Daily Archives: November 10, 2006

LR Announces Milestones


La Russophobe is pleased to announce the following recent milestones in the history of the blog (these are as much the achievement of you the reader as of the publisher and contributors):

  • On November 9th, we were happy to welcome visit #20,000 to the blog. To our knowledge, other than the spam-mongering EnglishRussia photoblog which is in a category of its own, only one English-language Russia blog in the world has more published visitation than La Russophobe, namely Scraps of Moscow, which has existed for more than two years and has recorded 35,000 visits. However, Scraps has not posted since May, so LR has the highest published visitation of any active English-language Russia blog in the world besides EnglishRussia.* LR is by far the most visited English-language Russia politics blog in the world. At its current level of visitation, LR will reach 35,000 visits in less than one year. LR beat Sean’s Russia Blog to 20,000 even though Sean had an eight-month head start. Goes to show that bashing America isn’t nearly as popular as the rabid anti-American set deludes themselves into believing.
  • On November 2nd, we celebrated our 7-month anniversary!
  • On October 31rst, we received profile view #1,600
  • On October 24th, we broke into the top 60,000 blogs in the world as rated by Technorati out of over 55 million under review. LR beat the Accidental Russophile to 52 Technorati linking blogs even though that filth-laden AR had a five-month head start on LR. Goes to show that telling ridiculous, propagandistic lies will never be favored over the simple truth.

*LR is always interested in hearing about English-language Russia blogs, so please clue her in on any you know about that aren’t listed in her sidebar. LR has recently added a sidebar listing of Russian-language blogs for readers who may be interested in them; this listing is based on the major blogs identified by Technorati, which has nothing to do with visitation. Readers who can recommend highly visited (0r simply noteworthy) Russian-language politics blogs are invited to add to this list.

Uh-oh: Here Comes the Neo-Soviet Economy

Writing in the Moscow Times, Anders Aslund, senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington, warns that the neo-Soviet economy is at hand:

Under President Vladimir Putin there has been a buildup of grievances about Russia’s political development, but the economy has appeared to remain safely in the free market zone where his predecessor, Boris Yeltsin, left it. Unfortunately, Putin’s televised question-and-answer session with the nation on Oct. 25 marked a radical departure from his prior market economic rhetoric. Having lived in the Soviet Union, I experienced deja vu while reading Putin’s restoration of old-style Soviet economic language.

Just as it was in the old days, the patriarchic state has authority over everything but responsibility for nothing. The economic essence of Putin’s three-hour exposition was that he favored ethnic discrimination, trade and price regulation, protectionism, state intervention, industrial policy, subsidies and, most of all, centralized micro-management. Conspicuously absent were ideas like deregulation, the rule of law and private property rights.

Putin’s starting point was ethnic discrimination. With reference to the ethnic strife that flared up in the small Karelian town of Kondopoga at the end of August, he fanned the racist flames by siding with Russian farmers who complained that merchants of unspecified ethnicity payed them little for their produce. Putin wants “to assure that the interests of Russia’s native population are the priority on the labor market and in the sphere of trade.” The question does not just concern immigrants, but also Russian citizens of other ethnic backgrounds. The Kremlin has long allowed aggressive Russian nationalism free reign in the media, but here Putin himself came out as a Russian nationalist.

One major economic concern is the labor shortage generated by low birth and high mortality rates. One resource for dealing with the problem is the large number of people in former Soviet republics willing to immigrate to Russia. Rather than facilitate this Putin is encouraging the same brand of Russian chauvinism that has resulted in the murders of Russian citizens from different ethnic groups.

Putin’s answer is more regulation. When a farmer complained about poor market access, he advocated further restrictions on the already over-regulated, old collective-farm markets. They should not be allowed “to sell processed goods such as smoked sausage” or “clothes imported from China.” This was probably the first time since the battle against “unearned incomes” in 1986 that a Russian leader raged against the sale of the “wrong products” in the old-style collective-farm markets.

Putin has proved equally fond of price regulation. Last summer, people had to stand in long queues for alcohol for the first time since the fall of communism, and the culprit was none other than the government. The introduction of new excise stamps for alcohol, which the government then failed to deliver, caused severe shortages. Commenting on this Kremlin-instigated calamity, Putin mildly said some officials had “turned out to be unprepared,” while he saved his condemnation for “unscrupulous producers” who raised prices because of the shortages. Welcome back to Soviet orthodoxy, the classic Marxist labor theory of value!

In the same vein, Putin referred to the disparity in prices between agricultural and industrial products as the “most serious problem today.” Unwittingly or not, he repeated the Bolshevik argument about the so-called “scissors’ crisis” for collectivization that brought the happy period of the New Economic Policy in the 1920s to an abrupt end.

The most dramatic turnaround concerned the World Trade Organization. In his annual address on May 10, Putin advocated accession to the WTO, talking about the need for “more rational participation in the international division of labor” to make “full use of the benefits offered by integration into the world economy.” This time, he did not even mention the WTO while proposing measures in direct contradiction to the organization’s rules. For example, he called for increased subsidies for animal husbandry in agriculture, the stimulation of automobile production by raising customs duties and higher export tariffs for lumber.

Meanwhile, U.S.-Russian negotiations on a protocol for Russia’s accession continue. A meeting between Putin and U.S. President George W. Bush at an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation gathering on Nov. 18 is being viewed as a last chance to conclude an agreement. But Putin’s statements seem to indicate that he has abandoned his long-professed intention of bringing Russia into the WTO.

Rather than favoring the international division of labor, Putin is now advocating industrial policy, import substitution and state subsidies for priority industries. As a boost to the forestry industry he suggested “the import of equipment” and the “development of the relevant branches of machinery manufacturing in Russia.” For every industry mentioned Putin refered to a specific national project or program to stimulate that very sector with significant government attention and subsidies. He praised the formation of the state investment fund and the venture fund, despite the clear evidence of already abundant and inefficient state investment.

The only Soviet economic tenet missing was the nationalization of the means of production. In reality, this drive is already well advanced. Poorly run state-dominated enterprises have acquired efficient private companies rather than carry out productive investment in their existing assets, while private corporations are afraid of investing because property rights remain terribly weak. As a consequence of the resulting near-stagnation in oil and gas extraction, industrial production is growing by only 4 percent per year, a figure about which Putin actually voiced concern. But he did not utter a single word to try to reassure private investors.

On the contrary, Putin seemed to declare open season on private enterprise. A retired St. Petersburg actress complained about the condition of her retirement home, which a major company wanted to take over. Putin readily named the corporation in question, Sistema, and called on it to provide $5 million in financing — “small money for this company,” he said — to solve the pensioners’ housing problem. This little show was designed to demonstrate Putin’s concern for the elderly. What it revealed, instead, was his disrespect for the legal system and private property rights.

In his marathon three-hour performance, Putin presented an economic vision very different from earlier statements. His new policy aims at unlimited state intervention, centralized micromanagement, state investment, price regulation, higher custom tariffs, export taxes and import substitution. This well-known model has failed all over the world. Putin is only able to pursue this economically harmful advocacy because of high oil prices and thanks to his predecessor, Boris Yeltsin, who created a critical mass of private enterprise and a market economy. To judge from his words, Putin has gone back to the Brezhnev tradition, which led to the Soviet economic collapse. But even Leonid Brezhnev would be embarrassed by Putin’s open nationalism.

Putin held his national conversation on the third anniversary of the arrest of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, an important milestone in the transformation of Russia into an authoritarian state. Oct. 25, 2006, might go down as another black day in recent history — the day on which Putin abandoned the market economy. The best we can hope for is that he did not actually mean what he said.

Big Win for Democrats is Big Loss for Russia

In a speech she gave at the AIPAC 2005 yearly conference, future House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said that “for too long, leaders from both parties haven’t done enough” to struggle against Russia and China who are providing Iran with technological information on nuclear issues and missiles.

The days of “pooty-poot” and gazing longingly into the eyes of dicator Vladimir Putin are drawing to a close. The Moscow Times reports that, in light of the Democratic Party’s takeover of at least one, maybe two houses of the Congress Russia can kiss its WTO dreams goodbye for the foreseeable future:

The Democratic takeover of the U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday is likely to stall Russia’s bid to join the World Trade Organization, lawmakers from both parties said Wednesday.

Doubts voiced by U.S. officials came on the same day that Russia’s top trade official, German Gref, declared the country was steadily moving closer to WTO accession.

Economic Development and Trade Minister Gref said during a visit to Beijing that Russia could wrap up its remaining bilateral agreements for accession to the WTO by year’s end, Interfax reported. Agreements must still be reached with the United States, Costa Rica, Georgia and Moldova.

Gref said accession this year was “impossible,” but added that Russia could join the WTO in 2007.

Konstantin Kosachyov, head of the State Duma’s International Affairs Committee, echoed Gref’s optimism. “I have reason to believe that the obstacles in the way of reaching agreement on WTO could be removed very soon,” Kosachyov said.

But U.S. Representative Devin Nunes, a Republican member of the House Ways and Means Committee, which oversees trade, said the House’s new Democratic leadership would almost certainly adopt a more protectionist approach.

“I think it would definitely make it harder,” Nunes said of the Democratic leadership and Russia’s WTO bid.

“I think that’s a fair assumption just because of the protectionist nature of the Democrats,” said Nunes, who held on to his California seat in Tuesday’s vote.

Referring to the future Democratic chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, Nunes said: “Charlie Rangel never votes for a trade agreement. I don’t see how any trade agreement moves forward.”

Representative Adam Schiff, a Democratic member of the House International Relations Committee, said Democrats “will be more skeptical in terms of Russia’s accession to the WTO” unless questions about intellectual property rights are resolved.

The State Duma on Wednesday gave approval in a crucial second reading to a bill that would bolster intellectual property rights.

A Democratic staffer on the House Ways and Means Committee disputed Nunes’ suggestion that Tuesday’s elections, which catapulted the Democrats into the majority for the first time in 12 years, would affect Russia’s WTO bid.

But the staffer did say Russia was at least a year away from joining the WTO. He said members from both parties agreed Russia had yet to resolve many issues. He also noted that after Russia reached a bilateral agreement with the United States, it would still have to hammer out multilateral agreements that apply to all member states.

While the House lacks veto power over Russia’s accession to the WTO, it decides when to lift the Jackson-Vanick trade law. The law, a provision of a 1974 trade bill, barred the Soviet Union from achieving most-favored-nation trading status with the United States.

Since the 1991 Soviet collapse, the U.S. Congress has granted Russia and other former Soviet republics yearly waivers from Jackson-Vanick. But if Russia joins the WTO, Congress would also have to lift Jackson-Vanick once and for all — otherwise, Washington would be in violation of WTO rules.

As the Democratic Ways and Means staffer explained, after the bilateral agreement is reached between the United States and Russia, the U.S. president would formally request Congress to grant Russia permanent normal trade relations. Asked whether a Democratic House would grant this status to Russia at the request of a Republican president, the staffer said it was too early to say. “I think it depends on the content of the package,” he said.

Representative Sander Levin of California, who is a likely candidate to head the Trade Subcommittee in the Ways and Means Committee, could not be reached for comment. Most members of Congress were not in Washington on Wednesday, having spent election day in their home districts.

The Duma’s Kosachyov conceded domestic politics in the United States could affect Russia’s WTO bid. “WTO accession could be dragged down by this additional political burden,” he said, referring to the Democratic takeover. The Democrats could put the brakes on deepening relations with Russia in light of concerns about civil liberties in this country, he added.

Schiff, the House International Relations Committee member, agreed. The Democrat said his party would place greater emphasis on democracy promotion in the former Soviet Union. The unsolved murders of journalists Anna Politkovskaya and Paul Klebnikov would also get more attention from Capitol Hill, he said.

Schiff also said the program to contain nuclear materials in the former Soviet Union — known in Washington as Nunn Lugar, after the two senators, Sam Nunn and Richard Lugar, who led the cause — would be a higher priority in a Democratic-controlled House.

A former congressional staffer working on human rights in Eastern Europe said Democratic Representative Tom Lantos, who is expected to be the next International Relations Committee chairman, had stressed democracy building. Lantos, who is Jewish and spent part of World War II in a concentration camp, has welcomed Belarussian opposition leaders to his Capitol Hill office, the former staffer said.

Schiff downplayed the extent to which the Democrats’ victory would alter U.S. foreign policy, given that the White House is primarily responsible for international affairs. “The effects will be modest, but they will be real,” he said.

In short, LR’s take is that the election result is a great thing from the point of view of U.S.-Russia policy and not really all that bad for the Republican’s fortunes either. As it ended the Rumsfeld tenure, it also hopefully ended the era of “looking into the eyes of pooty-poot.” Republicans like John McCain and Charles Grassley are now free to call for confrontation with the increasing horrors of Putin’s Neo-Soviet Union, and will likely win significant Democratic support in this regard. On the other hand, all Republicans need to retake control of the Senate is for Joe Lieberman, ostracized by his party, to step across the aisle. It’s also quite normal for there to be a loss of power in Congress in off-year elections, Clinton lost the House in his first off-year (Bush held both houses until his second, and, unlike Bush, Clinton didn’t manage to go on to win reelection with a majority of the popular vote). What’s more, the Democrats can hardly take much solace in electing an evangelical Christian like Heath Schuler in South Carolina, far more of a “Republican” than Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island (a huge number of the newly-elected Democrats fit this bill), and they can’t enact any policy over a Bush veto. Given the unpopularity of the war, its expense and its lack of tangible success, the Republican performance is really rather impressive.

There’s something to be said for perspective as well: If you had to name the greatest Republican president of the Twentieth Century, a strong case could be made for handing that honor to Bill Clinton. After all, he (a) delivered the House to the Republicans for the first time in fifty years, (b) abolished federal welfare and (c) balanced the federal budget. These could easily be said to have been the top three policy objectives of Ronald Reagan when he was elected, but RR didn’t achieve any of them. Clinton actually did. In other words, the Democrats seem to be happy with nominal “victories” that actually abnegate their policy agenda — and LR is sure the Republicans can live quite happily with that.

Meanwhile, it’s about freakin’ time that we had a female Speaker, that can’t be all bad. Maybe someday soon America will wake up and realize that if 50% of the population is female, it’s probably not quite “democratic” to have less than 15% of the Congress belong to the that gender. Perhaps if the Republicans had put forth a female speaker, they wouldn’t be in such trouble now!

Russia: The Sham Society

Writing for Project Syndicate, Dominique Moisi (pictured, left), a founder and Senior Advisor at Ifri (French Institute for International Relations) and currently a Professor at the College of Europe in Natolin, Warsaw, exposes the charade that is modern Russia:

Russia is literally buying its way back into the international system as a preeminent actor, one that is regaining power and clout by replacing nuclear weapons with oil and gas and substituting greed for fear. The balance of terror of the Soviet era has given way to unilateral energy dependency in favor of Russia. With their enormous cash flow, Russian billionaires are buying sumptuous properties all over the world, and Russia is buying prominent Germans like the former Chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder, if not the support of Germany as such.

Whatever the enormous differences that may separate them, post-communist Russia and fundamentalist Iran have much in common. Energy wealth gives them a sense of unique opportunity, the conviction that time is playing in their favor, and that they can now redress the humiliations they have suffered from the outside world. It is as if they were combining the Arab/Islamic world’s culture of humiliation and Asia’s culture of hope. Both are marked by a defiant nationalism, and both feel irresistible, all the more so because they sense that the United States is in decline as a result of the quagmire in Iraq, if not in Afghanistan as well.

Of course, the differences between Russia and Iran are enormous. The Iranian regime is highly ideological and animated by an open passion to destroy Israel. It does not enjoy the massive backing of its society, except when it comes to national pride and the quest for nuclear status.

Russia’s regime, by contrast, is animated by money, not ideology. In its quest to rebuild Russia’s geopolitical power and influence, Presdient Vladimir Putin has the support of the immense majority of the population. His motto, “Get rich and keep quiet,” sounds like Guizot’s priorities in mid-nineteenth century France, even if it is “seasoned” with a strong touch of imperial pride. As long as the oil money keeps flowing, most Russians will express no nostalgia for the democratic opening of the Yeltsin years, with its accompanying combination of chaos, corruption, international weakness, and disrespect for the state.

Are Russians so different from us in the western democratic world, or is democracy a luxury that only old, stable, prosperous, and satisfied societies can afford? In their quest for post-Soviet stability, Russians seem to have found reassurance in Putin. He does not match Peter the Great in physical stature, but he has proven to be a gifted politician, capable of grasping, then controlling, the mood of the Russian people.

For a majority of Russian citizens, economic prosperity and televised entertainment have become the modern equivalent of the panem et circenses formula of Roman times. The war in Chechnya may contribute to the moral corruption of Russia as a whole, to its frightening descent into a culture of violence. But it is also feeding a patriotic emotion – a popular longing for the restoration of Russia’s imperial status and prestige – that Putin’s regime has shrewdly exploited.

Meanwhile, ordinary Russians have gained little. The multiplication of assassinations of political opponents and economic rivals, the mafia practice of contract murders, cannot be seen as signs of a regained stability. Nor can the Putin regime’s manipulation of popular xenophobia against citizens of the former Soviet empire, such as Georgians.

Russia may have recovered its status as a strong power, but is it a respected, or even a happy one? Russia is rich, but Russians, at least most of them, remain poor, with a life expectancy that is closer to Africa than to Western Europe. Eventually, they will have to recognize that modern nations cannot live by power alone.

The Fundamentals of Russian Racism

Here’s an interesting quote from Sean’s Russia blog:

I think the Kremlin deserves credit in its attempt to fuse the important place Russian (russkii) culture with its multinational (rossisskii) character. The problem is how this translates to the rest of the population. If the fissures the nationalists exposed in the National Unity Day celebrations are any indication, Russian (russkii) identity continues to present problems for Russian (rossisskii) identity.

What if we were to change the first sentence a bit to read as follows:

I think the White House deserves credit in its attempt to fuse the important place White Anglo-Saxon Culture (WASP) with its multinational (American) character.

It seems to La Russophobe that Sean would be unlikely ever to make such a statement. In fact, it seems to her that if George Bush went around talking this way (and he might, because what Sean wrote isn’t a grammatical sentence), Sean would (quite properly) call him a racist. But Sean wouldn’t be calling him a racist out a sense of scholarly accuracy; he’d be saying it because he hates George Bush and loses no opportunity to trash him. He feels more kindly to Vladimir Putin, so he’s prepared to let him off the hook. In doing so, he makes a number of serious errors.

Sean seems to overlook the fact that his need to refer to the terms “russkii” and “rossisskii” is a an indication that Russian society — indeed, langauge — is fundamentally racist. His euphemism that the terms “continue to present problems” only helps to obscure the problem of racism, not solve it. In fact, it can only be called somewhat intellectually dishonest for Sean to refer to “russkii” without mentioning the fact that what this word really means is “Slavic,” a racial term. In other words, most (all?) Slavic Russians consider any non-Slav to be a second-class citizen at best, usually more like an infestation. Indeed, there’s no way of even translating this distinction into English so that an American could understand what Russians are doing. There is no word like “russkii” in English, no word that means “real American, because he’s white and of a certain religion.” The closest you could get would be something like “KKK member” — words that have an overwhelmingly negative flavor to most white Americans, while most Slavs are deeply proud of the term “russkii.” And a word like “African-American” isn’t remotely like the world “rossisskii.” African-American is a word that the minority group itself adopted as a banner of pride, and tries to get the white population to recognize. The term “rossisskii” is a term applied by the Slavs in Russia to the non-Slavs, without their permission.