Unraveling The Tandem Switch

Now that my initial triumphalism over Putin’s return has faded a bit, it’s time for a more analytical look. One of the main reasons I thought Medvedev would be the more likely person to be United Russia’s Presidential candidate is that Putin was simply unwilling to return. As Daniel Treisman wrote in his book on post-Soviet Russia, “Once President, Putin very often looked like he would rather be somewhere else… I have never seen Putin look as happy as he did on election night 2008, when [he appeared] to congratulate Medvedev on his victory.” Not a description of someone who longs for power for its own sake, when considering that he was relinquishing the top position that he could have easily (and legally!) kept by simply amending the Constitution to allow more consecutive terms. Combined with Medvedev’s steadily high approval ratings, just a permanent whiff short of Putin’s according to the opinion polls, and the negative PR repercussions (at least abroad) of this move, I still don’t think that my original logic for arguing for Medvedev’s staying on was all that faulty.

But didn’t both Medvedev and Putin both refute that, saying everything had already been decided years in advance? Well, no. Contrary to the Western media coverage, that didn’t necessarily follow from their words. What Medvedev said was: “We really did discuss this variant of development back in that period, when we first formed our gentlemanly agreement” (мы действительно обсуждали этот вариант развития событий еще в тот период, когда сформировался наш товарищеский союз). What Putin said was: “I want to say it straight, that the agreement about what to do, what to work on in the future, we already made a long time ago, several years back” (хочу прямо сказать, что договоренность о том, что делать, чем заниматься в будущем, между нами давно достигнута, уже несколько лет назад).

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The Stalinist Drug Warrior: The Real Medvedev, Part 2

Following on from my last post in which I revealed the neoliberal, anti-Russian inclinations of Dmitry Medvedev (pictured left, sporting his new Hitler mustache), let us know consider another question – what to make of his much vaunted liberalism, his humaneness, his consciousness? The Western media as with their liberal Russian running dogs have traditionally presented DAM as the polar opposite of the evil statist Putin, who we are told worships the authoritarian values of the KGB and seeks to turn Russia into a neo-Soviet Union. Now look at the following comments.

1. “Talking of mandatory treatment – one can talk about anything. But mandatory treatment for alcoholism and drug addiction is ultimately worse for ourselves. We have to convince that person, encourage an internal motivation, and understanding of the necessity to conquer these ills. It is important that that person doesn’t feel himself alone, so that he understands and feels that if he fell into this trap, he should feel that he hasn’t been abandoned, that he isn’t alone, that his family and friends, relatives, parents won’t abandon him to the winds, nor will his school, his work collective, wherever he may be studying or working, the state won’t abandon him.”

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DAM, What A President!: The Real Medvedev, Part 1

A recent study by Laura Bottazzi et al. at the University of Bologna, Italy confirmed a pretty obvious fact of international business. Far from being the rational agents of standard economics, objectively focusing on those countries offering the best return on their investments, international financiers are in fact heavily influenced by national stereotypes. A Dutch venture capital fund, for instance, is far likelier to invest in a German company than a Spanish one. This is due in large part to the greater trust and cultural affinity that exists between the Dutch and Germans, rather than any specifically economic reason.

As a country suffering from a severe reputational deficit, even relative to most other major emerging markets, these findings should be of great interest to Russia’s leaders – whose lack of PR finesse is simply astounding (any number of specific examples can be given, but suffice to say that there is still no effective Russia lobby in Washington DC). Medvedev seems to be operating under the delusion that publicly lambasting Russia’s institutions – e.g. his famous dismissal of the entire judicial system by portraying Russia’s environment as one of “legal nihilism” – will somehow help resolve those problems that do exist, enhance Russia’s image, and woo foreign investors. Nothing can be further from the truth.

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Lying Liars and their Lies

1. The Myth of Russian Corruption

In this blog, I have documented how a) corruption in Russia is similar to the average for middle-income countries and b) it has improved slightly under Putin. This is backed by data from the World Bank’s Governance Indicators, Transparency International’s Global Corruption Barometer and World Bank statistics on problems with corruption and bureaucracy.

Nonetheless, the Western media has other ideas. Take their coverage of the Indem report in 2005 by the BBC, for instance, which claims that “Its annual report on corruption says that bribes paid to officials by businessmen may have grown as much as 10 times over the last four years alone” and “the shadow economy at least twice as large as the state budget“. And I can’t say Beebie is the worst. More propagandistically inclined outlets implied that corruption per se increased by an order of magnitude.

Now for the facts. The shadow economy fell from 45% to 37% of GDP from 1998 to 2002. The state’s share of expenditures was 34.1% in 2002 – in other words, it was very similar to the size of the shadow economy. And even assuming there have been no improvements since then (according to ivanivanov333, a contributor, the figure is now 28%, as opposed to gov’t spending of 34.2% in 2007), this is not that different even from Latvia (40%) or even Italy (27%) in 2004. Yet nonetheless it’s supposedly worse than in the late 1990’s, when the media was coming up with books like Sale of the Century and articles like What Russia Teaches Us Now (which described its social contract as an “exchange of unaccountable power for untaxable wealth”).

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