The Top 10 Russia Blogs In 2011

So it’s that time of year again… when I update the list of awesomest Russia blogs. But first, let’s have your voice. Let it never be said that S/O doesn’t support democracy!

[AK Edit: Regrettably, all opinion polls didn’t survive the transition]

Now on to the real rankings. 😉 As before, inclusion depends on the combination of the blog’s influence, interestingness, readability, erudition, and familiarity with Russian sources (as opposed to their intermediation through Western filters). A given blog’s inclusion does not mean that I agree with everything – or anything – that the author says; nor should its absence be taken as either affront or indictment. With these caveats out of the way, here goes…

10. Russia Watchers (Joera Mulders) may be last on the list, but in all honesty it’s the blog that I’m most excited about. The basic premise is that the diversity and analytical depth of the Russian media isn’t appreciated in the Anglosphere. Anybody can pontificate about tired tropes on Putin’s dictatorship or liberal protests, but it takes a special someone to delve deep into the real internal debates amongst Russian journalists, thinkers, and academics that are shaping its political future. Joera is the man who would “unlock the wealth of Russian media” to the West, in tandem with his new fellow Dutch collaborator Nils Van Der Vegte. I will not be surprised to see this project become much, much bigger in the years ahead. You can follow Russia Watchers and Nils on Twitter. In their own words…

9. Sean’s Russia Blog (Sean Guillory) remains an excellent blog, at least on the rare occasions when new posts crop up. Though it has recently emerged from its long hibernation, it is now far from the indispensable go-to blog it once was. But what earned Sean a place in this year’s Top 10 is his exciting new project on New Books in Russia and Eurasian Studies. In between his teaching and research, and life, he devotes his time to interviewing authors like Thomas de Waal and Arch Getty. I can’t vouch for them personally, as I’m not a podcast guy, but I’m sure they’re excellent. You can follow Sean on Twitter. In his own words…

8. Russian Military Reform (Dmitry Gorenburg) tracks “the progress of the most recent iteration of the Russian government’s effort to modernize its military.” This is a germane topic, given the vast sums that the Kremlin is committing to rearmament in the next decade. Generally speaking, Dmitry doubts that they will be effectively spent. Just like the author, commentators tend to be true enthusiasts of the subject, and the resulting discussions are civil, informed, and informative. In his own words…

7. FP Russia Blog (Vadim Nikitin) will probably be dismayed to find out that before I got better acquainted with his writings, I thought he was one of your typical pro-Western drones who dissed his erstwhile homeland for a career. I mean that’s what you’d expect of someone who recommends freeing Khodorkovsky and giving away the Kurils, no? But in the ensuing back and forth on that topic, I discovered a conscious liberal who was in fact deeply cynical of the oligarchic systems in both Russia and the West, and not afraid to couple criticism of the former with allusions to the double standards of the latter. Extra kudos for humor and mad Photoshop skillz. About the author…

6. Truth & Beauty [… And Russian Finance] (Eric Kraus) only comes out with a newsletter once every month, but its sheer length, jam-packed with Russia investment tips and acute geopolitical observations, and spiced up with Eric’s wry humor, is well worth the wait. In a nutshell, Eric makes money by trading off the differences between mainstream investor sentiment – i.e., that only a madman would buy into Russia, because The Economist told them that their assets would be confiscated just like Khodorkovsky’s – and his own, more sober appraisal of the reality, namely that Muscovy at times offers the best returns on Earth. Whereas it would be great if he’d post more frequently, I freely acknowledge that making a killing on the stock markets while cruising the Indonesian archipelago on a luxury yacht is probably much more fun. So all power to him! In his own words…

5. The Power Vertical (Brian Whitmore) is not a blog I can say I read often. It is steeped in classical Kremlinology, though Brian is surely one of its better practitioners; at least, he is eminently competent at covering subjects such as the intricacies of clan politics and the power balance between Putin and Medvedev. For whatever reason, Robert Coalson is no longer on board. You can follow The Power Vertical on Twitter.

4. A Good Treaty (Kevin Rothrock) is an academic who prefers a “good treaty with Russia” to only treating with a good Russia, in the best realist tradition. Though I placed him fourth, the competition in the Top 5 is so intense that he might as well be first; only ROPV, Mark Chapman’s entertainment value, and my own narcissism stand in the way. He keeps a close eye on debates in Russia’s media and does incredibly detailed research on new laws and personalities and social trends that are decidedly underplayed in the usual Russia coverage. When Kevin came in from the anonymous cold, he pledged to be less polemical; I don’t think he ever was in the first place, and if anything his style has become a bit more turgid since. Nonetheless, he remains fun and indispensable reading. You can follow the Iron Premier on Twitter. In his own words

3. Sublime Oblivion (Anatoly Karlin) is yours truly and refers you to the 2010 list for the pithy paragraph introducing his blog. Barring my popularization of Pribylovsky’s work on the Kremlin clans, the site doesn’t go deep into the nuts and bolts of Russian politics like The Power Vertical or A Good Treaty, nor can I offer a lollercoaster ride like Nikitin or The Kremlin Stooge. That said, S/O dominates blog coverage of the Russian Arctic and demography; has provided a platform for several guest bloggers; and has produced a few original investigations and possibly the most comprehensive comparison of life in Russia, Britain, and the US online. Some have noted my penchant for “futurism”; as an empiricist, I’m of the opinion that falsifiable predictions are a better test of analytical mettle than any number of beautiful, but untestable, narratives so beloved of by Kremlinologists, and I make no apologies for that. You can follow me on Facebook. In my own words…

2. Russia: Other Points Of View (team) has it all. Gordon Hahn deconstructs Western media coverage of Russia. Patrick Armstrong provides a weekly “sitrep” interpreting the most important developments. Chris Weafer is the pointman on the economy. Eugene Ivanov pens humorous, incisive commentary on Russian-American relations and many other topics (including on his own blog). There are also many reprints of interesting items from the mainstream media and other blogs. Featuring solid referencing and arguments for “the other side”, if you had to read just one thing in addition to your standard NYT or WSJ fare on Russia, then this should be it. In their own words…

1. Kremlin Stooge (Mark Chapman) simply kicks ass. That’s all there is to it. He savages the “experts” with elegance and style. Each one of his posts now attracts hundreds of comments (and not in an echo chamber, as at La Russophobe, but largely intelligent and informed discussions). Guest bloggers like Alexandre Latsa, kovane, and yalensis have contributed to its success. Now you might object, but where are Mark’s expert credentials? Who the fuck cares! The Kremlinologists predicted ten of Russia’s one recession in the last decade, and by now it’s broken into little pieces or ruled by Stalin reborn in their parallel universes. Okay, I mean these self-proclaimed experts sure can spin up a story with nice big words and fluff references, but they collectively boast a predictive record worse than a drunken bear tossing a coin and gunning for Aces. I’d take a Kremlin stooge, who’s at least a barrel of laughs, over that dour priesthood* any day of the week. In his own words…

Now a quick run through the blogs that didn’t make the cut.

  • The Russia Monitor (Jesse Heath) rocks at in-depth coverage of corruption, politics, and corporate law, but low posting frequency means he just missed out,
  • De Rebus Antiquis Et Novis (Dmitri Minaev) is a lovely Russian history blog that is more focused on literature and culture.
  • Dmitry Rogozin‘s Twitter account (Eng.) is so awesome that it’s listed among the blogs.
  • Robert Amsterdam (“James”) provides a wealth of information, but is too bland, repetitive, and liberal-slanted to be of much interest; the comments sections are dead; and to be honest, it’s hard to really distinguish it from any random Western newswire on Russia.
  • poemless marches on, but new competition has knocked her out of the Top 10.
  • Austere Insomniac (Leoš Tomíček) is the same story, plus the whole anti-feminism jeremiad threatens to subsume the higher-quality posts; could he at least create separate categories for Men’s Rights and Russia?
  • In Moscow’s Shadows (Mark Galeotti) is a specialized blog on Russian crime and security.
  • Russian Defense Policy is another excellent military blog, but I think only one on the subject should be included in the Top 10.
  • Streetwise Professor (Craig Pirrong) has degraded, in my view, from last year when he was 3rd. Basically, I’ve come to view him as a Procrustes, trying to nail down everything Russia into an iron bed strictly measured in (1) free markets are good, (2) Putin is bad, and (3) Go USA! That said, the discussions are lively and acerbic.
  • White Sun of the Desert (Tim Newman) is active again, but I can’t say I read it.
  • Siberian Light (Andy Young) made a laudable effort to regain prominence in the Russia blogosphere, especially as an aggregator of interesting Russia blog posts from elsewhere, but so far it has been a faltering and unsuccessful one.
  • Russia Blog (Yuri Mamchur) remains in the wilderness, as far as I can see.
  • Window on Eurasia (Paul Goble) doesn’t really do analysis as much as picking up the most sensational sources, quoting/misquoting their content in order to create the most negative impression of Russia possible and making it citable to the rest of the Kremlinologist clergy.
  • La Russophobe (“Kim Zigfeld”) is now just a shadow of an aging mockery of herself, the once prolific commentators deserting her blog even faster than the growth of her own delusions of grandeur** (“La Russophobe, of course, stands alone as the best Russia blog on this planet, or any other”).
  • The Moscow Diaries (Julia Ioffe) has relaunched at Forbes, but with only two posts and promising to be a mere footnote to her professional journalistic work, it is unlikely to go far.

Finally, three other lists of Top 10 Russia blogs.

  • Top 10 Russia Blogs @ Facebook (Anatoly Karlin, Oct 2010) is an unofficial ranking I made to take into account the rise of The Kremlin Stooge and A Good Treaty, and the disappearance of the two True Slant blogs.
  • Rating the Russia Watchers (Mark Chapman, Oct 2010) is the Kremlin Stooge’s more scientific approach.
  • LR rates the Russia Blogs (“Kim Zigfeld”, Mar 2010) in one of her modest “editorials”.

* Why my strident antipathy towards “experts”? Studies have shown that certified social scientists are no better at falsifiable predictions about human systems like the economy (or Kremlinology) than fair coins, or even the average Joe. However, they are FAR better at building a narrative to justify their predictions. So they’re not even scientists as such, but members of a priesthood designed to legitimize the latest social, economic, or political meme.

** I don’t care much about relative traffic stats, but since La Russophobe makes such a big deal out of them… As of the date of this post’s publication, her global traffic rank on Alexa is 1,350,159th in the world; in comparison, Siberian Light’s is 953,617th, my traffic is 565,215th, Russia Blog’s is 398,268th, Robert Amsterdam’s is 267,016th , and all the others are in the millionths. Now it is true that Robert Amsterdam’s and my Russia-related traffic is lower than those figures, because we also blog about Thailand and geopolitics / Limits to Growth, respectively; on the other hand, La Russophobe spam links to her own blog from her articles on Pajamas and American Thinker, so this compensates things between us. Strangely enough, this means that Yuri Mamchur’s Russia Blog – despite the gazillions of times La Russophobe has announced its death – may well still be the most popular blog by traffic (except English Russia, which is actually the best Russia blog of them all). 😉

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