Sochi-Adler Krasnaya Polyana Panorama

There has been an unceasing campaign to denigrate the construction in the Sochi-Adler area. Incompetence, corruption, double toilets and so on and on. In all of this, few people have been shown what has been built for the total cost of 55 billion or so US Dollars. We have a preview; but first a discussion of cost.

Most Western sources claim that the real cost of the Sochi Olympics is the 55 billion and Putin is assumed to be lying when he says the cost is 6 billion or so. Now that Navalniy has his report out that claims to measure the alleged corruption, the Western media is full of wide-eyed quotations from it. But Western discussions, and Navalniy (not, I suspect, by coincidence) ignore the other stated purpose of the construction which is to create a full-scale sports and holiday complex in Russia’s Riviera. The aim being to attract Russian tourists away from foreign holidays and provide some development and employment opportunities in the chronically depressed North Caucasus.

So what is the real cost of the Olympics? 1) All of the 55 billion or 2) just the proportion that would not have been spent if the Olympics weren’t coming or 3) something in-between? The first question to be answered is how much of the total is definitely Olympics-only spending. Here Navalniy actually agrees with Putin: from his report “Olympstroy spent $6.3 bn to construct 11 sport venues”; that is the number Putin gives.

The disagreement is over what column to put the other expenditures in. Navalniy insists they all be charged to the Olympics, Putin that they be charged to resort complex construction and necessary infrastructure improvement. That’s what the disagreement actually amounts to, not that anyone in the Western media will tell you: Putin says some is Olympics, most is infrastructure, Navalniy says all is Olympics. But they agree on the total that has been spent. Putin wants to play the Olympics costs down, Navalniy wants to play them up; so each picks his favourite split. Each is being disingenuous.

Certainly an immense amount of money has been spent on sports facilities, visitor amusements, transportation facilities, hotels, restaurants and the rest. So, Dear Reader, you decide the split. How do you judge the most expensive single project (the 5-6 billion road-rail connection to the ski resort, replacing the Soviet-era link)? Would it have been built anyway to connect the town of Adler (where, as we have interminably been told, it doesn’t snow much) to the ski resort area where it does? Or do you judge that it was only built because of the Olympics? Or should only some of the cost be assigned to the Olympics and how would you assign it? How about the airport at Adler? The port development at Sochi? The isolation hospital in Lazerevskiy district? The Adler power station? The shopping mall? Putin says none, Navalniy says all but they don’t disagree that 50-plus billion was spent overall. And, when you make your decision, what makes you think the next person would agree? The only correct answer is that, when the Olympics are gone, there will still be a vast complex of modern facilities in a place and situation that ought to be pretty attractive to tourists.

The truth is that a large high quality resort complex has been constructed, together with a great deal of infrastructure created or improved; some of this was built only because the Olympics were coming. So what is the cost of the Olympics? I don’t know either. 6 billion seems too narrow a definition but 55 billion is far too high. Can we pick a number out of the sky and say 7 or 8? Certainly a ludicrous amount of money to shell out for a few weeks of sports; probably an argument for having a permanent facility but, given that there wasn’t much there in the beginning except Nature, not absurdly high as these things are priced.

These panoramic photos show what has been done. And don’t forget, Dear Reader, Navalniy and others would like us to believe that a third of the money was stolen: look at all this stuff and decide whether that sounds right.

Russian language only, but you’ll get the idea.

PS. The toilet story isn’t true.

Shredding Sochi… in a Good Way

After a long break, a new contribution to the Experts Panel:

Shredding Sochi… in a Good Way

Western journalists have been in the business of dismissing Russian achievements and magnifying Russian failures ever since Putin drove them into a collective derangement syndrome – he even haunts their dreams, as recently revealed by the Guardian’s Shaun Walker – so the preemptive besmirching of the Sochi Olympics can’t have surprised anyone.

What is startling, though, is the unusually low competence of the effort, even by the standards of these people that are sarcastically referred to as “democratic journalists” in Russia.

The first and foremost attack revolved around the supposed corruption surrounding the Sochi Olympics. In 2010, the Russian magazine Esquire estimated that 48km of roads around Sochi consumed a cool $8 billion of taxpayer money, a sum that implied the asphalt might as well have been made of elite beluga caviar. Julia Ioffe cheerily transmitted these sophomoric calculations to the Anglosphere. The only problem with these actuarial wisecracks? Said road also included a railway, 50 bridges, and 27km worth of tunnels over mountainous terrain… which presumably made it something more than just a road. What was intended as a metaphor for Sochi corruption turned out to be, ironically, a metaphor for unfounded attacks against it.

There are incessant comparisons to the $8 billion spent during the 2010 Olympics in Canada. But this sidesteps the fact that Whistler was already a world-class ski resort, whereas Sochi’s infrastructure had to be built from scratch and at relatively short notice. The actual event-related costs of the Sochi Olympics are $7 billion, of which only half was directly drawn from the state budget. This is not to say that there was no stealing – of course there was, as corruption is a real problem in Russia, and is especially endemic in the construction industry. Navalny has created an entire website about it, and coordinated a campaign against Sochi with Buzzfeed and The New York Times. But what’s striking is that far from the pharaonic levels of misappropriation we might expected from the tone of the coverage, in most cases the markup was in the order of 50%-100% relative to “comparable” Western projects (and that’s after selecting the most egregious cases). This isn’t “good,” needless to say, but it’s hardly unprecedented in Western experience. In any case, a number of criminal cases have been opened up, so impunity is not guaranteed. (The most prominent “victim,” Akhmed Bilalov, has fled the country and claimed he was poisoned – all true to the form of emigre oligarch thieves from the ex-Sovie Union).

The lion’s share of the $50 billion investment in Sochi – some 80% of it or so – consists of infrastructure projects to make Sochi into a world-class ski resort that will provide employment in the restive North Caucasus, kickstart the development of a Russian snowsports culture, and draw at least some of the more patriotic elites away from Courcheval.

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Serdyukov is Charged

Here is the discussion at this on The Russia Debate.

My friend and DR commentator Alexander Mercouris correctly predicted this outcome – that Serdyukov would be charged, but that it is a complex case that will take a long time and likely avoid more the more serious allegations in favor of those that can be more easily proved in a court of law. So I’ll just quote his analysis:

As people who followed my opinions about this case will know, I have always thought it more likely than not that Serdyukov would eventually face a charge but I have also thought it more likely than not that it would not be a charge that reflected the seriousness of what he had done. I have also always thought and I still think (as does Anatoly Karlin) that this case is very likely to end in a plea bargain.

The reason I have always thought these things is not because I have any real doubt about Serdyukov’s corruption and of his personal involvement in the corrupt schemes that have wracked the Defence Ministry under his watch (see my very first comment on this thread) or because I thought he was being protected by someone (see my second comment) but because personal experience tells me how difficult it is in these cases of high level corruption and embezzlement to secure a conviction. Again I would repeat what I have said previously, which is that the mere fact that Serdyukov’s brother is rich or that Vasilieva has a stash in her multiroom apartment, is not in itself evidence against Serdyukov that can be used in a Court of law. There has to be witness evidence and/or a paper trail directly linking Serdyukov to some or all of these corrupt activities, which the prosecution is in a position to say cannot be interpreted in any way other than as evidence of his guilt. Given that Serdyukov was presumably taking steps to conceal what he was up to, that sort of evidence almost by definition is going to be difficult to find.

It has not helped matters in this case that judging from media reports Serdyukov is being investigated by two rival teams of investigators – one from the Investigative Committee and one from the military Procurator’s Office – who appear much of the time to be in bitter rivalry and disagreement with each other. Conflicts of this sort invariably complicate investigations and can even wreck them completely.

What I would say about this case at the moment is this:

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Book Review: John Durant – The Paleo Manifesto

The Paleo Manifesto” by John Durant, published in 2013. Rating: 5/5.

Most books on the paleo diet follow a set pattern: An inspirational story about how the author wrecked his health with junk food or vegetarianism before the caveman came riding on a white horse to the rescue; an explanation of why, contrary to the popular expression, almost anything is better than sliced white bread; a long and exhaustive guide to the do’s and don’ts of paleo with plenty of scientific explanations; and finally, a list of recipes and suggestions for further reading.

Don’t get me wrong, you’ll still get a solid idea of how to eat, move, and live by paleo principles from John Durant’s THE PALEO MANIFESTO. But at its core, this is no diet book.

It is a bold attempt to situate the paleo lifestyle within the “Big History” of human biosocial evolution, which is divided into four distinct “ages”: Paleolithic, agricultural, industrial, and information. Each of these ages was characterized by diets that created new problems, problems that were in turn partially mitigated by solutions specific to the very age that spawned them. This is a narrative that evokes a whiff of historical materialism, though John Durant is far more of a neo-reactionary than a Marxist.

Well aware of its pervasive violence and cultural backwardness, Durant does not unduly glamorize paleolithic life. (Nor does virtually anyone in the movement, strawmen set up by paleo’s detractors regardless). But one can’t escape the physical evidence that hunter-gatherers were far taller, stronger, and healthier than the early agriculturalists hunched over their hoes. An anthropologist shows off a male specimen who was 5″10 (175 cm) tall and weighed 150 pounds (68 kg), despite having a musculature that would put the vast majority of modern humans to shame. Average heights decreased by 5 inches after the transition to agriculture, and tooth and bone health deteriorated drastically.

The Bible tells the story: Man took up farming and began eating bread, and then cities appeared, famine and disease stalked the land, and childbirth became painful and dangerous. But childbirth also became more frequent, and the vast (if low-quality) caloric surpluses from grains enabled farmer populations – armed with metal weapons and commanded by literate elites – to gradually displace the world of Enkidu. That world might never have been paradise on Earth, but it “probably seemed like the Garden of Eden” compared to the lives of early farmers.

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Translation: Riots and Vegetables

Anastasia Novikova at Komsomolskaya Pravda details the fallout following demonstrations on the streets of Moscow

After a pogrom in Biryulyov, police are checking passer-bys and a fruit and vegetable base with the help of APCs

Russian Policemen

Policemen are maintaining order after mass riots in the West Biryulyovo district of Moscow.   According to the police, around 300 OMON officers are on the streets, checking passersby’s documents, and detaining people of non-Slavic appearance.

Meanwhile, the main focus of these events is the vegetable base¹, whose closing was demanded by protestors.  It is already not in operation, as they are keeping order there.

According to some sources, the police are checking the premises with the help of APCs.  Operatives in the capital are also trying to find out who owns a vehicle that was found during the raid in the fruit and vegetable base in Biryulyovo.

The police specified that several million roubles lay inside the car, along with three non-lethal² pistols, two knives and a baseball bat, Interfax reports.

There are grounds to assume that unrest in Moscow can recommence.  On Tuesday, October 15th, Muslims will mark their Kurban-Bayram holiday.  It is possible that nationalists will try to spoil the holiday.

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Translation: Evgeniya Khasis on Tolokonnikova’s Prison Letter

A letter from Yevgenia Khasis, a nationalist and convicted accomplice to murder, and fellow colony inmate of Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, published in Komsomolskaya Pravda, 28 September 2013.

Evgeniya Khasis’ Letter: Tolokno’s Passions

I met Nadezhda about a year ago when she arrived at the colony to serve the sentence handed down to her by the court. Despite the differences between our ideological views, I wanted to become acquainted, and there were reasons for my doing so. Firstly, it is difficult to find a person here who is familiar with the socio-political conditions of our society, and even more so with its features in terms of “sovereign democracy”. I have long been isolated from this activity, and it was interesting to hear the news, to hear an opinion, including the opinion of someone with left-liberal views. Secondly, it was interesting to delve into the specifics and methods of the opposition struggle. It was interesting to hear the motives and the goals of the so-called punk prayer that had rocked the entire country. But not only did I have questions to put to her: I for my part was not against her satisfying her curiosity about me, believing that she and her sympathizers had every right to do so.

Living in different prison sections, we used to meet in the convict recreation areas – in the library or in the convicts’ “club”. I invited her into the temple with the rights of an assistant bell-ringer. I shan’t forget how our conversation followed the regular channel of intelligent small talk and debate. In those matters where we could not reach agreement, we agreed on our own default position, each remaining convinced of her point of view. Knowing of the women prisoners’ attitude towards her through the way they gossiped and gossiped about her, and after reading the news reports, where there were details of that moment that had moved her away from perverted pornographic “events” and had turned her into a “star” because of a “punk prayer” in the Christ the Saviour Cathedral, I asked Nadia in a comradely fashion whether she had had conflicts within her prison team. I was truly worried that the public hostility and condemnation of her would spill over into the prison colony and that there would be tension between her and the prisoners. However, Nadezhda assured me that she was doing well, that there was no conflict and that she felt that there were was nothing negative in the way she was being treated by any of the prisoners or by the administration.

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James Kirchick: Vapid, Bloviating Troll

james-kirchikHe got invited to RT to talk about Bradley Manning and his impending sentence. The gay journalist James Kirchick got invited to argue his viewpoint that Manning wa a traitor who deserved to be put to death. (I wonder what his newfound liberal groupies would make of that?).

Instead, he used his airtime to go off on a tirade about how Russia has criminalized homosexuality (no, it hasn’t – but who cares about facts?) and to recycle all the canards about how RT is a Kremlin mouthpiece.

His rant lasted a whole two minutes, before RT’s host – having failed to steer Kirchick back on topic – finally kicked him off the channel. After rudely hijacking the show, the troll even had the gall to complain that RT wouldn’t pay for his taxi ride back.

There are many things one can say of this episode. One can highlight Kirchik’s sheer rudeness, chutzpah, and presumption. One can point out that Kirchick is only preaching to his own crowd here, while doing his utmost to validate the stereotype of the hystrionic homo as far as people who don’t much like homosexuals and need to be persuaded otherwise – that is, the majority of Russians – are concerned. Alternatively, one can note that Nikolai Alexeyev, the leader of Russia’s LGBT movement, basically calls him out as a hypocrite and then pens an article for RT with his own, far more nuanced views on the challenges facing the LGBT community in Russia.

I for one will note that if cutting off someone for incessant trolling makes RT a Kremlin mouthpiece, then…

… what does this make the “free” Western media?

Translation: Provincial Court Grants Victory to Gay Partners

The Gryaz city court in Lipetsk oblast has voided a Saint-Petersburg registrar’s refusal to accept the intention of Dmitry Chunosov and Jaroslav Yevtushenko to get a same sex marriage.

In the Lipetsk region gays win a court decision in their favour

Today the Gryaz City Court declared the refusal to register a same-sex marriage to be illegal.

Today the Gryaz City Court held a hearing in the civil case of St. Petersburg residents Dmitry Chunosov and Jaroslav Yevtushenko that challenge the refusal of a St. Petersburg registry office to accept their declaration of intent to marriage.

Before starting the process, it turned out that in fact today in Gryaz were being heard two lawsuits made by supporters of same-sex love. 21-year-old Ilmira Shayhraznova and 23-year-old Elena Yakoleva had also tried to apply for a marriage in Moscow, but were refused and decided to challenge this in Gryaz, their registered place if residence.

Today in Russia will be filed another lawsuit to ban same-sex marriage. It is expected that it will take place in a Moscow court.
There was also was also awaiting Chunosov and Yevtushenko another surprise at the Gryaz city court: paratroopers tried to get into the building, claiming that the both the legal action and the people that had submitted it were obnoxious. However, none of the paratroopers, who were celebrating Paratroopers Day, had no passport, and were not allowed into the court. 10 paratroopers remained outside in the street, where they intend to picket the court.

The correspondent of portal Gorod48.ru has stated that at the end of the trial LGBT representatives called a taxi to the Gryaz court entrance.

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An Examination of Navalny’s Trial and Conviction

The Western narrative on the Navalny case is that it was a selective and political prosecution on trumped up charges. I think that to a significant (but NOT full) extent that this interpretation is basically correct.

So given the paucity of convincing counter-narratives, I was extremely pleased to see that Alexander Mercouris, a British lawyer who closely follows Russian affairs, make a comprehensive case for why the prosecution’s case was actually quite a solid one in Alexey Navalny – An Examination of His Trial and Conviction.

I strongly believe everyone should read it, even – especially – those who are strong Navalny supporters and convinced of his absolute and unambiguous innocence. At the very least, it would make you think twice before making blanket statements such as that there was “no case” for theft. I’m afraid there was. There was also a clear legal-technical basis for charging him under Article 160 – a notion that I had mistakenly ridiculed in the past. That Mercouris managed to make me change my mind on this is a testament to his essay’s lucidity and legalistic virtuosity. He also argues that were this trial held under British laws, Navalny would have likewise been convicted.

This is not, however, to say that I agree with all the conclusions and reasoning in it; to the contrary, I remain at odds on the two most important points, namely that (1) the preponderance of the evidence wasn’t such that it could have been used to secure what was an incredibly harsh sentence by typical Russian jurisprudence; and (2) of its overall political wisdom. But there are good arguments to the contrary that Mercouris lays out and which are well worth considering and pondering over. Here is not the time to get into an extended debate – my own views and analysis I will further expound upon in a subsequent post. For now, Alexander Mercouris’ essay is reprinted without further commentary so that you can engage with it yourselves and draw your own conclusions.

Please comment at Mercouris’ blog.

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ALEKSEI NAVALNY – AN EXAMINATION OF HIS TRIAL AND CONVICTION

On 8th December 2008 following a private meeting the Russian President Dmitri Medvedev nominated Nikita Belykh, a well known Russian liberal politician and former leader of the Russian liberal party the Union of Right Forces for the post of Governor of the Kirov Region in central Russia.  Belykh’s subsequent appointment set in train a sequence of events which on 18th July 2013 led to the conviction by the Kirov Regional Court of Aleksei Navalny, the well known Russian opposition politician and blogger, for conspiracy to commit embezzlement contrary to Article 160 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation.

Navalny’s conviction and his sentence of 5 years imprisonment, has provoked angry reactions.  In Moscow several thousand of his supporters protested near the Kremlin.  Scattered protests also took place in some other Russian cities.  The United States government has expressed its “disappointment” with the verdict.  The European Union has said the case highlights concerns about the rule of law in Russia.  The rapporteurs of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe have condemned his 5 year sentence as disproportionate and have claimed that his prosecution is political.

Media comment at least in Britain has been equally harsh.  In an editorial suggestively titled “misrule of law” published on 11th July 2013, a week before the verdict, the Guardian claimed that Navalny’s prosecution was a device to silence a prominent critic of the Russian government saying that “….it goes without saying that the charges are bogus”.

Similar comments have appeared in the Times and in the Financial Times.

Navalny himself has claimed that the prosecution against him is politically motivated.  He has claimed that the prosecution against him betrays a fundamental ignorance of how business is conducted in a free market economy.  He has also claimed that the prosecution is entirely based on the evidence of three persons who have a personal grudge against him and whose evidence is unreliable.

Navalny’s criticisms have been taken up by others.  The charge against him is said to make no sense.  Yegvenya Albats, the editor of the Russian liberal magazine New Times, says his conviction spells the end of capitalism in Russia.  It is repeatedly pointed out that the case against Navalny was investigated previously but was then dropped.  That it was later resurrected is seen as proof that it is without merit and that the motive behind it is political.

It has also been pointed out that the case against Navalny was only resurrected by the Russian Investigative Committee at the personal insistence of Bastrykhin its chief whom Navalny has accused of illegally owning property in the Czech Republic.  Navalny’s prosecution is said to Bastrykhin’s revenge.

Support for these claims is said to be provided by certain comments made shortly before the trial by Vladimir Markin the spokesman of the Investigative Committee.

The purpose of this essay is to examine in detail the facts of the case and the conduct of the trial to determine whether any of these claims and criticisms are true.

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Translation: Jews, Journalists, and Dead Kittens

Battle of the hacks! In response to Alexei Pankin calling him an anti-Semite in The Moscow Times, Oleg Kashin pens a tongue in cheek response telling him to imagine a kitten dying every time he abuses an overworn cliche.

On the Horrors of Anti-Semitism

In which Oleg Kashin gives some advice to the politologists.

The editors asked me to reply to a columnist in the English-language Moscow Times who accused Svobodnaya Pressa of – wow, wow! – anti-Semitism. I don’t even know how to object to this dear fellow – I love the way he holds that pipe in his mouth in his avatar; as for the rest of his remarks, I will only recycle what one of my friends has already noted: The Jewish question in Russia ended when those standard (which is to say, fascist) ads for apartment rentals marked “For Slavs only” started to encompass Jews, together with Russians, Ukrainians, and Belorussians. This was unimaginable even back in 1990 – you know, the era of Pamyat, and all that. Today – be my guest! Even the lumpenproles, ready at take part in some ethnic cleansing at the first opportunity, no longer consider Jews to be foreigners. In reality, it’s stupid to ponder on the differences between Ivan and Abram when Dagestan is in the foreground; those differences are negligible.

If there was any “social thought” whatsoever in the Russian Federation, beyond what we see at Svobodnaya Pressa and at one and a half other sites, there would have long been a flood of books, lectures, exhibitions, and films meditating upon the end of Russian anti-Semitism. But social thought, sucking away on his pipe, prefers to flog 20-year old stereotypes, whose authenticity somewhat resembles Intourist stories about bears and balalaikas.

Every time I have to speak before some foreign audience – well, not even “some” audience, but one that is prepared, and interested in Russian affairs – I am forced to answer questions about the threat of a Communist comeback in my country, about Moscow’s repressive policies towards the Chechen people, and even about the possibility that Russia could try to reconquer the Baltic countries. Patiently answering these questions (“No, ladies and gentlemen, the Communist Party is part of the political system”; “Excuse me, but Mr. Kadyrov himself represses whomsoever he wants”; “If they attack Europe, they will have nowhere to keep their money”), I can see despondency in the eyes of my interlocutors – they do not believe me, because the word of some unknown Russian can’t outweigh the terabytes of nonsense issued by all these veterans of the Valdai Clubs and Pugwash Conferences from both sides of their mutually beloved Iron Curtain.

Though it’s too late to do anything about Alexander Rahr or Nikolai Zlobin, I would however like to give some friendly politological advice to their less famous colleagues, who are easier to recognize by pipe than by name. Friends, next time you’re about to reproduce your typical analytical klyukva – imagine that a little kitten dies somewhere in Russia. Imagine that the kitten dies because he simply can’t bear to watch how credulous English-language readers are fed tales of Russia’s unreadiness for democracy, the popularity of “Ethnic Slurs” among the Russian opposition, and similar bears and balalaikas. Don’t think about about visitor views, reposts, and honorariums – think of the kittens. Maybe this will seem like an unserious argument to you, but it is surely – for all that – a more serious one than what you’re scribbling.

Mazel tov, friends!