Alex Dryden, A Hack’s Hack

Just when I thought the paper of Luke “I Plagiarize Off The eXile” Harding and Miriam “Putin Stole My Dry Cleaning Ticket” Elder could get no more incompetent, vindictive, and mendacious in its Russia coverage, it did. I present: Putin calls in Darth Vader to tighten his grip on Russia’s energy assets by Alex Dryden, who seems to be the Guardian’s new Moscow correspondent. How many tropes and outright lies can you, dear reader, identify in that 800-word diatribe? I could find at least a dozen or so.

Manichaeism: Apparently Sechin is “Darth Vader” and “the scariest man in Russia”, according to Russians. That’s certainly news to me. I have never heard Sechin called any of that. The blogger Mark Galeotti did alert me to the fact that he’d used the moniker in a blog post, but did say that “joking aside, I haven’t seen Russians call Sechin Vader.” I searched on Russian Google for these associations and all I could find was references to Dryden’s own article, an article from Forbes a few years back that also called Sechin a Darth Vader, and a few bloggers. However I doubt that a majority of Russians even know who Sechin is let alone think of him as Emperor Palpatine’s Putin’s enforcer.

Inconsistency. Sechin is apparently the “greyest of his éminences grises”. I always thought that title belonged to Surkov? Make up your minds already! But this isn’t all. Not only will Darth Vader help Putin “tighten his grip on Russia’s energy assets”, he is at the same time – according to the subtitle – to “begin a potentially tycoon-terrifying reprivatisation programme.” This is a logical consequence of the traditional view of the Western media that Putin / Russia can do nothing good: If he increases restrictions on party registrations, it is authoritarianism, if he loosens them, it is a Kremlin plot to crowd out genuine liberals with fake Kremlin parties, etc. But at least up till now Putin’s inevitably evil and mercenary choices were at least mutually exclusive. Alex Dryden goes one step further, adopting a kind of multi-universe perspective in which Putin both “tightens state control” and “reprivatizes” at the same time, with both serving to reinforce his dominance and enrich his corrupt cronies.

Outright lies: What IS actually being discussed is privatization of state controlled companies, however there is debate over the pace (it is likely to be slow and gradual) and final extent of this privatization. How that amounts to tightening “state control of the economy” must remain a Schrödingerian mystery.

Tinpot Russia: “But the “r” in the Bric nations looks increasingly vulnerable… Should Russia even be included as one of the Brics? As the American economist, Nouriel Roubini, says, Russia is “more sick than Bric”.” And Jim O’Neill, the inventor of the BRIC’s concept, is a consistent defender of Russia’s place in the BRIC’s. Indeed on most indicators Russia is at least as good as the BRIC’s average or better. It has the highest human capital and the highest GDP per capita (both in nominal and PPP terms). Its per capita growth over the past decade lags only China and is about equal to India (which is many times poorer), and its present growth trajectory is likewise superior to Brazil and about equal to India’s. It is also the fiscally strongest of the BRIC’s, despite the relatively high dependence of its budget on minerals revenue (which is not a sin: See Australia, Norway, etc).

Anonymous sourcing: “Oleg says”, “Oleg’s wife Veronika says”, “Oleg and Veronika are just two of the many young people in Russia considering leaving”, “Sources close to Putin”, “An officer in the economic department of the FSB, the KGB’s successor organisation”, “the head of a small Moscow oil company”, “A partner in AAR”. All of whom conveniently back the Guardian line on Russia, from its economy being a cash machine for the ominously anonymous “them” (that is, the siloviki, as Dryden helpfully clarifies for us) to “mafiosi methods” being the only possible way to do business there. I wonder why Dryden didn’t cite the voices in his head. It would at the very least be more credible for its honesty.

Dying Russia: “Russia’s population is in drastic decline. Much of this is due to emigration, nearly all of which is of the younger and smarter elements of the population. The rest is caused by a falling life expectancy and birth rate.” Four lies in three sentences. First, the population has been stable since about 2008, and has started to appreciably increase since 2011. In the first four months of 2012, the time of the year when it was usually declining the fastest, the population INCREASED by 42,000 people. This was helped by a 90,000 POSITIVE migration balance; a migration balance that remains positive even when just countries in the Far Abroad, i.e. the destinations of the “younger and smarter” emigrations, are considered (and this balance will remain positive EVEN if we assume that Russian statistics underestimate emigration by 50%). The life expectancy and birth rates aren’t decreasing; to the contrary, they are increasing at unprecedented rates, and in fact the former broke the Soviet-era record in 2011. Where does the Guardian get its fact-checkers? Do they even bother with them?

Mafia state: “…however, if you were one of the few who made outlandish amounts of money and commanded influence within the siloviki elites, life has been good in the past 10 years”. Unable to deny the truly undeniably realities of improving across the board statistics on everything from GDP per capita to automobile ownership, the Guardian goes back to the old anti-Putin cliche of ascribing all the benefits of this prodigal economic growth to a small coterie of (inevitably corrupt and slimey) pro-Putinist apparatchiks. Statistics that show massive gains in real median wages, as reflected in broad surveys of consumer power or the number of Big Macs a McDonald’s worker can afford per hour of labor, is of course unmentioned.

Lack of context: Russia is the weakest and most pathetic of the BRIC’s. It should be kicked out. It’s 120th on the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business ranking for goodness’ sake! Except that Brazil is 126th, and India is 132nd.

If a freshman handed in this dross excuse for an op-ed to a journalism or political science in any halfway respectable institution, he would get an F. (For his own sake I hope this is something Dryden wrote up on a tight deadline, maybe while hungover from partying with Ioffe and Shawn Walker and their likes, to keep his paychecks flowing). But as it’s a Guardian journalist writing about Russia all is par for the course.

PS. I am not on good terms with the Guardianistas, them having mostly banned me from commenting on their pages like the upstanding democraticians they are, so I would appreciate it if one of my readers could write a complaint to them about Alex Dryden’s post, feeling free to cite this post as evidence.

PSS. I noticed towards the end of writing this post that Mark Adomanis had already done a similar rebuttal, making most of the same criticisms. In fact even Alexey Kovalev, a hardcore liberal who occasionally writes for The Guardian, says that Dryden is “spectacularly clueless”  and a “total ignoramus” not to mention anecdotally confirming my points on demography and emigration.

PSSS. A few corrections from Kovalev. (1) “Fine, but calling me a ‘hardcore liberal’ is a bit far-fetched. The fact that I wrote for G doesn’t make me one.” (2) “Also I said that one is entitled to an opinion that makes them look like an ignoramus, not called Dryden one.”


  1. Yeah, Alexey Kovalev, a hardcore liberal? Remember his article “Russians are not racist, but…”?

    Well, actually, he could very well be a hardcore liberal. By Zhirinovskyan definition.

    If you compare Russian population in 1990 to what it is now how can you not call that a drastic decline? And any projections (exluding those done by “contrarian analythical methods”, like reading tea leaves) for Russia’s population in 2030 also tells us that the population decline is continuing to be horrible.

  2. Ok. Loss of millions is not a big deal.

    As for getting a life, I’m open to any suggestions, but let me just say that I’m not the one who wastes countless and countless unpaid hours for a doomed effort of “giving a contrarian analysis” (which itself is an admittance that there a russophilic need for something as opposed to factual analysis) and “exposing Western myths about Russia” (which most knowledgeable people would call simply the realities of Russia).

    Together with Russia you are on the losing side of history – Russian political system is not appealing to anybody no matter how you spin it; Russia is alone in her schitzophrenic view of the past despite huge efforts of Kremlin to turn black into white; megalomaniacal Russian assumption that the individual is subservient to whatever greater ideal Darth Vaders of the Kremlin come up with just won’t ever win any hearts and minds in the West (where it only truly matters for Russians).

    • Not “megalomaniacal Russian assumption” – it is Asian.

    • I would argue that spending even a few hours trolling blogs for the sole purpose of airing disagreements and venting your lame small country Russia hate is in fact indicative of a lack of life. Not to mention that according to my sources, you do the exact same on at least one other forum. So if you make a habit of regularly trolling at least two places with you Russophobia, logically that indicates you do it in many other places and that it does in fact occupy quite a bit more than a few hours of your time that we originally assumed. Indeed, “countless and countless unpaid hours”, as you yourself so eloquently put it.

      • “According to my sources” my arse. Either you are attempting a joke or then you are expressing symptoms of, er, some other type of problems. The fact is that you don’t have any non-fictional sources other than Google and perhaps Yandex. Which you obviously do not master very well if you already haven’t figured out on how many forums I am “airing my disagreements” (why is that a problem by the way?)

        As for trolling it is evident to anyone reading this posting that my first comment was a perfectly reasonable airing of disagreement, if you will, and in no way in breech of the commenting rules of this blog. It was you, once again, who began offtopicing. In your own blog for eff’s sake!

        I thought I told you that it is part of my job to know what is beeing aired on the tubes of the interweb. So do not worry, I get my paycheck all right.

        Now just out of curiosity I would be interested to know what do you think is that lame country of mine which is so full of Russia hate?

        • Even a search for your “true name” (initials T.M.) reveals dozens of discussions you participate in with the exclusive focus of bashing Russia, mostly in Finnish. As you frequently go by a moniker, e.g. on my and Adomanis’ site, these discussions no doubt number in the hundreds if not the thousands.

          You also said you worked in a “investment consultant company.” As far as knowing “what is beeing aired on the tubes of the interweb”, you sure go well above and beyond the call of duty. Or do you get 50 cent bonuses for joining in on the Russia bashing?

          I wouldn’t really have an issue with you except that you only ever comment to disagree and in the most disrespectful tone, and what’s much worse, 90%+ of your critiques which you no doubt imagine witty as fuck are in fact banal, wrong, and frequently irrelevant. So yes, in most respects, your behavior qualifies you as a troll.

          That is why I do not now bother engaging with you seriously. It has been clear for a long time that your goal isn’t to engage in mutually respectful debates and come to a middle ground, either here or at Adomanis’ blog, but to validate your own tiny ego by attacking strawmen and throwing out red herrings in the hope that the audience here won’t clue up on your agenda.

          • Even a search for your “true name” (initials T.M.) reveals…

            Oops, haven’t you declared that googling commenters’ names violates Rule #5 of your Comments Policy? Now, be a man and do the right thing.

            AK: Hello troll #2. How’ve you been?

            First, googling commentators names is not a violation; publicly releasing them when they wish to maintain anonymity is.

            Second, the article you linked to apart from being slanderous is also the object of a libel suit.

            • First, googling commentators names is not a violation…

              And that’s all I did: I googled a commenter’s screen name and posted the very first hit.

              … publicly releasing them when they wish to maintain anonymity is.

              Who wishes what? Are you talking to me or yourself? Когда вы говорите, Иван Васильевич, впечатление такое, что вы бредите!

              Second, the article you linked to apart from being slanderous is also the object of a libel suit.

              How do you know it is slanderous before the suit is through? And what exactly has this to do with anything?

              AK: The Comments Rules are not for argument or equivocation. This is my blog, and I interpret and enforce them as I see fit; explanations of why I do this or that are a privilege and not a right. Do you have a problem or quibble with the content of the actual post? If so feel free to make your voice heard. Otherwise, desist, as my patience with trolls is now wearing very thin.

          • After reading your reply my tiny ego is tickled pink to see that I have had at least some success in “being witty as fuck”, thanks.

            Now that your “sources” have “exposed” that I’m posting also under pseudonyms/real names “Keif” and “Thomas Makinne” we can count the total number comments posted. The figure I get is about 500 within two years time (oldest comment I found). That would then make 0,7 comments per day. If we assume that writing a comment takes on average 15 minutes, then I would be using about 10 minutes per day for airing my disagreements.

            Now let’s just for an argument’s sake assume i) I have actually double amount of active pseudonyms which your sources are yet to expose ii) writing a comment takes on average double amount of time iii) the number of postings per pseudonym is double. Then I would be spending on average 1 hrs 20 mins per day, or 2 hrs 30 mins per working day. Now that would really be a lot in my opinion, indicative of a need to get a life, but I’m afraid my hour count, paid or unpaid, would still be inferior to yours.

            You say that you wouldn’t have an issue with me except that I only comment to disagree in disrespectful tone with critiques that are Russophobic, banal, wrong, frequently irrelevant filled with strawmen and red herrings.

            First of all, you state that the purpose of your blog is to “give contrarian analysis” and then you criticise me for commenting only to disagree. You see a slight contradiction here, no?

            Secondly, at worst my comments have been, hmm, blunt? It has always been you, not me, who would be the first to fight the messenger, not the message and go for inappropriates like “you are clearly incapable of basic reading and comprehension”. I plead quilty for attempting to match them.

            Thirdly, if my comment is Russophobic then enforce rule #13 or #14 or shut up. If my comments include banal red herrings then it should be easy for you to point them out specifically, not in vague generalities.

            Finally, your call for looking a middle ground and mutually respectful debate is laughable. You are substantially biased, “polar opposite to La Russophobe”, who is out there “to demolish”. The tone of your postings and comments is ridiculing and aggressive towards those who disagree with you, this posting being a perfect illustration of that. You yourself won’t be able to come an inch to middle ground on anything significant – Russian economy is a one trick pony; in Russia the system is not corrupt, corruption is the system; Putin has clamped down on democracy and human rights – because it would require you to abandon your fundamental beliefs and admitting being fundamentally wrong. You are the blogger here, I’m just a troll as you put it. It is up to you to set the tone and if you don’t like responses your tone attracts and entitles you can always censor, ban or quit.

            AK: Contrarian, but fact-based. Your basic inability to acknowledge that Russia’s population is no longer declining is proof positive that you have many, many problems with the latter. Physician, heal thyself.

            • Dear K.F
              I think you’ve missed the point – giving contrarian analysis about what you perceive as biased media treatement of your country is miles, miles above, a different category altogether from spending prescious hours of your life criticizing, trolling and compaining about somebody else’s country. Why would anyone do it except for petty reasons like being vicious and not having a life, akin to what La Russophobe does, is beyond me.

              • I think I’m entitled to call Russia my country as much as Da Russophile is.

                Now this blog is not limited only to so called “contrarian analysis about biased media treatement”. Just check the tags Georgia and Latvia for example. Then you can search the site with words “fat, ugly, Mexican, chicks”. Examples are a plenty. So if you are correct then I’m not the only one missing the point and being vicious no-life character here.

            • I don’t get how these guys manage to be more fanatically Russophobic than any government around Russia sans maybe Saakashvili’s. Didn’t they get the memo? Didn’t they see Israel rolling out the red carpet for Putin? K.F. kinda of reminds me of that old Norwegian guy Anders (or at least he posed as an elderly Norwegian with poor English) who posted comments invariably at 3:30 a.m. Oslo time over at the Streetwise Professor blog.

            • “Putin has clamped down on democracy and human rights – because it would require you to abandon your fundamental beliefs and admitting being fundamentally wrong.” K.F., I used to waste many minutes of my life trying to convince a self-described libertarian that it was not Putin goons groping his crotch or his daughters’ legs at U.S. airports; that Putin did not inspire Eric Holder to run guns to Mexico to discredit the second amendment then perjure himself before Congress; that Jon Corzine to the best of my knowledge does not have a Kremlin kryshe, that Mikhail Saakashvili is a protege of George Soros who is a major bankroller of the Democratic Party appart, and that the aggressive foreign policy he advocated was rapidly creating the tools (such as drones and other surveillance tech) to create a nightmarish police state here at home. And oh yes, this fellow would also bloviate about SOPA, CISPA or any other alphabet soup of repressive legislation being ramrodded through Congress late on Friday nights being no big deal while being woefully ignorant of Constitutional law or anything outside of his narrow academic speciality. Just Google “Streetwise Professor” + “Mr. X”. Well I got banned for my pains. So my question to you is, why should Anatoly be more tolerant than the intolerant freaks who cannot endure contradiction or anyone questioning their most deeply held beliefs?

              If you want more ridicule of a hardcore Russophobic fanatic, check out my blog. I keep all that stuff at my own site now.

              • And K.F., the more blatant the abuses by the U.S. government towards its own people, the more some folks fanatically choose to blog about Russia, even on a day when the Obamanoids just took a big dump on libertarianism and the free market in general, by having the Supreme Court uphold a law that requires you to do biznis with a cartel of health insurers. In this respect Canada even with its single payer socialized medicine is more honest and free than the U.S. health care system which combines the rationing of socialism with the profit motive of crony capitalist oligarchy.

        • Got to reply here for a lack of space. Sorry but I can’t bring myself to believe you’re Russian. Nothing you said here shows that you care one bit about Russia except to spite her.

  3. Dear Anatoly,

    I think you have covered the article itself very well and I have nothing to add to what you say about it. What I would say is that the article reflects the extent to which broadsheet or serious British newspapers have become corrupted by tabloid values. It is absolutely inconceivable that the Guardian that I used to read in the 1970s would have published an article that began with a “human interest” story based on comments from anonymous witnesses.

    Just to bring you up to date on my correspondence with the Guardian, I have still had no substantive reply to my letter asking for information about the number of journalists the Guardian says have been killed in Russia. I got one brief acknowledgement of my letter by email from the reader’s editor Stephen Pritchard (to whom my original letter was addressed) acknowledging receipt of my letter and telling me that he was taking up its contents with the editor and with the person who had written the editorial. I have heard nothing since. I wrote to Pritchard again asking for an update but there has been no reply.

    I have decided to take this the long way round and am going to write to the Committee to Protect Journalists to see if I can get their comments about the editorial and possibly their support. If there is still no response from the Guardian I eventually intend to make a complaint and am looking into the possibility of taking it up with the Press Complaints Commission.

    Since I already have a potential complaint with the Guardian about its Russian coverage I do not think I am the right person to bring a complaint against this latest article. There is a risk if I do that the Guardian will simply write me off as someone with an axe to grind. However this latest article is an absurdity and I would strongly urge someone else to bring a complaint. The way to do so is by writing to the Reader’s Editor, who (as this article appeared in the Observer) is actually Stephen Pritchard.

  4. The demographic nonsense – which is a matter of fact not opinion – merits a formal correction from the Guardian.

  5. Dear Anatoly,

    I suspect that the “Darth Vader” and “scariest person” rubbish came from Sechin’s Forbes profile, which I immediately found on doing an English Google search.

    As you can see the Forbes profile, which apparently dates from 2010, also attributes these comments to the Russian press though of course without attribution.

    Nothing Sechin has ever said or done remotely justifies such appellations. As far as I can see he is a very loyal and efficient official and a very good manager and nothing more. I have never bought into the siloviki myth and I think the theory that Sechin heads some sort of faction within the Kremlin is absurd.

    Presumably it is Sechin’s involvement in the energy sector that explains the strong western hostility to him. In my opinion nothing Putin ever did caused as much anger in the west as his reassertion of Russia’s control of its own energy assets. Given that Sechin was the government’s point man in the energy sector that was enough to damn him in western eyes as a sinister Blofeld figure. I am afraid I think his appearance is also against him. He does look like he could pass for a James Bond villain in a way that Medvedev say never could (even though Medvedev through his involvement in Gazprom was arguably for a time as heavily involved in energy policy as Sechin was).

    • Dear Anatoly,

      Sorry, on rereading your article I realise that you were ahead of me and that you have already seen the Forbes profile.

      I am pretty sure by the way that the “Darth Vader” reference was invented by someone in the British or American press. If Russians wanted to come up with a bad name for someone I doubt Star Wars is where they would go.

    • Yes, I agree; the Darth Vader reference almost certainly seems to have originated with Forbes.

      And again, the only references I could find to it were on blogs, not the Russian media as such. In the cases when it was on media sites, it was referencing the Guardian or Forbes.

      • So not only are they factually wrong they’re also lazy for semi-plagiarizing Forbes.

  6. Good Morning, Anatoly! An interesting piece came in at my blog this morning, courtesy of Moscow Exile. Curious to see the paper La Russophobe regularly referred to as “The Mighty Moscow Times” and regular printer of unsubstantiated nonsense infer that the market in children’s goods in Russia is taking off owing to an accelerating birth rate.

    Since the Moscow Times quite often draws its statistics from whatever source happens to favour its conclusions, or simply makes them up, there is doubtless little real comfort to be found in their suggestion that 2010 was a record year for births with over a million babies born (1,788,948 to be exact, nearly 2 million) and that the death rate fell by an astonishing 70% in 2011. Ditto the inference that people under 17 years old now account, at 26 million, for 18% of the population.

    Western readers, though, will be cheered to learn that Russian parents spend half their children’s-products money in North America and Western Europe. They can salvage something by suggesting Russian-made goods are of such dismal quality that Russian babies demand western products.

    Post 2: Oops! I failed to notice he had already linked it here.

  7. Absolutely unbelievable hypocrisy everything they said in the article was actually done to Russia by British lead shock therapists and installed Oligarchs who stole over $1 trillion in a 10 year period which they got there financial backing from London banks who themselves turned Russia into a mafia state just like Mexico, the Balkans, etc that have connection to British and western intelligence that goes to the very top of British establishment and help funded terrorist networks not just in Chechnya but in Russia as a whole, Central Asia and China.

    Mr Jacob Rothschild and his mafia Menatep group network that operates in Russia among others acquired YUKOS by transferring money to Mihail Khoderkovsky who operated the rigged auction that sold Russian assets to there brethren at fire sale prices.
    Same pattern happened in Ukraine and Kazakhstan.

    The actual leading oligarchs that are in power in Russia are those that made their fortune during the post-Soviet collapse of the 90’s who have there companies registered in British off shore tax havens like the Cayman Islands.

    Isn’t Gazprom although majority owned shares still only over50% and the rest being international investors?

    BP is the state owned energy firm essentially of Britain hat controls the Azeri Caspian oil consortium the same with Halliburton in the US.

  8. Prior to Lord Rothschild losing his libel suit against the Daily Telegraph or one of the British papers (as documented by John Helmer, the longest continuously serving expat journo in Moscow) I would have dismissed John’s rant above about those guys. But apparently given the deference with which Oleg Deripaska treats the old European banking family, showing David around Siberia, me thinks they still have some serious clout and discussing them has broken out of tin foil hat territory into the mainstream, ala Bilderberg.

    Admitting as much is hardly anti-Semitic anymore than anyone who dislikes George Soros while being wildly pro-Israel (see Beck, Glenn) can get dismissed as anti-Semitic simply because he’s picking on an Establishment capo and well known conduit for Demintern regime change operations all over the world.