A Short Guide to the Top 10 Russia Blogs

Labor Day 2010 Special – a list of the most influential, interesting, and readable English-language blogs about Russia. But first, a few caveats. Inclusion does not mean that I agree with everything – or in La Russophobe‘s case, almost anything* – the author says. Second, don’t take any of this personally. Being ranked below La Russophobe (or not being included at all) should not be taken as a slight, just as being placed above it isn’t exactly a badge of honor. Finally, though I tried to make it as objective as possible and didn’t spare my allies (or even friends) from criticism, in practice a large degree of subjectivity is unavoidable given my own views on Russia and its leaders.

10. Austere Insomniac (Leoš Tomíček) analyzes Russia from the prism of traditional European conservatism. As an erudite Czech student of languages and religion, Leoš has insightful observations on Russian culture and the Western universalism that seeks to ride roughshod over it. He also provides translations of Russian source materials. If you want a sane Averko with an understandable idiolect, this is the blog for you! In his own words…

ioffe9. The Moscow Diaries (Julia Ioffe) is written by the quintessential rootless cosmopolitan, an estranged Jewish-Russian emigre who returned to Moscow as an Americanized journalist to preach the Western gospel to the aborigines. Though sometimes fact-challenged, she writes well and knows how to get published. In her own words…

8. La Russophobe (“Kim Zigfeld”**) is a hate blog run by a bigoted egomaniac. Its holier-than-thou sincerity goes hand in hand with a slanderous campaign against other Russia watchers who don’t toe its party line, making La Russophobe its own best parody. Many of the commentators it attracts are even more deranged, not to mention morbidly entertaining (like the artworks of Damien Hirst), than “Kim” herself. If you’re forced to sink so low to vilify Russia, then it can’t be that bad, now can it? That said, this blog does provide two useful services – reprints of (Russophobic) articles in the Western press and blogosphere, and English translations of (Russophobic) articles in the Russian press. In her own words…

7. A Good Treaty is an American foreign policy analyst who prefers a “good treaty with Russia” to only treating with a good Russia, in the best realist tradition. As such, he is naturally averse to the values-based rhetoric of American neocons and Russian liberals alike. His efforts to avoid normative pitfalls have yielded a balanced appraisal of Russia and its relations with the US. Crisp and well-written, this new blog will probably move up the ladder in the year(s) ahead. You can follow the Iron Chancellor on Twitter. In his own words…

6. poemless is a neo-Stalinist Manta Ray of political analysis, erm, I mean a liberal Chicago intellectual with an entertainingly idiosyncratic take on Russian (and American) politics, culture, literature, feminism, etc. On the downside, the posts are too long and you should be very careful about describing the color of her blog theme (it’s red). In her own words…

5. Sublime Oblivion (Anatoly Karlin) is written by a (self-loathing) rootless cosmopolitan who believes that Russians have a right to their own beliefs and values, even if they run contrary to Western diktats, and should be unafraid to forge their own path to modernity. Apart from his writings on Russian demography, geopolitics, and future trends, Anatoly also provides translations of Russian source materials. His stilted, overlong prose and irregular posting schedule disqualify him as a top-notch Russia blogger. You can follow him on Twitter and Facebook. In my own words…

4. Russia: Other Points of View (Sharon Tennison, Maria Maslova, & Gordon Hahn) is part of a project to foster better Russian-American relations, e.g. by systematically deconstructing Russophobic media coverage, reprinting “other points of view” on Russia, and posting Patrick Armstrong’s informative weekly sitreps on the region. Though written in bland “officialese” with an undeniable pro-Kremlin slant, its solid referencing and argumentation is a welcome antidote to the Russophobia of the Western mainstream media. In their own words…

3. Streetwise Professor (Craig Pirrong) is a classical liberal with an intense antipathy towards Russia’s “natural state”, which he views as a champion of illiberal reaction. His posts are eminently intelligent, though bellicose and slanted. His ideologized approach abounds in double standards: a self-described Jacksonian in America, he has little concern for the opinions of ordinary Russians (who happen to be mostly statist and illiberal). It is fine and dandy for the US to unilaterally pursues its national interests, but when Russia does likewise, it is evidence of neo-imperial revanchism***. Nonetheless, he is a fine writer and every serious “Russophile” should at least hear out his trenchant criticisms of the Kremlin elites and the Kultur they preside over. Keep a pinch of salt nearby and enjoy the roiling comments sections. In his own words…

2. On Russia (Mark Adomanis) made a big splash since diving into the blogosphere two months ago, taking numerous Russia-watchers to task for their mendacity, contempt for facts and predictive failures. Having done his thesis on the Russian healthcare system, he knows first-hand the divergence between Russia’s mediocre (but improving!) reality and the apocalyptic rhetoric advanced by the neocon naysayers and their Russian liberal lackeys. If you rely on the Western mainstream media for your information on Russia, then Adomanis’ succinct, sarcastic screeds will make for a readable and indispensable counterbalance. But beware – he is more opinionated than most bloggers. In his own words…

1. Sean’s Russia Blog (Sean Guillory) combines academic rigor with an accessible, readable style. I am not exaggerating when I say that if you had to follow just one blog to get a comprehensive idea of what Russia is like, in all its rich hues and contradictions, then Sean’s blog would be it. Despite his manifest brilliance, Sean is a unassuming scholar-blogger who tries to leave his ideologies and meta-narratives at the doorstep. In the past year, Dr. Sean has left his UCLA ivory tower and is now doing research in Russia. You can follow him on Twitter and Facebook. In his own words…

For the blogstat rats – a (guesstimated, objective) rating of the reach and influence of the top Russia blogs***, and my (very subjective) appraisal of their design.

Blog Reach Design
Sean’s Russia Blog 5 4
Mark Adomanis 3+ 2
Streetwise Professor 4 3
Russia: Other Points of View 2 3
Sublime Oblivion 4 4
poemless 3 3
A Good Treaty 2+ 4
La Russophobe 5 4
Julia Ioffe 4 2
Austere Insomniac 1 2
Siberian Light 5- 4
Robert Amsterdam 5- 3
Power Vertical 4 3
Russia Blog 4- 2
Paul Goble 4 2

Finally, a quick note on why a few ostensibly prominent blogs didn’t make the Top 10. Siberian Light (Andy Young) would have certainly made the cut a year back, but his posting frequency has plummetted and his blog summaries, IMO the main attraction of his blog, have vanished altogether. Likewise with Russia Blog, a one-time powerhouse, now in precipitous decline, whose functions have been taken over by Russia: Other Points of View*****. Carl Thomson used to have a great blog at Moscow Tory which would certainly have made the Top 10, but unfortunately he closed it down and The Russian Week doesn’t (yet) seem to be picking up where he left off. What about Robert Amsterdam‘s blog? Too bad that their editor, James, has a bland and boring style and basically says the same thing over and over again (not to mention being a mendacious hypocrite). Quite frankly I don’t think they have much original, useful, or entertaining left to say. As for Window on Eurasia (Paul Goble), all it does is trawl Runet and quote and misquote its sources to create the most negative possible impression of Russia. Some might consider this a useful contribution, I would beg to differ.

I thought long and hard about whether to include Dmitry Rogozin‘s brilliant Twitter account, seeing as it is offers a unique insight into the psychology of the Kremlin conservatives. In the end I decided not to, because at the end of the day, it is not a blog, but a stream of consciousness.

* I sort of anticipate a flurry of disappointed or pissed off comments about including La Russophobe on the list, on the basis that it is a hate blog run by a bigoted egomaniac and should therefore remain taboo. I disagree. Like it or not, it is influential, even though Kim does massively exaggerate its real impact. Nonetheless, thanks to La Russophobe‘s reprints, it is unnecessary to follow the likes of Paul Goble, the Russian liberals at papers like The Moscow Times, or even most of the Russia commentary in the Western mass media. If you’ve got well-written dirt on Russia, no matter how scurrilous – La Russsophobe will pick it up. As such, it does form a useful reference point, in addition to being a great source of comical expressions such as “scurrying in the comments like a frightened cockroach” or “the neo-Soviet chickens are coming home to roost”.

** Kim Zigfeld has no real existence that we can establish, just like its older sockpuppets like “Oliver Bronsen” or “Kim Betty”. This makes her slanderous attacks all the more ridiculous and cowardly.

*** Pirrong’s response to this critique is that it “whataboutism“, i.e. “but in America you lynch Negroes!” My response elsewhere is that this is a logical fallacy and cheap cop-out.

**** Very rough guesstimates based on 1) Google Page Rank, 2) Google hits on blog or author name, and 3) publications elsewhere. A “+” signifies a strong recent upward trend, “-” means vice versa.

***** UPDATE: Longtime Russia Blog editor Charles Ganske has emailed me that he is no longer involved in the site, and the site’s remaining manager, Yuri Mamchur, is now at Vanderbilt Business School.

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