Archives for September 2012

Triumphs Of Kremlinology

In 2008, Commissar of Transitionology Michael McFaul and his lab assistant Kathryn Stoner-Weiss wrote: “The myth of Putinism is that Russians are safer, more secure, and generally living better than in the 1990s—and that Putin himself deserves the credit… In terms of public safety, health, corruption, and the security of property rights, Russians are actually worse off today than they were a decade ago.”

Fedia Kriukov already called them out on it more than four years ago. The “authoritarian model” thesis was factually wrong from the moment it left the printing press (perhaps this wouldn’t have happened if Stoner-Weiss was more interested in getting things right as opposed to obsessing over how “women authors are evidently less important than male authors” and “Putin’s control of the media has spread to bloggers from just TV”).

Today their errors are clear and stark as snowblind, yet the core assumptions of the “authoritarian model” remain largely unchallenged in Western journalism and Kremlinology. Indeed, one of the authors is today the US ambassador to Russia.

Russia’s Demography Continues To Exceed Even *My* Most Optimistic Predictions

According to the latest data, in Jan-Aug 2012 there were 1,253,000 births (2011 – 1,171,000); 1,274,200 deaths (2011 – 1,299,800). Therefore, the rate of natural decrease plummeted from 128,800 in 2011 to just 21,200 this year. Bearing in mind that natural growth was about zero for the September-December period last year, this means that even a slight improvement over the next 5 months – that is, about 5,000 less monthly decrease – should finally nullify Russia’s two decades of natural population decrease.

Back in mid 2008 when I predicted that “natural population increase will occur starting from 2013 at the latest” most mainstream demographers would have considered me bonkers. But if anything the prediction now looks likely to be fulfilled one year early.

This would be the first (and only) year that Russia has seen natural population growth as not part of the USSR. The remarkable 7% increase in birth rates this year so far would imply a TFR of approximately 1.75 (2011 – 1.61), or the level of 1991; and the 2% drop in mortality would translate into an increase in the life expectancy from 70.3 years in 2011 to about 71 years in 2012. In terms of European demography, Russia has basically become a normal country.

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Should The US Fight A New Cold War With Russia, Or Cooperate With Russia To Integrate The Gap?

As I reported in my post unveiling US-Russia.org, there are going to be weekly discussion panels moderated by Vlad Sobell. This is the first one I participated in. It is on the topic of US-Russia Relations Against the Backdrop of Word-wide Muslim Protests. Is this a clash of civilizations? Should the US patch up ties with Russia and forget about New Cold War in order to free resources for the greater challenge from radical Islamists?

I think I will be reposting my contributions to these Panels on this blog for the foreseeable future, with a time delay of a few days so that US-Russia.org maxes out on traffic. Here is my first contribution:

The American democratization agenda for the Middle East appears to be based around two premises: (1) The Arabs want the strongmen out; (2) They desire a Western-style liberal democracy. Consequently, aggressively supporting the transition should ease the US into the Arabs’ good graces – with all its attendant, oily benefits.

The first point is largely true. The second is not. Although large majorities of Arabs support concepts such as “democracy” and “free speech” in opinion polls, they should not be taken at face value. That is because similar majorities also support stoning for adultery and the death penalty for apostasy. In these circumstances the very idea of a “liberal democracy” is a contradiction in terms. To paraphrase a relevant sentence from the Tsarist-era book Vekhi, “Thank God for the prisons and bayonets, which protect us from the people’s fury!”

This is because the “clash of civilizations” isn’t something that is “fomented” by radical Islamists (or Western Islamophobes, for that matter). It is an actually existing state of affairs and “democratization” will only fully disrobe it, not make it go away.

The Europeanized liberals who were the motor of the protests in Egypt only constitute about 5% of that country’s population. While removing the dictator – be he a relatively benign one like Mubarak, or a bloodthirsty one like Gaddafi – liberates not only the intelligentsia, but also the (far more numerous) Islamist opposition. Of the foreign jihadists fighting in Iraq, it was rumored that Benghazi – focal point of resistance against the Jamahiriya – contributed the most per capita. Now Libya is a chaotic jumble of heavily armed gangs and militias, many of them with Islamist sympathies. Despite promises not to field a Presidential candidate, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt did precisely that and won the elections; since then, the old-regime generals have been replaced and the Brotherhood has consolidated its political dominance over the country. In the meantime, the economy has ground to a standstill.

Mubarak, Gaddafi, Assad, Ben Ali, etc. may not have been everyone’s cup of tea, but they did foster an adequate, if non-stellar pace of development; protected the rights of minorities such as the Coptic Christians; and typically maintained non-hostile, constructive relations with the West, Russia, and even Israel. It is unclear whether any of this will be preserved in the years ahead. They will certainly become more “democratic” – Iran, after all, is far more democratic now that it was under the Shah –  but to what extent they will (or can) truly respect freedom of speech or worship is another question entirely. As strikingly shown in the past few days, there are problems even with honoring basic international norms like diplomatic immunity – and these are not without precedent (Chris Stephen’s ancestor by fate is Alexander Griboyedov, the poet diplomat killed and mutilated by a mullah-provoked Tehran mob in 1829).

But you can’t turn the clock back; we will have to learn to live with the new regimes emerging out of the Middle East unrest. One can hope for two things. First, that the West realizes that in terms of civilizational values, Russia and even China (all part of the “Functioning Core”, to borrow from Thomas P.M. Barnett) are far closer to it than most of the Muslim world, and adjusts policy accordingly. Second, that it takes a more balanced and realistic view towards these developments in the Arab world. For instance, it could recognize the Syrian conflict as a civil war, as opposed to a universal uprising against the dark lord Assad (and as such stop making unrealistic demands for him to step down as a precondition for talks).

Realistically, however, I suspect it will be a winter’s day in hell before the West’s infatuation with the Arab Spring is over.

So Apparently Germany Is A Christian Theocracy

At least if you take Michael Bohm’s arguments in his latest Moscow Times missive on how Russia Is Turning Into Iran to its logical conclusion.

Look, I’m not a fan of blasphemy laws. The First Amendment is a wonderful thing and something that makes the US truly great… even exceptional, to an extent. Although it should be noted that there are limits even in the US: Some quite appropriate in my opinion, others ridiculous such as the taboo on boobs on TV.

Still, if Russia’s moves to criminalize blasphemy brings it “another step closer to becoming like Iran and other Muslim theocracies”, then we have to admit that the likes of Germany, Poland, Israel, and Ireland are already long there – and contrary to what Bohm claims, it doesn’t seem that any of those countries have ended up in “chronic economic stagnation, decline and high poverty rates.”

Just look at the Wikipedia article. About half the Western world has blasphemy laws on the books. In Germany, a man was sentenced to one year in prison (suspended) in 2006 for insulting Islam. In Poland, the singer Doda was fined 5,000 złoty for the fairly innocuous comment, made well outside church, that the Bible was written by “people who drank too much wine and smoked herbal cigarettes.”

Also back in 2006 in Germany, a Berlin man was imprisoned for 9 months for disrupting a church service – but unlike the case with Pussy Riot, nobody nominated the poor bloke for the Sakharov Peace Prize. Nor did The Guardian hire a German journalist to write an oped about how Germany was becoming a “Protestant Iran” (as did Oleg Kashin).

Yet no Western commentator thinks to compare those countries to Islamic societies where apostasy is punishable by death and mobs demand the deaths of 12 year old girls who (supposedly) burn the Koran. And quite rightly so. Regardless of one’s view on the precisely where the boundaries between free speech and protecting religious feelings and social order are, it is intuitively obvious there are stark and clear lines separating today’s Christian civilization from a large chunk of the Dar al-Islam.

Russia on the other hand has yet to even sign the blasphemy bills into law, but shills like Michael Bohm are already rushing in to bracket it in with Iran. If this isn’t double standards then I really don’t know what is.

PS. I am not even going to comment on Bohm’s bizarre and absolutely illiterate musings regarding GDP.

US-Russia.org, New Site For Russia Watchers

It’s been a few months in the building, since the decision to launch it at the WRF 2012, and I feel it is now developed enough to make it more widely known. I hope it will become as prominent as the current best specialized English-language Russian politics resource on the Internet, Russia: Other Points of View.

US-RUSSIA.org will also have regular discussion panels featuring short commentaries on topical issues of the day by members of its think-tank, moderated by Vlad Sobell. The very first one will be out soon and will focus on the assaults on the US’ Middle East embassies and what it implies for US relations with Russia.

It is the brainchild of Edward Lozansky, Soviet dissident turned promoter of US-Russian cooperation. (He also has an excellent restaurant in Washington DC which I highly recommend you visit anytime you’re there; it’s on the pricey side, but service, atmosphere, and – unusual for traditional/”Soviet” Russian eateries – the food itself are all top notch).

Blast From The Past: What Jim Rogers Said About Russia In 2003

This guy isn’t as clear-headed as Eric Kraus, is he? But does have company in the form of Andrew Miller, Jeffrey Tailer, “Streetwise Professor”, and Ed Lucas. H/t Mark Adomanis.

—– Original Message —– 
From:
 Dmitry Alimov 
To:
 [email protected] 
Sent:
 Friday, September 12, 2003 11:28 PM 
Subject:
 Conversation with Jim Rogers – HILARIOUS

Jim Rogers, a famous international investor and writer attended HBS this Wednesday. In his speech, he badmouthed Russia (in his usual style) and quoted several “facts” that were completely bogus. As you would expect, I could not let him get away with lying about our country and publicly disputed his factual claims. He basically told me I was a moron and left. In response, I sent an email to him with facts and references disputing his claims (sending a copy to my HBS classmates). What ensued is quite amazing – read attached emails. Start with the first email and read from the end (my original email), then read his response and finally my rebuttal in the second email. This will be worth your time I promise. This has already been circulated all over HBS, several other universities and in the investment community in New York. Since this is already in public domain, feel free to forward on.

Dima
__________________________________________________

Dear Mr. Rogers: I am the “lad” who disputed your factual claims with regard to Russia today. First of all, I would like to thank you for speaking to us at the Harvard Business School.  I think I speak for my fellow HBS students when I say that we enjoyed your original views and interesting stories today. However, I must address the unfortunate reality that your facts about Russia are plain wrong. You made three principal inaccurate claims today – I will deal with all of them in sequence.

Claim #1.  People are leaving Russia

Wrong.  In fact, according to Financial Times, your favorite newspaper, Russia turns out to be the second largest recipient of immigrants after the US (see attached FT article). Oops. While it is true that Russia’s population is declining but the reasons for that have nothing to do with people leaving the country, it is things like low birth rate (only 1.2 per woman), which is an issue that confronts many European states.

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Natalia Zubarevich – The Four Russias

Natalia Zubarevich’s concept of “The Four Russias” is one of the most reasoned and perceptive political analysis from the liberals, and as such I think it important enough to translate it (mostly I disagree with its core assumptions and conclusions though I do think it is a useful way of envisioning Russian politics). As such I am translating Четыре России from Vedomosti (there is also a longer version, translated here).

The Four Russias

Natalia Zubarevich

The events of 2011 demonstrated that the authorities’ habit of looking at the country through a “vertical incision” played a cruel joke on them. In reality, there is not one Russia, but rather three or even four. And this is a reality with which both the government, and the opposition, will have to come to terms with.

The Four Russias: First Russia – urban, educated (white); Second Russia – urban, industrial (blue); Third Russia – rural, apolitical (green); Fourth Russia – ethnic, poor (red).

The First Russia is a country of big cities. They aren’t great in number, but the 12 city-millionaires as well as Perm and Krasnoyarsk, which have close to a million residents, constitute 21% of the country’s population, i.e. every fifth Russian, while Moscow and Saint Petersburg by themselves account for 9%. In the past 20 years, the biggest cities cities ceased being industrial – only in Ufa, Perm, Omsk, Chelyabinsk, and Volgograd do Soviet industrial enterprises continue to dominate the economy. Although the fastest post-industrial transformations are observed in Yekaterinburg, Novosibirsk  and Rostov-on-Don, all the city-millionaires have seen a change in employment patterns: The percentage of qualified “blue collar” workers rose, there appeared more employees of small businesses, and even the public sector attracted more qualified workers. There is quick adoption of the metropolitan model of consumer behavior, even though earnings are 1.5-2x lower than in Moscow. It is precisely in the bigger cities that we see a concentration of those middle class “disgruntled urbanites.” Migration flows in Russia are directed towards these bigger cities, so their share of the population is growing. The only difference is that the two federal cities of Moscow and Saint Petersburg, and their adjoining agglomerations, attract migrants from all over the country, accounting for up to 80% of net migration in Russia, while the other big cities for the most part draw migrants from their own regions.

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On Libya: I Told You So

And the protestations of demented democratists be damned.

And even apart from all the HBD stuff, here is the most succinct summary of why democracy is never going to flourish in the Arab world for the foreseeable future.

Libya isn’t among the countries above, but it is conservative even by Arab standards. Benghazi contributed the most jihadists per capita to Iraq.

Mubarak, Gaddafi, Assad are (were) paragons of enlightenment and progress, at least to the extent their own populations allowed them to be. They kept the most regressive elements of their population in check while adequately developing the national economy and maintaining friendly relations with other countries. What more could one want?

To paraphrase a wise sentence from the Vekhi, “Thank God for the prisons and bayonets, which protect us from the people’s fury!” In other words, unapologetic reaction is the only sane political course in countries where 80% favor stoning for adultery.

But Western democratist idiots insist otherwise (yes, idiots: While imperialism by Islamist proxies is a tantalizing theory, the old adage that one should not attribute to malevolence what can just as easily be explained by stupidity comes into play). They think that the entire world conforms to their bizarre ideologies and if it doesn’t then a few bombs, grants, and copies of From Dictatorship To Democracy will patch things up.

So how’s that Arab Spring working out now, eh?

Would this outrageous breach of all diplomatic norms and ethos have occurred under Gaddafi? (no of course not…)*

RT was right. I was right. Even the NYT grudging admits it. Even Julia friggin’ Ioffe (kind of).

* Alexander Mercouris on the matter:

The US has now confirmed that it was none other than the US ambassador who was killed in Libya.

On the subject of whether this could have happened under Gaddafi, the short answer is no and we have conclusive evidence that proves this.

In February 2011 when the uprising against Gaddafi began the US and other western powers evacuated their citizens from Tripoli. There was considerable unease in western capitals that Gaddafi would try to hold on to these people as hostages. He did nothing of the sort. On the contrary he made sure that the Libyan authorities assisted with the evacuation, which could not of course have happened without their cooperation. Nor at any point during the fighting were any western journalists or diplomats who visited the part of Libya that remained under Gaddafi’s control any time threatened and harmed. I can only remember one incident when a British television returning from the rebel town of Zuwiyah after it had been recaptured by Gaddafi’s forces claimed to have been detained and beaten by Gaddafi’s security forces. For various reasons I had strong doubts at the time that this was true.

I happen to know various people who visited Libya whilst Gaddafi was in power. One was a Greek woman who bizarrely ran an estate agency there. The opinions of Gaddafi held by these people vary widely but all described a country that was very safe and very relaxed. Now that is “free” it is no longer either.

Russia’s New Anti-Corruption Law

Russia is preparing to “nationalize the elites” by forbidding bureaucrats (and their spouses and children) from owning property or bank accounts abroad.

(1) This need hardly be said at this point but this does demonstrate that Russia is not the “kleptocracy” it is frequently described as. Why would kleptocrats purposefully make life any harder for themselves?

(2) It is also unprecedentedly harsh and rigid. I know of no similarly harsh law in any other country, be it clean or corrupt.

(3) The law was pushed for in its current form by UR deputy Valery Trapeznikov, who used to be an industrial worker from the Urals. The same type of person whom democratic journalist Julia Ioffe calls sovoks, and the same organization that is called the “party of crooks and thieves” by Navalny and chums.

(4) There is some opposition to the law, but it does not come from the quarters a consumer of Western media might expect. By and large, they are liberals.

(5) President of Londongrad Prokhorov argues that this “automatically closes the gates to power for those, who have succeeded in life – young, entrepreneurial, independent people. For those, who have earned enough so as to not steal, who have reasons for going into politics other than to fatten their bank accounts.” Despite the obvious self-interest and poorly disguised class chauvinism this reeks of, there is some measure of truth to this.

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FINAL: Vote For Best Title

And the final results are:

Putin Derangement Syndrome 14
Dark Lord of the Kremlin 27
No preference / can’t decide which I hate more 13

Surprised to see such a clear lead for DLK… thought it’d be closer to a tie. But it’s my favorite too, so Dark Lord of the Kremlin it will be.

Thanks to all for participating in the polls to decide on the name of the book.