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"Doug M."
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    The reason I don't write much about Russia's demographics nowadays is that there isn't much point to it. Up until the early 2010s, the Western media was brimming with misinformation about the subject - what we now call #fakenews - so refuting it was both profitable and easy. Incredibly easy. You didn't really have to...
  • Back in late 2013 I predicted a “Hexagon with a droopy tail”: death rates falling below birth, but with both birth and death rates then continuing to fall afterwards.

    I’ll stand by that. Let’s check back in, say, three years.

    Doug M.

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  • Today a ceasefire has been agreed upon between Azerbaijan and the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, which unlike the unilateral ceasefire declared by Azerbaijan three days ago seems to be holding. This allows us to make some more conclusions observations on what happened. Source: via Cassad. First, the Azeris have made gains, but their advance was ultimately quite...
  • If this is the end of the matter, I for one will be delighted. Unfortunately, I very much doubt that will be the case.

    Aliyev is a deeply cautious ruler who has never been inclined to roll the dice, so it’s possible that he’ll continue to hold the line against any further military experiments. And he has never been very interested in actually recovering N-K. But as Anatoly points out, the correlation of forces is no longer shifting in Azerbaijan’s favor, so the window in which they can effectively act is closing. That’s bound to put some internal pressure on.

    Also, if I were Armenian, I’d be less inclined to crow over this. It was a defensive victory in a single skirmish in mountainous terrain that’s suited to the defensive. I’ve been to N-K. Not only is it mostly mountains, but most of the mountains are still heavily forested — very unusual in the Caucasus, where the Soviets cut down forests with a free hand and the successor states followed suit.

    Azerbaijan has more than three times Armenia’s population, so an NKR-Azeri casualty ration of 1:2 is not necessarily good news for the Armenians. Remember, from an Armenian POV, the question isn’t “did we win” but “did we bloody their noses hard enough so that they’re not going to try this again”. The answer to the first question is pretty clearly “yes”; to the second, I’m not so sure.

    Doug M.

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  • “What is missing is an explanation why Azerbaijan still tries to retake Nagorno-Karabakh. The area is populated by Armenians”

    Up until 1991, N-K had a large Azeri minority — about 25% of the population. In round numbers, there were about 150,000 Armenians and 50,000 Azeris. By the end of the war, all the Azeris had been driven out, along with another 1o0,000 or so from the “buffer zone” territories that Armenia seized around N-K.

    Doug M.

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  • In recent days, some Armenians have been up in arms over increases in electricity tariffs by the evil Russian-owned electricity monopoly that will bring them up to... well, a level slightly higher than in Russia and about 2-3x lower than in most EU countries (don't you love comparative context?). Discourse in both Russia and the...
  • Some things to keep in mind about Armenia.

    1) The government is dominated by Karabakhtsy, people from Karabakh, and has been since the turn of the century. The last two Presidents have been Karabakhtsy, as are the most powerful people in their Cabinets.

    The Yerevantsy dislike and despise the Karabakhtsy as dumb country cousins, and they resent the fact that they’ve come up to Yerevan to become rich and powerful at the Yerevantsy’s expense. So that’s a major driver here. A secondary factor is lingering resentment over the unhappy events of March 2008; even Yerevantsy who didn’t support the protesters are still unhappy that the protesters were simply gunned down.

    2) The current government is completely committed to the Russian alliance, which as Anatoly point out makes perfect strategic sense. But it comes with some price tags attached. A lot of state-owned enterprises have been sold to Russia over the years — in fact, at this point Russians own everything from the rail system to the largest power plant. There’s some understandable nationalist resentment over that, and then of course Russia gets blamed when services are bad, prices are raised, etc.

    3) The Gyumri Massacre. This is crucial. It’s not so much the murders themselves (though that story is gruesome enough) as the response of both governments. If the Russian and Armenian governments had been deliberately trying to piss off public opinion in Armenia, they could hardly have done a better job. The incident also plays into negative Armenian stereotypes of Russians as violent, dangerous alcoholics. (Armenians are convinced that they’re innately or genetically able to handle their liquor much better than Russians.) The resentment over this is still fresh and is definitely an underlying reason for the protests, even if nobody is talking about it.

    4) A few years ago, that military spending graph was absolutely terrifying to Armenians. As you’d think, right? But in the last couple of years it’s started to have the opposite effect. Why? Because a lot of Armenians have decided that Aliyev will never dare to push the button and start another war. The military buildup is a sham — it’s just to silence domestic critics, make friends abroad with weapons purchases, and put more money in the pockets of the Aliyev family and their friends. I’m not saying that’s right or wrong; just that a certain number Armenians have started to think that way.

    Doug M.

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  • As voting gets underway - and by all accounts, it seems to be overwhelmingly heading for the pro-secession choice - it's worthwhile to dispel four common but erroneous beliefs about it. (1) The referendum is unconstitutional. This is true enough, as all of Ukraine would have to vote on it. But there is one big...
  • @Doug M.
    WRT the Crimean Tatars:

    1) It's pretty clear that a solid majority of Tatars dislike Russia and Russian rule and want to stay part of Ukraine. Why not? Ukraine is weak and has no particular tradition of making trouble for the Tatars. Russian oppression of the Tatars, OTOH, goes back over 200 years. People tend to focus on Stalin's deportations, but successive Russian governments had been marginalizing and persecuting the Tatars for 150 years at that point. (That's why there are Tatar minorities sprinkled all around the Black Sea, in Turkey, Romania and Bulgaria. They date back to the 19th century, not 1944.)

    So, Tatar fear of Russians has a pretty solid historical basis.

    2) Certainly you can find Tatars in the current government of Crimea. You could find Albanians in the Yugoslav government in 1995, and Serbs in Kosovo's government today. But it sucked to be an Albanian in Milosevic's Yugoslavia, and it's no great treat o be a Serb in Kosovo now.

    3) So a prominent Tatar human rights activist disappeared two weeks ago. And turned up dead on Monday with his body showing the marks of torture. You can spin all the scenarios you like -- Russian media are already claiming that this must be some sort of provokatsiya -- but if you were a Tatar, you'd be freaking out pretty hard right now.


    Doug M.

    And now it appears that a priority of the new government will be “correcting” the “land problem” created by Crimean Tatar “squatters”. That was quick!

    Doug M.

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    • Replies: @Carlo
    I know it is just anecdotal, but when I studied Russian language 7 years ago, the teacher is from Crimea, who emigrated in the 90's, and she told about Tatar squatters, who forced not only Russians but also Ukrainians out of their rightfully owned lands/houses/apartments. Back in 2007, no one dreamed Crimea would become part of Russia. And that was one of the reasons she and her family decided to leave, besides that after the USSR collapse they "ended up" being in Ukraine.
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  • WRT the Crimean Tatars:

    1) It’s pretty clear that a solid majority of Tatars dislike Russia and Russian rule and want to stay part of Ukraine. Why not? Ukraine is weak and has no particular tradition of making trouble for the Tatars. Russian oppression of the Tatars, OTOH, goes back over 200 years. People tend to focus on Stalin’s deportations, but successive Russian governments had been marginalizing and persecuting the Tatars for 150 years at that point. (That’s why there are Tatar minorities sprinkled all around the Black Sea, in Turkey, Romania and Bulgaria. They date back to the 19th century, not 1944.)

    So, Tatar fear of Russians has a pretty solid historical basis.

    2) Certainly you can find Tatars in the current government of Crimea. You could find Albanians in the Yugoslav government in 1995, and Serbs in Kosovo’s government today. But it sucked to be an Albanian in Milosevic’s Yugoslavia, and it’s no great treat o be a Serb in Kosovo now.

    3) So a prominent Tatar human rights activist disappeared two weeks ago. And turned up dead on Monday with his body showing the marks of torture. You can spin all the scenarios you like — Russian media are already claiming that this must be some sort of provokatsiya — but if you were a Tatar, you’d be freaking out pretty hard right now.

    Doug M.

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    • Replies: @Doug M.
    And now it appears that a priority of the new government will be "correcting" the "land problem" created by Crimean Tatar "squatters". That was quick!


    Doug M.

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  • @Unpeudesommeil
    I hereby submit that the native population in Alaska should get more votes than other ethnic groups. Seriously, what the fuck. Hey here's an idea. The Greek population in Crimea (which is sizeable) should get 5 times as many votes as everybody else, since they've been there since 300 BC.

    See my note above on the Kosovar Serbs. Again, this isn’t some weird unique thing. Lots of places give special legal treatment to particular groups, up to and including giving them extra votes. You can argue whether it’s a good idea or not, but it’s not some wooooooo, totally bizarre thing that’s never been tried.

    Doug M.

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  • @AP
    "This is not how it works in modern liberal democracies, and I find this point of view to be very bizarre"

    So you don't object to Kosovo, where the native Serbs were down to 10%, getting out of Serbia the way it did? I do.

    Kosovo’s native Serbs currently get special treatment under Kosovar law. Although they’re only about 6% of the population, they have 10 out of 120 seats reserved for them in the Assembly — and since they can *also* vote for other seats, they hold a total of 12 seats in the current Assembly, meaning they have nearly double representation. The Kosovo Constitution also guarantees that a Serb must hold one of the two Deputy President positions and at least one of the twelve Cabinet ministries, and a seat on the Supreme Court. The Serbs also are guaranteed their own judges in Serb-majority communities, a couple of seats on the Election Commission, and so forth.

    In addition, they have a bunch of other special rights and protections. So, Serbian is an official language of Kosovo — all government documents must be in Serbian as well as Albanian, testimony in Serbian must be accepted in all courts, etc. etc. Serb communities are guaranteed elementary and high schools in their communities, there’s a state-funded Serbian TV channel, and the like.

    This is not to say that being a Serb in Kosovo is great! It most certainly isn’t. But legally, they’ve got lots of very carefully detailed special rights.

    And this is not actually a weird or strange thing. Lots of countries have special protections for particular minority groups.

    Doug M.

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  • Discuss all things Euromaidan here and vote in the poll (tick as many options as you like). My own opinion is "Protests die down as Yanukovych reasserts control," for reasons that I will expound upon in a forthcoming post. But I have made many of the arguments already on my Twitter feed where I, like...
  • @Anatoly Karlin
    With the caveat that AP knows a lot more about West Ukrainian society than I do, I would venture to say that I think both the prospects of either low-level insurgency or terrorist attacks are both low.

    There are a few reasons for this.

    First, West Ukraine is a low-fertility society. Yes, you heard that right. To really sustain an insurgency or partisan war, you need a TFR of at least 3-4 (e.g. Chechnya, 1940s USSR) or preferably 6 (Afghanistan). When it is, in reality, at just around ~2 - and lower for the previous 20 years - societies become a lot more risk-averse and the relative value of lives goes up a lot. (Needless to say fighting a guerilla war is pretty dangerous).

    Second, Ukraine isn't a banana republic. It's got good security/intelligence services, and they will get a lot of intelligence support from Russia.

    Finally, there is an embedded mechanism that would prevent this from getting out of control regardless of what happens. If Ukraine should become truly authoritarian on the Belarus model (and Yanukovych is nowhere near that)... well, for all the failings of such states, one thing that can be said for them is that they effectively keep terrorism in check. If, however, Ukraine remains broadly as it is - a state that is not very liberal or democratic, but likewise not authoritarian - then the incentives/passions for engaging in terrorism will likewise be much lower.

    Yugoslavia’s TFR was well below 2.0 by the late 1980s. If you leave out Kosovo and Macedonia (both poorer, more backward, and higher fertility), all the rest of Yugoslavia went below replacement fertility in the early 1980s — a decade before the Serbs, Croats and Bosniaks started killing each other en masse.

    Sri Lanka has had low TFRs for an Asian country since the 1970s; they hovered around 2.2-2.6 through the 1990s and early 2000s, and are currently right around replacement. Needless to say, this did not prevent Sri Lanka from having 20 years of guerrilla warfare, terrorism, and a spectacularly bloody civil war.

    Libya’s TFR is either right at replacement, or just below it, depending on whose statistics you believe. Certainly it was already getting down around 2.1 or so when Libya’s civil war broke out in 2011.

    – To be clear, I actually agree with you that there’s a correlation between fertility and political violence. But while it’s a real correlation, it’s loose. You can’t say “oh, a country with low fertility simply CAN’T have terrorism and mass political violence”. Less likely, sure. But can’t? People are determined, Anatoly. Hate will find a way.

    Doug M.

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  • Livestream in Russian, English. He's been found guilty, as expected. The main question is what the sentence will be: Suspended, or a real term. Here is my prediction (which on developments so far might well turn out to be awfully wrong). Discuss. UPDATE: Even if he is found guilty and sentenced, he still has the...
  • Was Navalny allowed to call any witnesses for the defense?

    Doug M.

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    • Replies: @Alexander Mercouris
    Dear Doug,

    Yes he was, one of them being Maria Gaidar (the daughter of the former acting Prime Minister) who was also a pro bono adviser for the Kirov Region. He was also allowed to cross examine the prosecution witnesses and did so himself, which since he is not experienced in cross examination I thought was a mistake. He did this despite having a legal team to support him

    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc.
  • While researching a different topic I stumbled upon the following 2006 report on the Internet. It contains comprehensive estimates for the prevalence of birth defects all around the world. The relevant graph is reprinted below (you can click on it to get a bigger picture). What leaps out at first sight is the sheer extent...
  • @hbd chick
    @doug - "A cite would be nice. The only global reference I’ve been able to find is at consang.net. That collects a lot of data together, which is nice — but you need to look at it carefully."

    trust me, i have (see my blog, in particular the "mating patterns" series in the lower left-hand column).

    consang.net is a good site to check out, which you already have. i also gave a reference in my other comment here in this thread, but you may have missed that. it deals with mating patterns in the arab world. do a few pubmed searches for whatever country you're interested in plus keywords like "consanguinity" or "consanguineous" for more data.

    @doug - "While I’m open to cousin marriage being /a/ factor in birth defects, I’m a little dismayed at your rush to judgment here."

    i'm not rushing to any judgement here. a lot of research has been done in the arab countries that have extremely high birth defect rates and they are well connected to the high levels of inbreeding there. again, for starters, see the book i referenced in my other comment.

    @doug - " I’m writing from Kyrgyzstan, and HBD cousin marriage is strictly taboo in Kyrgyz traditional society."

    yes, that's why i said fbd marriage (not hbd (~_^) ) in kyrgyzstan was possible but i didn't know -- because i didn't. i thought it might be possible with kyrgyzstan being not all that far away from pakistan and afghanistan, but i wasn't sure.

    @doug - "Maternal cousin marriages are allowed but are not particularly common."

    not true. depending on where you check in kyrgyzstan, the consanguinity rate can be as high as 12%.

    @doug - "Similarly, Laos has no tradition of cousin marriage whatsoever."

    yes, they do. second cousin marriage more than first cousin [pg. 194+], but i don't know what the rates are at all, unfortunately.

    @doug - " Since we’ve known for over a century now that malaria causes birth defects, I’m thinking that cousin marriages aren’t the first place to look here."

    "Genetic disorders afflict Arab world"

    "Saudi Arabia has the highest rate of birth defects in the Gulf, with around 80 babies out of every 1,000 born with a disorder. In the UAE, Kuwait and Oman, 70 to 79 children in every 1,000 are born with a birth defect.

    "Sudan has the highest rate in the world at 82 per 1,000, while France has the world's lowest rate, at 39 per 1,000. Birth defects have been closely linked to marriages between cousins and relatives, a common practice throughout the region and estimated to account for 35 to 50 per cent of all weddings. Such traditions can increase the number of carriers of recessive genes, leading to higher rates of birth defects. Selective and environmental factors, including a lack of public awareness about how to prevent such conditions, also compound the problem.

    "Autosomal recessive disorders, in which two copies of the gene must mutate for a person to be affected, form an overwhelming proportion of genetic disorders in Arab patients in the UAE, according to CAGS [Centre for Arab Genomic Studies], which says high rates of marriage between relatives are a leading contributor to the condition. An affected person usually has unaffected parents who both carry a mutated gene. Up to half of all Emirati marriages are between relatives, with 54 per cent of married couples in Al Ain being relatives, compared to 32 per cent in Abu Dhabi and 40 per cent in Dubai.

    Saudi Arabia, has perhaps the highest rate of intermarriage, with up to two thirds of all marriages occurring between relatives. There are no national projects aimed at controlling genetic disorders in most Arab countries, said Dr Ghazi Tadmouri, the assistant director of CAGS.... '[I]f you go into the details of some of these diseases you will always find them described as occurring in certain families or tribes, or confined to certain geographical regions. In that case consanguinity is one main reason for that disease to be occurring.'"

    I’m getting that “talking past each other” feeling that I often get in conversations with HBD folks.

    You’re apparently delighted with a monocausal model where it’s all, or very predominantly, about cousin marriage. While I acknowledge the effect may be real, I don’t see evidence that it’s as utterly dominant as you seem to think. Again, I don’t see that you’re sorting out the effects of cousin marriage from the effects of poverty and general poor treatment of women. I don’t see that you’re even trying to, actually. You seem sure you’ve found the answer, so no other factors need be considered.

    Kyrgyzstan: you’re citing a decade old Russian study that found rates of “between 1.4% and 12%”. Kyrgyzstan is a very rugged country with a fair number of small isolated communities up in the mountains (though the bulk of the population lives in the valleys, naturally). So it’s not too surprising that they could find a few places where the rates were high. That doesn’t tell us anything about the general rate throughout the country. It’s not clear how the Russians define “consanguineous” marriages, but the most common definition includes both second and third cousins. Let’s say it’s only second, and let’s say further that the average for Kyrgyzstan falls neatly between those two figures — which I suspect is not the case, since 90% of the population does not live in isolated mountain villages, but lets go with it. That would mean about 6.7%, or one marriage in sixteen, was between first or second cousins. That is, by global standards, not a terribly high rate — and it’s certainly not high enough to be a significant contributing factor to Kyrgyzstan’s crazy high rate of birth defects.

    (Incidentally, while Kyrgyzstan is “close to” Pakistan and Afghanistan, it’s culturally very, very different. The local language is Turkic, not Pashto or Urdu, and the culture is derived from Central Asian nomads. It’s nominally Islamic, but it’s extremely relaxed Islam, heavily secularized by the decades under the USSR. Tangential to the discussion, but what the hey.)

    Laos: you have one cite from a book that’s about something else, mentioning in passing that second cousin marriages sometimes happen. In a country that was until recently almost entirely rural, this is not exactly surprising. But Laos has no tradition of cousin marriages remotely similar to what we see in Pakistan or much of the Arab world. Nor does mainstream Lao society show any of the factors that tend to correlate with cousin marriages; there’s not a strong tradition of arranged marriages, for instance, nor are women heavily dowried. (As you know, large dowries encourage cousin marriages in order to keep the wealth in the family. That’s one reason cousin marriage is so common in Islamic countries: the Koran mandates the practice of _mahr_, or male dowry. _Mahr_ in many countries is often several years of the man’s salary. Mainstream Lao society does have dowries, but they’re typically pretty dinky, on the order of a month or two’s salary.)

    So we have no evidence that cousin marriage is a significant factor in Lao demographics. Yet Laos has one of the highest rates of birth defects in the world. Laos also has one of the highest rates of malaria infection in the world. And we know that malaria causes birth defects. So why would you think that cousin marriage was the culprit here, as opposed to malaria? (Well, and general poverty of course. Laos is one of the poorest countries in the world.)

    As I said way upthread, when you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail. And when you’re into HBD, it seems impossible to perceive the world in any other terms.

    Here’s the thing: you can throw out Laos and Kyrgyzstan and several others and still have the outline of a respectable argument. Hell, I could make it for you. “While many factors may come into play, cousin marriage is clearly very important. It neatly explains why we have this cluster of countries, and also particularly why countries X and Y — which should be up in the yellows or greens based on income — are down here in the red zone.” Boom, done.

    But instead you’re talking like it is the sole and only explanation for a country’s position on that chart. That’s silly. Does HBD explain why Russia and Belarus are ~60 places apart? Come on, you know it doesn’t. Does it explain why Ireland is so dismally low? Probably not either. And it’s probably not explaining Laos or Kyrgyzstan, either.

    [shrug] Moving along.

    Doug M.

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    • Replies: @hbd chick
    @doug - "You’re apparently delighted with a monocausal model where it’s all, or very predominantly, about cousin marriage."

    nope. i never said that. that's just something you're reading into what i've written.

    what i've been pointing out to you is that, in countries where there is a long-history of very close inbreeding (i.e. fbd marriage), there are a lot of genetic/birth defects connected to that. the geneticists and the medical community know this already. it is an established fact. have a look at the links which i've provided you. and these are the majority of the red countries in the chart above, so the reason that most of the countries in the red have such high birth defect rates is because of their high rates of inbreeding. as far as the other countries with rather high rates go (like the ones in the orange zone) i have no idea. probably a multitude of problems like you say, but i wouldn't be surprised if some of it had to do with inbreeding in some of those countries.

    the only reason i gave the stats/info for kyrgyzstan and laos was to correct your errors. you said that cousin marriage was not particularly common in kyrgyzstan when in fact one study shows that the rate in some areas is as high as 12% (unfortunately i don't have access to the paper so i don't know which areas they're talking about or how widespread the cousin marriage rate is). in my experience, most studies on consanguinity tend to underestimate the actual rates -- the true rates typically creep out in medical studies. more data from kyrgyzstan is clearly needed. also, you said that there was absolutely no cousin marriage in laos at all, and that is incorrect, too. that's all.

    @doug - " It’s not clear how the Russians define 'consanguineous' marriages, but the most common definition includes both second and third cousins."

    the standard, scientific definition of consanguineous is anything closer to and including second cousin matings. i'm sure these russian scientists don't mean third cousin matings.

    , @Greying Wanderer
    "But instead you’re talking like it is the sole and only explanation for a country’s position on that chart."

    Straw man.

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  • @hbd chick
    @doug - "most of the countries in the bottom 25 — the 'reds' — aren’t Arab. The single biggest group is poor African countries like Sudan, Burkina Faso, and Benin."

    most of the countries in the red practice cousin marriage to huge degrees, and most of them are father's brother's daughter's (fbd) marriage practitioners, too (the closest, most inbred form of cousin marriage).

    fbd cousin marriage:

    sudan
    saudi arabia
    occupied palestinian territory
    uae
    iraq
    kuwait
    afghanistan
    oman
    syria
    pakistan
    qatar
    bahrain
    jordan
    libya
    tunisia
    morocco
    yemen
    djibouti

    cousin marriage:
    burkina faso (probably fbd marriage, but i don't know for sure)
    tajikistan (poss. fbd marriage, don't know)
    nigeria
    kyrgyzstan (poss. fbd marriage, don't know)
    guinea

    don't know (having said that, many africa groups practice cousin marriage - not all though):
    benin
    congo
    congo d.r.
    angola
    gabon
    sierra leone

    1) A cite would be nice. The only global reference I’ve been able to find is at consang.net. That collects a lot of data together, which is nice — but you need to look at it carefully. (Do /not/ just look at the map. It’s just aggregating data from the tables, and the tables are all over the place. You have sample sizes that range from two figures to six figures, studies that range from nationwide to a single ciity, province, or tribe, and papers dating from 2009 back to colonial-era studies in the 1940s and ’50s.) I’m not seeing anything giving recent good data for Central Asia (outside of much-studied Afghanistan) or most of SS Africa.

    1) While I’m open to cousin marriage being /a/ factor in birth defects, I’m a little dismayed at your rush to judgment here. Most of the countries in the bottom seem to do cousin marriage: fair enough. But most of the countries in the bottom are also poor and/or score particularly badly on womens rights and womens health issues. I don’t think you can just wave your hand and say “well but of course! it’s cousin marriage!”.

    2) There are a number of cases on that red list where we can be pretty sure that cousin marriage is not the issue. I’m writing from Kyrgyzstan, and HBD cousin marriage is strictly taboo in Kyrgyz traditional society. (cite: http://crossroads-asia.de/fileadmin/user_upload/publications/Ismailbekova_Coping_Strategies.pdf, page 25.) Maternal cousin marriages are allowed but are not particularly common. Yet Kyrgyzstan is far down in the red, alas. Personally, I suspect a combination of poverty, environmental issues left over from the Soviet era (much of Central Asia remains an environmental disaster area, and it’s not getting better), and some gruesome marital customs including a very strong tradition of bride abduction. (If your abducted bride wasn’t completely willing, you keep her locked up until she has her first kid. Checkups? Prenatal care? Ho ho stranger, Kyrgyz women are tough.)

    Similarly, Laos has no tradition of cousin marriage whatsoever. But it’s very poor, and malaria rates are still sky high. I’ll throw you HBD types a bone here: malaria rates are high because most of the local populations have evolved a fairly high level of malaria resistance, so that instead of being a potentially lethal disease it’s more of a flu-level chronic annoyance. But it still causes very high levels of birth defects. (The mechanism for this is well understood. Red blood cells damaged by malaria tend to “silt up” in the placenta and clog it, reducing oxygen flow to the fetus. This often kills the kid — but if it doesn’t, you have an excellent chance of a baby with serious brain and other organ defects at birth. There’s a fairly large medical literature on this.) Paradoxically, if Laotians were less resistant to malaria, their government would probably have put more effort into wiping it out… but anyway, on any map of malaria prevalence, Laos always glows bright red. Since we’ve known for over a century now that malaria causes birth defects, I’m thinking that cousin marriages aren’t the first place to look here.

    Doug M.

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    • Replies: @hbd chick
    @doug - "A cite would be nice. The only global reference I’ve been able to find is at consang.net. That collects a lot of data together, which is nice — but you need to look at it carefully."

    trust me, i have (see my blog, in particular the "mating patterns" series in the lower left-hand column).

    consang.net is a good site to check out, which you already have. i also gave a reference in my other comment here in this thread, but you may have missed that. it deals with mating patterns in the arab world. do a few pubmed searches for whatever country you're interested in plus keywords like "consanguinity" or "consanguineous" for more data.

    @doug - "While I’m open to cousin marriage being /a/ factor in birth defects, I’m a little dismayed at your rush to judgment here."

    i'm not rushing to any judgement here. a lot of research has been done in the arab countries that have extremely high birth defect rates and they are well connected to the high levels of inbreeding there. again, for starters, see the book i referenced in my other comment.

    @doug - " I’m writing from Kyrgyzstan, and HBD cousin marriage is strictly taboo in Kyrgyz traditional society."

    yes, that's why i said fbd marriage (not hbd (~_^) ) in kyrgyzstan was possible but i didn't know -- because i didn't. i thought it might be possible with kyrgyzstan being not all that far away from pakistan and afghanistan, but i wasn't sure.

    @doug - "Maternal cousin marriages are allowed but are not particularly common."

    not true. depending on where you check in kyrgyzstan, the consanguinity rate can be as high as 12%.

    @doug - "Similarly, Laos has no tradition of cousin marriage whatsoever."

    yes, they do. second cousin marriage more than first cousin [pg. 194+], but i don't know what the rates are at all, unfortunately.

    @doug - " Since we’ve known for over a century now that malaria causes birth defects, I’m thinking that cousin marriages aren’t the first place to look here."

    "Genetic disorders afflict Arab world"

    "Saudi Arabia has the highest rate of birth defects in the Gulf, with around 80 babies out of every 1,000 born with a disorder. In the UAE, Kuwait and Oman, 70 to 79 children in every 1,000 are born with a birth defect.

    "Sudan has the highest rate in the world at 82 per 1,000, while France has the world's lowest rate, at 39 per 1,000. Birth defects have been closely linked to marriages between cousins and relatives, a common practice throughout the region and estimated to account for 35 to 50 per cent of all weddings. Such traditions can increase the number of carriers of recessive genes, leading to higher rates of birth defects. Selective and environmental factors, including a lack of public awareness about how to prevent such conditions, also compound the problem.

    "Autosomal recessive disorders, in which two copies of the gene must mutate for a person to be affected, form an overwhelming proportion of genetic disorders in Arab patients in the UAE, according to CAGS [Centre for Arab Genomic Studies], which says high rates of marriage between relatives are a leading contributor to the condition. An affected person usually has unaffected parents who both carry a mutated gene. Up to half of all Emirati marriages are between relatives, with 54 per cent of married couples in Al Ain being relatives, compared to 32 per cent in Abu Dhabi and 40 per cent in Dubai.

    Saudi Arabia, has perhaps the highest rate of intermarriage, with up to two thirds of all marriages occurring between relatives. There are no national projects aimed at controlling genetic disorders in most Arab countries, said Dr Ghazi Tadmouri, the assistant director of CAGS.... '[I]f you go into the details of some of these diseases you will always find them described as occurring in certain families or tribes, or confined to certain geographical regions. In that case consanguinity is one main reason for that disease to be occurring.'"

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  • @Greying Wanderer
    The UK experience shows it is caused by close-cousin marriage.

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1578246/Minister-warns-over-in-breeding-in-Asians.html

    "Figures show that British Pakistani children account for as many as one third of birth defects despite making up only three per cent of all UK births."

    That’s a Telegraph article that cites a junior minister, with no link or reference to any scientific paper. There’s no “figures show”.

    Doug M.

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    • Replies: @charly
    It is also common for immigrant groups top develop consanguineous marriage as the group of potential spouse candidate is small
    , @hbd chick
    700 children born with genetic disabilities due to cousin marriages every year
    More than 700 children are born with genetic diseases every year as a result of cousin marriages, an investigation has found.

    Rise in birth defects 'is top priority'
    Bradford has the second highest number of infant deaths in England and 15 per cent of the population is of Pakistani origin, of which 70 per cent are in blood-related marriages....

    "A study in the paediatric department has so far listed more than 140 different autosomal recessive genetic conditions seen in our child patients during recent years," he said.

    "It has been estimated that a typical British health district might see about 20 or 30. An ongoing study by the British Paediatric Surveillance Unit has shown that 72 out of 902 United Kingdom children with neurodegenerative conditions live in Bradford. Most of these conditions are genetic."

    "Foundation Trust staff have published reports showing high rates of deafness, neurodegenerative conditions and microcephaly (small head with learning disability). This has led to genetic research identifying genes for some of these conditions. Families in Bradford and around the world can now benefit from more accurate counselling as a result of these advances."

    Dr Corry said that while genetic conditions could occur in any ethnic group, it had been found that autosomal recessive conditions were much more prevalent in children of Pakistani origin.

    BradCAS: Establishing congenital anomalies ascertainment system for BiB.
    Bradford has 1% of UK births but 8.5% of progressive neurological deficits. Bradford babies are 60% more likely to die of a birth defect than average. Non-lethal birth defects, including blindness and deafness, are common. Clinicians engage with children and families in the context of concerns about the stigma of birth defects being equated with consanguineous marriage in Bradford’s Pakistani families.

    , @Greying Wanderer
    The people who don't want to believe it won't believe it regardless of the evidence but there's lots of papers on it out there for people who want to do a few minutes googling to prove it to themselves.
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  • @hbd chick
    @doug - "For instance, Pakistan is far down in the red. But Pakistanis don’t do the cousin-marrying thing, so it can’t be that."

    you're kidding, right?

    Already corrected myself.

    Doug M.

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  • @Jen
    Hey guys,

    Issue is that countries like Italy, Spain, Japan and South Korea have low fertility rates as a result of a conservative political mind-set, influenced in the past by either Catholic religious morality or neo-Confucianist philosophy, not to favour social welfare policies that favour working women. These are policies like equal payment for equal employment, maternity and paternity leave and pro-natal policies like a one-off baby bonus payment for having a third child.

    @ Glossy: South Korean pop culture looks raunchy but as Charly says, it's mostly girl groups / boy bands. Japanese pop culture is a lot more disturbing in some ways: manga (comics) and graphic novels featuring porn, bondage and sexual violence catering to both men and women.

    He’s calling an entire country “declinist” because, based on very limited exposure, he found elements in its culture that “seem raunchier”.

    – You know where South Korea is way more liberal than Japan? Race. Japanese are stone racists, and they’re fine with that — they’ve internalized that being racist is normal for them, and totally cool. You just don’t let it be obvious in front of foreigners because foreigners find it rude. Foreigners and their ways, ha ha!

    South Koreans, OTOH, have become far more liberal on racial issues in the last generation — and this is driven in part by a willful, thoughtful decision to *be less like the Japanese*.

    Doug M.

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  • @Glossy
    Many non-Arab Muslim societies do have a lot of cousin marriage.

    From the wiki on cousin marriage:

    "figures for Iran and Afghanistan have been estimated in the range of 30–40%.[2] Though on the lower end, some parts of Turkey nevertheless have rates above 20%.[88]"

    "India's Muslim minority represents about 12% of its population (excluding Jammu and Kashmir) and has an overall rate of cousin marriage of 22% according to a 2000 report. Most Muslim cousin marriages were between first cousins, with the rate of first-cousin marriage being 20%"

    "In Pakistan Cousin Marriages are highly appreciated and in most of the cases cousin marriages are considered first priority because arrange marriages are very common in Pakistani culture. [104]"

    Dude, you’re citing a misspelled paragraph in a long, badly written wikipedia article. It has one cite, and that’s to an article on *British* Pakistanis.

    That said, a bit of research shows that I’m wrong; Pakistanis do indeed go in for cousin marriages. Unfortunately, the only study that breaks it down by class and region is in Danish, but it’s definitely an issue. (And one that the Pakistanis themselves talk about.) So, I spoke too quickly.

    That said, the other points stand: I’m very skeptical that it’s a HBD thing.

    Doug M.

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  • @charly
    If you mean with "religious" that the Church still has a lot of influence then yes. Especially if you compare it with its neighbours.


    NE Asia: consist of Red China (kicked out by its massive size to form its own group), North Korea (weird and to much propaganda), HK (city state run by the real estate maffia),tiny Macao aka big Casino, Taiwan(conservative China), South Korea (extremely rich third world country), Japan(Belgium with yellow people), Eastern Coast Russia (to much a colony and still to short after the end of the cold war), Some American colonies for which i'm to lazy to wiki for which were run into the ground by American economy theory and possible the Philippines who speak to much English so they are forced to follow American economic theory.
    But in normal conversation NE Asia is just Korea, Japan, Taiwan and HK whose population isn't far below that of Taiwan


    South Korea declinist? In what way? Samsung can't overtake any electronics firm, HyundaiKia is number 4 in the world and Seoul is the only place in the world Hollywood fears.

    Japan is so much more Westernized/Modern then Korea that i really can't see how you could claim otherwise.

    Dude, you can’t really argue with Glossy on this stuff. I wouldn’t bother, myself.

    That said, I’ll note that South Korea is not “declinist” by any reasonable definition of the word. — it’s a First World country that has seen respectable (average ~3.5% p.a.) economic growth since 2010, is a world leader in a buch of different technology centers, is home to several of the world’s most important enterprises, punches well above its weight in music and culture, etc. etc. blah blah blah.

    Unless you mean (and he probably does) that it has a low TFR. In which case pretty much every advanced economy in the world is “declinist”, along with a bunch of middle income countries including Russia and China.

    Doug M.

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    • Replies: @Glossy
    From what I've seen of South Korean pop culture, and admittedly, it wasn't a lot, it's raunchier, less wholesome than the Japanese and Chinese equivalents. Also, I remember Peter Frost of the Evo and Proud blog quoting some values poll results which suggested that South Koreans have gone further than their neighbors in adopting the liberal mindset.
    , @charly
    I'm not into Kpop as it is mainly boy/girlbands but those are always wholesomely marketed.

    I have been to Rome and to Korea. I saw more nuns in Korea so liberal mindsets is not something i expect from them

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  • @Glossy
    "you’re conflating “Muslim” with “Arab” which is sloppy"

    Where did Anatoly do that? I just reread his post and I don't see that.

    "religiously conservative societies tend to treat women badly."

    I've lived in secular societies all my life. Actually, I was both raised by atheists and am an atheist. The vast majority of secular women do want to marry and to raise families. Their success rate at this is far higher in religious societies than in secular ones. It is men who are programmed by nature to prefer quantity of partners to quality, to flee committment, to be more promiscuous than women. Secular morality caters to male short-term, selfish desires, not to female ones. Of course in the long term it destroys everyone. Even though I don't believe in God, it's obvious to me that secularism treats women worse than do the major religions. The obligation to support a woman and her kids after her sexual sell-by date is obviously pro-woman. The removal of the stigma for discarding her after her sexual sell-by date is anti-woman. They do generally want financial support and they don't like the idea of dying alone.

    "But Pakistanis don’t do the cousin-marrying thing, so it can’t be that."

    I have a feeling that you're wrong on that, though I have no time now to look this up. I'm on my lunch hour here.

    "Belarus is weaker on women’s rights and health issues"

    Can you cite examples of that?

    “Where did Anatoly do that?”

    He points out that 9 of the worst 10 are Muslim, says “including many rich Arab states, then immediately starts talking about the practice of consanguineous marriages in Arab countries. He concludes that “almost certainly” marriage customs are responsible. For non-Arab Muslim countries being so low on the list? Hey?

    “Can you cite examples of that?”

    Sure. Here’s one — the Gender Equity Index. Russia is 37th in the world, Belarus is 64th.

    Both countries have CEDAW reports, though Russia’s is getting a bit stale — 2006. Belarus’ is fresher, from 2010. (CEDAW tries to do one in each country every decade.) CEDAW reports cover everything from access to reproductive and maternal health services (“generally poor”; see pps. 18-20) to the number of shelters for victims of domestic violence (zero).

    – This is why you need to pick through older reports carefully — brief googling shows that while the 2006 CEDAW report shows no womens’ shelters, today Russia has 30 or so. Still a very low figure for a country of 140 million people, but, hey, progress. Meanwhile Belarus seems to have opened a single one, in Mogilev in 2011. (There’s also one in Minsk, but apparently it’s used for human trafficking victims, not victims of domestic violence.)

    Doug M.

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    • Replies: @Glossy
    Many non-Arab Muslim societies do have a lot of cousin marriage.

    From the wiki on cousin marriage:

    "figures for Iran and Afghanistan have been estimated in the range of 30–40%.[2] Though on the lower end, some parts of Turkey nevertheless have rates above 20%.[88]"

    "India's Muslim minority represents about 12% of its population (excluding Jammu and Kashmir) and has an overall rate of cousin marriage of 22% according to a 2000 report. Most Muslim cousin marriages were between first cousins, with the rate of first-cousin marriage being 20%"

    "In Pakistan Cousin Marriages are highly appreciated and in most of the cases cousin marriages are considered first priority because arrange marriages are very common in Pakistani culture. [104]"

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  • When you have a hammer (or think you do), everything looks like a nail. When you’re into HBD, you want to think it’s all about HBD. In this case, likely not.

    0) Let’s start by nothing that this is a 2006 study using 2004-5 data. Maternal and infant health is a fast-moving target — Senegal managed to cut infant mortality by about a third in less than a decade, and they’re far from alone — so while this report isn’t completely obsolete, it’s well past its sell-by date.

    1) most of the countries in the bottom 25 — the “reds” — aren’t Arab. The single biggest group is poor African countries like Sudan, Burkina Faso, and Benin. There are also a number of Central Asian countries — including Kyrgyzstan, where I’m sitting as I type this. (Nice place. Friendly people.)

    That said, if you were to graph birth defects against pcGDP, yeah, you’d have a descending line but with a number of Arab countries in a cluster above the line. Not a huge effect, but noteworthy.

    So, marrying cousins then, right? Ha. Not so fast.

    2) what do most of the countries in the red group have in common? two things. They’re poor as hell, and/or they treat women like crap. Women’s health indicators for Arab countries tend to be really low. That’s not because women are marrying their cousins. it’s because — for instance — there’s little or no government funding for maternal health clinics. If you’re in a country where being an Ob/Gyn is considered a slightly degrading occupation, on par with being a veterinarian, then you’re going to see some women’s health issues.

    religiously conservative societies tend to treat women badly. for the last century or so, pretty much all of the world’s religiously conservative societies have been Muslim. so, yeah, lot of Muslim countries on this list. however,

    3) you’re conflating “Muslim” with “Arab” which is sloppy — I know you know better than that. the red band includes a bunch of countries that are Muslim but not Arab, and that were never “within the historic borders of the 8th century Caliphate”. Putting aside the sub-Saharan African ones, you still have several big Muslim countries that are in the bad group anyway even though they weren’t in the Caliphate. For instance, Pakistan is far down in the red. But Pakistanis don’t do the cousin-marrying thing, so it can’t be that.

    You also have a number of Muslim countries that are doing okay, world average or better — most notably the world’s largest Muslim country, Indonesia. Hey, Indonesia doesn’t treat women like crap! Indonesia has a bunch of female parliamentarians and CEOs, has had a woman President, and has invested significant amounts of money in women’s health.

    4) What are the things that cause birth defects? Well, inbreeding can do it, no question. But so can all sorts of other things. Poor maternal fitness, for instance. (Hey, is there a correlation with those countries where there’s no tradition of women participating in sports or, indeed, getting any exercise outside the house? ) Poor diet, for another. (Like, having a traditional female diet that is all carbs and no protein — which, as anyone will tell you, is a great way to have obese, listless mothers and damaged kids.)

    But the real elephant in the room is environmental issues: pollution and disease. Malaria in particular can cause birth defects — an infection causes the placenta to “silt up” with damaged red blood cells, cutting off the flow of oxygen to the fetus. If the poor kid does survive, good chance it ends up brain damaged. So, no surprise to find poor sub-Saharan African and southeast Asian countries high on the list. Meanwhile, pollution may go a long way to explain why secular Central Asian countries are down there. (I like Kyrgyzstan a lot, but the one thing that would make me hesitate about living here is the air quality.)

    5) Here’s a useful reality check for the inbreeding theory: small island states. Nauru has less than 20,000 people, and they’re all descended from less than a thousand people a century or so back. *Everyone’s* a cousin. Fiji, Cook Islands, Kiribati, Niue, Palau — all of these have small, highly inbred populations. (All the Pacific islands saw dieoffs from introduced diseases in the 19th century, so everyone is descended from fairly small groups of survivors.) So, whenever you see something and you’re thinking it’s because of inbreeding? Go check and see if it applies to the Cook Islands or Palau.

    In this case, no, it doesn’t — all those countries do well.

    6) Finally, one last thought: in a lot of the developed world, abortion is used to reduce the prevalence of defects at birth. You’ll notice that Ireland, where abortion is still sharply restricted, is down in the yellow group instead of the green where you’d expect to find it (wealthy country, otherwise pretty good on women’s rights). On the other hand, Russia is in the top five in the world despite being a middle income country. Russia has a very high abortion rate. Is abortion regularly used to eliminate anticipated birth defects? I don’t know, but given the RF’s anomalous place on the table, it seems a question worth asking.

    I note in passing that Russia’s abortion rate is about 50% higher than more socially conservative Belarus. Belarus is weaker on women’s rights and health issues, generally, has fewer abortions… and is down in the yellow middle of the table. So, is there significant human biological diversity between Moscow and Minsk? Or is something else going on here?

    Doug M.

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    • Replies: @Glossy
    "you’re conflating “Muslim” with “Arab” which is sloppy"

    Where did Anatoly do that? I just reread his post and I don't see that.

    "religiously conservative societies tend to treat women badly."

    I've lived in secular societies all my life. Actually, I was both raised by atheists and am an atheist. The vast majority of secular women do want to marry and to raise families. Their success rate at this is far higher in religious societies than in secular ones. It is men who are programmed by nature to prefer quantity of partners to quality, to flee committment, to be more promiscuous than women. Secular morality caters to male short-term, selfish desires, not to female ones. Of course in the long term it destroys everyone. Even though I don't believe in God, it's obvious to me that secularism treats women worse than do the major religions. The obligation to support a woman and her kids after her sexual sell-by date is obviously pro-woman. The removal of the stigma for discarding her after her sexual sell-by date is anti-woman. They do generally want financial support and they don't like the idea of dying alone.

    "But Pakistanis don’t do the cousin-marrying thing, so it can’t be that."

    I have a feeling that you're wrong on that, though I have no time now to look this up. I'm on my lunch hour here.

    "Belarus is weaker on women’s rights and health issues"

    Can you cite examples of that?

    , @georgesdelatour
    "But Pakistanis don’t do the cousin-marrying thing, so it can’t be that."

    http://www.channel4.com/programmes/dispatches/episode-guide/series-68/episode-1

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/today/hi/today/newsid_9714000/9714582.stm

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jnoUI0je5-E

    , @hbd chick
    @doug - "For instance, Pakistan is far down in the red. But Pakistanis don’t do the cousin-marrying thing, so it can’t be that."

    you're kidding, right?

    , @hbd chick
    @doug - "most of the countries in the bottom 25 — the 'reds' — aren’t Arab. The single biggest group is poor African countries like Sudan, Burkina Faso, and Benin."

    most of the countries in the red practice cousin marriage to huge degrees, and most of them are father's brother's daughter's (fbd) marriage practitioners, too (the closest, most inbred form of cousin marriage).

    fbd cousin marriage:

    sudan
    saudi arabia
    occupied palestinian territory
    uae
    iraq
    kuwait
    afghanistan
    oman
    syria
    pakistan
    qatar
    bahrain
    jordan
    libya
    tunisia
    morocco
    yemen
    djibouti

    cousin marriage:
    burkina faso (probably fbd marriage, but i don't know for sure)
    tajikistan (poss. fbd marriage, don't know)
    nigeria
    kyrgyzstan (poss. fbd marriage, don't know)
    guinea

    don't know (having said that, many africa groups practice cousin marriage - not all though):
    benin
    congo
    congo d.r.
    angola
    gabon
    sierra leone

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  • In the wake of Russia's Internet penetration breaking the 50% mark (now - 55%) and overtaking Germany in total number of users last year, we now have news that Russian overtook German as its second most popular language. It is used on 5.9% of all the world's websites. It is projected that Russia will maintain...
  • It’s kind of a non-story.

    Russian is immensely important in Russia and the countries of the former Soviet Union. Outside of those countries, eh, not so much. But since those countries include 300+ million people, most of whom are (by world standards) middle income, hey, Russian is a big deal on the internet.

    But the pool of Russian speakers is just too small for this to be permanent. In a few years it will be overtaken by Spanish and/or Chinese. Another decade or two, and French, Urdu and possibly Arabic will nudge it down yet further. By 2050, it’ll be around 7th or 8th place.

    And it will be no big deal. Russian’s a major language; people will be able to find whatever they need, from eBay to porn to the latest David Bowie album, on a Russian-language site. No change.

    Doug M.

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    • Replies: @JLo
    If David Bowie is still producing albums in 2050 then anything's possible!
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  • As I write the book, I create a lot of graphs. Here is one of them. So in manufacturing terms, as far as cars are concerned, the "deindustrialization" era is decidedly over. Of course it's also important to note that in 1985 they were producing this whereas today they are producing this as well as...
  • Don’t forget that world automobile production has increased by about 80% over that same period, from around 32 million / year in 1991 to around 57 million / year today. So, while Russia has caught up with the USSR in absolute terms, in relative terms (as a percentage of total world production) they still have a long way to go.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if Russia did eventually catch up in that respect too. But I would expect it to take at least another decade, because they’re chasing a moving target.

    (By the way, is that graph automobiles only, or does it include commercial vehicles (trucks) as well? Because the numbers for the latter are much smaller, but the per-unit contribution to GDP is of course much larger.)

    Doug M.

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    • Replies: @Anatoly Karlin
    It includes both. Here are the most detailed statistics for everyone.

    The bulk of the growth was mostly the developed world. China alone increased from 5,000 (!) in 1985 to 18 million in 2012.

    , @Albo
    Yes but since Russia only has half the population the USSR had, I guess the performance is on par (yes it's a gross simplification since Russia had the lion's share of automative industries, but still)
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  • I knew that gays had a maybe five or even ten times higher chance of getting AIDS and other STD's than heterosexuals. I didn't know the differential was actually more like 50. Something like 20% of the US gay population (which makes up 3.5% of its total population) is HIV positive. It is 5% in...
  • Ugh. Anatoly, this is sloppy stuff. No offense, but this reads like you’re letting your conclusions guide your research, not the other way ’round.

    Not going to fisk the whole thing, but here’s a single example: “the statistics also destroy yet another liberal canard: That there is no connection between homosexuality and pedophilia” Well, no. There’s actually been research on this. Quite a lot of research. Some goes back to the 1970s, but it really got going in the late 1980s. You’d expect so, right? That was when gay rights really began to be a thing. So the question “is there a connection between homosexuality and pedophilia” really began to become pressing.

    Short answer: No, there isn’t. I’m going to compress 25 years of intense research into two bullets. (1) A significant number of pedophiles don’t map onto the gay-straight spectrum. They’re sexually attracted to *children*, without much regard for the gender of the child. Weird but true: as far as the research can tell, they’re not wired to distinguish among gender. — Note that “a significant number” isn’t “all”. Pedophiles come in different flavors, and some of them are only attracted to one gender of child. But a lot of them aren’t. (2) Yes, it really does seem to be an access issue. It’s just much, much easier for an adult male to get access to boys than to girls. Coaches, teachers, Boy Scout troop leaders, hobby instructors, the guy who runs the boys choir at the church… it’s trivially easy for an adult male to get access to boys. This isn’t speculation; it’s based both on research and on a disturbingly tall stack of testimony from actual pedophiles. These guys actively seek out these roles. A significant number of them choose to become teachers or priests or sports coaches because that’s where the kids are. Even the ones that don’t let it shape their career choices are much more likely to sign up for Boy Scouts or the Big Brother program, or to become active in gender-differentiated social activities like Little League. That’s known, and it’s why (for instance) Big Brother does a fair amount of screening on its would-be mentors. (It’s also why people are suing the Boy Scouts: because they knew this, should have screened, and didn’t.)

    Fifteen seconds with google gave me a survey article on this: http://psychology.ucdavis.edu/rainbow/html/facts_molestation.html. It’s a bit dated, but it looks like a decent introduction; since it was my first hit, let’s go with it. If that doesn’t suit you, another fifteen seconds gave me a dozen more. I know you can do as well. If you dig a bit, you’ll find that the overwhelming preponderance of actual research seems to be showing that there isn’t a connection.

    Doug M.

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    • Replies: @AM
    Interesting article about this from the Guardian
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2013/jan/03/paedophilia-bringing-dark-desires-light
    In fact, paedophilia might be another kind of sexual orientation, completely separate from homo/hetero.
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  • It all began on January 9, 2008. It began, as it is now, as Da Russophile over at blogger. And I was a Russophile then, perhaps unreasonably so. That said I did do some useful work back then. I am most proud of the demographic models by which I predicted: Russia will see positive population...
  • I dabbled in HBD for a bit, and then came to realize it was nonsense on stilts. This doesn’t mean you’ll do the same, of course — but at least consider the possibility that five years from now, you’ll feel about it the way you currently feel about your earlier Russophilia and Spenglerian mysticism.

    Doug M.

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  • One of the keystones of the "Dying Bear" meme is the factoid that abortions outnumber births in Russia. As Mark Steyn put it, "When it comes to the future, most Russian women are voting with their fetus." The only problem is that there is no causal relation between abortions and demographic health whatsoever - and...
  • Just a data point: abortion rates were very high in the last two decades of Yugoslavia — except among the socially conservative Albanians. The difference in abortion rates was high enough to be a significant contributing factor to the demographic shift in Kosovo (though probably not as significant as differential emigration).

    I think there’s a bit of historical contingency here. In countries that legalized abortion before the introduction of good birth control (“good” here meaning cheap, reliable, easy-to-access and decent quality), abortion /became/ the method of birth control — and it took a generation or two to dislodge it from that position.

    Personal data point: as a college kid back in the late 1980s, I briefly dated a Bulgarian gal. At one point she mentioned in passing that she’d had an abortion. (She was in her early 20s.) This was done in a very casual way over coffee and a sandwich; IMS the context was something like “all my friends saw this band, but I couldn’t go because I had an abortion that day, tch.” My younger self was a little freaked out by it, but I suspect it was a fairly common attitude among many Eastern European women of her generation.

    Doug M.

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  • One of the standard memes about Russia's demographic trajectory was the "Russian Cross." While at the literal level it described the shape of the country's birth rate and death rate trajectories, a major reason why it entered the discourse was surely because it also evoked the foreboding of the grave. But this period now appears...
  • @AP
    So as you admit estimates for Muslin fertility rate in France is 2.8 while in North Africa it is 2.4-2.8 in Algeria and 2.4 in Tunisia; it Morocco it is 2.3 (I was thinking about these countries on the Mediteranian rather than of Mali or Mauretania when I made my comment). So how is what I wrote "Muslims in France are more fertile than those in North Africa" "bullshit?"

    I am curious if the figures are similar for Caucasians in Moscow - if they have higher birthrates there than they do back home. Anecdotally, from Muscovite parents, I hear about more and more Caucasian kids (who are not necessarily Muslms - Moscow has many Georgians and especially Armenians too). As high as the fertility ratre is in Chechnya, is it even higher among Caucasians in Moscow?

    1) because it’s comparing an estimated figure to a disputed figure. Both of these figures are bad, so comparing them is worse.

    2) because “North Africa” is undefined. If you use it to mean “North African countries that have sent significant numbers of immigrants to France” then yes, Mauretania qualifies. So, some parts of North Africa yes, some no.

    3) because — again — the birthrate in North Africa has collapsed in the last decade. It’s like saying “Muslims in France are MORE fanatically religious than Muslims in Albania!” Well, yeah — Muslims in Albania are a bunch of beer-drinking, bikini-wearing secularists.

    Having a higher birthrate than Tunisia is meaningless. Most of the world has a higher birthrate than Tunisia.

    Doug M.

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    • Replies: @AP
    I don't dispute what you are saying but simply pointed out that a correct statement ("Muslims in France are more fertile than those in North Africa”), with the caveat that I meant Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia - the countries were most of France's Muslims come from - should not be referred to as "bullshit." People compare estimates all the time, nothing wrong with that. I understand that the fertility rate is collapsing in Tunisia etc. - so what? It doesn't make my statement untrue.

    And this was secondary to my still-answered and perrhaps unanswerable question about whether the fertility of the large numbers of Muslims in Moscow (whose Muslim population may be comparable to that of some of the small Caucasian republics) is higher than in the Caucuses.

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  • A word on delayed births. The formal term for this is “tempo effect”.

    A key fact: over the last century or so, the general trend in developed and middle Income countries has been for ever-rising maternal age. Older mothers, yeah? Like a lot of demographic trends, we see this at its extreme in Europe, where the average mother of a new baby is a woman in her 30s. But the trend is worldwide and long term. There have been a few exceptions — during the postwar baby boom in the West, maternal age dropped for a while — but so far, they’ve all been temporary blips; the general trend has been firmly unidirectional.

    What this means: in demographic terms, it helps to think of tempo as a sort of fund of capital that a country has. If your women are having kids at age 22, they have a lot of leeway. They can choose not to have kids today, wait three or five or seven years, and have the kids later when conditions are more favorable. It won’t be any big deal. You’ll see a temporary drop in the birthrate, but you’ll make it up. You can spend that tempo capital, as it were.

    But if the average age of a mother is already 35, then you can’t do much. Female fertility drops significantly after the mid 30s, and falls even faster after 40. A 22 year old can delay five or even ten years without difficulty; her 35 year old sister is up against the wall of biology. A country where the average mother is already 35 is a country that has spent its tempo capital. It can’t delay births any more. If women choose not to have kids today, they won’t be able to undo that choice five years down the line.

    My point: Russia still has a lot of tempo capital to burn. Well and good. But at some point — decades down the line — the tempo capital will run out, and Russia will end up in the same position that Germany is in today: lots of women in their 30s having kids, and no chance of a benefit from delayed births.

    Doug M.

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    • Replies: @mls13
    Well put.
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  • @AP
    AK, Muslims in France are more fertile than those in North Africa. Have you seen any statistics about number of people from the Caucuses living in Moscow and how fertile they are? Officially only 4% of Moscow's population are Muslims, while a Spiegel article places the number at 11%. I suspect that the real figure is closer to the latter. I wonder if, as in the case of France and North Africa, the Muslims in Moscow are even more fertile than back home (I have no idea about this).

    Anecdotally, my nephew in Moscow left a school and my brother-in-law sold his flat in a neighborhood that had become Azeri.

    “Muslims in France are more fertile than those in North Africa”

    This is a bullshit pseudo-fact. No offense, but there it is.

    1) Nobody knows what the Muslim birthrate is in France, because France — a determinedly secular state — refuses to segregate that kind of demographic data by religion. So there’s no hard data. Just estimates.

    2) The current best estimate for the TFR for French Muslims is about 2.8. (TFR is the number of children per woman. A TFR of about 2.1 means zero population growth.) This number has been falling steadily for the last few decades; it’s expected to drop to 2.4 in the 2020s and to approach 2.1 sometime in the 2030s.

    Note that the overall TFR for France is a bit over 2. So, while Muslims are a bit more fertile, on average they’re just having about 3/4 of a kid more than their native French neighbors.

    3) Is a TFR of 2.8 higher than in North Africa? Well, it depends on what you mean by “North Africa”. Tunisa is around 2.4 right now. Mauretania is around 4.3. Algeria, the figures are disputed; the high figure is around 2.8, while the low is around 2.4. And Tunis is at 1.9 — below replacement!

    Note that most French Muslims come from Algeria. And both the French Muslim and Algerian TFRs are unclear — you’re comparing an estimate (“around 2.8, give or take”) to a disputed figure (“some say 2.8, some say 2.4″). So that throws this quote into bullshit territory right there. But what the hell. Let’s say that in some cases, yes, the birth rate for French Muslims of North African descent is higher than for their cousins who stayed home. But this isn’t because the birth rate for French Muslims is all that high — it isn’t. (2.8 and falling is about the birthrate for Israel, Belize, or that famously overpopulated hellhole, Paraguay.) It’s because the birthrates in the Maghreb (North Africa minus Libya and Mauretania) have fucking crashed in the last 15 years. Moroccans and Algerians are having a lot fewer kids, and Tunisians are having so few kids that their population is going to start declining if they don’t turn it around.

    This is a meme pumped out by Muslim-phobes who want to project an image of DANGEROUS BROWN PEOPLE PUMPING OUT BABIES. It’s bullshit. Push back.

    Doug M.

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    • Replies: @AP
    So as you admit estimates for Muslin fertility rate in France is 2.8 while in North Africa it is 2.4-2.8 in Algeria and 2.4 in Tunisia; it Morocco it is 2.3 (I was thinking about these countries on the Mediteranian rather than of Mali or Mauretania when I made my comment). So how is what I wrote "Muslims in France are more fertile than those in North Africa" "bullshit?"

    I am curious if the figures are similar for Caucasians in Moscow - if they have higher birthrates there than they do back home. Anecdotally, from Muscovite parents, I hear about more and more Caucasian kids (who are not necessarily Muslms - Moscow has many Georgians and especially Armenians too). As high as the fertility ratre is in Chechnya, is it even higher among Caucasians in Moscow?

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  • Here’s a prediction for the next 5 years: we’ll see a “hexagon with a droopy tail”, as both birth and death rates are likely to fall. Net population change (independent of immigration) will be modest — I expect a small decrease, but a small increase wouldn’t shock me.

    Doug M.

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    • Replies: @Anatoly Karlin
    I agree with the droopy tail, that exactly dovetails with my own models. But I would sooner bet on a small increase. The 300,000 annual net immigrants now give ample room for natural population growth to go in a less than absolutely optimal direction, but still eke out population growth.
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  • I just remembered I'd made some in 2012. It's time to see how they went, plus make predictions for the coming year. Of course I failed to predict the biggest thing of them all: The hacking that made me throw in the towel on Sublime Oblivion (remember that?), but with the silver lining that I...
  • @Hunter
    I actually disagree that an exit by Greece would be the best policy choice. After all why is it touted as the best policy choice? Because pundits claims an exit would allow Greece to introduce its own currency which can then be devalued and allow Greece's exports to become competitive.

    The problem with that theory is that Greece had it's own currency before the euro (the drachma) but despite having its own currency Greece has been a net importer for practically its entire existence as an independent state (and has definitely been a net importer since the 1960s). If in the period between 1973 (end of Drachma participation in Bretton Woods) and 1984 (start of Drachma participation in the European Currency Unit and presumably in the European Exchange Rate Mechanism I) Greece did not see an improvement in its balance of trade it does not stand to reason that things would be any different if Greece abandoned the euro in favour of a heavily devalued drachma today.

    The thing about having a devalued currency enabling export competitiveness is that consumers have to actually WANT the products being exported. Unfortunately Greece doesn't seem to be making stuff that is in sufficiently high demand to offset its needed imports. Greece is not China (cheap, mass produced goods), nor is it Argentina (beef, agricultural products, fuel based products and metals). So solutions that would work for China and Argentina would not necessarily work for Greece.

    Certainly Greece has structural weaknesses that will limit its ability to run a positive balance of trade. A devalued drachma would lead to an explosion of tourism, but that only takes you so far.

    But that’s not why I support a grexit. I support it because it would allow Greece to inflate its way out of its current trap. Yes, inflation is dangerous medicine. But Greek unemployment is currently standing at around 25%. Desperate times, desperate measures.

    Doug M.

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    • Replies: @Hunter
    I have doubts over whether a devalued drachma would actually lead to an explosion of tourism.

    Even so, Greece inflating its way out of its current trap is only an extremely short term solution as Greece needs to address its structural weaknesses if it wants to avoid these situations in the future. This is not the first time Greece has had debt problems. Greece had defaults and moratoria on debt repayments in 1826 (not settled until 1878), 1843 (which resulted in Greece being shut out of the international capital markets for decades), 1860, 1894 (which resulted in the creation of the International Committee for Greek Debt Management tasked with monitoring the country's economic policy, tax collection and management systems) and 1932-1964. The combined length of time under which Greece was in default since independence in the 1820s is 90 years. And during those times Greece had its own currency and could inflate it's way out of trouble if it wanted. The problem was that trouble always came back.

    If I'm not mistaken one of the purposes of the single currency was to force countries to identify and address their structural weaknesses by removing from them the ability to institute short-term measures that may bring relief in the short-run but in the long run only lead to the same problems recurring in the future. Ultimately a better debt relief program linked to a program to address Greece's structural weaknesses (including an overhaul of the tax collection system) could provide more short term relief without ignoring the long term fixes needed.

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  • @Anatoly Karlin
    Interesting viewpoints. I am inclined to agree with them.

    Not sure Russia has a "strong interest" in not seeing a Turkestan Spring. More specifically I'd say it would not like to see it in Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan. I think it would be quite fine with one in Uzbekistan because it the US is friendlier with it anyway (as it was also entirely fine with the Tulip Revolution). It would also be happy to see a revolution in Turkmenistan, I imagine, although I don't expect one there as the place seems to be locked down too tightly anyway.

    Anatoly, I like the fine-grained analysis.

    I agree about Turkmenistan on both points — Russia could be happy with a different government there, but OTOH the current regime is quite firmly entrenched and seems unlikely to change any time soon.

    I should note that I include Azerbaijan in with the ‘stans. Here, too, Russia might be happy to see the end of the Aliyev dynasty. Aliyev _fils_ has been annoyingly independent on energy policy and unhelpful with Russia’s Caucasus problems. And then of course there’s Nagorno-Karabakh.

    But on the other hand, any plausible ruler of Azerbaijan — authoritarian or democrat, secular or religious — would take a strong position on NK: it’s a core element of Azeri nationalism. And while Aliyev can be annoying, he is running a secular state that is no worse than neutral towards Russian strategic interests. If I were a Russian strategic planner, I’d reluctantly support Aliyev against most plausible alternatives. Regime change in a Muslim country, even a bikini-wearing vodka-drinking Muslim country like Azerbaijan, opens up opportunities for Islamists. And Moscow certainly doesn’t want to risk another Islamist regime on its sensitive Caucasus border. Furthermore, even a secular democracy would probably be more populist than Aliyev, and thus more inclined to roll the dice on NK.

    Anyway, I would say that Kazakhstan is the real elephant in the room. It’s huge, it’s strategically important, it still has a significant (though much reduced) Russian minority, it’s a major hydrocarbon producer, and Nazarbayev has been consistently friendly to Russia for over 20 years now. From Russia’s POV, the desired outcome is a smooth transition with continuity of the regime. Any attempt to interfere with this — whether driven by outside forces or entirely internal to Kazakhstan — will probably provoke a strong reaction.

    Doug M.

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  • @Mr. X
    Over at SWP the Prof is having a tizzy because Russian growth is ONLY 3.5% this year, tops. Considering Russia's top trading partners besides Germany in the EU are nearly in cardiac arrest and China is slowing down (but not tipping into outright recession yet) I would think most countries around the world would gladly take 3.5%. And SWP tries to preface it by saying 'for Russia's state of development'. Well Russia is already a middle income country by global standards, ala Poland, with relatively mature demographics -- we're not talking India or Brazil here.

    And isn't it funny how the Russia stuff is cranked up even more hardcore during a week when the Prof's home state of Texas had a state attorney general, one Congressman and several state Reps openly call for the arrest of any federal agents who carry out Obama's executive orders on guns. Nothing to see in my back yard folks, move on, let's talk about Russia 3,500 miles away some more.

    “Considering Russia’s top trading partners besides Germany in the EU are nearly in cardiac arrest and China is slowing down (but not tipping into outright recession yet) I would think most countries around the world would gladly take 3.5%.”

    Russia’s export trade consists of “hydrocarbons” and “everything else”, with hydrocarbons dominating. So, you don’t look at economic growth per se in their trading partners — you look at growth in demand for hydrocarbon imports. The two figures are related, but only loosely.

    Also, while Russian exports are dominated by hydrocarbons, Russia’s export partners are quite diverse. No single country absorbs more than about 12% of all Russian exports. China is less than 10%, and the top ten importers together barely absorb 50% of total Russian exports. So, weakness in any one importer is no big deal.

    Doug M.

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  • Finally, as to the Arab Spring — well, it’s pretty much over, other than the long playing-out of Syria. We got a grand total of three new governments. Egypt’s going to go through a period of assholism, because Egypt has very little civil society and no traditions of either liberal or responsible government. That’s unfortunate, because Egypt is big and important. On the other hand, it’s also pretty much inevitable; Mubarak was going to go senile or die eventually anyway, and the nature of his rule pretty much assured that whatever followed would be as bad or worse.

    Tunis, cautious optimism. Tunis does have a very active civil society and close ties to Western Europe. Tunis could go wrong in various ways, but so far — fingers crossed — they seem to be muddling along okay. I’d take a modest side bet on Tunis.

    Libya is the wild card. Libya has *no* civil society, so logically you’d expect a quick descent into anarchy or authoritarian rule. Paradoxically, things seem to be working out much better than expected; while Qaddafi suppressed civil society and any sort of liberal discourse, he also suppressed the evolution of the sorts of entrenched and parasitic elites that are so destructive in Egypt. So, while I’m still not very optimistic, Libya might surprise us.

    So, to summarize: no new revolutions, Syria will continue to be a horrible mess, Egypt will be dismal, cautious optimism on Tunis, and who knows? but so far better than expected in Libya.

    (Incidentally, I expect the next decade to see an attempt at a “Central Asian Spring” as the current crop of strongmen ages gracelessly. I also expect it to fail, since Russia has a strong interest in not seeing a Central Asian Spring.)

    Doug M.

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    • Replies: @Anatoly Karlin
    Interesting viewpoints. I am inclined to agree with them.

    Not sure Russia has a "strong interest" in not seeing a Turkestan Spring. More specifically I'd say it would not like to see it in Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan. I think it would be quite fine with one in Uzbekistan because it the US is friendlier with it anyway (as it was also entirely fine with the Tulip Revolution). It would also be happy to see a revolution in Turkmenistan, I imagine, although I don't expect one there as the place seems to be locked down too tightly anyway.

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  • @Anatoly Karlin
    I want to be based on the most recent but also comprehensively recorded territory, and in demography, month to month fluctuations do not mean much (especially if you're talking of particular oblasts or even hospitals!). A quarter does have some significant weight. A half-year and you're in good territory.

    That is why I prefer to wait until Rosstat's official preliminary estimates come in. The figures for December should be available in about a month's more time.

    I also underestimated Russia’s resilience. The birth figures for the last couple of years have been really surprising, especially given that the population of child-bearing women is rapidly decreasing as the “empty cohorts” of the early 1990s move into the peak child-bearing years.

    I strongly suspect that what we’re seeing is a “tempo effect” That means women delaying childbirth — older mothers. Since the average age of first birth in Russia has traditionally been very low, there’s still plenty of room for this. This is unlike, say, Germany, where most kids are already being born to women aged 30 or older. It’s biologically impossible for Germans to delay childbirth much longer. Russians, on the other hand, still have plenty of slack. If at least some Russian women born in the 1980s are having an extra kid in their late 20s or early 30s, then that will compensate neatly for the empty cohorts — at least for now.

    On life expectancy, I bet Anatoly that the life expectancy for Russian *men* would not exceed 70 years before 2020. Based on current trends, I’m likely to lose that bet. We didn’t name a stake, so it’s bragging rights only — but I will certainly confess if I’m wrong. I’m watching with interest.

    Having said all that, I have to disagree sharply with the poster who thinks Russia could reach a TFR of 2.1 again. That’s just not going to happen, or at least not in the next decade or two. No large country has ever managed to raise its TFR from ~1.7 back over 2. The closest is France, which managed to claw it back from about 1.65 to around 1.9. That took a couple of decades, and France deployed a much more coordinated and aggressive set of pro-natalist policies than we’re yet seeing in Russia. So I don’t think it’s very likely at all.

    (Note that it’s important not to confuse TFR — especially completed TFR — and birthrate. Tempo effects and demographic inertia can cause the two to diverge dramatically sometimes.)

    Having said /that/, I’ll add that there’s reason for a Russophile to be cautiously optimistic anyway. A TFR of 1.7 to 1.8, combined with modest levels of immigration and the tempo effect, means that Russia could maintain a roughly stable population for the next 50 years or so. I’m still slightly skeptical of this, but I now have to concede that it’s within the realm of plausibility.

    Doug M.

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    • Replies: @Anatoly Karlin
    I strongly suspect that what we’re seeing is a “tempo effect” That means women delaying childbirth — older mothers.

    That is exactly what's happening. According to my models (and common sense) this is going to dampen the negative shock of the 1990's baby bust.

    On life expectancy, I bet Anatoly that the life expectancy for Russian *men* would not exceed 70 years before 2020. Based on current trends, I’m likely to lose that bet.

    I've forgotten about this anyway. ;) In any case, it will be a close shave anyway.

    Having said all that, I have to disagree sharply with the poster who thinks Russia could reach a TFR of 2.1 again. That’s just not going to happen, or at least not in the next decade or two. No large country has ever managed to raise its TFR from ~1.7 back over 2. The closest is France, which managed to claw it back from about 1.65 to around 1.9.

    I agree. I wouldn't exclude it 100% however. There is no precedent for it since the 1970's. However, when you have a conjunction of two particular trends - growing social conservatism AND a reasonably fast growing economy (especially if accompanied by an increase in the social sector) - the TFR can increase very substantially even in developed urban societies. For instance, compare the US or France in the 1930's to the 1950's/60's. Arguably all those conditions are present in today's Russia.

    My own best guess now is that the TFR will stabilize at somewhere around 1.7 to 1.9 in this decade.

    Having said /that/, I’ll add that there’s reason for a Russophile to be cautiously optimistic anyway.

    I don't really think of myself that way nowadays. If I could do it with no hassle/SEO penalties I'd rename it to "Russia in the media" (except it's already taken) or "Russia by the numbers." :)

    A TFR of 1.7 to 1.8, combined with modest levels of immigration and the tempo effect, means that Russia could maintain a roughly stable population for the next 50 years or so.

    That is correct. In fact with that TFR, and annual net immigration of 300K (the sustainability of which I recall you questioned), and optimistic-realistic expectations for LE increase, the population will actually increase if at a glacial pace.

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  • @Hunter
    AK,

    I think with Greece you are gonna get it wrong again this year. Halfway through 2012 I began researching the hows of Greece leaving the euro (and it is not as simple as Greece just up and printing new money - there are many legal barriers which could be exploited by irate citizens who still support having the euro (by about 70%) to not having the euro).

    Having discovered what I did I came to the conclusion that the chances of Greece exiting the euro (and I mean REALLY exiting the euro, not just being forced to print IOUs for a temporary period like California) are about equal to the percentage of Greeks who support an exit from the euro. The last opinion poll I saw on Greek support for the euro had 70% of Greeks supporting it and under 30% of Greeks being opposed to (with some being undecided).

    And further to that, any real Greek exit from the euro is likely to be a long and drawn out process taking at least a year (in order to negotiate a treaty change which in turn will require a referendum in Ireland and possibly in France and the UK) or two years (in case Greece and the rest of the EU fail to negotiate a treaty change or to negotiate the terms of a Greek exit not just from the euro but from the EU (as currently the only legal way to really leave the euro is via treaty change or exiting the EU entirely), meaning that after two years Greece would have legally left the EU after it announced its intentions to do so).

    Thus for a real Greek exit to happen there would need to be an upsurge in opposition to the euro in Greece (which would probably take months - otherwise any attempt by any Greek government to exit without a treaty change or leaving the EU would result in mass lawsuits by citizens aiming to prevent the government from switching out their euros for worthless "new drachmas"...and the government would almost certainly lose those court cases) followed by a government announcing it wished to exit the euro and calling for a treaty change or simply announcing it was going to exit the EU. At best then Greece will not be exiting before 2014, and probably not before 2016 if at all.

    I think the best proof of my research is that the Economist changed its tune at the end of last year and began citing the factors I had come across in a couple of articles on why the euro hadn't yet collapsed into a heap of rubble as they had been predicting all along (while of course failing to mention that they were among those predicting and even rooting for such a collapse via an exit by Greece).

    Agreed. A Grexit might be the best policy choice, but Greece’s elites (of both ruling parties) are firmly against it, and there isn’t nearly enough popular support to force them to do it.

    Unfortunately, this means another year of protracted agony for Greece.

    Doug M.

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    • Replies: @Hunter
    I actually disagree that an exit by Greece would be the best policy choice. After all why is it touted as the best policy choice? Because pundits claims an exit would allow Greece to introduce its own currency which can then be devalued and allow Greece's exports to become competitive.

    The problem with that theory is that Greece had it's own currency before the euro (the drachma) but despite having its own currency Greece has been a net importer for practically its entire existence as an independent state (and has definitely been a net importer since the 1960s). If in the period between 1973 (end of Drachma participation in Bretton Woods) and 1984 (start of Drachma participation in the European Currency Unit and presumably in the European Exchange Rate Mechanism I) Greece did not see an improvement in its balance of trade it does not stand to reason that things would be any different if Greece abandoned the euro in favour of a heavily devalued drachma today.

    The thing about having a devalued currency enabling export competitiveness is that consumers have to actually WANT the products being exported. Unfortunately Greece doesn't seem to be making stuff that is in sufficiently high demand to offset its needed imports. Greece is not China (cheap, mass produced goods), nor is it Argentina (beef, agricultural products, fuel based products and metals). So solutions that would work for China and Argentina would not necessarily work for Greece.

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  • @Anatoly Karlin
    @Momus,

    I have to echo Mercouris' comment: "Are you saying that Obama won big or that Romney’s defeat was a foregone conclusion?"

    Here is a graph of the InTrade odds of an Obama win over time.

    These aren't empty-brained pundits, these are RL punters who are putting their money where their mouths are. And as you can see Obama was hovering at the 50% mark throughout H2 2011.

    Back then as I recall there were very real concerns that the withdrawal of stimulus spending would hit the US economy significantly, including tipping it back into recession. I was hardly the only person to entertain that notion, Krugman is about as mainstream as one gets.

    Edit: Incidentally, I did change my mind once the election neared. From August 2008: "Why Obama Will Sooner Win."

    Anatoly, InTrade’s track record on this sort of thing is not good. Punters, well, Las Vegas makes billions of dollars every year off punters.

    I predicted Romney would be the nominee in June 2011 (not hard! who else was there?) and called it for Obama in May 2012 — nothing but an economic collapse or equivalent disaster could have brought Romney in after that point. Romney was facing a moderately popular President running a very competent campaign; his own campaign had gross weaknesses (we saw these in the primaries, and they didn’t improve much in the general), he was saddled with a bunch of unpopular right-wing positions thanks to the long primary season, and he was fighting a demographic headwind.

    (That demographic headwind is only getting worse, BTW. I hesitate to make predictions, but I don’t see anyone in the current crop of GOP pre-candidates who can appeal far beyond the GOP base of white guys.)

    Doug M.

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    • Replies: @Anatoly Karlin
    I disagree about Intrade. Individual punters are inaccurate but as a whole they are extremely accurate.

    Vegas punters are burdened by the house edge. So of course, on average, they would lose.

    My sincere congratulations on your win - I respect that. That said, I really do think more caution should be exercised against rear-view mirror inevitability.

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  • Chavez won. The comprador candidate got sent packing. As, indeed, 80% of the pre-elections polls predicted. I fully expect the usual democratist presstitutes to cry foul in the coming days. Not because the Venezuelan elections were unfair - though they will doubtless be claimed to be so by the organs of imperialist propaganda like the...
  • Odds and ends:

    Chavez didn’t do anything to oil prices. (Unless you count mismanaging the state oil company in such a way as to depress output.)

    The notion that the weak, effeminate West is alarmed by REAL MAN! leaders like Chavez and Putin makes me smile. Of course, I live in Germany, which has hands down the most macho head of state in Europe.

    Soaring crime rates are indeed a problem all across the region, including much of Brazil. So you can’t really pin that on Uncle Hugo Misspent oil wealth, massive corruption, crumbling infrastructure, inflation, intimidation of the judiciary, incoherent foreign policy, overlong speeches… you can reasonably accuse him of all sorts of things. But that, not so much.

    The largest minority in Libya — the Berbers — are much better off today than they were under Qaddafi. Mind you, that’s because they were the most ferocious and aggressive fighters against Qaddafi — he oppressed them for decades, so they hated him more than anyone else. So, during the 2011 civil war, they got lots and lots of arms from the West, because they were the one Libyan group that wasn’t hesitating to use them. They didn’t hand those guns in when the shooting stopped. Nobody’s going to mess with them now.

    WRT Roussef, “middle class” is much more important than “female”. More important still is that she was Lula’s handpicked successor. After a rocky start, the West reconciled itself to Lula and then came to positively love him — if only because he represented a “mainstream”, acceptable alternative to Chavez and friends. (For a fun graphic, check out Brazilian bond prices over the last 12 years. They surged to crazy heights after Lula’s election, because SOCIALISM!!! Then over the next two years they gradually declined until they were lower than before Lula’s election, as bond markets belatedly realized that Lula was somewhere between a European Social Democrat and a New Dealer.) By his last couple of years, Lula was a universally credible elder statesman (at least outside Brazil). So Roussef entered office with a nice little surplus of international political capital.

    Mark Weisbrot is a huge, huge Chavez fanboy. Read him for context, but don’t imagine for a moment you’re getting a balanced view.

    Doug M.

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  • Western liberals, their puppets, and the Arab Spring in a nutshell (and I do mean nut).
  • Based on this video, we’re going to be unlikely best friends! With snuggling!

    Doug M.

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  • The latest US-Russia.org Expert Discussion Panel focuses on whether Russia was correct to expel USAID on the grounds that it interfered in domestic Russian politics to an acceptable degree. Here is my contribution: I have no connection to USAID, or indeed to any American NGO operating in Russia or anywhere else. I do not pretend...
  • @johnUK
    Wikileaks Release USAID Funds Terrorist Groups

    http://www.wikileaks.org/gifiles/releasedate/2012-09-30-17-usaid-funds-terrorist-groups.html

    It’s very weak sauce. One e-mail noting that USAID gives money to Miami Cuban asshole groups. This is unavoidable; it’s a tax that must be paid to certain shibboleths of US politics. (It’s probably even worse right now, with Republican Cuban whackaloon Ileana Ros-Lehtinen running the House committee that oversees USAID funding.) The other is an e-mail with a Florida guy telling the Stratfor guy that, hey, the USAID guy killed in Jordan was CIA.

    The thing about wikileaks is, it follows Sturgeons Law like everything else.

    Doug M.

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  • @Doug M.
    Hi Anatoly,

    I think it made perfect sense from Putin's POV. AFAICT, he wants elections that are just fair enough for him and United Russia to win. So there's no reason to have more than a modest number of election monitors and such.

    As to the stuff like journalist training and support for human rights NGOs, that was likely to be annoying to Putin and his people even if it was "objective" in the sense of training everyone and having no political agenda. If nothing else, there'd be a lot of self-selection in the clientele; you wouldn't get a lot of pro-government types signing up for these types of programs.

    From Putin's POV, the major negative would be annoying the US administration -- which may be why he did this a couple of months before the US presidential election, when neither Clinton nor Obama would have any interested in making it an issue.

    (Although I suspect they wouldn't anyway. Obama's not all that interested in USAID. Much less so than Bush 43, interestingly enough. And there's never been a lot of popular support for USAID. Attacking foreign aid agencies for giving our taxpayers money to ungrateful foreigners has been a popular sport in the US for a long, long time -- even though this is idiotic, because USAID can actually be a fairly cost-effective tool of power politics.)

    Finally, I speculate that Putin might have been sending a signal to friendly countries around the region. USAID has a big footprint in Ukraine and is also present in Belarus. They spend a lot of money in Armenia and Mongolia as well. So there might have been a foreign policy message, too: throw these guys out if they're troublesome, I did it and nothing bad happened.

    Doug M.

    Oh, and: Anatoly, can you send me an e-mail sometime? Your old e-mail addy no longer works, and you haven’t put a new one up on the site anywhere.

    Doug M.

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  • @Ken Macaulay
    Completely disagree with you on this, Anatoly.

    Much of what these various organisations do is to provide legitimacy to various 'opposition' activities, some of which they help create, others which they amplify on a massive scale, & others which they distort from their original purpose into pro-western vehicles.

    A look at the NED's Russia page at first glance seems to be supporting a quite enormous array of worthy causes.
    http://www.ned.org/where-we-work/eurasia/russia

    Looking at it a little deeper, you find almost all of it relates to :- promotion of "Democratic Rights and Liberties'; training & support of activists; monitoring of the Duma & Russian politics; investigating the background of Russian political figures; monitoring human rights abuses; collection and dissemination of information on 'human rights abuses'; de-Stalinization campaigns; & a lot of support to various activists groups in the Caucasus.

    A few examples:
    Perm City Public Charitable Organization "Center for the Support of Democratic Youth Initiative" (Youth "Memorial")
    $30,000
    To educate youth about the ideals of de-Stalinization in Perm, Perm Krai, and the Volga Federal District. Youth Memorial will hold six educational seminars on anti-totalitarianism and historical memory, develop an educational DVD, and redesign its website (www.pmem.ru), which will provide both a history of Stalin-era repression and information on Youth Memorial's planned activities. Youth Memorial will also hold a summer camp for seminar participants with non-Endowment funds.
    --
    People in Need
    $55,190
    To continue assisting Russian human rights organizations by strengthening their advocacy capacity. PIN will further develop the expertise of alumni from last year's project by bringing four of the best participants to take part in the One World International Human Rights Documentary Film Festival in Prague in March 2011. PIN will also organize a five-day training program on video advocacy for 12 activists from leading Russian human rights NGOs...
    ---
    Norwegian Helsinki Committee
    $52,000
    To establish the Natalia Estemirova Documentation Center, which will function as a central repository for information documenting human rights violations in the North Caucasus. The Center will collect, catalogue, and disseminate information received from its eight official partners and other sources working on human rights issues in the North Caucasus and throughout Russia. Endowment funds will be used to support the Center's information collection and dissemination activities.


    The NED & USAID are the tip of the iceberg...

    Some of the other major organisations that are involved in funding the various 'activist' organisations promoting 'Democracy & Human Rights', either directly in Russia or directly connected to organisations that are doing so, are:-
    The International Republican Institute (IRI), the Soros Foundation, The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, the International Crisis Group, The Brookings Institute, the Council on Foreign Relations, Chatham House, as well as a large array of dodgy Northern European cold-war era think-tanks & oligarch funded vehicles.

    These 'activists' tend to float freely between these various organisations, where, in very much the same fashion as the Western Russia correspondants club, each others 'cause' or story gets amplified as it passes down the line - cut & paste with a little embellishment along the way.

    But the key link & cornerstone of their 'legitimacy' is USAID & the NED.

    ---

    The funding behind these various organisations is pretty much the same crowd behind the recent Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership legislation, which should say everything you need to know about their agenda, as well as their sincerity in promoting 'human rights & democracy':

    National Endowment Board of Directors
    http://ned.org/about/board/

    The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
    http://carnegieendowment.org/about/index.cfm?fa=funding

    The Brookings Institute
    http://www.brookings.edu/about/leadership/trustees

    Council on Foreign Relations Board of Directors
    http://www.cfr.org/about/people/board_of_directors.html

    The Soros Foundation
    Run by hedge-fund manager George Soros with an estimated US$25 billion in assets & open only to the super rich, convicted inside trader Soros's defence in the insider trading case essentially came down to how could such an established champion of 'human rights' be guilty - it was obviously a mistake & the laws weren't clear enough. That time it didn't work, but numerous cases & investigations have been squashed for this reason. He is a contender for the world's largest short seller in stocks & currencies and is likely the worlds largest mover of 'unregulated capital' - or what is more generally known as money laundering for those who don't have an enormous army of lawyers, lobbyists, high level government & financial connections.
    http://www.breitbart.com/Big-Government/2012/03/27/soros-loses-insider-trading-conviction-appeal
    http://www.aim.org/special-report/the-hidden-soros-agenda-drugs-money-the-media-and-political-power/ (right wing site but has some solid info)


    The Land Destroyer blogspot is also well worth checking out on the subject.

    Tony Cartalucci & Eric Draitser tend to be in the conspiracy end of things, but they do some extremely impressive research into the financing behind these various organisations:
    http://landdestroyer.blogspot.com.au/2011/11/ned-freedom-house-are-run-by.html
    http://landdestroyer.blogspot.com.au/2011/03/naming-names-your-real-government.html

    Wall Street Vs. Russia
    Wall Street's poorly hidden, poorly coordinated agenda in Russia. Who is behind it?
    by Tony Cartalucci
    http://landdestroyer.blogspot.com.au/2011/12/wall-street-vs-russia.html
    http://landdestroyer.blogspot.com.au/#uds-search-results

    Russian "Punkers" Get 2 Years Jail for US State Department Stunt
    "Pussy Riot's" support campaign is spearheaded by Oksana Chelysheva of the US State Department-funded "Russian-Chechen Friendship Society," a clearing house for Chechen terrorist propaganda.
    http://landdestroyer.blogspot.com.au/2012/08/russian-punkers-get-2-years-jail-for-us.html

    Also should be noted that Alex Goldfarb, head of Boris Berezovsky's Civil Liberties Fund & author of Litvinenko's famous deathbed confession:-
    "set up Pussy Riot’s legal fund in the United States soon after their arrest in March. He raised about $20,000 in a PayPal account, and has now passed on the fund to a California-based charity, the Voice Project, which will continue collecting funds on Pussy Riot’s behalf.
    http://www.wired.com/underwire/2012/08/pussy-riot-trial-a-crystal-ball-into-russias-political-problems-say-russian-expats/

    Pass it down the line, & embellish along the way...

    “they amplify on a massive scale”

    Quick exercise for the student.

    1) Find USAID’s budget for Russia for FY 2011. (hint: it’s online and easily searchable.)

    2) You’ll find that it’s divided among a lot of categories. You could go through the categories and say “this is going to the opposition, maybe this is, probably this too”. But that would get complicated. Let’s keep it simple: we’ll take out a few categories, and you can have everything else.

    So, subtract the following categories:

    – health (in Russia, that’s mostly been AIDS work with gays and drug addicts… and let me add that USAID was one of the first organizations to note that Russia was not having an AIDS epidemic outside of a few high-risk groups)

    – agriculture (small)

    – infrastructure (small)

    – environmental

    – counter-narcotics

    – private sector competitiveness (mostly working with business groups and exporters)

    – disaster readiness

    Everything else, you can have — it’s all going to opposition groups!

    3) Now take the remaining budget. How big is it? Divide it by the population of Russia. How much per Russian citizen is it? (Hint: if you’re guessing “a dollar or so”? you’re much, much too high.)

    USAID Russia wasn’t in the top 20 countries for USAID spending. In fact, it barely broke the top 50. Russia got about 1/25th as much USAID money per capita as Tanzania, or about 1/10th as much per capita as Ethiopia.

    Doug M.

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  • @Anatoly Karlin
    That is interesting Doug, thank you for your informed perspective.

    Out of curiosity, what is your perspective on Russia shoving USAID out of the door? Is it somewhat analogous to what I write in this article (from a perspective that is devoid of any personal experiences with them unlike yours)?

    Hi Anatoly,

    I think it made perfect sense from Putin’s POV. AFAICT, he wants elections that are just fair enough for him and United Russia to win. So there’s no reason to have more than a modest number of election monitors and such.

    As to the stuff like journalist training and support for human rights NGOs, that was likely to be annoying to Putin and his people even if it was “objective” in the sense of training everyone and having no political agenda. If nothing else, there’d be a lot of self-selection in the clientele; you wouldn’t get a lot of pro-government types signing up for these types of programs.

    From Putin’s POV, the major negative would be annoying the US administration — which may be why he did this a couple of months before the US presidential election, when neither Clinton nor Obama would have any interested in making it an issue.

    (Although I suspect they wouldn’t anyway. Obama’s not all that interested in USAID. Much less so than Bush 43, interestingly enough. And there’s never been a lot of popular support for USAID. Attacking foreign aid agencies for giving our taxpayers money to ungrateful foreigners has been a popular sport in the US for a long, long time — even though this is idiotic, because USAID can actually be a fairly cost-effective tool of power politics.)

    Finally, I speculate that Putin might have been sending a signal to friendly countries around the region. USAID has a big footprint in Ukraine and is also present in Belarus. They spend a lot of money in Armenia and Mongolia as well. So there might have been a foreign policy message, too: throw these guys out if they’re troublesome, I did it and nothing bad happened.

    Doug M.

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    • Replies: @Doug M.
    Oh, and: Anatoly, can you send me an e-mail sometime? Your old e-mail addy no longer works, and you haven't put a new one up on the site anywhere.


    Doug M.

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  • Wow, some whackadoodle stuff upthread. Just a note in passing: “Kurir” is not a reliable source, and neither is de-construct — one is a tabloid that famously mixes real news with fantasy, and the other is a crazy-ass Serb nationalist site.

    Anyway, a word on USAID. USAID was founded in 1961 by President Kennedy, and very quickly became famous as a front for US spies. During the Vietnam period, in particular many — maybe most — USAID “employees” and “contractors” in Southeast Asia were really CIA. By the early 1970s this was an open secret, and people all over the world assumed (often correctly) that USAID guys were really agents.

    However, by 1977 or so this was leading to some really bad results. One, because everyone knew about it, USAID was no longer a very effective cover. Two, the CIA connections were making it impossible for USAID to actually do real foreign aid work — nobody would take them seriously. And three, legitimate USAID workers were starting to get stalked, wiretapped, blackmailed, threatened, kidnapped, and in a few cases even killed.

    So President Carter — remember him? — wrote an executive order saying that the CIA and other intelligence agencies had to back the fuck off. Basically, they’re not allowed to use USAID as cover without direct intervention and approval from the highest level: President, SecState, or National Security Advisor. (Jimmy Carter was always doing sensible, liberal, good-government stuff like that. It’s one reason he’s still despised and hated today.)

    This is not to say that it never, ever happens. But it’s really rare. I’ve been in and out of the USAID world for over a decade now, and in all that time I’ve seen one guy — out of hundreds — who I thought smelled funny. (To be fair, that was in Serbia. But if he was CIA, he wasn’t Prime Minister-killing type CIA. More like funneling money to OTPOR and similar opposition groups type CIA.)

    So I think it’s extremely unlikely that there were actual “foreign agents” in USAID Moscow. Not only would it be violating US law, but it would also be fucking stupid. I could totally see the Bush administration being that kind of stupid — but Obama and Clinton? Seems unlikely.

    BTW, USAID is most certainly a tool of US foreign policy; it doesn’t even claim to be an unbiased aid agency. Bush 43 put them under the control of State, because USAID had a habit of doing stuff that annoyed State — like, State would be trying to make friends with the President-for-Life of Carjackistan, while USAID would be giving training to opposition groups. Or, on the other hand, State would be trying to put pressure on the President and USAID would open a new clinic and let him get a photo-op cutting the ribbon. A lot of former Peace Corps types end up in USAID, so the mentality is very different from State’s.

    Doug M.

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    • Replies: @Anatoly Karlin
    That is interesting Doug, thank you for your informed perspective.

    Out of curiosity, what is your perspective on Russia shoving USAID out of the door? Is it somewhat analogous to what I write in this article (from a perspective that is devoid of any personal experiences with them unlike yours)?

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  • Despite the unremitting hostility of its Russian neighbor, which crescendoed in a military occupation of a chunk of its territories, plucky Georgia's commitment to reform and democratic values will ensure its rapid development into a "booming Western-style economy." Under its charismatic Western-trained President, Saakashvili, it has rooted out corruption, ushered in untold prosperity and freedoms,...
  • @Anatoly Karlin
    Viktor Orbán too was a certified dissident. The Kaczyńskis. I can understand the Russophobia, but what is it with most of them turning into raging nationalists and authoritarians once they come to power?

    Some did, some didn’t. Havel did okay. Ibrahim Rugova was stubborn, vain, and not very bright but he wasn’t any sort of authoritarian and he was about as close to a moderate non-nationalist as you could find in Kosovo. (Not very close, fair enough.)

    In Bulgaria, Zhelyu Zhelev — intellectual, writer, and dissident who had spent most of the 1980s under house arrest — became Bulgaria’s first post-Communist President. He served two terms, and by all accounts did a perfectly decent job. No cult of personality, no authoritarianism, not even especially corrupt. Went into a quiet retirement and works for the World Justice Project.

    Oh, and everyone has forgotten it, but Germany’s current President — Joachim Gauck — was a dissident in East Germany, back in the day. His father was a Gulag survivor, which would entitle him to be a raving Russophobe, but no — he’s a sensible, likable guy, politically moderate by German standards (which puts him well to the left of almost anyone in the US, of course), and with no particular biases against any nation as far as can be seen. — Well, he is still pretty anti-Communist, but that’s pretty understandable. Anyway, neither a raging nationalist nor an authoritarian.

    Viktor Orban… well, jackass nationalism was one way to express dissidence, and vice versa. So the two got grafted together, and could only slowly be untangled. Same with Gamsakhurdia.

    But really, the key variable is the political system. Look at Yugoslavia. Milosevic was a party apparatchik, Tudjman an army officer who had danced right along the edge of acceptable (nationalist) dissidence, and Izetbegovic was an outright dissident. Once in power, all three turned into raving assholes.

    Doug M.

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  • @Alexander Mercouris
    Dear Yalensis,

    I think another mistake Stalin made was in giving Nagorno Karabakh to Azerbaijan. The reason this happened was twofold. First the Red Army when it advanced through the Transcaucasus did so from Baku. The result is that it because it occupied Nagorno Karabakh before it reached Armenia, Nagorno Karabakh was "temporarily" attached for administrative purposes to Baku instead of Yerevan. The Bolsheviks promised the Armenians that Nagorno Karabakh would be transferred to Armenia but this never happened because of opposition from Kemal Attaturk's government in Turkey with which the Soviets were at that time in de facto alliance, which did not want a strong Armenia even within Soviet borders.

    The Armenians never reconciled themselves to the separation of Nagorno Karabakh and I gather that shortly before he died Stalin decided to revisit the question and appointed Georgi Malenkov to investigate the matter. However Stalin died before the matter was decided and no subsequent Soviet leader had the authority to force through the change in the face of Azerbaijan's opposition.

    Alexander,

    I’m not sure if this is correct. The Red Army occupied and conquered Azerbaijan in April/May 1920. They then took Armenia seven months later, in November and early December of that year. The Armenian campaign was nearly bloodless and was over in a single week, so I don’t think it’s very significant that the advance took place through Nagorno.

    Also, the independent Armenians had been vigorously trying to ethnically cleanse the Azeris out of Armenian regions in 1919-20. The campaign in Nagorno got stopped early because the British (during their very brief period of influencing affairs in the southern Caucasus) had ordered General Andranik to cut it out. Andranik, for complex reasons of internal Armenian politics, did not enjoy the support of the Armenian government in Yerevan, even though he had just finished a brisk bout of ethnic cleansing in Zangezur (what’s now southern Armenia). So he had to call it off and march away, leaving the Azeris unslaughtered. This is why a large Azeri minority remained in Nagorno-Karabakh for another 75 years. But the Armenians weren’t too happy about it. So the initial assignment of the province to Azerbaijan may simply have been because assigning it to Armenia would have resulted in a bloodbath as soon as the Soviet authorities were distracted.

    Doug M.

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    • Replies: @Alexander Mercouris
    Dear Doug,

    You must discuss it all with Bert Vaux one day. As I said he is the expert on Armenia not me. As with all these questions there is obviously bitter dispute but I do not think your account and mine actually contradict each other.

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  • @Doug M.
    Gamsakhurdia was not only a literary figure himself -- he was the son of one of Georgia's greatest 20th century writers. As a result, he had a bad case of Great Man's Son Syndrome.

    Gamsakhurdia was also a dissident, in that Brezhnev-era literary / nationalist dissident sort of way. As a teenager, he got thrown in a Soviet psychiatric ward for a while; as an adult, he did some time in jail; in both cases, Daddy's influence probably saved him from more serious consequences. Meanwhile he built a modest career as a writer and translator while constantly, endlessly feuding with other Georgian literary figures. It's a very late Soviet kind of biography.

    A lot of literary figures ended up becoming prominent in the first generation of post-Soviet leaders.

    [comment cut off]

    Some literary figures turned out OK (Vaclav Havel) while some were mediocre (Rugova down in Kosovo). Gamsakhurdia had all the worst qualities of a provincial intellectual and none of the redeeming ones.

    Doug M.

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  • @Alexander Mercouris
    Dear Doug,

    Thanks for this. It corroborates what Bert Vaux told me.

    Am I right in thinking by the way that Gamsakhurdia was also something of a literary figure, possibly a writer or a critic? I say this because there is so much about modern Georgia that reminds me of Greece where reverence for the national literature (which is actually very fine both in its ancient and modern form) far too easily morphs into xenophobia and hypernationalism.

    Gamsakhurdia was not only a literary figure himself — he was the son of one of Georgia’s greatest 20th century writers. As a result, he had a bad case of Great Man’s Son Syndrome.

    Gamsakhurdia was also a dissident, in that Brezhnev-era literary / nationalist dissident sort of way. As a teenager, he got thrown in a Soviet psychiatric ward for a while; as an adult, he did some time in jail; in both cases, Daddy’s influence probably saved him from more serious consequences. Meanwhile he built a modest career as a writer and translator while constantly, endlessly feuding with other Georgian literary figures. It’s a very late Soviet kind of biography.

    A lot of literary figures ended up becoming prominent in the first generation of post-Soviet leaders.

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    [comment cut off]

    Some literary figures turned out OK (Vaclav Havel) while some were mediocre (Rugova down in Kosovo). Gamsakhurdia had all the worst qualities of a provincial intellectual and none of the redeeming ones.

    Doug M.

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  • I wrote something about this back in 2008. Hang on a sec… ah, here we go.

    “Saakashvili was young, energetic, and started off making all the right moves. Does anyone remember when he fired all the traffic cops? That was brilliant. And then there was the whole Ajaria thing. Hardly anyone has mentioned it, but Saakashvili managed to finesse one separatist region back into the fold without bloodshed. And he made a major dent in corruption — which is to say, it dropped from “universal and crippling” to “nearly universal and a huge problem”. And he said all the right things about liberalization and modernization and planting the seeds of European values in the stony soil of the Caucasus.

    “But then…

    “The first straw in the wind — the first thing that made me say ‘uh-oh’ — was his treatment of the Armenian minority. There are two or three hundred thousand Armenians in Georgia, and they’ve been there since forever. They’re not very assimilated, but they are very well integrated — bilingual, tend to be educated and employed, don’t make a lot of problems. They’re no sort of threat to the state: they have no separatist ambitions (for one thing, they’re too geographically dispersed), and Armenia has made it clear that it wouldn’t support anything like that. They did have some modest and negotiable requests: more autonomy, Armenian-language schools, the usual minority stuff.

    “Well: Saakashvili just dumped on them. Gave them nothing. Smacked down their requests — treated them as borderline treasonable — and tightened the screws on small but symbolically important stuff like bilingual testimony in court, double citizenship, and the use of the Armenian alphabet in public. Basically made it clear that he wanted them to assimilate or get the hell out to Armenia.

    “That was the first thing. The second thing had zero practical impact but, for me was a huge red flag. Combined with the treatment of the Armenians, it’s what made me say “okay, wait a minute, I think there’s a problem here”.

    “The second thing was when Saakashvili rehabilitated Gamsakhurdia as a national hero. Which is the official line today: Gamsakhurdia was the noble, misunderstood father of free Georgia. Sure, he made mistakes, but his intentions were always the best! And it was evil outside (Russian) influences that brought him down.”

    – Context: this was part of an article discussing Gamsakhurdia, who I think wins the hotly contested prize for “most incompetent first generation post-Soviet leader”. Seriously: Gamsakhurdia was such a huge, horrible, and obvious disaster for Georgia that any attempt to rehabilitate him was a huge sign that Something Was Very Wrong. And this came on top of the Armenian stuff, which suggested either a very narrow and rigid mind at work (bad) or someone who felt threatened very easily (worse). In retrospect, it looks like both were true. Alas for poor Georgia, a perfectly nice country!

    Doug M.

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    • Replies: @Alexander Mercouris
    Dear Doug,

    Thanks for this. It corroborates what Bert Vaux told me.

    Am I right in thinking by the way that Gamsakhurdia was also something of a literary figure, possibly a writer or a critic? I say this because there is so much about modern Georgia that reminds me of Greece where reverence for the national literature (which is actually very fine both in its ancient and modern form) far too easily morphs into xenophobia and hypernationalism.

    , @Anatoly Karlin
    And he made a major dent in corruption — which is to say, it dropped from “universal and crippling” to “nearly universal and a huge problem”.

    I'm not sure that's a valid characterization.

    Background: Ages ago, I was under the vague impression that Georgia was very corrupt, more so than Russia itself. (That's an old general Russian stereotype of Georgia, and almost certainly inaccurate). So back then I'd have agreed with you. Obviously when I got access to concrete data I changed my mind.

    A look through TI's Corruption Barometer data would indicate that the percentage of Georgians giving bribes in 2004 was 6%, 7% in 2005, which is very low by both CEE and developing country standards, and at First World levels of 2% in 2009 and 3% in 2010. For comparison, Russia and the more corrupt CEE countries like Hungary or Romania typically range in the 20%'s; 18% in Greece, 13% in Italy, 5% in the US, 1% in the UK.

    These stats indicate to me that despite its poverty, for whatever reason corruption, or at least petty corruption, was never a major issue in Georgia like it is in virtually all its neighbors. I don't know why but there it is. The already very low figures in 2004, before Saakashvili had a chance to do anything, implies that the petty level corruption problem was already mostly solved under Shevardnadze, if it had ever been an issue in the first place. So what it implies actually happened is that corruption went from being a minor annoyance to not even that.

    Granted, the Corruption Barometer doesn't measure elite level corruption, but estimating that is all guesswork and supposition. I.e., unreliable. I would imagine high level corruption is in any case correlated with petty, as stealing a lot would be harder to get away with in an essentially honest society.

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  • @Anatoly Karlin
    I got my historical GDP figures from Angus Maddison (1990 International Geary-Khamis dollars).

    In 1990, Armenia was at $6066, Georgia at $7616. (No national figures for 1989, but total USSR economy declined by 2% in 1989, so I used that for all nations for that year). Armenia reached a trough in 1993 at $2979; Georgia reached a trough in 1994 at $2222. Armenia overtook its Soviet-era peak in 2003; Georgia was still below its Soviet-era peak at $5984 by 2008. Data for growth for the past three years was taken from the IMF and applied to each country.

    (For comparison, Russia started with $7779 in 1990, troughed at $4475 in 1998, and recovered to $9111 by 2008).

    I find these figures credible. There is a stereotype that Georgians enjoyed well above average living standards in the USSR, and when both Putin and a Georgian prof writing for a Russian liberal newspaper agree on that, there probably isn't much room for argument.

    My figures are using 1995 dollars and a nominal exchange rate (which is why they’re like half the size of yours, I expect). They’re also for 1987, which could explain part of the discrepancy — by 1990 Armenia had already been hit by the the earthquake. I don’t think mutual ethnic cleansing between them and Azerbaijan had really hit high gear yet, though, so refugees shouldn’t have been a major issue.

    My figures show a 6% difference; yours show a 25% difference. Did the earthquake really whack 15% off Armenia’s economy? Hm,

    Also, don’t forget that figures for Georgia are including South Ossetia and Abkhazia. South Osettia’s contribution to the Georgian SSR’s economy was pretty minimal, but Abkhazia’s was significant.

    Doug M.

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  • @Alexander Mercouris
    Dear Doug,

    I am not an expert on Armenia but a close acquaintance of mine, Bert Vaux who is a linguist at King's College in Cambridge and who is one of this country's top Armenian experts, does. He travels to Armenia on a very regular basis and knows the language and the people well. He is admittedly a linguist not an economist but I trust his impressions.

    I think I do not misrepresent his views, which are that Georgia was a much richer republic with a much higher standard of living than was Armenia when they were both part of the USSR. If the weight of Armenia's economy was more heavily tilted to heavy industry that was more a reflection of its much poorer agricultural economy caused by poorer soils and much harsher weather. Also it seems that Georgia unlike Armenia had more sophisticated industries covering such fields as aircraft production (MiG21s and SU25s were built there) and shipbuilding (eg. hydrofoil construction). Bert Vaux would I think also take issue with your view that Armenia had a better educational system than Georgia. The best technical higher education institutions in the Transcaucasus in the Soviet period were anyway not in Tbilisi or Yerevan but in Baku. For what it's worth I would have thought that in so far as Armenia had a heavy and presumably capital and labour intensive industrial basis that would tend to make economic recovery in conditions of the USSR's fragmentation more difficult rather than less.

    One comment you make where I think Bert Vaux would certainly take issue with you is in your view that the Nagorno Karabakh conflict has been less traumatic for Armenia than was the conflict over Abkhazia and South Ossetia for Georgia. Bert Vaux has frequently travelled to Nagorno Karabakh and has described to me a community under virtual military siege. Unlike Georgia Armenia is landlocked and is surrounded on all sides by hostile states (Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey) and constantly feels itself threatened by countries that are militarily much more powerful than itself. Like Georgia it has also had to absorb large numbers of refugees from Azerbaijan. Armenia also finds itself in a state of virtual economic blockade and unlike Georgia it is haunted by memories of the Armenian genocide of the beginning of the twentieth century which its most powerful potential enemy Turkey perpetrated but does not acknowledge.

    As for the benefits Armenia obtains from the Armenian diaspora, these of course do exist but it is important to remember that there is also a sizeable Georgian diaspora (including by the way in Russia). Also is financial support for Armenia from the diaspora really greater than the very substantial financial support Georgia gets from the EU and the US?

    Lastly, on a comment of John's, Bert Vaux has complained at length to me that Saakashvili follows strongly discriminatory policies in Georgia against Armenians and this may fit in with John's comments about Saakashvili's closure of minority language schools.

    Alex, I would not call myself an “Armenia expert” — but I did live in Armenia for two years, 2006-2008.

    “Georgia was a much richer republic with a much higher standard of living than was Armenia when they were both part of the USSR.” — no, not really. According to the Statistical Yearbook of the USSR (Goskomstat — remember them?), in the last years of the USSR (1987-90) the two republics had almost identical income levels: $2,168 for Armenia, and $2,295 for Georgia. Georgia was about 6% richer, which is noticeable but not ‘a much higher standard of living’.

    The economies of the two countries were quite different in structure. Armenia had 20% of its population working in agriculture, 55% working in industry, and had an urbanization level of 64%. The comparable numbers for Georgia were 28% in agriculture, 42% in industry, and 51% urbanization. Georgia did have some heavy industry, but the biggest chunks of industry there were light industry and agricultural processing plants.

    Better educational system != better education at the tertiary level; Armenians were one of the most mobile ethnicities in the fUSSR, and tens of thousands of them went to school in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Tbilisi, and, yes, even Baku.

    I’ve been to Nagorno-Karabakh, too, and it is indeed in a state of virtual siege. But most of Armenia is not N-K.

    More in a day or two if time allows –

    Doug M.

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    • Replies: @Alexander Mercouris
    Dear Doug,

    I obviously failed to explain myself properly. I am not disputing that Armenia had a more heavily industrialised economy than Georgia in the Soviet period. What I don't follow is why this would better equip Armenia than Georgia for the challenge of the post Soviet world? Intuitively I would have thought the contrary. I find it difficult for example to imagine Armenia as a competitive producer of heavy industrial goods. In the closed conditions of the Soviet planned economy there might for example be a demand for Armenian made chemicals or machine tools but who would want to source their chemicals or machine tools from Armenia today?

    Incidentally I realise that in one respect I misread your original comment for which apologies. You were not I think comparing the Armenian and Georgian educational systems in Soviet times so much as individual Armenian educational achievement as against Georgian. On this point doubtless you are correct and for what it's worth I also have the impression (and it is only an impression) that Armenians put a higher emphasis on scientific and technical education than did Georgians. Certainly most Georgians I have heard of have tended to make their mark in the arts rather than the sciences. No doubt the better scientific and technical education amongst Armenians partly explains their relatively greater economic success but again I am not sure why that invalidates the comparison Anatoly is making between the two countries? Also it is depressing in that case that according to Anatoly student numbers in Georgia have fallen.

    PS: Are you sure that Georgian GDP per capita was only 6% higher than Armenian in the last two years of the USSR? If I have read Anatoly's article correctly he is saying that today Georgian and Armenian GDP per capita is about the same but that Armenia has surpassed its Soviet peak whilst Georgia is still 20% below it. This would suggest that Georgia was substantially richer than Armenia in the Soviet period. Could a possible explanation be that from 1987 the political and economic situation in Armenia was already depressed as the country became increasingly unstable in part because of the Nagorno Karabakh crisis but also because of the effect of the earthquake.

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  • Not to threadjack, but Armenia is probably not that good a comparandum.

    First, Armenia’s economy has always been very different from Georgia’s; Soviet policy was to keep Georgia (along with Moldova) an agricultural republic, while Armenia received massive investment in heavy industry. By the 1980s Armenia was, per capita, the most industrialized republic in the USSR. This set it up for a disastrous fall in the 1990s — the combination of war and rapid deindustrialization cut real incomes by well over 50% — but it also meant that, long term, Armenia inherited various endowments that have served it well. The most obvious is education: Not only were Armenians overall much better educated than Georgians, their educational attainments tended to be concentrated in stuff like science and engineering. Armenia also inherited an impressive (if much decayed) industrial infrastructure — not just factories but rail spurs, pipelines, power plants, you name it.

    Second, Armenia has benefited from a regular cycling of gastarbeiter back and forth to more developed countries. I’ve mentioned this before, yes? Yerevan is full of thirtysomething accountants, managers, and engineers who spent three or five or ten years abroad and then returned home with money, skills, and experience. This happens in Georgia as well, but much less — partly because Georgians can’t easily be guestworkers in Russia, but mostly because Armenians have always been much more mobile in this way.

    Third, Armenia’s war, while very serious, was less traumatic and destructive than Georgia’s loss of Abkhazia. Abkhazia had been integrated into the Georgian economy and was a major revenue source for both the Soviet republic and the new Georgian nation; not only was it the most important center of tourism in the region, but it also produced almost half of Georgia’s electricity from the Inguri Dam. (This is why Georgia had a decade of shortages and rolling blackouts, until an agreement was reached to restore the dam to full operation and divide its output.) Furthemore, the end of the war sent nearly a quarter of a million ethnic Georgian refugees into Georgia, imposing a massive burden on Georgia’s economy. (The 2008 war sent another wave, in the middle five figures, out of Ossetia and the Gali region of Abkhazia.) Since Armenia won its war, it never had any comparable problems with Nagorno-Karabakh.

    Fourth — and probably most important — Armenia has the diaspora. It is impossible to overstate the importance of this. The diaspora has brought billions of dollars of investment back to Armenia, and has enabled it to become a (relatively) successful export economy. Both Armenians and their rivals the Azeris will say “Azerbaijan has oil, but Armenia has the diaspora.” They don’t mean it the same way — the Azeris think that France and the US Congress are controlled by the global Armenian conspiracy — but the underlying point is valid. An Armenia without the diaspora would be much poorer. (And maybe smaller too — it’s an open question whether they’d still be holding onto N-K.)

    So while I think you have the right idea, I don’t think Armenia is the place to look.

    Where then? Well, nothing in the fUSSR was very close to Georgia, but I’d argue that the closest was probably Moldova — another agricultural republic that saw war and territorial loss in the 1990s. It’s far from a perfect comparison; Moldova (especially the part outside Transnistria) was much more agricultural, and its war was much less destructive.

    This comparison does make Georgia look better, because Moldova’s post-Soviet experience has been, until quite recently, pretty dismal. If it helps, I would lay about half that difference at the feet of Vladimir Voronin:

    http://fistfulofeuros.net/afoe/moldova-dont-let-the-door-hit-you-vladimir/

    Which reminds me that I did a piece on Georgia too, back when:

    http://fistfulofeuros.net/afoe/georgia-bulgaria-and-the-second-balkan-war/

    I note that the Second Balkan War didn’t do for Tsar Ferdinand; it took WWI to get rid of him. So we may be stuck with Saakashvili for a while to come.

    Doug M.

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  • The Press Freedom Index issues by Reporters Without Borders is a good starting point for assessing journalistic freedoms in global comparative perspective. However, much like all attempts to measure democracy or Transparency International's assessment of corruption perception, their methodology relies on tallying a number of intangibles that cannot be objectively estimated: Censorship, self-censorship, legal framework,...
  • Some possible complicating factors.

    One, there’s the Singapore model, whereby pesky journalists are neither arrested nor killed but simply slapped with libel suits and bankrupted.

    Two, in authoritarian regimes where most or all media outlets are state-owned, a journalist who steps out of line can simply be fired. I’d venture a guess that this may account for places like Algeria and Cuba scoring so high — no working journalists are ever arrested there, because as soon as they make trouble they cease to be a working journalist. This would to some extent cover regimes like Armenia as well. The media in Armenia are not state-owned as such, but there is very tight state control over the major media outlets. Journalists who cross certain lines get disciplined or demoted, or lose their jobs.

    You could argue that, well, losing your job is unfortunate but this index doesn’t measure press freedom — just journalistic security. However, the two can’t easily be disentangled, because a journalist who is sufficiently obnoxious may be first fired, and then arrested or otherwise harassed.

    Three, you’re also missing journalists who are driven out of the country, or kept under house arrest or other forms of confinement without formally being charged. For instance, you only count “1″ arrested journalist in Belarus. I’m guessing that doesn’t include Natalia Radzina (held without trial for months, forced to flee abroad in 2011, currently a refugee granted asylum status in the Netherlands and Lithuania), or Irina Khalip (under house arrest after receiving a two-year suspended sentence). It may also be missing Yauhen Vaskovich (currently in the third year of a seven-year term) because he was convicted for “arson”. Vaskovich’s actual crimes included being a pacifist, a left-anarchist, a political dissident, a non-Orthodox Christian and an ethnic Lithuanian — all things that are anathema to the Lukashenko regime, and enough to get him sentenced to solitary confinement in the country’s maximum security prison.

    Fourth, the index doesn’t capture a hundred lesser forms of harassment, from sudden tax audits to vandalism and the ever popular threats and beatings. Admonitory beatings are especially popular across the former Communist world; in Romania, for instance, physical attacks on journalists by “unknown persons” are depressingly common, and in Montenegro they’re practically a fact of life.

    So while this is a neat idea, the methodological problems are pretty overwhelming.

    Doug M.

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    • Replies: @Anatoly Karlin
    I largely agree with this critique, Doug.

    I realize that this index is pretty bad at measuring press freedom (except in the most egregious cases; it's pretty clear that that a very, very low score here translates into a certain lack of journalistic freedoms). The Cuba, Singapore, etc. examples all confirm the point.

    That said, in regards to places like Armenia, when precisely do "certain lines" become concrete grounds for saying that a country is suppressing press freedom? To take an example, there are many journalists in the US who have been fired for criticism of Israel that most definitely had nothing to do with anti-Semitism. That is because this is a taboo topic in much of the US mainstream media. There are likewise certain lines in Israel itself. I really don't know anything about journalism in Armenia, but what makes the situation there worse than in the US or Israel?

    I certainly agree that the Index is limited in that it only considers the most egregious violations, for the simple reason things like harassing phone calls or beatings aren't systemically tracked. That said, I don't think this Index is entirely useless, because all these do, after all, like on a continuum. If there's "only"one or two journalist beatings in a fairly populous country every few years, then one can confidently conclude it is fairly secure for journalists; if, on the other hand, there are several murders per year (e.g. Russia before 2009, or Mexico in the past few years), then one can confidently extrapolate that for every recorded murder there are several beatings and maybe hundreds of threats and harassment actions.

    The methodological problems are very severe, but so far as I know, this is the only journalistic freedom / security index to date that is based on concrete, statistical data (as opposed to expert assessments). In that sense I hope it's better than nothing.

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  • In the aftermath of the 2011 Duma elections, the Russian blogosphere was abuzz with allegations of electoral fraud. Many of these were anecdotal or purely rhetorical in nature; some were more concrete, but variegated or ambiguous. A prime example of these were opinion polls and exit polls, which variably supported and contradicted the Kremlin's claims...
  • Anatoly, say we go with ~5%. We both agree that’s plausible.

    A 5% shift in the popular vote would have switched the results in two of the last three US presidential elections. A 5% shift in the last French presidential election would have made Segolene Royal the President of France instead of Sarkozy. A 5% shift in the last British general election, and Gordon Brown would still just barely be Prime Minister. And Tzipi Livni would be Prime Minister of Israel.

    It’s not a negligible number.

    Doug M.

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    • Replies: @alexander mercouris
    Dear Doug,

    It is not a negligible number but it would still have left the government in comfortable overall control of the Duma since in any critical division it can rely on the support of the Liberal Democrats.

    Please also remember that Russia is a Presidential not a parliamentary republic and these were the parliamentary not the Presidential elections. The elections to which you refer are elections that decided the government. That was not the issue in the parliamentary elections Russia has just had. If the results of the Presidential elections in March are very close (which incidentally I strongly doubt) then the issue of fraud will become a serious one though how serious will I suspect largely depend on who comes second.

    By the way I would just say that I actually want Russia to evolve towards a more parliamentary system in course of time.

    , @Hunter
    I would agree it is not negligible but comparing Russia's Duma elections which use proportional representation to the British Parliamentary elections which use first-past-the-post is comparing apples and oranges. The same would apply for the second round of the French Presidential election where there were only 2 candidates (instead of over 5 "candidate" parties) as in the Duma election and indeed to the US presidential election where there are effectively only 2 candidates and the voting system is not only not proportional representation but in many cases is not even direct voting.

    Actually a 5% shift in the last British general elections could have made no difference depending on how the 5% shift was distributed across constituencies. In places where Labour won handily (for instance in East Ham) you could have given the Conservatives and Liberals thousands of extra votes each and they still wouldn't have won in those places and in some places would still have had less votes combined than Labour. The same is true of some Conservative strongholds (like Newbury).

    For the French presidential elections, a 5% shift in the second round would have made Royal president, but in the first round it would actually have made no difference as both Sarkozy and Royal would have made it to the second round unless the 5% shift went to Bayrou or something.

    Broadly speaking the election results showed the following parties getting the support they broadly had with United Russia having the most support followed by the communists and with Fair Russia breaking past Zhirinovsky's bloc for the first time to become the third most popular party. I don't believe that the 5% difference would make the elections and Duma illegitimate provided that investigations are carried out into allegations of fraud and that corrective measures are taken whenever possible (invalidating fake ballots, firing officials found to have been involved and then redistributing the seats based on recounts after the corrective measures). Whether or not an election and the resulting legislature are considered legitimate or not is subjective. In an election where you had 4 parties (A-D) with party A as the governing party but polling 30% support with party B polling 51% support but the actual election shows party A getting 50.9% and party B getting 31% with evidence of dead voters casting ballots and ballots being stuffed then the election is clearly illegitimate and the parliament is clearly illegal. Everybody would agree to that. But as the scenarios get less blatantly false then attitudes towards the election and parliament will naturally change. By the time you reach 1-5% you get to the realm where some will consider the whole affair wrong while others will say it is has its faults but isn't anything that can't be fixed without a re-run.

    There is also the problem of the types of fraud that may have occurred. Invalidating ballots cast by dead people or cast twice by the same person (possibly with the provision that the person in question be called in to re-cast his/her vote) is easy enough. But what do you do with ballots cast by persons in places like the Caucasus where it seems that folks were encouraged to vote en bloc for the party in power due to the nature of the society and political control there? Do you re-run the election in that region? If so, why since the result will probably be the same with bloc voting by the residents unless you radically alter the political setup and society between the invalidation of those votes and the re-run? And would those votes even be considered invalid? If a person in Dagestan actually votes for United Russia because everybody else is doing it and because he was encouraged to do so by the politicians in order to ensure Dagestan gets benefits, is that vote invalid if the person in question actually cast the vote and he/she is not dead; registered somewhere else or did not vote in front of somebody else? Invalidating the vote in that instance would presuppose to know the person's choice before they voted it would seem.

    , @Anatoly Karlin
    Not disputing that, and of course one can, in good faith, disagree in good faith over the exact boundary at which an election becomes "illegitimate." Is it 1%? I'm not sure some "advanced" democracies always manage that (e.g. Italy, Taiwan). Is it 5%? That seems to be the general level of fraud in Russian elections since people started trying to calculate it. On the other hand, that was also probably similar to (or less than) the amount of fraud used in the immediate post-war Italian and French elections to prevent the Communists from coming to power. It's a tricky question.

    I don't think 5% would decisively discredit an election where the margins between the winners and losers are so huge. It's a trickier case in a country like Ukraine, where the margins are very small. Yanukovych won in the first second round by 3% points, but there were claims of 5%-10% fraud based on exit polls. I don't know to what extent they were accurate. Some exit polls did indicate that, but others actually gave Yanukovych the lead. The critics complained that Yanukovych got (unrealistically) high scores in Donetsk, but OTOH these were replicated in places like Galicia and Volhynia for Yushchenko. The courts ruled in the critics' favor. This created very bad PR for Yanukovych and demoralized his supporters, and the rerun was judged fair; nonetheless, Yanukovych still did a lot better than the exit polls asserting massive fraud in his favor. So in retrospect even in Ukraine the decision to void the election is ambiguous.

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  • “A 5% drop would leave United Russia with more or less exactly 225 seats.”

    Can you tell us how you arrive at that conclusion?

    “a 5% level of fraud is broadly similar to that prevailing in pretty much every Russian election”

    While that seems plausible, how do we know?

    Doug M.

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    • Replies: @Anatoly Karlin
    Can you tell us how you arrive at that conclusion?

    By making a back of the envelope that turned out to be wrong when done more carefully. Actually just 3% of fraud would lose them the majority. 5% fraud would leave them with 215 seats.

    While that seems plausible, how do we know?

    Similar analyses exist for the 2007 and 2003 elections showing unusual voting patterns (very fat tails, spikes at regular intervals, etc). A Communist parallel count in 2007 concluded UR's share was 5.4% higher than it should have been.

    Re-the 1990's, this classic eXile article casts doubt on the common view of those years as some kind of democratic golden age in Russia. More specifically, there will suspiciously huge switches in support from the commies to Yeltsin in ethnic minority republics between the 1st and 2nd rounds. "In the republics of Tatarstan, Dagestan, and Kalmikiya, Zyuganov's dramatic decline in support between rounds can only be explained by the active intervention of state officials, be it stuffing ballot boxes or threatening local officials to deliver the correct vote count." Who's writing that? Michael McFaul.

    , @peter

    Can you tell us how you arrive at that conclusion?
     
    He's too ashamed to tell, so I will: 238*0.95=225 ("more or less exactly"). Epic fail.
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  • So, 15% would “completely delegitimize” the elections — I agree, BTW — would does 5% do? Somewhat delegitimize them?

    Also: a 5% shift across the board would do what to United Russia? (It wasn’t across the board, of course — it was worse in some areas than others — but let’s keep it simple for the moment.) My naive, back-of-the-envelope reading of the results is that it would cost UR its majority, dropping it to around 217-222 seats in the Duma… a handful shy of the 226 needed for a majority. Assuming that’s roughly correct, then the fraud would certainly delegitimize the /government/ — UR would lack a real mandate.

    To be perfectly fair, if UR had won ~220 seats they would have had very little difficulty either finding a minority party to go into coalition with them or ruling as a minority government. But either way, it would be a very different government. So, a 5% fraud might indeed have made a big difference.

    Doug M.

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    • Replies: @Anatoly Karlin
    A 5% drop would leave United Russia with more or less exactly 225 seats. A percentage more and then things do become significantly different. (Not massively different because as you yourself recognize, pushing its legislative agenda would still remain easy; note that it got 37% in 2003).

    But there are two other problems. First, a 5% level of fraud is broadly similar to that prevailing in pretty much every Russian election from at least 1996 (inclusive) onwards. Second, despite this 5% figure is a likely fraud level, for all that it remains theoretical; it is not strictly "proven" as such (for that you need to go to the courts, and the sum total of all violations complaints only reach about 0.5%). There is no consensus on the level of fraud, with Russians being divided on the issue: there are big groups believing in the 0% Thesis, the 5% Thesis, and the 15% Thesis. I think it will make for a horrid precedent to start annulling results based on the din from LJ proponents of the 15% Thesis and the 0.5% of Muscovites who went out to Bolotnaya and Prospekt Sakharova. It will end up cheapening and discrediting the entire political process.

    The authorities have presented reasonable proposals for reform and investment into technical improvements of election monitoring (e.g. Putin's web cameras). I'm satisfied. Some liberals and Western critics may not be and they are free to make their feelings known, but they should not have monopoly over the discourse.

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  • At least, surely more so than Obama, winner of 2009's Nobel Peace Prize. Let's do it by the numbers. Russia under Putin fought one war, in response to Georgian aggression against Ossetians with Russian citizenship and UN-mandated Russian peacekeepers. In contrast, Obama has participated in two wars of aggression: the Iraq War he inherited from...
  • @Oleg
    Nice to see censorship in action . Good luck with the Russian people .

    http://www.nationalreview.com/articles/283717/russia-s-potemkin-democracy-interview?pg=1

    AK edit: Choosing not to tolerate plagiarizing trolls is not censorship. I had the same response to a Russophile who used to troll here, Averko.

    Oh, Michael Averko! The professional “analyst”! I remember him — he used to pop up on Balkan threads over at the Fistful of Euros.

    He was amusing as much as annoying:

    “The sky is green!”
    “Um, looking outside I see it’s actually blue. Though sometimes, at night, it’s black.”
    “You’ve just CONCEDED my point! Ha!”
    “…what?”

    – but yes, he was a definite waste of bandwidth.

    Doug M.

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  • On reading Western commentary on the upcoming Russian Duma elections, I realized that they can't decide between two narratives: either the popularity of United Russia is sinking faster than Herman Cain's following his sex abuse scandals, thus meaning that it will manipulate the votes to get its desired majority; or Russian elections are complete shams...
  • @Mark
    “If UR gets over 55%, it will show that UR enjoys broad popular support! If not, it will show the elections were clean and fair!”

    I can't see that happening in the western press. The way they tell it, UR lost all support except for the hardcore partisan and the corrupt years ago, and have been simply propping themselves up with cheating ever since. A huge victory would merely bear out this narrative. Besides, such pre-election reporting serves to boost expectations so that the totals UR ended up with (virtually vote-for-vote with the pre-election polls) look like a loss.

    Similarly, all the predictions about the opposition being "energized" (the Associated Press uses those very words, in a broadside that attempts to capture everything by saying that even though UR lost votes, the election was still rigged) are borne out, and Nemtsov is wheeled in to deliver his signature lines about Putin's rule collapsing "like a house of cards".

    http://news.ca.msn.com/top-stories/russian-protests-erupt-after-election

    The suggestion about a big victory indicating broad popular support for UR might not look out of place in RT, but I can't imagine any western media source making such a connection. After all, western media sources regularly ignore even exit polls in Russia, and their remarkable coincidence with the vote count is routinely dismissed as more smoke and mirrors from a state that has never had a fair democratic vote since Yeltsin The Great Reformer took power. Also, I'd find it hard to imagine any western source willing to say the elections were clean and fair unless UR lost cataclysmically.

    Otherwise, I completely agree with your analysis; UR has not really lost anything, and its sliding a bit in the popular vote (after nonstop western pressure to achieve exactly that) no more presages the twilight of Putin than it does the return of Elvis. Don't start measuring the drapes in the Kremlin just yet, Boris.

    Actually, I was thinking “this is the analysis I’ll see over at SO”.

    Doug M.

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    • Replies: @Anatoly Karlin
    Well actually, I explicitly said that a result greater than 60% would be "fishy", and one over 65% would indicate systematic rigging.

    I was expecting 50-55% on the basis of the most recent pre-elections polls.

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  • @Mark
    In the land of Have-Your-Cake-and-Eat-it-Too, there is no good news for the ruling party in Russia; conversely, there is no such thing as bad news to the western press looking for a Dastardly Backward Russia story. If United Russia wins with a landslide, the election was rigged and they stole it. If United Russia wins with around 40% or so, it was a rout for UR and the people spoke with one voice, shouting, "throw the bums out". But the narrative must reflect either that the liberals were robbed, or that they made huge gains. It can never say that the liberals are the perennial losers, because they are full of big ideas but have absolutely no idea how to begin implementing them. If The Plan was laid out on a blackboard, it'd have the phrase, "People want huge advances in personal freedom, but want the government to be responsible for enforcing the law and managing the economy while steadily raising wages and pensions, without running a deficit and without interfering in their freedoms", followed by an arrow leading to a rectangle which reads, "Here a miracle occurs", followed by an "equals" symbol and "PARADISE"!!!! Of course everybody wants complete freedom and a big paycheque with no responsibility; sign me up. But everything comes with tradeoffs - if you want more of this, you have to give up a little of that.

    Russia's liberals seem to be the last people on the planet to grasp that. Maybe the western press just follows them out of curiosity. But the voters don't seem to be fooled.

    Interestingly, I was thinking the exact mirror image. “If UR gets over 55%, it will show that UR enjoys broad popular support! If not, it will show the elections were clean and fair!”

    My prediction — which I wish now that I’d made publicly! — was that UR would get their numbers sharply reduced, but would end up with a comfortable handful over 50% of a majority of seats.

    Note that UR has not actually lost anything of significance. They’re still the majority party and they don’t have to go into coalition with anyone. They can’t unilaterally amend the Constitution, but that’s not a power they were using much anyhow — there’s only been one package of significant amendments, and that was back in 2008. (The ones that extended the presidential and parliamentary terms.) So that’s a pretty trivial loss.

    In terms of actual power, they’re almost precisely where they were last week. And they will continue there for the next five years.

    Doug M.

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    • Replies: @Mark
    “If UR gets over 55%, it will show that UR enjoys broad popular support! If not, it will show the elections were clean and fair!”

    I can't see that happening in the western press. The way they tell it, UR lost all support except for the hardcore partisan and the corrupt years ago, and have been simply propping themselves up with cheating ever since. A huge victory would merely bear out this narrative. Besides, such pre-election reporting serves to boost expectations so that the totals UR ended up with (virtually vote-for-vote with the pre-election polls) look like a loss.

    Similarly, all the predictions about the opposition being "energized" (the Associated Press uses those very words, in a broadside that attempts to capture everything by saying that even though UR lost votes, the election was still rigged) are borne out, and Nemtsov is wheeled in to deliver his signature lines about Putin's rule collapsing "like a house of cards".

    http://news.ca.msn.com/top-stories/russian-protests-erupt-after-election

    The suggestion about a big victory indicating broad popular support for UR might not look out of place in RT, but I can't imagine any western media source making such a connection. After all, western media sources regularly ignore even exit polls in Russia, and their remarkable coincidence with the vote count is routinely dismissed as more smoke and mirrors from a state that has never had a fair democratic vote since Yeltsin The Great Reformer took power. Also, I'd find it hard to imagine any western source willing to say the elections were clean and fair unless UR lost cataclysmically.

    Otherwise, I completely agree with your analysis; UR has not really lost anything, and its sliding a bit in the popular vote (after nonstop western pressure to achieve exactly that) no more presages the twilight of Putin than it does the return of Elvis. Don't start measuring the drapes in the Kremlin just yet, Boris.

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  • @yalensis
    With 95% of the votes counted, the numbers are shaping up as follows: UR = 50%, KPRF = 19%, Just Russia = 13%, Zhirinovsky = 12%. Main thing is that UR lost their super-majority in Duma, they cannot just pass any law they like any more, they will have to form coalitions and learn to compromise. I see this as a good thing. Russians clearly want more democracy, they just don't want their leaders decided by foreign NGO's, if they did they would have voted for Yabloko.
    Re. Mr. Medvedev, pundits differ as to what all this mean for his career. I think this election is a clear slap at him, his weak and disastrous policies over the past 4 years, Russia not being as prepared for 2008 world economic crisis as it should have been, his weak and appeasing foreign policy, and so on. After presidential elections, assuming Putin wins, does anybody think Medvedev will still get the PM job after such a poor showing? I think the KPRF should obvioiusly get that post as they are now the second most popular party. And Putin is a crafty politician: he will adapt to the new reality, and I think/hope that he will ditch Medvedev.

    “I think the KPRF should obvioiusly get that post”

    The KPRF will of course not get that post. Is Nick Clegg the PM of Great Britain? Is the Chancellor of Germany named Philip Roesler? Sheesh.

    It’s interesting that everyone is jumping to blame Medvedev. Normally when a party loses a quarter of its support fingers get pointed at the leader of the party in Parliament, i.e., the Prime Minister. Nope — the ashes are getting heaped on the head of the hapless President.

    What happens to Medvedev after the election is a different and more interesting question. But I see no reason why Putin — sorry, I mean United Russia — would particularly want him as PM. They’ll either make him Foreign Minister, or fob him off with a sinecure, would be my guesses.

    Doug M.

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    • Replies: @yalensis
    @Doug: Well, yeah, you're probably right that KPRF won't get the PM job. I think and hope they should, but that's just my opinion. Re. Nick Clegg, I seem to remember some speculation at the time that he would get the PM? It would not have been unprecedented.
    Re. blaming Medvedev instead of Putin: Maybe it is not technically fair, in the schoolyard sense, but I have a feeling that is precisely what will happen: Medvedev will be the scapegoat and Putin will be standing above it all, like lofty Napoleon. We shall see...

    I just saw an interesting quote from Ziuganov, he is ASTOUNDED at the level of voter fraud, I guess he was expecting 40%? Ziuganov says this is the most impressive case of vote-rigging he has ever seen in his life. That means a lot, coming from an old Commie like him.... LOL !

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  • At least, surely more so than Obama, winner of 2009's Nobel Peace Prize. Let's do it by the numbers. Russia under Putin fought one war, in response to Georgian aggression against Ossetians with Russian citizenship and UN-mandated Russian peacekeepers. In contrast, Obama has participated in two wars of aggression: the Iraq War he inherited from...
  • Two days and 20+ comments later, and nobody’s even touched the North Caucasus. It’s like the war everyone wants to forget.

    Doug M.

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    • Replies: @yalensis
    North Caucasus? Well, everybody knows what is going on, low-level but fairly widespread Islamist insurgency, involving the usual players, both regional and international...
    , @Alexander Mercouris
    Dear Doug,

    Hardly! I wrote a response to one of your comments yesterday. Please see.

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  • @kirill
    So, according to you, Russia got Sack-of-sh*t-vili, the darling of the west, to launch a midnight MLRS and artillery barrage on Tskhinval on the night of the 7th of August, 2008. Hilarious inanity. No point discussing this issue at all with you.

    I’m going to guess I’m the only person on this thread who has actually looked at the Tagliavini Report.

    Not that the TR is the final and objective truth. Ha ha! No. But it’s the closest thing we have to a neutral, good faith effort to investigate the causes and conduct of the war without bias or favor.

    Remarkably, neither side made serious criticisms of its methodology, and neither side claimed it was biased or otherwise severely flawed. So, while it’s not perfect, it’s pretty clearly the least bad source we have. So if you want to talk seriously about that war, you need to spend the time.

    Yes, it’s long. But most of the good stuff is in Volume I, and you can skim.

    Doug M.

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    • Replies: @Alexander Mercouris
    Dear Doug,

    I too have read the report. I did not get the impression that it said that Russia provoked the war. Patrick Armstrong who is a retired diplomat and who has studied the report in detail and who has kept a careful track of the entire conflict comes to the diametrically opposite conclusion, which is that Saakashvilii is responsible for the war. His analysis has appeared in Russia Other Points of View.

    The blame for the conflict rests wholly and entirely with Saakashvili whose forces attacked Tskhinvali immediately after he declared a unilateral ceasefire.

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  • @kirill
    Looks like they are getting it wrong again but this time on Syria. Supposedly when NATO gets serious in its breaking of international law and fomenting of militants in independent states then chicken-sh*t Russia will run away. You would think all those machine gun toting irregulars in Syria are all peaceful demonstrators if you follow western media coverage.

    Assad needs to go, but not to be replaced by some NATO sponsored stooges.

    Yes, Russia turned out to be totally badass — which is to say, the Russian military was able to beat a country with 1/30th Russia’s population and about 1/100th of its GDP. To make matters even harder for Russia, the enemy was led by an utter incompetent, and opened the war with a major strategic and diplomatic blunder.

    Anyway. The point is not whether Georgia presented a meaningful threat to Russia — it didn’t — but whether Russia provoked the war. Which, you know, it did. The Georgians didn’t suddenly wake up one morning and say “oh hey, after fourteen years it’s suddenly time to invade South Ossetia”. Saakashvili was of course a complete fool to allow himself to be provoked, but that’s something else again.

    The only question is the level of deliberation in the provocation — was it field commanders independently deciding to start shelling Georgian positions, the Ossetians getting off the leash, etc., or was it orchestrated from Moscow. I’m actually giving Putin credit here. I think it was deliberate, cold blooded, and utterly effective; I think he wanted a war, and wanted to win it, and got what he wanted. There was an element of calculated risk to this — not so much in the war itself (whatever silly stuff outsiders may have said, Russian intelligence certainly knew the precise state of Georgia’s military) as the aftermath. An embittered Georgia could have been a serious strategic nuisance for Russia in the north Caucasus. I suspect Putin figured that into his calculations and decided that Saakashvili, once defeated, would not have the grit to do anything but bluster. So far, he’s been proven right — Georgia has made noises about supporting Islamist insurgents, but has actually done very little.

    So from a purely realpolitikal point of view, it was a sensible move by Putin — a tidy little Bismarckian exercise in border correction. But saying it was a war of “self defense” that’s consistent with Putin being a “peacemaker” is, let’s say, a bit one-sided. I appreciate that Anatoly is arguing the Russian POV, but what happened in 2008 was a bit more complicated.

    (Fun fact: we all remember Bismarck as the guy who used a series of wars to hammer Germany together. What gets forgotten is that in his last and biggest war, Bismarck wasn’t formally the aggressor. Instead, he mousetrapped the idiot leader of France, Napoleon III, into declaring war on *him* and launching an invasion of Germany. When the dust had settled, France had been crushed, Germany was united, and Prussia had gained the new territory of Alsace-Lorraine.)

    If you disagree with this — that’s fine! Go read the Tagliaveri report, then come back and tell me which parts they got wrong.

    Note that official Russia simply ignored the parts that implicated Russia. (The formal Russian response was to praise the report because it affirmed that Georgia shot first.)

    Doug M.

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    • Replies: @Giuseppe Flavio
    ...Russia provoked the war. Which, you know, it did.
    No Doug, I don't know and you don't know as well. Yours is just a conspiracy theory. The point you refuse to understand is simple: Georgia and the West thought that Russia would not intervene and even if she would, it couldn't do much. It is crystal clear, you just need to read what the western media were saying up until Aug. 9. Later, the music changed to hide this gross miscalculation, allowing the average westerner to save his pride by blaming the failure on the treacherous Putin and the "incompetent" and "fool" Saakashvili. Just like the US instructors that "trained" the Georgian army blamed the abject failure of their pupils on a mysterious inability of the Georgians to fight, rather than admitting their incompetence or that they went in Georgia just to chase the local girls. The West is never wrong, and when shit hits the fan, it is someone else fault, either by incompetence or treacherousness. It is this belief that inspires your conspiracy theory.
    Another couple of point you have missed.
    1) The quick melting of the Georgian army came unexpected for everyone, including the Russian army.
    2) Just after the war started, Russia requested a meeting of the UN security council. Obviously, Russia could not expect a resolution authorising the bombing of Georgia, what could be achieved was a resolution ordering a cease-fire. In other words, Russia wanted the Western godfathers of Georgia to put some pressure on Saakashvili to stop the war. The US and UK refused, making it clear who wanted the war and who didn't.
    Don't worry Doug, as you say, YMMV, that is to say feel free to believe your conspiracy theory.
    , @kirill
    So, according to you, Russia got Sack-of-sh*t-vili, the darling of the west, to launch a midnight MLRS and artillery barrage on Tskhinval on the night of the 7th of August, 2008. Hilarious inanity. No point discussing this issue at all with you.
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  • @yalensis
    Doug: South Ossetia is not completely useless patch. They have one outstanding piece of hardware, which is control of the southern mouth of the Roki tunnell that crosses entire Caucasus mountain range in under an hour. Ossetia has one other asset, which is that they have some water. An under-reported element of the war was the struggle of rival ethnic communities (Gruzians vs. Ossetians) over water rights.
    P.S. what does YMMV mean? I am trying to guess but I cannot come up with anything.

    That would be the Roki Tunnel which currently gets something like three vehicles per hour.

    The Tunnel was important during the days of the USSR, and it was important for a while in the 2000s because of smuggling. (Neither Ossetia nor Georgia liked to discuss it, but this was a huge, huge business for many years.) But it’s pretty meaningless today, because the Georgia-Ossetia border is mostly closed. All it does now is connect South Ossetia (population: ~70,000 and falling) to North Ossetia and Russia.

    The water is an issue, but only because Georgia would like to build reservoirs and dams. South Ossetia is on the southern side of the Caucasus mountains, so the water naturally flows south down the Liakhvi to Gori. Most of the rain that falls on South Ossetia ends up flowing through the middle of Tbilisi, so obviously they’re going to have an interest. But it’s not like Georgia is desperate for fresh water.

    YMMV = Your Mileage May Vary. Old Usenet term, polite way of saying “you (or others) may disagree”.

    Doug M.

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    • Replies: @yalensis
    Thanks for reply, Doug. The point I was attempting to make about the "water supply" is not so much that Gruzia wants Ossetia back for the water (obviously, Gruzia wants Ossetia back because she believes this is a breakaway province, although the Ossetians beg to disagree) -- my point is that a lot of the back-and-forth shooting between villages prior to August 7, 2008 involved local ethnic issues. For example, Ossetian village claimed Gruzian village cut off their water pipes, then both sides shooting at each other, while peacekeepers (who originally included some Gruzian soldiers too) attempted to keep the two sides separated. At a certain point, a couple of days before August 7, the ethnic Gruzian peacekeepers slinked away from their posts, which is another clue that Gruzian army was about to open fire on peacekeepers and pre-warned their own guys.
    I say all this to make my point that I totally disagree with American/European narrative about Putin "provoking" the Gruzians. All the evidence shows that Putin was as shocked as everybody else by the Gruzian surprise attack. This is a criticism of Putin: he SHOULD have been more prepared. It took the Russian tanks more than a full day to reach the Roki Tunnel. They should have been there much quicker, and it was only by a miracle (and good old-fashioned heroism) that the Ossetian militias were not overwhelmed in the first few hours.
    In other words, I dispute the Tagliavini report, it is barely worth the paper it is written on. The Europeans were not neutral, they were fully in bed with Saakashvili regime. They spun a big propaganda blast against Russia, they expected for Saakashvili to easily take back Ossetia and Abkhazia, just as he had Ajaria previously. Then, when their bully got knocked down on the playground, they had to spin their propaganda in a different direction. Hence the story about "Yeah, our guy did start it, but he was provoked." As if!
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  • Two points.

    One, Georgia’s attack didn’t come out of a vaccuum. Months before it happened, various observers were pointing out that Russia was poking the animal with a stick. My personal take on it is that Russia had Tbilisi wired for sound, and quite deliberately set out to game Saakashvili — who played right into Putin’s hands.

    FTR, I have zero sympathy for Saakashvili, and Ossetia is a useless patch of mountains with very little value to either side; if the Ossetians truly want to be under Moscow instead of Tbilisi, well, whatevs. (Abkhazia, OTOH, was a pretty foul injustice — several hundred thousand Georgians got ethnically cleansed, and they’re never coming back.) I didn’t, and don’t, have a dog in that fight. But “who started it” is a lot less clear than you’re suggesting. See, e.g., the Tagliavini commission’s report — which basically says “Georgia started it, but only after months of deliberate provocation by Russia.”

    Two, you’re somehow forgetting to mention Russia’s troubles in the north Caucasus. Do guerrilla wars not count as wars? Because that’s what Russia is fighting in Chechnya, Dagestan, Ingushetia, and Kabardino-Balkaria.

    It’s been going on for years, it has cost Russia billions of dollars, and casualties are comfortably into five figures. You can argue whose fault it is — I’d say it’s complicated, with plenty of blame to go around; YMMV — but putting that aside, it’s unquestionably a war. Nobody much notices because (1) it’s a LIC, a steady trickle of unhappy news rather than a war with tanks and jets and battlefields; and (2) it’s in a part of the world that is really not well covered by outside media. But over the last three years, it’s certainly killed as many people, and cost as much money, as the brief shooting war with Georgia.

    Doug M.

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    • Replies: @yalensis
    Doug: South Ossetia is not completely useless patch. They have one outstanding piece of hardware, which is control of the southern mouth of the Roki tunnell that crosses entire Caucasus mountain range in under an hour. Ossetia has one other asset, which is that they have some water. An under-reported element of the war was the struggle of rival ethnic communities (Gruzians vs. Ossetians) over water rights.
    P.S. what does YMMV mean? I am trying to guess but I cannot come up with anything.
    , @Giuseppe Flavio
    I have a different recollection of what was going on before the conflict. There were skirmishes that both sides blamed on the other. Each side could cite some observer that agreed with his view, and I don't assume that Western observers and the Tagliavini commission to be neutral, but rather pro-Georgia. One point that can explain the Georgian decision to start the war, a point was quickly, quietly and conveniently forgotten was the Georgian and Western delusion about Russia's weakness. Until Aug. 9 there were various articles arguing how the weak and scared Russia would not dare to intervene, and even if Russia would try to intervene, the rusty and corrupt Russian army would arrive too late. And even if the rusty and corrupt Russian army arrived in time, the "Israeli-trained" and "almost at NATO-level" Georgian army would be "a difficult nut to crack". After the Russian army arrived in time and crushed that joke that is the Georgian army, which went into panic mode after three days of fighting, the music changed. All of a sudden "military experts" turned into "international law activists", the realpolitik of force gave way to the rule of international law.
    In other words, the Georgians and the West thought Russia was unwilling and incapable to intervene. And they were wrong.
    , @Giuseppe Flavio
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  • @Oleg
    We should also remember the career of Yevgeni Primakov, KGB operative in Egypt in the 1960s, chief of the SVR from 1991 to 1996, foreign minister from 1996 to 1998, and prime minister from 1998 to 1999. His appointment into Chernomyrdin's government in December 1996 followed two months after the sacking of Aleksandr Lebed, the popular general who made peace in Chechnya and advocated strong measures against the Taliban. "The rivalry between SVR and foreign ministry ... ended in decisive victory for the SVR with Primakov's appointment as foreign minister ... in December 1996." (Andrew & Mitrokhin, p. 562)

    Primakov appears to have carried with him a sharp policy change: instead of negotiating a final peace deal with the Chechens, as had been agreed by Lebed, the FSB encouraged provocative Islamists, who committed murders and kidnappings from 1997 to 1999, scaring most foreign aid workers and reporters out of the land, and providing the Russian government with an excuse for a renewed intervention. Obviously, this was a method successfully exercised in Afghanistan to oust the Rabbani government from Kabul.

    During his travels in the Middle East in the 1980s, Primakov had been known to talk about Free Mason and Jewish conspiracies. (Andrew & Mitrokhin, p. 573)
    When the Soviet colonies had nevertheless declared independence in 1991, militant Muslims like the Chechen Basayev brothers, and some of Hikmatyar's "Afghan Arabs", were invited by the GRU to join an "Islamic cause" on behalf of Abkhazia against Georgia. Although the war of 1992-1993 was depicted as a war of independence for the traditionally Muslim Abkhazians, the Basayevs and other Muslim volunteers soon found out, that this was far from the truth. The so-called Abkhazians were old-time Communists who refused to accept democratic changes. Instead of gaining more autonomy, Abkhazia - just like Karabakh and Transdnestria - became practically operated by Russian secret services, and engaged in international arms trade and training of terrorists.

    According to American Turkish researcher Ali M. Koknar, Shamil Basayev went
    through military training in Afghanistan from April until July 1994; Indian researcher Vinod Anand dates his visit from March to May 1994 - anyway before the Taliban emerged. His host must then still have been Hikmatyar, or one of his Soviet-trained subordinates. There has never been evidence of any contacts between the Chechen leadership and the Taliban, except for a private mission of the former Chechen vice president in early 2000, when Russia had already invaded Chechnya for the second time.
    The Chechen Republic of Ichkeria had declared independence in 1991, and for the first three years, Russia tried a variety of tricks to overpower it. What had succeeded by 1993 in Georgia, Tajikistan, and Azerbaijan, failed to bring results in Chechnya. In the end, Russia started two full-scale invasions against this tiny Caucasian nation. Very few Islamists have shown any sympathy for their fellow Muslims. Both Iran and Iraq have applauded Russia's invasions. Although Russia has blamed Muslim terrorists ("Afghan Arabs") for the tough Chechen resistance, more Ukrainian or ethnic Russian (!) volunteers have been sighted among Chechen freedom-fighters than Arabs or Afghans.

    There are tactical similarities between Chechnya and Afghanistan. Equally sinister forces operated in both countries. Provocateurs were used by Russian secret services to destabilize governments, and the world media was largely kept disinformed about what was going on. At some point, while Afghans were accused for fighting in Chechnya, Chechens were accused for fighting in Afghanistan. Such astonishingly illogical accusations were uncritically transmitted by Western media. Few journalists bothered to ask, why these "mercenaries" remained invisible, immortal (no bodies found on battle grounds), and impossible to be ever caught alive (unless Russia had its prisoners-of-war executed before they could be interrogated), or what sense would it make to have such a bold "students' exchange" between two countries without a common border or even a common neighbour. The logistic risks alone would certainly discourage such practices.

    Beside this, the origins of such inconsistent claims could be traced quite easily. The myth of Chechens in Afghanistan was invented by the Times of India in December 1999, concerning at first only refugees, women and children. By April 2000, there appeared in The Indian Express and The Hindustan Times articles, distributed in the internet by well-known disinformation agents, stories about Arab, Pakistani and Afghan militants, who allegedly had been to Chechnya in August 1999, but returned to fight in Kyrgyzstan before retiring to Afghanistan. (Vinod Anand: Export of Holy Terror to Chechnya From Pakistan and Afghanistan, Strategic Analysis 24.3/2000) Indian newspapers have been always useful for launching Russian disinformation.

    “Abkhazia – just like Karabakh and Transdnestria – became practically operated by Russian secret services”

    This is true enough for Abkhazia and Transnistria. Not true for Karabakh, though — Karabakh is pretty effectively integrated into Armenia now.

    Doug M.

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  • It is now increasingly evident that Russia's population has settled on a small but decidedly firm upwards growth trend. I have been vindicated. According to the latest data, in the first eight months of the year births fell by 1.4% (12.5/1000 to 12.3/1000) and deaths fell by 6.2% (from 14.6/1000 to 13.7/1000) relative to the...
  • @Doug M.
    Apropos of the alcoholism, I note in passing that no policy of Gorbachev's is more loathed, more despised, more condemned by historical memory than his anti-alcohol campaign.

    You can find Russians who view the Gulag system as a harsh historical necessity, and who see the Holodomor as an inevitable side effect of industrialization. You can find Russians who adore the memory of Czar Nicholas. But you'll have to look very hard to find a Russian who has anything positive to say about Gorbachev's historic attempt to wean Russia off the bottle.

    The current government seems to be attempting the same thing, but much more cautiously, by very slow and gradual increments over the course of a generation. Maybe this will work! Let's watch.


    Doug M.

    Anatoly, there’s no question that it worked. It worked great! Not only did it dramatically increase male lifespans, it led to significant increases in everything from worker productivity to infant and child health. (See, for instance, http://www.cid.harvard.edu/neudc07/docs/neudc07_s3_p01_cohen.pdf)

    It worked… and people hated it. Absolutely hated it. They still do. When Medvedev praised it a couple of years back, he was roundly mocked. (Even though he carefully tempered his praise by noting that it was a good policy ruined by “idiotic bans” and “mistakes”.)

    Sergey, that’s a good point! The paper cited above notes that one reason for the jump in child and infant health seems to have been a sudden spike in paternal investment — for a couple of years, Dad was coming home and paying attention to the baby instead of getting shitfaced with his friends. Alas, it was a short-lived effect that didn’t survive the end of the campaign… but, yes, you’re probably right: I bet a lot of women have positive memories of that brief period.

    – Incidentally, I doubt the current Russian government could impose a Gorbachev-style semi-prohibition even if they wanted to. For one thing, Russian drinking patterns have changed; Russians are drinking about the same amount of alcohol as 30 years ago, but it’s from a much wider range of sources. Beer, in particular, has taken a lot of market share from vodka. For another, the Gorbachev campaign cost the state a lot of revenue (which would not be welcome) and encouraged the growth of organized crime (which would really not be welcome).

    Doug M.

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  • @kirill
    This is a very useful post. I still keep on hearing that Russian life expectancy is only slightly improved on the 58 year nadir.

    Interesting how the criminal shock therapy of the early 1990s by the Yeltsin regime and the damage it wrought in its wake is an attribute of Russia, never to be condemned. You have to prove to various twits that 70 years is closer to the mark even with all the alcoholism.

    Apropos of the alcoholism, I note in passing that no policy of Gorbachev’s is more loathed, more despised, more condemned by historical memory than his anti-alcohol campaign.

    You can find Russians who view the Gulag system as a harsh historical necessity, and who see the Holodomor as an inevitable side effect of industrialization. You can find Russians who adore the memory of Czar Nicholas. But you’ll have to look very hard to find a Russian who has anything positive to say about Gorbachev’s historic attempt to wean Russia off the bottle.

    The current government seems to be attempting the same thing, but much more cautiously, by very slow and gradual increments over the course of a generation. Maybe this will work! Let’s watch.

    Doug M.

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    • Replies: @Anatoly Karlin
    But you’ll have to look very hard to find a Russian who has anything positive to say about Gorbachev’s historic attempt to wean Russia off the bottle.

    Maybe among alkies, but in my experience opinion has been basically split in half. And while it was actually on the books it worked. Male LE remained near just shy of 65 years from 1986 to 1988, whereas in the preceding period it was at 61-62. Quite a noticeable effect that would have continued reaping gains had not enforcement started disintegrating as did the USSR itself.

    , @Sergey
    Doug,

    at least half of Russian are women. They - especially the ones with heavily drinking husbands - tend to have much better memories of anti-alcohol campaign.

    Such women are under-represented among journalists, politicians, or bloggers, of course, so their opinion remains mostly unheard.

    , @Doug M.
    Anatoly, there's no question that it worked. It worked great! Not only did it dramatically increase male lifespans, it led to significant increases in everything from worker productivity to infant and child health. (See, for instance, http://www.cid.harvard.edu/neudc07/docs/neudc07_s3_p01_cohen.pdf)

    It worked... and people hated it. Absolutely hated it. They still do. When Medvedev praised it a couple of years back, he was roundly mocked. (Even though he carefully tempered his praise by noting that it was a good policy ruined by "idiotic bans" and "mistakes".)

    Sergey, that's a good point! The paper cited above notes that one reason for the jump in child and infant health seems to have been a sudden spike in paternal investment -- for a couple of years, Dad was coming home and paying attention to the baby instead of getting shitfaced with his friends. Alas, it was a short-lived effect that didn't survive the end of the campaign... but, yes, you're probably right: I bet a lot of women have positive memories of that brief period.

    -- Incidentally, I doubt the current Russian government could impose a Gorbachev-style semi-prohibition even if they wanted to. For one thing, Russian drinking patterns have changed; Russians are drinking about the same amount of alcohol as 30 years ago, but it's from a much wider range of sources. Beer, in particular, has taken a lot of market share from vodka. For another, the Gorbachev campaign cost the state a lot of revenue (which would not be welcome) and encouraged the growth of organized crime (which would really not be welcome).


    Doug M.

    , @Alexander Mercouris
    Dear Doug,

    What is the evidence for the unpopularity of Gorbachev's anti alcohol campaign?

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  • @Anatoly Karlin
    But moving Russian LE past 70 is something that no Russian government has ever yet been able to do

    The exact same thing could be said of Estonia until 2002 and Latvia until 2004 (or even 2007).

    and efficient public health system of the post-Stalin Soviet years

    It was efficient only in the sense of "bare bones" efficient.

    Well, except for the years 1919-40, those countries were being governed from Moscow. So I’m not sure where you’re going with this.

    Doug M.

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  • @Alexander Mercouris
    Dear Doug,

    I am not sure I understand this. Are you saying that there is a fixed upper limit to Russian life expectancy, which is below that in other places such as for example the Baltic States? Apologies in advance if I have misunderstood you or if my question appears dense but this whole subject is not an easy one for me.

    No, not a fixed upper limit. But moving Russian LE past 70 is something that no Russian government has ever yet been able to do — even given the flattish income distribution, decent standard of living, and (relatively!) competent and efficient public health system of the post-Stalin Soviet years. This suggests that there are some hardwired challenges, structural or cultural, that will not easily be overcome.

    Since a rising life expectancy is correlated with various good things — lower infant mortality, better health generally — I’d be happy to be wrong about this.

    Doug M.

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    • Replies: @Anatoly Karlin
    But moving Russian LE past 70 is something that no Russian government has ever yet been able to do

    The exact same thing could be said of Estonia until 2002 and Latvia until 2004 (or even 2007).

    and efficient public health system of the post-Stalin Soviet years

    It was efficient only in the sense of "bare bones" efficient.

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  • @Anatoly Karlin
    @Doug,

    Because even using the super-liberal old methodology, we’ll just barely make that figure for 2011; we didn’t for the last two years, and probably won’t for the next two.

    But note that the Census showed the population to be 142.9 million, that is, almost one million higher than estimated - thanks to the fact that migrants were under-counted. Rosstat estimates the great bulk of this under-counting took place in the early to mid-2000's, when the registration system was actually stricter. But the method from the end of the mid-2000's until last seems to have been basically accurate. (Plus the reason they continue using it, if in an unofficial capacity?)

    I hope Sergey Slobodyan could throw in a comment here. He knows a lot more details about this than I do.

    That said, I think 150,000-200,000 is plausible too. A lot will depend on relative economic performance between Russia and the Caucasus/Stans. Ironically, if the Eurasian Union ends up improving labor mobility, immigration to Russia may even decrease more than it otherwise would, as there would not be so much incentives to stay once you succeed in getting in (that is, if getting in again should you want to is easier).

    I also expect the death rate to fall, though more slowly than you’re claiming. A life expectancy of 75 by the early 2020s is probably impossible. Most of that would necessarily come from a rise in male life expectancy, which would have to increase by 8-10 years over the next 10-12.

    Not necessarily, and at this point I would make a direct comparison with countries like Estonia or Latvia (which had a very similar over-drinking problem but one that has ameliorated somewhat in the past decade) - which started consistently growing earlier than Russia, as well as raising excise taxes on vodka, cutting down on ads, etc.

    As of 2009, Russia's LE was 68.7 (M: 62.7, F: 74.7); it rose to 69.1 in 2010, and on current trends, it will be 70 this year. Broadly speaking, it is where Latvia was in 1996-1998 (LE ranged 68.9-69.6) and to Estonia in 1996-1998 (LE ranged 69.7-70.1). Since then, both countries have seen continues growth in LE, and in 2009 Latvia hit 73.4 and Estonia hit 75.2. Furthermore, both saw respectable drops in DR's during the crisis, so they would have risen still further in 2010.

    In other words, we have, over a decade, a rise of 4-4.5 years in Latvia and of 5.0-5.5 years in Estonia during the past decade. As such, assuming that Russia continues investing in healthcare facilities, continues the anti-alcohol and anti-tobacco campaigns (including raising excise taxes on spirits), etc., then an increase of 5 years by 2020 does seem realistic IMO.

    BTW, the improvements don't necessarily have to be concentrated to such an extent among the men. In the two Baltic countries, women's LE also grew by 3-5 years. The increase for men will thus only have to be 5-7 years, not 8-10.

    The Baltic states saw their LEs drop to a 50-year low in the 1990s, because of transition shock. All they had to do was recover from that sharp but temporary setback.

    But Russia’s LE is currently near its all-time *high*, and the transition shock is now long past.

    So I’m not thinking it’s a very useful comparison.

    Doug M.

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    • Replies: @Alexander Mercouris
    Dear Doug,

    I am not sure I understand this. Are you saying that there is a fixed upper limit to Russian life expectancy, which is below that in other places such as for example the Baltic States? Apologies in advance if I have misunderstood you or if my question appears dense but this whole subject is not an easy one for me.

    , @zeb
    The "transition chock" was not as severe for the Baltic nations as it was for Russia. Thus, today Life Exp in Estonia, Latvia already surpasses that of any previous period by a couple of years. Life expectancy never dipped below 68 years in any baltic nations in the 1990s.

    I would guestimate that there is a roughly 50/50 chance of russian life expectancy exceeding 75 years by 2025. They still have some easy catch-up to make.

    , @Anatoly Karlin
    Let me completely (but respectfully) disagree with you, Doug.

    Estonia's LE peaked at 71.0 years in 1967 and again at around 71 in 1986-88, before exceeding these figures at 71.2 in 2002 and continuing rapid growth to 75.2 by 2009 (at a rate of 5.7 yrs / decade after passing Soviet-era peak).

    Latvia's LE peaked at 71.5 in 1964 and again at around 71 in the late 1980's, only again reaching 71.5 in 2004 and sing then going to 73.4 by 2009 (at a rate of 3.8 yrs / decade after passing Soviet-era peak).

    I would also note that both countries (even Latvia) continued to see big improvements during the current economic crisis.

    Russia's LE peaked at 69.9 in 1964 and at 70.0 in 1986-87. With mortality rates currently down by 6% relative to last year, it is expected to reach the 70 year mark this year, in 2011.

    As you can see, the Baltics' profiles are rather similar to Russia's, which also dropped to a 50 year low during the transition shock (well, actually, I don't like attributing "transition shock" to the 1990's drop in LE: the real cause of the LE drop across most of the industrialized USSR was due not to the degradation of the Soviet healthcare system, which was crappy to begin with anyway, but the unraveling of its vodka monopoly and vodka becoming much cheaper, but I digress).

    The biggest exception that Russia will past its Soviet-era peak quite a lot later than the Baltics. (Interesting factoid: Moscow's LE tracks Latvia's almost exactly, reaching its Soviet-era peak of 70 by 2003 and increasing to 73.6 by 2009 - a rate of 6 yrs / decade; Moscow, of course, is a special case in that it is about 5-10 years ahead of the Russian average in economic development, and consequently social/health spending and presumably LE trends).

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  • Might as well put my own predictions on the table.

    I’ve said before that I think 150,000-200,000 is a much more plausible number for immigration. (Note that this neatly splits the difference between the liberal “old” method and conservative “new” one.)

    Like you, I expect Russia’s TFR to remain between 1.45 and 1.65 for a while — Russia can still keep TFR stable or gently rising by cohort effects alone, as the average age at first birth is still quite low. Combined with the crash in the numbers of childbearing-age women, this will indeed cause the birthrate to start dropping after 2014 or so. (Watch for alarms both within Russia and outside it as this happens.)

    I also expect the death rate to fall, though more slowly than you’re claiming. A life expectancy of 75 by the early 2020s is probably impossible. Most of that would necessarily come from a rise in male life expectancy, which would have to increase by 8-10 years over the next 10-12. Basically, Russian men would have to stop dying for a few years. That’s just not going to happen. (I note in passing that Russian male life expectancy has *never* gone over 65 — not under the Soviets, not under the czars.) An increase to 75 by 2030 is right at the bleeding edge of possibility.

    Finally, there’s one demographic effect that is going widely unnoticed, and that is the rise of the economically independent post-childbearing woman. For 30 years now, the pattern for Russian women has been “have a kid or two in your early twenties, then stop”. As a result, a 45 year old Russian woman is much more likely to have no children at home than her German or French counterpart. (By way of comparison, my wife and I started having kids well into our 30s; as a result, our youngest won’t reach 18 until we are both over 60.) She also has an excellent chance of becoming a widow within the next decade (since her husband is likely a few years older, and quite a lot of Russian men don’t reach 60). In any event, she’ll probably have two or three decades of active life between the time the last kid leaves the nest and whenever she retires. I don’t know what effect, if any, this may have — but it’s interesting, and probably worth noting.

    Doug M.

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    • Replies: @Anatoly Karlin
    @Doug,

    Because even using the super-liberal old methodology, we’ll just barely make that figure for 2011; we didn’t for the last two years, and probably won’t for the next two.

    But note that the Census showed the population to be 142.9 million, that is, almost one million higher than estimated - thanks to the fact that migrants were under-counted. Rosstat estimates the great bulk of this under-counting took place in the early to mid-2000's, when the registration system was actually stricter. But the method from the end of the mid-2000's until last seems to have been basically accurate. (Plus the reason they continue using it, if in an unofficial capacity?)

    I hope Sergey Slobodyan could throw in a comment here. He knows a lot more details about this than I do.

    That said, I think 150,000-200,000 is plausible too. A lot will depend on relative economic performance between Russia and the Caucasus/Stans. Ironically, if the Eurasian Union ends up improving labor mobility, immigration to Russia may even decrease more than it otherwise would, as there would not be so much incentives to stay once you succeed in getting in (that is, if getting in again should you want to is easier).

    I also expect the death rate to fall, though more slowly than you’re claiming. A life expectancy of 75 by the early 2020s is probably impossible. Most of that would necessarily come from a rise in male life expectancy, which would have to increase by 8-10 years over the next 10-12.

    Not necessarily, and at this point I would make a direct comparison with countries like Estonia or Latvia (which had a very similar over-drinking problem but one that has ameliorated somewhat in the past decade) - which started consistently growing earlier than Russia, as well as raising excise taxes on vodka, cutting down on ads, etc.

    As of 2009, Russia's LE was 68.7 (M: 62.7, F: 74.7); it rose to 69.1 in 2010, and on current trends, it will be 70 this year. Broadly speaking, it is where Latvia was in 1996-1998 (LE ranged 68.9-69.6) and to Estonia in 1996-1998 (LE ranged 69.7-70.1). Since then, both countries have seen continues growth in LE, and in 2009 Latvia hit 73.4 and Estonia hit 75.2. Furthermore, both saw respectable drops in DR's during the crisis, so they would have risen still further in 2010.

    In other words, we have, over a decade, a rise of 4-4.5 years in Latvia and of 5.0-5.5 years in Estonia during the past decade. As such, assuming that Russia continues investing in healthcare facilities, continues the anti-alcohol and anti-tobacco campaigns (including raising excise taxes on spirits), etc., then an increase of 5 years by 2020 does seem realistic IMO.

    BTW, the improvements don't necessarily have to be concentrated to such an extent among the men. In the two Baltic countries, women's LE also grew by 3-5 years. The increase for men will thus only have to be 5-7 years, not 8-10.

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  • The change in the methodology for counting “immigrants” is interesting. The old one certainly was too liberal; I know for a fact that it was capturing hundreds of thousands of Armenians and Moldovans who were never going to stay in Russia, and very likely it was including even larger numbers of Central Asians. The new one may be too conservative — but I would guess it’s closer to reality; if someone is really planning to stay in Russia permanently, good chance they’re going to register at some point.

    You’re still shooting for 300,000 migrants per year, sustained over decades? Because even using the super-liberal old methodology, we’ll just barely make that figure for 2011; we didn’t for the last two years, and probably won’t for the next two.

    Doug M.

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    • Replies: @Sergey
    Doug,

    a proper methodology should have everything to do with counting the number of people sufficiently connected to a country, rather than with trying to gauge where they plan to die or raise children. If they work for 9-11 months in Russia and come back to their home country for several weeks, they are effectively residing in Russia. Some of them do start second families on the side, BTW, thus becoming even more permanently connected to Russia than before.

    I feel that migration numbers have much more to do with frequency of Moscow police's random passport checks than with actual number of migrants. If it gets easy to live in Moscow without propiska, many people would do it. They could still send their kids to school - it's independent of the parents' legal status. Number of non-Russian-speaking kids in Moscow schools is comparable with the new official number of migrants coming into the country, which makes me mightily suspicious that the new methodology is vastly understating the numbers. You are a permanent migrant if you bring a kid into another country's school.

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  • Now that my initial triumphalism over Putin's return has faded a bit, it's time for a more analytical look. One of the main reasons I thought Medvedev would be the more likely person to be United Russia's Presidential candidate is that Putin was simply unwilling to return. As Daniel Treisman wrote in his book on...
  • “Not a description of someone who longs for power for its own sake,”

    Wanting power for its own sake is the default. That’s true even if you don’t much enjoy wielding it.

    There are primate studies that show top-ranking males often have elevated stress hormones. Insofar as it’s possible to tell with, say, baboons? A lot of their top guys aren’t having much fun. (Though some are. It depends.) But even the ones who have stress levels off the scale will still fight to gain power, keep power, and regain power if deposed. That’s just what’s normal for primates.

    Human beings can modulate the hell out of this with culture — cf. the modern Western norm of an ex-President or Prime Minister retiring to write his memoirs — but, as a purely empirical matter, based on available evidence, the underlying drive seems to be pretty much the same as with other primates.. So, “he didn’t seem to be having fun” is interesting but irrelevant to whether he’d come back.

    Doug M.

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  • And ironically, despite my blog's focus, to date my US predictions have been more accurate than my Russian ones. Obama to become President? Check. Republicans to win 2010 mid-terms? Check. The emergence of "a new party, a new politics", with "the feds [facing] challenges from the far-left and the far-right"? Check (Tea Party, Occupy Wall...
  • Fleshing that out a little: the offer is to Anatoly, not to random commenters; bet is void in case of presidential death or assassination; loser pays up promptly after the November election next year, either directly to the winner or, if the winner agrees, to a charity of the winner’s choice.

    So: bet?

    Doug M.

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    • Replies: @Glossy
    Doug, if you ever decide to reconsider the "not to random commenters" clause, then I'm game.
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  • Well. I’ve got fifty bucks says Obama pulls it off.

    Bet?

    Doug M.

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    • Replies: @Anatoly Karlin
    Okay, sure, but I don't want to bet money with friends. How about drinks on whoever loses when we meet up? (Which will probably happen someday, seeing as the world is pretty small nowadays).
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  • The King returns. As this is breaking news, please feel free to discuss this breaking news while I write up a more substantive post. In summary: (1) I was 75% wrong. (I gave Putin a 25% of returning to the PM; I thought the likeliest scenario would be for DAM to continue). (2) That said,...
  • @yalensis
    Okay. You make a good point that a nation at war will not be able to employ its fabulous tank army without good anti-air defense. Maybe you can answer a question I have been asking for quite a while, and nobody seems to know the answer: Why did Gaddafy not have anti-air defense? Did he not have radar? Why was he not able to shoot at least some of those things down?

    Basically, because he was an idiot.

    Longer answer: because he was a charismatic megalomaniac whose regime was based on theater, not on having an actual, functioning military.

    Qaddafi spent a lot of money on military hardware. Billions! But he spent it like a six-year-old in a candy store: give me some of those, and some of those, and oooh! those are pretty — I want them too. So he ended up with a weird hodgepodge of equipment — American, French, Russian, even some Chinese stuff. He had no unified strategic doctrine for using any of it. And his military was not inclined to challenge him — if the Brother Leader wanted to buy a dozen useless but cool-looking Scud missiles, the generals just nodded and said, yes, Brother Leader, sounds great.

    This was particularly bad for air defense, because air defense is a highly technical field that is also incredibly boring and non-dramatic. Air defense emplacements cannot be paraded through the streets of the capital. Building an air defense involves building a complex and precise network of radar, command-and-control units, missiles and guns. And then you need a really competent professional military to run them. Qaddafi had no interest in any of that stuff.

    – To be fair to Qaddafi, he wasn’t anticipating a war with NATO. Why would NATO attack him? Most of those countries were his customers! And several NATO governments — most particularly Italy’s, but some others as well — were run by friends; Libyan-Italian relations were close and warm right up until, oh, the second week of March or so.

    Also, when calling Qaddafi an idiot, one must note — in fairness — that he managed to stay on top for forty-two years. That’s a pretty good run. So, when criticizing his decisions, we should keep in mind that they were successful (in terms of keeping him in power) for many years.

    – BTW, Serbia had a decent air defense system. Not great — it was old stuff from the ’70s and ’80s, and not well maintained — but decent. NATO had to spend a lot of time and effort degrading it before they could get to work, and the Serbs still managed to shoot down a plane or two.

    Syria’s air defenses are believed to be quite good. (They should be — the Syrians have had several painful lessons at the hands of the Israelis.) This is one of several reasons that a NATO attack on Syria is very, very unlikely.

    Doug M.

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    • Replies: @yalensis
    Thanks for reply, Doug. Is very educational. I imagine many nations military academies will be studying Libya war for a long time and learning appropriate lessons. Especially about importance of anti-air defense.
    Quick note on Gaddafy's relationship with NATO, obviously he did not expect attack coming from that direction. Most of his efforts seemed to be directed to internal threat (Benghazi, Islamists, disgruntled tribes, etc.). To be sure, Gaddafy had been attacked by West before, but nothing life-threatening. Then, when 9/11/2001 happened, Gaddafy enjoyed period of serious détente with West, along the lines of “my enemy [Islamists] is your enemy, so now we are friends.” What followed was his cozy relationship with Tony Blair and American CIA; among others, they rendered Belhaj to him for torture. (I bet Gaddafy wishes now Americans had simply shipped Belhaj off to Gitmo, where he would still be languishing to this day instead of being military governor of Tripoli.)
    Gaddafy obviously became complacent about his nice relations with West and did not take into account that all alliances are only temporary.
    Similar thing happened with Russia: after 9/11 Putin was filled with native hope that Americans would now “open their eyes and see” just how violent and evil Islamists were, and now maybe they would stop funding Chechen insurgents, etc. But, despite his good personal relations with George W. Bush, Putin’s hopes at an anti-Islamist alliance were soon dashed, West made it clear they would continue to support Caucasian insurgents in every way; Beslan terror attack was the final straw; unlike Gaddafy Putin stopped being in state of denial. Now that he will be back in power, I do not believe Putin will continue Medvedev’s policy of appeasing NATO. Already United Russia is talking about spending big bucks to beef up Russian military. I personally hope they focus on the more technical elements that you speak of.
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  • @yalensis
    @doug: Ran out of “reply” space above. On your Libya predictions: Agree with most of your metrics, and I do see now that the outcome was pretty much pre-ordained, GIVEN that there was no political opposition in Europe to allowing their governments to do this war. Your point about (army + air force) always trumping (army with no air force) is an excellent one. In this particular division of labor, NATO served as the air force, and the rebs served as the army. Your point about Gaddafy having a lousy army is also a good one. Dictators of the world, learn this lesson: Buy yourself a GREAT army! (And get nukes too.)
    On “secret tank army” – well, you may laugh, but there were reports of loyalists using ancient smuggling routes through the desert to move men and arms from Fezzan into Niger and Chad. Also reports that some of the aquifer system pipes were of wide-enough calibre to drive a truck or tank through. Fanciful though, yes, I agree. And probably just wishful thinking on my part, since I took loyalist side in this conflict. (That’s the story of my life: I always seem to pick the losing side… thank goodness I am not a hockey fan…)
    On “Al Qaeda” ties, clarification: I am not saying all rebs are Al Qaeda. Agree most of them (I don’t know exact percentage) have probably never even heard of Al Qaeda. But some of the Benghazi militias, and definitely the Belhaj militia that took Tripoli are 100% pure unadulterated Al Qaeda. Even American “Time” magazine is fussing a bit about the Islamists in Libya and hoping against hope that these bearded barbarians have finally learned some manners and will not attack the West any more. Jihadists may be a small minority of rebel movement, but they are the ones with the guns, so this give them disproportionate political power too. In any event, there is no doubt that rebs are a reactionary monarchist/Islamist political movement. NATO obviously believes they will be able to whip them into shape and control them like they do the Kosovo Islamists. Maybe they will, maybe they won’t. Maybe 9/11 and Al Qaeda attacking America was just a one-time fluke that will never be repeated. In any case, I stand by my prediction there there will still be a guerilla war in Libya. Not going to make any further predictions beyond that, my crystal ball is a bit cloudy right now…

    The problem with buying yourself a great army is that the army commanders may start thinking, hey, this great army should have some say in running the country. A lot of dictators have come to grief this way.

    Nukes bring their own set of problems, but that’s a story for another thread.

    Secret tank army — one of the quiet developments of the last decade has been the upgrading of satellite technology to the point where satellites can now provide useful tactical information in realtime. Maybe you could move tanks around underground, but the moment they come out, screens will light up from Malta to St. Louis. The Apaches leave the carrier a few minutes later, and at that point the question is no longer “what can I conquer with my secret tank army” but “do my men have enough time to get out and run, run, run before death descends from the skies”.

    Tanks without air cover or air defense, when the enemy has a functioning air force? are death traps at the best of times. Tanks without air cover or air defense *in a desert*? You’d do better to take your tank crew out, shoot them, and then sell the tank for scrap metal. At least you’ll make a few dollars, and the families will be able to have open-casket funerals.

    Belhadj — Belhajd himself is an Islamist guerrilla and an ‘Afghan Arab’ with close links to various Islamist groups, including the Taliban. But that’s not the same as being “al Qaeda”. As far as can be told — and, to be fair, that’s not far — Belhadj has never been an active member of al Qaeda. Given his background, he’s certainly a sympathizer; what we used to call a fellow traveler, back in the old days. He probably thinks they’re awesome! But that’s not the same as being under their instruction.

    As to “the Belhadj militia”, Belhadj was commanding something like 5,000 men. It’s physically impossible that all 5,000 of them were “pure unadulterated al Qaeda”. (In fact, the bulk of them were guys from Tripoli who fled to the mountains during the first few months of the war.)

    “they are the ones with guns” — ha ha no. Everyone has guns now. The Islamists have guns, the secularists have guns, the easterners, the westerners, the pissed-off guys from Misrata who want to know what reward they get for having survived a pocket Stalingrad, the Berbers — they’re all armed, and many of them are quite heavily armed. That — not “al Qaeda” — is what will make postwar Libya so very interesting.

    Kosovo Islamists — dude. Kosovars are beer-drinking, disco-dancing, thong-and-bikini-at-the-beach southern Europeans. There’s a tiny — like, less than 1% — minority of bearded Wahhabis, but the average Kosovar is about as Islamist as Angela Merkel. I’ve spent weeks in Prishtina and I could count the number of veils on the fingers of one hand. And I’d have fingers left over.

    The Saudis have thrown hundreds of millions at Kosovo for building mosques and madrassas; the Kosovars thank them, pocket the money, and go back to drinking rakia, watching Brazilian soap operas, and sitting in cafes admiring the girls in their miniskirts. “Muslim”, for most Kosovars, means “don’t let your parents see you eating pork”.

    But this is drifting off-topic for a thread about Vladimir Putin.

    Doug M.

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    • Replies: @Alexander Mercouris
    To answer Anatoly's question I think Kudrin is both disappointed not to have become Prime Minister and has had genuine disagreements with Medvedev over spending. It is clear that the two men do not get on. Having said this, I suspect that Kudrin did not think through fully the consequences of what he said. The fact that he tried to cling on today and even said that he wanted to speak to Putin before handing in his resignation is a sign that he did not really want to resign.

    As to whether Putin's comments amount to a left turn, I do not know but I would make the point that by Anglo American standards Putin and indeed the political culture in Russia already are pretty left wing. No one in Russia has ever won an election fought on a universal franchise by claiming to be right wing. As I remember the liberals back in the late 1980s actually had to pretend that they were left wing in order to gain political credibility, which confused many people at the time. Moreover not only do I think that the culture in Russia is left wing but I think that with time it is actually becoming more so.

    This is not just a matter of semantics. Russians make assumptions about society and the economy and about the role of state in both that would certainly be considered left wing in the Britain or in the United States.

    As for Putin, one reason why he is as popular in Russia as he is, is surely because he understands and largely shares the attitudes of his people. If I am right and if Russian opinion is becoming gradually more left wing then it is logical that Putin would position himself further to the left as well.

    , @yalensis
    Okay. You make a good point that a nation at war will not be able to employ its fabulous tank army without good anti-air defense. Maybe you can answer a question I have been asking for quite a while, and nobody seems to know the answer: Why did Gaddafy not have anti-air defense? Did he not have radar? Why was he not able to shoot at least some of those things down?
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  • @Anatoly Karlin
    I didn't follow the Libyan conflict in any detail, so I didn't make predictions, but that is extremely impressive. Congratulations, Doug!

    Do you think you were lucky to get the month exactly right, or did you calculate it based on concrete and objective factors that were expected to be accurate?

    Thanks, Anatoly. I get plenty of stuff wrong, so it’s nice to nail one sometimes.

    Metrics: The Kosovo precedent, five minutes with Janes, and the rough rule of thumb that it takes around 90 days to turn untrained conscripts into soldiers.

    Kosovo precedent: it took 77 days for Milosevic to break. 1999 Serbia was different from Libya in a lot of ways, but the differences tended to cancel each other out. Like, Serbia was overall poorer, but had a better air defense system; KLA was less of a fighting force than the Libyan rebels, but NATO’s strategic goal was simpler. Adding it up, Libya looked a bit tougher than Serbia, but not greatly so. Maybe twice as difficult? That would give around 154 days of bombing, give or take. As it turned out, Mermaid Dawn started on day 153 of the bombing campaign, which I have to admit left me a little startled.

    Janes: how many sorties were being flown, and what kills were they claiming? Discount those claims by 25% to 50%, then look at how much stuff Qaddafi actually had. If NATO is claiming an average of 10 tanks / day, they’re probably really killing 5-7 tanks / day. If Qaddafi has 500 tanks, then in 90 days they’ll all be dead (or very well hidden and no longer effective). Details of Libya’s military could be found online, and NATO gave daily briefings on claimed kills, so this was pretty easy.

    Training: once the rebels reached rough parity with Qaddafi government forces in terms of training, tactics and organization, it was going to be a battle between “army with an air force” and “army with no air force”. And there’s only one way that ends.

    So how long would that take? Well, US army basic training is 9 weeks for all units, 16 weeks for infantry combat units. The Libyan rebels would force the curve a bit by being under actual combat conditions, but OTOH they’d suffer from divided commands and a lack of formal organization, and I figured those things would cancel each other out.

    (It helped that the quality of Libya’s formal military was quite low to begin with. The rebels weren’t going up against the Israeli Defense Force or the US Marine Corps. They just had to match an army that had lost wars to Tanzania and Chad.)

    A few minutes of BOTE noodling, and I noticed that all three of those curves seemed to go critical around mid-August.

    Incidentally, the old Soviet concept of the “correlation of forces” was very helpful here. The more you looked at the situation, the more clear it was that Qaddafi was trying to fight his way up an ever-steepening slope. There were interlocking strategic, tactical, diplomatic and internal-political dynamics all affecting each other in feedback loops; basically, the worse things went for him, the more likely things would go even worse yet.

    Incidentally2, I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who made these calculations. You’ll notice that Obama and Cameron never showed the slightest signs of apprehension (Sarkozy did, but Sarkozy is a jittery little thing). And neither did the professional military men — Gates got annoyed with the NATO allies, but that was something else again. Of course, politicians and military leaders always try to show unblemished confidence — but if you’re paying attention, you can usually pick up on the nervousness (Kosovo) or the flop sweat (Afghanistan). There was none of that here; these guys knew they had a winner on their hands.

    Notice, too that the authorization was for six months, and the military collapse of Qaddafi’s regime took place in… just a little under six months. I’m not sure this was a coincidence.
    Not being conspiratorial here. More like, if some random guy on the internet can do these calculations? I’m pretty sure that professional military men and diplomats could too.

    Doug M.

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  • @yalensis
    Yes, I will check out your blog. I guess your predictions were more accurate than mine, I gave the odds to Gaddafy's forces right up until weekend when rabbles took Zawiya, that was when I knew it was all over. Or is it?... Might be guerilla wars for some time to come. Loyalists still holding out in Bani Walid and Sirte; now looks like Algeria is secretly helping loyalists. Tuareg and African tribesmen hiding out in desert, maybe even a secret tank army lurking where even NATO drones can’t find them…
    Anyhow, NATO's military victory was not predetermined, not at all. There were times when things could have gone either way. I think it was a combo of NATO's determination to keep up with the bombing (and no popular opinion in Europe or USA forcing them to stop) for as long as it took to keep Sarkozy/Cameron from losing face; plus, the Sarkozy/Qatari weapons drops to rebs in Nafusa Mountains, plus Al Jazeera trickery and disinformation that helped Al Qaeda militias seize Tripoli. Mostly the air campaign and the vicious rebel reign of terror in areas cleared for them by NATO bombs.
    So, got to give jihadist devils their due, they won. However, rabble coalition still pretty shaky, especially with tensions still simmering from Younis assassination, conflicts between western ставленники and Al Qaeda elements (Belhaj, etc.) In short, it's complicated, and it ain’t over yet, not until the Fat Lady sings.

    “maybe even a secret tank army lurking where even NATO drones can’t find them…”

    Merry laughter.

    “Anyhow, NATO’s military victory was not predetermined, not at all.”

    Actually, it pretty much was. The only question was how fast it would happen.

    “Al Qaeda militias seize Tripoli. ”

    99% of Libyan rebel fighters had nothing to do with Al Qaeda.

    Doug M.

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  • @Mark
    I'm happy to stipulate to it as an empirical model, because there's no reason to disagree with it; it's accurate. But as I pointed out further down, Putin cannot have been simultaneously large and in charge, and chafing at the irresponsible liberalizing ideas of Medvedev. Either they were actually Putin's ideas, proceeding from the presumption that he has been running the show himself all this time, or he's had four years to watch and learn while having no real voice in the international cut-and-thrust of policy vis-a-vis Russia.

    The technical term for this is the “fallacy of the excluded middle”. There’s a whole spectrum of possibilities between the two you posit.

    Doug M.

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  • @yalensis
    NATO was/is thinking about doing Syria too. But still struggling to absorb Libya. They bit off more than they can chew.

    No, they bit off pretty much exactly as much as they could chew.

    I’ve been writing about Libya for months now. If you’re interested, my stuff is over at Noel Maurer’s blog (noelmaurer.com).

    For the record, I predicted NATO’s victory back in April, and put a date on it (August) in May.

    Doug M.

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    • Replies: @yalensis
    Yes, I will check out your blog. I guess your predictions were more accurate than mine, I gave the odds to Gaddafy's forces right up until weekend when rabbles took Zawiya, that was when I knew it was all over. Or is it?... Might be guerilla wars for some time to come. Loyalists still holding out in Bani Walid and Sirte; now looks like Algeria is secretly helping loyalists. Tuareg and African tribesmen hiding out in desert, maybe even a secret tank army lurking where even NATO drones can’t find them…
    Anyhow, NATO's military victory was not predetermined, not at all. There were times when things could have gone either way. I think it was a combo of NATO's determination to keep up with the bombing (and no popular opinion in Europe or USA forcing them to stop) for as long as it took to keep Sarkozy/Cameron from losing face; plus, the Sarkozy/Qatari weapons drops to rebs in Nafusa Mountains, plus Al Jazeera trickery and disinformation that helped Al Qaeda militias seize Tripoli. Mostly the air campaign and the vicious rebel reign of terror in areas cleared for them by NATO bombs.
    So, got to give jihadist devils their due, they won. However, rabble coalition still pretty shaky, especially with tensions still simmering from Younis assassination, conflicts between western ставленники and Al Qaeda elements (Belhaj, etc.) In short, it's complicated, and it ain’t over yet, not until the Fat Lady sings.
    , @Anatoly Karlin
    I didn't follow the Libyan conflict in any detail, so I didn't make predictions, but that is extremely impressive. Congratulations, Doug!

    Do you think you were lucky to get the month exactly right, or did you calculate it based on concrete and objective factors that were expected to be accurate?

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  • @yalensis
    I am not talking about a genuine popular uprising in Russia, I agree that is remote probability, except maybe in some areas of the Caucuses. The point is that Arab Spring revolts are not all that genuine either. There is some minor internal element of spontaneity, the rest comes from outside agitators in Europe and Washington. You think this is conspiracy theory? Not at all, it's all out there, to anyone who can read the papers. All that NATO needs on the military side is some small but determined groups of insurgents/militias to fund and promote (Islamists make excellent cannon fodder, because they are fearless), and, on the political side, a few "respectable" politicians (Nemtsov, Navalny, etc.) who are willng to serve as the "democratic government in exile", waiting patiently for the moment of regime change. The third component is the "bogeyman", the ruthless, corrupt dictator who must, for the good of the international community, be hunted down and dragged off to the Hague for trial. I was just linking the Reuters article to show that, yes, the demonization of Putin has already begun, even before a single Russian has cast their vote for him. Expect more of this, a major propaganda blitz in the coming months.
    Yes, Russia's nukes are a serious deterrent to above scenario, I agree with that.

    I’m sorry, but that’s nonsense. Do you seriously think the Tunisian revolt against Ben Ali was started by foreigners? Up until a couple of days before he fled, the French government was still firmly backing him.)

    As for Libya, back in late February and early March the Libyan insurgents took over a third of the country in just a couple of weeks, despite having pretty much no leadership, no funds and no equipment. That doesn’t happen with “some minor element of spontaneity”; to get that kind of explosive collapse over much of the country, you need a broad-based popular revolt.

    This is not to say that Arab Spring revolts can’t get hijacked by outside elements. This could yet happen in Libya, and it’s in the process of happening right now in Syria — where, if you’re paying attention, you can watch democracies Israel and Turkey quietly supporting the dictator (while publicly condemning him), and the autocracies of Saudi Arabia and Qatar funding the opposition (while publicly supporting the regime).

    Doug M.

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    • Replies: @Mark
    Not to mention each and every report of this-many protesters being ruthlessly gunned down by government forces, or "11-year-old child shot by Assad's thugs" carrying the suffix, "according to activists". It has apparently become de rigueur in reporting to take the word of an engaged party that has a vested interest in the outcome predicated by that reporting.
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  • @Futility
    I read Navalny’s comment as a not-so-veiled warning from NATO to Russia: “Re-elect Putin, and we will do you like we just did Gaddafy.”
    Really? You read it this way? It isn't hyperbole for dramatic effect or anything? 'cause if so, you're part of the problem. Just sayin'.

    Well, what would look like Libya? You’d need an indigenous Russian uprising to turn against the government, driven in large part by personal hatred of Putin. This uprising would have to take over about a third of the country, including the second largest city. A large chunk of the military would have to defect to join it, along with several cabinet ministers. And if that were to happen…

    … NATO would sit absolutely quiet, since Russia, unlike Libya, is a major power with nuclear weapons, a functioning air force, an air defense system, a navy, and a large, competent army. Libya, let’s note, had none of those things.

    NATO isn’t even going to take on Syria, for goodness’ sake.

    Doug M.

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    • Replies: @Alexander Mercouris
    This has to be right. Talk of NATO intervention in Russia is fanciful. So in my opinion are Arab Spring scenarios.

    I do not know by the way why people think that a popular rising could happen in Russia. None has happened in Russia since 1917. The USSR's fall did not happen because of a popular rising in Russia but because of a power struggle within the elite. Nor did a rising happen in Russia in the 1990s when economic conditions in the country were very bad.

    , @yalensis
    NATO was/is thinking about doing Syria too. But still struggling to absorb Libya. They bit off more than they can chew.
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  • Mark, I think we’re talking past each other. You’re saying Putin is smart, he’s a realist, he’s not like those ridiculous liberals — and I agree. But that’s not what I’m talking about.

    Historically, leaders who stay in power for more than a decade tend to display poorer judgment and decreased efficiency and competence. That has nothing to do with Putin as such; it’s an empirical observation.

    The bad news is, it’s a very broad-based trend, one that applies to leaders in both democratic, semidemocratic and completely illiberal societies. The good news is, it’s a tendency, not a rule — there are plenty of exceptions, leaders who have remained competent despite many years in power.

    That said, the tendency is real. I’m not saying Putin will succumb to it; I’m just pointing out that it exists.

    Doug M.

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    • Replies: @Z
    Not sure if your premise is true but even if it is [citation needed] somewhat less efficient Putin is better than a highly efficient traitor or a naive Gorbachev-like idiot who thinks the West has Russia's best interests in mind.
    , @yalensis
    Well, it is true that rulers become more out of touch the longer they are in power. That's why there are term limits in democracies. But even in worst case scnearios when the guy is dictator-for-life, eventually the alpha male gets so old that he either dies or is removed by the younger apes (I mean people). The real crunch comes when time comes for succession of power and the aging ruler attempts to annoint his idiot son as heir apparent. In Putin's case, he doesn't have a son, so should be okay. Besides, Putin will have a parliament to keep him in check.
    , @Mark
    I'm happy to stipulate to it as an empirical model, because there's no reason to disagree with it; it's accurate. But as I pointed out further down, Putin cannot have been simultaneously large and in charge, and chafing at the irresponsible liberalizing ideas of Medvedev. Either they were actually Putin's ideas, proceeding from the presumption that he has been running the show himself all this time, or he's had four years to watch and learn while having no real voice in the international cut-and-thrust of policy vis-a-vis Russia.
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  • A couple of thoughts.

    One, this is utterly unsurprising. Putin’s tenure as PM was to avoid the constitutional stricture on consecutive terms. That was obvious in 2008, and it never stopped being obvious. Medvedev wasn’t a puppet, no, but neither was he ever a serious rival.

    Two, putting executive power in the hands of one guy for long periods of power tends not to work out so well. Very broadly speaking, the longer you’re on top, the more likely you are to become isolated from reality, surrounded by sycophants and gatekeepers. You’re also more likely to become arbitrary and inefficient in your exercise of power. There are many exceptions… but they’re exceptions. Will Putin be one of them? We’ll see soon enough.

    Doug M.

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    • Replies: @Anatoly Karlin
    I'll admit to still being surprised. It wasn't obvious to me, nor to quite a lot of other Russia watchers.

    Agreed with your second point, as mentioned in the expanded post.

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  • After peaking in 2007 at the height of its oil boom, the Russian economy slid off the rails, with GDP collapsing by 25% from peak to trough. Attempts to stem the decline by arresting pessimistic economists failed. Its image as a tiger economy, heavily promoted by Kremlin ideologues, was revealed to be a sham. Though...
  • @yalensis`
    Clarification: by "plunder", I wasn't talking about the oil. I was talking about the billions of dollars in cash that Libya had in Western banks. Libya was a debt-free nation with a cash surplus. I predict one year from now it will be deeply in debt to the IMF. If it turns out I am wrong about that, then I will buy a tie and eat it, I promise!

    …except the money hasn’t gone away. It’s been handed over to the NTC.

    Debt: I doubt it, but it’s not impossible. The war destroyed a lot of infrastructure — for instance, much of the city of Misrata, with almost half a million people, was reduced to rubble. Reconstruction costs will run to tens of billions. That’s roughly the same order of magnitude as Libya’s foreign currency reserves (~$136 billion).

    So it’s conceivable, though IMO pretty unlikely, that they could go into the red for a while. Basically it’s going to be a race between how fast they rebuild, and how fast they can pump oil. The oil infrastructure was only lightly damaged, so my money is on the pumpers. I think you’ll probably end up at least nibbling on that tie.

    – The Russian discourse on Libya is pretty interesting. Obviously the Russian media are going to take a dim view of NATO stomping a government that’s traditionally been friendly to Russia. But I do wonder if that’s all there is to it.

    I note in passing that Russia has several Central Asian client states run by aging autocrats who’ve been in power for decades, very similar to the guys who’ve been overthrown or threatened by the Arab Spring.

    Doug M.

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  • The King returns. As this is breaking news, please feel free to discuss this breaking news while I write up a more substantive post. In summary: (1) I was 75% wrong. (I gave Putin a 25% of returning to the PM; I thought the likeliest scenario would be for DAM to continue). (2) That said,...
  • @Sam
    Ok. Up for a second bet? I bet you that after December's elections and UR overwhelming win, Putin will say that after all he will not run for President (btw, I couldn't find where he said he accepted DAM proposition, just him saying it's that "the delegates' positive reaction was an honor"). Either Medvedev as the person leading UR will stand for President, or a third candidate will. I know it's far-fetched, but what do you think?

    I’ll take that bet.

    Doug M.

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  • After peaking in 2007 at the height of its oil boom, the Russian economy slid off the rails, with GDP collapsing by 25% from peak to trough. Attempts to stem the decline by arresting pessimistic economists failed. Its image as a tiger economy, heavily promoted by Kremlin ideologues, was revealed to be a sham. Though...
  • I must have missed the “plundering” part. Libya’s current government is (so far) honoring all its pre-existing contracts, which means that Libya’s oil is being purchased by exactly the same people as a year ago.

    “De-fang” means to render harmless. Libya was already pretty harmless — Qaddafi had given up supporting terrorism and abandoned his nuclear program. His military was a joke; Libya lost a war with Chad, for goodness’ sake. (Actually, it lost a war with Tanzania, and /then/ lost a war with Chad.) So, the intervention wasn’t to deal with a threat, real or perceived.

    Doug M.

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    • Replies: @yalensis`
    Clarification: by "plunder", I wasn't talking about the oil. I was talking about the billions of dollars in cash that Libya had in Western banks. Libya was a debt-free nation with a cash surplus. I predict one year from now it will be deeply in debt to the IMF. If it turns out I am wrong about that, then I will buy a tie and eat it, I promise!
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  • @Anatoly Karlin
    I have my doubts about Belorussian statistics too. For instance, they are currently claiming a GDP growth rate of 9.1%, which I think is extremely unlikely to be the case in the light of recent events.

    That said, I really don't think the demographic situation in Belarus is worse than Latvia's. It's TFR was 1.50 in 2009, and unlike in Latvia there was no major collapse (birth rates declined by a bit but I think much of that can be attributed to the decline in women of child-bearing age that is now becoming evident throughout the Slavic lands). It also does not have the major emigration crisis afflicting Latvia and Lithuania. Their stats indicate that it remains a net immigration country.

    …the thing about TFRs is that they have their effect over time, not at once. A country can have a very low TFR for a few years and then rebound. A low TFR that’s sustained over a decade or more, though, will have deep long-term effects.

    “Better than Latvia” is a very low bar, since Latvia is either one of the worst or *the* worst, depending on which period you choose. Belarus’ TFR is very low, and has been very low for a long time. They haven’t come close to 2.0 for a full generation now. Over that whole period of time, they’ve consistently maintained one of the lowest TFRs in the world.

    I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating: the real crunch in post-Communist Eastern Europe is just about to arrive. The empty birth cohorts of the 1990s are now entering their peak childbearing years. From Russia to Hungary, countries are going to face a one-two punch: very few women of peak childbearing age /and/ very few children per woman.

    But this is a conversation for another thread. The point here is that Belarus’ demographic situation, while not quite as awful as Latvia’s, is still pretty dire.

    As to Belarus getting more immigrants than emigrants… well, as noted, Belarusan statistics are a little on the dubious side. Belarus is poorer than all its neighbors except Ukraine; it’s a bit hard to imagine Poles or Russians moving there in large numbers. I’m sure there was a wave of emigrants from the Baltics and Central Asia (as with Russia, just on a smaller scale), but that should be pretty much done by now. Ukrainians? But why would a Ukrainian move to Belarus instead of Russia?

    I do suspect that emigration from Belarus has been kept fairly low, as Belarusans do not have easy visa entry into the EU. (Also, to be fair, up until six months ago Belarus was relatively prosperous and stable. If you didn’t mind living under a highly illiberal authoritarian government, you could have a perfectly pleasant life there.)

    Doug M.

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  • @Anatoly Karlin
    I have my doubts about Belorussian statistics too. For instance, they are currently claiming a GDP growth rate of 9.1%, which I think is extremely unlikely to be the case in the light of recent events.

    That said, I really don't think the demographic situation in Belarus is worse than Latvia's. It's TFR was 1.50 in 2009, and unlike in Latvia there was no major collapse (birth rates declined by a bit but I think much of that can be attributed to the decline in women of child-bearing age that is now becoming evident throughout the Slavic lands). It also does not have the major emigration crisis afflicting Latvia and Lithuania. Their stats indicate that it remains a net immigration country.

    Belarusan growth numbers have been a rapidly moving target, changing almost day by day over the last six months. But you can’t find any estimate from the last 90 days that isn’t negative for 2012. (Well, other than the official Belarusan one.)

    Doug M.

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  • @Alexander Mercouris
    I cannot agree with this. The Customs Union has barely started to work and cannot be responsible for consumer goods shortages in Belarus or for Belarus's financial collapse. Nor does it make sense to blame goods shortages on incoming floods of Russians. Goods shortages are a classic symptom of hyperinflation, which is what Belarus is experiencing now, as buyers try to hoard at the same time as sellers withdraw goods from the market and turn to barter.

    No offense, but you’re wrong. Russians are flooding into Belarus and buying everything they can. This is a fact; you can find news stories about it in Russian, Belarusan, and foreign media, along with videos of empty store shelves, long lines, and happy Russians with cars full of cheap food and consumer goods.

    And why not? The devaluation means that the entire country is having a 50% off sale. Everything, all across Belarus, is suddenly half price. I’d be driving across the border, too.

    This is great news for wholesalers, retailers, supermarkets, drugstores, hotels, spas, casinos, and prostitutes. It’s bad news for ordinary people (who are looking at empty shelves, or bidding for goods and services against Russians who are suddenly twice as rich) and for anyone who relies on imports (which is a lot of people, since Belarus is a fairly open economy, and also an economy that imports most of its energy).

    I’m not saying the customs union is responsible for Belarus’ problems. It’s not. Most of them would have happened anyway. But by implementing customs union simultaneously with a major currency devaluation, the Belarusan government has made a bad situation worse.

    – BTW, Belarus isn’t experiencing hyperinflation… yet.

    Doug M.

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  • @Doug M.
    I'm honestly not sure what's improper about it. A lot of Russian commentary on the Baltics involves various levels of resentment, sulky self-pity, snide trash-talking and (when things go badly there) lip-smacking, hand-rubbing schadenfreude. There's an underlying bitterness that is really rather striking sometimes.

    (N.B., I don't include our host here. Anatoly shares the Russian interest in the Baltics, but he doesn't seem to be tapping that deep vein of nationalist weirdness.)

    Most post-colonial relations don't involve this level of intensity. The French do not get that excited about anti-French demonstrations in, say, Senegal. Even when they're intervening militarily -- as in the Ivory Coast earlier this year -- they're just not that emotionally engaged as a nation. Les noirs, they like us, they don't like us, who really cares?

    The Hawaii analogy is interesting, but too far-fetched to have much punch. The internal structure of the US is so different from that of the fUSSR that there really isn't any good or close comparison.

    There is the US relationship with Cuba, of course. But Cuba is sort of a perfect storm -- you had a revolutionary government that was ferociously anti-American, you had US anti-Communism, you had the sudden creation of a huge and influential Cuban-American diaspora, and you had (briefly) a real, major strategic threat to the US. Even so, while Americans can be totally irrational on the subject of Cuba, it's just not the same kind of emotionally charged weirdness that I see sometimes in Russian commentary on the Baltics. Frothing irrational hatred, yes, but not wounded, sulky vindictiveness.

    The closest comparison I can think of -- and it's not very close -- is the Serb attitude towards Kosovo. If you could somehow subtract the creepy race-hatred for Albanians.


    Doug M.

    Alex, the referent was not “Russia” but “some Russian intellectuals”.

    But if it makes you more comfortable, then substitute “the ex-girlfriend who posts on Facebook what a relief it is to have finally broken up with you, because you were incredibly self-centered and had no sense of humor, and dumping you was the best decision she’s ever made”.

    Doug M.

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  • @Alexander Mercouris
    The following article about Latvia appeared first in the Guardian and now on Counterpunch. You can make of it what you will.
    http://www.counterpunch.org/2011/09/19/the-pillaging-of-latvia/

    …the author of that article is economic advisor to the largest Latvian opposition party.

    Doug M.

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  • @Scowspi
    Alexander, I agree with you re: "not a proper comment." On the other hand, there is something interesting in Rus-Balt relations - different layers of ambiguity, attraction, and loathing that strike one as unusual given the extremely disproportionate sizes of the polities involved.

    I think a more useful analogy than the above Belize or Cuba would be a hypothetical one: what if Texas and Hawaii regained independence? After all, they were independent once, and still maintain an independent spirit. I submit that if that happened, Americans would observe them in much the same way that Russians observe the Baltics.

    The analogy would further hold if, for instance, Hawaii made knowledge of the Hawaiian language a condition to gain citizenship and banned English-language signs in Honolulu, and if Hawaiian officials started celebrating the Japanese as the good guys in WW2. While Hawaiian historical grievances may be legit, I think plenty of "lower 48" Americans would be taken aback by that.

    I’m honestly not sure what’s improper about it. A lot of Russian commentary on the Baltics involves various levels of resentment, sulky self-pity, snide trash-talking and (when things go badly there) lip-smacking, hand-rubbing schadenfreude. There’s an underlying bitterness that is really rather striking sometimes.

    (N.B., I don’t include our host here. Anatoly shares the Russian interest in the Baltics, but he doesn’t seem to be tapping that deep vein of nationalist weirdness.)

    Most post-colonial relations don’t involve this level of intensity. The French do not get that excited about anti-French demonstrations in, say, Senegal. Even when they’re intervening militarily — as in the Ivory Coast earlier this year — they’re just not that emotionally engaged as a nation. Les noirs, they like us, they don’t like us, who really cares?

    The Hawaii analogy is interesting, but too far-fetched to have much punch. The internal structure of the US is so different from that of the fUSSR that there really isn’t any good or close comparison.

    There is the US relationship with Cuba, of course. But Cuba is sort of a perfect storm — you had a revolutionary government that was ferociously anti-American, you had US anti-Communism, you had the sudden creation of a huge and influential Cuban-American diaspora, and you had (briefly) a real, major strategic threat to the US. Even so, while Americans can be totally irrational on the subject of Cuba, it’s just not the same kind of emotionally charged weirdness that I see sometimes in Russian commentary on the Baltics. Frothing irrational hatred, yes, but not wounded, sulky vindictiveness.

    The closest comparison I can think of — and it’s not very close — is the Serb attitude towards Kosovo. If you could somehow subtract the creepy race-hatred for Albanians.

    Doug M.

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    • Replies: @Alexander Mercouris
    I do not think it is proper to use sexual imagery when discussing countries.
    , @Doug M.
    Alex, the referent was not "Russia" but "some Russian intellectuals".

    But if it makes you more comfortable, then substitute "the ex-girlfriend who posts on Facebook what a relief it is to have finally broken up with you, because you were incredibly self-centered and had no sense of humor, and dumping you was the best decision she's ever made".


    Doug M.

    , @Scowspi
    Doug: Regarding Russian intellectuals specifically - some have made the point that they felt screwed, having supported (at least verbally) Baltic independence, when the Baltic leaders turned out to be unfriendly to both Russia the country and Russian people & language within their borders. Also, the image within the CCCP was that the Baltics were the most "civilized, Western, sophisticated" part. Russian intellectuals probably expected them to act more like W. Europeans and less like tribal nationalists.

    Note: Not saying I support this view necessarily; it's just something I've heard more than once.

    By contrast, where ordinary Russians are concerned, my impression is that they have a hard time telling those 3 countries apart.

    , @grafomanka
    Re: Russian obsession with Baltics.
    Isn't it because Baltic states have joined NATO, no other ex-USSR country has done this. So they sort of ... betrayed the Motherland.

    Russians will be naturally more interested in Europe than Kazakhstan.

    , @yalensis
    I think @grafomanka has it mostly right, although Balts joining NATO cannot really be considered "betrayal of Motherland", since Balts never considered Russia to be Motherland. A lot of the bitterness is actually fear and dread: because Balts joined NATO, they would be used as staging area against Russia in future wars. This makes them an enemy in a future war, so Balts’ negative views of Russia gain in importance (=they would be fierce, ideologically-driven enemy in a future war).
    On Hawaii/Texas analogy: I don’t know anything about Hawaii, but I know a lot about Texas, as I have close relatives who live there; and trust me, there is a real chance that Texas would secede from union. Secessionist sentiment in Texas is very popular (I haven’t seen any scientific polls, but I would guestimate around 40% if you went around asking people), especially when there is Democratic administration in Washington. Current governor of Texas, Rick Perry, threatens secession every other day (although he is also running for President of Union, go figure). If under some bizarre set of future circumstances Texas really did secede, then rest of America WOULD probably react with same resentment and Schadenfreude as Russia did to Baltics.
    And, by the way, Doug is not the only one who uses sexual imagery to describe these difficult international relationships. I have read some Russian commentators who talk about Gruzia in precisely those terms: Used to be Russia’s “favorite wife”, then found another beau (=USA), etc. Is just a figure of speech that tries to score a point via metaphor, and I don’t really see anything improper there, although I don’t necessarily agree with Doug about the specific points.
    , @kalevipoeg
    To elaborate on the couple(ing) metaphor, Russia thinks that they married the Baltics for eternity (an empire always marries for eternity), while the Baltics consider that they were raped by Russia. Thus, Russia and many of its citizens may consider the Baltics as independent, but not as REindependent states continuing their pre-WWII existence based on legal continuity.

    The second angle might be that large parts of the northern Belorus and the area from Lithuania and Latvia to Moscow used to be a mix of finno-ugrians and balts, while the lands to the north and to the east of it were populated by finno-ugrians. Genetics shows that all those regions are genetically similar and current residents are mostly the descendants of finno-ugric hunter-gatherers. The switch to eastern slavic dialects only happened during the last 15 centuries or so. Thus the ongoing quarrel is also about the remaining non-russian identity mindset still lingering on the shores of the Baltic Sea, refusing to die out and refusing to become russified.

    One should also remark that those to the east of the Baltics mostly represented the so-called continental finno-ugrians, while the Baltics was home to a mix of maritime and continental finno-ugrians (racially western and eastern Baltic "races").

    The importance of Estonia in particular is its location as the southernmost outpost of remaining culturally baltic finns, who have refused to become balts, refused to become swedes and refused to become russians. The very existence and persistence of estonian culture is what irritates Kremlin the most, perhaps partly because the old finno-ugric identity has still not completely faded away from the minds of russified peoples (or at least there are some who believe so) and because Kremlin fears about a revival, or more likely cultivates the fear to complete the russification process.

    , @kalevipoeg
    As another analogy, Russia can be viewed as the Borg, the Baltics and especially Estonia are the starship Enterprise, and there is a Picard somewhere (not Putin, that's for sure).
    , @Anatoly Karlin
    Well if you want to think of things that way Kalevipoeg shouldn't you be describing any empire as a Borg?

    The Romans "Latinized" almost the entirely of the northern Med. The British Empire "anglicized" a whole bunch of places from Scotland and Ireland to India and (indirectly) North America.

    The only problem is that the Finno-Ugrics weren't as successful as some of the other tribes, hence why today their geographic scope is limited. But you have plenty of other peoples for company in this respect: the Basques, the Greeks, the Manchus, etc.

    , @kalevipoeg
    Yes, any empire acts as a Borg.

    And yes, in some sense finno-ugric tribes were not as successful. But it all depends on what values one values. We prefer to be spiritually free and not be absorbed into the Borg. And that is what this quarrel is all about - about the last parts of a former whole resisting the spread of the Borg. And I can imagine that the Borg does not feel as a whole until it has successfully absorbed all its former finno-ugric self.
    And that is why the relative success of Estonia irks so many in the Borg collective.

    , @Anatoly Karlin
    I assure you, even among Eurasianists and Soviet nostalgists, there are very few who want much to do with Estonia or the Baltics in general. Certainly there is no desire whatsoever to conquer them.

    The Borg would appreciate you cutting down on the widespread ethno-linguistic discrimination but is otherwise largely indifferent.

    , @Scowspi
    Kalevipoeg above (below?) states: "The very existence and persistence of estonian culture is what irritates Kremlin the most" - I really don't see any evidence for this; I just see arguments about politics.

    BTW, you brought up a point above that is frequently overlooked: Estonian Russians (the "traditional Russian minority") were persecuted worse than ethnic Estonians when the Soviets first took over. This was for political reasons, as they came from groups that were "politically incorrect": Old Believers, White emigres, remnants of Tsarist officialdom.

    This treatment is an item of evidence against the common Baltic claim of Russo-supremacy in Soviet policy, is it not?

    , @kalevipoeg
    Re: About the "Russo-supremacy in Soviet policy".

    No, I don't agree with you, Scowspi.
    It is consistent with the claims from the Baltics. The primary political reasoning of Kremlin is to spread the Borg collective by absorbing neighboring native peoples.
    Kremlin punishing russians in near abroad for failing their duties to the prime directive of Kremlin is very much consistent with the claims from the Baltics.

    You not seeing "The very existence and persistence of estonian culture is what irritates Kremlin the most" is an indication of a short-sightedness common to ALL indo-europeans in Europe and in the Americas - you don't see what you don't want to see or admit.

    The evidence is in the way indo-europeans treat native peoples and their culture, even when those indo-europeans happen to have those same native peoples and cultures as their ancestors.

    Russians see estonians and baltic finns and balts as future russians.

    Estonians and finns see boreal zone russians and balts (and more and more swedes as well) as former finno-ugrians.

    Russians deny what estonians see.
    Estonians deny what russians see.

    Those boreal russians are taught by Kremlin to demean their ancestral finno-ugric (and the intermediate baltic) culture and those who still keep that culture.
    Finns and estonians and hungarians have shown in PISA and TIMSS tests that a language switch to indo-european dialects was really not necessary at all and that the old cultures are very competitive. Kremlin (Borg) does not like open friendly competition, even if it comes from a small Estonia.

    , @kalevipoeg
    AK, you can start your assurances by recognizing contemporary Estonia as a legal continuation of a pre-WWII Estonia. Estonia was and still is a national state, with the primary directive written into our constitution to keep estonian language and culture within Estonia.

    If Kremlin does not recognize contemporary Estonia as a legal continuation of a pre-WWII Estonia, then there are really no assurances that Kremlin wiould not try to replay the events of 1939-1940 in the future. Legal continuity of Estonia is a necessary (but not sufficient) prerequisite for assurances to be taken seriously.

    And that also means that you take legal continuity and a nation-state into consideration when you look at the situation in Estonia.

    Unfortunately, Amnesty International reports concerning Estonia have been error-prone. Even the Estonian Amnesty group has criticized the reports for mistakes. And Amnesty International seems to be an organisation disrespecting the legal continuity of Estonia with pre-WWII Estonia, and thus violating the Hague and Geneva conventions on the issues of occupation, colonization and genocide.

    Based on PISA tests, young russians in Estonia are given the best russian language primary education in the world - even besting the primary education given in RF.

    There are about 370 000 russians living in Estonia. There are still some finno-ugric nations living within RF with a similar or larger population size, but there are no news about them besting Russian russians in PISA tests using their finno-ugric language based education. In fact, as I understand, they are not allowed to take PISA tests in their own language at all. And I have not heard about ukrainians in RF being allowed to take PISA tests in ukrainian language as well.

    Amnesty International does not give such comparative overviews.

    The only real issue with the russian culture in Estonia concerns with the creation and registration and recognition of a russian cultural autonomy in Estonia. The problem is that there is a group who claims to represent the local russians in this issue, but there is little evidence that most of the local russians have given them the necessary mandate. I am sure that after this has been sorted out, and the cultural autonomy has been granted, there will be no real lingering issues.

    Thus, there is no wide-spread ethno-linguistic discrimination of russians in Estonia.

    , @kalevipoeg
    From the Amnesty International report:

    http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/asset/EUR51/002/2006/en/08694661-d3d3-11dd-8743-d305bea2b2c7/eur510022006en.html

    /* This report focuses on barriers to full and effective enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights for members of the Russian-speaking minority who had become settled in Estonia prior to that country’s independence in 1991. Given this focus, it will not seek to discuss in detail civil and political rights or citizenship requirements and naturalization processes in detail, except where these affect ESC rights. The report is also not intended as a comprehensive overview of issues faced by all persons in Estonia who are not ethnically Estonian, including those of migrant communities who arrived after 1991, or of smaller minority communities such as the Roma community, the Tartar community, the Jewish community or Finno-Ugric communities. */

    So, in short, the AI report only zeroes in on the issues concerning soviet colonists and their children in Estonia, and disregarding any comprehensive search for a right balance between the rights of a native majority, regional native minority, nonnative minority of former colonists and regional nonnative majorities of colonists.

    The AI report is concerned that of the 46% russian speaking persons living in a bilingual capital of Estonia, about 60% have NOT learned the state language, even after 15 years of reindependence and despite of the almost perfect bilingual environment. The AI report is concerned about those 60% of monolinguals, but is not concerned that the 54% of natives still have to endure those monolingual colonists, who have refused to learn estonian language even after 15 years of independence (not even mentioning the many years of occupation).

    The AI report is concerned about the 80% of monolingual colonists in Narva, but is NOT concerned about the few estonians who managed to stay in Narva during the soviet occupation, or dared to move back to Narva after reindependence. AI report finds it perfectly OK that natives still have to be bilingual to survive, but that soviet colonists can stay monolingual even in a public office job.

    I guess this is perhaps the partiality one has come to expect from Amnesty International.

    And how on earth is it possible to provide jobs anywhere without any language discrimination, is beyond me.
    Do all 200 world states provide jobs for livonians who only speak livonian?

    So, in conclusion, such rights are often in contradiction with other rights, and one could only strive for a proper / right balance. But that is an impossible task if one only concentrates on one group of people.

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  • @Yalensis
    @doug: Good point about Belarus. They had a great run as a neo-socialist state, but now their economic crisis is mostly caused by Russia raising energy prices on them. Belorussians simply cannot afford to pay market price of gas, they really need the discount. Belorussian "economic miracle" was ALWAYS premised on discounted energy supplied by Russia. But then Russia decided to screw them over. (Long story.)
    The difference between Belorussia and Latvia is that Belorussian working people and middle class will not feel the collapse as severely, because of social safety net.
    In summary: Between systems as politically and economically disparate as Latvia and Belorussia, what is the common denominator of their economic woes? The answer: lack of money.
    Definition of povery = Lack of money.
    Cure for povery = Infusion of money from some outside source.

    “Between systems as politically and economically disparate as Latvia and Belorussia, what is the common denominator of their economic woes? The answer: lack of money.”

    Try this simple experiment. Take the 15 republics of the fUSSR, and plot them on a scattergraph. On one axis, plot estimated GDP growth for 2011. On the other, plot energy exports as a percentage of GDP. (If the country is a net energy importer, this will be a negative figure.)

    Graphed like that, do you see a correlation? How obvious is it?

    Doug M.

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    • Replies: @Alexander Mercouris
    Doug, I do not follow this. What point are you making?
    , @Anatoly Karlin
    I think Doug is saying that there will be little or no correlation. And he'd be right.
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  • @Alexander Mercouris
    Russia did not cause Belarus's problems. Blaming Russia for them is a cheap shot. What caused Belarus's problems was unrestrained state spending just as what caused Latvia's problems was a credit boom that got out of control.

    Alex, I’m honestly not sure what you’re talking about here. I did not blame Russia for the current crisis. I said “customs union with Russia has been making the problem worse, at least in the short run”. That’s an obviously true statement. What are you objecting to, here?

    – But if you want to apportion blame, I’ll cheerfully agree that most of it lies on the Belarusan side. Both sides agreed to the customs union, but in retrospect, it was very poor timing on the part of the Belarusans. Devaluation would have been a major shock anyway — it’s inflationary, especially in a relatively small open economy like Belarus’. But devaluation plus customs union at the same time has moved the needle from “difficult transition” to “crisis”.

    Doug M.

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    • Replies: @Alexander Mercouris
    I cannot agree with this. The Customs Union has barely started to work and cannot be responsible for consumer goods shortages in Belarus or for Belarus's financial collapse. Nor does it make sense to blame goods shortages on incoming floods of Russians. Goods shortages are a classic symptom of hyperinflation, which is what Belarus is experiencing now, as buyers try to hoard at the same time as sellers withdraw goods from the market and turn to barter.
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  • @Anatoly Karlin
    If you don't mind, I'll leave the observation that I'm obsessed with the Baltics unanswered. Psychoanalize away! ;)

    I don't know the answers to #1 and #2. I cannot find any regional data. If I had to guess, I'd say the ethnic Russians are doing a bit worse because many are middle-aged and the aforementioned discrimination issues (so, if a Latvian company had to fire some workers, all else equal who'd be going first?). But I doubt there are very major differences in fertility, etc.

    In response to #3, again - no statistics - but that they tend to be young and more educated than not is something that's frequently mentioned in media mentions. If you want a cite, there's this BBC article from 2010: "Mr Neimanis lost his job in 2008 when the economic crisis struck. And although he is an experienced civil engineer, he will probably end up picking strawberries or packing vegetables in England.... All of the applicants here today are young and well-qualified - exactly the people Latvia can least afford to lose. "Very often we have school teachers with a high education and reasonably good English, and they will end up simply sorting or picking fruit or vegetables," says Ginters Purins, director of GP Recruitment."

    While Googling, I also found this article from the Economist blog. It suggests the emigration situation is far worse than presented in Latvian statistics as many emigrants don't register. I find this plausible. I was looking at Lithuanian emigration statistics when writing this piece, and I noticed a sudden step increase from c.1000/2000 per month to 10,000/15,000 per month in mid-2010 that continues until today. I Googled it, and apparently it coincided with the introduction of a tax that only affected Lithuanians officially resident in the country. So, many more people started registering their departure (cf. the statistics: 83,157 left in 2010, up from 21,970 in 2009).

    The two biggest emigration destinations are the UK and Russia (I assume that almost 100% of those going to Russia are ethnic Russians). According a poll in Latvia, 44% of Latvian youth are "confident" that they will leave, with the most popular destinations named Russia, the UK, and the US in that order. One curious finding of that poll is that the lower the incomes, the more Latvians feel that it is "their country." Circumstantial evidence that emigration is more popular among the richer (and hence higher-skilled) parts of the population.

    According to a Regnum piece, the majority of Estonian emigrants are in the 20-30 year age range. According to Lithuanian stats, 45,615 of the 83,157 emigrants in 2010 were in the 20-34 age group. I don't see why the pattern for Latvia should be different.

    Obsessed, no. But you seem to be buying into the standard Russian fascination with the Baltics.

    On the plus side, you’re not implying that they deserve it (because they oppress Russians, because they’re witless tools of the West, because they’re really NAZIS).

    Seriously: a lot of Russian intellectuals respond to the Baltics as if they were, collectively, the ex-girlfriend who said “and also you were never very good in bed”.

    Doug M.

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    • Replies: @Alexander Mercouris
    Doug, I don't think this is a proper comment.
    , @Anatoly Karlin
    Okay, let it be fascination then. ;) But there are a few concrete reasons for it.

    1) As already pointed out, the visible contrast with Russia, and issues with their respective media coverage.

    2) The fact that for years Latvia, along with Estonia and Lithuania, were touted as Baltic tigers and praised for their neoliberal economic reforms (which were very unfavorably contrasted with "statist" Russia). But now, once again, we see that radical neoliberal reforms may be good for growth in the short-run, but aren't the panacea ideologues present them as in the long run. Nonetheless, bizarre as it seems, there are still many influential economists (e.g. Anders Aslund) actually arguing for Latvian-style solutions to the economic crisis.

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  • @Alexander Mercouris
    I am afraid that I do not believe the statistics that were previously coming out of Belarus. I think the high growth rates that were being claimed were if not fantasies certainly exaggerations. The financial collapse that has happened this year shows how fragile the system in Belarus always was. I remember how just over a year ago the authorities in Belarus became furious when the Russian Finance Minister Kudrin warned that Belarus was heading for financial collapse. That of course has now come to pass. I would add that the collapse would presumably have been averted if the project to build a union state with Russia with a single currency (presumably the Russian rouble) had been implemented but for whatever reason it did not happen.

    As to statistics in Belarus: I’m inclined to agree. Anatoly has discussed on this blog why Russian statistics are (probably, mostly, more or less) trustworthy. Most of those arguments, alas, do not apply to Belarus. If the numbers try to make Batka look bad, one suspects that the numbers will suffer the consequences.

    That said, a lot of the growth was real. Anyone who has been to Minsk will tell you it’s a clean, well-run city with a lot of new construction and (until recently) a tangible air of modest prosperity.

    Doug M.

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    • Replies: @Alexander Mercouris
    Russia did not cause Belarus's problems. Blaming Russia for them is a cheap shot. What caused Belarus's problems was unrestrained state spending just as what caused Latvia's problems was a credit boom that got out of control.
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc.
  • @Alexander Mercouris
    I am afraid that I do not believe the statistics that were previously coming out of Belarus. I think the high growth rates that were being claimed were if not fantasies certainly exaggerations. The financial collapse that has happened this year shows how fragile the system in Belarus always was. I remember how just over a year ago the authorities in Belarus became furious when the Russian Finance Minister Kudrin warned that Belarus was heading for financial collapse. That of course has now come to pass. I would add that the collapse would presumably have been averted if the project to build a union state with Russia with a single currency (presumably the Russian rouble) had been implemented but for whatever reason it did not happen.

    …actually, customs union with Russia has been making the economic problems worse, at least in the short run.

    Belarus devalued its currency (suddenly and without notice, of course) in May, and it is still falling against most other currencies. A Russian ruble in Minsk is worth about double what it was a year ago.

    So, Russians are pouring over the border and buying anything that will move, from groceries to televisions. Which sounds great… except that (1) it’s causing massive shortages of all sorts of things, as everything from socks to bacon gets sucked over the border into Russia; and (2) it’s dramatically contributing to inflation, as retailers raise their prices in the face of demand.

    Currency union with Russia would have produced a different set of problems, but likely just as bad or worse.

    Doug M.

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  • @A
    Latvia’s parliament has public approval ratings of roughly 5-15 percent. Yeah, that's some nice "parliamentarian and progressive" system you've got there.

    …that would be the Latvian Parliament that just got replaced last week by a new Latvian Parliament, in peaceful, orderly and fair elections whose results were promptly accepted by all parties.

    Try to keep up, A.

    Doug M.

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    • Replies: @a
    Fortunately, the parties owned by Us still retain the capacity to prevent Harmony Center joining the government and impeding Us in our extraction of wealth from Latvia.

    All is well.

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  • I note in passing that Belarus’ demographics are just about as dire as Latvia’s — Belarus has had a very low birthrate for a long time now — and Belarus is currently undergoing an economic crisis very different from, but nearly as nasty as, the one that’s currently enveloping the Baltic States.

    Now, Belarus is under a very different political system (authoritarian and illiberal vs. parliamentarian and progressive) and a very different economic system (everything still state-owned or state-run). Nonetheless, it has followed a remarkably similar path — a decade of good to excellent growth, followed by a sudden drop off a cliff. As recently as March, the IMF was projecting 8% or better growth for Belarus for 2011. It now appears that growth has pretty much stopped dead, and the economy is expected to contract in 2012. Meanwhile, inflation for 2011 is going to approach 100%, interest rates are approaching 30%, and basic goods such as bacon and yogurt have disappeared from the shelves.

    Belarus’ crash comes a couple of years later than Latvia’s, and it’s likely to be less severe — the current forecast is for negative growth in the range of 5% next year, not 25%. But the fact that two adjacent countries are on broadly similar trajectories, despite their seemingly dramatic differences, should give the casual analyst pause.

    Doug M.

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    • Replies: @A
    Latvia’s parliament has public approval ratings of roughly 5-15 percent. Yeah, that's some nice "parliamentarian and progressive" system you've got there.
    , @Alexander Mercouris
    I am afraid that I do not believe the statistics that were previously coming out of Belarus. I think the high growth rates that were being claimed were if not fantasies certainly exaggerations. The financial collapse that has happened this year shows how fragile the system in Belarus always was. I remember how just over a year ago the authorities in Belarus became furious when the Russian Finance Minister Kudrin warned that Belarus was heading for financial collapse. That of course has now come to pass. I would add that the collapse would presumably have been averted if the project to build a union state with Russia with a single currency (presumably the Russian rouble) had been implemented but for whatever reason it did not happen.
    , @Yalensis
    @doug: Good point about Belarus. They had a great run as a neo-socialist state, but now their economic crisis is mostly caused by Russia raising energy prices on them. Belorussians simply cannot afford to pay market price of gas, they really need the discount. Belorussian "economic miracle" was ALWAYS premised on discounted energy supplied by Russia. But then Russia decided to screw them over. (Long story.)
    The difference between Belorussia and Latvia is that Belorussian working people and middle class will not feel the collapse as severely, because of social safety net.
    In summary: Between systems as politically and economically disparate as Latvia and Belorussia, what is the common denominator of their economic woes? The answer: lack of money.
    Definition of povery = Lack of money.
    Cure for povery = Infusion of money from some outside source.
    , @Anatoly Karlin
    I have my doubts about Belorussian statistics too. For instance, they are currently claiming a GDP growth rate of 9.1%, which I think is extremely unlikely to be the case in the light of recent events.

    That said, I really don't think the demographic situation in Belarus is worse than Latvia's. It's TFR was 1.50 in 2009, and unlike in Latvia there was no major collapse (birth rates declined by a bit but I think much of that can be attributed to the decline in women of child-bearing age that is now becoming evident throughout the Slavic lands). It also does not have the major emigration crisis afflicting Latvia and Lithuania. Their stats indicate that it remains a net immigration country.

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