Daily Archives: March 2, 2007

Georgian Lion Gobbles Russian Bear

The Moscow Times reports:

The resumption of normal relations with Georgia depends on its behavior toward Russia and Georgia’s secessionist regions Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told Rossiiskaya Gazeta on Wednesday.

But the bait of restored relations, which were severed last October after the escalation of a spy dispute between Tbilisi and Moscow, is not enticing to Georgia, as its current and predicted growth rates do not appear to be suffering unduly, business groups in the country say.

In an interview published Wednesday, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili said the embargo had actually led to greater foreign investment in the country. “I always say thank you for this embargo, and I mean it,” he said, The Wall Street Journal reported.

The results Russia expected from its embargo on trade, transport, communications and money transfers to and from Georgia did not follow, and the Caucuses country managed to survive economically, said Esben Emborg, president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Georgia.

While Georgia might lose about $400 million in exports to Russia, more than $1 billion in foreign direct investment is expected this year, said Robert Christiansen, the International Monetary Fund’s resident representative in Georgia, canceling the Russian losses out. Earlier, foreign direct investment of $500 million to $600 million was expected, he said.

As late as December, the IMF anticipated slower growth for 2007, of 6 percent to 7 percent, as a result of the Russian embargo. Since then, the IMF, which will meet on Thursday to review the situation in Georgia, has amended its figures upward, expecting growth of 8 percent to 9 percent in 2007.

Emborg said he expected growth of more than 10 percent this year. While specific sectors such as wine would suffer, the overall impact of the embargo on the Georgian economy was limited, he said. Although the gas supply from Russia has been cut off, Azerbaijan now supplies 80 percent of Georgian needs.

In the longer term, the embargo might turn out to be more negative for Russia than for Georgia, which has been searching quickly for new markets since being shut out of Russia, Emborg said.

Already, the Gulf Emirate of Ras al-Khaimah has agreed to implement an $817 million real estate project in Tbilisi following Saakashvili’s visit to the United Arab Emirates last month.

Dubai Ports World, the third-largest port operator in the world, is considering a multimillion-dollar project in Georgia’s largest harbor, Poti, news agency Civil.Ge reported Jemal Inaishvili, deputy speaker of the parliament and president of the Georgian Chamber of Trade and Commerce, as saying.

Kazakhstan has also been investing hundreds of millions of dollars in Georgia since last year, including in hotels, telecoms, the Poti port and the gas distribution company Tbilgazi, which was bought by KazTransGaz in May 2006.

Ironically, Russia is still Georgia’s largest trading partner, Emborg said. Now the trade goes via neighboring countries.

Exploding the Myth that Russia is not Dangerous To Europe

Writing in the Moscow Times Maria Ordzhonikidze (pictured), senior secretary of the EU-Russia Centre, and Lev Gudkov, director of the Levada Center, exposes Vladimir Putin as a blatant liar when he claims that Russians have friendly attitudes towards Europeans and are therefore not dangerous. This is a clarion warning call, heed it or take the consequences, Europeans.

The majority of Russians don’t think of themselves as European but as representatives of a different civilization. Many are actually afraid of Europe and don’t share what are generally considered to be European values, and this is leading to a sense of alienation from Europe. These were the results of an opinion poll from December by the Levada Center and commissioned by the EU-Russia Centre.

A full 71 percent of those surveyed didn’t think of themselves as Europeans, and almost half (45 percent) consider Europe to be a potential threat (compared with 37 percent who did not see such a threat and 18 percent who were unable to answer). Of those who thought of the European Union as a threat, 39 percent identified the danger they believe it poses to Russian economic and industrial independence, 24 percent cited the danger associated with the imposition of a foreign culture, 24 feared the threat it posed to Russian political independence and, closing out the list, 13 percent identified the EU as a military threat.

This sense of alienation is also evident with regard to what are broadly considered European values: democracy, civil rights and market capitalism. Only 16 percent of those surveyed identified the “Western model” of democracy as the ideal (this same figure was 25 percent in 1996) and 35 percent said that they “prefer the Soviet system before the 1990s.” Another 30 percent of those surveyed said that Western democracy “wasn’t a fit for Russia” and 12 percent said it has had a “devastating effect on Russia.”

Negative concepts like chaos, demagoguery and pointless chattering were most often associated with democracy by people from the lowest income groups (19 percent, or more than three times higher than the number for high-income respondents), among those with lower levels of education (23 percent, but just 4 percent among students and 9 percent among those with university educations), and more often in rural areas (15 percent, compared with 4 percent in Moscow). Positive associations were most often registered by the young, entrepreneurs, civil servants and members of law enforcement agencies. Perhaps most striking, 65 percent of those surveyed were unable to provide an answer as to what they understood “liberal democracy” to mean.

An understanding of a separation of powers was practically absent among those surveyed. Asked whether the activities of the judiciary and legislative branches should be under the control of the executive branch, an absolute majority of those surveyed answered that the judiciary (56 percent) and legislative (54 percent) branches should be at least to some extent.

Asked to label a group of concepts generally associated with democratic values as either positive or negative, just 33 percent chose the word “freedom” as positive, while 44 percent said they were positively predisposed to the idea of “private property” and 49 percent to that of “defending human rights.” A large number of respondents chose capitalism (40 percent) and privatization (36 percent) as having a negative association. It is interesting that the processes of privatization and accumulation of large personal fortunes continue to become less legitimate in the public consciousness. At the beginning of the 1990s, about one quarter of those surveyed believed it was possible to earn a million rubles honestly. By 2006, this number had fallen to just 13 percent.

The distribution of the answers in the survey bore little dependency to the place where they lived, so regional identification appeared to have no bearing on attitudes related to Europe. Seventy-five percent of trespondents consider Russia to be a Eurasian state with its own particular path of development and its own values. Just 10 percent said that Russia is part of the West and should look for closer ties with the EU countries and the United States.

How can we reconcile these numbers with the rhetoric of those in power toward their Western partners about the concept of pan-European partnership or who, like President Vladimir Putin, call Russia “a historically and culturally … integral part of Europe.”

LR: Obviously, we can’t. We can only gird our loins.

It seems that in the 21st century, just as in the 18th, Russia’s ruling elites are far more Europeanized than the population as a whole. Peter the Great’s order that the boyars shave their beards and don European clothing; the never ending arguments between Westernizers and Slavophiles; the Decembrist movement; the planting of Marxist economic theories in Russian soil; and finally the capitalist modernization of the rotting Soviet economy — each of these initiatives from the top has been met with, if not passive resistance from the masses, then at least increasing ambivalence.

This is reflected in the fact that 94 percent of those surveyed said they “don’t have any influence on the current situation” in the country or that their influence was “relatively small” or even “too small’ (13 percent and 18 percent, respectively). Those who said that they exercised a “deciding” or ” significant” influence on the path of their lives and the country numbered just over 2 percent.

Directly related to this is a very low sense of responsibility among respondents for what happens in the country. This is the case for the overwhelming majority of respondents (82 percent: 39 percent feeling “little” or “very little” responsibility and 43 percent said they felt no responsibility at all). Russians appear to have reconciled themselves to the idea that all significant decisions in the country are made independently of their opinion. The result is growing political apathy, as 17 percent of those surveyed said they would not vote in State Duma elections this December, 11 percent that they had yet to decide whether to vote and 23 percent said they were undecided for whom they would vote.

The worsening of Russian attitudes toward Europe and its basic values is an alarming indicator, revealing the insufficient (if not completely absent) effort on the part of the elites looking for Russian integration into a European system of values. The absence of a sense of responsibility among Russians for what is happening in the country, the average person’s willingness to accept at face value the explanation of decisions as necessary by those on television, and attitudes of suspicion toward ideas like the separation of powers bear witness to the widening gulf in values between Russia and Europe.

This political passivity on the part of the public provides ruling elites with significant freedom to carry through a more Westernized policy line than the majority of Russians actually support. At the same time, the public’s strong refusal to accept European values limits the government ability to follow a pro-Western foreign policy line, just as it acts as a brake on the introduction of further reforms to strengthen the market economy and further the democratization process. This split has been one of the main determinants of Russia’s foreign and domestic policy course over the last seven years.

Annals of Cold War II: The Rhetoric Escalates (actions sure to follow)

The Moscow Times reports yet more evidence of how suicidal neo-Soviet Russia has alienated and polarized the world’s most powerful nation:

The war of words between Moscow and Washington resumed overnight with a senior U.S. intelligence official accusing the Kremlin of backsliding on democracy and Russia’s chief diplomat accusing the White House of unilateralism.

“The march for democracy has taken a step back,” national intelligence director Michael McConnell said Monday at a U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, Reuters reported. “And now there are more arrangements to control the process and the populace and the parties and so on, to the point of picking the next leader of Russia.”

McConnell added: “As Russia moves toward a presidential election in March 2008, succession maneuvering has intensified and increasingly dominates Russian domestic and foreign policy.”

The hearing focused on global threats to U.S. national security. McConnell’s remarks were posted on the U.S. Senate committee’s web site.

McConnell also said President Vladimir Putin is now surrounded by “extremely conservative” advisers who are suspicious of the United States.

Earlier in February, Putin told a security conference in Munich that U.S. unilateralism threatens global stability and called Washington’s plan for a missile defense system — parts of which would be based in Eastern Europe — a threat to Russia.

McConnell said Russia had been emboldened by its robust economy to pursue foreign policy goals that “are not always consistent with those of Western institutions.”

The Foreign Ministry had no comment in response to McConnell’s remarks.

Konstantin Kosachyov, chairman of the State Duma Foreign Affairs Committee, sought to downplay McConnell’s comments, saying they “do not reflect the official U.S. position,” Interfax reported.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, echoing Putin, said U.S. bullheadedness made it impossible for Russia to be a global partner.

“When we are being presented with an absolutely unilateral strategy, and we are being asked to show solidarity and fight this or that evil, it is not a partnership relation,” Lavrov said in an interview published in Rossiiskaya Gazeta on Wednesday. “We cannot accept such an approach.”

Russia’s “unprecedented weakness” in the wake of the 1991 Soviet collapse limited Moscow’s ability “to tell the truth and to have its own view.”

Ivan Safranchuk, head of the Moscow office of the Center for Defense Information, a U.S. think tank, said escalating criticism between Washington and Moscow reflected the lack of a “safety margin” in U.S.-Russian relations.

“Each side says that a new Cold War would be a bad thing, and then tells the other: ‘But you’re the bad guys,'” Safranchuk said.

LR Announces Milestones

LR is pleased to announce the following milestones in the history of the blog:

This is post #1,400.

Today is our 11-month anniversary. In four weeks we will celebrate our first birthday!!

On February 22nd, we registered our 100,000th Google hit.

As the graphs below show, the short month of February was our best month ever in terms of visitation. Last month, for the first time in our history, we exceeded 10,000 visits and 20,000 page views in one month.

We repeat: Our visitation achievements are just
as much thoseof you the reader as they are of
the publishers and contributors,
so pat yourself on the back!

LR’s Visitation by Month

LR’s Page Views by Month

Finally, on February 20th, the 100th Technorati-recognized blog linked to La Russophobe. Currently we have received over 1,600 total links from these 100+ blogs or over 15 links per blog, several times more links per blog than any other blog of this kind in the world, and we are ranked in the top 35,000 most influential blogs of any kind in the world by Technorati out of over 55 million under review (i.e., we’re in the top 0.063% of all blogs in existence).

We’d also like to point out with pleasure that, as the graph below shows, Russia has become the second-largest country visiting La Russophobe, after the United States. LR has become, as we have noted before, a very international instituation and we are delighted to welcome people from all around the world, particularly from Russia, who are interested in exploring the issue of democracy and Russia’s future.