Da Russophile was one of the Western world's most popular Russia blogs during its years of active operation from 2008 to 2014. Its main author, Anatoly Karlin, aimed to deconstruct Western myths about Russia through a focus on Russian language sources, verifiable facts, statistics, and opinion polls, and the application of a judicious comparative perspective.

With the rise of many other media outlets offering a Russian perspective on global affairs, I made made the decision to archive this blog in October 2014. You may access a comprehensive list of its best posts at The Best of Da Russophile.

Prokhorov, President Of Londongrad

Once again, a picture that’s worth a thousand words, courtesy of Alex Kireev: A map of how Russians abroad voted in the 2012 elections (see below).

Quantitatively, they split into three main groupings, each accounting for about a third of the votes from abroad: (1) Residents of Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Pridnestrovie; (2) Other republics of the former USSR, or the “Near Abroad”; (3) the “Far Abroad”, which is basically the rest of the world. Each of these have specific electoral patterns.

1) Here support for Putin is overwhelming: 91.1% in Abkhazia, 90.4% in South Ossetia, and 87.2% in Moldova. Though very high, practically North Caucasus-like, I do not consider these figures suspicious. All of these states – most of the Moldova voters are from Pridnestrovie – owe their de facto independence to the Russian Army, and to the Kremlin’s foreign policy. Russian military, security, and diplomatic officials stationed in these areas would also be largely pro-Putin.

2) In the former USSR, Putin too has dominant support among Russians (more so than in Russia itself): 92.6% in Tajikistan, 90.7% in Kyrgyzstan, 88.5% in Armenia, 80.9% in Uzbekistan, 76.1% in Ukraine, 77.5% in Kazakhstan, and 66.4% in Belarus. It is ironic that his lowest score would be in Belarus, ostensibly the post-Soviet country with which Russia is closest integrated: Could it be an indirect protest vote against Lukashenko, or is that Belorussian TV’s propaganda campaign in 2010 against Putin as a thief has taken root? The Baltics follow the same pattern: 89.1% in Latvia, 85.4% in Estonia, and 75.7% in Lithuania. It is perhaps indicative that the more Russians are oppressed in a Baltic country, the greater their support for Putin.

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Russia’s Mortality From Vices On The Decline

Sometimes a single picture is worth a thousand words. This is one.

Though Russia remains a highly dangerous country by developed country standards, it has improved immeasurably in the past decade. Fewer Russians today die from alcohol poisonings, homicides, suicides, and even – despite a near doubling of car ownership rates – transport accidents that they did in the 1990’s to early 2000’s. Indeed, most of these “non-natural deaths” indicators are back to the levels of the late 1980’s, coinciding with Gorbachev’s anti-alcohol campaign.

The importance of this decline shouldn’t be understated. Though they only account for a small proportion of total deaths, they tend to happen at earlier ages and thus have a significant impact on the workforce and overall life expectancy. Furthermore, the fact that the pace of improvements actually speeded up during the crisis indicates that Russia is becoming a “normal country” in the sense that health improvement trends have decoupled from economic fluctuations.

Why Golos’ Own Figures Support Only 3%-6% Fraud

Since yesterday, the following image from an article by liberal journalist Evgenya Albats has been making the rounds on the Internet. It shows that whereas Putin’s official tally was 65%, independent observers put it close to or below the 50% marker that would necessitate a second round, such as Golos’ 51% and Citizen Observer’s 45%. Predictably, these figures were seized upon by the liberals to condemn the legitimacy of the elections. As Putin ended up getting 63.6%, while the average of all observers was 50.2%, one could conclude that the level of fraud was 13% or more.

However, as pointed out by Kireev, this is a gross misuse of statistics for political ends, because of the severe sampling problems: Golos observers were concentrated in Moscow, St.-Petersburg, and a few other large cities where Putin is less popular, while Citizen Observer is almost entirely confined to the capital. The website http://sms.golos.org/ collates the results from all the big Russian observer projects, and from the regional data, we can see that about half the election protocols compiled to create these figures were from Moscow; almost another quarter were from Moscow oblast and St.-Petersburg.

Nonetheless, while looking through the regional data, I realized that if it were to be adjusted for its pro-Moscow (anti-Putin) sampling bias, we could get a fairly a good estimate for the level of fraud in this election; or at least, an upper limit for it. And so that’s what I proceeded to do.

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The Provincialization Of Russian Electoral Fraud

Analysis of the election data is now trickling in, so I feel I can now make some real preliminary estimates of the degree of fraud (eventually, I will compile a list of estimates as I did for the 2011 elections). My assessment is that in these elections it was on the order of 3%-4%, which is lower than my estimated range of the 5%-7% fraud in the Duma elections, but still far too high by developed country standards. The geographical distribution of fraud has changed significantly: Moscow actually appears to be very clean this time wrong (in stark contrast to 2011, and 2009). However, there were little to no changes for the better in the ethnic minority republics, which is where the great bulk of the falsifications are now concentrated.

The most reliable evidence, in my opinion, is the FOM exit poll which gave Putin a vote of 59.3% in contrast to the 63.6% official tally – a difference of slightly more than 4%. (VCIOM gave him 58.3%, but I consider it slightly less reliable: It polled 63 regions, to FOM’s 81, and the missing regions included places like Ossetia and Daghestan where support for Putin is higher than average – even if so is the level of falsifications). Below is a table of regional falsifications, courtesy of Kireev. As you can see, the highest discrepancies between official and exit poll results – and the only ones exceeds the margin of error – are now in Federal Districts with many national ethnic minority republics: North Caucasus (Daghestan, Chechnya, etc), the Urals (Tatarstan, Bashkortostan), and the South (Kalmykia, Adygea). Across Russia as a whole, the discrepancy was 4.3%, relative to 6.3% in 2011.

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Winners Of The Election Predictions Contest

András Tóth-Czifra, our heroic winner.

András Tóth-Czifra, our heroic winner.

Before the 2012 Russian Presidential elections, 23 particularly courageous (or foolhardy?) netizens and Russia watchers participated in a contest on this blog to predict its results for the chance of eternal glory and a free S/O T-Shirt.

The winner is the person with the least aggregate error, i.e. the sum of the absolute discrepancies between his or hers prediction and the official tally for each of the candidates, as well as the percentage of spoiled ballots. With 99%+ of the votes counted, it is now safe to announce the winners.

Ladies and gentlemen, please give it up for… András Tóth-Czifra!

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Preliminary Thoughts On The Election Results

putin-cryingLatest results are getting in that Putin got 63.8%. That a second round would be avoided was never really in serious doubt for the past month, nonetheless the election would still be important from several other perspectives, such as the level of falsifications (in particular, in comparison with 2011), and the relative performance of Zhirinovsky, Mironov, and Prokhorov.

I’m afraid there was still substantial fraud, greater than the 2%-3% I predicted (relative to 5%-7% in the Duma elections). The FOM exit poll gave Putin 59.3% (80,000 respondents, 81 regions), the VCIOM exit poll gave him 58.3% (159,000 respondents, 63 regions). That is a 5% point discrepancy that is too big to explain by their margins of error. In particular, the results from large parts of the North Caucasus remain as hopelessly ridiculous as ever.

That said, there were improvements, especially in Moscow. Putin got 48.7% there. This is close to, if still higher, than the 45.1% recorded in Golos observer protocols. The Citizen Observer initiative says he got 47%. (Recall that United Russia, which always lags Putin by 10%-15%, got 46.6% in Moscow in 2011, whereas Putin got only 2% points higher; this is further, if indirect, evidence of mass falsifications in 2011).

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My (Second) Article On The Russian Elections At Al Jazeera

Here it is: Reading the Russian election.

Please comment at their site, rather than here, if possible.

Predict The Results Of The 2012 Russian Presidential Election

Inspired by Kireev’s similar posts in Russian, I’m asking S/O readers to predict (1) The official results of the elections, and (2) The actual, i.e. non-falsified, results. Please give them to one decimal point, and include all the five candidates as well as the share of invalid votes. They will be displayed in the table below.

The winner will be the one, the sum of whose predicted results differ least from the official results. In the (very unlikely) case that there emerge two winners, i.e. they were wrong by the same amount, the one who responded earlier will be considered the winner. The reward will be ample praise on this blog and a free S/O T-Shirt. (Which reminds me, I still owe one to Alex Mercouris. Will get to work on that…)

Separately, feel free to also predict the real, i.e. non-falsified, results, or the scale of falsifications you expect in these elections. I expect 2%-3% falsifications, lower than the 5%-7% I believe happened in 2011, but not rooted out entirely.

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Translation: Sergey Zhuravlev – The Reversal Of The “Russian Cross”

Sergey Zhuravlev is a Russian economist who runs a wonky but eminently readable and very useful, interesting blog and writes for Expert (author profile), which I may add is an excellent publication. You have met him previously on my blog as the inventor of a clever – if, in my opinion, flawed – argument that the 2011 Duma elections were marred by 5%-6% fraud, but were clean in Moscow; and if you read the Russia blogs, you may also have come across Mark Adomanis’ translation of one his articles about Russian regional inequality. Now I am presenting a translation of his Feb 13 article on what I called as the end of Russia’s demographic crisis: The Reversal of the Russian Cross. In my opinion, it has a few weaknesses; in particular, he is too cavalier about dismissing the “alcohol hypothesis” about post-Soviet Russia’s “supermortality”. But overall it is a brilliant and deeply informative survey of the origins of the Russian Cross – the crossover of the births and deaths graphs in 1992 – as well as of its recent reversal, to the extent that natural population decline is now almost stabilized and the overall population is able to grow due to net migrants.

The Reversal Of The Russian Cross

Last year our country’s population increased, for the first time in 20 years. Although positive growth in aggregate was only enabled by immigration from the Near Abroad, existing trends in rising fertility and falling mortality were maintained.

If we are to go by Rosstat’s figures, in the past year Russia’s population – for the first time in virtually the entire twenty years of Russia’s existence as a sovereign state – increased, exceeding 143 million people. The maximum population size was reached in 1992, at 148.56 millions, and has since decreased at a practically monotone rate. That said, it should be added that small population growth was previously observed in 1994 and 2009, and that the population fall in 2010 was, most likely, explained by cumulative errors over the period since the 2002 Census, and by the abnormal mortality during that summer’s heatwave [AK: There were c.56,000 excess deaths during the anomalous 2010 heatwave, which is basically equivalent to population decline of 48,300. Furthermore, the 2010 Census showed there to be 143.9 million Russians, which was one million higher than projections based on the 2002 Census; this implied that during the period, net immigration was underestimated by more than 100,000 per year. So its likely that even despite the heatwave, Russia’s population still eked out an increase in 2010].

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Making Sense Of Russia’s Arms Binge

In the wake of Putin’s article on national security for Rossiyskaya Gazeta, there has been renewed interest in Russia’s ambitious military modernization plans for the next decade. I am not a specialist in this (unlike Dmitry Gorenberg and Mark Galeotti, whom I highly recommend), but I do think I can bring much-needed facts and good sources to the discussion.

1. This is not a new development. In fact, the massive rearmament program was revealed back in 2010 (I wrote about it then). Russia’s armed forces were neglected in during the 1990’s and early 2000’s, and enjoyed only modest funding until now; relative to Soviet levels, they are now far degraded. The main goal is to create a mobile, professional army equipped with modern, high-tech gear by 2020.

2. To recap. With oil prices high and Russia’s fiscal situation secure, it IS affordable; it’s not like the old USSR (or today’s US for that matter) spending money it doesn’t have. I also don’t necessarily buy the argument that most of the additional funds will be swallowed up by corruption or inefficiency. Massive new procurement can create temporary bottlenecks, which raises prices, but on the other hand it also allows for economies of scale. The real question is whether Russia absolutely needs to retain the hallowed One Million Man Army, which would appear far too big for the modest anti-insurgency or local wars it may be called to fight in the Caucasus or Central Asia. (There is no possibility of matching NATO or Chinese conventional strength in principle, so that consideration is a moot point).

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