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

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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

Keep Calm and Just Step Sideways

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Muscovites are pretenaturally calm and dressed unseasonably warmly as the world hurtless toward senseless nuclear conflagration. Photo courtesy of RBC

I am only sharing this news flash from RBC with you because of the fabulous photo that accompanied it on RBC’s Facebook news feed, and the way it illustrates the article’s point—sideways, as it were.

“‘It is necessary to remain calm,’ the Russian Foreign Ministry said after North Korea tested a hydrogen bomb. The ministry called for a return to dialogue as ‘the only possible way of comprehensively settling the Korean Peninsula’s problems.'”

That sounds great albeit weirdly kumbayaish from folks whose usual idea of a “comprehensive settlement” is invasion and occupation of a peaceful neighboring country, aiding and abetting a bloody Arab tyrant in crushing a popular revolution, sowing racist and Islamophobic mayhem throughout the world via fake news and bots, especially after the meltdown in Charlottesville, messing with elections in other countries, including plans to assassinate one of the candidates, the incumbent PM, ruthlessly and routinely crushing dissent and protest in their own country, and implicitly declaring anti-Americanism the official state ideology not because they thought it would go down well with the rank and file, or because they themselves hate America so much (it doesn’t, and they don’t), but because it was the only way they could think of keeping Putin in the Kremlin for another six years.

Remember, comrades: he’s already been in the Kremlin for eighteen years.

But the photo is terrific. The people in it are not calm. They could not care less about anything.

Or if they do care, they are not going to let on to it whilst walking down the street in the middle of Moscow.

In any case, RBC originally ran this photo in April of this year to accompany an article about how my friends at Mediazona were suing the Foreign Ministry for refusing to reply to its written request for information about contacts between Russian diplomats in the US and members of the Trump presidential campaign.

What goes around comes around, so just step sideways. TRR

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Grassroots Recycling as a Threat to Russian National Security and International Football

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Football fans! You might want to know that this past Saturday, the monthly neighborhood collections of recyclables, organized by the Razdelnyi Sbor environmental movement, an entirely volunteer-run organization, were cancelled, apparently by the police or higher powers, in four of Petersburg’s districts (Central, Admiralty, Krasnoye Selo, and Kalinin), allegedly, because they were a “security threat” to the ongoing FIFA Confederations Cup.

Ironically, this same grassroots movement, which poses such a (non-)threat to national security in neighborhoods many kilometers away from the brand-new stadium on Krestovsky Island where some of the cup’s matches are being played, including the final—a stadium that was built at the cost of unbelievable cost overruns (i.e., kickbacks) and completion delays, precarious migrant labor (including slave laborers shipped in from North Korea, one of whom was killed in an accident on the site), and the demolition of the old Kirov Stadium, a nationally listed architectural landmark designed by the great constructivist architect Alexander Nikolsky—made a deal with cup organizers and FIFA to collect and process recyclable waste at the stadium after matches.

Meaning that, at the stadium itself, this same grassroots movement was seen not as a threat, but as a cynical means of showing fans that FIFA and the Russian government were all about “international best practices.”

This is a ridiculous, telltale story that someone other than lowly unread me and my crap blog should be reporting.

By the way, under normal circumstances, readers of my Facebook news feed would have got a message from Razdelnyi Sbor about Saturday’s collection points, a message I cut and paste and disseminate faithfully every month, because I want everyone I know to go the one-day collection points in their neighborhood with their recyclables, and because my partner and I go to our neighborhood spot in the Central District every month ourselves.

Last year, I even bought a Razdelnyi Sbor t-shirt, to support the cause and occasionally serve as a living, breathing, walking, talking advertisement for it.

I guess I’ll have to think hard about whether I want to wear the t-shirt again. I don’t understand how you can serve the authorities at their Big Event while letting down the ordinary people who support you in their neighborhoods with their volunteer labor and their recycling month in and month out.

A friend of mine was arguing on Facebook just yesterday that VK, the homegrown Russian social media where Razdelnyi Sbor has its community page, was where it was at, as opposed to snobby Facebook. But in the relevant recent posts on Razdelnyi Sbor’s VK page about the cancelled collections you won’t find word one criticizing the authorities for acting in such a brutal, stupid way towards a completely beneficial grassroots campaign. I would imagine the page’s moderators hastily scrubbed any such complaints, if there were any. I’m sure there were some.

This is the real Russia, about which I almost never read anything in the western media and, sometimes, in the Russian media, either. It’s a country where recycling enthusiasts (just like cycling enthusiasts, for that matter) are imagined as a threat to national security and as “agents of the west,” except in the one instance where they can make the authoritarian state’s Big Event seem more PC to foreign football fans, dishing out big euros for tickets, merchandise, food and drinks, and rooms. TRR

A huge thanks to Comrade Darya A. for the heads-up. Photo courtesy of Razdelnyi Sbor’s website

Read more on this topic:

Put Yourself in Someone Else’s Shoes

Lyubov Moseyeva-Helier
A Korean Adventure in Kaluga
7X7
April 28, 2017

Whew!

Now, after a ten-hour marathon, I can sum up the results.

My son, a member of Kaluga Prisons Public Monitoring Commission No. 3, found a North Korean national in Correctional Colony No. 5 in Sukhinichi in late March 2017.

My son tried to speak with Kim in Russian and English, but Kim understood neither. According to the assistant director of the Russian Federal Penitentiary Service’s Kaluga office, who was present during the meeting, Kim “only shook his head like a Chinese bobblehead.”

The North Korean is the first such inmate who, after he is returned to his country of origin, faces life in a work camp or the death penalty.

In North Korea, inmates are rehabilitated through starvation. They are given one cup of rice daily.

First, I consulted with human rights activist Svetlana Gannushkina. She replied that, in her opinion, Kim faced threats to his life and health in North Korea.

Then I contacted the UNHCR. I informed them that Kim, a North Korean national, had never once been provided with an interpreter during his two and a half years at the Kaluga Correctional Colony. The state of his health was thus unclear, nor was it clear what he wanted himself: to return to his country or move to a safe place.

I posted information about the case on Facebook, asking for a heads-up from Kaluga human rights activists. Kaluga attorney Elvira Davydova read my plea to help the North Korean and decided to help, working the case pro bono.

I signed a contract with Elvira Davydova, a young, vigorous attorney, to defend Kim’s interests for a purely nominal sum of money (I couldn’t afford to spend any more money on the North Korean out of my old-age pension), and the lawyer went to work.

The UNHCR assigned Kim a Korean interpreter.

The lawyer and I made a deal with the assistant director of the Russian Federal Penitentiary Service’s Kaluga office that when the Korean was released, Kaluga prison officials would help Kim get in contact with the UNHCR interpreter.

Unfortunately, this did not happen, although this was to be expected from the Russian Federal Penitentiary Service’s Kaluga office.

At twelve noon, the Russian Federal Penitentiary Service’s Kaluga office handed Kim over to the Kaluga police and the Migration Authority.

I thought Kim would be transferred to the regional center and formally charged with violating Article 18.8 of the Russian Federal Code of Administrative Offenses. (“Violation by a foreign citizen or stateless person of the rules of entry into the Russian Federation or of residence in the Russian Federation.”)

From noon to three p.m., the attorney looked for her client at the Migration Authority’s building, which is way outside the city.

But Kim had been moved to an “alternative jurisdiction.” He was transported to another district, which has a prison for foreigners, a so-called temporary detention center for foreign citizens. The lawyer was unable to go there.

But the lawyer phoned the Dzerzhinsky District Court and found out the name of the federal judge. She asked to speak to him, but was turned down. Moreover, she was told that “Kim already [had] a representative.” Is a Migration Authority official acting as his representative?

The lawyer will make a request to the district court to find out whether a ruling to deport Kim has been issued, and whether Kim had an interpreter with him in court.

The lawyer talked with the guards who escorted Kim, but the Migration Authority officer refused to let Kim talk on the phone with the UNHCR interpreter.

Moreover, someone called the UNHCR and said that he (that someone) would now be handling all contacts with Kim. Apparently, our opponents from the security forces haven’t been dozing, either.

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This is what the prison for foreigners in the Dzerzhinsky District looks like nowadays. It used to be a village school. Photo courtesy of Lyubov Moseyeva-Helier/7X7

Today, the lawyer filed complaints against the Migration Authority for preventing her from meeting with her client, although they knew Ms. Davydova was Kim’s attorney, and against the on-duty prosecutor.

Ms. Davydova also filed a request with the police to meet with Kim at the temporary detention center for foreign citizens on May 3, 2017.

In the future, we’ll have to go through the same business with the court bailiffs in Kaluga.

Today’s human rights marathon has identified several pressure points, showing that, when it comes to human rights, something is rotten in the state of Denmark known as Kaluga Region.

1. It is impossible to file a complaint in the chancellery at the Migration Authority, whose building is located in the distant outskirts of the regional center. They simply do not accept complaints. To file a complaint, migrants must travel to the Russian Federal Interior Ministry’s Kaluga Region office, which is ten kilometers away, in downtown Kaluga.

2. It is difficult to find anything in the Migration Authority’s building. There is no one to ask for information. Not all the doors have signs on them, and there are no listed working hours for the departments.

3. The lawyer had to wait a long time in the Russian Federal Interior Ministry’s Kaluga Region office for her complaint to be registered and to be issued a receipt.

4. In the Kaluga District Court, it is impossible for a lawyer to learn the name of the on-duty judge who handles administrative violation alleged to have been committed by foreigners.

5. A violation of Article 9, Part 6 of the Russian Advocate’s Professional Code of Ethics was committed in the temporary detention center for foreigner. (“Imposing one’s assistance on individuals and retaining them as clients through the use of personal connections with judicial and law enforcement officers, by promising a favorable resolution of a case, and through other underhanded methods.”)

40436_profileLyubov Moseyeva-Helier is a legal adviser for the Kaluga regional grassroots movement For Human Rights, an expert for the Russian grassroots movement For Human Rights, a lead expert for the project Russian Public Monitoring Commissions: A New Generation, and a voting member of Kaluga Polling Station Commission No. 1139.

Originally published at helier59.livejournal.com on April 28, 2017. Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Comrade Koganzon for the heads-up