Life Expectancy in Russian Cities

I have sometimes made the point that All-Russian improvements in mortality/life expectancy lag the City of Moscow (or the Baltics) by around a decade. There are some good, relevant graphics that reinforce it from a recent paper:

Щур, Алексей Евгеньевич. 2019. “Города-миллионники на карте смертности России.Демографическое обозрение 5 (4): 66–91.

GRAPH: Life expectancy [male/female] in Moscow [red], Saint-Petersburg [green], the cities [blue], and the rest of Russia [orange].

As I pointed out in 2008, the post-Soviet economic crisis overwhelmingly impinged on the life expectancy of the less well educated (as most of the mortality increase accrued to heavier drinking; more education being associated with higher IQ, greater foresight, etc). The better educated were also able to partake of foreign health and medical technologies earlier. Hence why there appeared this large gap between Moscow and the rest of the country after the mid-1990s.

This gap is now closing, as life expectancy gains will slow down in Moscow – where they are already at First World levels – while the rest of the country continues catching up as it drinks less and hospitals are modernized. Though it will never close entirely, as LE gaps between capitals (cognitive clusters) and the country at large are typical everywhere.

GRAPH: Life expectancy in Russian cities [blue] vs. their regions [blue] in 1989 vs. 2016.

  1. Volgograd
  2. Voronezh
  3. Rostov
  4. Nizhny Novgorod
  5. Samara
  6. Kazan/Tatarstan
  7. Ufa/Bashkiria
  8. Perm
  9. Ekaterinburg
  10. Chelyabinsk
  11. Krasnoyarsk
  12. Novosibirsk
  13. Omsk

Less educated, heavy drinkers are relatively more a feature of the countryside

GRAPH: GRP per capita [bottom] vs. life expectancy [left]; left – Rest of Russia [orange], millioniki cities blue], Moscow [green]; right – total population [sphere size], regions [blue], cities [red]/

Incidentally, note that Saint-Petersburg is within the cluster of million-population cities in that GRP per capita/life expectancy graph, which confirms my characterization of it as “just the largest gorod-millionnik.”

GRAPH: Share of over 30 y/o’s with higher education [bottom] vs. life expectancy [left]; millionik city regions [left cluster], millionik cities [right cluster], Moscow [far right].

TABLE: Life expectancy [men, women, both].

  • Volgograd
  • Voronezh
  • Ekaterinburg
  • Kazan
  • Krasnoyarsk
  • Moscow
  • Nizhny Novgorod
  • Novosibirsk
  • Omsk
  • Perm
  • Rostov
  • Samara
  • Saint-Petersburg
  • Ufa
  • Chelyabinsk

Just inserting this for easy later reference.

Eloi & Morlocks

Recent paper (h/t @whyvert).

Kim, Yuri, and James J. Lee. 2018. “The Genetics of Human Fertility.Current Opinion in Psychology 27 (August): 41–45.

There’s basically two classes of people having more kids:

Overall, there is a suggestion of two different reproductive strategies proving to be successful in modern Western societies:

(1) a strategy associated with socially conservative values, including a high commitment to the bearing of children within marriage; and
(2) a strategy associated with antisocial behavior, early sexual experimentation, a variety of sexual partners, low educational attainment, low commitment to marriage, haphazard pregnancies, and indifference to politics. [AK: I.e., the People of Walmart]

Interesting to see who will win out by the time of the Age of Malthusian Industrialism. (Certainly the former would be more successful if/when Malthusian conditions return).

Muellergate 2019

So Russiagate 2017 ends in Muellergate 2019.

As was pretty clear at the start – as people such as Glenn Greenwald, Aaron Mate, Robert Parry, and Alexander Mercouris have been writing all these years. Manafort, its most prominent casualty, had worked to draw the Ukraine in the West’s orbit (hilariously, he kind of belatedly succeeded). All indictments have been based on criminal issues such as tax evasion, not collusion with Russia.

Still, this conspiracy theory’s instigators reached their goals.

There has been no reset in US-Russia relations; instead, they have reached unprecedented levels of mutual antipathy. Americans, especially Democrats, hate Russia more than ever. It appears that a Cold War II is locked in for at least the next decade.

The US will face the Chinese challenge to its hegemony from 2025 with Russia as a party that is decidedly friendly to China. This, perhaps, won’t quite be ideal for Russia either; US economic sabotage will hurt its growth prospects, and will make it more dependent on China than it would have been otherwise. Still, I suspect that Kissinger would agree that it is ultimately the US that got the short end of the stick.

The Future of Russia-Ukraine Relations

The latest polls, jointly conducted by KIIS (Ukraine) and Levada (Russia), show that the collapse in Ukrainian sentiment towards Russia may be turning a corner.

Legend: Ukrainian attitudes towards Russia [blue]; Russian attitudes towards Ukraine [orange]

For the first time since April 2014, more Ukrainians have a positive impressive of Russia than the converse. Attitudes are basically 50/50 even in West Ukraine.

However, there is no particular cause for premature celebration amongst Russophiles. This is still greatly down from the 80%-90% support before 2014. Support for open borders/no visas with Russia slightly exceeds those who want closed borders by 48% to 39%, and while another 4% want outright political union with Russia – up from minimums of 2% in the past three years – this is still cardinally down from 15%-20% prior to Euromaidan.

Moreover, this has to be set against 51% vs. 23% support for EU accession, and 40% vs. 31% support for joining NATO. In contrast, 43% of Ukrainians oppose joining the Customs Union with Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan versus 24% who support; this might be up from ~15% support/55% opposition in the past four years, but before 2014, this option was as popular as the EU one. Meanwhile, in a direct choice between the two, 46% of Ukrainians favor the EU to 14% for the Customs Union. Before 2014, they were level pegging.

The only good thing from Russia’s perspective is that neither the EU nor NATO accession for the Ukraine is on the table for now.

However, these latest polls do allow us to attempt to sketch out the likely future course of the Russian-Ukrainian relationship.

Barring any further flare-ups on the Donbass Front, or in the Sea of Azov, I assume these improvements will continue, but they will never reach the pre-2014 state of affairs for the foreseeable future. In the post-Soviet space, we have two examples of the template according to which relations might continue to develop: Georgia and Moldova.

Georgia has restored full-fledged economic ties with Russia, and Russians can visit it at will, requiring no visa. Tbilisi enjoys a great reputation amongst Moscow hipsters. After some hiccups following the 2008 war and Saakashvili’s departure, it has resumed fairly vigorous growth and is now quite a successful state, at least by Caucasian standards (e.g. corruption may be almost as low as in the Baltics). However, it has not geopolitically reorientated towards Russia. It votes with the West at the UN, and there is near universal support for Western integration; a state of affairs that Leonid Bershidsky has called a “NATO of the Mind“, which as good as locks out Russian political/cultural influence.

On the other end is Moldova, where pro-Russian forces fought a war in the early 1990s to carve out the statelet of Transnistria. It is an extremely corrupt and economically failed state, the absolute poorest in Europe (Ukraine is second). It so much of a joke state that an Israeli Jew managed to steal 13% of its GDP from its banks – the equivalent of $350, or four months worth of wages for every working Moldovan – and who then, instead of getting arrested and jailed after his conviction, somehow became the mayor of a Moldovan town and entered parliament. In Moldova, pro/anti-Russian political forces typically poll 50/50, and more people view NATO as a threat than as protection.

In terms of socio-economic success and state capacity, the Ukraine is certainly closer to Moldova. Its GDP per capita (PPP) is about a third of Russia’s, and half of Belarus’. Even the most strongly pro-Ukrainian outlets, such as The Atlantic Council, have been forced to admit that Poroshenko, far from snuffing out corruption, has merely reinforced the oligarchic system. The Ukraine is also culturally much closer to Russia. It was part of the same ancient medieval state, and major parts of it have been (re)integrated with Russia to some extent or another since the 17th century (Georgia and Bessarabia were acquired early in the 19th century). Ukrainian is much more similar to Russian than is Moldovan, which is basically Romanian but with a bit more Slavic vocabulary, and infinitely closer than Georgian, which is an entirely different language and script. Ukrainians are genetically almost indistinguishable from South Russians, while Moldovans are a Romanian/Slavic metis and Georgians are, once again, very distant. Finally, the Ukraine is surrounded by Russia from the East and the South. This suggests the Ukraine may follow a Moldovan vector.

However, there are also several factors militating against this possibility. The more primitive Russophile propaganda to the contrary, the Ukraine isn’t an eternally collapsing economic basket-case. The economy has recovered, and western Ukraine is now even better off than it was in 2014. Economic growth is nothing to write home about, but it is well above zero and should trundle along at around 2%-4% (if well short of the 6%-7% that it really needs for convergence with Russia or Visegrad). Foreign exchange reserves are now safely back to pre-Euromaidan levels, with the risk of default receding into the background. Meanwhile, while pretty much all Moldovans would agree theirs is a joke country, this is not the case for the Ukraine, which has strong homegrown traditions of svidomism and nationalism. In principle, their country of ~35 million people with an average IQ of perhaps 95 could still be a reasonably successful and prosperous European state… if they ever get their act together. Of course there are major challenges in the future. The completion of Nord Stream II and Power of Siberia this year will blow a $3 billion hole in their meager budget, where every billion counts. And there might be another global recession looming, which may again collapse natural resource and steel prices (though Russia will be affected too of course).

I do not know which of these factors will be stronger. However, I think it is reasonable to posit that – all else equal, and with no drastic developments (e.g. a Democratic President in the US that has it out for Russia and starts to energetically lobby for Ukraine’s NATO membership, like George W. Bush in his second term) – that Ukraine’s course and social attitudes will converge to some point between those of Moldova and Georgia. This means the resumption of normal economic relations between Russia and the Ukraine, and direct flights between Moscow and Kiev. However, the victory of pro-Russian forces in the Ukraine has been ruled out for the foreseeable future, it will be consistently voting with the Western Powers at the UN, and deepening its security integration with NATO and EU structures as the opportunity presents itself.

Open Thread 72

OK! So I finally have a PC again thanks to a scavenging friend.

  • CPU = i5-4670k
  • MoBo = Asus Z87-A
  • GPU = GTX 770
  • 620W PSU and R4 Fractal case

Full upgrade is too costly (around $500 as both the DDR-3 based MoBo and CPU would need to be replaced), and frankly unneeded for another 2-3 years, but I do want to upgrade the GPU and double RAM to 16GB.

Goals: Play any modern game at smooth 60 fps on 1080p screen on Ultra would almost certainly be the main/only constraining factor.

RAMCorsair Vengeance DDR3 DIMM 1600MHz PC3-12800 [16GB] for ~$100. Some of my apps could benefit from this and might come in handy if I need to work on large databases.

Which GPU?

I like MSI GPUs as they tend to be quiet, reliable, have good cooling, and are OC friendly. I assume these are no different and the reviews appear to be ok.

Getting the RTX 2060 seems like a no brainer. Might be worth considering the 1660-Ti if the price differential was $80 (as it seems to be in the US), but in Russia it’s only ~$40.

Does this sound about right? Am I making any mistakes?

Meta-note: I should have never abandoned the PC master race. Thorfinnsson’s “technical” explanations regardless, I strongly believe that the problems with my Lenovo notebook were the result of God punishing me for my treason. I have gotten the message. Laptops are for bringing to work, or for travel – not for the home.

With 20 days worth of warranty remaining, I will soon send it the laptop off to get repaired, hopefully it could at least continue serving in that modest and more appropriate function.


@ak

More notable posts since the last Open Thread in case you missed any of them.

  • Kazakh President Nazarbayev Resigns
    • Succeeding Prez Tokayev to rename capital Astana to Nursultan. I thought the Kazakhs might be freer of the Central Asian inclination towards personality cults, but I guess not.
    • Nazarbayev will retain real power. He was made Leader for Life (“elbasy”) in 2010, and he will chair the Security Council, which was made more powerful than the Presidency. I have seen speculations that he will be succeeded by his wife, or one of his two daughters.
  • What If Russia Stood on the Sidelines While Crimea Burned?
    • More Crimea poasts upcoming soon.
  • Some good responses to my Yang post at /r/YangForPresidentHQ

Not many notable posts, as I’m only posting this a few days after the last Open Thread.

*


Featured


Russia

  • *powerful comment*: E dissects internal Ukrainian discussions on what to do about Crimea on Feb 28, 2014
  • Completion of the first railroad bridge across the Amur linking China and Russia; should be in operation by the end of the year
  • Hyundai/Yandex strike deal on developing self-driving cars
  • *powerful comment*: German_reader on how Merkel took the climate school strikes as Russian “hybrid warfare” until the Greens came out in support.
  • Moscow prepares ‘White Book’ on human rights violations by Western states
  • Mary Ilyushina: “RT apparently makes its employees sign an agreement banning them from criticizing or discussing the inner workings of the channel even 20 YEARS after they quit. Otherwise — 5 mln rub fine (about 77k).

World

  • More Zach Goldberg on the rise of millennial Pink Guards
  • Trump ReTweets:
    • William Craddick: “Russiagate was designed in part to help the UK counter Russian influence by baiting the United States into taking a hard line against them. Leaves us all with a more dangerous world as a consequence. Just another episode of the Great Game.
    • He’s not wrong!
  • Andrew Yang not an IQ realist (publicly)
    • Airily dismissing utility of IQ tests is highly characteristic of high IQ people. But there are also purely pragmatic reasons for politicians to steer clear.
  • Barak Ravid: “This is one of the most bizzare election ad you have ever seen: Israel’s Minister of Justice (!!) Ayelet Shaked plays a model, sprays herself with “Fascism” perfume and says: “Smells like democracy to me”. Viktor Orban on steroids
  • Mencius Moldbugman travel thread:
    • I’m a well-travelled guy and I recently got some comments about my travels, especially in light of the Christchurch shooter’s trips to Pakistan and N Korea. I’d like to share some thoughts on why I don’t think these places radicalised him, plus some talk about Bhutan….. Media cries of radicalisation when they see someone visiting NK or Pakistan are groundless and ignorant of reality. I’m very lucky to be extremely well travelled in unusual locales… the only place I ever felt radicalised was Bhutan.

Science & Culture


Humor & Powerful Takes


What If Russia Stood on the Sidelines While Crimea Burned?

One persistent criticism of Russia’s decision to annex the Crimea/support its people’s right to national self-determination [cross out as per your ideological preferences] is that it has had dubious benefits not just for Russia, but for Putin himself. This is a common take. For instance, as the 5th anniversary of Crimea’s incorporation into Russia approached, both Leonid Bershidsky and Nina Khrushcheva had articles to the effect that Putin is paying for Crimea. But this isn’t limited to the Western press. The liberal business newspaper Vedomosti recently ran an article in which supposedly high-placed sources expressed regret about the Crimean adventure.

Now I am sure that there are “systemic liberals” in the Russian government that were never happy about the Crimean adventure. For instance, the sorts who whine about no longer being allowed to go skiing in Colorado. Though it’s still probably ludicrous to portray it as a dominant or even significant sentiment within the elites. In a wide-ranging survey of Russia’s political and business elites in 2016 carried out by a Western polling organization, 88% of them disagreed with the idea that it was a violation of international law (10% agreed). This could be considered a proxy for elite sentiments on Crimea. It also happens to be entirely in line with public sentiment, with the latest VCIOM poll a few days ago showing an analogous 88% of Russians supporting the incorporation of Crimea. Both popular and elite sentiment would actually seem to be remarkably united on the “Crimean Consensus.”

However, it is also true that Crimea – and Russia’s consequent involvement in the Donbass – has also created problems for Russia, spurring on Western sanctions, “isolation” from the “international community” (with the caveat that this is largely equivalent to the West), putting a crimp on foreign investment and technological modernization of the Russian oil & gas industry, contributing to a deep and seemingly permanent collapse in pro-Russian sentiment in the Ukraine, and providing a new source of legitimacy for NATO. This “Cold War II” shows no signs of thawing, with the US Congress repeatedly mulling the possibility of declaring Russia a state sponsor of terror (and who knows? That might be well happen under a President Biden or a President Harris). Moreover, at least according to the journalist Mikhail Zygar in All The Kremlin’s Men, there was no unanimity amongst the kremlins on Crimea in early 2014; the “Crimean Consensus” was a post facto development. While hawks such as the Ukrainian-born Glazyev pressed Putin to snap it up – and more – there were reports that Defense Minister Shoigu was privately opposed*. There was nothing forcing Putin to make one decision or another. Whatever else it was, it was avoidable.


So did Putin make the mistake of a lifetime by incorporating Crimea? To answer this question, let’s briefly recap the history of the past five years.

Source: Levada.
Putin’s approval rating from 1999-2019.

Putin’s approval ratings had hovered at around 60%-65% ever since the fraud-marred 2011 Duma elections in December 2011, which spurred the biggest wave of protests in Russia for over a decade. Moreover, this happened in the midst of a modest economic boom driven by unsustainably high oil prices. They spiked to 69% during February, following the successful Winter Olympics in Sochi; this, however, could only have been a temporary boost. However, by the end of those Olympics, the Ukraine was in full meltdown; within less than a month, Crimea acceded to the Russian Federation. Putin’s approval soared upwards to around 80%, where it has stayed throughout the entirety of the past five years of economic stagnation until the recent pensions reform (which, by analogy with the similar dip in 2004-05 over the monetization of benefits, may well be temporary).

As Daniel Treisman pointed out in his 2011 book The Return, Putin’s approval rating had always tracked economic sentiment. But after Crimea, that link broke. Putin became a “charismatic” figure, a father of the nation, a regatherer of the Russian lands – above and beyond mundane trifles such as PMI’s and real incomes. This massive political capital carried him through half a decade of low oil prices, recession and economic stagnation, Western sanctions, fiscal belt-tightening, and a tight monetary policy that seems to have finally tamed the post-Soviet scourge of persistently high inflation.


Now let’s imagine what would have happened if Russia had sat on the sidelines in 2014.

First off, Russia would have been thoroughly humiliated in the Ukraine. Right Sector goons in their “friendship trains” would have gone down to the Crimea to beat the separatists, provoking increasingly lethal street battles. The Ukrainian Army would have suppressed the uprising as soon as it had recovered its wits by mid-2014. The scenes of carnage that afflicted Donetsk would have instead visited Sevastopol, with hundreds of Russian dead as the Black Sea Fleet looked on from their barracks.

Amidst the ensuing mass arrests and reprisals, Maidanist Ukraine would have also quickly moved to evict the Russian military from Crimea (probably using the uprising itself as pretext). The West would back the Ukraine, perhaps rewarding Putin for staying put by throwing a few sanctions at him anyway for “fomenting” the uprising. By then, it would be too late to reverse course. Note that the bloodless takeover of Crimea was only possibly due to the temporary incapacitation of the Ukrainian government in the critical early months of 2014. At this point, Russia could have easily overrun most of Novorossiya, if it wanted to – that region probably had no more troops than the 20,000 Ukrainian soldiers who readily surrendered in Crimea. But the Ukraine had started to recover by the summer. Attempting a Crimean Anschluss just months later would have been a far bloodier affair and would have invited far more Western sanctions than it actually got to date.

Sure, Ukrainian anti-Russian sentiment would not be quite as high as it was – though perhaps not by much, as a bloody showdown in the Crimea had in any case become inevitable. In the meantime, the Ukraine would still be firmly orientated towards the West and Euro-Atlantic integration; there would be no territorial disputes complicating NATO accession; and the NATO countries themselves might well feel more comfortable in courting the Ukraine, due to the lack of any credible Russian response. Note that all of this is independent of Ukrainian sentiments towards Russia. When NATO expanded east, in contravention of verbal promises made by the Americans to Gorbachev, not all the target countries were enthusiastic about it; but since it was approximately the 20th item on voters’ priority lists in places like Bulgaria, local elites had no incentives to listen to public opinion on the matter. Ergo for the Ukraine; while Ukrainian opinion was hostile to NATO prior to 2014 (and is ambiguous even today), the Maidanist elites would have had zero problems pushing it along regardless, just as their Orange predecessors had done in 2005-2010.

Consequently, the oft repeated assertion that Russia “gained Crimea, but lost Ukraine” is a false dichotomy. It lost the Ukraine when the Maidan seized power in Kiev. Russia merely salvaged Crimea.

Nor would there be any realistic prospects of this situation getting electorally reversed. Even the 2010 victory of Yanukovych was the result of an unlikely confluence of a massive economic crisis coupled with the near complete discreditation of the Orange factions. But the Blue regions of the Ukraine are in relative demographic decline, whereas West Ukraine is the demographically healthiest region of the Ukraine; moreover, Ukrainian youth tend to be more Ukrainian, less Russian, and more pro-Western than the country at large. Even with Donbass and Crimea still within the Ukraine, pro-Russian parties would no longer be electorally viable.

Second, the Russian economy would have gone into recession any which way. Fundamentally, it was caused by collapsing oil prices, not the sanctions, whose direct effects in 2014-15 was estimated at just 10% of the drop in Russian GDP according to a 2015 report from Citi Research. The main difference would have been political: In our alternative history, it is a weak and feckless Putin – not perfidious foreigners – who would have been blamed for the recession. Putin would be without his post-Crimea Teflon coating – he would still be a fully “materialist” President, judged on “materialist” considerations.


While either one of these two setbacks would hardly be fatal by itself, together they might have well proved fatal for the Putin regime.

First off, the Sochi bump would vanish overnight, returning his approval ratings to 60%. For context, when they were last at this level, there were 100,000 strong protests over electoral falsifications in Moscow, which resulted in some systemic liberals such as Kudrin openly courting the opposition, and some of the Kremlin’s own pocket parties such as Fair Russia briefly experimenting with political autonomy. Now imagine what an approval rating of 40% would look like.

Because second, you’d probably have a 20% collapse in approval ratings as the economy skittered downhill. There would also be major discontent in connection with events in the Ukraine. It would not be as electorally damaging as a prolonged recession, perhaps only dropping Putin’s support by a further 10%. But there is one way in which it would, perhaps, be even more dangerous for the kremlins: It would have completely destroyed Putin’s status amongst Russian nationalists. Considering the sad experiences of Sadat (assassinated by an Islamist), or of Milosevic (overthrown by nationalists), that’s a risky strategy in its own right. Nationalists might not be electorally very important, but they sure have super high passionarity. Liberals aren’t going to charge into a hail of bullets for gay rights; nationalists will do that for the Fatherland. For that matter, the Ukraine itself showed us that with its own Euromaidan.

And this isn’t even the end of the cavalcade of problems that would have beset the kremlins.

The Russian military is, politically, patriotic-nationalist (~70% vote for United Russia, another ~20% for the LDPR). They would be quietly aghast at being ordered to retreat from the Crimea. While Russia has no tradition of military coups as in Latin America or the Arab world, murmurings in the ranks is something the leadership could do without.

With plummeting approval ratings and elite defections, more and more of the old oligarchs might be tempted to revise their contract with Putin to stay out of politics.

Finally, we know that Russia was planning to intervene in Syria regardless (its Ukraine involvement merely delayed its deployment there by about a year). With domestic and foreign policy in flames, it is plausible that the kremlins would be even more tempted to seek out a “small, victorious war” in the Far ABroad. But given the changed international context, things may not have played out as well as they actually did. First, even in the context of Crimea, today’s most common Russian nationalist counter-argument against involvement in Syria – “Let’s fight a nuclear war not over our own people but over some oil refinery in a Middle Eastern shithole”*** – would acquire much more potency if said “own people” were Russian Crimeans, as opposed to the Sovietized Russo-Ukrainians of the Donbass. Second, Russia’s evident domestic fragility and inability to credibly promise retaliation would have upped US incentives to straight out militarily force Russia out of Syria after one White Helmet performance or another. Said victorious war could have ended in another Tsushima.


At this point, in a world where Shoigu won over Glazyev, we are approaching the 2018 elections and there seems to be no way out for the regime.

The recession, the second in half a decade, is blamed entirely on Putin – and there’s a good chance it would have been a deeper recession than what actually happened (as it would have been accompanied by deep political unrest). Putin’s approval ratings are in the gutter at 30% at best. The old oligarchs and systemic liberals defect to a charismatic and telegenic opposition leader such as Navalny, whose ratings are now competitive with Putin’s (instead of having been destroyed by his opposition to Crimea). Putin would not have bought any good will from liberals who will hate him regardless, while nationalists and patriots of absolutely all stripes would despise him no less by this point, giving the protesters a hard core of fighters. The riot police and the military would be unenthusiastic at best; local United Russia officials in charge of the polling stations would suddenly develop a newfound respect for the sanctity of the electoral process, since the survival of the regime and their own legal immunity could no longer be assured. Moreover, coupled with heavy Western support for regime change in Russia, it is almost inevitable that this combination would lead – if not to a liberal/nationalist-driven color revolution in Russia – then to a heavy and violent clampdown. This would invite hardcore American and EU sanctions, perhaps more severe than anything we have actually seen to date.

Alternatively, the Moscow Maidan could succeed, to be almost inevitably followed up by disappointment as NATO drives up to Kharkov and Tbilisi to consolidate its gains, Chechnya kicks off its third war for independence, and any renewed hopes of genuine anti-corruption reform and Euro-integration dwindle as what is left of the Russian economy is again divvied up between oligarchs and former regime insiders.

Now to be fair, most of this would be music to the ears of the sort of people who write that Putin is “paying” for his mistake in Crimea. However, it would also be fair to say that their interests are hardly aligned with that of the Russian people, let alone Putin himself. They are not exactly impartial observers.

Now I don’t claim to know why Putin chose to go ahead with Crimea and act like a Russian nationalist for a few months in 2014. Perhaps it was based on cold cost/benefit calculations like these. Perhaps it was borne of a more general sense of historical mission. The philosopher whom Putin has quoted more than any other is Ivan Ilyin, a stalwart anti-Communist emigre, who subscribed to the standard White position of a “Great Russia, United and Indivisible” and whose views on the Ukraine followed from that.

Regardless of Putin’s ultimate reasons, Crimea was definitely not a mistake.

Not a mistake from Russia’s point of view – at least so long as one doesn’t have an incredibly optimistic outlook on the desirability and feasibility of Western integration. And most certainly not a mistake from the point of view of the kremlins themselves.


  • Moreover, this excludes those people who do think it was a violation of international law – it pretty clearly was – but who supported it nonetheless, and more besides (e.g. I would have opted for a land bridge to Crimea).

** In fairness, this was just a rumor. And a journalist with very good connections to the Russian elites has expressed deep skepticism about Zygar’s claim to me in private.

*** This is in relation to the Wagner debacle.

POWERFUL TAKE: Putler Was An “IDOL” To Brenton Tarrant

From “anti-extremism” researcher Anton Shekhovtsov who has no anti-Russian obsession whatsoever:

That 74 page manifesto had one mention of Russia*.

There were FOUR mentions of China, three of which were positive, and which he described as “the nation with the closest political and social values to my own.”

Now just to be clear China is not any kind of nationalist state either (regardless of the Alt Right pedestalizing it like it sometimes does with Russia).

However, Tarrant’s “endorsement” of China was clearly far stronger than of Russia.

So… yeah. How come China isn’t an “icon” of Far Right terror? Why no call to disavow Xi Jinping Thought?

This has everything.

Gray cardinal of the Kremlin Dugin. (In reality: An authoritarian SJW who is now far better known in the West than in Russia itself).

The fascist Ilyin. (In reality: Man with standard conservative views in the 1930s-50s, Snyder’s one man slander campaign regardless).

“Putin’s Eurasian group”. Whatever the fuck that is.

And of course Orange Man Very Bad. Lest we forget.

Thought he does have 10x as many followers as I do and much more media visibility, so what do I know.


* Incidentally, here’s the PDF, seeing as the TPTB are trying to censor it away into the ether, presumably so that shysters such as Shekhovtsov can interpret it any which way they want.

Kazakh President Nazarbayev Resigns

Well this was unexpected. But Kazakhstan’s President Nazarbayev, who has effectively led the country since 1989, is stepping down and handing over power to the head of the ruling party until a replacement could be found.

I wrote about him here:

In short, [the secret of his success] is pragmatism over ideology. The narrow-minded nationalist would have demanded Russians learn Kazakh or go home. Nazabayev made Kazakh the official language, but at the same time denoted Russian as “the language of interethnic communication,” a status not unlike that of English in Lee Kuan Yew’s Singapore. Incidentally, and unsurprisingly, Nazarbayev is a big fan of LKY, naming him as one two “eminent founding statesmen” (the other is Charles de Gaulle), and his policies reflect these beliefs: Low level economic liberalism, high level state industrial policy and financial management (the oil windfall has not been squandered, but stored upin an investment fund), and a commitment to intelligent authoritarian leadership that does not however overspill into the tyrannical brutality that you see in neighboring Uzbekistan or Turkmenistan.

Unlike LKY’s Singapore, corruption is pretty high; then again, pretty much no strongman apart from LKY ever managed to solve this. Even so, corruption in Kazakhstan is managed and contained – i.e., it is a “known quantity” – so it does not really scare away businessmen and foreign investors. Revolutions bring with them redivisions of the spoils, so elites are very hesitant to commit to long-term development projects in unstable countries like Ukraine or Kyrgyzstan; instead, their incentives are to maximize extraction in the here and now, before new people take their places at the trough. In stable authoritarian polities like Kazakhstan or Belarus, the people in power have more of an incentive to promote development because they have a reasonable degree of confidence that they will still have access to a what would be a much bigger pie a decade hence. It’s basically Mancur Olson’s theory about “roving bandits” vs. “stationary bandits” – the latter tend to be much better, because they are invested in the longterm success of their demesnes.

This pragmatism extends to foreign relations. Kazakhstan is on good terms with pretty much everyone who matters. It is in good standing with Russia; Nazarbayev was, in fact, the first post-Soviet leader to propose something along the lines of the Eurasian Union. But he is no Russian stooge either. Separatism and even talk of separatism are harshly suppressed, and all the more remarkably, this was done with Russia’s willing acquiesence: Eduard Limonov, a National Bolshevik and once Putin opponent, served two years in prison for allegedly trying to raise an army to “liberate” north Kazakhstan in the early 2000s. The capital was moved from Almaty to ethnic majority Russian Astana in the north, which gave Russians more of a reason to feel invested in Kazakh statehood while at the same time filling up a strategic city with ethnic Kazakhs to the extent that it now has a big Kazakh majority. This is a microcosm of changes taking place across the country as a whole, as highly fertile Kazakhs push up their share of the population back to where it was before Stolypin’s time. Over the longterm – i.e., another generation or so – this will likely solve Kazakhstan’s demographic/ethnic Russian northern majority problem in its entirety.

As the incarnadine cherry on the cream and custard pie, this careful equidistancing between Russia and the West, and his economic liberalism, has made Western elites very much appreciative of Nazarbayev. No American NGOs bother pushing for patently ridiculous concepts like free elections, or human rights, while holding them near sacrosanct in less wholesome countries, like Russia or Ukraine.

Central Asia only fell into the Russian Empire in the mid-19th century.

While relations have been far less acrimonious than with the Muslim Caucasus, which was acquired at around the same time, they were still – Eurasianist myths regardless – characterized by cultural distance and a lack of any deep integration.

But as the Soviet legacy fades away, so will the historical links between Russia and the countries of Central Asia.

This is, of course, hardly a singular affair. Kazakhstan is moving to the Latin alphabet by 2025. Tajikistan banned this year’s Immortal Regiments march on the grounds that it is non-Islamic (though it was not enforced). Uzbekistan has been particularly hostile, removing Europeans from important state positions, dismantling World War II monuments, and leaving both the CSTO and Eurasian Economic Community around 2010. Russia’s response? Mayor Sergey Sobyanin is going to use city funds to install a monument to the late Uzbek President for Life Islam Karimov in the center of Moscow.

And there are no signs that this is going to come to a stop anytime soon. As a rule, the Central Asians are ruled by Soviet relicts with strong cultural ties to (if not exactly sympathy for) Eurasia’s other post-Soviet elites. These are people whom the likes of Putin understand and are comfortable with. But as they age and die off, these countries are going to drift farther and farther away from Russia as the ethnic draw of Turkey, the religious draw of the Islamic ummah, the economic preponderance of China, and the cultural preponderance of America make themselves fully felt on the youngest generations and on the intelligentsia. This is already happening and there is no absolutely no reason to expect that Russia’s alternative, the Great Patriotic War victory cult – in which Central Asians played a marginal role anyway – is going to be a competitive one.

The future of Central Asia is nationalist and Islamic – probably, more of the former in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, and more of the latter in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.

Russians as share of Kazakhstan population (2010).

There are now just 3.6 million Russians in Kazakhstan (20% of the population), down from 6.0 million in 1989 (40%). Other European minorities, such as Ukrainians and Germans – and Koreans, who in practice identify with Europeans in the Central Asian context – add up to less than another 5%.

Furthermore, 2/3 of them want to emigrate due to Kazakhstan’s language policies and worsening inter-ethnic relations.

I am not surprised this is the case. I have read and heard – including from a couple of first hand sources – that Kazakh hiring practices in state institutions (e.g. academia) are highly nepotistic, favoring well-connected ethnic Kazakhs. There are no real opportunities for the Russians remaining there, apart from serving Kazakhs as a kind of cognitive caste (e.g. engineers at oil wells).

Kazakhstan age structure as of 2013.
Kazakhs [blue]; Russians [red]; Uzbeks [ green].

This, together with vastly lower fertility – there is a ~1 child gap between Russian and Kazakh fertility within Kazakhstan – means that its share of the population will continue to plummet as Kazakhstan becomes more and more of a mononational state.

Anyhow, should this leadership transition go smoothly and result in the appointment of another reasonable dictator who will continue Nazarbayev’s careful policies of maintaining good relations with all and sundry while steadily promoting Kazakhization – as opposed to a fire-breathing nationalist who attempts to turbocharge the process – then Kazakhstan should have made it as an entity that could be assured of its current borders. In another decade or two, even the old Russian territories of “South Siberia” will have lost their Russian majority, making the idea of reacquiring them in the case of an anti-Russian Kazakh government coming to power less and less of an attractive prospect.

That, in turn, means that there are fewer and fewer reasons not to vigorously encourage the mass repatriation of the remaining Russians in Kazakhstan.

Effective Terrorism: Pushing Up That K/D Ratio

The drones from Wolf Warrior 2.

To date the world’s most successful (non-state) terrorists have only been getting about ~100 kills / death (or capture).

The 9/11 hijackers each killed 2,996/19 = 158 people. Anders Breivik methodically killed 77 people. Brenton Tarrant got 50 while livestreaming it like a video game. Aircraft bombings can take out 100-200 people.

But can these figures go any higher? Let’s do some brainstorming.

Back in 2016, I speculated about attaching gun barrels to drones, and then either operating them manually or coupling them to aimbots and AI recognition software:

A couple of years ago there was a lot of agitation around TrackingPoint, a weapons company that coupled a gun with a tracking system. All you had to do was tag your target, press the trigger, and align the reticle with the tag, which would automatically fire the shot while making adjustments for range, wind conditions, your own motion, etc. Accuracy far exceeds what even the best marksmen are capable of with a traditional rifle and scope outfit. You can also shoot around corners and barricades with special eyeglasses (this was once an exclusively military technology which has now made its way into the civilian market).

Now TrackingPoint’s products aren’t really the sort of weapons you can do a productive rampage with – crucially, it is single shot, and extremely expensive ($20,000) to boot. But it should soon be possible to create far more effective solutions. For instance, a standalone mod that contains a database of common gun models (and maybe the option to input custom data) that you can strap onto any old AK. An accomplice can tag targets remotely through a connected smartphone, or even automate the process entirely on the basis of face recognition. Think of the kind of head shot percentages you can achieve.

Incidentally, just a year later, the Chinese movie Wolf Warrior II featured that idea in their intro scene:

Even more creative solutions can be thought up. Just the sort of stuff you can do by coupling this with drones can provide material for countless cyberpunk stories.

Incidentally, this is the reason why I think that draconian gun control will become the norm throughout the world within the next 2-3 decades, even in the US. Cheap drones and machine learning basically guarantee that.

And, come November 2017, we got this dystopian presentation on “slaughterbots” – mosquito-like drones carrying shaped microcharges that can blow a hole in a human skull – from The Future of Life Institute:

This idea is even more “elegant”, though I am not so sure that it is technologically feasible yet. Any such slaughterbot needs to have enough intelligence for indoor navigation without the use of GPS, and for face recognition. Both tasks are computationally intensive, so we either need much more progress on miniaturization, or a reliable Internet connection to a server (would be funny to be murdered by your WiFi). Also battery longevity might be an issue though miniaturization is progressing fast.

Anyhow, I reckon that once terrorists manage to “master” the drone toolkit, the K/D ratio can go up an order of magnitude into the thousands. Just imagine what a few killbots at a very crowded location, such as a football match or a big protest, can cause.

But while this will be a very bad development, it can’t really change things like global geopolitics, at least insofar as they don’t provoke large-scale military reactions.

For that, we need nukes.


Fortunately, so far as terrorism is concerned, they are not what they’re hyped up to be in the movies. Real nuclear devices are far too closely surveilled for terrorists to make off with them, and far too failsafe to do anything “interesting” with if they do. So-called “dirty bombs”, can create a lot of panic, but they won’t really kill many more – if any at all – in addition to the casualties of the conventional blast that spreads the radioactive isotopes. Consequently, any Sum of All Fears scenarios decidedly lean towards the “fiction” part of science fiction.

However, I think there might be one possible exception in which nuclear terrorism on a truly massive scale becomes possible. Now obviously, I am not any kind of expert on the ins and outs of submarine procedures, nor do I have access to any classified information. So with that caveat out of the way, here goes perhaps the one realistic scheme that a group of especially dedicated and reasonably competent fanatics can carry out to unleash global Armageddon.

Unlike American and Russian SSBNs, the British Vanguard class does not have Permissive Action Links. PALs are devices that are attached to nuclear weapons systems to prevent them from being armed or launched without the insertion of a predetermined code. In the American case, this code is broadcast from the US Chiefs of Staff in the event of nuclear war. But the UK never implemented this. According to the BBC, the Royal Navy thought “it would be invidious to suggest… that Senior Service officers may, in difficult circumstances, act in defiance of their clear orders.”

But suppose that an extremist cell manages to concentrate a few members on a British submarine. The key position may not be the commanding officer, but whichever officer is in charge of the armory (at least in the US, all submarines have Small Arms Lockers, to defend against pirates, polar bears in the Arctic, etc.; I imagine it’s the same on the Vanguard). On a crowded submarine, the rest of the crew will be at the complete mercy of a few armed cell members.

The key question, then, is one of how many people are needed to prep, aim, and launch the missiles. I don’t know the answer to this question, so I would appreciate any informed input. That said, if just 3-4 guys can do that, then the rest of the crew can just be exterminated*. Nobody can hear you scream tens of meters under the waves of the Atlantic Ocean. Alternatively, should this require the cooperation of a couple dozen people, then assembling a cell that large is unfeasible and they will have to coerce operations personnel into going along. This is risky, as they might figure out a way to sabotage the operation, or manage to overpower the terrorists.

While the natural response would be to launch those SLBMs at the US, it might be more productive – from the point of view of the terrorists, assuming that they are radical Islamists – to instead blast them at Russia (perhaps save one for China if it’s within range). Crippled Russia will then likely turn most British cities into glass. If the Russian political leadership is successfully “decapitated” – not the most far fetched possibility, given that this attack will come out of the blue – then Russia’s response might even be an automatic strike on the US, dependent on the fine details of its highly classified Perimeter system. Perimeter is a “dead hand” system that is rumored to be capable of automatically launching an annihilating retaliatory strike should the Russian leadership be destroyed. Alternatively, even if Russia only attacks Britain, then the US may become so unnerved that it attempts to launch a decapitating and disarming strike against Russia, with approximately the same global-level results.

Total nuclear exchange between the world’s leading Crusader Powers – what’s not to like?

I am not so sure that the ummah will come out of this so well in the end; setting off an atomic democide will presumably make much of the rest of the world rather negatively inclined towards Islam and Muslims.

But OTOH just think of dat K/D ratio. Just think of the achievements you will unlock.

Anyhow, I really don’t know if this is realistic or not. Probably not. Too much planning, too much persistence, and too much luck (e.g. at least 3-4 people getting assigned to the same boat, inc. one with direct armory access).

Perhaps this one of the good things about more British Muslims electing to fight for Islamic State than to serve in the British Armed Forces.


  • Commenter Sean confirms that “just 3-4 of the officers cooperating are required to can launch.”

Open Thread 71

The Ukrainian elections are coming up in a couple of weeks, so there’ll be a number of related posts in the next few days.


@ak

More notable posts since the last Open Thread in case you missed any of them.


Featured

  • Daniel Friedman: Why Elites Dislike Standardized Testing
    • Under pressure from both the academic left and wealthy parents, hundreds of colleges have become ‘test optional,’ allowing students to submit applications without test scores.
    • Ann Coulter: “Millionaires & celebrities “want to destroy the SAT because it is the only mechanism by which your kid can get into an elite college ahead of their kid.
    • AK: “Soviet Union abolished test scores for university admissions during the 1920s. With “former people” (Russian bourgeois, aristocrats) de facto barred, vast majority of students became Jews and prole activists.

Russia


World

  • Guillaume Durocher: How to Win on Immigration: Italy’s Salvini Shows the Way
  • Nancy Pelosi: “If America crumbled to the ground, the last thing that would remain is our support for #Israel.
  • CIA implicated in North Korea Embassy break-in in Madrid, Spain.
  • RT: US announces more support for ‘heroic’ White Helmets in Syria
    • It was nice for the ~one month that the freeze lasted.
  • Why Brandon Adamson [altleft.com] supports Yang: “Since Amazon is banning books, and people are being banned from money making media platforms and payment processing services, I don’t really give a shit if these companies get forced to pay taxes and we get our money on the backend instead.

Science & Culture

  • Olalde, Iñigo, Swapan Mallick, Nick Patterson, Nadin Rohland, Vanessa Villalba-Mouco, Marina Silva, Katharina Dulias, et al. 2019. “The Genomic History of the Iberian Peninsula over the Past 8000 Years.Science 363 (6432): 1230–34.
    • Greg Cochran: “The chart above shows what happened when the Indo-Europeans show up. Autosomal steppe ancestry goes from zero to ~40%, but on the Y-chromosome, it goes from zero to 100% over a few hundred years. As quoted in the New York Times, archaeologists ruled out violence as a possible cause… They’re nuts. To those who like the notion that the Indo-Europeans triumphed because they carried in bubonic plague ( or some other pathogen) that blasted immunologically naive EEF farmers: find me a plague that only kills men – all of them.

Humor & Powerful Takes

  • *powerful comment* Beckow: “I have often thought that Hitler was a strange psycho character who was out of place in his time. He was a vegetarian, fanatically committed to recycling, with an ambiguous gender identity, no kids, and he really hated Russia. Today he would fit right in with the liberal progressives marching around and yelling about the coming end of the world and how Russia has to be destroyed. Timing in life is everything, today’s Hitler might chain himself to a power plant to stop global warming, storm a farm that ‘abuses’ animals, change his gender at will, and – of course – start a war with Russia.
  • Freek Vermeulen: Academics with lower research productivity (i.e. fewer publications and citations) are more likely to put “PhD”, “Dr.” or “Professor” in their e-mail signatures.
  • Josef Bosch: In 2015 @nytimes published his op-ed re: his stunning & brave decision to live as a woman. In 2019, now that he’s rightly determined that his transition was the result of untreated mental illness… surely they’ll publish a follow-up, right? Nope.
  • Steve Stewart-WilliamsWhen natural selection trumps sexual selection
  • Scott Alexander: Gwern’s AI-Generated Poetry
  • Powerful Website has promoted me to “Main Directorate of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation (G.R.U.) contractor.”