It’s quite telling that given the context he says this is “good news” – apparently, Kasparov puts his own hatred of Putin and neocon agenda above the economic difficulties now besetting ordinary Russians. Kind of recalls the Bolshevik saying, “the worse, the better!”.

No wonder he has an approval rating of about 2%.

On Friday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will meet with her Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, in Geneva, Switzerland. The agenda will include talks on arms control and NATO. But in the forefront of everyone’s mind should be the secret letter that President Barack Obama recently sent to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. The New York Times broke the story this week, reporting that Mr. Obama’s letter proffered a deal for the U.S. to “back off deploying a new missile defense system in Eastern Europe” in exchange for Moscow’s help in stopping Iran from “developing long-range weapons.”

The thinking here is not sound. Russia’s overwrought protest against antimissile systems never sprung from any genuine strategic fear. It was always a ploy and a distraction from its real agenda.

It is not a threat today. As I said before here, given trends and the precedent, that may not be the case tomorrow. AMD technology is improving rapidly and once the work of setting up the ADGE (Air Defense Ground Environment) is completed, rapidly expanding the system becomes cheap and feasible. If NATO were 100% genuine in their claims that its only purpose is to defend against Iran, they would treat Russian proposals to base the system on Russian (or Azeri) soil much more seriously.

Mr. Putin — who is now prime minister of Russia — relies heavily on oil revenues to maintain his grip on power. It is in his interests to increase tensions in the Middle East as a way of driving up global oil prices. There is no deal the U.S. can cut to stop Mr. Putin’s Russia from arming Mideast terrorists and helping Iran’s nuclear program.

This is one of the oldest “liberal” spiels in the book – as soon as oil prices drop, the regime is supposed to fall apart. This is supposedly because the Russian system of government depends on sharing out oil rents amongst warring clans and as such becomes fragile when rents decline. An attractive theory, but one for which I have not encountered any good evidence.

Kasparov has his reputation on the line. Signs are appearing that the worst of the crisis in Russia is already over (topic of my next post). Thus he is now seeking an escape clause – blame a naive Obama for rescuing the Putin regime by “sending out mixed signals”, or blame “Mideast terrorists” for increasing political risks and thus raising oil prices, despite that the end of cheap oil is rooted in fundamental geological factors.

Secret letters aside, there are other troubling signals coming out of the Obama administration. One such sign came last week in Japan, where Mrs. Clinton talked about the “three Ds” of U.S. national security. She listed defense, diplomacy and development. But she left off the vital fourth “D” — democracy. The omission was no doubt welcomed by Mr. Putin.

Because the “democracy agenda” worked out so well for the US under Bush. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqi dead, four thousand US casualties, three trillion dollars and five years later – and the damn country is Not Free even according to “Freedom” House, a notoriously ideological organization.

The reality of the matter is that you cannot have democracy without security and development and thankfully this is now tacitly accepted in Washington. Since this threatens an end to Kasparov’s whoring amongst policymakers of influence, no wonder he is so troubled by these signals.

Another troubling sign came in Munich, Germany, last month, where Vice President Joe Biden talked about the need for “pushing the reset button” on America’s relationship with Russia. But pushing reset won’t pressure Mr. Putin into acting responsibly on the world stage. It will only obscure, for a time, Russia’s malignant and contagious virus of authoritarianism.

While all these deals and olive branches are being extended to the Kremlin, there is ample evidence suggesting that the Putin regime is teetering toward collapse. One sign: Russia is beefing up its federal security forces in order to violently repress public protests. Last month, for example, the regime created the “National Center of Crisis Management,” which will deploy uniformed troops against “disturbances.”

So let me get this straight. The Latvian government collapsed. Every third Ukrainian lacks means for food. California is marching towards bankruptcy, 9 million families are on the verge of losing their homes and manufacturing and housing are all collapsing in the US…oh sorry, I’m succumbing to “whataboutism“. Let’s start over.

The only real “evidence” of unrest I’ve come across were the small, mafia-linked and unauthorized Vladivostok protests by car dealers three months ago. The Western press has been recycling this single event ever since. Kasparov should have been more original and condemned the brutal goons of the Kremlin for dragging away this courageous young protester – or maybe not, since he directed his anger against an opposition rally (which was authorized and want off peacefully). But had he been an “Other Russia” member…there’d have been no end of rhetoric about the Russian totalitarian state.

See above. The vast majority of Russians do not want to participate in protests, view the likelihood of major unrest as low and approval for Medvedev and Putin remains very high. Views of where the country is going and approval for the government remain higher than they were for much of the Putin era, not to even mention Yeltsin.

It probably won’t be enough to quell public anger. Protests are increasing in Russia because many voters didn’t care that their elections were rigged until inflation started squeezing them. Time has run out on the illusion of economic prosperity for the average Russian.

Real wages and pensions have both more than doubled since 2000. Consumerism took off. The “average Russian” believed himself or herself to be much more prosperous in 2008 than in 2001. The sheer presumption of this Bolshevik in saying that this is an “illusion” is difficult to comprehend – certainly far more difficult than to remember the hyperinflations and cronyism of the 1990′s.

Meanwhile, the Russian National Welfare Fund — created to back up the state pension system — is being raided to prop up the monopolistic industries belonging to Mr. Putin’s closest allies. Billions are being handed out to the likes of oligarchs Oleg Deripaska, Sergey Chemezov and Roman Abramovich — money that is going to service debt, not to develop industry.

As a matter of fact these were all subordinated loans, with much stricter conditions attached to them than in the Wall Street bailouts. Kasparov not surprisingly also leaves out the history of how American spendthrifts have been gouging Social Security to plug up budget deficits even in the good old days when the economy was ostensibly healthy…there I go off again. I really hate that Russophobe “whataboutism” argument. In my opinion its the childish squeal of the hypocrite, the kind of thing you hear on a playground. I mean, fucking what about it?

Russian industrial groups all relied on financing from Western banks prior to September 2008. Around that time, the liquidity they relied on dried up but the repayment schedules remained fixed – if anything, all the banks became desperate to cash back in because of their subprime and related losses. This economic crash was unforeseen and they could not be blamed for this dependence, as Russia’s own financial system was underdeveloped. They were propped up to avert debt defaults and the loss of valuable and strategic assets, not to rescue failing industries as it the case with the Wall Street banks or the Mid-West carmakers.

Finally, complaining about how money is going to service debt instead of developing industry is especially retarded. Does Kasparov want Russia’s firm to lose their prize assets, be deprived of cheap Western credit in the future and for the Russian government to spend that money on building car factories themselves?

What kind of fucking “liberal” is he?

When even billionaires are feeling the pinch, this may not be enough to arrest the slide. In the past year, according to the magazine Finans, the number of Russian billionaires was cut in half to 49 from 101. Many of those who remain may be billionaires only on paper; it appears that many of them have debts that exceed assets. This may be why Mr. Putin attended the World Economic Forum in Davos recently to push debt forgiveness.

Or perhaps it’s because the international financial system is insolvent and a global debt jubilee is inevitable – one way or another.

Consider also that the Kremlin just struck a deal with China to send Russian oil to China at rock-bottom prices (under $20/barrel) for 20 years in exchange for $25 billion in loans. Powerful countries don’t cut such deals unless they are desperate for cash. What’s happening in Russia is that we are witnessing the survival gambit of a corrupt regime. The question is whether the West will bail out the Russian dictatorship or let it fall.

Unless someone finds a reputable source confirming this (and I haven’t), then I can only conclude this is 100% fabrication.

Those loans were made to Rosneft at favorable interest rates of 6% a year so as to lock in future supplies for China – i.e. Russia is contractually bound to sell 300,000 barrels of oil a day to China for the next twenty years. The pricing mechanism in such deals are usually tied to market rates with some adjustments for volatility and is independent of the loan.

China is centralized and disciplined enough to realize that resource scarcity is going to become a major issue in the near future and plans and acts accordingly – lock in supplies, as it’s been doing everywhere from Africa to Latin America. It’s state controlled enterprises think as much in terms of geopolitics as markets and are willing to win China guaranteed supplies of strategic resoures, even if it goes against short term economic rationalism.

Some may doubt the fragility of the Putin government. But there are plenty of examples in history of supposedly entrenched regimes falling quickly. In late 1989, many in the West were surprised to see the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia. Others didn’t foresee the sweeping away of totalitarian regimes in Poland and Hungary.

Mr. Putin and his allies live in fear of a popular uprising because it would likely force them into bankruptcy, exile and even prison. They cannot be expected to operate Russia as a rational state actor. Indeed, they may relish a violent clash with a contrived enemy in hopes of building nationalistic support — the war with Georgia this past summer may just be a prelude.

I’ll just quote Putin – “I’m amazed by their skills at seeing black as white, of portraying aggressors as victims and of blamimg the real victims for the consequences of the conflict”.

The West must not be tempted by a desire to maintain comfortable relations with the current government in charge of Russia. After years of criminal mismanagement, the Russian economy is falling apart more rapidly than those of other industrialized nations. The popular outrage that will lead to regime change will stem from the public realization that the Russian economy is in worse shape than other leading nations.

Japan, Korea and Germany are certainly in worse straits – their contractions have been comparable and their economies, reliant as they are on collapsed world demand, are not recovering any time soon. I would also argue that the relatively good American performance is dependent on a one-off “flight to quality” and that a 10% peak-to-trough fall in GDP predicted by Nouriel Roubini is inevitable – even making the questionable assumption that the dollar survives.

There was a bout of overproduction in first half of 2008 and since the onset of the crisis Russian inventories have been falling, for as Eric Kraus points out, the Russian economy is more flexible than those of industrialized countries – “downward adjustment of wages and staffing levels can occur virtually overnight, with production simply halted until inventories are reduced to the desired level”. The repayments crisis has subsided and the ruble fell, which will engender an economic recovery that I predicted three months ago. Indeed, as of February Russia’s VTB manufacturing PMI rose to 40.6 from around 34 in the prior two months, indicating that the rate of decline is falling. This is, incidentally, better than the global manufacturing PMI which was at 35.8 as of February, giving the lie to the charlatan’s claims that Russia is in “worse shape than other leading nations”.

Again, much more on the economy in a post soon to come.

In fact, it is no longer taboo in Russia to speak openly of the post-Putin era — even among regime loyalists. The foreign businessmen and politicians eager to play ball with Mr. Putin should bear in mind that in all likelihood Mr. Putin will not be around that much longer. Nor will the dubious deals that he and his friends are making in Russia’s name for their own profit go unexamined after they are gone.

I suspect Kasparov will be increasingly exposed for the charlatan he is and Russians will go from reading and making fun of translations of his writings on Inosmi to completely ignoring him.

This kind of attitude – at once arrogant, wrongheaded and authoritarian – explains the antipathy or indifference all Russians have for the “liberals” (I use the quotation marks very deliberately). He is certainly not a liberal – he is either a charlatan or a Bolshevik, or some unholy mix of the two.

The argument for the former is obvious. He is a Bolshevik in the sense that he puts the interests of neocon and anti-Putin ideology above that of Russia as a country, just as Lenin considered it fit to call for the enemy’s victory during the Russo-Japanese War to further his own goals of revolution. It is alright and healthy to have vocal disagreements on matters of national policy; it is quite another to denounce the country as a dictatorship to foreigners and repeatedly call for its ostracization from the international community (unlike the Communists, for example, who ironically make up the country’s primary loyal opposition today). This is why, except for a small percentage of fifth-columnists and saboteurs, all Russians would much rather Kasparov had stuck to his original calling – chess.

In his previous career as chess grandmaster, he was well known as insufferably arrogant and self-centered (I think its somewhat telling that his major work on the game was entitled My Great Predecessors). That said, at least consigned to that absurd and aloof world, he would not have done so much damage in poisoning America’s image in Russia and tainting the cause of patriotic dissent.

There, I’ve done it. The grenade’s gone off and the dead fish are bobbing up to the surface. Except that whereas you have to wait five seconds for the grenade, here I’ve spent two hours debunking an article that was probably wrapped up in twenty minutes. Why can’t they make a machine that would do this quickly and automatically? It’s so simple and formulaic, I doubt it will even have to be able to pass the Turing test.

Damn, I feel bad now.

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
Anatoly Karlin
About Anatoly Karlin

I am a blogger, thinker, and businessman in the SF Bay Area. I’m originally from Russia, spent many years in Britain, and studied at U.C. Berkeley.

One of my tenets is that ideologies tend to suck. As such, I hesitate about attaching labels to myself. That said, if it’s really necessary, I suppose “liberal-conservative neoreactionary” would be close enough.

Though I consider myself part of the Orthodox Church, my philosophy and spiritual views are more influenced by digital physics, Gnosticism, and Russian cosmism than anything specifically Judeo-Christian.