Archives for October 2010

Exiled Russian Dissident Yury Luzhkov Condemns Putin’s Corrupt, Stalinist Regime

This is a headline in a Western newspaper you might be reading in the not-too-distant future.

Back in October 8th, ten days after Luzhkov’s dismissal from the Moscow mayoralty by Medvedev, I predicted that “within the next 3 months Luzhkov is going to get hit with corruption charges and will either go on trial or seek political asylum in the West”. Today news comes that the corrupt, gay-bashing former Mayor turned up to the British Embassy in Moscow to apply for a visa.

Figures linked to Luzhkov have variously denied these as rumors (such as a spokesman for the construction firm Inteko owned by Luzhkov’s wife Baturina) or claimed he only wanted to visit family in the UK (Iosif Kobzon, a singer and Luzhkov’s friend). But that is only to be expected.

Corruption investigations against the former Mayor’s circle are stepping up, and Luzhkov certainly hasn’t helped himself by portraying his ouster as evidence of the “return of Stalinism” and censorship and repression. (Of course, the city’s corruption-reporting journalists might beg to differ).

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Why Russia And China Won’t Fight

Every so often there appear claims, not only in the Western press but the Russian one, that (rising but overpopulated) China is destined to fight an (ailing and creaking) Russia for possession of its resources in the Far East*. For reasons that should be obvious, this is almost completely implausible for the next few decades. But let’s spell them out nonetheless.

1. China regards India, Japan, and above all the USA as its prime potential enemies. This is tied in to its three geopolitical goals: (1) keep the country together and under CCP hegemony – an enterprise most threatened by its adversaries stirring up ethnic nationalism (India – Tibetans, Turkey – Uyghurs) or buying the loyalties of the seaboard commercial elites (Japan, USA), (2) returning Taiwan into the fold and (3) acquiring hegemony over the South China Sea and ensuring the security of the sea routes supplying it with natural resources. The major obstacles to the latter two are the “dangerous democracies” of Japan and India, with the US hovering in the background. In contrast, the northern border is considered secure, and more generally, Russia and Central Asia are seen as sources of natural resource supplies that are more secure than the oceanic routes.

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Introducing the Karlin Corruption Index (KCI)

Following on the ground-breaking and globally acknowledged Karlin Freedom Index (which is of course by far the most objective, accurate, comprehensive and plain awesome democracy measuring tool available to political scientists today), I’m now revealing the Karlin Corruption Index (KCI) which rates transparency based on my own readings, personal impressions and bigoted prejudices. As with the “democracy indices” (Freedom House et al.), the current corruption indices – the most prominent of which is Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) – just don’t do all that of a great job. Let me explain why.

First, let’s have a look at the very language of corruption. Contrary to what one might expect, almost all linguistic terms for bribery are either neutral or even positive and are related to some of (1) “gift”, (2) small “tip” or tip, or (3) “greasing” i.e. a way of making things flow smoother, (4) “understanding”. I suspect the reason is that corruption, as long as it’s systematized, cannot unravel a state by itself, and in some cases even creates positive effects. Arguing to absurdity, a “gift economy” society of the type seen in hunter-gathering societies, kibbutzim or hippie coops would probably be given a 0/10 for transparency by the CPI’s methodology. But does that really mean anything?

Similar critiques can, in part, be extended to states. In highly regulated countries, giving kickbacks may be the optimal way of running businesses, employing people and generating growth (e.g. Russia, Italy). In highly stratified societies, increasing public spending to improve social mobility – even if part of that spending is siphoned off and contributes to more corruption – may be the socially just decision (e.g. Venezuela). In economically backwards nations, purposefully turning a blind eye to copyrights and IP violations may lead to faster development (e.g. 19th C Germany, China)*.

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Russia Updates: Luzhkov, Rearmament, GDP

As you may have noticed, posting has slowed down in the past few days, mostly thanks to a combination of (1) Kindle, (2) 中文 and (3) the natural periods of apathy that afflict most non-pro bloggers. I don’t really see that changing until the end of the year…

1. Sayonara, Luzhkov. Props to Jesse Heath for predicting it, Patrick Armstrong for IMO the best summary, and STRATFOR for the most bizarre interpretation (they think Luzhkov was dismissed because the Kremlin no longer needs him to control the Moscow Mob). The best way of viewing this is not as a struggle between the tandem, or even Medvedev asserting himself, but as the latest stage in the campaign to replace entrenched regional barons with civiliki that are closer to the Kremlin. This appears to be part of the overall Kremlin drive towards greater centralization and technocratic management.

2. Structural Remilitarization? Of far greater long term import than the political scuffles around the Moscow mayoralty is the gigantic, even prodigal, plans and figures are being bandied around by senior members of the Russian leadership for the 2011-2020 rearmament program (1, 2, 3). The main points of the program are to spend 22 trillion rubles (c. $700bn) over the next decade to modernize Russia’s increasingly obsolete military hardware, complementing domestic items with imports from foreign countries like Israel, France and the US*.

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