“Anti-Americanism”

There are eleven Russian words in this poster for the April 29 St. Petersburg Craft Event at Art Play SPb, and twenty-one English words. Photo by the Russian Reader

Oh, how they hate the United States!

My boon companion was just chatting with a neighbor lady, a woman who has lived in our building her whole life and makes the best salt pickles I have ever tasted.

As it happens, our neighbor is friendly with a member of our municipal district council.

If you follow the news from Russia closely, you would know that the beleaguered united opposition, led by Dmitry Gudkov, made significant inroads in Moscow’s municipal district councils during the last elections to these entities. One of the people thus elected, the young, well-known liberal politician Ilya Yashin, has now announced plans to challenge the incumbent, Sergei Sobyanin, during the next Moscow mayoral election.

In reality, municipal district councils are the lowest rung on the political totem poll in Russia. They have very little power and are perpetually too underfunded to do the work they are supposed to do.

However, since Russia’s ruling party, United Russia, is power hungry and paranoid, they try and stack the lowly municipal district councils with their own members.

God knows what could happen otherwise.

The municipal district council member with whom our neighbor is friendly is one such United Russia Party placeholder.

“And she’s a real louse,” my boon companion would add.

The councilwoman recently got back from a trip to the United States. It turns out her daughter and son-in-law have lived there for a long time. They have a big, beautiful house in Silicon Valley.

The councilwoman told all this to our neighbor lady, explaining how much she had enjoyed the trip and how much she liked the United States.

“Why did she have to tell ME this?” the neighbor lady asked my boon companion, “Why couldn’t she have told someone else?”

Remember this little story the next time you see Foreign Minister Lavrov or President Putin or the Russian Ambassador to the United Nations or Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova huffing and puffing and blowing America’s house down.

Everything they say is meant for domestic consumption only. They don’t really hate the United States. They just need a Big Enemy to occupy the minds of the Russian people, to distract them from their own more serious crimes and misdemeanors.

The con seems to be working so far. // TRR

msmomovladimirskyokrug.jpgOur humble municipal district newspaper, as published by our municipal district council. This is the one of two spots in our municipal where I know one can read it. Maybe there are more, but otherwise the newspaper is not distributed to the municipal districts’s residents, because the less they know about our municipal district’s business, the better, I guess. Photo by the Russian Reader

Life During Wartime

DSCN5429.jpgRussians at war

 1.
“There’s really no place for self-righteousness in war.”
—Lord Richards, BBC Radio 4, Today, 14 April 2018

Lord Richards said this by way of arguing everyone should give up, permit the butcher Assad to win his genocidal war, and “let the Syrian people [?] get down to the business of rebuilding their country.”

He was immediately followed on the air by a bloke named Frank Gardner, who made the ludicrous claim it was the Russian “intervention” “that prevented Islamic State and the other jihadists from taking Damascus.”

Mr. Gardner was immediately followed on the air by yet another bloke, an MP of some sort, who was just as defeatist, but somehow, unaccountably, thought the “people responsible” for war crimes in Syria “would be held to account.”

Mr. Gardner and the MP was followed by an American teenage girl, apparently a  former member of the Obama administration, who absolved the second coming of MLK, Jr., of all responsibility for the bloodbath.

As if this were not bad enough, the teenage American girl was immediately followed on the air by Sebastian Gorka. Oddly enough, his comments were the most reasonable.

They were immediately followed on the air by the ridiculously ubiquitous Anne Applebaum and another bloke with a posh accent (David Stevenson), who didn’t “want to see an all-out war.”

This entire clown circus was preceded by a nice little chat with a “former” Russian general, whose only purpose was to tell the radio audience, “If you so much as scratch one of our buys, you’ll have all-out war.” (I am paraphrasing.)

All of this was camouflaged by an alleged concern for the “people of Syria,” and yet not a single actual Syrian voice was heard all morning.

What disgusting white freaks.

DSCN5424Russians at war

2.
Predictably, various so-called leftists on my Facebook news feed are in high dudgeon today over the milquetoast missile strikes on a few Syrian military facilities carried out overnight by France, Britain, and the US.

These very same people, some of whom are Russian nationals, have had absolutely nothing to say about Russia’s critical intervention in Syria on the side of the country’s war criminal dictator Bashar Assad for the last two and a half years.

How does that work? Russia gets a free pass because it is . . . what? Building socialism in Syria? On the right side of the conflict? Has been suffering so much since the collapse of the Soviet Union that it has the right to bomb whole cities into rubble and occupy neighboring countries without provocation?

No, Russia gets a free pass, especially from Russian leftists, because 99.9999% of the Russian populace knows quite well that their own homegrown dictator, Vladimir Putin, has certain pet projects that are off limits to criticism and protest.

Destroying Syria is one of those pet projects.

So, they are simply too scared to criticize Russia’s absolutely criminal actions against Syrian citizens in Syria, i.e., against people who have never, so far as I know, harmed any Russians at all, especially not in Russia itself.

Hence, when the so-called west makes a feeble, almost laughable gesture to oppose the Assadist-Putinist-Iranian-Hezbollah massacre in Syria, these Russian and Russophile leftists awake from their usual slumber, happily quoting Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn and other great advocates of “peace in our time.”

It never occurs to any of them, apparently, that this is an absolutely demoralizing, pointless, and impossible stance on the matter. They are leftists who unconditionally support fascists and imperialists, and who support other, world-famous leftists who unconditionally support fascists and imperialists. They are thus leading the international leftist movement down the garden path either to utter destruction or utter irrelevance.

Sanders and Corbyn are dangerous clowns. If you don’t get that, you might not be as politically savvy or as leftist as you imagined you were.

At least, if you feel strongly about the issue, make your own arguments as to why it is okay for Putin, Assad, Iran, and the Hezbollah to slaughter Syrians at will, while it is a crime against humanity to toss a few missiles once a year at a few Syrian military bases and chemical warfare production facilities that were given a week’s notice and thus had happily been evacuated long before the missiles actually struck them.

But, no, amazingly enough, pro-Assadist and pro-Putinist leftists almost never make their own arguments, instead cowering behind the drivel spouted by the likes of Corbyn, Sanders, and Tariq Ali.

DSCN5422.jpgRussians at war

3.
Why would any “progressive” or “anti-authoritarian” leftist in their right mind refuse solidarity to the nine Penza and Petersburg antifacists caught up in an insane frame-up, engineered by the folks at Vladimir Putin’s old stomping grounds, the Russian Federal Security Service (the FSB, formerly known as the KGB), who have accused them of being members of a wholly fictional “terrorist community,” codenamed The Network, and charged them accordingly?

I ask this seemingly nonsensical question because, as I was thinking about the kneejerk reaction of various “anti-imperialists,” Russian leftists, and Russophile leftists to last night’s missile strikes in Syria, it suddenly occurred to me this same mob of righteous Marxists has been as nearly as quiet about the so-called Penza-Petersburg “terrorism” case as it has been about the Kremlin’s war against Syrian civilians and anti-Assad forces in Syria.

Why should that be? What is the connection between these seemingly unrelated events?

The answer is simple. If you pay too much attention to the Penza-Petersburg case and its gory details, you will realize all too quickly that Russia is ruled by a fascist clique of power-hungry ex-KGB lunatics who have somehow persuaded themselves that their greed, corruption, and ultraviolence are a supreme form of patriotism, not an utter degradation of any reasonable notion of governance, justice, and balanced international relations.

Thus, leftists who only get exercised over Syria when the so-called west makes a tiny, milquetoast, one-off gesture of resistance to the Putinist-Assadist-Iranian-Hezbollah killing machine are reluctant to talk too much about the horrifying Penza-Petersburg “terrorism” case and many other similar cases that never make the headlines around the world, since they would reveal too palpably and obviously the natural affinities between Assad and Putin, two dyed-in-the-wool fascists who believe all resistance and opposition to their perpetual regimes is illegitimate, “extremist,” “terrorism,” etc.

If you are an “anti-authoritarian” or “progressive” leftist, however, it will not do to admit you stand for the same things as Putin and Assad cherish, so you just gloss over their crimes before and during the Syrian revolution, and hope no one will notice what violent criminal thugs they have been from day one, and how their violence and thuggery have only been spreading like wildfireacross their own countries and all around the world ever since they came to power.

DSCN5326.jpgRussians at war

4.
God forbid the Russian people should rise up against their own dictator, Vladimir Putin, and the Chinese, Iranians and Hezbollah, say, rushed to help the Russian dictator put down the uprising. Not only would it be extremely humiliating were Chinese warplanes to bomb ancient Russian cities such as Pskov and Vladimir, were terrorists from Hezbollah and Iranian fundamentalists to murder innocent Russian children, women and men, but the whole world would remember how once upon a time not so long ago the Russians themselves helped the bloody dictator Bashar Assad gut and slaughter a grassroots revolution in Syria. Everyone would thus turn their backs—unfairly—on the Russians fighting to the death for their freedom and remain silent until their dictator, ably assisted by the Chinese, Iranian and Hezbollah killers, would force one half of the Russian populace to take flight to other countries, while killing and enslaving the other half. // TRR

Photos by the Russian Reader

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Fyodor Krasheninnikov: Russian History According to the Crimean Calendar

brickwall faceThe writing is on the wall.

Russian History According to the Crimean Calendar
A New Period of Russian History Kicked Off in 2014, But There Is No Proof It Will Last for Centuries
Fyodor Krasheninnikov
Vedomosti
April 11, 2018

In a recently published article, Vladislav Surkov argues we should regard 2014 as the first year of a new calendar, the beginning of a centuries-long era of “political solitude” that emerged after a long period of ambivalence on Russia’s part. Although the thoughts outlined in the article are primarily Mr. Surkov’s personal convictions, they do in some way describe the outlook of Russia’s supreme political elite, to which Mr. Surkov certainly belongs, and they are interesting only in this sense. Among other things, his take suggests that, after 2014, nothing comparable in importance to the events in Crimea has happened nor will happen, meaning Russia seemingly experienced the “end of history” in 2014.

2014 will undoubtedly go down in history as the year of Vladimir Putin’s most memorable achievement. Russia’s annexation of Crimea led to many changes both at home and abroad, but what mattered most was that it was accomplished easily, quickly, and bloodlessly, and led to an incredible surge in the president’s popularity due to the fact that a large segment of society rallied around him. The more alarming the circumstances of spring 2018, the dearer to the president and his entourage are the memories of the happy spring of 2014. Surkov’s article can read as a belated reiteration of Faust’s “Stay a while, you are so beautiful,” as a reluctance to accept the inevitability of change and the ephemerality of all “forevers.”

The flip side of the myth of a new era’s beginning is the fear 2014 was actually the culmination of modern Russian history and things will only get worse in the future. The tendencies of recent years have fully confirmed this fear. Only four years have passed, but the spring of 2018 is nothing like the spring of 2014 in terms of feeling and mood. Russia is not on the offensive; instead, it is on the defensive. The west’s pressure on it has been multiplying and causing palpable problems for the economy. For the first time in four years, the country’s leaders have been forced to acknowledge the dangers posed by US sanctions and give up repeating the argument that all sanctions are a boon to the economy. It is no wonder. In 2014, the sanctions were much weaker, and given the euphoria in the air, they went almost unnoticed. Besides, in 2014, it was still possible to believe the sanctions were temporary. They would be lifted in the very near future, the west would swallow what had occurred, and everything would go back to what it had been. In 2018, the euphoria has long vanished, and if there is still talk the sanctions will soon be lifted, it should be put down more to inertia and confusion than anything else. Although it was intentionally timed to coincide with the fourth anniversary of the Crimean triumph, the presidential election did not produce anything comparable to the inspiring impression generated in the wake of Crimea’s annexation. The celebration of Putin’s electoral victory lasted only ten days, cut short by the disastrous shopping mall fire in Kemerovo and the official day of mourning announced in its aftermath.

Russia cannot look forward to proud “political solitude” in the coming years or at any other time. The modern world is too small for anyone to isolate themselves, especially on their own terms and inside borders of their own choosing. At home, especially among the elite, one can still live in the past for a time and pretend this is still the triumphant year of 2014. One call still pretend Russia is threatening everyone, denouncing everyone, and demanding a reaction from everyone, and that it has centuries and millennia ahead of it. In fact, however, it is Russia that is threatened, Russia that is denounced, and Russia from whom everyone demands a reaction. There are no grounds for supposing this onslaught will wane in the foreseeable future instead of intensifying. Russia’s main trump card in 2014 was its willingness to engage in confrontation and brinksmanship, which the west was not willing to do. That card has now been trumped in turn. After a long period of wavering, the leaders of the Nato countries have also proven capable of engaging in deliberate escalation and frightening their opponents with determination. This seems to have been a major surprise to the current regime in Russia.

A new phase in modern Russian history undoubtedly began in 2014, but there is no proof it will last for centuries and be a time of endless rapture over the annexation of Crimea. For the time being, everything points to the fact it will end much more quickly than many of us would imagine and in such a way that we shall not want to remember 2014 at all.

Fyodor Krasheninnikov is a political scientist who lives in Yekaterinburg. Translation and photo by the Russian Reader

How to Be a Useful Idiot

DSCN5264

1.  Jump on the “Putin is genuinely popular” bandwagon.

“Putin will eventually leave power, but it is not Washington’s place to facilitate this, nor is it an inherently desirable outcome. No one knows what will follow in Putin’s wake, or who could fill his role after nearly two decades and counting in the Kremlin. And no one doubts that Putin is genuinely popular, although support for him in the capital and among younger educated Russians has slipped.”

Putin is not genuinely popular. As in other pseudo-populist dictatorships and autocracies, the alleged popularity of Russia’s president for life is the product of a thoroughgoing war against all dissenters, dissidents, and free thinkers, and an ever-evolving personality cult, produced by carpet bombing the populace with TV, radio, social media, and print propaganda twenty-four hours a day seven days a week.

The mental carpet bombing is periodically punctuated by two rituals, designed to confer “popular legitimacy” on the rampantly undemocratic regime: massively rigged, unfair “elections,” and plainly hokey and methodologically unreliable “public opinion polls.”

Neither is there any empirical evidence that “young educated Russians” are more critical of Putin than cranky old ladies in Petrozavodsk and Perm. My educated guess would be that, in fact, the opposite is true.

Finally, it is sheer insanity to argue that Putin’s departure is not an “inherently desirable outcome.” Every day Putin is in power is a decisive step backwards in the country’s political and social progress.

Not even the most milquetoast progressive reforms have been possible while Putin and his clique have been in power (i.e., the last eighteen years), and there is every sign that, during his next term, things will go from very bad to incomparably worse.

By the way, why is the writer so certain “Putin will eventually leave power”? If he means Putin is a mere mortal, like the rest of us, and will die sooner or later, this is a factually correct but politically vacuous claim. If the writer means Putin is planning to leave office in the foreseeable future, he must have psychic gifts that most of us do not have. There is no evidence whatsoever Putin is planning to go anywhere in the next twenty years.

But it is easy to engage in free verse exercises like this one when you live and work in Brooklyn. You just make up the facts as you go along, because you will never have to face the consequences of your irresponsible, shambolic analysis.

2. Blame the US government for everything that has gone sour or wrong in Russia, the world’s largest country, a land blessed with natural resources and human resources beyond measure, and thus certainly capable of making its own fortunes and forging its own destiny, which nothing whatsoever prevents from being democratic and progressive except the current regime and its mostly pliable satraps and timeservers. “Genuine popular support” for Putin would vanish in a second if his regime were ever challenged by a strong, broad-based, grassroots democratic movement determined to remove him from office and steer the country towards a different path.

“Putin will eventually leave power, but it is not Washington’s place to facilitate this, nor is it an inherently desirable outcome. No one knows what will follow in Putin’s wake, or who could fill his role after nearly two decades and counting in the Kremlin. And no one doubts that Putin is genuinely popular, although support for him in the capital and among younger educated Russians has slipped.

“The United States should not ignore human-rights abuses in Russia. But principled criticism is only undermined by the perception that civil-society groups in Russia serve as fronts for US intelligence, and Russia has become increasingly hostile to such groups. The next administration should make clear that the United States is not trying to bring Putin down, and that its support for human rights is genuine. It should be wary of directly supporting opposition figures, who are easily tarred as American puppets. And it should lead by example and hold its allies accountable for their human-rights abuses and elite corruption as well.

“Ultimately, the best way the United States can help civil society in Russia is by normalizing relations enough that private civil-society groups from the United States and other countries can more effectively work in tandem with Russian counterparts. It is hard to argue that the US-Russia tensions following the failure of Obama’s reset have done Russian civil society any favors.”

What real evidence is there that civil society groups in Russia serve as “fronts for US intelligence”?

None.

Who has actually been working day and night to generate this “perception”?

The Putin regime and its media propaganda outlets.

Why has “Russia” become “increasingly hostile to such groups”?

Because the Kremlin perceives them as direct threats to its authoritarian rule. It has thus declared them “enemies,” “national traitors,” “foreign agents,” and “undesirables,” and gone to war against them. This blog has published numerous articles detailing this “cold civil war” between Moscow and Russian civil society.

What evidence is there that any US administration has “[tried] to bring Putin down”?

There is no such evidence.

What Russian opposition figures have US administrations “directly supported”?

None.

Aren’t civil society groups “private” by definition?

Yes.

Was Obama’s so-called reset the only or even the primary reason that tensions between the US and Russia increased?

No. Even before Putin went ballistic, invading Crimea, Eastern Ukraine, and Syria, shooting down passenger planes (e.g., Flight MH17) and gunning down opposition leaders right outside the Kremlin (i.e., Boris Nemtsov), his minions were harassing the then-US ambassador to Moscow, Michael McFaul, the co-author of the miserable “reset,” whose purpose was to decrease tensions with Russia, not stoke them. There was no chance of this happening, however, when the Kremlin had long ago made rabid anti-Americanism the centerpiece of its public foreign policy.

Why do I call it “public” foreign policy? Because nearly everyone in the Russian ruling elite has made numerous junkets and trips to the US and other western countries over the years and has lots of personal and business connections to their boon enemies. They have extensive real estate holdings in the west. They educate their children in the west. They park their ill-gotten lucre in the west. In some cases, their families live in the west permanently, while they shuttle between the west and Moscow like some less fortunately people commute between Gary, Indiana, and Chicago.

The Russian elite’s anti-Americanism and anti-westernism, therefore, is a put-on, a hypocritical pose mostly meant for public consumption.

Has the Putin regime done Russian civil society “any favors”?

No, it has done its utmost best to destroy independent Russian civil society and coopt the remnants it has not killed off. If you want some of the particulars, read what I’ve been posting on this blog for the last six years and, before that, on Chtodelat News, for five years.

Why did the guy who wrote the passage quoted above write what he did?

It is hard to say. The article is a very clever whitewash job for the Putin regime, all of whose high crimes and misdemeanors against the Russian Constitution and the Russian people are passed off as understandable reactions to the alleged predations of the US government against the Putin regime.

Where was this article published?

In The Nation, of course. Who else would print such crypto-Putininst tripe with a straight face?

Why all the needless hyphens, e.g. “civil-society groups,” “human-rights abuse”?

Sheer snobbery, meant to intimate to the magazine’s hapless readers they are dealing with real smart cookies, not tiresome neo-Stalinist windbags.

3. Publish wholly misleading articles about Russia, like the one quoted above. If you cannot manage that (because your readership would notice), publish wholly misleading headlines. They are even more effective than longwinded articles in The Nation, a pro-Putin magazine no one in their right mind has read in the last ten years or so.

People scan headlines, however. It is much easier than reading the fine print.

“US Drastically Reduces Visa Services in Russia after St. Petersburg Consulate’s Closure”

This is exactly the headline Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov would want to appear in the Moscow Times, because it places the onus for his government action’s and his own actions on the US government.

How could visa services not be drastically reduced if the Russian Foreign Ministry closed the US consulate in Petersburg and gutted the staff at the US embassy in Moscow once again?

But let us by all means imply, because this IS the message the Putinist tyranny wants its own people to hear, that the US did everything on its own as a way of punishing ordinary Russians. Sadly, a fair number of Russians will believe this.

4. Join a so-called leftist group in the west. Most of them behave as if the Comintern still existed and they were taking their orders from the Kremlin.

Most western so-called leftists these days are boring, uneducated morons. The most boring thing about them is their unshakeable reverence for the Soviet Union, a country about which they donot have the slightest clue, and for its woebegone “successor,” the Russian Federation, which has literally nothing in common with the long-dead Soviet Union.

So, they are just as defensive of Putin’s shambolic hypercapitalist despotism as they are of the country that killed off socialism once and for all by going on a murderous rampage in the 1930s.

The really hilarious thing is that most of them manage to maintain these cultish attitudes without ever having set foot in either country and without speaking a word of Russian. Star Wars fans have a more down-to-earth and coherent ideology than the post-Stalinists who pop up to crush you with their Anand Sheela-like rhetorical flourishes (i.e., truckloads of vehement slander and furious personal insults) if you so much as mention as their imaginary Motherland in a slightly untoward light.

I want to live long enough to see the influence of these dead-enders on progressive, anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist politics die off altogether. That would make me really happy, if not genuinely popular, like Vladimir Putin. TRR

Photo by the Russian Reader

Vladislav Inozemtsev: Russia Has Stopped Making Sense

DSCN5158The west would do as well to try and engage these inebriated young Russians in meaningful dialogue as their erratic, spiteful government.

Vladislav Inozemtsev
Sanctions Forever
Snob
March 30, 2018

The recent simultaneous expulsion of 139 Russian diplomats from 24 countries is an extraordinary event, especially if you consider it was undertaken not in response to provocations against these countries themselves, but as a token of solidarity with Great Britain, which has accused Russia of attempting to murder the former intelligence agent Sergei Skripal on English soil with a chemical weapon.

The current fad is to describe what is happening as a new cold war. I noted long ago that Russia’s changed attitude to the world fit this definition well. However, events might have gone even farther or, to be more precise, in a different direction.

The west was extremely concerned about what happened in Ukraine in 2014–2015. Along with Putin’s speeches in Munich and Bucharest in 2007 and 2008, the five-day war in Georgia, Moscow’s attempts to strengthen its authority in the former Soviet Union and cultivate friendships with certain Central European leaders, Russia’s aggressive actions jibed well with previous views. The responses proposed seemed clear as well: containment, aid to allies, competition and rivalry on the global periphery. Putin was routinely described as someone who understood only zero-sum games. One side’s loss was always a win for the other side.

However, since the mid 2010s, the circumstances have changed dramatically, although it was hard to notice it immediately. Russia’s meddling in the US presidential election (no matter whether it impacted the outcome or not), its flirtation with European ultra-righwingers, its open support of war criminals like Assad, and the state terror unleashed against opponents of the regime and people whom Putin and his retinue have deemed “traitors” are all indications not only of the fact that the Kremlin has ceased to play by any rules whatsoever. More important, Moscow has seemingly ceased to take its own good into account when it makes certain moves.

What did the Kremlin gain by sullying the 2016 US presidential election? If we speak of Russia per se, nothing was gained whatsoever. Whoever had won the election without our meddling, the relations between our countries would certainly not be worse than they are now. The only consequences have been a supercharging of American politics and aggravation of internecine battles within the Washington establishment. What has Moscow gained by financing and supporting anti-European forces? Apparently, a similar destabilization. It is telltale that if this destabilization does become a reality, Russia will gain nothing from it. The EU will not crumble, but it will become less functional, and pro-European forces will only find it is easier to prove their argument that the countries of Europe must rally less for some particular purpose and more against a particular enemy. Even if pro-Putin forces achieve local victories here and there, it will not alter the overall picture. The greater part of Europe will become increasingly anti-Russian. What has Putin gained by murdering, apparently, over a dozen of his personal enemies in the UK, people who had long ago been stripped of any opportunity to harm Russia? He has turned our country into an international outcast, which no one wants.

The west’s reaction, as exemplified by the expulsion of Russian diplomats, points to a new reality, consisting primarily in the fact that Russia has finally stopped making sense to the world, nor should it surprise anyone. It really is unclear what Putin wants right now. Does he want to become dictator of his own country, wiping out even the semblance of democracy? The west would not prevent him from doing this in any way. Does he want to resurrect the Soviet Union? Go crazy, only it is far from a fact the khans and beys of Central Asia want the same thing, given that Moscow has so far not been terribly successful at achieving genuine integration with these countries. (Ukraine is a special case, but even here it would make more sense to negotiate with the Ukrainian people, not with Brussels and Washington.) Does he want to launder the money stolen in Russia in Europe and various offshore companies? I have not heard anything in the news about Russian funds and property being seized by foreign authorities. Since Russia has stopped making sense, the west has sent signals and hints Putin should settle down. They do not necessarily want him to become less anti-western, only more rational. They want him come down to earth and engage in lawlessness, if possible, only at home.

The Kremlin has feigned it cannot make sense of these signals. It prefers to act in keeping with the tactic of symmetrical response. However, what was normal during the real Cold War strikes observers as abnormal nowadays. In the 1970s, members of the Central Committee did not own villas in the south of France and did not stash their money in banks registered in Luxembourg and Delaware. Soviet enterprises were not owned by companies up to their necks in debt in the west. By hook or by crook, Soviet home industry supplied the populace with nearly all the bare necessities, and what it could not supply was obtained from the Soviet Union’s Eastern European satellities. Everything has changed since then. Russia is much more vulnerable to European economic sanctions than US nuclear missiles.

Symmetrical responses were productive when the parties were motivated by clearly defined interests. When one side is motivated by garden-variety resentment, such responses are counterproductive. Moscow assumes its bluff has been called, although the west’s signal contains a different message: there is nothing to discuss with the Kremlin. Moreover, the process no longer seems like fun to anyone. Given the circumstances, what is the point of having embassies in hostile countries that outnumber the diplomatic missions of their most trusted friends?

As for the parallels that suggest themselves when we contemplate the Kremlin’s latest steps, they do not resemble the actions of Khrushchev and Brezhnev. They are more reminiscent of the Stalin era’s experiments. The Soviet secret services eliminated the revolution’s enemies abroad, while the Kremlin categorically demanded the German communists not form a coalition with the Social Democrats in the face of the Nazi threat.  The Kremlin imagined maximum destablization of the democratic countries would cause them to collapse and help establish the universal reign of the proletariat. History, however, proved this policy was erroneous. No one suffered more from the collapse of the Weimar Republic than the Soviet Union. If European integration fails, Russia is not likely to benefit, either. Were we not thrilled about the Brexit vote not so long ago? Did we not believe a more independent Great Britain would deal a blow to the Eurocrats? The only problem is that for now it is rather more obvious the UK’s increased independence has strengthened its resolve to deal with Moscow, while Europe (and not only Europe) has been inclined to support the supposed renegade.

Summing up, I can only repeat my longstanding assumption that the sanctions against Russia are virtually permanent. Instead of contemplating events in a rational manner, weighing the pros and cons, and taking decisions aimed at reducing tension, Russia has continued to engage in provocations, lies, and dodges. (In Soviet times, the Party’s leaders had the good sense to maintain dialogue with the west on economic and other issues even at the height of the arms race.) The west finds it difficult to respond with force, nor does anyone want to respond with force, so the tokens of growing contempt will keep manifesting themselves over and over again. Russia should be ready for this. Or it should begin to change, although, apparently, it is pointless to expect this.

Thanks to Alexander Morozov for the heads-up. Translation and photo by the Russian Reader

Never Think of It, Never Speak of It

DSCN4763“Enigma.” Photo by the Russian Reader

“In the last two weeks, one thousand and forty-two people, including about a hundred and fifty-six children, have been killed in eastern Ghouta, in what human-rights groups fear is a final, all-out offensive to retake one of the few remaining rebel-held enclaves in the country. Bombings by Syrian and Russian planes have been indiscriminate, killing civilians, levelling homes, and destroying medical facilities. Bashar al-Assad’s regime—with the full support of Vladimir Putin and the Russian military—have flouted calls for a complete ceasefire.”
Rozina Ali, ‘It’s Raining Rockets’: Deadly New Syrian-Russian Assault Kills Hundreds in Eastern Ghouta, New Yorker, March 8, 2018

What I really don’t understand is why there isn’t an enterprising Russian or group of Russians who would set up a WordPress blog or a special page on Facebook or VK where they could post translations of foreign press articles about the war in Syria like the article quoted, above. If the Russian media either wants to ignore what is happening there or constantly lie about it, that does not mean the war should be of no interest to Russians opposed to dropping Russian bombs on non-Russia men, women, children, residential buildings, and hospitals that have never done any harm to any Russian men, women, children, residential buildings, and hospitals, and that never thought of doing them any harm.

At this point, I really just don’t get it. The collective silence in Russia when it comes to the Kremlin’s and the Russian military’s crimes in Syria is on the verge of the pathological.

There is not much to be said for the efficacy and vociferousness of antiwar movements in the US, UK, Australia, and the other countries that sent soldiers to Iraq and Afghanistan, but it certainly cannot be said that there have not been a relatively large number of people in those same countries engaged either in some kind of peacemaking or awareness raising about what trouble their leaders and armies have caused there and the enormities they have committed.

It’s practically a cottage industry, for what it’s worth.

In Russia, on the contrary, it is as if Syria exists literally in a parallel universe with no connection whatsoever to Russians and their daily lives.

Never think of it, never speak of it. TRR

Russia Set to Fall Further Behind US in Terms of Living Standards

DSCN2995“Change Yourself for the Better.” If you read the following article, about the OECD’s forecast for economic growth in Russia, between the lines, you will discover a takeaway message that has been apparent to numerous observers for a long time. Until Russia does away with official kleptocracy, rampant corruption, outrageously bad governance, and the shock-and-awe policing of politics and business by the siloviki—i.e., unless it renounces Putinism and all its ways—there is little chance the living standards of ordinary Russians will improve much in the next forty years. Photo by the Russian Reader

Russia Set to Fall Further Behind US in Terms of Living Standards
OECD’s Experts Have Predicted the Futures of the World’s Major Economies
Tatyana Lomskaya
Vedomosti
March 7, 2018

Russia is one of the few member states and parters of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), in which real per capita GDP will fall by 2060 relative to the benchmark, the United States, according to an OECD reported entitled “Long-Term Prospects: Scenarios for the World Economy, 2060.” Vedomosti has had access to the eport. A source at the OECD confirmed its authenticity while noting it was a preliminary draft.

In the absence of reforms, Russia’s per capita GDP will grow only 0.7% in the next twelve years, predict OECD economists. The stumbling block is low workforce productivity. In recent years, it has not increased at all, and it will accelerate to a mere 0.5% in the period 2018–2030. Another brake on economic growth is poor demography: the economically active and able-bodied segment of the populace has been declining. By way of comparison, due to its positive demographic circumstances, Turkey’s standard of living will increase considerably by 2060 to about three fourths of the figures for the US, write the report’s authors.  In Russia, it will increase to 40% of the benchmark before decreasing slightly.

It is hard not concur with the diagnosis, notes Alexander Isakov, VTB Capital’s chief economist for Russia. Demography and workforce productivity are the biggest constraints on economic growth in Russia.

In his March 1, 2018, address to the Federal Assembly, President Putin promised to increase per capita GDP by 50% by 2025. He said = Russia must firmly gain a foothold among the world’s top five economies by then. Putin meant GDP at purchasing power parity (PPP), Economic Development Minister Maxim Oreshkin explained on the TV program Pozner. According to the IMF, Russia is now in sixth place in terms of GDP (PPP), four percent points behind Germany. The goal is to “bypass Germany,” explained the minister.

The goal can be brought within reach by applying active budgetary (e.g., tax cuts and increases in oil and gas costs) and monetary (e.g., lending) stimuli, says Kirill Tremasov, director of the analytics department at Locko Invest, but this is fraught with great risks.

Without reforms, Russian and the other BRICS countries will slow the growth of the world’s real GDP for forty years beginning in 2019, warn the report’s authors. To accelerate growth, they must increase workforce productivity by reforming governance, increasing the duration of schooling, and reducing trade tariffs.

If during the period 2020–2060, the BRICS countries develop the rule of law (which the World Bank evaluates on a scale from minus two to plus two), increase schooling to the median level of the OECD countries, and decrease trade tariffs to OECD median levels by 2030, the growth of per capita GDP will be 25% to 40% higher than in the baseline scenario. A key factor is governance reforms: combating corruption, improving law enforcement and the judiciary, increasing the efficiency of the civil service, and involving ordinary citizens more actively in politics.

The report notes this is especially important for Russia. Among the BRICS countries, Russia has the worst score for rule of law (-0.8) and the best score for average length of schooling (10.8 years). The Russian civil service has been adapted to the current political system, which assumes maximum centralization and the absence of political competition. Tremasov is skeptical: it is impossible and pointless to reform the civil service without democratizing the political system.

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“How Living Standards Will Change: The OECD’s Baseline Scenario. Real Per Capita GDP at Purchasing Power Parity in 2010 Prices (US=100).” The blue horizontal lines represent predicted outcomes for 2018; the red lines, predicted figures for 2060. The countries included in the survey, as  listed from top to bottom, are Brazil, Russia, Turkey, Poland, Italy, France, Great Britain, Finland, Germany, Switzerland, Norway, and Ireland. Source: Preliminary Calculations from the OECD. Courtesy of Vedomosti

In his May 2012 decrees, Putin charged the government with increasing workforce productivity by one and a half times by 2018, but it had increased only by 3.8% as of 2016. Minister Oreshkin listed the obstacles: underinvestment, insufficiently developed infrastructure, and a lack of resources to upgrade productive assets.

Managers do not have a “culture of constantly improving efficiency and productivity,” he complained.

Workforce productivity is indeed the main obstacle to economic growth, but an increase of investments is needed in order to increase it, notes Natalya Orlova, chief economist at Alfa Bank. In 2017, about 50% of the increased investments in Russia were due to the extractive resources sector, although the bulk of GDP is generated in other sectors, says Orlova. Investments in agriculture grew by a mere 1.3%, fell in manufacturing and construction, and the commercial sector crashed altogther, falling 9.7%. Investment growth has been hindered by economic and geopolitical uncertainty, and the government has an ever harder time of reducing that uncertaintlywith sanctions in place, notes Orlova. Business, on the contrary, needs guarantees the rules of the game will not change for a long time.

Growth in productivity is impossible without increased competition, Tremasov points out. It is competition that compels companies to introduce new technology, reduce costs, and improve management. The more intense the competition in a sector, the higher the productivity, he notes, citing the retail trade and metallurgy as examples. Therefore, the main means of increasing economic efficiency is reducing the state’s share in the economy, argues Tremasov, as well as attracting foreign investors, reforming the judiciary, and reining in the security services [siloviki].

Measures to improve the country’s demographic circumstances will bear fruit in twenty-five years, when the corresponding generation enters the labor market, notes Isakov. The authorities should thus concentrate on increasing productivity.  If the market functions smoothly, the difference in productivity between companies in the same industry decreases, he argues, because they borrow technology and methods from each other, while inefficient companies are forced out of the market. In Russia, on the contrary, differences in productivity within industries are some of the highest in the world, due in part to gray sector employment practices, Isakov concludes.

Economic growth could take off if reforms are implemented, argues Orlova. The Russian economy is currently so inefficient that the jumpstart supplied by reforms would be huge.

Translated by the Russian Reader