Merle Haggard Drive

MerleHaggardDrive.jpg

In honor of the gentleman from St. Petersburg who just tried to tell me (on Facebook, of course) what kind of music I, a real American country boy should listen to, I will be listening to Merle Haggard all day today, from dawn to dusk.

The sheer snobbery and arrogance of the Petersburg intelligentsia never fail to amaze me. I would imagine even the Queen of England is more down to earth, friendly, and tactful than the “most educated people” on earth are.

Please refrain here from making comments about the late Mr. Haggard’s politics. They are no mystery to me, since I was born and grew up in the same country as he did. I was not a fan of his politics most of the time, to put it mildly, but I am a fan of his music.

The extent to which Putin-era Russians, from high officials to friends of friends, stick their often wildly ignorant noses in other people’s business is a measure of just how completely they have lost control of their own country’s politics, culture, history, literature, cinema, art, language, music, you name it.

If you do not speak and read Russian, thank Allah for His mercy, because it has not been an edifying spectacle at all observing the blackest reaction nearly everywhere you turn in the “Russian world,” high and low, for the past twenty years. {TRR}

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia

Russia Should Be World’s No. 1 Tourist Destination

zarinaZarina Doguzova. Photo courtesy of Maxim Stulov/Vedomosti

New Rosturizm Head Assesses Russia’s Tourist Potential
Vedomosti
February 11, 2019

Russia’s tourist potential was as huge and immense as the country itself, said Zarina Doguzova, Rosturizm’s new head. On Monday, Economic Development Minister Maxim Oreshkin introduced Doguzova to staff at the agency, which has been given a new leader at the same time as it has come under the  jurisdiction of the Russian Economic Development Ministry.

“The principal task you and I face is discovering this potential and realizing it to the maximum extent,” Doguzova said.

She argued Russia should be the first country that came to mind when foreigners were planning their next holiday, while Russians should be happy to show Russia’s unexplored corners to their children and plan to travel to a neighboring region during the next long weekend, not to a neighboring country.

“This won’t happen tomorrow, but maybe it should,” she said.

When introducing Doguzova, Oreshkin noted that, under her leadership, Rosturizm would be tasked with creating the right image within the country, an image that would present the real picture and thus attract both domestic and foreign tourists.

In September 2018, President Putin signed a decree transferring Rosturizm from the purview of the Culture Ministry to the Economic Development Ministry’s jurisdiction. On February 8, Prime Minister Medvedev appointed Doguzova the agency’s new head.

Doguzova was born in 1985. In 2008, she graduated from the Moscow State Institute for International Relations (MGIMO) and, according to friends, got a job in the press service of Vladimir Putin during his stint as prime minister. In 2012, Putin won the presidential election, and Doguzova transferred to the Kremlin’s office of public relations and communications.

Thanks to Sergei Damberg for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

Grigorii Golosov: The Year 2020

DSCN6650Living it up with Russia’s shrinking “middle class.” Sulphur Island, St. Petersburg, 19 May 2018.  Photo by the Russian Reader

Grigorii Golosov
Facebook
February 5, 2019

Many people have been citing a 2008 article in Rossiiskaya gazeta.

“By 2020, Russians will be earning an average of $2,700 a month, a family of three will have no less than 100 square meters of living space, and the middle class will constitute over half of the population.”

This is a paraphrase of the “Social and Economic Development Strategy to 2020,” drafted at the time by the Russian Economic Development Ministry.

The article goes on.

“Experts have already dubbed the strategy a ‘breakthrough scenario’ that will see Russia establishing itself as a leading world power by 2020.”

The Economic Development Ministry was wrong, of course, but the experts were right. Russia has already established itself as a world power, albeit in roughly the same sense as North Korea and Iran. It has gone even farther. Iran and North Korea, at least, are not in everyone’s face all the time, while Russia butts in everywhere nowadays.

We should look for the root of the Economic Development Ministry’s mistake in the machinations of Russia’s enemies, of course, although the reason Russia has so many enemies is to be sought in the circumstances that also explain its promotion to the same league as North Korea and Iran.

That is the intriguing dialectic at work here.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Are Russians Eating Well?

DSCN1832A fruits and vegetables stall at the famous Hay Market (Sennoy rynok) in downtown Petersburg, September 29, 2018. Photo by the Russian Reader

Eating Their Fill: Russia’s Food Security in the Wake of Crimea
Have Russians Eaten Better After the Government Moved to Defend Them from Western Food? 
Yevgeny Karasyuk
Republic
December 6, 2018

Soon after the embargo that was imposed four years ago in response to the stance of western countries on Crimea, analysts warned Russia itself would primarily suffer from food anti-sanctions.

“We won’t heighten the Russian Federation’s food security at all. In fact, we will reduce it,” Natalya Volchkova, a professor at the New Economic School, said at the time.

Of course, the criticism of the experts was ignored. No one in government questioned the policy of forced import substitution. Most Russians even imagined it was a rare instance when the government made a good decision. Only a few years ago, 71% of the populace [sic] spoke in favor of limiting imports.*

Time has passed, and the experts to whom no one listened have compiled figures showing where the policy has taken the country. A recent report, authored by a group of researchers from RANEPA, provides an analysis of its consequences.

Import substitution in the food sector was an obsession and, at the same time, a source of pride for ex-agriculture minister Alexander Tkachov. His replacement, Dmitry Patrushev, son of the Russian Security Council’s secretary and a none-too-successful state banker, has changed little in the government’s take on the situation. The new minister is certain Russia has reached a level of self-sufficiency above 90% in terms of basic food staples. Thus, Alexei Gordeyev, deputy prime minister for agriculture and an ex-agriculture minister himself, is convinced Russia has successfully carried out import substitution.

Food imports actually did slump sharply—by 46%—from 2013 to 2016. Although an unbiased analysis if how Russian producers succeeded in turning the tables and quickly saturating the market with their own products would point to the ruble’s sudden devaluation, rendering foreign imports uncompetitive, as had already happened in recent history, rather than to the success of the anti-sanctions.

Whatever the cause of Russia’s newfound food independence, however, it has not lead to food security. Citing the international standard, the authors of RANEPA’s report define food security as “the physical and economic availability of safe nourishment, sufficient for an active, fulfilling life.” In other words, there really are more domestically grown and produced food items in Russia nowadays, but the bulk of the populace has less and less access to them.

“Caloric Value of the Russian Diet.” The blue line indicates caloric value, while the dotted line indicates the recommended daily caloric intake per family member in kilocalories. The light purple area indicates the number of Russians who suffer from obesity, in thousands of persons, while the shaded dark purple area indicates the number of Russia who suffer from anemia, also in thousands of peoples. Source: Rosstat and RANEPA. Courtesy of Republic

Last year, Russia was ranked forty-first in the Global Food Security Index, compiled by the Economist Intelligence Unit, meaning that it ranked lower than it had in 2013, when it ranked fortieth. This was due, among other things, to insufficient funding of research and a reduction in the variety of food products.

According to official statistics, food accounts for approximately 35% of expenses in Russian household budgets, which is a high proportion when compared with the OECD countries, among which even the highest percentages, achieved by Poland and Mexico, fall short of 25%. Independent evaluation of spending on food, however, claim that the proportion of Russian family budgets spent on food is actually over fifty percent. Given the almost continuous drop in the real incomes of Russians, the selection of products has declined in quality and abundance. On average, Russian households continue to skimp on everything they can do without, as confirmed by the compilers of the Coffee and Milk Index, as published by Romir, a Russian marketing research company. (The index tracks sales of chocolate, coffee, milk, and bottled water.) RANEPA’s researchers noted the discrepancy between the excess fat in the food and bread Russians eat and the low number of calories in their diets.

By closing the borders to imports and showering the domestic agro-industrial complex with generous state subsidies—1.2 trillion rubles [approx. 15.9 billion euros] in the past six years from the federal budget alone—the regime has persuaded itself it has been filling the nation’s bellies and improving its health. Its expectations were exaggerated, however. Oversaturated with cheap carbohydrates, the standard fare eaten by many Russians remains unbalanced and low on energy. “This is borne out by widespread anemia among the populace as a whole and children in particular,” RANEPA’s researchers write. The number of Russians who suffer from obesity has grown for the same reason.

Obviously, these problems cannot be written off as temporary glitches in demand in the domestic food market, whose revival has been unanimously trumpeted by former agriculture ministers and the current agriculture minister. Rather, they are the natural consequence of systemic problems with the natural resources economy that shoulders the burden of the Kremlin’s geopolitical capers. The average Russian family often simply cannot afford a plentiful variety of healthy, high-quality food.

The authors of RANEPA’s report have emphasized this.

“Neglecting this fact can lead to a distorted picture of the state of food security,” they write.

However, there is still very little chance the alarming conclusions of the experts will be heard this time around, forcing the government to make adjustments to its food policy.

* How did they do that? Was a nationwide referendum held? The author, of course, is referring to a so-called public opinion poll in which, at best, a thousand or two “ordinary” Russians were asked loaded questions, to which they gave the “right” answers. {TRR}

__________________________________

Russians Spend 30% of Their Budgets on Food
Georgy Tadtayev
RBC
December 17, 2018

Russians spend nearly a third of their household budgets on food. Russia lags behind Montenegro, Latvia, and Turkey in this sense. Russians spend less than seven percent of their budgets on culture and leisure.

According to RIA Rating, as reported by RIA Novosti, Russians spent 31.2% of their household budgets on food in 2017.

The estimate of the percentage of their household budgets people in forty European countries, Russia, Kazakhstan, and Turkey spend on food was based on information from the IMF and national statistics agencies. Russia ended up in the bottom ten of the ranking, ranking 31st. Its nearest neighbors were Montenegro (29.7%) and Latvia (31.7%).

Ukrainians spend the greatest portion of their household budgets on food: 50.9%. People in Kazakhstan (46%, 39th place) and Moldova (43.4%, 38th place) also spend more than 40% of their budgets on food.

Western European countries topped the rating. Luxembourg came in first place. Residents of the duchy spend a mere 8.7% of their money on food. Close behind Luxembourg were Great Britain (10%) and the Netherlands (10.6%).

The agency also ranked countries according to percentages of income spent on alcohol and cigarettes. Residents of three Balkan countries—Romania (8.2%), Bulgaria (5.1%), and Serbia (4.7%)—spend the most on bad habits. Luxembourg (1.3%), Moldova (1.5%), and Cyprus (1.6%) spend the least on alcohol and cigarettes. Russia ranked 24th: Russians spend 3% of their househould budgets on bad habits.

Sweden was the top-ranked country in terms of spending on culture and leisure: Swedes spend 18.7% of their budgets for these purposes. Moldovans spend the least on leisure and culture: 1.3%. Russia ranked 21st: Russians spend 6.9% of their money in this category.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Banned: The Kremlin’s Empire

kremlin's empire.jpegA screenshot of the section of the Russian Justice Ministry’s list of “extremist” matter containing two editions of Abdurakhman Avtorkhanov’s The Kremlin’s Empire: The Soviet Style of Colonialism. They are wedged between a video entitled “Bumblebees: Moscow Skinhead Girl,” and the lyrics to a song entitled “Wog Devils” by the group Kotovsky Barbershop, each of them posted on personal pages on the Russian social media network VK. 

Avtorkhanov’s Kremlin’s Empire Ruled Extremist
Grani.ru
December 15, 2018

Two editions of The Kremlin’s Empire: The Soviet Style of Colonialism by Abdurakhman Avtorkhanov, a Chechen émigré historian of the Soviet Union, have been placed on the list of “extremist” matter, as published on the Russian Justice Ministry’s website. The SOVA Center reported the news on Friday.

The first edition of Avtorkhanov’s book was published in the Bavarian town of Garmisch-Partenkirchen in 1988. The first Soviet edition of the book was published in Vilnius in 1990. In 2001, Moscow publisher Dika-M reprinted the book, dropping the subtitle The Soviet Style of Colonialism. The Vilnius and Moscow editions were placed on the list of “extremist” matter on December 5, registered under No. 4661 and No. 4662, respectively.

Avtorkhanov’s book was placed on the list due to a ruling made over three years ago by the Meshchansky District Court in Moscow. On the court’s old website, which is no longer updated, there is a record of ten administrative suits filed by Yevgeny Novikov, who was the Meshchansky Inter-District Prosecutor at the time. Judge Maria Kudryavtseva ruled in Novikov’s favor on September 24, 2015. The Justice Ministry and the Library of Ukrainian Literature in Moscow were third parties in each of the proceedings.

Along with Avtorkhanov’s book, the Justice Ministry also placed a number of books in Ukrainian on the list of “extremist” matter on December 5, books that had also been banned by order of the Meshchansky District Court on September 24, 2015. This could mean Avtorkhanov’s book was confiscated during one of the numerous police searches carried out at the Library of Ukrainian Literature.

Grani.ru was unable to locate the decision to ban the editions of Avtorkhanov’s book in open sources.

“Perhaps the complaint against the book had to do with Avtorkhanov’s interpretation of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact or the history of the Bandera movement, which the prosecutor and the court construed as dissemination of falsehoods about the Soviet Union during the war,” SOVA Center wrote in its article. “However, evidence that Russian Federal Criminal Code Article 354.1 [exoneration of Nazism – Grani.ru] may have been violated cannot serve as formal grounds for ruling an item extremist.”

In his youth, Avtorkhanov (1908–1997) was a Bolshevik Party functionary in Chechnya. He was arrested and tortured in 1937. In 1940, he was exonerated. After his acquittal was reversed, he fled from Grozny into the mountains, but was soon captured. In October 1941, he was sentenced to three years in prison. He was released in April 1942. Lavrenty Beria tasked Avtorkhanov with assassinating his childhood friend Hasan Israilov (1910–1944), who in 1940 led an armed revolt against the Soviet regime in Chechnya. Avtorkhanov secretly contacted Israilov and gave him the memorandum “A Provisional Popular Revolutionary Government of Chechnya-Ingushetia,” which he had drafted for the German government.

In the summer of 1942, during the German offensive in the Caucasus, Avtorkhanov crossed the frontline, presenting the Germans with the memorandum, and offering to a write a series of pamphlets about anti-Soviet uprisings in the region. In January 1943 he moved to Berlin, where he was involved in the North Caucasus National Committee. He lived in a displaced persons camp from 1945 to 1948, subsequently settling in Munich.

In 1949, Avtorkhanov was appointed a lecturer at the US Army Russian Institute in Garmisch and Regensburg. In 1955, US counterintelligence foiled an assassination attempt on Avtorkhanov’s life. He retired in 1979. During the 1990s, he supported Chechen independence.

Avtorkhanov’s other books include The Technology of Power (1959), The Origin of the Partocracy (1973), The Mystery of Stalin’s Death (1981), From Andropov to Gorbachev (1986), and Lenin in the Destinies of Russia (1990). The Technology of Power was widely distributed in samizdat in the Soviet Union. Reading and possessing the book was a criminal offense.

Thanks to EZ for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

Squandering Its Way to Superpowerdom

“Squandering”: Did the US Secretary of State Grasp the Russian Approach to Budget Spending?
The Kremlin Accused the State Department of Tactlessness and Unprofessionalism, Yet Pompeo’s Remarks Were on the Mark
Yevgeny Karasyuk
Republic
December 13, 2018

padrino.jpgVenezuelan Defence Minister Vladimir Padrino gives his thumb up as he sits on the cockpit of a Russian Tupolev Tu-160 strategic long-range heavy supersonic bomber after it landed at Maiquetia International Airport, north of Caracas, on December 10, 2018. Courtesy of Federico Parra/AFP/Getty Images

Russian’s decision to send strategic bombers on a junket to an airport near Caracas elicited a curious reaction from US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who publicly expressed his pity for Russian taxpapers, whose money the Kremlin, habitually disregarding the costs, has been spending on its geopolitical moves.

“The Russian and Venezuelan people should see this for what it is: two corrupt governments squandering public funds, and squelching liberty and freedom while their people suffer,” Pompeo wrote.

The Russian Foreign Ministry responded by calling Pompeo’s statement “utterly unprofessional” and even “villainous.” Pompeo’s remarks, which the Kremlin, in turn, dubbed “inappropriate” and “undiplomatic,” were apparently really lacking in nuance: the hardships of Russians, fortunately, cannot yet be compared with the suffering of Venezuelans. But, hand on heart, was Pompeo so wrong when he talked about the losses to the Russian federal budget and lack of oversight?

Russian society has an extremely vague notion about how much the Kremlin’s expansionism has ultimately cost the country. According to calculations made by IHS Jane’s at the outset of Russia’s operations in Syria in autumn 2015, Russia could have been spending as much as $4 million a day. Later, the Yabloko Democratic Party, which is not seated in the Russian parliament, estimated the Kremlin had spent a total of 108–140 billion rubles [between $1.6 and $2.1 billion] on Syria. A more accurate assessment would be difficult to make. Experts doubt that anyone, including the Finance Ministry, keeps tabs on such expenditures. Thus, nobody knows the real cost of Russia’s involvement in the Syrian conflict, argues the Gaidar Institute’s Military Economics Laboratory.

The budget’s fading transparency has been a trend in recent years. In 2016, secret and top-secret allocations accounted for 22% of total federal budget expenditures, a record for the entire post-Soviet period, and much higher than secret allocations in comparable countries, according to RANEPA’s March 2015 report on the Russian economy.

Quite naturally, this state of affairs has not improved the quality of the state’s financial decisions. In terms of effective state spending, Russia ranked nineteenth in a new rating of twenty-five countries, compiled by the Higher School of Economics using data from the World Bank and OECD. Since they are not priorities for the current regime, problems with child mortality and life expectancy were among the reasons Russia ranked so low in the survey: the government spends more on the army than on healthcare—4.3% of GDP versus 3.8% of GDP, respectively. In these circumstances, the chances the Kremlin’s strategic projects in the Middle East and Africa (e.g., the Central African Republic, Burkina Faso, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Mozambique) will be decently funded are always much greater than the national healthcare project, which stipulated increased government spending on cancer treatment. The government nixed the plan over summer.

Since it remains largely Soviet in spirit, Russia’s foreign policy has been categorically blind to history’s lessons. The Soviet Union’s exorbitant geopolitical ambitions and support for fringe regimes around the world left the country with a legacy of mostly toxic multi-billion-dollar debts. The process of writing them off has been disguised as a form of international charity or, speaking diplomatically, official development assistance (ODA). According to RANEPA, writing off the debts of developing countries accounted for 35% of all such “international aid” last year or $425 million. It has been the Russian government’s usual way of doing business. Previously, the Russian government wrote off the debts of Nicaragua ($6.3 billion), Iraq ($21.5 billion), North Korea ($10.9 billion), Syria ($9.8 billion), Afghanistan ($11 billion), and Cuba ($29 billion), among other countries. Venezuela risks joining this sad list. Over the past twelve years, Russia has invested a total of $17 billion in the country.

Russia’s Expenditures on Official Development Assistance (Excluding Humanitarian Aid), 2005–2017, in Millions of Dollars. Sources: OECD, Russian Finance Ministry. Courtesy of Republic

Since it was paid for by the Russian federal budget, which has been running a deficit for the last seven years, Russian officials probably did not see the transatlantic flight of its strategic bombers as too expensive. On the contrary, they saw it as a flashy display of Russia’s military prowess and proof of its influence in the region. However, the government of Nicolás Maduro signed off on the stunt. Subject to growing pressure from creditors and an angry, desperate population, it lives day by day. In all likelihood, it will soon collapse, leaving behind a mountain of unpaid bills and unfulfilled obligations to its allies. If this is the case, can we evaluate the Russian government’s action better than the tactless Mike Pompeo did? Probably not.

Translated by the Russian Reader