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Strategic Direction Of Da Russophile

I feel that my blogging in terms of influencing the discourse on Russia has leveled off into something resembling a plateau. I now write the occasional op-ed; appear every so often in magazines, research articles, and even books; and the blog itself attracts about 500 daily visitors. But truth is I am barely making a dint relative to the likes of Harding or Lucas.

To this end I am embarking on two big projects that will consume the bulk of my creative efforts for at least the next year.

(1) I am writing a book with the preliminary title PUTIN DERANGEMENT SYNDROME: How Western Journalists Are Fueling A New Cold War Against Russia. (I’m not 100% happy with it and will welcome alternate suggestions).

As I have argued for close to 5 years now, Western media coverage of Russia tends to be woefully biased, frequently malicious, and – most unforgivably – factually wrong. This does not mean there is nothing to criticize about Russia and Russians and I will not refrain from doing so in the book. However, said criticisms must be grounded in statistical data, an appreciation of the viewpoints of ordinary Russians, and a judicious comparative perspective (which is NOT equivalent to “moral relativism” or “whataboutism” as many hardcore Russophobes claim).

In 1926, Will Rogers said, “Russia is a country that no matter what you say about it, it’s true.” It is high time to make this way of thinking obsolete.

The book will be divided into about a dozen chapters, covering all aspects of Russia which are either heavily misrepresented, or around which there exist powerful misconceptions. Here is a short sample list of such “Russia tropes”:

  • “Dying Russia”
  • The Manichean view of Russian politics
  • “If This Happened in Russia”
  • Putin the fascist, Stalinist, neo-Tsarist, kleptocratic mafia thug
  • Stagnation
  • Pariah state
  • The strange obsession with “Kremlin TV”, i.e. Russia Today
  • How big bad Russia raped plucky democratic Georgia

In addition to my own original work, the book will also feature guest articles from various political and legal experts, as well as original translations from the “unfree” Russian media. By revealing the lies and misrepresentations on which so much Western commentary on Russia is rooted, the book will hopefully serve as a catalyst for rethinking and concrete change. Ведь так больше жить нельзя.

(2) As blog readers will recall, back in May I attended a Washington conference, chaired by  Edward Lozansky, devoted to brainstorming ways to improve Russia’s dismal image abroad. Several fruitful suggestions came out of the meeting, one of which has already been brought into being: The site US-Russia.org.

My own modest contribution was a site devoted to translating the Russian media into English, a reverse-Inosmi if you will. Its preliminary name is RUSSIA VOICES.

There are several core structural features that make Western coverage of Russia as bad as it is. One of these is that there are more questions than can be answered; as argued by Patrick Armstrong, it takes 10x longer to write a rebuttal to a lying article, than the lying article itself (and claims of Kremlin-paid bloggers to the contrary, – I wish! – we don’t have a hundredth of either the resources or the media exposure of the Lucas and Harding types). Other such features include the “propaganda model” and exiled oligarch funding of anti-Putin kompromat. These are systemic forces that need a systemic response.

Should it become a significant feature of the media landscape, RUSSIA VOICES will accomplish three major things:

  1. Improve perceptions of Russian media in general (i.e., not Zimbabwe).
  2. Improve perceptions of Russia in general (i.e., complex array of liberal, Kremlin, statist, patriot, nationalist, & leftist forces; NOT a Manichean struggle between Padawan Navalny and Darth Putler).
  3. Publicize Russian voices on global affairs (e.g. Syria).

After all, what would YOU, as a media consumer, rather read about: Top Russian sci-fi novelist Sergey Lukyanenko’s thoughts on the Russian elections, or Miriam Elder on how Putin stole her dry-cleaning ticket?

Exactly. And I am sure the same goes for many academics, students, expats, businesspeople, and intelligent open-minded laymen. RUSSIA VOICES will translate from all sides of the ideological spectrum, be they pro-Kremlin or anti-Kremlin; Western media consumers will then have the freedom to independently judge exactly how “unfree” is the Russian media (and Russia in general) for themselves.

The only problem is that unlike the book, RUSSIA VOICES will require not insubstantial funding to get off the ground. Translators gotta be paid. I will be working on this issue in the next several months.

Blogging here will not come to a stop, nor at the other site. But intensity probably will fall off a bit.

On Defending The Soviet Union

scylla-charybdis-and-meContrary to what some might try to take from my post on the longterm failure of the Soviet economy, I am not an anti-Soviet ideologue. I loathe lies about its achievements and the blanket condemnations directed its way by moralistic poseurs every bit as much or more than I detest reality-challenged attempts to paint it off as some kind of utopia or at least superior to alternative paths of development.

After communists, most of all I hate anti-communists. – Sergei Dovlatov, Soviet dissident.

On the latter point, I especially notice a tendency to ignore wider historical and comparative context. In the crudest cases, Russian literacy rates and GDP are compared with those of the Tsarist era: Yes, of course the average Soviet citizen c.1980 lived far better than the average Russian citizen in 1913, but then again, so did the average citizen of EVERY OTHER European country. The more important question to ask: Would the average Russian have been better off had the Russian Empire continued on its natural development trajectory without the distortions of Stalinist central planning? Yes, he almost certainly would have, as per comparison with, say, Finland (the sole part of the Empire that didn’t go Communist), or even the Mediterranean periphery nations.

Alternatively, they say that the USSR nonetheless managed to be richer than the “Third World”, as if that was some kind of achievement. Of course it was not, as (1) they were much less advanced than the Russian Empire even in 1913, and (2) their low national IQ’s would have precluded, and continue to do so, convergence with the rich world anyway; a weakness that Russia *doesn’t* suffer from. But the evidence is simply too overwhelming to be deniable: China; North Korea; Cuba; to a lesser extent, the ex-Soviet countries and Eastern Europe – all these nations, which have little in common except insofar as they suffered from the scourge of Communist economics, are ALL glaring and consistent downwards exceptions to the otherwise remarkably tight correlation between levels of national IQ/human capital and GDP per capita. (Of course a further problem here is that hardcore Soviet apologists tend to be cultural Marxists and deny Human Biodiversity and intelligence theory).

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Blast From The Past: What Andrew Miller Predicted About Russia In 2000

This guy Andrew Miller used to be The Economist’s Moscow correspondent. This is his prediction from 2000. I also imagine he’d get on splendidly with K.F./Keif. No further comment is necessary. (h/t Patrick Armstrong)

JRL 4331
#9
From: “andrew miller”
Subject: The Gathering Storm
Date: Sun, 28 May 2000

Topic: The Gathering Storm

Title: The Oblast of Russia?

… New predictions: Vladimir Putin will not leave power in 2004 or 2008 no matter the results of any election. He will die in office like Brezhnev unless he is ousted like Krushchev in favor of someone like Brezhnev. Within five years, there will be no independent media in Russia (as if there is any now, but according to a recent New York Times editorial in the JRL, there is, so I guess there must be; just wish The Times had told me which kiosk to look in…) Within five years, Russia will absorb Belarus and Georgia (a revised constitution will eliminate the two-term limit for presidents; even if this is not done, Russians will reelect, as that term will come to be defined, Putin as many times as he likes notwithstanding the constitution). Russia will not allow Ukraine to join NATO or the EU and may, within 10 years, forcibly reincorporate Ukraine into the Russia fold if it can substantially improve its military during that time, which it will be able to do only should Western or Asian nations resume lending it piles of cash. In any case, it will do anything it can to prevent such a thing.

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The Best of Da Russophile (2008-2014)

This page is a structured archive of some of the more significant posts from the Da Russophile blog from 2008-2014.

The material falls into four major sections, which will be covered sequentially below:

You can also explore this blog via:

  • The Archives page, which provides the full list of posts here by chronological order;
  • The sidebar, which contains lists of Categories, Tags, and Authors;
  • The lower header menu, which lists the most popular Categories, as well as a list of Special Series;
  • A search engine, either the one at the top right of the header, or an outside engine like Google;

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Their Thesis: the Western media tells us Russia is in a death spiral,
its economy is one giant oil bubble, suffers from endemic corruption,
inequality and lawlessness and is presided over by a KGB kleptocrat
dead-set on resurrecting the USSR and launching Cold War II.

My Antithesis: Russia is a normal country with a booming non-hydrocarbons
economy underpinned by a well-educated and secular workforce.
The Putin administration has affirmed democratic values, worked to improve
human rights and pursued Russia’s national interests abroad.

Your Synthesis: ?

 

Blog Posts about Russia

This section contains all the better blog posts about Russia on this blog; arranged thematically, they are otherwise organized by chronological order.

Da Russophile, and my blogging career in general, began on January 9, 2008 at the height of the so-called “New Cold War.”

I was incited to it by what I perceived as a yawning discrepancy between Western media rhetoric about Russia, swinging between portraying it as a “weak,” “dying,” and “finished” country and doom-mongering about the fascist Dark Lord Putler’s plans to subjugate Middle-Earth, and its rather mundane and mediocre reality.

As Will Rogers once said, “Russia is a country that no matter what you say about it, it’s true.” Today, this is truer than ever, a state of affairs enabled by an uninformed public, lazy journalistic cliques, and agenda-driven Russophobes. I decided to tackle the problem at its root, demolishing Western myths about Russia through a focus on translations of Russian language sources, verifiable statistics and opinion polls, and the application of a judicious comparative perspective (otherwise maligned as “whataboutism”).

One of my greatest successes was modeling and correctly predicting Russia’s demographic turnaround as early as 2008, when holding such a position made one a prime candidate for psychiatric institutionalization. I likewise presented a more realistic – or at the very least, data-informed – perspective on Russia’s comparative performance on human rightscorruption, and the economy.

My articles on Russia have appeared at Al Jazeera and many other Western and Russian media outlets.

But for all the epithets hurled at me as a “Russophile cretin,” “neo-Soviet reptile,” “and my personal favorite, “ein strammer Putinsoldat,” in those (majority of) cases where the data tended to portray Russia in a better than expected light, the fact of the matter is that I have never shied from posting material that didn’t work out in Russia’s favor. For instance, I wrote what remains probably the the most comprehensive roundup of statistical evidence of electoral fraud in the 2011 Russian elections in the English language (that post was later cited by that famous Chekist front Freedom House). Despite Da Russophile’s tongue in cheek credo, it was never a PR project for Putin; I take seriously the Guardian’s adage that “comment is free, but facts are sacred,” even if its current incarnation has all but forgotten about that.

I closed down Da Russophile in 2014 to take up blogging under the “Russian Reaction” banner at The Unz Review.

In 2015, I merger Da Russophile’s archives with the current website.

 

KGB 101 (Core Articles)

 

Mafia State (Politics, Democracy, Whataboutism)

 

Dying Bear (Demography)

 

Potemkin Russia (Economy)

 

Nigeria with Snow (Corruption)

 

Democratic Journalists (Kompromat)

 

Hero Dissidents (Liberal Opposition)

 

Crimes of the Regime (Litvinenko, Khodorkovsky, Pussy Riot, etc)

 

Neo-Soviet Revanchism (Foreign Policy)

 

Vatnik Galore (2014 Ukraine Crisis)

 

Stalin Worship (History)

 

The Russian Slave Soul (Semi-Mystical Musings)

 

Icons and Cockroaches (Russian Society & Culture)

 

Kremlin Mole (Anti-Kremlin, “Russophobe” Posts)

 

Special Series on Da Russophile

 Occasionally, Da Russophile blog posts were organized into thematic series, which are listed below.

Special Series: List

  • US-Russia.com Expert Panels – Project by Edward Lozansky’s US-Russia.org to solicit weekly articles from Anglophone Russia watchers that were reprinted by Voice of Russia. The project is still ongoing, but I’m not longer part of it.
  • The Kremlin Clans – Beginning with my translation of Vladimir Pribylovsky’s analysis of Russian clan politics as of 2010, this coalesced into an attempt to chart the shifting influence of the various security and oligarchic groups around Putin.
  • Interviews – A series of interviews with some of the leading Russia watchers of the early 2010s such as Kevin Rothrock, Peter Lavelle, and Mark Chapman, as well as two interviews of myself – including one very amusing one with La Russophobe, the onetime enfant terrible of the Russia watching world.
  • National Comparisons – Systematic comparison of life, media, politics, and traditions in Russia, Britain, and the US (hosted at my main blog).
  • Patrick Armstrong’s RF Sitreps – Six of Patrick’s well-know RF sitreps, produced during the short-lived attempt to make Da Russophile into a self-sustained group blog. The great historical bulk of Patrick’s Russia Sitreps are at ROPV, but most new ones will be appearing at Russia Insider.
  • New Year Predictions – I used to do New Year Predictions – and discussions of the outcomes of previous ones – on both Russia and the wider world. Are located at my main blog, but somewhat relevant to Russia.
  • Wikileaks Cables – Discussions of the State Department cables released by Wikileaks in late 2010. Three posts there are relevant to Russia: A Caucasus WeddingRussia Arming The Rest, and Chechnya, A Once And Future War?

 

Russophile Cabal (US-Russia.org Expert Panels)

 

Kremlinological Tea Leaves (The Kremlin Clans)

 

Putin Trolls (Interviews)

 

Whataboutism (National Comparisons)

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Anatoly Karlin’s Writings about Russia Elsewhere

My Russia journalism outside Da Russophile.

 

Mouth of Sauron (My Russia Journalism)

Apart from these, most of my Expert Panel contributions were reprinted by Voice of Russia, and about a dozen of my Russia articles have been published by the major Russian translation website Inosmi.

Blog & social media:

  • AKarlin.com – Anything non-journalistic/academic I write in the future about Russia will appear at my personal website, where I additionally blog about my various other interests such as world history, transhumanism, evolutionary psychology, and psychometrics.
  • Facebook – Follow my updates on Russia. Unless you know me personally or have at least had substantial online communications with me, please Subscribe instead of Friending me (I don’t accept Friend requests from unknown people).
  • @akarlin88 – Follow me on Twitter. I regularly tweet about Russia, geopolitics, history, evolutionary psychology, etc.
  • YouTube – My YouTube channel.

Author profiles at MSM websites:

Individual articles, interviews:

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The Russian Spectrum

I launched The Russian Spectrum in May 2013 with the aim of making translations from the Russian press available to audiences in the West; a kind of English-language Inosmi, if you will.

One of the things I came to realize in my Russia blogging career is that many Western journalists have a structurally skewed outlook on Russia. They hang with English-speaking liberals in Moscow, and come to see the messy and complex realities of Russian politics as a Manichean battle between Darth Putin and Padawan Navalny. And this is what they end up reporting to their Western audiences.

As a result, the opinions of the 60%+ of Russians who support Putin tend to be glossed over, when they are not dismissed as the delusions of “sovok” troglodytes; meanwhile, worldviews that are perpendicular to pro-Western “liberalism” and pro-Kremlin “patriotism,” such as Communist and nationalist currents, might as well not exist as far as the Western media is concerned. The ultimate result is that Western journalists end up portraying Russian politics as a morality fairytale that, on the whole, fails to reflect the true scope, creative flair, and ideological diversity of public Russian debates.

I realized that one of the easiest and most cost effective methods for making these alternate views accessible to Anglophones is to simply translate articles from the Russian media, which is far more diverse and combative than it is generally given credit for. This is where The Russian Spectrum comes in.

I first raised the idea at the World Russia Forum in Washington DC in May 2012, and later expounded upon at at this blog. Soon afterwards, I began The Russian Spectrum, a project aimed at providing a broad and ideologically representative sample of translations from the Russian media and blogosphere into English. This way, Anglophone readers could decide for themselves the true state of the Russian political debate for themselves – not to mention answer the subsidiary question of whether the Russian media really is as “unfree” as in Zimbabwe, as Freedom House claims.

But the ship of idealism foundered upon the shoals of reality. In its conception, the Russian Spectrum was a full-time undertaking, requiring a group of permanent translators to produce a comprehensive daily range of translations. Unsuccessful at securing funding, I eventually had to pull the plug on The Russian Spectrum. All its posts were moved to Da Russophile, of which the best are listed below; at least a sliver of its vision – access to a certain strand of the Russian political debate during the transitory 2012-13 period – can live on.

Voice of Propaganda (Translations from The Russian Spectrum)

Note that infographics and English-language analysis originally produced for The Russian Spectrum is in the sections above.

 

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The Russia Debate forum aimed to provide a central hub for Russia watchers from all over the political spectrum to engage in intelligent and mutually civil discussions about Russia today, its past, and its future prospects.

The Russian Debate continues under the stewardship of Jose Moreira, but has long been inactive.

Al Jazeera On Elections And White Ribbons

Russia’s winter of discontent? from Al Jazeera’s Stream. Overall, fairly balanced. I appear at 8:50 to ask a question about the suspicious timing – two months before the actual elections – of the creation of the website promoting the White Ribbon as the symbol of the anti-Kremlin protests.

Generally speaking, I’m skeptical about the more grandiose claims of foreign involvement in the discontent. But the White Ribbon does seem to fit the bill: It’s a nice memorable meme (i.e. a good revolutionary symbol), it’s site is under a .com domain, etc. But there’s one problem – whichever idiot came up with it didn’t bother tracking down its negative historic connotations. So no wonder it hasn’t really been catching on (despite the best efforts of our good friend Edward Lucas).

On The Necessity Of Subjecting Kremlinologists (And Social Scientists) To Market Discipline

I have gone on record with the following odds on Russia’s next President: Medvedev – 70%, Putin – 25%, Other – 5%. The first betting site to offer odds on the Russian Presidential election has other ideas. As of June 2011, the British online gambling site Stan James is offering the following odds: Putin 4/7, Medvedev 11/8, Zyuganov 66/1, Zhirinovsky 80/1, Bogdanov 100/1*.

Converted into non-gambler terminology, this means that they view VVP as the clear favorite. Whereas a $100 investment into Putin will yield just $56, betting right on a second Medvedev Presidency will net you $138. All the other candidates are (rightly) considered to be insignificant fry – e.g., correctly betting $1 on a Zyuganov win will get you $66 (with the additional EV-lowering risk that it may be promptly confiscated as a product of speculation if you’re in Russia))). Or from the viewpoint of implied odds, you need to have >63.64% confidence that Putin will win OR >42.11% confidence that Medvedev will win to profitably bet on the respective candidates**. So if I had the opportunity I’d totally bet on DAM, but unfortunately that site is closed to US-based political gamblers.

Bookies structure their odds in such a way that they win most of the time; note that the total implied odds add up to nearly 110%. But you can still win despite the handicap, by having special insight or knowledge of the topic. Needless to say, most “Russia watchers” will no doubt claim they have those, at least implicitly (otherwise, what right do they have to their editorials, salaries, etc?). I have previously exposed the self-appointed Kremlinogist priesthood for being full of cranks hiding their fundamental ignorance behind credentials, citations, post hoc narratives, etc. Here is their chance to prove me wrong, all ye Leon Arons and Ariel Cohens and Loco Lucases of the world! And get fabulously rich into the bargain!!!

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Guardian Censorship: Some Comments Are Freer Than Others

In a recent editorial, The Guardian complained about the expulsion of their Moscow correspondent, Luke Harding. All the usual Russia tropes were brought up in explanation, including its “shrinking space for a free press.”

But Harding’s “crowning offense”, at least according to the Guardian’s “guess”, was “his association with this paper’s story on what the WikiLeaks material revealed about the views of foreign diplomats and others on the nature of the Russian system as it has evolved, or rather, devolved, under Vladimir Putin.”

By this time, most of my “guesses” were revolving around the question of WTF are the Guardian Editors smoking. Not very diplomatic, true, so I limited myself to just pointing out that their arguments are specious, and why (unfortunately failed to screenshot my response). But the gist of it went something along these lines…

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The Kremlinologist Catechism

This is a reprint of my article for the Sep/Oct 2010 issue of Russian Life magazine. It is a condensed version of Rosstat and Levada are Russophobia’s Bane. Enjoy!

There is a Catechism that dominates American discourse on Russia today. Just flip through The Washington Post’s editorials, peruse American political science journals or listen (cringe) to a Joe Biden interview. It goes something like this:

In the past decade, Putin’s Russia has forsaken Western values and returned to its authoritarian past. Ordinary Russians, bribed by the Kremlim’s oil largesse and misled by its controlled media, expressed only apathy at this development. Granted, the regime may enjoy superficial support (given Putin’s strangely stratospheric approval ratings), but the accelerating population decline proves that Russians are discounting the nation’s future with their loins. And so should we, for what’s the point of taking a “Potemkin country” ruled by a “kleptocratic thugocracy” seriously?

There’s only one problem – many of the underlying assumptions of this Catechism are unsupported by any facts, figures or statistics.

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The Death of Sergei Tretyakov & Spook Flame Wars

Sergei Tretyakov, the Russian traitor / US patriot (whatever you prefer), died June 13, 2010, at the age of 53. The Russian “illegals” were rounded up on June 27. The two week gap is exactly the same as the amount of time President Obama is said to have known of the Russian spy ring. What I suspect is that the order to round up the Russian spy ring was issued immediately after President Medvedev’s visit to Silicon Valley in order to provide a source of leverage in case the autopsy found Tretyakov’s death to have been unnatural. It was only on July 9 that Tretyakov’s death – of natural causes – was announced by his biographer (hagiographer) Pete Earley. The same day, a federal court ruled the Russian spy ring were not guilty of espionage, paving the way for the US-Russia spy swap, the Anna Chapman personality cult and the patriotastic karaoke songs with Putin.

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Interview with Peter Lavelle (Russia Today)

The next installment of our Watching the Russia Watchers series at S/O features an interview with Peter Lavelle, the main political analyst at the Russia Today TV network, host of its CrossTalk debate show and Untimely Thoughts blogger. (He also has a Wikipedia page!) Peter is opposed to Western media hegemony, considering it neither fair nor useful, and firmly believes that global media should feature a diversity of voices from all cultural traditions; as such, the rise of alternate forums such as Al Jazeera and Russia Today are a boon for media consumers everywhere. Peter Lavelle actualizes this philosophy in his own CrossTalk program, in which controversial topics from France’s burqa ban to the collapse of Soviet Amerika are discussed: agree with him or not, one can certainly never get bored listening. The serious Russia watcher is recommended to join his “Untimely Thoughts” – Expert Discussion Group on Russia.

Peter Lavelle: In His Own Words…

What first sparked your interest in journalism and Russia, and how did the twain meet?

The reason I started to write about Russia – circa 1999 – came about for two reasons. First, having an education in Eastern European and Russian history gave me a reason to write about where I lived. I didn’t like much of what the commentariat was writing on contemporary Russia. The second reason was to earn some money, which later led to needing to make a living.

I came to Russia to live in late 1997. I was employed as an equity analyst at what was then called Alfa Capital. I was lured to Russia by my former boss (an American) I worked with in Poland. I never wanted to move to Russia – actually I must say I was rather adverse to Russia, having lived in eastern Europe for about 12 years. As a result of the financial crisis of 1998, I was given a generous severance package. This allowed me to stay in Russia for a while without worrying too much about money. In spring of 2000 I started to work for a small Russian bank. The money wasn’t great, but at least the bank organized and paid for my visa. Plus, I had time to write now and then. It was at this time I discovered the JRL – Johnson’s Russia List. I have been hooked on (even an addict to) Russia watching ever since.

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