Archives for September 2011

But Always, A Hero Comes Home

The King returns. As this is breaking news, please feel free to discuss this breaking news while I write up a more substantive post. In summary:

(1) I was 75% wrong. (I gave Putin a 25% of returning to the PM; I thought the likeliest scenario would be for DAM to continue).

(2) That said, being an unrepentant Putinista, I’m very happy I was wrong – even if I lost $20 to a gambling site and a bottle of Georgian wine to a friend.

(3) In general terms, I hope this represents a left turn (VVP has come out in support of more progressive taxation), more social liberalism, and an end to DAM-style dithering and capitulation to Western interests and finance capital.

CONTINUATION. So here are my 2 cents. As you may recall, I thought Medvedev would continue in office. I gave it as a set of probabilities: DAM – 70%, Putin – 25%, Other – 5%). I’d have a lost at the casino, and in fact I did a bit, as well as a bottle of Georgian wine to a friend likewise interested in Russian politics (that said in terms of expectations I still think I made a good bet). So obviously this came as a surprise to me along with A Good Treaty, Mark Adomanis, Joera Mulders, etc. Of what I’d read on Putin, it sggested that he was becoming tired of Presidential trappings by the 2006-08 period, which I imagine implied he’d be happy in a more “hands on” job with fewer formalities than the Presidency, e.g. staying on as PM, or even (my whimsical scenario) becoming a Minister of Sports in charge of the Sochi Olympics and World Cup, or something.  That said, as a Putin supporter who was wary and concerned about Medvedev’s neoliberal tendencies, his dithering and aimless style of rule, and his excessive capitulations to Western interests, unlike many of my Russia-watching acquaintances I welcome a second Putin Presidency.

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The Russophobes Were Right… (About The Wrong Country)

After peaking in 2007 at the height of its oil boom, the Russian economy slid off the rails, with GDP collapsing by 25% from peak to trough. Attempts to stem the decline by arresting pessimistic economists failed. Its image as a tiger economy, heavily promoted by Kremlin ideologues, was revealed to be a sham. Though anemic, growth returned this year; but little of it trickles down to ordinary Russians. Unemployment is over 16%, birth rates have collapsed, and millions of citizens are voting with their feet and migrating to work as laborers in affluent Western Europe.

This demographic free fall threatens to dash any remaining hopes of Russia ever converging to European living standards. Birth rates have fallen by 25% since the post-Soviet era peak in 2008, and the total fertility rate – the average number of children a woman can be expected to have over her lifetime – is now one of the lowest in the world, surpassed only by a few small, rich Asian states like Taiwan and Singapore. And with young professionals rushing for the exits, this situation is unlikely to be reversed any time soon. Last year, half a million people out of Russia’s 143 million population left for greener pastures; this figure has already been exceeded in the first half of this year. Already falling at an alarming 840,000 in 2009, population decrease further rose to 1,220,000 in 2010 and on current trends will approach 2 million this year. This demographic death spiral is the epitome of Putinism’s failure. The Leon Arons and Nicholas Eberstadts of this world were correct all along. Having been a Russophile shill all these years, it is time for me, like Johann Hari, to admit to my failures, apologize to the readers I misled, and go back to journalism school.

Oh wait, I almost forgot. I was actually talking about Latvia.

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