Mark Adomanis, who recently burst into the Russia-watching blogosphere like a fluffy pink grenade, has a series on “Who is the world’s worst Russia analyst”? (So far Stephen Blank and Leon Aron are in the running). Personally, I think that Ed Lucas would “win” hands down. However, since he’s already been exposed and discredited on this blog, – and I don’t have the time or will to flog dead horses – let’s instead take a closer look at Paul Goble, the oft-cited “Eurasia expert” whose output seems to consist entirely of recycling stories from marginal Russian commentators about the country’s imminent demographic apocalypse, breakup along ethnic lines, and takeover by Muslims. If one fine day some random Tatar blogger on LiveJournal decides to restore the Qasim Khanate, we’ll certainly hear about it on his blog… and guess what, we do!
Sure, he might be a fact-challenged Russophobe propagandist who worked for the CIA, Radio Liberty, and “democracy-promoting” NGO’s. Yes, he has extensive professional links to the Baltic nations and Azerbaijan. True, he is essentially an agent of a latter-day Promethean Project, the interwar Polish strategy to preempt the reemergence of a Eurasian empire by stirring up ethnic separatism in the Soviet space, a project now pursued by Washington and its proxies. That is all understandable and commendable – he serves US geopolitical aims, and geopolitics is profoundly amoral, so what’s the problem? Why am I writing a hit piece on Paul Goble? Simple. The utter hypocrisy and double standards I encountered in his Jan 2010 ‘No Ordinary Year’ for Azerbaijan article, in which the guy who incessantly condemns Russia’s human rights, takes to advising Western countries to refrain from reprimanding authoritarian Azerbaijan because the “level of anger about such criticism is so great” that it could lead to a “rebalancing of Azerbaijan’s foreign policy away from the West”. Or translated from quackademic neocon-speak into English, “They might be bastards – though nowhere near as bastardly as the Russians, I mean they even pay me my salary!, – but they are our bastards!”
Ali Novruzov, an Azeri human rights blogger, condemns this duplicity, characterizing Goble’s viewpoint as: “Don’t criticize Azerbaijan, no matter how many Emins and Adnans are beaten and jailed, how many grams of heroin are found in shoes of Eynulla Fatullayev, how many villages like Benaniyar is ransacked by government militia and its residents detained en mass, shut up you, Amnesty International and State Department, otherwise Azerbaijan will get angry, turn away from you and befriend Russia”.
He certainly has reason to be concerned. Even Freedom House, a “democracy measuring” organization that gives freedom cookies for being friendly with the US (bonus points if you have oil) and takes them away for being “anti-Western”, rates Azerbaijan as “unfree”, on the same level as despised Russia. Given that Azerbaijan hits the Full House in that it is 1) relatively pro-Western, 2) oil-rich, and 3) nestled in a crucial geopolitical region, there is cause to suspect that it would perform a lot worse on any objective analysis of political freedoms. We don’t even have to suspect this, we can just head over to Polity IV, – a vast research project that attempts to quantify levels of democratization in different countries since World War 2 – and observe that Azerbaijan scored -7 in 2008, on a scale from -10 to 10. This makes it a formal “autocracy”, the same as China (-6) or Iran (-7), – and far worse than its neighbors Russia (5), Armenia (5) or Georgia (6). No wonder, since unlike in Russia there is not even the simulacrum of political competition, and the Presidency is passed down along hereditary lines.
However, as alluded to at the beginning, hypocrisy, double standards, and Western chauvinism aren’t Goble’s only talents – they’re just the ones that roused my ire enough to write this piece. The fact of the matter is that article after article, Goble demonstrates the most fact-challenged, non-sequiturial, inane claptrap – and manages to get himself cited and listened to by major institutions which determine Western policy towards the region. Debunking his drivel is thus in any case long overdue.
1. Let’s start with this article (October 2008) on how the financial crisis was supposed to “compound” Russia’s demographic decline. It conveniently illustrates Goble’s OM – seek out the most sensational (and wrong) opinions in the Russian language media and reproduce them in his articles. By adding his label/name to them, they become citable to the rest of the Cold Warrior clique and even some respectable institutions that are ignorant of Goble’s incompetence and bias.
The financial crisis in the Russian Federation has pushed up the already high rates of mortality from heart and circulatory diseases there to third world levels, according to medical experts.
This sentence is wrong on so many levels. First, in Third World countries, mortality from heart/circulatory diseases is typically LOWER than in industrialized nations (since there are few older people and the population continues dying from infectious diseases, particularly amongst younger ages). Second, Russia has had one of the world’s highest levels of mortality from heart/circulatory diseases SINCE AT LEAST the 1980’s – it is NOT a recent development, as implied by Goble! Third, how the financial crisis figured into this I have absolutely no idea, since it only began to affect most Russians in October (the same month Goble’s article was written), and at which time the latest Russian demographic statistics only covered AUGUST 2008!
Yevgeny Chazov, one of Russia’s senior specialists on heart disease, told a Duma hearing that as a result of the difficult psycho-social circumstances and stresses from instability in the country, 1.3 million people – 56 percent of the total number of deaths there – now die from heart disease.
As has been the case FOR THE PAST 60 YEARS – i.e., a pattern of mortality heavily tilted towards heart disease – ever since the epidemiological revolution from 1930-50. And instability has been a feature of Russian life for the PAST 20 YEARS. Chazov was misquoted, or is a dummy; Goble, in any case, is certainly a dummy.
But if many speakers blamed the financial crisis or personal behavioral choices like smoking or alcohol consumption, one, Aleksandr Baranov, the vice president of the Academy of Medical Sciences, was prepared to blame the Russian government. Medical science knows how to lower mortality, he said, but we haven received an order from the powers that be.
There is a lot of investment in newly-equipped hospitals and clinics since 2007, and positive results are already showing. The current situation is far better than under Yeltsin or the early Putin years, when healthcare and social spending in general were cut and neglected, back when Russia’s robber barons wallowed in their ill-begotten billions with Western connivance. Baranov either lives under a rock, or wants to score rhetorical points. The financial crisis is irrelevant. Excessive alcohol consumption is what causes 1/3 of all Russia’s deaths. Reducing it is should be by far the #1 priority of any harm reduction strategy for Russia, and the “powers that be” have indeed recognized this and launched an anti-alcohol campaign. Nor surprisingly, Goble fails to mention any of this.
Finally, and most importantly, REAL LIFE HAS PROVED GOBLE TOTALLY, 200% WRONG. Contrary to the vision of demographic doom he peddled, deaths from cardio-vascular disease fell by 4.6% in 2009. Furthermore, RUSSIA SAW ITS FIRST POPULATION INCREASE IN 15 YEARS! And Goble’s predictable response to his utter failure at prediction?… “Russia’s Population Stabilization Only Temporary“.
2. Now let’s move on to the more general theme of Goble’s thesis on Russia – as an imperialistic country in rapid decline (demographic, cultural, etc), afflicted by an imminent, sub-Saharan scale AIDS epidemic, it will break up along its ethnic faultlines (Tatars, Bashkirs, Finno-Ugric peoples, Caucasians) and become majority Muslim by 2050. For instance, see a 2006 briefing he gave to Radio Liberty, which they summarized thus:
But Russia’s Muslims are bucking that trend. The fertility rate for Tatars living in Moscow, for example, is six children per woman, Goble said, while the Chechen and Ingush communities are averaging 10 children per woman. And hundreds of thousands of Muslims from Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan have been flocking to Russia in search of work. Since 1989, Russia’s Muslim population has increased by 40 percent to about 25 million. By 2015, Muslims will make up a majority of Russia’s conscript army, and by 2020 a fifth of the population. “If nothing changes, in 30 years people of Muslim descent will definitely outnumber ethnic Russians,” Goble said.
Unfortunately for Russophobes, Islamophobes, and Islamists alike (quite an adorable grouping, isn’t it?!), Goble’s projections are complete twaddle. In 2005, the year before Goble started spouting off about Russia’s Islamification, the homeland of Russia’s Tatars, Tatarstan (1.26), had a LOWER total fertility rate than the Russian average (1.29)! Where did Goble get the figure of 6 women per children amongst Tatar women in Moscow? Stormfront Russia?!
Likewise, the figure of 10 children per women amongst Muscovite Ingush and Chechen women is risible and should be laughed off by anyone with the smallest knowledge of demographic history. Not only did Ingushetia (1.56) and Chechnya (2.91) themselves have far lower figures in 2005, a total fertility rate of 10 children per woman HASN’T BEEN OBSERVED IN PRACTICALLY ANY COMMUNITY, EVER!! (Even in PRE-INDUSTRIAL times, the fertility rate typically flunctuated between 4-8 children per woman, depending on factors like urbanization and food affordability. The idea that it could be 10, or anyone near that number, in a modern metropolis, is ludicrous in the extreme).
As for the Muslim-takeover-by-2050ish claim, this is the usual bogus fallacy of linear extrapolation of the worst-case trends with total, cavalier disregard for positive trends (e.g., the convergence of ethnic Russian and Muslim fertility rates) and current day facts (e.g., that ethnic Russians still make up nearly 80% of the population, WHEREAS ONLY 4-6% OF THE POPULATION CONSIDER THEMSELVES TO BE MUSLIMS in opinion polls; that the fertility rates of the biggest Muslim ethnicities, Tatars and Bashkirs, is little different from the national average; and that Russia’s Muslims are far less religious than their counterparts in the Middle East and Western Europe alike).
In fact, sometimes I wonder if Goble really works for the CIA/Azerbaijan, or Russian Slavophile nationalists. He is certainly willing to cite the propaganda of the latter when it suits his purposes.
3. Now what about the imminent AIDS apocalypse, that will further decimate the ranks of Russia’s vodka-swilling, impotent hordes, making them too sick and too few to prevent Russia from disintegrating “into as many as 30 pieces by the middle of this century” (March 2009)? In his ominous-sounding article February 2009 article Russia’s HIV/AIDS Epidemic Enters New and More Dangerous Phase, Goble wrote:
In his briefing yesterday, Onishchenko did not provide much context for the numbers he reported. But in an interview with “Nauka i zhizn’,” Boris Denisov, a demographer at Moscow State University, suggested that figures like those Onishchenko provides are more disturbing than the public health chief in fact suggested (www.nkj.ru/archive/articles/15097/). …
The Moscow State researcher pointed to three aspects of the situation which suggest Russia has reached the tipping point regarding HIV/AIDS and that the epidemic is likely to result in an increasingly large number of deaths, something that will have a serious impact on the over-all demographic picture of that country.
First and foremost, 63 percent of the new cases in the Russian Federation last year were the result of sexual contact rather than intravenous drug use, a pattern that means the disease has now passed into the general population where it may spread more slowly but could potentially touch far more people and where an increasing share of its victims will be women.
This Eurasia “expert” can’t even copy from his Russian sources correctly. If you look at the source Goble cites, what Denisov actually said was that 63% of new FEMALE infections came from sexual contact in 2007, whereas 34% of OVERALL new infections came from heterosexual contact. If he’s so wrong on such basic facts, why should we have to listen to anything he says on Russia’s AIDS problem?
4. And it goes on and on. One of his most amusing/ridiculous articles was about how Putin was starving his miserable subjects (December 2009):
After seeing an improvement in caloric consumption since the 1990s, Russians are again consuming an average of only 2550 calories a day, an amount comparable to the amount provided by the diet given German POWs in Soviet camps at the end of 1941 and one that casts a shadow on that country’s demographic future. …
“According to the estimates of international experts,” the Russian leader said in striking language, “if the population goes hungry for two or more generations, a situation that in fact is quite characteristic for a large group of countries, then processes of physiological and intellectual degradation at the genetic level arise.”
What a load of claptrap even by Goble’s dismal standards. First, the recommended caloric intake for not very active adult men is around 2500 and around 2000 for adult women. Averaging it and taking into account children and the elderly, and the optimal for a nation where most people do office jobs is around 2100-2200 calories. In this respect Russia is far better off at its quoted 2550 calories, than the US is at 3700.
This is not to deny that there are problems. During crisis-wracked 2009, some 10% of Russians had difficulty buying food – slightly up from 9% in 2008, but massively down from the glorious prosperity of 1998-99, when some 36% of Russians could barely afford this privilege. (Incidentally, in the “free” Ukraine of 2009, the hungry indigent made up 35% of the population – i.e., the same as Russia ten years ago!).
But it gets worse. I simply have no words to describe the sheer inanity of the comparison between 2009 Russia and 1941 German POW’s. Really – how the fuck can he even take himself seriously after writing shit like this? Unless he means to say that during the 1990’s, when Russia’s economic policies were directed by a neoliberal cabal from Washington and many people really did go hungry, Yeltsin’s government treated Russians worse than Stalin treated soldiers who were fighting a war of extermination against Russians. So is Goble also a crypto-Stalinist, or just an asinine idiot?
(Not that Medvedev is the sharpest tool in the box either, if he actually spewed that insane drivel about genetic degradation. Since most of humanity has spent 99.9%+ of its entire history at near-subsistence levels of food consumption, why the hell isn’t everyone intellectually degraded like Goble or Medvedev?)
And the same shit goes on and on, Goble’s never-ending Groundhog Den’. All of Russia’s negatives are made apocalyptic, all its positives made into negatives.
Two examples of the latter. Take his befuddling assertion that the “Russian Federation will be more profoundly and negatively affected by global warming over the next 40 years than will any other country”. Come again? Sure the melting of Siberian permafrost might collapse a few buildings and fuck up some gas pipelines, but ALL serious analyses of global warming suggest that Russia will suffer FAR LESS than almost all other nations in a warmer world, and may even make big bank under moderate warming as its agriculture expands into Siberia, new energy and mineral deposits become accessible, and the Arctic becomes the world’s major trade region.
Second example. Medvedev declared a need for modernization and more accountability, and guess what – Russia is therefore a failing, decrepit state about to embark on perestroika 2.0! Ok, if you want (superficial) historical comparisons for Putvedev’s Russia, you could justify making it with Stolypin’s reforms, with Peter the Great’s “revolution from above”, even with the “Great Break” of 1929 if you’re feeling really bold and unafraid of being accused of reducing everything in Russian politics to Stalin. But the late 1980’s = today = WTF? Back then, the Soviet state truly was in a profound state of “imperial overstretch”, its citizens were disillusioned, and its mounting fiscal obligations were outrunning the resources and foreign currency at its disposal. Today’s Russia is a confident, rising Power, its elites are united, and a firm and consistent majority of Russians uphold the Putin system of illiberal statism (and if anything the main complaint you will hear from them is not that there is too much illiberality and statism, but too little!). Given such a tectonic shift in the very foundations of the Russian state during the past two decades, such vapid analogizing is superficial in the extreme, and indicative of an ideological decrepitude amongst the neocons that is every bit as profound as the one which afflicted the late Soviet Union.
So what is Goble’s game? He seems to be genuine in his bizarre beliefs – for instance, in an interview shortly after the 2008 South Ossetia War, he stated that Russia’s “illegal” violation of Georgia’s borders is “not in the interest of continued existence of the Russian Federation”, which will lead to “a more authoritarian and hence a more unstable and poor Russia in the future”. (Of course, how letting regional upstarts like Saakashvili rip off chunks from Russia’s southern underbelly would HELP the continued existence of the Russian Federation is not at all clear). Nonetheless, this kind of analysis seems highly favored by the lowest common denominator in the Russia-watching world – Paul Goble is, at least according to the number of tags assigned to him (“43 topics” at the time of this article’s writing), is the most popular outside authority at the infamous hate blog La Russophobe. He is also highly regarded at his former place of employment, the corrupt Radio Liberty.
Why? All these institutions are, in some way, and whether they realize it or not, pursuing a script first written in 1918 Poland – the Promethean Project to break up Russia and forever forestall its reemergence. What few of them realize is that 1) they are utterly ineffectual in this endeavor, and 2) their overt Russophobia, and close association with Russia’s “liberal” West-worshiping ass-lickers, ACTUALLY REINFORCES THE VERY SIEGE MENTALITY that the Kremlin shares with ordinary Russians. In other words, the lies and double standards espoused by people like Goble strengthen the very same “retrogressive” tendencies in Russia that they profess to loathe.